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.

The Midnight Library @mtthaig1 @canongatebooks #emtional #lifedecisions #suicide #choices #mentalhealth #life #fictionfriends #duoreviews

Jan and I were ever so happy to learn that Matt Haig had written a new book. After having read and enjoyed his How to Stop Time, we were so enthused about his new story. Happy to say we were once again ever so pleased to have been fortunate enough to be approved for this one.

The Midnight Library

Jan’s review

Sylvia Plath ‘Between life and death there is a library,’ she said. ‘And within that library, the shelves go on forever. Every book provides a chance to try another life you could have lived. To see how things would be if you had made other choices . . . Would you have done anything different, if you had the chance to undo your regrets?’

Nora is going through a terrible period in her life, where everything that could possibly go wrong, does.  She’s consumed with regret over the paths not taken, wrong decisions made.  Paths that would have freed her from pain and misery. In the throes of depression, she decides suicide is the answer. She has nothing and no one to live for.

This is when Nora ends up in the Midnight Library, a sort of limbo between life and death.  Part ‘It’s A Wonderful Life’ and part ‘Sliding Doors’, every book in the library represents a parallel universe with a life she could have lived had her choices been different. There’s an infinite number of possibilities. All she has to do is choose a book and she will automatically be dropped into that life. 

Each time she is dropped into an alternate life, she does so with no prior memory of her life up to that point. She knows she has been dropped in and must wing it and figure out how to fit in seamlessly. There’s a bit of humor when she must google herself and check her social media accounts for clues. In one life she thinks she must have been very happy because she wasn’t very active on social media (ha).

If she loves a life she has a choice to stay. But if she begins to feel disillusioned, she returns to the library, where an infinite number of possibilities awaits. The problem with infinite possibilities is the thought that something better awaits had a different path been chosen.

Each decision/life contains unforeseen consequences, some good and some bad. Is the grass always greener? It is easy to imagine there are easier paths, but are there?  The problem with regrets is they are rarely based on fact and understanding the nuances and importance of our lives are not always obvious.

I won’t ruin the surprise by revealing more of what Nora discovers or decides. It’s much more fun to discover it on your own. While this book could have been predictable or schmaltzy, the author has written a unique, delightful, and thought-provoking story. There are surprises in store and it’s impossible to read without reflecting on your own life choices. This was a terrific choice for a buddy read with my friend Marialyce, and it would be an excellent choice for a book club.

I was  grateful for the highlighting function on my kindle, as I highlighted a lot. In the midst of a pandemic and social unrest,  it’s natural to worry about the future, but, this book was a good reminder to make the best of this life we’ve been given.

Knowing the author has struggled with depression and thoughts of suicide made this book all the more meaningful: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/nov/17/matt-haig-i-wanted-to-end-it-all-surviving-and-thriving-is-the-lesson-i-pass-on

·      I received a digital review copy via Edelweiss. All opinions are my own.

Marialyce’s review

Life can be truly wonderful, but oftentimes it isn’t. Thinking about the times we are living in, perhaps many have faced and will continue to face life decisions just as Matt Haig has faced in his lifetime. Depression often rears its ugly head in all our lives but when it pitches us into times when we feel our life would be better being over, it takes on the elements of sadness, pathos, and the feeling that there is nothing to live for. This brilliant author is ever so able to handle the topic covered in this amazing book that sheds light on depression and the choices we not only make or possibly could have made in our life.

Welcome to the midnight library, a place that exists in the world between life and death, where our decisions and the paths we chose not to take are explored . Would there have been a better outcome, a happier road, a brilliant future if only we had chosen one tiny different decision?

Meet Nora Seed, a young woman on the brink of ending her life. She is feeling useless, depressed, despondent, morose with the thought that she needed all of this to be over. For Nora, life is no longer worth living, no longer valuable, no longer a place she wants to be. Never thinking of the existence of a library that holds every alternative path your life could have taken, she enters the midnight library where directed by a librarian she once loved and admired, Nora takes a journey down many roads not traveled to see the various ways life could have been different.

Her odysseys into the “what if” are all varied, carrying her into the worlds she could have chosen from being an Olympic swimmer, to a glaciologist, finding love with different people, or even finding that all these choices still might not make her ultimately happy. Is her life truly doomed or is there a shred of hope that there is something, anything that really makes the life she was given worth staying around for?

This thought provoking novel is intense, bringing to the forefront so many things all of us have pondered, our own “what ifs” of life. I particularly was drawn to the wonderful analogy Mr Haig made of life being like a chess game. Nothing changes until we make a move on the board and that move might be made in hundreds of different ways making hundreds of different happenings occur. How ultimately true how all our lives and that of our main protagonist can change with a split second decision or one that took years to form. At a time like now, where we see so much doom and gloom and where suicides are rising at such an alarming rate, this book’s importance are magnified. I certainly recommend this one as Mr Haig is quickly becoming a go to author for me.

Thank you to Matt Haig for opening me up to a topic I find ever so fascinating, to Canongate Books and to Edelweiss for an advanced copy of this tragic yet life affirming story due out on August 13, 2020.

https://www.washingtonexaminer.com/news/california-doctors-say-theyve-seen-more-deaths-from-suicide-than-coronavirus-since-lockdowns

Find Me @Anne_Frasier #ThomasandMercer #psycologicalthriller #profiler #serialkiller

Looking for a great thriller that puts the word thrill back into your reading? Well, look no further for Find Me by Anne Frasier, might just be the one you are craving.

Find Me by Anne Frasier

Imagine being the bait to lure young women to their deaths? Imagine being the daughter of a serial killer? Imagine your father, in jail for thirty years asking you, his daughter, to see him for he is ready to reveal the locations of the bodies of the girls he murdered?

Along with Daniel Ellis, a detective, Reni Fisher agrees to meet her father out in the desert where the bodies lie. Then, the unbelievable happens, and Reni and Daniel are off in a quest to find the bodies for Daniel and Reni, now a former FBI profiler, both have an overwhelming desire to find the and bring some closure to their families and of course their own lives. They are both driven by deeply hidden ghosts that haunt their days and make this quest their ultimate goal. As always, though danger lurks, and there are evil and strange forces working to see that their goal is never recognized.

There’s a lot going on in this story, and Ms Frasier handles the telling with aplomb, building the tension, the circumstances, and the ending with lots of tension, force, and urgency. She makes this book into a compulsive read, filling it with lots of twists that honestly, I never saw coming.

If you are a lover of well done thrillers, this just might be the story for you. I read it in two days and yes, it was that good.
Thank you to NetGalley for a copy of this very impressive page turning book, due out today, July 15, 2020.

Anne Frasier

and here’s the author:

Anne Frasier is a New York Times and USA Today bestselling author. The Body Reader received the 2017 THRILLER AWARD for Best Paperback Original from International Thriller Writers. Other honors include a RITA for romantic suspense and a Daphne du Maurier Award for paranormal romance. Her memoir The Orchard was an O, The Oprah Magazine Fall Pick; a One Book, One Community read; a B+ review in Entertainment Weekly; and one of the Librarians’ Best Books of 2011.

My Dark Vanessa @GinnyMcCoo @WmMorrowBooks #contemporaryfiction #darktopics #psycologicaldrama #predators

I have been in kind of a “posting on my blog” funk, but not happily in a reading funk. I decided to start posting for a bit with this book that was such an amazing look into the psyche of both a lonely teenage girl and the predator who preyed on her. It was such a stunning effort by a new author. ****However, this book does deal with topics that some might find deeply troubling.****

My Dark Vanessa

I decided to, even though I had decided not to, read this book that seems to have bred controversy. As a mother to four daughters and of course four times over dealing with the teenage years, I thought this might be something that I could understand with the eyes of someone who dealt with the teen years. In our raising of the girls we crossed paths with two predators, one of whom was a coach and did eventually go to jail while the other was a highly respected, well known pediatrician in our town, who eventually lost his license and paid out to some of his victims. Sadly, though he did not serve any jail time and went on to live elsewhere with what seemed little or no repercussions.

Vanessa is fifteen years old when she goes away to a very prestigious boarding school and meets the man who will eventually “ruin” her, a forty-one year old teacher Jacob Strane. She is a lonely child, friendless, and seeming to lack any kind of close interpersonal relationship even one with her parents. She is ripe for a predator, those people who seem to possess a sinister sense of the vulnerable, the susceptible, the weak. Vanessa falls into his clutches as he provides for her a place in the world, one where she is looked at, seemingly adored, and of course it doesn’t take long for Jacob and Vanessa to engage in a very secretive sexual relationship.

Years later, Vanessa still entangled in the mystery, the web that Jacob has woven around her is approached by another of Strane’s victims. Vanessa is forced to look at herself and her feelings for Jacob in an entirely different way denying to all except a select few of how he had entrenched himself into her heart, mind, and soul. She continues to believe that what she had with Jacob is special, is love in its purest form, allowing herself to believe that what he did was really of her doing, she was the one in control.

It’s quite hard to understand Vanessa. It’s obvious that she was a very disturbed young woman, one who felt things deeply, and yet one who could not allow what she thought was so pure and wonderful to be tarnished. She would never betray this ultimate love that she had found. She had entered into the aura of a predator and she refused on so many levels to see how indeed he had as promised ruined her.

This was a very hard, dark, and gritty book to read and yet, I found myself fascinated in looking so deeply into both Vanessa and Jacob’s persona. As I continued through the pages, I couldn’t help but wonder how many people in our world have been ruined by a predator in their lives?

I think that the author was very successful in presenting the conflicted mind of a teenage girl, that belief that she is ugly, unworthy, and something to be shunned came through brilliantly. As a teenage girl often looks in the mirror and sees nothing so Vanessa seemed to believe she was nothing until Jacob, in his perverse manner, made her into something. Ms Russell made Jacob the ultimate predator, even to the point of perhaps questioning ourselves whether he really did care about Vanessa. He was the quintessential predator, one who wove a path for the unsuspecting and ever vulnerable Vanessa to follow, and once she started down that dark path, she could not deviate from what she thought was her destiny.

I can see why many thought this book was disturbing, alarming, and disconcerting. As a mother of girls it would be such a frightening scenario to envision for your child, and even more ominous is the concept of how do you really know those who cross paths with your daughters?

This is an article about the pediatrician from our town…https://www.copperman.online
frightening indeed!

Kate Elizabeth Russell

Kate Elizabeth Russell was born and raised in eastern Maine. She holds an MFA from Indiana University and a PhD from the University of Kansas. My Dark Vanessa is her debut novel.

My Dark Vanessa

The Book of Two Ways @jodipicoult #BallantineBooks #egyptianantiquities #death #firstlove #deathdoula #quantumphysics #family #emotional @absltmom

There are times that a book just seems to come at just the right moment. Perhaps it is because of a life situation, a death or birth, or just because one finds themselves at a junction in life where the subject matter hits home with multiple punches. I have a 94 year old mother who is frail and as I read this book my thoughts constantly drifted to her and the end of life choices she and I will eventually need to make. Death is an absolute. None of us escape death, none of us return from it, none of us know what awaits us.

The Book of Two Ways

Dawn Edelstein is studying to be an Egyptologist. She is a young woman on the cusp of fulfilling a dream when a phone call comes that changes forever the direction her life will take. Her mother is dying, and even though she has fallen in love with Wyatt Armstrong, another Egyptologist, she rushes home to be with her mother and her young brother at this stressful time. She will not return to Egypt to the land and the man she loves as duty to her mother and brother prevail.

Coffin of Gua twelfth dynasty from Deir el Bersha

Dawn meets a man, a quantum physicist, Brian, who is brilliant and explores the concept that we as living things could in theory live in alternate universes where are choices are different, and our lives are not ones we are now experiencing. They have a child, a daughter, and eventually marry but there is always at the back of Dawn’s thoughts the idea of Wyatt. Dawn loves her husband but with a love not equal to that she shared with Wyatt. Will her love for Brian win the day or is Wyatt the person she can’t live without?

Book of Two Ways, De Buck (1961) The Egyptian Coffin Texts

These are multiple themes explored in this story. The concept of ancient Egyptians and their belief in an afterlife and preparation for it was fascinating. Dawn’s eventual job as a death doula offered a unique and heart felt perspective into how we can prepare one for their demise. And …what if we were able to live an alternate life? Would we have been with the person who first filled our life and our soul with his or her love? How many of us have thought back and wondered what road we would have traveled if our life followed the pathway of a first love? Where are these first loves now?

I found the book to be utterly fascinating and it touched my emotional core and made me think and wonder and reflect. Do we actually at the end of our days wonder what if? Do we come to terms with the life we lead or do we constantly think perhaps if only.

I absolutely loved this story, its message, its cautionary warning that life is fleeting and we need to grab onto the moments that thrill us. There is much spoken of in this book of the ancient Egyptian stories and rituals of long ago with their plethora of gods, paths to follow, and rituals. I was fortunate in understanding this section, since I taught a unit on Egypt for many years to the many classes that passed through my teaching life. It fascinated me and drew me back to the wonder and joy my students and I experienced exploring and learning of what came before us.

I most definitely recommend this book for all the ways it might conjure up your thoughts, make you see a reality that perhaps you didn’t chose, and realize that all of us will eventually face a life that will come to an end. It’s the road we travel that we see in the end, its joy, its sorrows and perhaps the people we left behind along the way.

Thank you to NetGalley for a copy of this book due out on September 22, 2020.

and here’s the author:

Jodi Picoult: photo by Rainer Hosch

Picoult is the recipient of many awards, including the New England Bookseller Award for Fiction, the Alex Awards from the YALSA, a lifetime achievement award for mainstream fiction from the Romance Writers of America, the NH Literary Award for Outstanding Literary Merit and the Sarah Josepha Hale Award. She holds honorary doctor of letters degrees from Dartmouth College and the University of New Haven. She is also a member of the advisory board for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts.

Picoult is the recipient of many awards, including the New England Bookseller Award for Fiction, the Alex Awards from the YALSA, a lifetime achievement award for mainstream fiction from the Romance Writers of America, and the NH Literary Award for Outstanding Literary Merit. She holds honorary doctor of letters degrees from Dartmouth College and the University of New Haven. She is also a member of the advisory board for VIDA: Women in Literary Arts.

Picoult lives in New Hampshire with her husband. They have three children.

Bronte’s Mistress @SVictorianist @AtriaBooks #historicalfiction #branwellbronte #lydiarobinson #affair #scandal #england @absltmom

Compared to his sisters eventual notoriety, not much is known about their brother, Branwell Bronte. History has portrayed him as something of a rogue, a drifter, a drunkard. However, in this story, we meet Branwell, a poor misunderstood young man searching for love in what seemed to be an austerely poor, emotionless environment.

Bronte's Mistress



When Branwell Bronte is hired to tutor Lydia Robinson’s young son, where his sister is governess to Lydia’s other children, he finds himself attracted to the much older Lydia. He is a young man struggling to find his way in a family where his sisters are so intelligent and trying to make their mark in the world. All the happenings in this book occurred before the Bronte sisters make their forage into the world that would one day come to acclaim their work.

Bronte sisters picture possibly bought by collector on ...



Lydia herself is struggling. She has lost in the space of a year, her mother and youngest beloved daughter. She is married to a cold unfeeling man, whose mother is a thorn in her side. Her other children are distant and emotionally detached from her. She is ripe for the attention and possible love that Branwell seems to offer.

As they come together, Lydia realizes she is besotted with Branwell for he is passionate, a writer of poetry, and someone she can cling to. And so the affair begins.

https://yayareadslotsofbooks.files.wordpress.com/2020/06/85888-j-brown.jpg



As she becomes deeply involved with Branwell, she begins to see how flawed he is, how needy, how erratic. The servants in the home are abuzz with rumor and innuendoes about the couple, and the relationship of passion soon fizzles out on Lydia’s part as she tries to contend with the knowledge that others know she is an adulteress. Life does indeed fall apart for Lydia as her husband is gravely ill and at his death, she learns she is left penniless. Branwell himself is eventually banished and left to fall deeper in the dark quagmire of his heart and mind.

However, Lydia is a schemer and she has a way of ridding herself of Branwell as well as securing herself a future of wealth.

Much of what is written by the author is conjecture. There is no solid proof that indeed this affair did take place, but there seems to be various clues that might attest to its veracity.

In the end, I couldn’t help but feel empathy for both Branwell and Lydia. Both were lost souls who could never seem to find that love and passion they both so desired.

Thank you to NetGalley for a copy of this book due out August 4, 2020.

and here’s the author:

Finola Austin

Finola Austin, also known as the Secret Victorianist on her award-winning blog, is an England-born, Northern Ireland-raised, Brooklyn-based historical novelist and lover of the 19th century. By day, she works in digital advertising.

The Coast-to-Coast Murders @JP_Books @JDBarker @littlebrown #psycologicalthriller #actionpacked @absltmom

The Coast-to-Coast Murders

I have to say that I would read anything that J.D. Barker writes. I swear this man could make a shopping list be thrilling and intriguing. Granted, I have not read a Patterson book in eons, but putting these two authors together was definitely a stroke of genius.

Murder and mayhem are once again afoot as we are introduced to our two main protagonists, Michael and Megan Fitzgerald who were adopted by two doctors whose specialty was psychology. It’s been a very rough upbringing for these two siblings and now with a plethora of murders occurring, these two are thrown into the fray. Meanwhile an FBI agent, Jessica Gumble, and an LA homicide detective, Garrett Hobbs, join forces to hunt down the killer, as killings have occurred across the USA.

When Michael’s supposed girlfriend is found murdered, Michael becomes the chief suspect. as all the clues point to him. The similarity to other murders coupled with Michael’s job being a long haul trucker, offers him the perfect opportunity to be the serial killer that Gumble and Hobbs are searching for.

Michael begs his sister’s help, as she is the only one he feels is on his side. The two play a cat and mouse game and as the law seems to be tightening the circle around them, more and more is revealed about how these two were raised. It’s a harrowing story and one that the two authors weave so well, that the reader is both awed and riveted to the page. ……and then we meet Mitchell.

Not to give too much away, I will once again say that this was a book I couldn’t put down. It kept me on my toes and as soon as I thought “ah ha” I’ve got it, another curve was thrown in….and that ending well….it was just perfect.

Thank you to NetGalley for a copy of this awesome book that for many hours took me right into the midst of the mind of some seriously devious and deranged people. Definitely heartily, most assuredly recommend this book due to be published on September 21, 2020.

and here are the authors:

James Patterson

James Brendan Patterson (born March 22, 1947) is an American author and philanthropist. Among his works are the Alex Cross, Michael Bennett, Women’s Murder Club, Maximum Ride, Daniel X, NYPD Red, Witch and Wizard, and Private series, as well as many stand-alone thrillers, non-fiction and romance novels. His books have sold more than 300 million copies and he was the first person to sell 1 million e-books. In 2016, Patterson topped Forbes‘s list of highest-paid authors for the third consecutive year, with an income of $95 million. His total income over a decade is estimated at $700 million.

In November 2015, Patterson received the Literarian Award from the National Book Foundation, which cited him as a “passionate campaigner to make books and reading a national priority. A generous supporter of universities, teachers colleges, independent bookstores, school libraries, and college students, Patterson has donated millions of dollars in grants and scholarships with the purpose of encouraging Americans of all ages to read more books.” (Wikipedia)

J.D. Barker (Jonathan Dylan Barker) is an international bestselling American author whose work has been broadly described as suspense thrillers, often incorporating elements of horror, crime, mystery, science fiction, and the supernatural.

The Vanishing Half @britbennett @riverheadbooks #contemporarywomen #literaryfiction #thesouth #twins #fictionfriends #duoreviews #edelweiss+ @janbelisle @absltmom

The Vanishing Half

Jan’s review

The Vignes twins are identical but they couldn’t be more different in personality. This is the story of light-skinned black twins whose lives take very different paths. 

The twins grew up in the odd little fictional southern town of Mallard where the blacks found dark skin undesirable. The lighter they were, the better, and the dark-skinned blacks faced discrimination from the light-skinned blacks.  

As young children, the twins endure a trauma when they see their father lynched by white men.  This changes the trajectory of their lives. Eventually the girls strike out on their own.  Stella chooses to break ties with her family, “pass over”,  and live as a white. She marries a wealthy white man and has a white, blond-haired daughter, Kennedy. Desiree makes a bad choice in a husband but eventually returns home to her hometown with Jude, her very dark black daughter.

I don’t want to ruin the story and give away too much, so I’ll keep this light on plot.  What is it like for Desiree and Jude to live in a town that values light skin and discriminates against dark skin, when Jude is so very dark? How does this shape her? What is it like for Stella to live a lie, to live without relatives or childhood friends, without a history to share?  Does her wealth and privilege bring contentment and happiness? She can never truly open up to anyone, not even her husband and daughter, for fear of exposing her true self. How does this shape her daughter Kennedy? What happens when a black family moves into Stella’s very white, very wealthy neighborhood?

Their choices have far-reaching unintended consequences. Eventually, events transpire that threatens to destroy the life Stella has so carefully built. How she reacts and the effects on the daughters  of Stella and Desiree comprise much of the second half of the book. If you think you know where this story is going, you’d be wrong. There are surprising developments that are anything but predictable.  

I found the first half a slow build up but the second half I blew through in an afternoon. The only things that kept me from giving this a full 5 stars were a few too many coincidences moving the plot forward and awkward transitions between chapters and characters.  But, the strengths in this moving novel overshadows these small criticisms.

There were many ways to be alienated from someone, few to actually belong.”

Powerful, thought-provoking, and profound, but told through such compelling, yet flawed, characters it doesn’t read like an “issue” book. The subplot of identity is handled with depth and sensitivity. 

Spanning  decades, from the 1950s to the 1990s, this is an exploration of “passing”.  I had not heard this term used before and read more here:

https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2014/10/07/354310370/a-chosen-exile-black-people-passing-in-white-america

‘A Chosen Exile’: Black People Passing In White America : Code Switch : NPRFrom the time of slavery, some light-skinned African-Americans escaped racism by passing as white. The new book, A Chosen Exile: A History of Racial Passing in American Life, explores what they lost.www.npr.org

Is the vanishing half losing your twin or is it losing the half of yourself you choose to deny and leave behind when you pass? Perhaps it’s both. I love an introspective book that reveals the inner lives of characters. Days after finishing the book and I’m still thinking about these characters and the issues raised.

Marialyce and I read this together and it inspired thoughtful, deep discussions. This would make a wonderful choice for a book club .

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

Marialyce’s review

Fractured families seem to be always fractured. Many do not learn that it is family that gives us our identity for good or bad, it is the tie that binds. We can’t really change, although some have tried, the race we have been born into, however, as in all things we, or at least most of us try to deal with, overcome, or maybe if we are fortunate take joy in the cards we have been dealt.


In the book The Vanishing Half, we find a fractured family. Twin identical girls, Desiree and Stella Vignes, witness the brutal death of their father. They live in a town where there are degrees of whiteness or better yet, degrees of non blackness, and even though they are light skinned African Americans they seemed to be judged better because they could pass for white. The girls grow to age sixteen and then decide to leave the restrictive environment of their small town and venture into the big outside world. Their journey, as their life separates them from one another, is the gist of the story.

“You can escape a town, but you cannot escape blood. Somehow, the Vignes twins believed themselves capable of both.”


It’s the tale of two sisters, the tale of growing up one sister poor, while the other is rich. It’s a tale for Stella  thinking you are attaining happiness when in reality all you are doing is living a lie. It is a story of loss, one that separates the sisters, one that draws one sister, Desiree, back to a town she swore never to return to with a daughter whose skin color is quite dark. It is the story of a daughter’s love for her mother, a love that brings her back to the beginning as she witnesses her dark skinned daughter’s struggle to survive. Meanwhile, Stella lives a life of luxury, married to a wealthy white man, mother to a daughter as well whose skin color is white, never revealing her own heritage and never able to form a strong mother daughter bond with her daughter. However, the weight of the lie weighs upon her constantly and when a black couple move to the house across the way, a decision is made that will unleash Stella’s fear and anxiety.


I thought the book also explored the idea of whether one can go home again or is there just too much water under that bridge for one to make that leap? Some can, some can’t because they refuse to admit that all along family is everything.

I very much enjoyed the first half of the book, as it set a bevy of questions swirling. It’s always interesting to place oneself in the same position and wonder what would I have done? I was a tad disappointed in the second half, often finding it overly worded and like Jan the abrupt change of characters and settings was indeed jarring.

However, this is definitely a book that could start many a conversation, an ideal story for book club discussions and the like. I would definitely recommend the book as one in which we see so many topics covered that are both relevant and timely.

Jan and I were burning up the internet with our discussion of this book which always makes the reading so much better and meaningful.

Many thanks to Edelweiss for a copy of this book.

and here’s the author:

BritBennett_AuthorPic_EmmaTrim.jpg
Born and raised in Southern California, Brit Bennett graduated from Stanford University and later earned her MFA in fiction at the University of Michigan, where she won a Hopwood Award in Graduate Short Fiction as well as the 2014 Hurston/Wright Award for College Writers. She is a National Book Foundation 5 Under 35 awardee, and her debut novel The Mothers was a New York Times bestseller. Her essays are featured in The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The Paris Review, and Jezebel.

A Woman of No Importance: The Untold Story of the American Spy Who Helped Win World War II @soniapurnell @VikingBooks #courage #worldwar2 #virginiahall #spy @absltmom

A Woman of No Importance by Sonia Purnell

Courage, Bravery, Resilience, thy name is Virginia Hall.

I am willing to bet you never heard of this woman as I know with all my time spent in school, that I never did. Yet this woman was responsible for establishing an enormous amount of spy networks through out France, making her a person the Nazis were dying to find, capture, and eliminate.

Virginia Hall, circa 1943

She came from wealth, lost her leg in a hunting accident, and yet nothing held Virginia back. Even after escaping, because the Nazis were hot on her trail, across a mountain pass, where so many others had perished, she went back into France, into danger, into a perilous environment where her life constantly was in danger.

Yes, she was a woman, and because of that was oftentimes looked down upon by men, denied awards because they weren’t given to women, and after the war ended, she arrived at the newly established CIA and was relegated to a job sitting at a desk.

“Valor rarely reaps the dividends it should.”

Virginia never let anything stand in her way. She was resourceful, brilliant, and a true patriot dedicated to put an end to the evil that pervaded the world, especially that present in France. Her contributions were monumental, truly a major asset to ending the war.

Sonia Purnell did an amazing job of portraying this woman, her research was stellar, and she was able to give to readers a portrait of a woman who history really had little knowledge of. Recommended to those who love learning the little known but highly important facts that led us to the end of the horrendous Nazi regime.

Thank you to Sonia Purcell, Viking, and Edelweiss for a copy of this amazing story.

https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/wanted-the-limping-lady-146541513/

and here’s the author:

Sonia Purnell

https://www.soniapurnell.com/about