What I Read This Month

Since March is National Reading Month, I’m going to try something different. Instead of one long book review every so often, I’ll provide a wrap-up of all the books I read in a given month. For those with visual or other limitations, these are available in accessible formats from Audible, Bookshare, and the National Library Service. They can also be found in print and eBook formats from Amazon and other online retailers. Happy reading.

Hope Flames by Jaci Burton Copyright 2014 by the Berkley Publishing Group, a Division of Penguin Group U.S.A. LLC

Set in the fictional town of Hope, Oklahoma, this romance is about a veterinarian and a policeman who fall for each other, despite painful past relationships and their resolves never to love again. It’s funny how these two pretend not to have a relationship, although they become involved in a full-fledged affair with lots of sex. I like the way the characters and their dogs interact with each other. Close to the end, I found this book hard to put down.

This author does a pretty good job of depicting domestic abuse and other crimes. I also like the ways she promotes responsible behavior. Condoms are always handy when the urge arises. At the scene of an accident the policeman is working, a teen-aged girl who caused the collision by texting and driving is forced to turn over her car keys and cell phone to her father. I recommend this book to anyone who likes romances and dogs. There’s a sequel, Hope Ignites, and I’m looking forward to reading this.

The Opposite of Loneliness: Essays and Stories by Maurina Keegan Copyright 2014 by Traci and Kevin Keegan

This collection was published posthumously. The author was killed in a car accident after graduating from Yale in 2012. The title essay appeared in the college newspaper soon after her death and went viral on the Internet. Other essay topics include her grandmother’s car, whales, and how she and her mother dealt with her Celiac’s disease.

After reading her first two stories, I thought they would all be about college students which would have made sense since she was in college when she wrote them, and that was what she knew. However, she surprised me by writing outside her comfort zone. In one tale, a woman in her mid-60’s reads to a blind man while stripping. In another, a submarine crew deals with being stranded on the ocean floor due to technical difficulties.

This book starts with an introduction by one of Keegan’s professors. It’s a shame this author died so young. I’m glad her work was published. It would have made great material for literary magazines.

Nora Webster by Colm Toiben Copyright 2014

This was a good book to read around St. Patrick’s Day during the month when our old, faithful Irish setter Clancy was born. May he rest in peace. The story spans several years and takes place in Ireland during, I presume, the 1960’s, but no exact date is given. Nora Webster is a widowed mother of four children, two boys and two girls, left to cope with her husband’s death from an unexpected illness. When money becomes a problem, she is compelled to return to work at an office where she was employed before she was married. There, she is bullied by a sadistic office manager and ignored by most co-workers until a nun intervenes on her behalf, and she joins a labor union.

After a spontaneous vocal performance at a pub, she takes voice lessons, joins a gramophone society, and buys her own phonograph and records. In the end, she is asked to join a choir that will perform the Brahms German Requiem.

I didn’t like the fact that no exact date was provided. At first, I thought it was set in the present, but when the characters didn’t appear to be using cell phones or the Internet, I realized it had to take place during the mid-20th century. The fact that everyone drove cars and Nora Webster had a television but no phone and a reference to Elvis and the moon landing by American astronauts helped me pinpoint the decade. If I were more familiar with Irish history, news events mentioned in the novel would have given me more of a clue as to the time. Still, it would have been helpful if the author inserted a year at the beginning of the book, i.e. “It was a cold October afternoon in 1961.” Also, I was never sure of the children’s exact ages, although it was said later in the book that the older son was fifteen.

Being a devotee of classical music and having been a registered music therapist, I was intrigued by how music affects the main character. It takes her away from life stresses: her older son’s speech impediment and inability to concentrate in school, her younger son’s being moved to a lower class without warning or explanation, her younger daughter’s involvement in political activities, her older daughter’s requests for money, friends and relatives interfering in her life and that of her children. In one fascinating scene after she has been unable to sleep for weeks, she dozes off downstairs in her sitting room during the day while listening to a recording of a Beethoven trio. In a dream, she hears noises upstairs, though no one else is home. She makes her way to the second floor, wanders into her bedroom, and finds her late husband in a rocking chair and has a conversation with him. When she wakes up, she’s sprawled across her bed and convinced it wasn’t a dream. I recommend this book to anyone who likes classical music and all things Irish.

Not Quite Mine by Catherine Bybee Copyright 2013 by Catherine Bybee

Catelyn Morrison is a twenty-something reality TV star who finds a baby on the doorstep of her Texas penthouse apartment after her brother’s wedding. Fearing her wealthy family’s and the public’s reaction, she flees to California with the infant where she volunteers to design the interior of her brother’s hotel, though she knows little about interior design. In the process of trying to keep the baby a secret while attempting to find out the mother’s identity, she finds herself reconnecting with a boyfriend she broke up with earlier and her mother who abandoned her years ago. The ending is predictable.

At first, I wasn’t sure I wanted to read this, especially when I got to the point where Catelyn finds the baby with an unsigned note from the mother and a fabricated adoption paper listing Caitlin as the adoptive mother. In the note, the mother claims to know a lot about Caitlin including the fact that she’s unable to have children. This sounds like something straight out of a soap opera or gothic novel, but I was curious so I soldiered on and am glad I did. I had an idea who the baby’s mother and father were and was glad to learn my suspicion was correct. That’s all I’m going to say about this heartwarming tale.

Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author

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In a year, I hope to publish my memoir, My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds. A few weeks ago when I went to the local senior center for breakfast, I ran into Lois Bell, the community outreach director who also edits the newsletter and does other activities. A month earlier, she coordinated a fund raiser where people could purchase homemade Valentine hearts in tribute to someone they love. I bought one in honor of Bill. I meant to pick it up sooner after it was displayed in the dining room, but I forgot. On this day, she asked me if I still wanted it, and I said I did.

I hadn’t seen it before, and I was glad I didn’t look at it closely until I got home because when I saw it, tears came to my eyes. It was a red heart made of some sort of laminated paper. Pink flowers were pinned to the top corners. I’d e-mailed Lois our wedding picture which was displayed in the middle of the card. Above and below it were the words, “To Bill, my love, now, always, forever.” I can’t think of a better dedication for my memoir.


Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author

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A Walk Down Memory Lane

Do you remember any of these?

Morning Story and Dilbert

Morning Story and Dilbert Vintage Dilbert
March 18, 1998

A little house with three bedrooms and one car on the street,
A mower that you had to push to make the grass look neat.

In the kitchen on the wall we only had one phone,
And no need for recording things, someone was always home.

We only had a living room where we would congregate,
Unless it was at mealtime in the kitchen where we ate.

We had no need for family rooms or extra rooms to dine,
When meeting as a family those two rooms would work out fine.

We only had one TV set, and channels maybe two,
But always there was one of them with something worth the view.

For snacks we had potato chips that tasted like a chip,
And if you wanted flavor there was Lipton’s onion dip.

Store-bought snacks were rare because my mother liked to cook,

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Philomena Re-visited

Note: This was posted a year ago, but I’m re-blogging it to commemorate St. Patric’s Day.


In 1952, you’re a teen-aged girl in Ireland. After a romantic encounter with a man you meet at a fair, you become pregnant. In shame, your family sends you away to a convent.

It’s a breech birth. The nuns have little or no medical training. Other women and children have died during childbirth there and are buried in unmarked graves nearby. The mother superior believes that the pain of childbirth is God’s punishment for carnal sin so no drugs are administered. In agony, as the nun removes the baby with forceps, you beg her not to “let them put him in the ground.” Miraculously, you give birth to a healthy baby boy. Thus begins the story of Philomena, a book I’ve read and a movie I’ve seen.

Martin Sixsmith, the author of The Lost Child of Philomena Lee, (2009) and Philomena, with Dame Judi Dench, (2013) is a British author, Russian scholar, BBC presenter, and former advisor to the government in the United Kingdom. He has written about Russian history, the scandal surrounding the adoption of Irish children by American parents, and other current events. Besides two books about Philomena Lee, the Irish mother forced to give up her child for adoption, his other work includes Russia: A 1000-Year Chronicle of the Wild East, (2012) and Spin. (2005)  In his writing, he has also focused on political communication in government. To read more about him, visit http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Sixsmith .

The book, Philomena, begins with a short introduction by Dame Judi Dench, the actress who portrayed her in the movie. Martin Sixsmith then starts by describing the birth of Philomena’s son Anthony and their lives afterward in the convent. Philomena and other girls who had babies out of wedlock were virtual prisoners there for four years, working to pay off the cost of their care, so to speak. She did the laundry seven days a week and by night, she and the other girls sewed clothes for their children who stayed in the convent until they were adopted. The mothers were allowed daily contact with their children and naturally, they developed close bonds.

Sixsmith also touches on the sale of Irish children to American families. He describes how some Irish government officials tried to block such adoptions but were thwarted by the Catholic Church. In 1955, Philomena was forced to sign papers giving Anthony up for adoption, and he was taken to the U.S. to live with a family in Missouri. Mary, a little girl at the convent about the same age who developed a close friendship with Anthony, was also taken by the same family who didn’t want to separate the children.

Most of the remainder of Martin Sixsmith’s book is devoted primarily to Anthony’s story. The family who adopted him and Mary changed his name to Michael, and Sixsmith describes his life growing up in Missouri and Iowa. The friendship between Michael and Mary grew stronger in America, and in later years, Mary was the only one in the family who supported him. All through his life, Michael wondered about his natural mother. His adoptive parents, who knew the truth, thought it better to tell him that his mother abandoned him.

Sixsmith explains how Michael first realized he was gay as a teen-ager. A priest at Notre Dame University encouraged him to purge himself of his desires. Michael tried but found himself becoming more and more involved in such activities.

In the 1970’s after graduating from Notre Dame and receiving a law degree from George Washington University, Michael worked for the National Republican Committee in D.C. and eventually became the chief counsel for the White House. Sixsmith pinpoints the irony of a gay man working for the Republican Party during the Reagan and Bush eras when homosexuality was considered taboo and Republicans blocked funding for AIDS research. This, combined with feelings of abandonment Michael harbored from his childhood, caused mood swings and bouts of drinking and engaging in sadomasochistic activities. Most of his relationships didn’t last long.

In the 1970’s Michael and Mary made a trip to Ireland in an attempt to find their mothers but were told by the nuns at the convent that they had no records. In the 1990’s, after Michael developed AIDS, he made a second trip to Ireland with his partner, Pete Nelson, and was told that records from the 1950’s were destroyed in a fire. They later learned at the bed and breakfast where they were staying that the nuns deliberately set the fire because of an investigation into the Catholic Church’s practice of selling Irish children to American families for adoption. Michael died a year or so later, never knowing about his mother. At his request, he was buried at the convent in Ireland where he was born.

At the end of the book, Martin Sixsmith devotes a couple of chapters to Philomena after Anthony was taken from her in 1955. I would like to have read more about her, but she may not have wanted her life revealed in such detail. After Anthony left the convent, the nuns sent Philomena to work at a school for boys in England, and she eventually became a nurse. She married twice and had several children and grandchildren. She made frequent trips to the convent in Ireland to inquire about her son but was rebuffed by the nuns every time. She kept the secret of Anthony’s birth from her family for fifty years.

After she finally broke down and told them, her daughter introduced her to Sixsmith, and the three of them visited the convent in Ireland. By this time, there were different nuns with more liberal views, and through other channels, they were able to learn of Anthony’s life in America and that he passed away and was buried at the convent.

I liked Martin Sixsmith’s style of writing this book. Besides giving us a journalistic rundown of all the events, he takes us into the lives of the main characters, telling us what they were feeling and thinking. The book was written like fiction, and I was compelled to keep reading to the end.

On the other hand, the movie doesn’t tell the whole story and uses some artistic license. After Sixsmith meets Philomena’s daughter at a party, he is introduced to her mother, and the two of them travel to Ireland to inquire about Anthony. The nuns tell them their records from the 1950’s were destroyed in a fire and show Philomena the contract she signed, giving Anthony up for adoption that stated she agreed not to try to contact him. Sixsmith later learns from locals in a pub that the nuns started the fire.

The search for Anthony takes Martin and Philomena to Washington, D.C. where they learn of his life and passing. After talking with Mary and Pete Nelson, they learn of Michael’s burial at the convent in Ireland. Upon their return, Martin confronts one of the nuns, and Philomena finds her son’s grave and says goodbye. I enjoyed the performances of Dame Judi Dench and the other actors, but the movie left a lot to be desired, compared to the book.

According to Sixsmith, Michael requested that “Danny Boy” be sung at his funeral in Washington, D.C. before he was taken to Ireland for burial. I can think of no better way to end this post. Please click below to hear me sing this song. Happy St. Patrick’s Day.




Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author


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At Sheridan Manor

Here you lie

after suffering two strokes,

unable to walk.

For six years, I cared for you.

We were happy.


Now, after giving up on life,

you’re breathing your last.

Here I sit, holding your hand,

talking to you,

singing your favorite songs,

wishing you’d respond,

tell me you love me,

squeeze my hand.

I shouldn’t be here. To hear me read this poem, click the link below. https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/15213189/21%20at%20sheridan%20manor.mp3 From That’s Life: New and Selected Poems Abbie Johnson Taylor, Author Order That’s Life from Finishing Line Press. Order That’s Life from Amazon. Vote for my new book idea.