Reviews by Betty Taylor

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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.
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?

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