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.


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.

The Comeback @ellab @BerkleyPub #hollywood #childstar #predator #psychological #family #newauthor #fictionfriends #duoreviews @JanBelisle @absltmom

These days many of us wish we could put our children and grandchildren under a protective shield as we send them out into a word where much evil exists. We want to surround them with safety, never fearful, but now we find that such a case is fraught with danger and jeopardy. Jan and I decided to read this book and found it to be a clear indictment against those who prey upon our children. As grandparents with young grandchildren, we worry about the world we are sending these children into. Will they be prepared and can a parent prepare them without frightening their child into not wanting to go out their front door? We were both very happy to have read this story and do recommend it.

The Comeback

Jan’s review

At the height of her fame, Grace Turner was a young up-and-coming Hollywood star when she disappeared, leaving it all behind. Holding onto an explosive secret and battling addictions, she hides out at her parent’s home in Anaheim for a year. Now, at age 23,  she’s back and ready to confront her demons and get her life back. But the road is long and winding with many bumps along the way.

Discovered at 13, then groomed and made into a star by producer Able Yorke, Grace was a child who was not protected by her parents or the adults in her life. Able was a wolf in sheep‘s clothing, someone so powerful that not one person questioned what was happening as she was manipulated and abused in every way. She learned she couldn’t trust anyone, least of all herself. 

This sounds like another somewhat tired #MeToo trope but it is not. The author began her book before the movement began and purposefully did not make it into a story for the movement.  This could easily have been a formulaic story but is not. 

I applaud the author for not detailing the intimate details of the abuse, focusing instead on Grace’s emotional damage, her struggles, and her lack of healthy coping skills. The author clearly did her research.

Able stole her childhood and she became emotionally stuck at the age the abuse started. She was maddeningly immature and self-absorbed one minute, while charming and sweet the next (like most teens). She lacked basic skills yet so desired to be “normal”. Grace was sympathetic, captivating, and real to me.  I was so emotionally invested in her story that I simply could not put the book down, and read it in two sittings. 

I didn’t think the world needed another “abuse” book, but I was wrong. Judging by the sheer number of passages I highlighted on my kindle, what really sets this book apart is the smart writing and the deep dive into Grace’s psyche as she tries to put her life back together. Heartbreaking yet ultimately hopeful, this is the book I’ve been searching for all year. It completely sucked me in from the first page to the last. If I wanted to be nitpicky, I could have done without the epilogue, but it in no way detracts from my love of this book.  

Highly recommended! I purposefully went light on plot in this review because details are best discovered by the reader. But this ticked all my boxes: character-driven, smart writing, engaging characters, and psychological insights. What an amazing debut!

This was a fun buddy read with my friend Marialyce, one we both enjoyed.

Marialyce’s review

How many of us have dreamed of being a star, of the fame and fortune list of people who we look to for being gorgeous, being gifted, providing us with entertainment, and being sought after? Isn’t this a dream come true? To be discovered to be a Disney princess, to be adored, admired, to have everything you want at your fingertips? Yet, with all the glitter, the money, the houses, cars, and jewelry, there is an evil underside to being a star. This story takes a look at that side.

As we have seen Hollywood and the entertainment industry is filled with predators, men who seek not only control of women and girls, but also are well educated in the fact that the lights of fame glitter brightly and many are prey to their allure. These men know so well the girls to go after, the young unsophisticated, the ones who are cast adrift by parents who only see the allure of money and forget they have a child who they are supposed to protect. Witness the Weinstein, Lauer, Epstein men, plus scores of others who have not been outed but surely exist hidden in shadows with promises made and the web of deceit woven.

In this story, we meet such a girl. Grace Turner, was discovered at age 13 and started down a path that did indeed lead her to fame and fortune, but oh what a price she paid. When at the age of 23, she up and left the life that she had descended into, it’s a time for her to come face to face with the things that haunt her, the things that destroyed her, the things she has nightmares about. For Grace has been molested, not only her body but also her mind has been screwed with all courtesy of producer Able York. He holds Grace, molds her into a star, but also makes her a pawn in the sick game he plays, as he crushes and dismantles her, Grace tumbles into the world of drugs and alcohol and a marriage to a man who loves her plummets. At that point, she has nowhere to go. She decides to go home to her parents and sister. Will this be the way to start healing or will her family once again abandon her to the whiles of an evil and cruel world that Grace seems to believe is perhaps what she deserves.

Totally tragic, this story did delve into the underbelly of Hollywood, the seedy side, the side that has been hidden by glitz and glamour. It’s a tale that rings ever so true. We are well aware of the stories of Marilyn Monroe, Ashley Judd, Rose McGowen, and Lindsay Lohan, etc. One can rest assured that there are a multitude of others that have seen their lives destroyed by predators. These men come in all walks of life, they seek out the weak, the young, and those not protected by adults. This was Grace, sad destitute but with a will that tried to right the wrongs done to her. Whether she does succeed is the gist of this compelling story.

and here’s the author

Ella Berman grew up in both London and Los Angeles and worked at Sony Music before starting the clothing brand London Loves LA. She lives in London with her husband, James, and their dog, Rocky. The Comeback is her first novel, coming August 11, 2020.

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President @candice_millard @doubldaybooks #presidentgarfield #charlesguiteau #assassination #duoreviews @JanBelisle @absltmom

Jan and I decided to read this story and were so happy that we did. It was beyond fascinating and we both were blown away by both James Garfield, his background, and the way he became the leader of this country being our twentieth president, a man who came from nothing to assume the highest office in our land. A captivating book and one we definitely recommend most highly.

Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President

Jan’s review

As riveting as a thriller, this book is proof that history need not be boring or dull. I knew little of President Garfield before reading this  and I’m only sorry it took me so long to do so. Marialyce and I chose this as a buddy read, and it’s one that deeply moved us both.

He was bigger than life, a gregarious man who loved life and his family. He grew up poor, yet managed to go to college, and become a university professor and president as well as a minister. He was a man of the people, a strong anti-slavery advocate, and served as a general in the Union Army during the American Civil War. 

Proper Course: Beards

Telling a group of blacks who traveled to his home in OH: “ You were not made free merely to be allowed to vote, but in order to enjoy an equality of opportunity in the race of life.”  “ And I tell you now, in the closing days of the campaign, that I would rather be with you and defeated than against you and victorious.” He firmly believed education was the means to better oneself, regardless of color.

This story is about so much more than the assassination of a President. The author has woven into Garfield’s story the assassin, Charles Guiteau’s, growing delusions and mental illness, as well as the efforts of Alexander Graham Bell to develop a device to locate the bullet that still resided in the President’s body.  

Short presidency, big legacy - WND

Dr. Joseph Lister’s theory of germs and the importance of disinfection, which was largely ignored or mocked by the medical community, plays a part in the President’s death. In particular, the arrogant and pompous Dr. Bliss, was single-handedly responsible for Garfield’s death from sepsis. The horror and suffering Garfield endured as he lay dying for two months was often difficult to read. Yet, he bore it all with grace and good humor, never complaining, and ever grateful to the doctors who treated him. Had Garfield simply gone home after being shot and left alone to recuperate, he would have survived.  

Doctor Willard Bliss - Wikipedia
Dr Bliss

Other well-known people make an appearance, including Helen Keller and Robert Todd Lincoln (who tragically was present at three Presidential assassinations). The political corruption and shenanigans of the times were also explored (spoiler alert: not much has changed)

The country was still wounded and divided from the Civil War, but Garfield’s death brought the country together in a way that had seemed impossible. Much loved by everyone, there was an outpouring of grief throughout the country. The people mourned his death as Americans, not as Northerners or Southerners, which is perhaps his greatest legacy. 

Each chapter began with a quote from Garfield, which highlighted how  deeply thoughtful and kind he was. The author writes in such a way that I felt I knew the man, not just the President. Only four months into his Presidency when he was shot, the nation missed out on a Garfield presidency and we will never know the full impact he would have made. 

Marialyce’s review

There are so many things we do not know about the men who have led our country and so many of these things make them so very real to those who just knew their names from a history class. Garfield was famous because he was one of our presidents who was assassinated, but there was so much more to this wonderful man who was taken from us too soon.

President James Garfield Biography - YouTube

Garfield came from nothing. He was dirt poor, raised in Orange Township, Ohio, one of five children born in a log cabin. Six months into office, the second shortest term served by any president, Garfield was dead at the hands of a crazed assassin., Charles Guiteau.

This amazing book covers in ever so interesting detail Garfield’s early life, his rise to prominence, his family he adored, and the type of man he was. Garfield was an exemplary person, who never seemed to have a cruel word about or to anyone. Even as he suffered through the months after being shot, being treated in what we today would call a barbaric manner, he still endeavored to maintain a pleasant and accepting demeanor. There was no doubt he was in excruciating pain and yet he bore it all. Aided by his loving wife, he seem to radiate peace always.

President Garfield And Family | Free Images at Clker.com ...
The Garfield Family

Fascinating too, was that during this time, Alexander Bell, fresh off his success with the invention of the telephone tried to assist in the process of finding the bullet that was in Garfield’s back near his pancreas, but alas the doctor in charge, Willard Bliss, believed that the bullet lay on the opposite side of the body then where it was. Bell had invented a machine that detected metal and would have been useful if only Bliss had allowed him to search both sides of the President’s body. Needless to say the practice of medicine at that time was not concerned with cleanliness, nor any kind of procedures that we know today are essential. Sadly, the wound was constantly prodded by doctors with unclean hands thereby making Garfield eventually become riddled with sepsis which eventually killed him.

Bell: Metal Detector, 1881 Photograph by Granger
Metal finding machine

The author was able to capture the spirit of President Garfield portraying him to be a man who believed in racial equality and that education was the road to success for the black population. Ms Millard made the president seem real, a definite inspiration to these around him even as the back biting and patronage system ran rampant through the political spectrum. Garfield lasted for eighty days and many questions were raised at the time about both succession and the ability to lead.

Truly a mesmerizing book and one that I heartily recommend. I only wish, history classes could focus more on the men and women who led this country to where we are today.

and here’s the author

Shocking Presidential History! “The Destiny Of The ...

Take It Back @kiaabdullah @HarperCollins #rape #race #courtroom #lawyers #crimefiction @absltmom

Take It Back by Kia Abdullah

This was such a fabulous book that I can’t hardly find the words necessary to convey how very good it was. It combined decisive writing, tight scenes, and a flow that made the book seamless.

A sixteen year old white deformed girl , Jodie, has allegedly been attacked by four Muslim boys. The boys come from hard working immigrant families and while Jodie is the only one who can back up her claims, the four boys swear that nothing happened. Seeking help, Jodie enlists the assistance of Zara Kaleel, a young accomplished lawyer who left the prestigious job she once held to help those who are victims. Zara is a Muslim woman modern in her thinking and as her defense of Jodi continues she becomes the brunt of not only the Muslim community but also members of her family as well.

The scenes flip back and forth between the court, the conferences and meeting that both Jodie and the boys hold with their lawyers, the talks between the boys themselves, and Jodie and Zara. It’s a heartbreaking tale especially for Jodie, who has always been ugly to others, her mother, and herself. In the end who is telling the truth is the ultimate question.

The topics covered in this story not only include rape, but also racial prejudice, religion, disabilities, and culture. This is a hard hitting book, one that cut to not only the he said, she said defense in rape cases, but also presents each and every character with their faults and feelings laid to bear.

The bottom line is the fact that many people form their opinions based on how a person looks, what nationality they are and how convincing they can be in the courtroom setting. It’s a bold story one that propels the reader into their own conflicting opinion and at the end makes them well aware of the frailties of many that some seem to prey upon.

Definitely a very strong recommendation for reading this book. Certainly a book that well holds the reader’s interest and I want to thank Netgalley and the publisher for a advanced copy of this meaningful book due out on December 8, 2020.

and here’s the author

Kia Abdullah

Kia Abdullah is an author and travel writer from London. Her novel Take It Back was named one of the best thrillers of the year by The Guardian and Telegraph and was selected for an industry-first audio serialisation by HarperCollins and The Pigeonhole.

Kia has written for The New York Times, The Guardian, The Times and The Telegraph, and is the founder of Asian Booklist, a non-profit organization that advocates for diversity in publishing.

Memorial Drive: A Daughter’s Memoir @NTrethewey @eccobooks #memoir #domesticabuse #familyloss #grief #mentalhealth #murder @absltmom

I will readily admit, I am not an avid memoir reader. However, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of this particular book. Many times, I feel that the writers of memoirs often embellish their memories and do try for the ultimate shock value in their stories. They often seem to miss the point that readers know these are memories and oftentimes are not as reliable as authors think they are.

Memorial Drive: A Daughter's Memoir

In the memoir, Memorial Drive, Ms Trethewey has created a believable, understandable, and somberly sad journey that she took down a road that was filled with anguish, the memory of a beloved mother, and the trials of growing up a child of a mixed race couple in the deep South.

Natasha’s struggles with her birth father who, for lack of a better term, abandoned them to a stepfather who was abusive in his approach to her. He caused sorrow, fear, and hopelessness. The unhappiness and hardship she endured was offset by her mother’s love. When, at age nineteen, her stepfather murdered her mother, Natasha’s world fell apart knowing instinctively that this tragedy was almost destined to happen.

Natasha was able to climb out of the depths of her heartbreak and become a Pulitzer Prize winning poet. She recognizes that her ability to create poetry is shaped by the twists and turns her life took. Wonderfully written, this book is recommended to those who love an authentic memoir that moves the reader so well into the life of its author. (less)

and here’s the author:

Natasha Trethewey


1776 #davidmccullough @SchusterAnd #history #war #americanrevolution #georgewashington #england #duoreviews @JanBelisle @absltmom

Is there anyone who is not troubled by the times we live in? We face each day unrest, violent protests, looting, the loss of respect for values, attacks against opinions unacceptable to some, and if that isn’t enough we also face the up and down onslaught of a virus no one seems to understand. Jan and I both decided it was time to take a look to our past and how we started as a nation, a country, a land that we love. In answer to the feelings and despicable behavior we view nightly on the news, we picked up David McCullough’s 1776 and were transported to a time where people truly fought for a new nation, for the values of freedom, and made the ultimate sacrifice.


Jan’s review

As the title suggests, this book covers only the year 1776, the first full year of the Revolutionary War. McCullough, with his impeccable research, used diaries, letters, and papers from officials on both sides as he narrowed his focus, giving us an up close and personal accounting of this year. 

American Revolution begins at Battle of Lexington - HISTORY

The history books have romanticized the war to some extent, but this is a fresh look at history that doesn’t gloss over the failures and difficulties that faced Washington and his army. Washington isn’t presented as a mythological figure, but one who faced heavy criticism, challenges, and failures. Privately, Washington expressed doubts and discouragement, yet, he never wavered in his leadership, perseverance and determination to the troops. 

There were many sacrifices and hardships they endured. The ragtag army was untrained and undisciplined and the officers lacked experience. Despicable acts were perpetrated by both sides. Lack of sanitation and illness was rampant. Desertions were frequent. There were regional conflicts. The states were reluctant to send more troops and Congress often didn’t meet Washington’s requests for funds and supplies. Weather could either help or hinder the troops and the lack of military intelligence was a challenge. Yet, the soldiers who stayed, accustomed to hard work and adversity, demonstrated incredible bravery against seemingly insurmountable odds. 

American Revolutionary War | Fallout Wiki | FANDOM powered ...

King George III and the British commander, General Howe, underestimated the Americans at their peril. It’s fair to say we would never have won the war without Washington’s leadership. Was he without faults? No. It’s unfair to judge him by the standards of today. He was highly respected by the soldiers and certainly was the man for the job. 

At a time with so much turmoil and social unrest this book is an excellent reminder that our nation has endured much and emerged stronger and better than before, and we will again.

1776 is a year we Americans celebrate as the year we gained independence. We must never forget it was a year of unimaginable suffering, failures, and discouragement, but also a year of courage, determination, victories and bravery. Our success was nothing short of a miracle and a testament to the human spirit’s desire for independence.

This is narrative non-fiction at its finest by one of the best historians of our time. McCullough delivers a riveting tale, making history come alive.

* This was a buddy read with my friend Marialyce, one we both enjoyed immensely and highly recommend.

Marialyce’s review

Look to our past…could anything make you more aware of the way in which our country’s very beginning came to be than a book by the esteemed author David McCullough? He writes with such a clear vision of what had transpired and makes history become not only alive but one in which the blinders are removed and the true story is told.

Such is the case with his book 1776. This is the year that started everything, the year we discovered the grit, the courage, and the valor needed to cast off the country of Great Britain and eventually become a little fledgling nation on its path to glory.

Revolutionary War | History's Newsstand Blog

However, the route to freedom was fraught with danger and led by General Washington, who clearly saw exactly the situation we were in. “In truth, the situation was worse than they realized, and no one perceived this as clearly as Washington. Seeing things as they were, and not as he would wish them to be, was one of his salient strengths.” The war was not going well for the Americans. In fact, Jan and I often marveled at how on earth we could ever win. Out flanked, out maneuvered, and met by the greatest army the earth had ever known seemed a recipe for disaster. For many it was exactly that, disaster.

Yet met by the forces of the British General Howe, George Washington, Nathaniel Greene, and Henry Knox became leaders. Young, inexperienced facing insurmountable odds, these men persevered through conditions that were appalling, life threatening, and seemingly impossible. Yet, succeed they did. Although, it did seem that at times the very weather seemed to favor the impoverished army made up of farmers, blacksmiths, store keepers and others who had little or no training, no uniforms, few supplies, and the fate of treason and death hanging over their heads.

Revolutionary War Unit - Home

Mr McCullough pulls no punches. He doesn’t make this history one of glory with bugles blazing and drums pounding. He makes the reader understand the very gritty and horribleness of the war, the fact that the British soldiers plus the mercenaries, the Hessians, looked upon the Americans as rebels, as no accounts, as the figurative dirt beneath their feet. He makes us understand that we were ripe for losing. It was probably something laughed about across the sea in the court of George the Third. We were doomed, failure was the determined outcome, death to those who would dare to challenged England, the master of all they surveyed.

Yet, here we are, a nation founded on the will of people who did what needed to be done. “There are no people on earth in whom a spirit of enthusiastic zeal is so readily kindled, and burns so remarkably, as Americans” Perhaps in all the history of the world, there is no more a valiant story than the one Mr McCullough relates to us. We can be proud of what transpired before us, of the bravery, the very fearlessness, fortitude, and heroism that proceeded us. Perhaps in every way, we can find within ourselves the very mettle our ancestors had to face the multiple challenges of an America we currently live in. I hope and pray that we do.

and here’s the author:

The Last Flight by Julie Clark #becauseyoucantalwayslikeabook #fictionfriends #duoreviews @JanBelisle @absltmom

There are times when you don’t like a book. There are times when you love a book. Between the two lies a balance, a way of thinking, knowledge that there is something there that just didn’t click with you as a reader. Our reviews are not meant to disparage others who enjoyed this story, but to show that not every book can be loved by every reader.

The Last Flight

Jan’s review

The book hooked me from the first pages. Claire and Eva, both on the run for very different reasons, meet by chance in an airport lounge and decide to switch boarding passes in order to give each a head start in eluding those who will surely come after them. The flight Claire was supposed to take, the one Eva is on, crashes and Claire realizes this is an opportunity to disappear and start a new life. She assumes Eva’s identity, but soon discovers that the story Eva told her was completely false.

On the positive side, the short chapters move the story along at a fast clip, and the ending was a complete surprise (in a good way). However, there were too many unlikely coincidences that moved the story forward, and you will have to suspend some disbelief, which is not exactly a negative, as it’s expected in this genre. 

Through alternating chapters we learn their backstories. The following information is given very early in the book so this is not a spoiler. Claire was living a life of wealth and privilege with a husband who had political aspirations, but her life away from the public eye was less than idyllic with an abusive husband. Eva appeared to be living a quiet life as a waitress, but she has a secret life of crime selling drugs to college kids,and it has landed her in legal trouble.

I don’t have a problem with an author creating an amoral character but Eva’s character was written in such a way that we were supposed to feel empathy for her. I did not. She plays the victim card, nothing is her fault, she feels no remorse, and she lacks awareness of the irreparable harm she causes. 

 I realize this is fiction but with the huge drug problem we have in this country, I didn’t care for the cavalier attitude the author treats it. I know families who have been devastated by drug use and lost their children. It doesn’t belong in a fictional book for entertainment purposes unless the crime is taken seriously. 

This was a miss for me on several fronts, and as a buddy read with Marialyce, both of us were left sorely disappointed. If the drug theme doesn’t offend you, this would be an easy read to toss in the beach bag. If I had known the theme prior to picking this up, I would have skipped it.

Marialyce’s review

So when reading a book, one often asks what exactly was the author’s purpose in writing this book. Was it to educate, to offer a description? Was it to persuade, or perhaps it was to narrate a story or to develop character and detail? Often their purpose pops right out at us, making the decision quite apparent and easy. Following their craft makes a book become something readable, something that drives us forward, something that has a lesson taught.

For the life of me though I could not fathom what the author’s purpose was in The Final Flight. Was she educating us, chastising the systems under which we live, excusing bad behaviors, or perhaps trying to advise us to the fact that growing up unwanted makes for a path that leads always to disaster?

For me this was a conflicted story, one that had a character, Eva, who made many mistakes and whose only purpose in this book was to save her skin. In that saving she didn’t much mind sacrificing another’s life, selling drugs to rich kids, and making many excuses why her life had turned to the nefarious and possibly deadly. She blamed everything and everyone, for the way fate had treated her. She was the ultimate victim who deserved better without really knowing a way, other than trickery to get it.

On the other hand, we had Claire, a woman who seemed to have it all, money acclaim, notoriety, and unfortunately a husband who beat her. She is looking for an out, one that also involved trickery and lying. Disappear she thought and then through what she thought was chance, she got the opportunity to do just that. She seemed pretty clueless wandering about and I couldn’t help but think why doesn’t she just walk out the door, expose her husband, and find herself immersed in the #metoo movement. She seemed a capable woman but yet was she?

This book was readable, had short chapters, and flipped the scenes of these two women quickly. That was certainly a plus for me. On the other hand, the absolute lack of consequence in the thought process of Eva made for quite a despicable character that I could not get up an ounce of empathy for. There were many implausible scenes throughout, ones that got that eye rolling going, and of course made for a questionable response.

I have seen that many enjoyed this story but for me it was not one I see myself recommending. Jan and I shared once again our reading experience with this one and had quite similar thoughts and feelings. So once again, I find myself traipsing through the “I wish I had liked it better” category.

Always the Last to Know @kristan_higgins @BerkleyPub #contemporaryfiction #family #womensfiction #fictionfriends #duoreviews @JanBelisle @absltmom

Jan and I were very much looking forward to breaking out of our thriller mode, so we decided upon reading Kristan Higgins’s new book, Always the Last to Know. It gave us a much to talk about and think over as Ms Higgins explored a troubled family dynamic.

Always the Last to Know

Jan’s review

Complicated family dynamics are at the heart of this novel. Barb and John are one day shy of their 50thanniversary when John’s severe stroke throws the family out of kilter (not a spoiler, it happens in the first pages). Their marriage has long gone stale and after the stroke a devastating long-held secret is revealed.

Barb and John have two children and looking into the past brings understanding to the present. Juliet was the long-hoped for baby after years of infertility. Barb throws herself 100% into mothering Juliet, who, in her eyes,  is nauseatingly “perfect”.  John feels left out and so busies himself with work and his own pursuits. What marriage could thrive under such circumstances? When Juliet is 11, Barb surprisingly gets pregnant and they have their second daughter, Sadie. Alas, she’s not perfect and Barb has difficulty bonding with her, but John is smitten. There’s a line in the sand in this family with Barb and Juliet on one side and Sadie and John on the other. Favoritism is damaging and is the perfect recipe for sibling rivalry.

Told through alternating points of view,  all bear the weight of expectations and unmet dreams.  Barb’s vision of a dream marriage is shattered. Perfection is  a hard standard for Juliet to uphold. Free-spirit Sadie, who gives it all up to pursue her artistic dreams in NYC, is struggling. When they are thrown back together in their small-town due to John’s stroke, tensions are high.

Not all the characters are likable. I struggled in the beginning, especially with prickly Barb, who does and says things I had trouble understanding. But have faith, as the story progresses she becomes more sympathetic. The real villain is not a person, but  the way this family relates to one another. Caro, Barb’s best friend, is the true heroine of this story. I loved her – we all need a Caro in our lives!

This all sounds depressing but it is not. There is humor and also a sweet love story. A story that  made me smile and brought a lump to my throat. (What does it say about me that it was a dolphin that caused the lump in my throat and the tear in my eye?)

This is a genre I call women’s fiction with substance. Kristan Higgins never fails to write authentic characters who feel relatable. Maybe because of the messiness in my own family of origin I found I could relate to this family on several levels.

Life throws us curve balls. Family life is messy and complicated and often crumbles under the weight of disappointments, betrayals, lack of  communication, and misunderstandings. But from the ashes a new and different version of family can be forged. Love in all its forms and how this family adapts to their new reality makes for a lovely story.

*I received a digital copy of this book via Edelweiss. All opinions are my own.

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

Marialyce’s review

Yikes, this book hit pretty close to home as my husband and I are close to celebrating our fiftieth wedding anniversary. Are we testy and bored with one another I wonder as the blurb suggests? While Barb and John have two daughters, we have four and wonder is our relationship with them and they with one another enough for us all? Well, this book indeed had me thinking and looking for our telling signs.

The Frosts, Barb and John, have an “I live with you, but really could do without you being around relationship”. It’s sad really, for fifty years together is a long time and to be unhappy for a large portion of it is even sadder. It seems that John has his job to retreat to while Barb seems to focus her love and energy on their oldest daughter, Juliet, the perfect child, the one we all sometimes think we have. Their other daughter, favored by her father, Sadie, is determined to be an accomplished artist, a definite free spirited young woman, who wants no part of the small town life she grew up in. Both girls are grown and because of the way their family dynamics evolved, there is antagonism, hard feelings, and such a total lack of understanding.

Did you ever want to tear into the pages of a book and slap a character or two? Certainly, there are some who deserve a good smack and for me Barb was one of them. She seemed to be constantly miserable, one could feel her unhappiness soaking through the pages and though John does have a secret surprise hidden away, life with Barb must have been a real trial. This couple never really talked. They just seem to exist side by side, day after day, year after year. When tragedy strikes, as it always does, both Barb and John reevaluate their lives and try to come to a point where understanding and love triumph over hate.

The daughters were dichotomies of each other. One girl is so serious, so straightforward, the one who seems to have conquered life and has all the jigsaw puzzle pieces together. The other sister, intent on finding herself an artist seems to be a bit of a train wreck, flitting about and not really seeing that proverbial forest for the trees. Both girls are troubled, impacted by the life they led at home perceiving the not so loving relationship their parents had, and thinking perhaps would this be them?

I very much enjoyed this sojourn into the characters of these four people. They were complex, unknowing, and fearful of the journey they had embarked on. All of them seemed to have delayed important decisions, had words unspoken, regrets aplenty, and yet they still had a chance to make it all better if they only grasped the ability to forgive and maybe eventually to forget. It’s a cautionary tale for us all.

Bottom line is we all get testy, we all get bored. However, it is the relationships that last that allow the words to be spoken, the feelings to be expressed, the hurt to be acknowledged, and the love to be found that brings each and every one of us to happiness and fulfillment.

Thank you to Edelweiss for a copy of this interesting family drama.

The author

Kristan Higgins

Kristan Higgins is the New York Times, USA TODAY, Wall Street Journal and Publishers Weekly bestselling author of 19 novels, which have been translated into more than two dozen languages and sold millions of copies worldwide. Her books have received dozens of awards and accolades, including starred reviews from Kirkus, The New York Journal of Books, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal , People and Booklist. Her books regularly appear on the lists for best novels of the year. Kristan is also a cohost of the Crappy Friends podcast, which discusses the often complex dynamics of female friendships, with her friend and fellow writer, Joss Dey.

The proud descendant of a butcher and a laundress, Kristan lives in Connecticut with her heroic firefighter husband. They own several badly behaved pets and are often visited by their entertaining and long-lashed children.

The Lost Queen (Trilogy #1) @SignePike @TouchstoneBooks #scotland #ancientwisdom #arthurianlegend #langueorth #trilogy @absltmom

Calling all those who love to learn and dream of ancient times, where castles rose, battles were fought won and lost, where the ancients trod the earth, where love and loss bloomed.

The Lost Queen (The Lost Queen Trilogy, #1)

Have you ever wondered how the legend of King Arthur, Merlin, and the cast of what has become known as Camelot came about? Is it pure legend or is there maybe a small scrap of evidence that these people did indeed roam the earth?

The setting is sixth century Scotland. The main characters are Languoreth, a forgotten future queen and her twin brother Lailoken. These children were raised in the time of the old ways, ways that preceded them and possessed mystery, power, and a touch of magic. The old ways are being challenged by the new faith known as Christianity that brings with it bloodshed, turmoil, and heartbreak. The lands that the twins inhabit are being attacked by the Anglo Saxons and in all of this conflict Emrys Pendragon, a hero to many, arrives at their father’s home and along with him comes a strong and fierce warrior, Maelgwn. There is an immediate attraction between Maelgwn and Languoreth, but it it a love that cannot be.

Languoreth is betrothed to Rhydderch, son of a Christian king. She is bound by duty and is thrust into a world of turmoil, violence, and political dealings. Languoreth, together with those she loves, including a mysterious Druid, Myrddin, fight to keep the old ways in a time where things are changing and lives are at risk.

Ms Pike brings extensive research into this tale and it is quite remarkable as the subjects are real and although this is fiction, some parts of it could just be true. The settings described are lush and beautiful, but it is the people who draw us into the intrigue and danger that spur this book to its conclusion.
Fortunately, I have the next book in the series, The Forgotten Kingdom due out on September 15, 2020. I will continue the fascinating tale of Languoreth, the forgotten lost queen, her Lailoken, Myrddin, Malgwn, and those who cross her path.

Meet the author

Signe Pike

THE LOST QUEEN was a Barnes & Noble Discover New Writers Pick, Kirkus Reviews “Best Book of 2018,” Library Journal Fall/Winter 2018 Best Debut Novel, New York Public Library Best Book for Adults of 2018, and a Charleston City Paper Critic’s Pick.

Pike’s first book, a travel memoir entitled FAERY TALE received glowing reviews from Harper’s Bazaar and Women’s Adventure Magazine. Pike has been featured on WPR’s “To the Best of Our Knowledge” in an episode on enchantment along with Salman Rushdie, Neil Gaiman, and A.S. Byatt.

THE LOST QUEEN is currently in development for a television series with the production company Made Up Stories.

A former acquisitions editor, Pike currently lives in South Carolina, where she writes full time.