Remember: The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting @LisaGenova @penguinrandom #ourbrain #duoreviews @JanBelisle @absltmom

Jan and I both agree that Lisa Genova writes outstanding books, so when we received the opportunity to read the newest of Lisa’s books we jumped at the chance. It was such a rewarding experience, one that made us so aware of the abilities of our amazing brain, and happy that the process of aging is a natural one with numerous ways to help it remain healthy.

Remember: The Science of Memory and the Art of Forgetting

Jan’s review

How do we remember? How do our brains store memories and recall them? What impacts memory? How can we improve our memory? Divided into 3 parts: How We Remember, Why We Forget, and Improve or Repair, this book answers all these questions and more.

Sound boring? Let me assure you it is anything but. The author has a PhD from Harvard in neuroscience but just as she does with her fiction books, she writes in a conversational way, using personal experiences from her own life to make the information more accessible.

 A few teasers:

–       Forgetting is good! We are supposed to forget things. Remembering everything would be a curse (whew…)

–       Will using Google make my memory skills lazy? (nope! Yay!)  

–       Red wine, chocolate, and working crossword puzzles helps memory. Nope, sorry, just kidding! Sadly, these are myths that have no research or scientific basis to back them up. But Lisa does have a chapter in what WILL help memory.

–       Multitasking is prized in our culture but is a death knell to memory

–       Episodic memory is like a wide-eyed preschooler at Walt Disney World who believes everything they see and think (spoiler alert: your memories of past events are probably wrong) and prospective memory for future events is your flaky friend who likes to make plans but is most often a no-show (so…. I’m a flaky preschooler 😂)

The above is just a fraction of what is covered, all of it fascinating. Marialyce and I have both enjoyed the author’s fiction books over the years and were quick to snap this one up. We are so glad we did. This book helped ease our fears and gave us new tools in our memory tool belts.

Lisa deals with the subject of memory with incredible compassion for those with Alzheimer’s or dementia.  Memory loss is heartbreaking and frustrating but it isn’t everything. Their lives still matter. Memory isn’t needed for feeling the full range of emotions, especially to love and be loved. The person may not know who you are but they know love.  My mother lost her memory before she died last year. She didn’t know who I was but she knew I was someone who loved her. Her face would light up when I walked in her room and each visit ended with an “I love you.” It doesn’t take memory to love and be loved.  As Lisa says: “Take it seriously. Hold it lightly.”

Now I’m off to do some yoga and go to bed early, both of which help memory. Who am I kidding? I’ll probably have a glass of red wine and go to bed late, but at least now I’m thinking about changing my bad habits 😊

·      I received a digital copy of this book via Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

Marialyce’s review

After finishing Lisa Genova’s new book Remember, I breathed a sigh of relief. I know many of us worry about forgetting, about the loss of memory, of having the start of Alzheimer’s that if we misplace our keys, we are in a panic state.

However, Dr Genova assures us that this is natural and gives us some solid ideas about how to help our memory and ultimately the functionality of our brain.

Dr Genova delves into the various parts of our amazing brain and How each section functions as not only a thinking processor but also the way we retain information. She cautions us that some of the information presented to us is not yet proven. I will say I was disappointed to find that red wine is not the panacea it is reported to be! 😢

All of us age and for many we do not have the brain we had in our twenties. But take heart, anything we learn does increase our brain’s capacity, so keep reading all!

I have always enjoyed Dr Genova’s books and this one was no exception. I recommend it to those who want that assurance that forgetting something is natural and a part of the maturing process. Don’t panic if your phone goes missing, but do perhaps raise an eyebrow if you find it in the refrigerator!

Thank you to Lisa Genova, Penguin Random House, and NetGalley for a copy of this wonderfully informative book.

and here’s the author:

Lisa Genova graduated valedictorian, summa cum laude from Bates College with a degree in Biopsychology and has a Ph.D. in Neuroscience from Harvard University.

Acclaimed as the Oliver Sacks of fiction and the Michael Crichton of brain science, Lisa has captured a special place in contemporary fiction, writing stories that are equally inspired by neuroscience and the human spirit. She is the New York Times bestselling author of STILL ALICE, LEFT NEGLECTED, LOVE ANTHONY, INSIDE THE O’BRIENS, and EVERY NOTE PLAYED.

Her first nonfiction book, REMEMBER: The Science of Memory & the Art of Forgetting, will be released March 23, 2021.

STILL ALICE was adapted into a film starring Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth and Hunter Parrish. Julianne Moore won the 2015 Best Actress Oscar for her role as Alice Howland.

EVERY NOTE PLAYED is being adapted into a film starring Angelina Jolie and Christoph Waltz, directed by Michael Sucsy.

The film adaption for INSIDE THE O’BRIENS is in production.

In 2015, Lisa was named one of the U.S. Top 50 Influencers in Aging. She has appeared on Dr. Oz, the TODAY show, CNN, PBS Newshour, NPR, and several documentary films.

Her TED Talk, “What You Can Do To Prevent Alzheimer’s” has been viewed over five million times.

She received The Pell Center Prize for Story in the Public Square, for “distinguished storytelling that has enriched the public dialogue,” The Sargent and Eunice Shriver Profiles in Dignity Award, The Global Genes RARE Champions of Hope Award, and The American College of Neuropsychopharmacology Media Award for “informing the public about Treatment and ongoing research in medical illness.”

In 2016, she received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Bates College, The Alzheimer’s Association’s Rita Hayworth Award, and The Huntington’s Disease Society of America Community Awareness Award.

What an accomplished brilliant woman!

Because You Can’t Love ‘EM ALL!

The Girl in the Mirror

Jan’s review

Iris and Summer are identical twins, but their personalities couldn’t be more different. One is nice, one not so much. One has it all while nothing ever works out for the other one. 

Yet, when Summer calls on Iris to help her pilot her yacht from Thailand to Seychelles, Iris comes to her aid. As expected, things go horribly wrong. Jealousies, insecurities and a race for an inheritance drive the plot forward. It’s a twisty ride to an explosive ending. 

 This was a buddy read with Marialyce, and a story that disappointed both of us. I’m tiring of the evil twin/good twin (or sister) trope. The beginning was slow with a lot of sailing and technical lingo. By the time someone dies I was ready to kill them myself just to get the story off the ground. This is pure Lifetime movie escapism and a book to throw in the beach bag. Recommended  for thriller fans who can set aside their disbelief and don’t mind predictable twists you can see coming a mile away. There simply wasn’t enough here to elevate the story above an average rating.

Marialyce’s review

It seems as if twin stories are in this year or what’s left of it! This story of twin identical girls Iris and Summer is no exception to the twin routine. One is a self-assured gorgeous twin, while the others wallows in self-pity and believes herself to be the ugly twin. Say what? It’s definitely weird how the story is constructed and chances are you will figure all of it before the last page is turned. 


The implausible situations set the story up for a kind of ho-hum read and the more I thought about the story, the less I liked it. I do realize this was a debut author, but between the writing and a bevy of unlikable characters, this book was just not for me.

Jan and I shared our opinions on this one and this one lost its appeal pretty quickly. Maybe the both of us are using our Nancy Drew gene or could it be our Sherlock Holmes gene, for we figured out this story very early on.

The Burning Girls @cjtudor @ballantinebooks #fictionfriends #duoreiews @janbelisle @absltmom

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First of all Jan and I would like to wish all our fellow bloggers and their families a Merry Christmas and a wonderful 2021. We are all hoping for a better year where we can all get together and enjoy the company of family and friends. A world of thanks goes out to all those who worked through this virus and to those who so helped all of us get through this. To all of the medical people, the essential workers who kept our food stores stocked and our packages coming much gratitude is given.

and now to our reviews….

The Burning Girls

Jan’s review

Single mom Rev. Jack Brooks and her teenage daughter Flo  move to a small village in the English countryside, where Jack will be the new Vicar. But it soon becomes clear Chapel Croft is far from the idyllic peaceful village they were expecting. The town’s inhabitants are a quirky bunch and don’t give them the warmest of welcomes.

The village has a dark history involving the Sussex martyrs who were burned at the stake, the unsolved disappearance of two young girls 30 years ago, and the unexpected death of the previous Vicar. The spooky church and an exorcism kit complete with a dire warning complete the picture. Things turn even more ominous when Jack begins to experience strange dreams and Flo sees visions of the burning girls, said to be a harbinger of bad things to come. When the story takes off, the twists and revelations come fast and furious.  

But what I loved the most about this story were the characters. Jack is a bit of an unconventional vicar, with a unique viewpoint for a woman of the cloth. and lends out practical advice and wisdom to the villagers, along with acceptance and understanding. But not in a  ‘holier-than-thou’ way, more of a ‘aren’t you a cool vicar’ way. 

Tudor also nails the mother-daughter relationship. Flo is a good kid, an amateur photographer, but also a normal teenager, meaning she sometimes makes stupid decisions, and Jack handles it with love & skill.

If I have any complaints it’s that I would have preferred fewer points of view and chapter headings to indicate whose POV I was reading. The ending required a bit of suspension of disbelief but I expect that with this genre, and the journey to that point was so engaging I was able to look beyond it. This book ended a one month reading slump and is the first book I’ve finished in a month.

C.J. Tudor is a master storyteller who weaves a delicious tale with subtle humor and wisdom, and the usual nod to Stephen King. I highlighted. A lot. Kudos to the author for completely surprising me with her ending – I didn’t see it coming. But looking back through my highlights I realized the breadcrumbs were there all along. Well-done!

*I received a digital copy of the book via Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

* This was a buddy read with Marialyce, one we both enjoyed.

Marialyce’s review

As usual I was once again creeped out, scared, and thoroughly entertained by C.J. Tudor’s newest book, The Burning Girls. My goodness, that girl sure knows how to keep the spookiness going and creating a story that has all the things I love in my thrillers.

Welcome to Chapel Croft and interesting little town where their claim to fame is the killing of eight Protestant martyrs five hundred years ago. To this denizen of volatile happenings, comes Reverend Jack Brooks and her daughter Flo, assigned to Chapel Croft to fill a gap left by the suicide of the former reverend. They have their work cut out for them for they are the newbies in town, who themselves bear some dark secrets. To add to the mixture, there is also plus a creepy stalker out to find them having been just sprung from prison.
Things get spookier when facts present themselves. Two young girls went missing some thirty years ago, an exorcism kit turns up plus bloody girl “welcomes” them to the community. Who can forget the very strange young man cozying up to Flo, or the creepy suspicious parishioners who round out a team of chilling participants in a story that keeps the heat on until the last page is turned?

Jack’s life turns to the evil side as she is seeing things, burning girls that is, as well as having nightmares.  Flo seems also to be chased by the evil that seems to be prevalent in the town and the church. There are uncanny things afoot and though the theme is frightening, the actual cruelty of some of the young characters is what really is eerie.

There is a plethora for the reader to think about, and as usual Ms Tudor hits us with the one two punch, this reader has come to love. I was so looking forward to this book and happy to say, I was not disappointed in the presentation, the writing, and the aura that this author masterfully creates.

So grab this one when it comes out on February 9, 2021. You will not be disappointed.Thank you to C.J.Tudor, (keep them coming girl, Random House Publishing, and Netgalley for a copy of this stay up all night until your eyes bug out) thriller.

and here’s the author:

Bestselling author C.J. Tudor talks to PoetsIN about writing

C. J. Tudor was born in Salisbury and grew up in Nottingham, where she still lives with her partner and young daughter.

She left school at sixteen and has had a variety of jobs over the years, including trainee reporter, radio scriptwriter, shop assistant, ad agency copywriter and voiceover.

In the early nineties, she fell into a job as a television presenter for a show on Channel 4 called Moviewatch. Although a terrible presenter, she got to interview acting legends such as Sigourney Weaver, Michael Douglas, Emma Thompson and Robin Williams. She also annoyed Tim Robbins by asking a question about Susan Sarandon’s breasts and was extremely flattered when Robert Downey Junior showed her his chest.

While writing the Chalk Man she ran a dog-walking business, walking over twenty dogs a week as well as looking after her little girl.

She’s been writing since she was a child but only knuckled down to it properly in her thirties. Her English teacher once told her that if she ‘did not become Prime Minister or a best-selling author’ he would be ‘very disappointed.’

The Chalk Man was inspired by a tub of chalks a friend bought for her daughter’s second birthday. One afternoon they drew chalk figures all over the driveway. Later that night she opened the back door to be confronted by weird stick men everywhere. In the dark, they looked incredibly sinister. She called to her partner: ‘These chalk men look really creepy in the dark . . .’

She is never knowingly over-dressed. She has never owned a handbag and the last time she wore heels (twelve years ago) she broke a tooth.

She loves The Killers, Foo Fighters and Frank Turner. Her favourite venue is Rock City.
Her favourite films are Ghostbusters and The Lost Boys. Her favourite authors are Stephen King, Michael Marshall and Harlan Coben.
She is SO glad she was a teenager in the eighties.
She firmly believes that there are no finer meals than takeaway pizza and champagne, or chips with curry sauce after a night out.
Everyone calls her Caz.

As an aside……Jan and I love this author. She not only is a super talented author, but also is ever so grateful to her fans and people who review her stories. We are definitely an eager part of her fan club and would read anything she writes.

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Shuggie Bain @Doug_D_Stuart @GrovePress #bookerprize2020 #alcoholism #family #poverty @absltmom

Shuggie Bain

“She was no use at maths homework, and some days you could starve rather than get a hot meal from her, but Shuggie looked at her now and understood this was where she excelled. Everyday with the make-up on and her hair done, she climbed out of her grave and held her head high. When she had disgraced herself with drink, she got up the next day, put on her best coat, and faced the world. When her belly was empty and her weans were hungry, she did her hair and let the world think otherwise.”

What a truly sad story! My heart just broke for our protagonist Shuggie and of course his alcoholic mother, Agnes, who seemed to make the wrong choices in a place that was hard hit by poverty, hardship, and gloom. In essence, Agnes, is the main story line and as we follow her we feel great compassion not only for her struggles with alcohol, but also with a husband, a taxi driver, who philanders. Looking for love, Agnes only received the contempt of her husband who finally abandoned her and his son.

The setting is the grey and ominous Glasgow, Scotland where the family struggles. The older children, separate themselves from their mother, so it is Shuggie who is left to care for her and she for him. Agnes does have moments of sobriety where she pictures a very different life for herself and Shuggie, one where she will have a front door, and one where her life, her looks, and her style will be like her idol Elizabeth Taylor.

As Shuggie grows, he also struggles with his identity making him a target for the neighborhood kids. Shuggie is indeed different and that difference is one he needs to come to terms with.

This is an exhaustive read, one that will make the reader feel the depression, the hopelessness, and the despair of a family left bereft by governmental policies and the short sighted view of others. Honestly, it was a very difficult read for me as I was dragged into a life I could hardly imagine.

It was a wonderfully written story, but one that could cause a well spring of unhappiness and deep feelings in the reader.
Thank you to Douglas Stuart, Grove Press, and Netgalley for a copy of this tragic story.

and here’s the author:

Douglas   Stuart

Douglas Stuart is a Scottish – American author. His debut novel, ‘Shuggie Bain,’ is the winner of the 2020 Booker Prize.

‘Shuggie Bain’ was a finalist for the National Book Award in Fiction, the Center For Fiction First Novel Prize, and the Kirkus Prize for Fiction. He is currently at work on his second novel.

His short stories, ‘Found Wanting,’ and ‘The Englishman,’ have been published by The New Yorker magazine. His writing on Gender, Class and Anxiety was featured on Lit Hub.

Born in Glasgow, Scotland, after receiving his MA from the Royal College of Art in London, he has lived and worked in New York City.

Blacktop Wasteland @blacklionking74 @Flatironbooks #qualitywriting #familydrama #crime #outstandingcharacters @absltmom

Blacktop Wasteland by S.A.  Cosby
“Listen, when you’re a black man in America you live with the weight of people’s low expectations on your back every day. They can crush you right down to the goddamn ground. Think about it like it’s a race. Everybody else has a head start and you dragging those low expectations behind you. Choices give you freedom from those expectations. Allows you to cut ’em loose. Because that’s what freedom is. Being able to let things go. And nothing is more important than freedom. Nothing. You hear me, boy?” Beauregard said. Javon nodded his head. “Alright”

We all know we would do whatever needed to be done to save our family. In this extremely well written book, we learn of a man Beauregard “Bug” Montage who does everything he can to protect and preserve a family he loves, even to the point of death.

“The thing about loving someone was that they knew all your pressure points. They knew all the spots that were open and raw. You let them into your heart and they cased the place.”

This was such a strong book, making so many relevant topics appear seamless in a story of family, friend, villains, prejudices, and a life that seems to be predestined. Are we what our parents were or can we escape from the things that made our parents life unhappy, dangerous, and terrifying?

Bug Montage is a family man, so in love with his wife and a father working hard as a car mechanic to make it all come together. He finds himself up against it as a competitor has moved into town and Bug’s business is failing. He doesn’t want a repeat of the life his father had, a father he loved even though he had been deserted by him, and yet he needed to provide for his beloved family.

“The secret ain’t about the motor. That’s part of it, yeah, but that ain’t the main thing. The real thing, the thing most people don’t want to talk about, is how you drive. If you drive like you scared, you gonna lose. If you drive like you don’t want to have to rebuild the whole engine, you gonna lose. You gotta drive like don’t nothing else matter except getting to that line. Drive like you fucking stole it.”

One of Bug’s myriad talents is his uncanny ability to drive, a reputation based on his other persona of having been a getaway driver. With much trepidation he becomes the getaway driver for a jewelry heist, opening himself and his family to the most dangerous positions as the world of darkness descends upon them. It’s a story of survival, a story of strength, a story that blends flawlessly all the elements that make S.A. Cosby’s work shine.

This was a story that fostered one’s compassion and empathy for a father who finds himself in a position that seems untenable and yet he perseveres in the love of his wife and children. They are first and foremost in his mind and actions.

This book comes highly recommended. Don’t miss i!

and here ‘s the author:

S. A. Cosby

S. A. Cosby is a writer from Southeastern Virginia. He won the 2019 Anthony Award for Best Short Story for “The Grass Beneath My Feet”, and his previous books include Brotherhood of the Blade and My Darkest Prayer. He resides in Gloucester, Virginia. When not writing, he is an avid hiker and chess player.

The Searcher @TanaFrench @VikingBooks #fictionfriends #duoreviews @JanBelisle @absltmom

There are some authors who can make the ordinary something special. Tana French is such an author. Jan and I so enjoyed our time spent with Ms French’s new novel. It was a time well spent.

The Searcher

Jan’s review

Cal, newly divorced and retired from the Chicago PD, moves to a remote village in Ireland looking for a quiet, peaceful life, a place that couldn’t be more different than Chicago.  He’s life-weary and his relationship with his ex-wife and adult daughter is troubled. 

As he renovates his dilapidated cottage he uses the isolation and physical labor as a way to heal. But there’s no privacy in a small village, and, in fact, Cal misses human interaction. He begins to meet his neighbors at the local watering hole and also befriends a local boy, Trey, who is from the wrong side of the tracks and has a secret of his own. It’s a friendship that benefits both, and it was wonderful and heartwarming to watch their friendship blossom as Trey helps with the work on his house, and Cal teaches him new skills. Cal is a true Renaissance man with many skills but those skills are tempered with compassion and goodness. 

Trey has a rough home life and a beloved brother, Brendan, who has disappeared without a trace. Trey knows Cal is a retired PO and begs Cal to help locate him. As with most small towns, secrets run deep, and as Cal begins to uncover them, he receives subtle threats that eventually become not-so-subtle. Unsettling things begin to happen in the community and the good ‘ole boy camaraderie in the local pub has an undercurrent. The growing sense of tension and unease that eventually explodes is the type of suspense I love in literary fiction. 

I enjoy the Dublin Murder Squad series but this was a terrific, well-written, atmospheric standalone. Few authors can write this type of suspense as well as Tana French.  I particularly love the type of slow burn where I’m privy to the daily routines and the private thoughts and feelings of the MC.  I loved everything about this story: the setting, the colorful characters, and the growing tension. 

I  often look for meaning in a book’s title and in this case it’s very fitting. Does Cal find what he’s searching for? I won’t say, but I loved the ending and found it to be perfect and satisfying. 

·     This was a buddy read with Marialyce and we both found it a pleasure to immerse ourselves in such brilliant writing and character development.

Marialyce’s review

Can you really escape who and what you are or are you ever tied into the person you have become be it through life experiences or what path you have chosen to pursue? For Cal Hooper, his plan is to escape all the things that made him Cal, his family, his life in the States, and most of all the police detective he once was are things he seems to be running from. Then life, in his new Irish village intervenes and Cal finds himself pulled into a direction he thought he had left behind.


Cal meets a young boy, Trey, bought up rough being one of many children whose father is absent, and whose beloved brother is missing or so Trey thinks. Cal finds himself pulled into the orbit of Trey all while becoming friends with the locals, especially one named Mart. However, Cal is the outsider, and as he tries to fit in, he realizes that this bucolic town and mountains is not what he thought it to be. For underneath runs something evil that has taken a hold of the town and entwines itself into the people What Cal was hoping to escape now finds him even though he believed himself to be tucked away into peace and security. One can run but they really can’t hide.

This was a wonderfully written story so captured the wit and the supposed joi du vive of the Irish people. The town is just the place where so many of us might wish to reside, its smallness and hail fellow well met atmosphere makes for a place where one feels they are an integral part of its very life’s blood. However, as the author so deftly points out, there is no place that is totally immune from the ills of today and though we might search, just as Cal did, we will never find that spot where all is perfect.

Jan and I so enjoyed this story. It was simply told and yet bore so much in the telling that we could relate to. The writing was enticing, drawing the reader into its story and as we became more entrenched in the happenings, we realized that life is never simple no matter where we live.

and here’s the author:

TanaFrench is the author of In the Woods, The Likeness, Faithful Place, Broken Harbor, The Secret Place, The Trespasser and The Witch Elm. Her books have won awards including the Edgar, Anthony, Macavity, and Barry awards, the Los Angeles Times Award for Best Mystery/Thriller, and the Irish Book Award for Crime Fiction. She lives in Dublin with her family.

The Good Sister by Sally Hepworth

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Jan and I had a bit of fun with this one.

Jan’s review

Sister relationships are complicated, and fraternal twins, Fern and Rose, have a more complicated relationship than most.  

Fern is on the spectrum and has sensory processing disorder. Rose has been her best friend and protector  since they were young children growing up in an abusive household. Fern knows she could never make it on her own. She is indebted to her sister for many things and comes up with a plan to repay her that you know will not be as uncomplicated as Fern believes.

This seems to be a pretty straightforward story but things are not as they seem. After the halfway mark, there are a few surprises and twists in store. The story is told in a dual perspective from Fern’s point of view and in flashbacks to their childhood through Rose’s diary. I loved Fern’s quirkiness, innocence and good heart and I fell in love with her friend Wally. I loved the library setting and Fern’s job as a librarian, as well as her love of books and reading.

Which sister is the ‘good sister’? Are either reliable narrators?  Is someone lying? Was I right to root for one of the sisters?   The ‘good sister/bad sister’ story has been done before. Was it predictable? Yes. Did I care? No.  I still found it an engaging fun read that I read on the beach in one day. 

Recommended for fans of women’s fiction with a side of humor, romance, and light suspense that won’t stretch your ‘little gray cells’ too hard. This will be a good one to throw into the beach bag next Spring/Summer. 

·     I received a digital copy of the book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own. 

·     *Publication date 4/13/21 by St Martin’s Press

·     This was a buddy read with Marialyce, one we both found to be an easy light read.

Marialyce’s review

Sugar and spice and everything nice…that’s what little girls are made of…..and what happens when you have two little girls at once? Is it double the sugar and spice?


In her new book, The Good Sister, by Sally Hepworth we are introduced to two sisters who are twins. Rose and Fern Castle are quite different from one another as poor Fern seems to have a severe case of sensory overload and life is very difficult for her. Her sister, Rose watches out for Fern growing up and even keeps a very deep dark secret about an action of Fern’s that resulted in tragedy. The girls have had a rough upbringing as their father deserted the family and their mother seems harsh and cruel, and yet the girls grow into women, Fern heading off to become a librarian and Rose to marry.


Fern copes with what life has given her, the aversion to noise, clothes that scratch, and even people until she meets Wally (Rocco) and life takes a turn for the better. Fern has feelings for Wally and they are reciprocated by Wally and as Fern becomes pregnant, she feels she can repay all the care and concern given to her by her sister Rose by one simple act of love.

However, there is an evil twist about to present itself in the lives of the twins. One of them is lying and someone might possibly be dying.


This was a quick easy read, one that you didn’t need the wits of Sherlock Holmes to figure out. The story was entertaining, a good way to take a break from those heavy reads and while away a fall afternoon.

Thank you to Sally Hepworth, St Martin’s Press, and NetGalley for a copy of this story due out April 13, 2020

And here’ the author:

Sally Hepworth

Sally Hepworth is the bestselling author of six novels, most recently The Mother In Law (2019). Her forthcoming novel, The Good Sister, will be available in early 2021.

Sally’s books have been heralded “enchanting” by The Herald Sun, “smart and engaging” by Publisher’s Weekly, and New York Times bestselling authors Liane Moriarty and Emily Giffin have praised Sally’s novels as “women’s fiction at its finest” and “totally absorbing”.

Sally’s novels are available worldwide in English and have been translated into 20 languages.

Sally lives in Melbourne, Australia with her husband and three children.

Transcendent Kingdom #yaagyasi @AAKnopf #addiction #science #religion #ghana #duoreviews #fictionfriends

Who among us does not know or has not been affected by the heinous outcomes drugs have played upon lives of those we love and care about? They have become a major killer of our people as well as addicting them to a life of hardship and ruin where their wonderful human potential is dashed and their life becomes one of abandon, neglect, and possible death. At times addiction comes about through a human choice, but there are other times when because of injury and pain, one becomes addicted because drug companies have led people to believe a certain drug in not addictive while consciously knowing it is. Recently Purdue Pharmaceutical has been made to pay eight billion dollars in a settlement to the Justice Department for their part in pushing Oxycontin to the general public well aware of the addictive qualities of this drug. However, we all know that no amount of money can replace the life of a loved one we have lost or have witnessed traveling down the road to addictive hell.

https://www.cbsnews.com/news/oxycontin-maker-purdue-pharma-to-plead-guilty-3-criminal-charges-ap/

Transcendent Kingdom

Jan’s review

“Homo sapiens is the only animal who believed he had transcended his Kingdom.”

Gifty’s parents immigrated to Alabama from Ghana before she was born, and Gifty, now in her late 20s, is a PhD candidate in neuroscience at Stanford University studying reward-seeking behavior in mice and the neural circuits of depression and addiction. 

Personal experience drives her quest. Nana, her brilliant brother, a rising basketball star, became addicted to opioids after a sports injury. The addiction costs him his life (the townspeople aren’t surprised – it’s to be expected from “their kind”).  Her mother falls into a debilitating depression that will haunt her for decades. 

The racism Gifty and her family grew up with in the South has given her even more motivation to succeed: to prove the townspeople wrong. The story alternates between the present and to her childhood. She grew up in poverty, with an absentee father and a harsh, hard-working mother who struggled to show love. 

 “If I’ve thought of my mother as callous, and many times I have, then it is important to remember what a callus is: the hardened tissue that forms over a wound.”  

Gifty adored her brother and watched helplessly as his bright star was dimmed by addiction. Still very young when he died, she prayed fervently and poured her heart out to God in her journal.  With no one to guide her, she loses hope and her faith dims. She decides to pour her energies into science. 

“…it‘s easier to write all addicts off as bad and weak-willed people, than it is to look closely at the nature of their suffering… there is no case study in the world that could capture the whole animal of my brother, that could show how smart and kind and generous he was, how much he wanted to get better, how much he wanted to live.”

 “The truth is we don’t know what we don’t know. We don’t even know the questions we need to ask in order to find out, but when we learn one tiny little thing, a dim light comes on in a dark hallway, and suddenly a new question appears. We spend decades, centuries, millennia, trying to answer that one question so that another dim light will come on. That’s science, but that’s also everything else, isn’t it? Try. Experiment. Ask a ton of questions.”

This is a beautiful look into the immigrant experience, the weight of expectations, racism, poverty, grief, depression, and addiction. But at its heart it’s an exploration of grief and the search for meaning. The brain wants the hard facts of science but the seeds of faith in Gifty’s heart wants an answer from God, even as she struggles against the fundamentalism faith of her childhood. Perhaps it’s not science vs faith but both?

Neither the science or the religion is heavy-handed or preachy. This is a brilliantly written book with a tone that perfectly captures Gifty’s emotions and the trauma she has survived. The prose was just as luminous as described and I gave my book darts a heavy workout. I was moved by Gifty’s story and was rooting for her from beginning to end. 

Highly recommended! 

*this was a buddy read with my friend Marialyce, which generated thoughtful discussions. 

Marialyce’s review

In the book, Transcendent Kingdom, we meet a family that were from Ghana living in Alabama. The son is a gifted athlete, one who is expected to go far but then an injury sidelines him and as Oxycontin is prescribed we find him slipping away into the drug and eventually dying from a drug overdose. His father had left the family and returned to Ghana soon to forget the family left behind, and the mother suffers from depression and takes to her bed, suicidal.


 Hope lies in the brilliant daughter, tasking herself with finding the why of the suffering. There must be a reason that some brains are disposed to addiction and it must be based in science. However, as the daughter, Gifty, researches, she tries to come to grips with what she is, a child of faith, guaranteed a life of salvation and endeavoring to reconcile that upbringing with the science she clings to. Her faith itself has been cast aside for now, but it is a part and parcel of who she is. Can she reconcile that inner faith with the woman of science she now is?

This is a book that will move you to understand all that stands in the way to acceptance, to finding a path no matter how fraught it is, and to stepping forward into what one so desires to be a better day, one that has answers and reasons why. Beautifully written with pathos and the longing for all the blessings that appear when life begins to be joyously present as it journeys forward, this is excellent story that brings you face to face with the demon so many of us have dealt with, that of facing our own addictions.  

*Jan and I read and had some wonderful discussions about this story. Trying to understand the people. trying to know the suffering, trying to be cognizant that the loss of one life is a loss to us all.

and here’s the author:

Yaa Gyasi

YAA GYASI was born in Ghana and raised in Huntsville, Alabama. She holds a BA in English from Stanford University and an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, where she held a Dean’s Graduate Research Fellowship. She lives in Brooklyn.

Yaa Gyasi (born 1989) is a Ghanaian-American novelist. Her debut novel, Homegoing, published in 2016, won her, at the age of 26, the National Book Critics Circle’s John Leonard Award for best first book, the PEN/Hemingway Award for a first book of fiction, the National Book Foundation’s “5 under 35” honors for 2016 and the American Book Award.She was awarded a Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise …

Hello Friends and Fellow Bloggers!

V2R1 - I Love You ...: I am very very very sorry...

I apologize for not keeping up with all the wonderful blogs that come to me online. I have not been feeling well and yesterday got myself to a doctor to see if she could help me. I have been suffering with my sinuses and a diverticulitis attack. She prescribed antibiotics, cough syrup, and prednisone tablets. I am hoping these will make me feel better and able to both read and write for longer periods of time. …and of course read reviews of my blog friend…..

I do hope to catch up with all your postings and terrific reviews.

Please do stay well and enjoy the weekend ahead. Thank you for being a reader of my blog.

Marialyce

The Pull of the Stars @edonoghuewriter @littlebrown #spanishflu #nurses #pregnancy #drkatherinelynn #ireland fictionfriends #duoreviews @JanBelisle @absltmom

Looking for a book to read about the a well known pandemic that killed millions globally, and hearing good things about The Pull of the Stars, Jan and I decided to read this story of a fictitious understaffed and overwhelmed hospital in Ireland, and its staff focusing on those in the maternity section infected with the flu.

“She murmured, We could always blame the stars. I beg your pardon, Doctor? That’s what influenza means, she said. Influenza delle stelle—the influence of the stars. Medieval Italians thought the illness proved that the heavens were governing their fates, that people were quite literally star-crossed. I pictured that, the celestial bodies trying to fly us like upsidedown kites. Or perhaps just yanking on us for their obscure amusement.”

The Pull of the Stars

Jan’s review

“This flu was clogging the whole works of the hospital. Not just the hospital, I reminded myself—the whole of Dublin. The whole country. As far as I could tell, the whole world was a machine grinding to a halt. Across the globe, in hundreds of languages, signs were going up urging people to cover their coughs.” 

It’s 1918 and the flu pandemic is raging across the globe. Nurse Julia, along with her aide, Bridie, is in charge of a small hospital ward, a supply closet really, for pregnant women suffering from the flu. Dr. Katherine Lynn, a real person of history, is the physician in charge. 

The poverty, illness, and malnutrition of the poor, along with supply shortages and misinformation, made the health professional’s job even more challenging during an already challenging time. As a nurse myself, I appreciated that the author portrayed Julia as  compassionate, intelligent and capable. 

The descriptions of childbirth and the conditions under which the doctors and nurses were expected to work are not for the squeamish. Maternal and infant death was common, usually under horrific circumstances. The medical knowledge was woefully inadequate by today’s standards, and it made me ever so grateful for the advances in modern medicine (and for epidurals!). It’s obvious Donaghue did her research. 

Nearly the entire book is set in this small supply closet of a ward and the author managed to maintain interest and intensity. It would be easy for Julia and Bridie to give in to despair in the midst of such suffering but they provide us with an example of perseverance in the face of adversity. 

 On the heels of WWI, the world was hit with a devastating pandemic, one that killed young people at a far greater rate than the elderly. The overwhelming poverty, malnutrition and lack of basic medical care made a bad situation worse. At the same time, the world was dealing with the veterans of WWI who had devastating physical and emotional damage. Julia’s brother was one such casualty of the war.

The ending may be a little cliché but I had tears in my eyes as I finished, so there’s that. I closed the book with sadness for the past and hope for the future. It certainly put things into perspective. Some of the scenarios regarding the pandemic of 1918 are eerily familiar and as bad as it is, I’m ever so grateful I am dealing with the pandemic of 2020 and not the one of 1918. 

This was a buddy read with my friend Marialyce, and it provided us with perspective and much to discuss. Don’t miss the afterward where the author tells us Dr. Lynn’s story.

 As this book teaches us, this too shall pass….

“The human race settles on terms with every plague in the end, the doctor told her. Or a stalemate, at the least. We somehow muddle along, sharing the earth with each new form of life.” 

Marialyce’s review

I will admit that I was one of those few outliers who didn’t like Emma Donahue’s book Room. There were multiple reasons, so I was a bit reticent about picking up this new book of hers fearing the very same issues I had with the other one would crop up once again.

Happily, although truth be told, I had some tiny issues with the story line, I did enjoy this book. As many know, we can’t help but see comparisons made between the Spanish flu of 1918, to the current situation we are faced with today. Although the Spanish flu is estimated to have killed 17-50 million of the world’s population, thankfully today’s pandemic’s numbers are not in that awful statistic. Also, the Spanish flu seemed to be particularly virulent among the young, a peculiarity, as most diseases often attack the old and the debilitated.

“The influenza pandemic of 1918 killed more people than the First World War—an estimated 3 to 6 per cent of the human race.”

We are introduced to a truly heroic nurse, Julie, an unmarried thirty-year-old who lives with her brother who has returned from the war a mute. Julie is assisted by a young volunteer, Bridie, who is an orphan from a local convent, and a doctor Dr Katherine Lynn (a real person woven into the story), sought by the police because of her affiliation with Sein Fein. Together they tackle the many issues connected with this flu in a small room that houses three ill maternity patients. All these women were brave and one can’t imagine how horrid it was to not only battle the flu but also be pregnant, with the specter of labor and delivery in front of them At the time, it was believed that the flu was responsible for premature births and the women, we meet do experience both the joys and the sorrows that accompanied life and death in a time where death, the bone man, seemed to be in every corner lying in wait.

It’s a horrendous situation and of course the times made it even more so as the people in Ireland where the story is set lived in crowded, horrible situations where sickness ran rampant. Women had many children, many of whom succumbed not only to the flu, but to lack of proper nutrition, housing, and care. The church at the time had stringent rules and regulations and children who were orphaned were let into a life of servitude to the convent/orphanages they were assigned to. Ms Donahue is clear in pointing out the abuses, and generally holds both the nuns and the male population in contempt. A child born disfigured or outside the bonds of marriage was shunned and made to bear their birth as a sin. Horrible indeed!

In essence this was an appalling story of times past but also a story of hope that with the aid and loving care of doctors and nurses, overworked then as they seem to be now, were the heroes of the times. Definitely a worthy story to be read.

“The human race settles on terms with every plague in the end, the doctor told her. Or a stalemate, at the least. We somehow muddle along, sharing the world with each new form of life.”

and here’s the author

redbulrushes web

Born in Dublin, Ireland, in October 1969, I am the youngest of eight children of Frances and Denis Donoghue (the literary critic). I attended Catholic convent schools in Dublin, apart from one eye-opening year in New York at the age of ten. In 1990 I earned a first-class honours BA in English and French from University College Dublin (unfortunately, without learning to actually speak French). I moved to England, and in 1997 received my PhD (on the concept of friendship between men and women in eighteenth-century English fiction) from the University of Cambridge. From the age of 23, I have earned my living as a writer, and have been lucky enough to never have an ‘honest job’ since I was sacked after a single summer month as a chambermaid. After years of commuting between England, Ireland, and Canada, in 1998 I settled in London, Ontario, where I live with Chris Roulston and our son Finn and daughter Una.