Thursday Book Feature: Novel Depicts Life on the Set

The Cast
by Danielle Steel
Copyright 2018.

Kait is a New York magazine advise columnist who has been divorced twice and has three grown children. After a chance meeting with a television producer at a New Year’s Eve party, she is inspired to write a story line for a television show, based loosely on her grandmother’s story. After she shares it with this producer, he is impressed and decides to make it into a series.

Over the course of a year, as the series is produced and becomes a huge success, and Kait is kept busy working with the screenwriter on various episodes, she becomes involved in the lives of her cast members, and they become her second family. When one of her own daughters is killed overseas while filming a documentary, they all rally around Kait. She then becomes attracted to another actor from Wyoming. Will she open her heart to him after two failed marriages?

Despite Danielle Steel’s nasty habits of too much telling and not enough showing and use of unnecessary adverbs, I’m always drawn to her stories, and this one is no different. Fascinated by the entertainment industry, I enjoyed being transported into the lives of these characters. Being from Wyoming, I felt a special connection to the actor with whom Kait becomes involved at the end. The Audible narrator did an excellent job portraying even the female characters. I recommend this book to anyone interested in how a television series is made and who likes a heartwarming story with a neat ending.

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Abbie Johnson Taylor
We Shall Overcome
How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems
My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds
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Thursday Book Feature: The Right Time

The Right Time

By Danielle Steel

Copyright 2017.

 

At the age of seven, Alexandra is abandoned by her mother and finds comfort in reading books with her father, a Boston contractor. They start with Nancy Drew mysteries and work their way to Agatha Christie and beyond. After her mother dies in a car accident when she’s nine, Alex begins writing her own crime stories, much to a teacher’s consternation.

When she is fourteen, her father dies after a long bout with Alzheimer’s. An orphan with no other relatives, she ends up in a convent where nuns encourage her to send her stories to mystery magazines, where they’re published. In high school, she gets her first novel idea, and by the time she’s nineteen, she has found an agent and published her first book. Because her father has told her that many people don’t read murder mysteries published by women, she writes under the name of Alexander Green.

Her career takes off after the publication of her first book, and by the time she graduates from Boston College, she has published more books. She travels through Europe and lives in London for a couple of years before returning to the states. All this time, she’s leading a double life, struggling to keep the identity of Alexander Green a secret, as her books gain more popularity. This isolates her and leaves her vulnerable to arrogance and envy of others. Then, she gets a movie deal in Hollywood with one of her books, and after that, another book is made into a television series in London. There, she finds romance at the right time.

One thing I found disconcerting about this book is that no dates are mentioned. At one point during Alex’s childhood, there’s a reference to the book, The Silence of the Lambs. A search of Wikipedia told me this book came out in 1988, but that doesn’t give a clear indication of exactly when the action takes place. Since the book spans close to forty years, dates to orient the reader would have been helpful.

I also don’t like the author’s portrayal of writing classes and conferences. Not all classes are taught by lazy teaching assistants who are jealous of other writers, and not many writers’ conferences are venues for drinking and sex. As a writer myself, I found such activities helpful.

However, I like Danielle Steel’s portrayal of the nuns in the convent where Alex lives after her father dies. This is not an orphanage but a community center of sorts. The nuns are either teachers or nurses, and when they’re not working, they’re teaching classes in art, health, and other subjects to community members. You’d think nuns would turn up their noses at crime fiction but not these sisters, who support Alex in her writing endeavors.

I downloaded this book from Audible and enjoyed the narrator’s portrayal of all characters. I was with Alex when her books became bestsellers and wished a publisher would pay me three million dollars for a book. As the author points out though, it’s not about the money. It’s about sharing your talent with the world.

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

 

Thursday Book Feature: Against All Odds

Against All Odds

by Danielle Steel

Copyright 2017

 

From this best-selling author comes a novel about the worries associated with parenting adult children who take foolish risks. Kate, a widow, runs a successful high-end clothing resale shop in New York City. In the course of two years, her four grown children, each in turn, risk their happiness.

Isabel, a lawyer, falls for a former client with no job, no ambition, and a drug habit. Justin, a homosexual writer, along with his partner, have three babies with the help of a surrogate mother and donor eggs.

His twin sister Julie, a clothing designer, finds a man who appears to be perfect in every way but turns out to be abusive after she marries him. Willie, the youngest, an information technology specialist, falls in love with an older woman who is divorced with two children.

To add irony to the story, Kate, the parent who worries about her children’s immorality, becomes involved with a married Frenchman with whom she’s doing business. What happens as a result of all this? Read the book and find out.

Despite Danielle Steel’s annoying habit of doing too much telling and not enough showing, I enjoyed reading this, as I did many of her other books. Once I picked it up, it was hard to put down. The Recorded Books narrator did an excellent job portraying all the characters. This book makes a great point. As a parent, you sometimes have to let your children make mistakes, then be there to help pick up the pieces.

 

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Review: Rushing Waters

 

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Rushing Waters

by Danielle Steel

Copyright 2016.

 

Fictional Hurricane Ophelia, worse than Sandy, hits New York. Starting in the fall, when the hurricane hits, and ending around Christmas, this book details the lives of several people affected by flooding as a result of the storm. Characters include an interior designer from London visiting her mother in New York, a hospital emergency room doctor, two college students, and others. Some of their paths cross, but most have separate stories of loss and re-building after the storm.

I love this author’s work, but I’m starting to notice an undesirable pattern. If you’re a writer, you’re probably familiar with the concept of showing versus telling. Showing is using dialog and action to tell the story. Telling involves narrative. I’m sure this is prevalent in many of Danielle Steel’s books, but I think there are times when she does way too much telling. I know she’s a best-selling author, but in my years of writing, I’ve come to believe that showing is more effective. Nevertheless, her stories are so compelling that they’re worth wading through the narrative.

I was only too happy to snuggle in my recliner, safe and secure, while reading about characters dealing with no electricity, a supposedly crumbling apartment building, and high water. The recording of this book I downloaded from Audible was great, narrated by Dan John Miller, the same person who read Hotel Vendome. This book made me thankful that I live in a place like Wyoming, which doesn’t have hurricanes.

Hurricane Sandy struck New York at about the same time as my husband Bill passed away, in October of 2012. While those affected were dealing with the loss of loved ones and property, I was dealing with grief of my own that was not caused by a natural disaster. You can read more about this in my new memoir.

***

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

Like me on Facebook.

 

Review: The Sins of the Mother

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The Sins of the Mother

by Danielle Steel

Copyright 2012.

 

At age seventy, Olivia, a successful CEO of a hardware and furniture company, is still going strong. However, after her husband passed away years earlier, she feels guilty for working when she should have been around for her four children, now grown with lives of their own. She tries to make up for her neglect every year by scheduling an elaborate family vacation.

The book opens with such a vacation, a cruise in the south of France on a luxurious chartered yacht. Everyone has a great time and then returns to their separate lives. The book ends a year later with another family vacation in a rented chateau in France. In between time, Olivia’s older son’s marriage falls apart, and he falls in love with a younger woman. Her younger son is forced to come to terms with his son’s homosexuality. One of her daughters, a struggling writer, finally gets a book and movie deal and falls in love with her agent. The other daughter, a music producer in England, having been estranged from the family for years, finally comes home when tragedy strikes. Then there’s Olivia’s affair with her company’s attorney, a married man.

The Sins of the Mother was featured on BookDaily a few days ago, and I decided to splurge and buy it from audible now instead of waiting for my next credit. I’m glad I did. The narrator did an excellent job of giving each character a different voice. It’s always fun listening to an audiobook with a good narrator.

This book reminded me of Dallas, a primetime soap opera I watched as a teen. However, there’s no wheeling and dealing or deception or betrayal, no one accused of murder or other serious crimes. That’s one thing I liked about it. Another is that everything gets resolved in the end, and everyone’s happy. In the last episode of Dallas, J.R. Ewing, evil CEO of a powerful oil company, kills himself, convinced the world would be a better place without him. There’s none of that here. If you just want to read a heartwarming story about a family whose members put aside their differences and come together, The Sins of the Mother is just such a book.

I must admit this isn’t the kind of book my late husband Bill would have enjoyed. He was into mysteries, thrillers, westerns, and science fiction. The more blood and guts, the better, as far as he was concerned. To learn more about our recreational activities and how I cared for Bill at home for six years after two strokes paralyzed his left side, read My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds.

***

Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

My Ideal Partner: How I Met, Married, and Cared for the Man I Loved Despite Debilitating Odds

Click to hear an audio trailer.

 

May 2016 Reviews

The Glass Family

by Leonore H. Dvorkin

Copyright 2012

 

Have you ever wondered what your glasses in the kitchen cupboard would say if they could talk? Well, this short, whimsical one-act play might give you some ideas. The action is centered around four glasses of varying sizes and takes place at night after all the humans have gone to bed, and the glasses are left to their own devices. They talk about their neighbors: the plastic glasses that don’t break when they’re dropped, the fancy glasses in the dining room that are handled with care and never allowed to associate with other glasses. They describe how good it feels when they’re washed in hot soapy water in the kitchen sink, making you wonder if their humans have a dishwasher. They reflect on how horrible it would be to break and have their pieces swept into a dust pan and tossed into the garbage. They banter about this and that all night until they hear the alarm clock upstairs and other signs their humans are stirring. Then, they fall silent.

Leonore H. Dvorkin is also the author of a novel and a memoir. She lives in Denver, Colorado. Her husband and son are also writers. She and her husband help other authors publish their books online in eBook formats through Amazon and Smashwords and in print through CreateSpace. With their help, my memoir, My Ideal Partner, will be published sometime this summer. You can learn more about their publishing services here. Leonore also tutors foreign languages and teaches exercise classes in her home. If you click on her name above, you’ll be taken to a Website where you can learn more about these services.

Having some experience in theater, I told Leonore that her play could be produced in conjunction with other one-act plays. She said she’s looking into that. I hope one day, her work can be featured on stage.

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The Apartment

By Danielle Steel

Copyright 2016.

 

Four women share an apartment in New York City’s Hell’s Kitchen: a shoe designer, a writer, an investment broker, and a doctor. They’ve been living there for years and become best friends. In the course of almost one year, two of them lose jobs and boyfriends. The third gets married, and the fourth becomes pregnant. The book opens in the fall, and by June of the following year, the apartment is empty except for one.

I downloaded this book from Audible, and I wasn’t impressed with the male narrator. His portrayal of female characters seemed forced, and I think the book should have been read by a woman. Otherwise, Danielle Steel has done a terrific job with another must read.

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Midwives

By Chris Bohjalian

Copyright 1997

 

In March of 1981, you’re a midwife delivering a baby in someone’s home during an ice storm. After a long, difficult labor, the mother stops breathing. Numerous attempts to revive her with CPR fail. The mother is clearly dead, but the baby’s heart inside the womb still beats. What would you do?

In this novel, midwife Sibyl Danforth is in such a situation. Unable to get her patient, Charlotte, to the hospital because of downed phone lines and impassible roads, she uses a kitchen knife to perform a Cessarian and saves the baby. Her apprentice tells authorities Charlotte was still alive when Sibyl first cut her open. This starts the ball rolling on an involuntary manslaughter charge against Sibyl.

The story is told mainly from the point of view of sibyl’s daughter Connie, fourteen at the time, who later becomes an obstetrician. Connie talks about her life growing up with a midwife for a mother: her mother’s long absences while delivering babies and accompanying her mother to births when baby-sitters weren’t available. Bit by bit, she reveals the details of the fateful night in March of 1981 when Charlotte died. She then shares the details of the investigation, her mother’s arrest, and the long months before the trial begins in the fall. She talks about the trial itself, two agonizing weeks that changed the lives of her and her parents. The trial appears not to be just about whether Sibyl is guilty but also explores the question of home versus hospital births.

I’ve always found the topic of childbirth fascinating, probably because I’ve never experienced it. My mother once said that having babies isn’t bad, and you forget about it right away. That may have been because my brother and I were born in a hospital, and she was given gas during the difficult parts of her labor. Nowadays, I understand that with an epidural, hospital births are almost pain free.

Okay, enough of my reflections on childbirth. This book is a definite must-read. In fact, I might even recommend it to teen-aged girls, although it has some graphic descriptions. Maybe after reading this, girls might think twice before having unprotected sex.

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Society’s Child: My Autobiography

by Janis Ian

Copyright 2008

 

This book was on sale at Audible for only $4.95. Remembering the author’s 1975 hit “At Seventeen,” I decided to read her memoir. She starts by describing a California audience’s negative reaction to her 1967 hit “Society’s Child.” She then talks about her life growing up. Her father was a music teacher, but because he was on an FBI watch list in the 1950’s and 60’s, he couldn’t have tenure no matter where the family went. They moved often.

When Janis was ten years old, she learned to play the guitar at a summer camp and got hooked on music. She described how playing and singing became a solace from the difficulties associated with moving from one place to another, being molested regularly by a dentist in one town, and her parents’ eventual divorce. She started writing songs as a teen-ager, and her music career took off. Her family was living in New York, and for a couple of years, she went to a performing arts high school but dropped out because teachers and even the principal resented her fame.

She describes in detail the next few decades of her career, writing songs, making records, touring, and her relationships with both men and women. During this time, she drifted between New York, Los Angeles, and Nashville and traveled overseas. She explains how she was inspired to write “Society’s Child,” “Stars,” “Jesse,” and “At Seventeen.”

At the end of the 1970’s, she married a man who turned out to be abusive. After ten years of putting up with him while still performing and making records, she left him and drifted in and out of several relationships. At the end of the 1980’s, she moved to Nashville and took a break from performing to write more songs. She then discovered her accountant had been purchasing insecure stocks by forging her signature. As a result, she owed a huge debt to the IRS, and they hounded her for years until she was finally able to pay it off. During that time, she battled chronic fatigue syndrome, and through a miraculous twist of fate, she found a true partner.

In 1998, doctors discovered a tumor on her liver, but when it was removed, it was found to be benign. Janis describes how she got into writing articles and short stories as well as songs and made a comeback in the performing world, creating her own record label. The book ends after she talks about how she and her partner were married in Canada five years after her cancer scare.

The recording of this book I downloaded from Audible features Janis Ian narrating it. She sings snatches of her songs, accompanying herself on guitar or piano during her reading. As she describes how she wrote certain songs, she plays and sings passages she is discussing. It’s fascinating to learn how her writers’ imagination works.

Like her, I wanted to be a singer, but I’m glad I’m not after reading her memoir and that of other performers. I wouldn’t have enjoyed the grueling hours or the lack of privacy if I became famous, and I’m sure there were times when she didn’t, either, but I enjoy living the life of a performer vicariously by reading such books as Society’s Child.

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Losing to Win

by Michele Grant

Copyright 2013

 

In Belle Haven, Louisiana, a small town economically ravaged by Hurricane Katrina and the Gulf oil spill, Carissa, a high school English teacher, is chosen as a contestant on a reality TV show in which people compete to see how much weight they can lose in three months through a grueling regimen of diet and exercise. The last thing Carissa wants to do is lose weight while millions of viewers are watching, but family and friends, concerned about her health and the town’s economy, convince her that this would be good for Belle Haven. She then meets the other contestants, most of whom she knows, and to her dismay, she learns that one of them is Mal, her high school sweetheart and now a professional football player who was once her fiancé.

As the author takes us through the contestants’ lives over the next three months, we learn that Carissa broke up with Mal because she no longer wanted to take a back seat to his career. Mal is recovering from an injury and hopes to get back into the NFL. As the two are forced together, things heat up between them, but what about the future? Does Carissa still love Mal, and is she willing to give him another chance? Has Mal realized there’s more to life than football? Who wins the weight loss contest?

I don’t usually read this sort of thing much anymore, but for some reason, I was drawn to the story. Maybe it was the light, steamy read I needed after the seriousness of Society’s Child. I was reminded of the phrase, “Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow, we die.” A friend once told me that when you diet, you die in a way. The pun would have been perfect for this book because the contestants do just that. They eat, drink, and are merry the night before the competition starts. Then they die-et.

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Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

We Shall Overcome

How to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

 

 

February 2016 Reviews

News from Heaven: The Bakerton Stories by Jennifer Haigh. Copyright 2013.

 

From the author of Baker Towers, a book I read a few years ago, comes a collection of short stories, most of which take place in the coal mining town of Bakerton, Pennsylvania, the same location as Baker Towers. In one story, a girl from Bakerton works for a Jewish family in New York before World War II. In another, an English teacher in Bakerton reminisces about one of her students during World War II.

I liked Baker Towers, and I enjoyed these stories. Many of them have some of the same characters including those from Baker Towers. Most are about families dealing with tragedies and/or secrets. For the most part, they are in chronological order from before World War II to the present day. In the last story, Joyce, from Baker Towers, mourns her husband’s passing and reminisces about her life with him and their children. Being a widow, I was touched by this one the most. To learn more about Jennifer Haigh and her books, click here.

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My Fat Dad: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Family with Recipes by Dawn Lerman. Copyright 2015.

 

When I heard about this book a couple of months ago on National Public Radio, the title intrigued me. My own dad was fat, but unlike this author’s father, my dad didn’t obsess about dieting but eventually managed to get his weight under control.

Dawn Lerman is a certified nutritionist and contributor to the New York Times Well blog and the founder of Magnificent Mommies, specializing in personal, corporate, and school-based education. Her father was a well-known ad executive responsible for such slogans as “Leggo My Eggo” and “Coke is It.”

In My Fat Dad, she tells the story of how her father’s obesity and obsession with weight loss affected her life. She grew up in a Jewish family who lived in Chicago for about the first eight years of her life before moving to New York in 1972. Because her mother, a so-called aspiring actress, was too lazy to prepare meals, and her father was always on one diet or another, the family rarely ate a home-cooked meal together. At one time, her father lost a lot of weight after attending a Duke University fat camp in Durham, South Carolina, but eventually gained it back. Her mother berated her for this and that and said she was too sensitive when she expressed her feelings. She describes how her grandmother fueled her passion for good food and in later years supported her interest in cooking healthful meals.

Several years after the family moved to New York, Dawn’s younger sister April was cast in a traveling production of Annie and later the movie as well as other shows. Their mother traveled with her and was away from home a great deal during Dawn’s adolescent years. Dawn encouraged her sister to act because of her own inadequacies as a singer or dancer. She talks about how she prepared meals for her father when her mother and sister were away and describes the loneliness she felt when not in school or with friends since her father also traveled a lot as part of his advertising career. She also touches on her coming of age and involvement in New York City’s night club scene as well as her parents’ divorce and feeling stuck in the middle because both her father and mother demanded her loyalty.

In the epilog, she describes her father’s lung cancer diagnosis after she had her first child. She explains how she researched a correlation between food and healing and how her entire family, including her grandmother and uncles, came together to rally successfully for his survival. Twelve years later, the book ends with a phone conversation between Dawn and her father in which he announces he’s starting yet another diet. The book includes recipes for all the food mentioned, and there’s a lot of food here so you don’t want to read this on an empty stomach.

I would like to have learned more. What were Dawn’s college years like? Since her parents were divorced, did she spend her vacations with her mother or father? To order the book from Amazon, click here. You can read an interview of Dawn about the book on the Huffington Post site.

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Hotel Vendome by Danielle Steel. Copyright 2011.

 

The Hotel Vendome is a posh establishment in New York City. The fictional story surrounding it spans over twenty years. When Hugh Martin first bought the place, he was married with a two-year-old daughter, Elouise. When Elouise was four, her mother ran off with a rock star, filed for divorce, and didn’t return until over twenty years later when Elouise was married.

As we read this book, we watch Elouise grow up in the hotel, surrounded by mostly female employees who develop a bond with her but don’t quite take her mother’s place. She spends many happy hours sneaking into the ballroom during weddings and helping the maids. In high school, she takes a serious interest in managing the facility. After graduation, she decides to go to the same school in Switzerland where her father earned his credentials, much to his chagrin, but he gives his blessing.

After she leaves, Hugh, who has sworn never to become seriously involved with women again, develops a relationship with Natalie, a professional decorator he hires to do the hotel’s suites. As they become closer, Hugh hesitates to tell Elouise about Natalie until a year later when she returns home for her internship at the hotel. She is stunned by the news, thinking it would just be her and her father for the rest of their lives. For six months, she’s barely civil to her father and Natalie but comes around just in time for their wedding. Several months later, Natalie is pregnant with triplets, and again, Elouise is in shock but comes around more quickly. Despite other complications, the book has a happy ending.

This book reminds me of how glamorous it would be to live in a place like the Hotel Vendome and not worry about cooking, cleaning, or even making your own bed. Of course it would be too expensive so I wouldn’t pursue this lifestyle. However, for the time it took to read the book, I was transported to a wonderful place where I could relax in a luxurious suite, enjoy a box of decadent hotel chocolates, and order meals from room service. To sign up for a free monthly email newsletter and learn more about Danielle Steel, click here.

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Abbie J. Taylor 010Author Abbie Johnson Taylor

Front Book Cover - We Shall OvercomeWe Shall Overcome

Cover: How to Build a Better Mousetrap by Abbie Johnson TaylorHow to Build a Better Mousetrap: Recollections and Reflections of a Family Caregiver

That’s Life: New and Selected Poems

Order from Amazon