Reviews by Betty Taylor

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Excellent Daughters: The Secret Lives of Young Women Who Are Transforming the Arab World
by Katherine Zoepf
Young Women Shaking Up the Arab World (2/11/2016)
Katherine Zoepf, a journalist, has had the wonderful opportunity to live and travel throughout the Arab world. She has seen many changes in the area of women’s rights over the past few years. She shares her observations in this book.

The region has had to adapt to social changes involving young unmarried women, something totally foreign to their culture. In their society a woman remains at home with her parents until she marries and moves into her husband’s home. However now there are numerous unmarried women who are going to university and have entered the workforce, whether through economic necessity or their own wishes for an independent live. They are delaying marriage and sometimes rejecting the institution completely.

Her early reporting from Syria reflected an innocence no longer found there due to the civil war. It was interesting to read of the logistics of living a life under the veil. For example, women have curtained off sections of a restaurant so they may uncover their mouths to eat. Little details we would never think of having to deal with. Women express their resentment of how the western world seems more interested in their hijab and restrictions on their lives rather than what they think, what they believe, what they feel. The outer garb is of more interest than their inner beings. How sad, yet how true!

While some governments throughout the Middle East have tried to outlaw “honor killings”, due to the tribal nature of the societies this barbaric act still exists. The honor of a family rests on the reputation of their women. If the honor is blemished the women must die in order to restore honor. Many young girls are held in prisons to protect them from their families. Syria still has penal codes that state “that if a man commits a crime with an honorable motive he will go free”. Restoring the honor of his family is considered an “honorable motive”. Another says that is a man witnesses a female relative in an immoral act and kills her, he will go free.

The chapter on Beirut was quite interesting. The title for the chapter is “The most promiscuous virgins in the world”. That should get your attention! Lebanese woman are known as some of the most beautiful women in the world. But how do they balance the pressure to be beautiful with the requirement of virtue? This chapter discusses how the women manage to perform sexual favors in order to keep their men yet maintain virtuous. It also discusses circumcision of women – and hymenoplasty (the restoring of a woman’s hymen in order to pass as a virgin).

Saudi Arabia expends great resources to keep a strict separation of the sexes. Parents still choose their daughters’ husbands. But the girls do hope for a husband that will allow them to obtain an education. I did find interesting that in June 2011 King Abdullah issued a ruling banning men from working in lingerie shops, ordering that all the jobs be given to Saudi women instead. This was then broadened to include shops selling cosmetics, wedding dresses, abayas, and more. This opened up many jobs to women.

Unmarried and working women receive much criticism from their families and friends. In Saudi Arabia the phenomena of spinsterhood is a frequent topic in the news. Young men are asked are told “please don’t neglect women and do what you can to save them from spinsterhood.” There is criticism for women who “lose track of their age”. (I liked that one! As if…)

In her book, Katherine Zoepf has given a voice to the young women in the Arab world who are dragging their countries into the 21st century. This is a region of the world that I love and respect and I was glad to see that she pointed out how some countries have made great strides in women’s rights, while sadly others are still in the Dark Age. Change comes slowly to this part of the world, but the people still maintain hope.
Hotel Moscow: A Novel
by Talia Carner
Intense Read! (7/8/2015)
This is one of those rare books that I wanted to rush through because it had me so totally engrossed in the story. I felt the fear and intensity as unbelievable incidents were described. But once I reached the last few pages I found myself slowing down. On one hand I wanted to quickly read those pages to find out what would happen. But on the other hand I did not want the story to end.

Brooke Fielding, an ambitious young investment manager, accepts an invitation to travel to Moscow as part of a team to teach entrepreneurial skills to the Russian women. While eager to share of herself with the women she is also apprehensive. Her parents were born in Russia and escaped from the pogroms against the Jews. Her mother was the only survivor from her family as the others died in a concentration camp. Her father’s first wife and three children were killed. Thus, Brooke has grown up hearing of the anti-Semitism in Russia.

The story begins in 1993 just weeks after the fall of Communism. Left as a country with no laws, the Duma is busy making up laws as they go. However Yeltsin is frustrated and impatient with them and fires them. As the members of their Duma are democratically elected, Yeltsin did not have the authority to fire them. Thus, a stand-off develops between the members of the Duma and Yeltsin as he calls in the Army to remove the Duma.

The entire team encounters MAJOR culture shock. As Communist control ended, theft and gangs quickly filled the void. “Connections” and bribes were required for the simplest of services. Corruption has taken over. Time after time, the Russians are impressed by how white the Americans’ teeth are. Many of them have rotted teeth but proudly support one gold tooth as it shows they can afford it. People stand in line for hours, sometimes days, for food, gasoline, money from the banks. The descriptions of the living conditions of most Russians were shocking. The photos of “communal apartments” in the back of the book were definitely eye-opening.

Svetlana is assigned as the group’s translator. She knows several languages and would have been translator for the Foreign Minister. However, she was labeled as having “loose morals” after being gang-raped. Dr. Olga Rozanova, a sociologist from the Institute for Social Research, is ashamed that the Americans are so poorly treated in her homeland. Brooke forms friendships with these women, but can the friendships survive the anti-Semitism of the culture? And how can she teach Western capitalism to a people who are afraid to even trust their neighbors?

There is a good sampling of the male characters. There are primarily four Russian male characters and they are very different from each other.

Brooke’s early family history is revealed slowly, like layers of an onion being peeled away, layer by layer. Being in Russia makes her face parts of her past that she had been running from her entire life. There is a possible love interest for her but she is very distrustful of men. Her past relationships are also slowly revealed making it understandable why she is so distrustful of men. Brooke carries secrets that she is afraid of revealing. One of the secrets could cost her her job. She also struggles with the question of “What does it mean to be Jewish?” Should she hide her Jewish identity in this land that is rampantly anti-semitic?

Ms. Carner visited Russia in 1993 and experienced some of the events told in the book. Her descriptions made me think of several social issues. Is this the way all oppressed societies behave once they get that first taste of freedom? I was amazed at the pride the Russian people still exhibited toward their country, no matter how corrupt it had become. Yet underneath it all, people are people, proving that compassion and trust still exist in the most lawless of societies. I also looked at my own Jewishness, just as Brooke was forced to look at hers. In spite of the corruptness, this was a beautiful story. I look forward to reading her other three books.
Lusitania: Triumph, Tragedy, and the End of the Edwardian Age
by Greg King, Penny Wilson
Can You Survive the Very Boring First Half of the Book? (6/24/2015)
The 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Lusitania has just passed. As a result of this anniversary, there are several new books on the topic. I chose to read this one by Greg King and Penny Wilson. Well, I think I made the wrong choice. This book was so tedious; it was a chore to read. I had to read through just over half of the book before the torpedo hit. So what was in that first half? There were a couple of interesting facts. First, there were warnings from the German embassy in Washington, DC. Travelers were reminded that a state of war existed between Germany and her allies and Great Britain and her allies. They were informed that the waters adjacent to the British Isles were part of the zone of war. The embassy stated that vessels flying with the flag of Great Britain or any of her allies were susceptible to destruction in those waters. However, the warning was ignored and treated as just propaganda. The second interesting fact was that unlike the Titanic that took two hours and 40 minutes to sink, the Lusitania went down in only 18 minutes!

The rest of the first twelve chapters was filled with the minutiae of the biographies of the First Class passengers. It went into detail of what they brought on board with them and the downright foolishness of the rich. For example, Alice Vanderbilt was so arrogant that “she once spent hours being endlessly driven around New York City because she felt it beneath her dignity to give her chauffeur directions.” Perhaps a better title would have been “Lusitania: Lifestyles of the Rich and Arrogant”. I was so bored with their stories that none of them really stuck in my mind. Therefore, I felt no connection once the ship was hit and started sinking.

There were a few people who were nervous about the voyage. Some wills were changed prior to embarkation due to the nervousness. One lady carried her jewel box with her when dining “should disaster strike”. There was definitely tension on board the nearer they came to the British Isles. Some of the passengers thought that an escort would be sent to safely guide them through the danger zone. In fact, the ship’s captain had pretty much said that. But there was no escort. The captain was strict about evacuation drills, but only with the crew. The passengers themselves were never included in a drill, and this was a serious error. The lifebelts were difficult to access, and the passengers were not assigned to lifeboats. This contributed to the chaos that ensued when the ship was indeed torpedoed.

Amongst all the panic, it seemed the crew was more interested in saving their own lives than those of the passengers. Also the crew did not know how to lower the lifeboats. Many of the collapsible lifeboats were unusable as they lacked plugs, oars missing, oarlocks rusted, etc. As the ship slid into the sea, Captain Turner continued to tell people that the boat could not sink.

If you can get through the first half of the book, the last half does pick up. Reading what the survivors endured was interesting. If you know almost nothing about the Lusitania, you may find this book interesting.

Thank you to GoodReads and St, Martin’s Press for an Advance Reading Copy in exchange for an honest review.
Jam on the Vine: A Novel
by LaShonda Barnett
Portrait of Life in Jim Crow America (6/20/2015)
This is a very honest look at life for a black woman trying to be a journalist in the US in the early 20th century.

Even in her childhood Ivoe is fascinated with newspapers. She steals every one she can from her mother’s white employer. The written word is her escape from the poverty she lives in. She becomes determined to fulfill her obsession with journalism. Her excellent writing and grades gain her a scholarship. She excels in journalism at the school. But when she applies for jobs she finds herself “overqualified. Her potential employers cannot see beyond her skin color.

The writing in most of the book sets the scene so perfectly. Some of the sayings are delightful. When a woman asks Lemon, Ivoe’s mother, if she knows Annie Faye, Lemon replies with “We’ve howdyed but we ain’t never shook.” And then there is “Every time I stand up, my mind sits down.” And when Roena, Lemon’s daughter-in-law, says she regrets marrying Timbo, Lemon tells “Can’t put the rain back in the sky.” I love that!

The characters are down to earth and seem so real. Life is hard for them but they keep on battling the poverty and discrimination they encounter every day of their lives. They do whatever it takes to support their families. Lemon makes jam and prepares vegetables for the community; her husband, Ennis goes off with the plan to make money and have his join him later.

The author describes the minor transgressions that get mostly the black men (but some women too) thrown into jail. The conditions of those jails are deplorable. It nauseated me to even read about them.

When Ivoe continues to find herself unable to break into journalism, her lover and the community encourage her to start her own black newspaper. It was interesting to read how they went about doing it, and the resistance they encountered.

The last chapter was a real disappointment to me. It seemed as though Ms. Barnett had a vast amount of research she had not gotten into the book. So in the last chapter it is all thrown in there. The chapter is rushed, disconnected, and preachy. It was a truly disappointing end to an otherwise wonderfully written novel
Before He Finds Her
by Michael Kardos
Everything about her life is questioned (5/27/2015)
Melanie Denison has grown up in Fredonia WV. Her loving aunt and uncle have raised her since her mother was killed when Melanie was only three years old. No one knows the whereabouts of Melanie’s father after he threw a block party and then killed his wife and supposedly Melanie. Melanie and her aunt and uncle are part of the Witness Protection Program. Melanie’s real name is Meg Miller. It is believed that her father killed her mother and Meg. The mother’s body was found in a fire pile but Meg’s body was never found. Everyone believes her father Ramsey also killed Meg and threw her body into the lake.
Melanie can’t have a normal life. She can’t go to proms, can’t be on the Internet, can’t do anything that might bring attention to her or result in her photo going public.
But now Melanie is pregnant and determined that her child will not grow up like she did. So she returns to the town of Silver Bay where she grew up. Now everything that Melanie has believed about her life is questioned.
I enjoyed the twists that came in the story and was surprised a couple of times. This was an easy to read thriller that kept me guessing.
Sisters of Heart and Snow
by Margaret Dilloway
Learning Love from a Samurai (5/3/2015)
This is an absolutely beautifully written book. Sometimes the words just took my breath away. The Snow sisters, Rachel and Drew, are very different from each other and have fought a lot throughout their lives. But now they are drawn together as their mother, Haruki, falls deeper and deeper into the depths of dementia. The sisters are united in ensuring their mother continues to get the best care possible, while their father Killian is only concerned about the expense.

During one of Rachel’s visit with her mother, Hakuri asks for a book that is in her sewing room. Then she sinks back into her dementia. Rachel and Drew find the book; however, it is written in Japanese. Thus they find a translator who feeds them portions of the book as he completes the translation.

The story in the book is from twelfth-century Japan, and tells of two “sisters of the heart”. Tomoe, a female warrior, loves Yoshinaka but can bear him no children. Thus, he brings a bride, Yamabuki, to his home. At first Tomoe sees Yamabuki as a threat but eventually she learns to love her as a sister. Tomoe is torn between always being at the side of her samurai lover Yoshinaka or staying to protect delicate Yamabuki. However, the women find strength from each other to deal with formerly foreign ways of life.

“Sisters of the Heart and Snow” alternates between the stories of the Snow sisters and the story they read of the “sisters of the heart”. Both Rachel and Drew draw strength from the story of Tomoe and all her trials and tribulations. They even learn about sisterly love from the story of real-life female samurai Tomoe Gozen. Rachel and Drew use the book to better understand their relationship with their mother and with each other.
Unremarried Widow: A Memoir
by Artis Henderson
Strength through bereavement (3/7/2015)
This is the story of Miles and Artis Henderson’s marriage and how Artis deals with the death of Miles while on deployment in Iraq. It definitely makes you think about how you would deal with his death if you were in her shoes. It also makes you look at what is most important in life. I did not always agree with how Artis handled things, but each person grieves differently. There is no time limit on grief or rules on how to get through it. Artis shares her deepest pain and her struggle to move on. Honest, raw, encouragement.
The Last Flight of Poxl West
by Daniel Torday
Not a Hero to me (1/19/2015)
Torday tells the story of a young boy's admiration for Poxl West, a former RAF bomber pilot, and Poxl West himself. The story is told the now almost mandatory alternating views. For a while the story held my interest. But then I found it became a struggle to continue reading. I found myself either skimming or just skipping large portions of the book.

The portion of the story from Poxl's perspective was written as a book within a book. Poxl has written a book of memoirs of some of his sorties. This was the portion of the book I struggled with. The writing style did not work for me. I felt no emotions toward the characters in this "book within a book". I was too far removed from the action. Beginning with the discovery of his mother's infidelities, Poxl becomes quite good at running from unpleasant things in life. Eventually he does join the military as a bomber pilot and becomes a "Jewish war hero".

The young boy, Eli Goldstein, focuses on the release of Poxl's book. Eli sees Poxl as his hero. However, Poxl's human frailties soon dampen Eli's hero-worship. He finds it harder and harder to defend Poxl's actions. Family loyalties come in question as Poxl again runs from unpleasantness.
A Fireproof Home for the Bride
by Amy Scheibe
All is Not as It Appears (1/8/2015)
This book started fairly slow for me, and I wasn't quite sure of where it was going. But after it "set the stage" giving some background on the people and families involved, it really took off then. It went down a road I never would have suspected.

Set in the mid-west in the 50s, the story revolves around young Emmeline Nelson, raised in a strict religious (Lutheran) home. It has been concluded that she will marry young Ambrose whom she has known all her life. But then she meets Bobby, a handsome Catholic boy. Now her world will never be the same again. Did she want it to be the same? She feels drawn to the local newspaper and wants to be a journalist. Her family and Ambrose are totally against it. Emmeline starts to research a couple of fires that took place in her small town. She thinks there is a common thread between them. She starts digging and uncovers some shocking truths about her family and people she thought she knew.

Having grown up in the South in a poor family, many of the scenes in the book took me back to my childhood. The writing is very descriptive. I found myself totally immersed into the story.
The Life I Left Behind
by Colette McBeth
Has Suspense, but Confusing (1/1/2015)
Normally I have no problem with alternating points of view in a book. However, this one has three women telling the story. Sometimes the same woman did a couple of chapters consecutively. Since two of the women's stories are very similar it got difficult to keep track of who was "talking". Melody was attacked, supposedly by her friend David, several years ago and left for dead. David served time for this attack. Shortly after he is released from prison Eve, the second woman, is killed and she looks back from the grave to tell us her story. In her hand is a necklace identical to the one found in Melody's hand when she was attacked. Detective Inspector Rutter is working both Melody's attack and Eve's murder.

The plot is interesting and suspenseful at times. But as mentioned above I did have difficulty keeping Eve and Melody's stories separated. If you can get past that you will probably enjoy it. Ms. McBeth goes into the emotional relationships of the characters. This is the real strength of her book. I would have given her a four rating if not for the pre-described difficulty.
The Nightingale
by Kristin Hannah
Loved it!! (11/26/2014)
There are so many books written about the Holocaust that I am somewhat burned out on them. But every now and then a new one comes out that just is not like all the rest. This holds true to "The Nightingale" by Kristin Hannah. Ms. Hannah has the gift of articulating the complexities of families and relationships. The reader can feel the struggles the characters are encountering – the pain of emotions felt and beatings taken, the fear of being found out and of losing the ones you love most in the world, the agonizing hunger felt each day. You are right there standing next to the characters; you are pulled into and become a part of the story. I thought she couldn't get any better than her book "Home Front", but this one is just as good, if not better

In "The Nightingale" the sisters Viann and Isabelle live in the "Free Zone" in France. But this Free Zone soon becomes Nazi-occupied. It is difficult to read of the burdens the French people had to deal with each day for several years. People did what they had to do to survive. Some people were brave enough and humane enough to make attempts to save the Jews. Others, in self-survival mode, looked the other way. Others sadly joined the Nazis in their atrocities. The story here is very real. It reminded me of the book "A Woman in Berlin" about what the women had to do to survive, and they guilt and self-loathing they felt afterwards. One statement in "The Nightingale' really hit me – "Men tell stories…Women get on with it…We did what we had to during the war, and when it was over, we picked up the pieces and started our lives over."

The characters are very human with their strengths and their weaknesses. I loved them, I hated them, I feared for them, I rejoiced with them. Now the book is over but the characters live on in my mind.
Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis: The Untold Story
by Barbara Leaming
Psychological Look at Jackie (11/10/2014)
I was highly anticipating the receipt of this book. Having worked quite a bit in the field of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) debriefings, I wanted to read about how Jackie Kennedy Onassis dealt with her trauma in a time when PTSD was not even recognized. This book took a totally different slant on her life than any other book written about her.

However, I must say that the first 100 pages were so full of detailed minutiae that I found it extremely boring. I probably would not have continued reading the book except that I felt it a duty to write a review since I was given the book by the publishers. I finally just started skimming pages. The parts where Leaming writes about Jackie's behavior was very interesting. Now that so much is known about PTSD it is clear that Jackie was definitely suffering from it. The book is raw in telling some not very likeable aspects of John and Jackie Kennedy's personalities. I think much of the minutiae could have been left out. But I did grow to respect her in a way I never had before. She fought a disorder that can be totally devastating and have resulted in many suicides. She had to fight this on her own which takes a lot of strength.

I did not find the book very emotional as some did. I suspect this was because I wasn't so sure of her love for John. For those who love anything about the Kennedys, you will like it. For others, probably not so much.
Vanessa and Her Sister
by Priya Parmar
Spoiled Rich Kids (10/21/2014)
I have to say that I just absolutely could not get into this book. It is written from the viewpoint of Virginia Woolf's sister Vanessa. Vanessa is writing in her journal. There are also a smattering of telegrams and notes from friends. But I never felt that I got to know the characters. Most of them I really had no desire to get to know, but there were a couple I would have liked more on.

Vanessa is portrayed as the saintly sister that tolerates Virginia's behavior. I found Virginia to be a totally unlikeable person. She is portrayed as very self-centered and vindictive. Sophie, the cook, used the last of a precious spice in the preparation of potatoes fro Virginia. Then Virginia refused the dish. At that point I truly disliked her. Virginia was in love with her sister and thus extremely jealous of her. She deliberately inserted herself into Vanessa's marriage. She made rude comments about Vanessa's size when she was pregnant. Then she made offensive comments about the babies once they were born. Their friends were portrayed as predominantly snobbish self-absorbed spoiled rich kids. These friends were mostly known as the Bloomsbury Group, a group of artists and writers. They hung out at Vanessa's home and gossiped, griped, and dreamed. It was a struggle for me to get through it.

There was a lot of name dropping that did not impress me. At times I was overwhelmed by the number of characters. While these was a list of characters at the front of the book, I had an electronic copy so could not print or copy it. I laboriously copied those pages by hand so I did not have to try to flip back and forth (which is extremely difficult in a digital copy).

My favorite character was Lytton Strachey, one of several homosexuals in the tale. But even with Lytton I did not get to know him. There were also "Sapphic" affairs.

The language used in the book was probably the only positive aspect for me. The story was not good but the writing was beautiful. (However, some parts of the book were just plain crass.) There was one quote that I did love -- "Is there anything so irritating as traveling without a book?" Now that I can relate to that!
A Man Called Ove
by Fredrik Backman
Life does not always cooperate for Ove... (9/17/2014)
If you loved “The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry” you will love “A Man Called Ove”. This book was thoroughly delightful. I did not want it to end. Ove is a cantankerous old man who is rigidly set in his ways. “Rules are rules” is his mantra. But one day a young couple moves in next door. The husband Patrick is portrayed as a bumbling IT consultant. He does not know how to do any of the maintenance on the house or the car. His wife Parvaneh (Persian) is VERY pregnant. And to really top it off, there is a 7-year-old girl and a three-year-old girl. To Ove’s displeasure he finds that this new family just will not leave him alone. He complains about this continually to his wife, the only person in his life who ever came close to understanding him. The characters in this book are so real. The emotions and actions are totally believable. There’s lots of laughter, quite a bit of heart-break, and lots of grumbling. Life just does not go the way Ove had it planned out. Definitely one of my favorite books!
The Traitor's Wife
by Allison Pataki
Loved the suspense, the intrigue, the romance! (9/4/2014)
I really knew nothing about Benedict Arnold, other than that he was a traitor. I even thought he had been hanged as a traitor. I knew nothing about the plot he was involved in. There has been quite a few books out lately about the women behind the famous men. I have really enjoyed each one I have read. That is why I was so interested in this particular book. Well, it did NOT disappoint. It has history, suspense, intrigue, and romance. The amount of research Allison Pataki put into this book is amazing. She did a lot of "filling in the blanks". There is a section in the back of the book that explains what portions of the story are fact, and which she made up to enhance to the story.
The Golem and the Jinni
by Helene Wecker
Supernatural Beings Trying to Blend In (8/2/2014)
This book takes a bit to get into. Wecker takes her time fully developing the characters. But it is well worth the wait. These are two supernatural beings accidentally released upon mid-1800's New York City. They try to adapt and fit in. If you are used to stories of golems this one is unique as the golem is a woman. So here's a large woman made of clay and a large jinni trying to fit in. The book is written so well that you can feel their anger, their fear, their trepidation, their happiness, their sorrow. There are wonderful supporting characters that help -- or hinder -- their journey. An amazing story!
Accidents of Marriage
by Randy Susan Meyers
Realistic Except for One Critical Element (6/25/2014)
This is the first book I have read by this author. The topic intrigued me as I have some experience with people with anger management issues. I liked the style of writing—easy to read, nice flow. The main characters were well-developed. Some of the supporting characters were less developed but still fairly well written. The alternating perspectives of Maddy, Ben, and Emma were easy to follow. You could easily get the sense of what each of these characters were having to deal with in the aftermath of the accident. Maddy was fighting for survival. Her frustration at not being able to function as she had was readily apparent. Ben had to deal with his guilt of causing the accident in the first place. Then his loyalties to his family were tested. Emma was a young teen girl forced to put her life on hold in order to care for her younger siblings. Her resentment was appropriate. The younger siblings Gracie and Caleb were well-portrayed, in my opinion. Then, of course, there were the meddling in-laws. I am not sure the interfaith marriage angle added much to the story. The part I had difficulty accepting was how Ben had such an anger management problem but then seemed to be "cured" by his guilt over the accident. Someone who can get as violent as him does not just suddenly start controlling his/her temper without help. Overall though, it was a good read.
Snow Flower and the Secret Fan: A Novel
by Lisa See
Such Beautiful Writing... (6/16/2014)
I had put off reading any of Lisa See's books for a long time. I love reading about the Chinese culture but did not like any of Amy Tan's books. But I finally gave in and started reading Snow Flower. I was immediately grabbed by the beautiful writing. I learned quite a bit from this book -- foot binding, nu shu, laotongs, sworn sisters, etc. I loved it and now can't wait to read "Shanghai Girls" and "China Doll".
Brutal Youth
by Anthony Breznican
Thank God I'm Not in High School Now! (6/6/2014)
At first I did not care for this book. It took a while for it to hook me. The author took his time developing the characters and it paid off. As I read I started caring about these kids. The title is definitely appropriate. Some of these kids were brutal and some had to become brutal to survive. The administrators of the school were appalling. I can't imagine how it would be to attend a school like this - and this was a private school! For some of the kids their life at home wasn't any better than their school life. The administrators and teachers looked the other way and sometimes were just as brutal as the kids. Father Mercedes had his own agenda for the school which was required to cover his embezzlement of funds.

I don't quite understand why the author referred to the males always by their last names (Davidek, Stein, Green, LeRose, Zimmer) yet the females were always first name (Lorelei, Hannah, Audra) except for Ms. Bromine.

The writing was very good. As I already mentioned, the character development was very good. Even though there are a lot of characters I was able to keep them all straight.

The author took his time in revealing the depravities of the various characters so you are not slapped in the face with it all at once. The book is not light reading but it is eye opening. I don't know if I would survive in a school like St. Mike's.
My Accidental Jihad
by Krista Bremer
Intercultural Marriage Struggles (4/29/2014)
Having traveled a lot in the Middle East, I enjoy books related to the region. In this memoir, Krisat Bremer actually had two cultures to adapt to -- her husband's Muslim culture and the US Southern culture. Having lived in California for most of my life and then moving to middle Georgia I could certainly relate. Bremer is very open about her struggles with the clashes between her culture and that of her husband. Krista and Ismail's love got them through some really tough times. At times though I felt she was taking on all the blame for the difficult times. lsmail is indeed patient and understanding, but not perfect. His life did seem to be an example of true Islam. Both Krista and Ismail work to remain open-minded. Her description of the bargaining that goes on in his culture was so realistic. This was something I had difficulty learning in my travels. I just do not bargain well. . His thriftiness and her wastefulness were another problem they struggled with. I found her description of the differences in acceptance of body image is so true! In the US a woman must be thin to be considered attractive. Yet in the Muslim culture a woman with "some meat on her bones" is found attractive. Her description of Southern summers is also perfect. It is just how I felt when I first moved to the South -- still feel that way.

Having similar impressions and experiences in my travels made me trust the areas she described that I am not familiar with. It is a very well written memoir, easy to read. For those who know little about the Muslim culture and want to know more, I highly recommend this book.

I received an advance copy from the publisher via LibraryThing.

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  • Book Jacket: In Search of a Kingdom
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    The Age of Exploration in the early modern period, lasting roughly from the 15th through 16th ...

Book Club Discussion
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Of Women and Salt
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A kaleidoscopic portrait of generations of women from a 19th-century Cuban cigar factory to the present day.

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