Reviews by Betty Taylor

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The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: A Novel
by Gabrielle Zevin
A Must-Read for Those Who Truly Love Books (4/9/2014)
A must-read for people who truly love books. To quote from the book: "Bookstores attract the right kind of folk. Good people...And I like talking about books with people who like talking about books. I like paper. I like how it feels, and I like the feel of a book in my back pocket. I like how a new book smells, too." Gabrielle Zevin must love books in order to write that. It really gets to the meat of things.

This is a totally delightful story of a curmudgeonly man who runs a bookstore on Alice Island. His wife was killed in a car accident and he has lost the zest of life. One day he enters his bookstore and finds a package marked for him. The contents of this package totally turns his life around. The characters in the book are real. I found myself really investing my emotions into their lives. Joy, sadness, loneliness, comfort. It's all there. I really hated to end my visit to Alice Island.
City of the Sun
by Juliana Maio
Glamour & Espionage in Cairo (3/8/2014)
I requested this book from NetGalley because it is based on my two favorite reading topis -- the Middle East and Judaism. It is wartime Cairo, 1941. There is a mix of refugees, British soldiers, and spies in Cairo at this time. The Nazis are moving toward northern Africa. Hitler is becoming a bedfellow with the Muslim Brotherhood. Mickey Connolly is in Cairo to report on the current status of the war. However, he is secretly trying to get information on a refugee nuclear scientist (Eric Blumenthal). America wants to build the "big bomb" and Blumenthal could be the key to making that happen. The Nazis are also looking for him. There's romance when Connolly becomes involved with Maya, who unknown to him is Blumenthal's sister. Maio writes the story in such a way that I could easily visualize like in Cairo at that time. Most people are not aware of the intricacies of life in places like Cairo and Istanbul during this time period. There's the elaborate parties, the espionage, the sense of constant danger. Maio captured the atmosphere and made it real for me.
The Midnight House
by Alex Berenson
Intrigue in Poland (2/5/2014)
This is the fourth book in a series about John Wells, a CIA agent. This is the first of the series I have read. (I was provided a free copy for review through the First Reads program on GoodReads.com.) As a result of reading this one, I have bought three more in the series. I didn't encounter any problems as a result of not reading the previous books. There were a few blanks that I will get filled in later (i.e., what's the deal with Exeley? What's the story regarding Times Square? )

John Wells is called in to investigate when members of a top secret interrogation team start dying. The story alternates with the present and Wells and his partner working the investigation and back top 2008 and the interrogation of prisoners at the Midnight House in Poland. I was not able to figure out who did the killings and why prior to the reveal. This book gets into some of the ethical issues surrounding the interrogation teams.

Another book is coming out in the series -- "The Counterfeit Agent" -- and I really look forward to reading this one.
Worthy Brown's Daughter
by Phillip Margolin
Wonderful! (1/11/2014)
I received an advance copy of this book from The Reading Room (Harper Collins).

Let me say right up front that I am a fan of Phillip Margolin. However, this book is very different from his other books as this one is set in the 1800s in Oregon. Worthy Brown is a freed black man, as result of the new laws in Oregon. However, his former master refused to set Worthy's daughter free. Young attorney Matthew Penny, newly arrived in Oregon, is still grief-stricken over the loss of his beloved wife on the journey to Oregon. But an encounter with Miss Heather Gillette causes him to feel a spark of life again. Then there is Sharon Hill, the consummate actress. She is able to manipulate the strongest of men. The combination of these characters and some less major ones creates a drama that is hard to break yourself away from.

While a fan of Margolin, I couldn't imagine him writing a western! But it grabbed me almost from the very beginning. It is an easy and quick read which is what I needed right now. I loved this book
Before I Met You: A Novel
by Lisa Jewell
Love in the Jazz Age (1/5/2014)
This was the first book by Lisa Jewell that I have read, but now not the last.

Before I Met You alternates between the story of Betty (1983-1995) and that of Arlette (1919-1921). Arlette is the grandmother of Betty’s mother’s boyfriend. (Got that?) Arlette lived in London (Soho) in a fascinating period of time – the Jazz Age – when formerly forbidden behavior was more acceptable. But she left all that and went back to her home on the island of Guernsey. Betty lives on Guernsey and dreams of living in Soho. Perhaps this is why Arlette is so fond of Betty at the beginning of the novel. Arlette dies and lives an inheritance to her son and to Arlette. But she also leaves one to an unknown person, one Clara Pickle or Jones. With the inheritance Betty received she moves to Soho and takes it upon herself to find this Clara Pickle. This is when we learn the fascinating history of Arlette.

Betty strives to do well in the “big city”, just as Arlette did years before. Betty finds an apartment in Soho and eventually becomes a nanny to the children of a rock star. Arlette had also found a dwelling in Soho and fell in love with a jazz musician. Both women went through similar exciting times and heart-breaking times.

I really didn’t know what to expect when I first started reading the book. As I mentioned already, I had never read a Lisa Jewell book. It was long though until I was hooked. I came to really care about the characters of Arlette, Betty, and the objects of their love. Two other characters I was rooting against as they were not worthy of these women. When the novel ended I had to sit a spell and reflect upon their journeys. What a delightful, yet at times, heart-breaking story. Thank you, Lisa Jewell, for this delightful tale.
Precious Thing
by Colette McBeth
Do You Really Know Someone? (12/24/2013)
"You can be so close to someone for a lifetime and not know who they really are."
This book is a long letter from Rachel to Clara, lifelong friends. On Rachel's first day in a new school she sits next to Clara thus starting this seeming innocent friendship. Each would do anything for the other. Now the girls are in their late 20s and things have changed. Clara and Rachel had an argument that got out of hand. Rachel, as a successful news editor, is sent to cover the story of a missing woman. The woman turns out to be Clara. Rachel was supposed to have met up with Clara the previous evening but Clara did not show. What has happened to Clara and why? There are secrets the two friends held from and about each other. Will those secrets destroy their friendship? Rachel must try to determine what happened to Clara -- murder? suicide? Or was she kidnapped, and why? Can you be a lifelong friend with someone - be soulmates - and really not know that person?

I gave this book only three stars in spite of a good storyline. It seemed a bit predictable in several places. Some of the story dragged along, and at times there was excessive descriptions. The book is written in first person and at times just did not really flow easily. However, the first person narrative did keep you only withing Rachel's head, thus not knowing what was happening in Clara's head.
Under the Wide and Starry Sky
by Nancy Horan
Surprisingly Delight (12/12/2013)
When I received the Advance Reading Copy of this book from The Random House Publishing Group, I really did not expect to like it. Imagine my surprise when Nancy Horan’s delightful story enchanted me. This is the story of Robert Louis Stevenson’s courtship and subsequent life with Fanny van de Grift Osbourne. Fanny was definitely a woman far in advance of her time. I read a quick bio of Stevenson’s life to determine how accurate this story was. It actually follows very closely to the facts of his life with Fanny. Obviously Ms. Horan did extensive research in preparation for her book. The book is beautifully written with the right mix of narrative and dialogue. I have to mention one portion of the book that really stuck with me – “In the end, what really matters? Only kindness. Only making somebody a little happier for your presence.” How lovely! This book was such a delight that I had to buy her earlier book, “Loving Frank”. I am sure now that this will be another delightful stroll through history.
Safe with Me
by Amy Hatvany
Took My Breath Away! (11/25/2013)
I had not read a book by Amy Hatvany before "Safe With Me" but now I will certainly be reading all she has written. Her writing style is so easy to read! I could just relax and go along for the ride. But the story itself had me in suspense. Hannah's daughter Emily is hit by a car and dies. Olivia's daughter Maddie is a recipient of Emily's liver. Through an odd fluke of chance Olivia and Hannah become friends. Sounds like a "they lived happily ever after" scenario. But there are deceptions throughout the story. Hannah doesn't reveal that she knows Maddie has her daughter's organ; Olivia hides the fact that her wealthy husband beats her; Maddie has her own deception with a male on-line. Why the deceptions? How do they play out? It all builds to a suspenseful, explosive conclusion.
Bellman & Black
by Diane Setterfield
Bellman & Black (10/31/2013)
First I have to say that I thoroughly enjoyed the book. It held my attention and taught me quite a bit about the businesses that Mr. Bellman threw himself so completely into. It is beautifully written. However, there were a few flaws (dare I use that term?) that held me back from giving it five stars.

If you are a fan of Edgar Allan Poe I suspect you may enjoy this book as much as I did. It has a hint of darkness -- not a raven, but a rook (same family, I believe). But overall "Bellman and Black" seemed to be more a novella than a novel (although a bit long for a novella).

A novel generally has a main plot with several subplots going on at the same time to add complexity; a novella is not as complex. "Bellman and Black basically has one story throughout the entire book. Only one character is thoroughly developed in "Bellman and Black". With only one character developed this lends to only one point of view. There is a lot of detail regarding the work that Bellman oversees. I suspect that will bore quite a few people. I actually found those parts very interesting.

The full title of this book is actually "Bellman and Black: A Ghost Story". I'm not sure why it is called a ghost story. Yes, like Poe's stories there is a dark side but I would not put it in the category of ghost stories. Yet, even with all my negative criticisms, I did enjoy it very much.
A Man of His Own
by Susan Wilson
A Dog and TWO Men (8/15/2013)
Let me say right up front that I loved this book. The writing was sensitive and held me captivated the entire time. Pax, an abandoned puppy, is the center of this story. He is found by Rick who becomes a ball player for the Braves. Pax then has to make room in his heart for Rick's wife Francesca. Rick goes off to war (WWII) and Pax is sent off to war as part of the Dogs for Defense program. He fights alongside Keller who has never known love until he meets Pax. After the war is over Keller reluctantly has to return Pax to his owners. But Rick has been severely injured in the war and Francesca needs help caring for him. Keller is happy to take a job being Rick's caregiver because then he does not have to leave Pax. But he finds himself falling for Francesca. The chapters bounce around among different viewpoints -- Rick, Francesca, Pax, Keller. You can't help caring for all the characters n the story and wanting them all to be happy but how can they?
Three Things You Need to Know About Rockets: A Memoir
by Jessica A. Fox
The Witless Fox (6/25/2013)
I began reading this book with great enthusiasm which was quickly dampened. The first part of the book is very slow and quite boring. She lives a high stress life in Los Angeles that she wants to escape. Then she takes off for Scotland on a whim. Okay, that I can relate to. I've done similar trips.

The bookshop sounds delightful (for those of us who LOVE the physical books.) Wigtown is quaint with pleasant people. She was warmly welcomed. A romance blossomed between Jessica and Euan, the shop owner.

It was fun to read of the cultural differences -- Brazil wax, anyone? I'm sure Jessica hurt for a few days after trying to remove the wax. And the party where the local townspeople were told to "dress American", so most of them came with pillows and cushions stuffed into their clothing so they would be "fat Americans". Jessica learned quickly that in that little town, if one person knew something everyone would very shortly know it. But they were all supportive of each other.

What really kind of bothered me was that Jessica, 25 years old, seemed to just kind of drift. She really didn't pay much attention to details, such as visa details. She also seemed to let Euan by with quite a bit. Yes, he was a really nice guy to everyone but she didn't draw any lines. But then she was on a visa living with him. And Euan has a fairly passive personality meaning he has problems making a decision. There's the usual ups and downs of a relationship. But there's the added problems of cultural differences and visa complications. You are never really sure how it will work it.

If, like me, you are curious as to how The Bookshop looks (after all, it says it is so huge), check out the following link. http://jessicafox.info/
The Good Luck Girls of Shipwreck Lane
by Kelly Harms
Keep It Interesting... (5/13/2013)
Aunt Midge said keep it interesting...and that is just what Kelly Harms did in this delightful story of the two Janine Browns who both entered a contest for a house and won it. But which Janine Brown was the true winner? As readers, we are all winners upon diving into this book. The characters are charming, realistically human (some lies to benefit one's self, a few drinks too many, sometimes making a fool of one's self), You can't help loving them all and hoping it all works out for them in the end.
The Woman at the Light: A Novel
by Joanna Brady
Some History, without the Pain (6/19/2012)
I loved this book! Joanna Brady did extensive research on the history of the Florida Keys and the lighthouse keepers and some history of Cuba. Some of the characters in this book were real people. It was interesting reading of the difficulties the lighthouse keepers had to deal with -- the difficult work of maintaining the lighthouse, hurricanes, Seminole wars, wreckers, and, most all, the isolation.

Emily, the heroine of the story, was a strong woman and “ahead of her time”. She was against slavery although her family had owned slaves. She did not let others make decisions for her. When her husband disappeared, she insisted on taking his job as the lighthouse keeper at Wreckers Cay even though she had three small children.

Each chapter of this book held me in its grasp. The characters were well-developed. The story moved at a good pace, giving some interesting aspects of our country’s history. A very enjoyable book!
Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths
by Bruce Feiler
A Trip into Abraham's Land (4/30/2012)
I found the book to be very interesting. The author does not claim to be a scholar or an expert on any religion. He set out to explore the monotheistic religions in their settings. He first did this with his book "Walking the Bible". With this book, he looks at Abraham who is the man central to all three of the monotheistic religions. The book is the story of his journey; therefore, it is not written in a scholarly fashion. He struggles with how Abraham is so central to these three religions, yet the religions cannot even agree on some of the "shared" stories from Abraham's life. This helps the reader grasp some some degree of understanding regarding the conflict over Jerusalem and the struggle for the three religions to dwell in peace.
The Finkler Question
by Howard Jacobson
Too Much Worrying (4/29/2012)
I know it seems nearly everyone loved this book but I just could not get into it. It did reflect true life in that it reminded me of people I know who worry all the time about every little thing -- people who make everyone around them miserable with all their worrying. Not something I wanted to read though. I could not make a connection with the characters.
The Things We Cherished: A Novel
by Pam Jenoff
Love Triangles (5/25/2011)
I enjoyed the book even though the story is not all that deep. The two love triangles somewhat mirror each other -- two brothers in love with the same woman. Neither story gets very deep. After all, the book is only 286 pages. It was sometimes hard to grab the thread of the story when it bounced into the past. But the sentimentality of the story saved it. The clock ties the chapters from the past together. Overall, I enjoyed it.
Radio Shangri-La: What I Learned in Bhutan, the Happiest Kingdom on Earth
by Lisa Napoli
Happiness Achieved! (2/26/2011)
Lisa Napoli's description of "the happiest place on earth" certainly made me happy. Ms. Napoli writes beautifully of her visits to Bhutan, a Himalayan kingdom that few are privileged to visit. Her descriptions reminded me of my visits to Thailand where I found the people and the land to be utterly charming. The king of Bhutan works hard to preserve the culture even as the Western world slowly invades the land. Once television was allowed into Bhutan there was no stopping this invasion. There is also the first-time visit to America from one of Ms. Napoli's new Bhutanese friends. We "see" America through Ngawang's eyes which is sometimes humorous and sometimes very revealing of our values.
The Tenth Song
by Naomi Ragen
Ragen LetDown (10/25/2010)
I absolutely love Naomi Ragen's books so was really excited to start her newest one. But what a letdown! I really tried to like it, but it was so contrived. Disasters fixed too easily. Nice words of wisdom from a guru in the desert. Visions of the Israelites following Moses om a trek. Naomi -- you can do so much better!
Arctic Chill: A Thriller
by Arnaldur Indridason
Arctic Chill (10/7/2010)
Even though there is little "action" in the story and it was a bit slow moving, the writing is superb and kept me intrigued. The author uses conversation amazingly well in the book. It just kept pulling me in especially with the two subplots of the missing woman and the pedophile. Well worth the read.

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