Reviews by Betty Taylor

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The Rules of Magic
by Alice Hoffman
Love and Teen Witches (8/13/2017)
I have read several of Alice Hoffman’s books but this one was certainly different for me. I have not read “Practical Magic” so did not really know what to expect. While this book is a prequel to “Practical Magic”, it also stands alone. Ms. Hoffman is certainly versatile – the story of Masada in “The Dovekeepers” and now witches.
In the 1600’s when the witches were being persecuted in Boston they sought safety in Manhattan. It is now late 1960’s and Susanna Owens lives in New York City with her three children. Franny can converse with birds, Jet can read people’s thoughts, and Vincent charms everyone that he meets. He was so charming at his birth a nurse attempted to kidnap him from the hospital. So no wonder that everyone shuns the family – unless they want a potion or a salve.
Susanna tries to protect her children by applying rules - no walking in the moonlight, no red shoes, no wearing black, no cats, no crows, no candles, no books about magic. But above all they are never to fall in love. For them, love is a curse. But teens are teens, witch or not. They are going to rebel and do exactly what they are told not to do.
Ms. Hoffman made the three siblings so real that I found myself caught up in their emotional struggles. They set out to discover who they are and their place in the world. And as hard as they try to avoid love, the teens could not deny the feelings of their human hearts. Thus they are forced to struggle with the consequences of their family curse, and perhaps the greatest lesson they learn is that in the Henry David Thoreau quote in the epigraph – “There is no remedy for love but to love more.”
Emma in the Night
by Wendy Walker
Mother of the Year -- NOT! (8/8/2017)
I read Wendy Walker’s book “All is Not Forgotten” so was looking forward to reading this one. I love psychological thrillers.
Sisters Emma and Cass Tanner mysteriously disappear one night. Then three years later, Cass just as mysteriously returns home – alone. Cass describes how she and Emma were kidnapped and held against their will on a remote island. Dr. Abby Winter, a forensic psychiatrist with the FBI, and Special Agent Leo Strauss return to the case that had gone cold on them a year earlier. Now the search is resumed but this time only for Emma. What happened the night the girls disappeared? Where have they been for three years? And where is Emma?
I must say that the Tanner family is the epitome of a dysfunctional family. Cass and Emma’s parents, Owen and Judy, are divorced. Owen has a son named Witt from his first marriage. (Witt is the only stable one in the bunch.) Judy then marries Jonathan Martin who has a teenage son named Hunter. Judy now insists that her own daughter call her “Mrs. Martin”. This mother is a real “piece of cake”. She has a narcissistic personality disorder. If you are not familiar with this disorder, it means that she has an inflated sense of her own importance, with a constant need to feel admired. Since she believes the world revolves around her, she is incapable of feeling empathy for others. But behind all this, she has a very fragile self-esteem and cannot handle the slightest criticism. Imagine having her for a mother…
I found the pace to be very slow. I almost gave up on it several times. I didn’t find any of the characters engaging, and the only one that drew any emotion from me was Witt. While the story is told from the perspectives of Cass and Dr. Winter, it is written in third person. Thus the reader is unable to get into the head of the characters and left me with a feeling of detachment (the same complaint I had with “All is Not Forgotten”). The only chapter I felt any visceral response to was the last one, written as a first person perspective from Cass.
It is suspenseful, and it does have a twist. If you are not familiar with the behavior of a narcissist and how the disorder impacts those close to the person, it may be worth the read.
The Breakdown
by B. A. Paris
Can't put down until the truth is revealed (7/18/2017)
I loved her first book (“Behind Closed Doors”) so had high expectations for this one. The story is truly suspenseful. During a severe storm Cass comes across a car parked at the side of the road. She stops and waits for some indication that the female driver needs assistance. None comes so Cass drives on to her home. The next morning Cass learns from her husband that her friend Jane had been murdered. She is devastated when she learns that it had been her friend Jane’s car on the side of the road.

Besides all the guilt Cass feels wondering if she could have done something different and have saved Jane, Cass begins forgetting more and more things. Cass forgets appointments, she forgets ordering items from the shopping channels, etc. She is afraid that she may be showing signs of Early Onset Dementia, a disease her mother has. She receives silent phone calls several times a day. She sees things that later are not there. Her husband is losing his patience with her.

There are lots of suspenseful moments in the book. However, I did have it mostly figured out by 60 pages. But the writing was still good and kept me anxiously awaiting the reveal. The chapters are short so by the last several chapters I was telling myself “I have time for one more chapter – just one more – just one more.” I don’t think it is as good as the first book but it was definitely worth reading.

Suspenseful – Riveting – Can’t put down until the truth is revealed.
The Necklace
by Claire McMillan
Unique Story (6/26/2017)
This book was a really slow start but it was worth staying with it. The writing isn’t the best, but the story is really good.

The chapters alternate between the 1920’s and the present (2009). Brothers Ethan and Ambrose Quincy want the same girl – May. It is 1925 and Ambrose is driven to travel the world while his brother stays home to run the coal mines. While in India Ambrose buys an extravagant necklace for May whom he intended to marry. However, he learns that May has married Ethan. Upon his return, Ambrose still presents the necklace to May. Thus, the love triangle builds in intensity.

In the present young attorney Nell, always the outsider in the family, is called to the Quincy homestead upon the death of her great-aunt Lulu, the sister of Ambrose and Ethan. Nell has been designated the executor of Lulu’s will, and has been left a very unusual, and expensive, necklace. Cousins Pansy and Emerson want that necklace. Wanting to keep her inheritance, Nell researches the history of the necklace which leads to long buried family secrets being revealed.

I was disappointed with the ending. It seemed very contrived and quickly wrapped up. In my opinion, another couple of chapters to play out the ending would have been more satisfying.
The Story of Arthur Truluv: A Novel
by Elizabeth Berg
Totally Delightful (6/21/2017)
What a truly delightful read! It's like "A Man Called Ove" but without the crabbiness. Arthur Moses, 85, has lunch each day with his wife Nola – at the cemetery. Nola has been dead six months. Arthur is a truly sweet man and has a positive attitude toward pretty much everything.

Eighteen-year-old Maddy often visits the cemetery to get away from the other kids at school. It is here that Arthur and Maddy meet and develop an unusual friendship. Because of his devotion to Nola and his kindness Maddy gives Arthur the nickname "Truluv". Maddy's mother died in a car crash when Maddy was only two weeks old. She doesn't get along with her father and the kids at school pick on her. To ease her loneliness, Maddy escapes into her world of photography.

Also dealing with loneliness is Arthur's elderly neighbor Lucille. While quite nosy, their lives all change as the three of them form a compassionate bond creating their own version of a little family – oh, and mustn't forget Gordon, the cat – to deal with life's struggles and to find hope and a new purpose in life.

This book is a delightful escape from with these delightful people – and Gordon. Smile, laugh, cry – I love a book that taps into my emotions and makes me what the characters in the story feel. That is great writing.
My Last Lament
by James William Brown
Beautiful Writing (3/30/2017)
This book was a true joy to read. It was beautifully written, with interesting characters and some little known Greek history. Being Jewish I have heard about the decimation of the Jews in Thessalonica and Rhodes. While the main character Aliki is not Jewish, another major character Stelios is. The book address what happened to the Jews and life on the islands after the Nazis were defeated. Alik, is the last professional lamenter – one who expresses grief – in her village. Lamenters were like mediums through whom the deceased's life is expressed at wakes. Aliki was also frequently visited by the dead.

The story – of her own life - is told by Aliki via cassette tapes she is recording for a Greek-American scholar who is doing research on lament practices. Aliki tells of life in her little village under German occupation. When young Aliki is left orphaned she is taken in by Chrysoula, her friend Takis's mother. Chrysoula also provided shelter for a Jewish woman named Sophie and her son Stelios.

Aliki, 17 years old, is caught in a love triangle involving her friend Takis (10 years old) and Stelios (nearer Aliki's age). While young they all had to mature quickly, witnessing the execution of family members and other villagers. Like many countries in Europe, when WWII was over the survivors then had to deal with civil wars.

A form of entertainment at the time was the shadow theatre. I knew shadow puppetry was an ancient form of storytelling and entertainment in China, but I was not aware that it was used in Europe. A bit of the history of this art is given early on in the book. Stelios is quite proficient in it.

Aliki laments on the tragedies they lived through, the "what-if's" that could have resulted in a totally different outcome, the ironies that of life, and the tarnishing of her home country.

The book is slow reading but well worth it. I loved the characters and had an emotional investment in them. There was so much heartbreak, so many regrets, yet much courage.
Behind Her Eyes
by Sarah Pinborough
Nothing is as it seems (1/18/2017)
Wow! This book took me on a thrilling ride. I just finished it and am still trying to process that ending. Mind-blowing! If you loved “Gone Girl”, “The Girl on the Train”, and “Behind Closed Doors” you will love this one. I assure you that NOTHING is as it seems.

Louise, a single mother, meets gorgeous David in a bar one night. There is an immediate attraction and they kiss. Then a few days later Louise is stunned when she finds that her boss is “the man in the bar” – and from a brief glimpse and the photo on his desk Louise sees the wife is an equally gorgeous woman.

A few later Louise bumps into a lady at the coffee shop. She recognizes her as David’s wife. Adele, the wife, seems eager to befriend Louise. Louise does not reveal to Adele that she is David’s secretary. She thinks that Adele will tire of her soon. But Adele is determined. Louise now wonders how to tell David that she is becoming friends with his wife. Also how does she tell Adele that she works for her husband? So she keeps putting it off.

Just like the couple in Behind Closed Doors David and Adele appear to be perfect and to have it all. But remember – NOTHING is as it seems. Everyone is keeping secrets.

Life gets so much more complicated for Louise as she begins an affair with David. However she really likes Adele and feels guilty for betraying their friendship. It is through their friendship though that Louise learns how controlling David is. He calls Adele twice a day at specific times to check on her. And Adele seems scared of her own husband.

Louise is now trapped in drama of David and Adele’s marriage. Something is definitely not right about their marriage and Louise doesn’t know how to get out of the mess she is in. She is totally unaware of how she is being played and what the consequences will be for her.

Every time I thought I was on the right track of figuring it out the story went down a now track. I ABSOLUTELY did not see the ending coming. I had to reread those few pages several time to grasp it. I am still mulling it over. Where should I have picked up on it? Has anyone guessed the ending?
The Half Wives
by Stacia Pelletier
Two Women, One Man (12/27/2016)
"The Half Wives" describes a part of San Francisco's history that few people are aware of. San Francisco is actually a very small city. In the mid to late 1800s it was recognized that there wasn't enough room in San Francisco for the living and the dead. So the town of Colma was established and graves were exhumed and moved to Colma. "The Half Wives" addresses the politics behind that decision.
However this book is actually about one man who loved two women. When Henry's marriage falls apart after the death of their son, he turns to another woman, Lucy. Lucy bears him a daughter named Blue. It is a very believable story of heartache, hope, loss, passion, grief.

I did find it hard at times to grasp who was "speaking". Henry, Marilyn, Lucy, and Blue all have their chances to talk. But the way the dialog is structured is difficult to follow at times.
Letters to the Lost
by Iona Grey
Eternal Love (12/15/2016)
It was a good story but it just didn’t grab me. I found I could easily set the book aside and not pick it up again for a few days. This story seemed to drag quite often, and then suddenly all the loose ends get wrapped up neatly near the end of the book.

But it wasn’t all negative. I did think that the characters were well-developed and believable. I rooted for some while not liking others. Charles, Nancy, Jess, and Will were products of their time – doing what was expected of them, or rebelling against the social norms of the time. It was easy to judge them based on our societal norms now. It was difficult at times to accept that some of the characters’ behaviors, while not being acceptable in the present day, were the norm for that time. While some turned to finding ways to help, others decided to throw caution to the wind and live as though each day was the last. But above all this is a story of eternal love.
Victoria
by Daisy Goodwin
Historical Romance (12/1/2016)
I love Historical Fiction, so I was eager to read this story of the young Queen Victoria. I had seen the movie “Young Victoria” a few years ago and really enjoyed it. The first few chapters of this book reminded me very much of the movie.

Ms. Goodwin’s descriptions brought the story to life for me. I found myself getting frustrated with Victoria as she was quite childish. How difficult it must have been to see that Victoria was, at times, not mature enough for the responsibilities placed upon her, but to be unable to do or say anything because, after all, she was the Queen.

You may wonder then why I gave the book only three stars. If it were categorized as Historical Romance I would give it four stars, but as Historical Fiction it only gets three stars. The book really says very little about what responsibilities Victoria actually had. The entire book is Victoria mooning over Lord Melbourne. (I can see why as he, being much older, showed the maturity needed for a proper Prime Minister. He was also the only one that seemed able to carefully direct Victoria to the proper decisions or behaviors.) Then when Albert does come along it is like a Harlequin story – they hate each other and then after some time suddenly discover they can’t live without each other.

So, if you want romance it is a good read. But if you want to learn historical information regarding Queen Victoria you might look elsewhere.
Victoria
by Daisy Goodwin
Romance in the Kingdom (10/27/2016)
I love Historical Fiction, so I was eager to read this story of the young Queen Victoria. I had seen the movie “Young Victoria” a few years ago and really enjoyed it. The first few chapters of this book reminded me very much of the movie.

Ms. Goodwin’s descriptions brought the story to life for me. I found myself getting frustrated with Victoria as she was quite childish. How difficult it must have been to see that Victoria was, at times, not mature enough for the responsibilities placed upon her, but to be unable to do or say anything because, after all, she was the Queen.

You may wonder then why I gave the book only three stars. If it were categorized as Historical Romance I would give it four stars, but as Historical Fiction it only gets three stars. The book really says very little about what responsibilities Victoria actually had. The entire book is Victoria mooning over Lord Melbourne. (I can see why as he, being much older, showed the maturity needed for a proper Prime Minister. He was also the only one that seemed able to carefully direct Victoria to the proper decisions or behaviors.) Then when Albert does come along it is like a Harlequin story – they hate each other and then after some time suddenly discover they can’t live without each other.

So, if you want romance it is a good read. But if you want to learn historical information regarding Queen Victoria you might look elsewhere.
The Last Days of Night: A Novel
by Graham Moore
The Battle Over the Light Bulb (10/16/2016)
This is a part of history I was totally unaware of – the battle between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse – over the light bulb. In the late 1800’s there was a major legal battle between these two powerhouses. Edison filed over 300 lawsuits against Westinghouse for the unheard of amount of $1B, yes, one billion dollars – in the late 1800’s. Add to the mix Tesla, the mad scientist who came up with the idea of alternating current. And we mustn’t forget JP Morgan, the sly one with the money. Each with his own agenda.

Electricity was something new and mysterious in the United States at that time. These men knew that whoever won the lawsuits stood to control the direction of electricity in the US. The book is written from the perspective of the young attorney, Paul Cravath, who represented Westinghouse.
The book is well written and held my attention. The past was brought to life. I really liked Tesla who cared nothing for the money. He just liked to take his ideas and turn them into reality. Politics, intrigue, ambition, a touch of romance…all are found in this remarkable story.
Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk
by Kathleen Rooney
Worth the Wait (9/15/2016)
I was eager to read this book for its historical content and the "views" of NYC. However I found the book to be a struggle to get through. In my opinion, the writing style was quite stiff – perhaps to reflect the earlier historical period.

Fortunately I stayed with the book and did finally encounter the wonderful portrayals of the characters and city itself – past and present. I just hope readers will bear with the stiff writing in the first half of the book in order to find the gems in the last half.
Les Parisiennes: How the Women of Paris Lived, Loved, and Died Under Nazi Occupation
by Anne Sebba
New Details on the Life of Paris' Women During the Occupation (7/12/2016)
I was looking forward to reading this book. I read Kristin Hannah's "The Nightingale" which piqued my interest in how the women in France survived Nazi occupation. I also read CW Gortner's "Mademoiselle Chanel" which had a lot of information on how she and others like her survived.

This nonfiction book was well researched for the period 1939 – 1949. The majority of the book addresses the lives of "the rich and the famous" and, I admit, I scanned much of those sections. I was more interested in the everyday people, people like me. I also was not impressed with how much fashion – and entertainment to some degree - continued to be of prime importance during that time. Seems a bit shallow to me when people were just trying to survive.

Life did change for everyone, especially the women. Most of the men went away to war, leaving the women behind to carry on with live the best way they could. And it was indeed a difficult time. Food and other necessities of life were in very short supply. The Germans were the only ones that could afford food – or they just took it. Women faced daily humiliation as they had to queue for hours and then beg (and pay) for the few rations that were available.

Tremendous efforts were made to hide works of art – those in galleries and private Jewish collections. Part of Hitler's plan was the intention to destroy any sense of belonging by depriving Jews of what they owned. He planned to create his own art gallery.

The British were using women in combatant activities, although it was forbidden by the Geneva Convention. Thus, these women had no protection if they were captured. History has failed to note that many women were among those deported.

When the war was over people who survived were suspected of being collaborators with the Germans. Jews, political prisoners, and prisoners of war recently liberated from camps and prisons, poured into the city – a city in no way ready to accommodate them. Many returned with serious medical issues that Paris was ill prepared to deal with. Perhaps most devastating was that many returned to find that everything they had owned had been taken.

In an effort to try to return to "normal", women were encouraged to "return to a time of innocence and femininity, to stop making decisions, stop balancing cheque books, stop being aggressively punctual." This met with mixed responses.

I liked the discussion of what it takes to be a hero. I think I agree with this statement in the book: "Heroism isn't a matter of choice, but of reflex. It's a property of the central nervous system, not the higher brain." Heroes do not think; they act.

This is a book well worth reading, even though it does bog down at times. More and more people are now finally talking about what really happened during the Nazi Occupation. For a long time no one wanted to hear about it so the survivors kept quiet. Now their stories are being told – and heard.
All Is Not Forgotten
by Wendy Walker
Suspenseful Story (6/19/2016)
With the various storylines – Charlotte’s affair, Sean’s unstable marriage, Tom’s boss and his interaction with the family, the drug dealer, Forrester’s son – a lot is thrown at you. I felt like some of it was too contrived, too many “red herrings”. I thought the author did an excellent job of explaining the controversy regarding recovered memories and they can be manipulated. The book is definitely suspenseful – a real page-turner.
Consequence: A Memoir
by Eric Fair
Raw, brutal, honest, soul-baring (6/5/2016)
Raw, brutal, honest, soul-baring. Eric Fair was a contractor doing interrogations in Iraq – Abu Ghraib and Fallujah. Things he saw, things he did, things he didn’t do. There were consequences associated with his actions and inactions.

Eric Fair was a geek in high school. It was assumed he would become a Presbyterian minister. But then he took a different direction. He decided he wanted to become a police officer. But he was told to join the Army, get preference points, and come back. So upon graduation from college he joined the Army. Aptitude testing showed that he had the aptitude for languages. He was sent to the Defense Language Institute to learn Arabic. He became very frustrated with the Army and took a discharge at the end of his enlistment period. Then he promptly enrolled for the police academy. He got a job offer from the DEA. At the physical exam for the DEA it was discovered that Eric had a heart condition that ended his dreams of being a policeman. Because of his Arabic training he found that contractors we interested in signing him up for Iraq. Thus his life took turn that totally changed his life.

In Iraq he was directed to do things that he knew were wrong. He saw things that he knew were wrong so he learned to look the other way. However there were two incidents that haunted him from there on out.

Fair is brutally honest about his life in Iraq and his attempts to return to normalcy upon his return to the US. He tells of the impact it has on his marriage. His raw honesty can be difficult to read – and accept. But he provides a look into the lives of our soldiers who have returned and find it so difficult to adjust.

If you now a returning soldier who is struggling to adjust or you know the family of such a solider, this book is definitely worth your reading. It also presents a better understanding of the traumas of Post Traumatic Incident Disorder.
The Children
by Ann Leary
Had Potential but Did Not Meet It (5/4/2016)
I struggled with this book. It started out with great potential. I loved the part in Chapter 1 where the grandmother says she is going to go upstairs to die. Her grandson says "Gran, not die. You mean lie, not die." Then it continues "But Trudy had meant die. She walked up the back stairs to her bedroom. …Then she folded back the quilt on the bed, pressed herself against the cool sheets, and died." That got my attention.

And I liked the guy that was breaking into homes. He was called Mr. Clean because he didn't steal anything but always left the homes cleaner when he left – doing the laundry, washing the dishes, etc.

But the book overall was pretty lackluster for me. I could not get into any of the characters. I like to care about the people I am investing so much time with, but that did not happen here. The family definitely has its quirks, but even those did not really draw me in. Not the book for me.
Still Alice
by Lisa Genova
Tragic but Realistic (5/4/2016)
This book is an amazing look at the life of a highly intelligent college professor who is diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer's Disease. It was so tragic reading of the impact on her life, how others change they way they treat her, and how her husband and children deal with it. She also wrote "Inside the O'Briens" which takes the same approach with Huntington's Disease. I loved it too.
Ashes of Fiery Weather
by Kathleen Donohoe
Disappointing Read (3/31/2016)
The book appealed to me as it is the stories of seven women from fire-fighting families. However, even though the women were linked through generations of the same family the stories were too fragmented for me. The reader has to constantly jump back and forth through various time periods – all within the same chapter and no indication of what year you have been taken to. The families are Irish and still have family in Ireland. At times I had difficulty grasping who was in Ireland and who was in the US. The story (or stories) just jumped around too much for me. I could not make an emotional connection to the characters because of this. I also feel much of the story was rushed in order to give me some background for something coming up. Sadly, I got nothing from this book.
The Paris Winter
by Imogen Robertson
Slow Start but Worth the Wait (3/11/2016)
I thoroughly enjoyed this historical mystery. It is set in Paris in 1909/1910 among the artists. There is a mixture of the “poor starving artists” and the higher class clientele. Young, naïve Maud Heighton came to Paris’ Academie to study painting and to get away from her small town life. Maud soon falls into poverty. She comes upon a golden opportunity. Christian Morel hires her to teach his sister Sylvie English. She can board with them and earn a generous salary. However she soon learns that the Morels are not who they claim to be. Maud is soon drawn into the dark, dangerous underworld of Paris. Friendships are tested, lives are endangered.

I found the book to have a very slow start (hence the four stars, instead of five). I almost gave up on it but am very glad I did not. Once it got going (around page 142) it kept me engrossed. I love the characters – derelict Yvette, aristocratic Tanya, the Countess. It was a delightful blend of personalities. I could easily envision these very different personalities interacting. It is the perfect blend of female friendships, love, greed, and especially revenge.

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