BLOG TOUR: Beyond This Broken Sky by Siobhan Curham @siobhancurham @bookuture @absltmom #blogtour

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My review:

Told in two time lines, the 1940s and 1999, this story evolves as Edi, a soon to be divorced woman, rents an apartment in London and encounters Pearl, an author. Curious to learn about the gregarious Pearl, and her books, Edi purchases one of her books whose setting is in that very same building Edi currently lives in. Curious about what just might be in the attic, Edi finds some things that piques her attention, and starts Edi on a journey into the past inside the pages of Pearl’s book.

There is a rich history in many families coming across generations who had relatives who fought in World War 2. If their stories are shared, we begin to understand the sacrifices, the bravery, and the true grit and stamina, so many displayed.

In this story, we meet Ruby, an upper class British young woman who had lots of opportunities to see the world, she possesses a quick witty tongue and is not afraid to speak her mind. She owns a building where tenants live and being a bit on the bossy and friendly side, she is drawn to the people living there.

Challenged by one of her tenants, a conscientious objector, named Joseph, she enlists herself into the ambulance corps rescuing people fallen by the Blitz bombing, side by side with Joseph. They develop a relationship of sorts, each one learning important lessons from one another. Amid the gruesomeness of war, they find a common bond, each endeavoring to help their fellow man.

Also living in the building is another couple, where the husband is off to war, but when he comes home for leave, he brutalizes his wife, Kitty. Along the way, Ruby encourages Kitty to embrace the care and devotion of another man, the local butcher, and forget about her abusive husband. As Kitty does, and as feelings develop between Ruby and Joseph, we find both tension and danger lurking and learn not all enemies are those we are fighting against, but there often exists others that are home grown.

This was an interesting story that made me ponder and realize the contributions that conscientious objectors often made to the war effort, being of the mind that they would never kill another. What people endured during this time is both amazing and affirms the strength particularly that of the British populace during the Blitzkrieg of their homeland.

I recommend this story to those who enjoy the drama of the war mixed in with bits of history and family tales. It was definitely a different take on the war and the mingling of the past and present.

and here’s the author:

Siobhan Curham is an award-winning author, ghost writer, editor and writing coach. She has also written for many newspapers, magazines and websites, including The Guardian, Breathe magazine, Cosmopolitan, Writers’ Forum, DatingAdvice.com, and Spirit & Destiny. Siobhan has been a guest on various radio and TV shows, including Woman’s Hour, BBC News, GMTV and BBC Breakfast. And she has spoken at businesses, schools, universities and literary festivals around the world, including the BBC, Hay Festival, Cheltenham Festival, Bath Festival, Ilkley Festival, London Book Fair and Sharjah Reading Festival.

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Buy Links:Amazon: https://bit.ly/3a6JWYhApple: https://apple.co/3kj9Qf5Kobo: https://bit.ly/3dQBJdxGoogle: https://bit.ly/37A88Rx

BLOG TOUR: Beyond This Broken Sky by Siobhan Curham @siobhancurham @bookuture @absltmom #blogtour

Image preview

My review:

Told in two time lines, the 1940s and 1999, this story evolves as Edi, a soon to be divorced woman, rents an apartment in London and encounters Pearl, an author. Curious to learn about the gregarious Pearl, and her books, Edi purchases one of her books whose setting is in that very same building Edi currently lives in. Curious about what just might be in the attic, Edi finds some things that piques her attention, and starts Edi on a journey into the past inside the pages of Pearl’s book.

There is a rich history in many families coming across generations who had relatives who fought in World War 2. If their stories are shared, we begin to understand the sacrifices, the bravery, and the true grit and stamina, so many displayed.

In this story, we meet Ruby, an upper class British young woman who had lots of opportunities to see the world, she possesses a quick witty tongue and is not afraid to speak her mind. She owns a building where tenants live and being a bit on the bossy and friendly side, she is drawn to the people living there.

Challenged by one of her tenants, a conscientious objector, named Joseph, she enlists herself into the ambulance corps rescuing people fallen by the Blitz bombing, side by side with Joseph. They develop a relationship of sorts, each one learning important lessons from one another. Amid the gruesomeness of war, they find a common bond, each endeavoring to help their fellow man.

Also living in the building is another couple, where the husband is off to war, but when he comes home for leave, he brutalizes his wife, Kitty. Along the way, Ruby encourages Kitty to embrace the care and devotion of another man, the local butcher, and forget about her abusive husband. As Kitty does, and as feelings develop between Ruby and Joseph, we find both tension and danger lurking and learn not all enemies are those we are fighting against, but there often exists others that are home grown.

This was an interesting story that made me ponder and realize the contributions that conscientious objectors often made to the war effort, being of the mind that they would never kill another. What people endured during this time is both amazing and affirms the strength particularly that of the British populace during the Blitzkrieg of their homeland.

I recommend this story to those who enjoy the drama of the war mixed in with bits of history and family tales. It was definitely a different take on the war and the mingling of the past and present.

and here’s the author:

Image preview

Siobhan Curham is an award-winning author, ghost writer, editor and writing coach. She has also written for many newspapers, magazines and websites, including The Guardian, Breathe magazine, Cosmopolitan, Writers’ Forum, DatingAdvice.com, and Spirit & Destiny. Siobhan has been a guest on various radio and TV shows, including Woman’s Hour, BBC News, GMTV and BBC Breakfast. And she has spoken at businesses, schools, universities and literary festivals around the world, including the BBC, Hay Festival, Cheltenham Festival, Bath Festival, Ilkley Festival, London Book Fair and Sharjah Reading Festival.

Image preview

Buy Links:Amazon: https://bit.ly/3a6JWYhApple: https://apple.co/3kj9Qf5Kobo: https://bit.ly/3dQBJdxGoogle: https://bit.ly/37A88Rx

Good Company by Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney @eccobooks @CynthiaDSweeney @JanBelisle @absltmom

To understand and look inside the things that weave a marriage together is often a difficult task. From the outside, appearances might look wonderful, but as they always say, looks can be deceiving and so as Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney looks into two marriages in this contemporary story, we see that old adage in play, detailing lives that lead them on an entirely different path than the one they seemed to have been on.

Book Cover

Jan’s review

Flora, happily married to Julian for 20 years,  is  lucky. She’s watched other marriages disintegrate but her marriage is strong and stable. Sure they’ve had challenges and ups and downs, but it only made them stronger. You never know what truly goes on behind closed doors, but Flora knew what went on behind HER door. 

Until she finds Julian’s wedding ring hidden away in a file cabinet (not a spoiler, the book opens here). The ring he claimed to have lost years ago. What had truly happened all those years ago? Suddenly, everything she thought she knew about her life and marriage is in question.

From here we go back in time and explore how Flora and Julian met, their careers, the theater life, parenting their daughter, and the close friendship Flora has with Margot. Margot, unlike Flora, has wealth and privilege that complicated the dynamics of their friendship, but they remain best friends. 

Margot has challenges of her own, an incident which left her husband David so very different than the man she had married. 

   “It was stupid, she now understood, to think that privilege translated to protection. To mistake privilege for grace.”

I loved how this novel explores the ups and downs of marriage and friendship. Life is messy, and never goes as planned. Bad things happen. How do we move forward when life as you thought you knew it is turned upside down? When there’s a betrayal from those you trusted most?  Do you forgive? Are some things unforgivable? 

“forgiveness is a choice. It doesn’t arrive on fairy wings; it doesn’t descend from the sky for you to take or leave. Forgiveness is an action.”

 If this sounds like the same old plot you’ve read many times, I assure you it isn’t. From the synopsis, if you think you know what happened with the wedding ring, you are wrong. The truth is more complicated.

It required a bit of patience in the beginning but by the 30-50% mark, the story is riveting. The author writes beautifully with depth and nuance. She gets people, their inner lives,  and what makes them tick. It’s a book that makes one think, a book that begs to be discussed. The kind of book I love most. 

A picture  truly is worth a thousand words.  Picture a photo of the same people, taken years apart. The same people, yet not the same. They’ve been broken, damaged, and evolved. How they navigate the in-between years was a thoughtful exploration of complicated lives. One to ponder. 

This made a terrific buddy read, as it’s one with a lot of issues and themes to discuss. It’s one both Marialyce and I enjoyed and recommend. 

  • I received a free digital copy from NetGalley  and Edelweiss. 
  • publication date 4/6/21 by Ecco

Marialyce’s review

A secret can be held because when it is revealed, it will bring about a wonderfully surprising element into one’s life. A secret can also be devastating to the people who hold it, bringing about disaster for relationships that have been on solid footing for many years.


Flora has been married to Julian for many years, and she believes, even though they have struggled to maintain an acting career in upstate NY and live in Manhattan they have had a good life. It was secure, happy and one where their big break seemed to come when they relocated to Los Angeles. There they were able to reconnect with Flora’s best friend Margot and her doctor husband, David. The contrast in the two couples’s life style is massive. Margot and David don’t struggle at all, for they are wealthy, accomplished, and certainly quite the opposite to Flora and Justin. Margot has become a highly successful actress while Flora stays at home and becomes a helpmate to the wishes and desires of Justin who longs for a successful drama career. There are lessons in contrasts, and yet, they don’t let jealousy stand in the way of “eternal” friendship. All seems well until Flora makes a discovery, stumbles on a secret she was never destined to know, and the wonderful relationships between husband and wife and best friend to best friend falls apart.

There is much going on in this story as there is always much going on in life. Flora and Julian have a child, Margot and David are childless by choice. The couples are separated because of their successes or lack of. There is a huge wealth factor that widens the contrast, yet even though these things exist, the couples remain friends, as Margot and David act as surrogate aunt and uncle to Flora and Justin’s child. However, when the wedding ring that Justin claimed he lost while swimming in the lake, turns up as Flora is looking for something else, questions arrive, lies are told, and a reevaluation of their lives is upon the four characters.


Forgiveness comes in many forms and yet does the hurt ever go away? Can what was once solid and dependable be rebuilt? Does forgiveness allow one to deny betrayal?


This book was well written as the characters were well defined. We were allowed to see them as empathetic creatures, while also witnessing the realities of marriage, devotion, and what makes for a lasting relationships. The one concern both Jan and I had was the slowness at the start. We kept on questioning ourselves, “Is there a story here?” Then, at about the midway point, the story evolved into one that made the reader think that question we often ask ourselves, “What would I do?”

If you enjoy family dramas, ones that delve into the question that arise in relationships, you might enjoy this story. Jan and I enjoyed this story and realized that often one needs to be patient in finding the true value of a story.


Thank you to Edelweiss for a copy of this newly published book. Thank you also, to Ms Sweeney and Ecco Books!

and here’s the author

Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

Cynthia D’Aprix Sweeney is the New York Times bestselling author of The Nest, which has been translated into more than 25 languages and optioned for film by Amazon Studios with Sweeney writing the adaptation. She has an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars and lives in Los Angeles with her husband and children.

The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz @jeanhanffkoreli @celedonbooks @JanBelisle @absltmom

Jan and I enjoyed this story that did seemed to pull us in after a slow beginning. We were intrigued by Jake and his seemingly unsure about his own innate ability. He was definitely the polar opposite of Evan Parker, his future student. We also talked about in this time of so much controversy, who exactly is “permitted” to tell a story? As the author aptly points out if only those who experience a story can write about it, our book shelves would be bereft of books.

The Plot

“But there was one thing he actually did believe in that bordered on the magical, or at least the beyond-pedestrian, and that was the duty a writer owed to a story.”

Jan’s review

Do writers own their words? Of course. But do writers own a plot or an idea? Of course not, right? Most of us would consider it ludicrous to think a writer owns a plot. But what if someone does not? What if they feel wronged? How far will they go?  

Writer Jacob Finch Bonner is a sad sack. He was a one-hit wonder, but now finds himself struggling to write anything and teaching at a third rate MFA program. 

Then his luck turns. Jake seizes the opportunity to take (‘steal”?) a plot as his own, a plot so daring and different that it is certain to be a hit. He writes his book, and, as predicted, it becomes a huge bestseller. Life is finally looking good for Jake.

However, despite the fact that every word of the novel was his own, he lives in constant guilt and fear that his secret will be discovered. And indeed, someone does know. The anonymous “Talented Tom” (very clever play on words, as the reader discovers), who begins to send him threatening messages. The threats eventually escalate, risking Jake’s career and future.

The cat and mouse games begin as Jake begins to investigate on his own to discover the identity of the person sending him the letters. What follows is a wild ride that ends at a shocking conclusion. Truth really is often stranger than fiction. I enjoyed the plot within the plot with chapters from Jake’s book. Each entry gets us closer to the truth. 

As an aside, I didn’t find “the plot” to be that daring or different, but maybe that is a bit of humor from the author? Maybe all authors think THEIR plot is revolutionary, when it is not? As in this book, it’s not the plot, but the way it is told that makes for a terrific read.

This was a slow start, but the payoff was  worth it. As a buddy read, Marialyce and I enjoyed the author’s sly commentary on a writer’s life and the publishing world. Who owns a story? Who has a right to tell it? It’s certainly a timely topic that begs discussion. 

Most readers will guess the revelations to come and will wonder why Jake is such a dimwit. But the journey itself is the fun of this novel within a novel. But just wait, the final scenes are jaw-dropping! 

·     I received a digital copy for review from NetGalley. All opinions are my own

·     Publication date May 11, 2021 by Celadon Books

Marialyce’s review

For Jacob Finch Bonner, life was good. He was an acclaimed first-time novelist, basking in its glory for a while and eager to follow it up with another winner. However, his second attempt doesn’t go well and he finds himself in the land of floundering, looking for that theme that magical something that will take his newest novel into Olympian heights. Jake is teaching, a joy he initially likes, but after some years finds himself bored and stumbling. His writing life seemed to have hit that old brick wall and every day is just like the one preceding it.


Into his creative writing class, comes Evan Parker, an arrogant imperious man, so convinced the plot of his book is one that will zoom him up to number one in the writing world. He allows Jake to read a few pages of his story and Jake acknowledges this impudent man, cocky and pompous, has a sure to be winner on his hands. Jealousy sets in as he waits for this book to be published and his novel to be eclipsed. However, that event never happens and Jake is perplexed and beyond curious. He finally learns that Even Parker has died presumably from a drug overdoses and since there no family, the temptation to “borrow” the deceased plot idea takes root.


As Jake’s new book storms into the best seller lists of many publications, he meets a woman who eventually becomes his wife, but then an email arrives accusing him of plagiarizing the book and Jake’s trip into the nightmare zone starts. The email missives keep coming and eventually they go to his publisher and are posted on social media. Jake is terrified and decides its time to delve into Evan Parker’s background and the surprises keep coming.


Although this book has quite a slow start, it builds momentum as we journey along to puzzle out the details of deception and lies. At times, it is a bit of a puzzlement why Jake takes this so seriously as he just seems to have taken the plot but written the story himself, and yet he does. As he delves deeper into the actual Evan Parker, he finds that as the old adage goes, life imitates art but this time for Jake, with dire consequences.

and here’s the author:

Jean Hanff Korelitz was born and raised in New York City and educated at Dartmouth College and Clare College, Cambridge. She is the author of the novels: You Should Have Known(Adapted for HBO as “The Undoing” by David E. Kelley, directed by Susanne Bier and starring Nicole Kidman, Hugh Grant and Donald Sutherland), Admission(adapted as the 2013 film of the same name, starring Tina Fey, Lily Tomlin and Paul Rudd), The Devil and Webster,The White Rose, The Sabbathday Riverand A Jury of Her Peers, as well as a middle-grade reader, Interference Powder, and a collection of poetry, The Properties of Breath. Two new novels, The Plot and The Latecomer, will be published by Celadon Books in 2021 and 2022.

With Paul Muldoon she adapted James Joyce’s “The Dead” as an immersive theatrical event, THE DEAD, 1904. The play was produced by Dot Dot Productions, LLC, for the Irish Repertory Theatre and performed at New York’s American Irish Historical Society for seven week runs in 2016, 2017, and 2018.

Korelitz is the founder of BOOKTHEWRITER, a New York City based service that offers “Pop-Up Book Groups” where readers can discuss books with their authors. Events are being held online for the duration of the Coronavirus Pandemic.

She and her husband, Irish poet Paul Muldoon, are the parents of two children and live in New York City.

When the Stars Go Dark by Paula McLain #paulamclain #ballantinebooks @JanBelisle @absltmom

Jan and I were anxious to read this book because we had liked this author’s previous books. This was a departure for Paula McLain as she is not previous to now been a thriller author. However, we found much to like about this story, and once again felt the pain that some children bear at being left and abandoned by their parents. It is a hurt that never leaves them, and for many it is the basis on which they build their lives. The stars do indeed go dark, as well as the world when children are both abandoned and taken by the evilness that pervades this world.

When the Stars Go Dark

Jan’s review

“Every 73 seconds someone in America becomes the victim of sexual assault. Every nine minutes one of those victims is a child. 82% of victims under the age of eighteen are female. The effects of sexual violence can be long lasting and profound.”

The story opens in 1993, the year the real- life Polly Klaas was taken from her home at knifepoint. The case drew nationwide attention before cell phones, national data bases, Amber alerts, and crowdsourcing was available to help solve crimes. There was a rash of abductions of girls in the vicinity during this time frame. 

It is against this backdrop that Anna, reeling from a personal tragedy, arrives in her hometown of Mendocino, CA. Her childhood friend, Will, who is now the town sheriff, enlists her help in the investigation of a missing teenage girl. 

Anna is an expert in missing children, a detective who has made it her life’s work to save and find justice for young victims. Her own life has been filled with trauma, and she is obsessed in finding redemption through helping children. 

Anna is a complex person and, through her, the reader learns a lot about trauma, healing, the suffering of families, the psychological profiles of victims and predators, and the lasting psychological damage to survivors. Factual details are woven into the narrative. Fans of true crime, like me, will find these sections most insightful. As the mother of a daughter, and Nana to three very young granddaughters, it’s not always comfortable reading, but it’s imperative that I educate myself. 

There are many dimensions and themes in this story, all blended seamlessly: of the importance of community, of pain and loss, but also healing, forgiveness and peace. 

This is a character-driven slow burn, one that forces the reader to slow down to savor the writing. It takes a bit of patience in the beginning. 

The natural world in the woods and forest, cliffs and beaches surrounding Mendocino play an important part of the story. Anna’s foster father taught her much, and she draws on those instincts when it’s a matter of life and death. I’m not usually one for descriptive writing, but in this case found the descriptions beautiful and atmospheric. 

This was another terrific buddy read with my friend Marialyce, one we both found very insightful. We’ve both read and enjoyed the author’s historical fiction books, and with this book, she has proven herself capable of crossing genres into mystery/thrillers. We both appreciated the afterword, where we learn this story was inspired by events in the author’s life. 

Note that despite such a dark subject, there are no graphic descriptions of abuse or violence toward children in these pages. (Minor spoiler alert, but important for animal lovers to know: the dog does not die!) 

Marialyce’s review

There is an undeniable hole in one’s heart that is never filled when your child is lost. No matter how it happens from illness, from neglect, from being taken as is this book’s theme, the damage done to families and the kidnapped child never goes away.


Anna Hart and Will Flood, childhood friends, are on the trail of a young adopted girl who was taken from her actress mother and successful father.  Anna herself a survivor of an abusive childhood, understands only too well the pain the girl, Cameron, is and has gone through for Anna recalls her earlier life with her mother and two other children. Anna, however, was recused by a kind and loving couple who taught her many lessons of life and survival, and so she ends up in a profession that while she fears it, becomes her obsession. Anna has been hiding her thoughts away about a tragedy that happened in her small-town years ago, that she never quite recovered from. Returning to this small town, the memories slowly return and as Anna volunteers to help Will, the town sheriff, with a missing girl case, she finds that resilience and stamina buried inside herself so well taught by her foster father.


As the pieces come together, we see into the trauma and the family crisis so many children go through and how many a predator sees the children he targets as lonely, misunderstood, and fearful. The police and Anna delve deeper into this case tie it in the ongoing Polly Klaas case, a famous case that occurred in 1993, and others and determine through hard work and clues that a serial killer is on the loose.


This story takes place before the advent before of DNA and the cooperation of states to a mass data source. There are naturally suspects but as the team gets closer to the truth, the real perpetrator is one that shocks Anna and the team.
I appreciated how the author took us deep into the psyche of children being abandoned and maltreated. She had a most close affinity to the suffering of the children having been herself a victim of abandonment. She does devote quite a bit of the book to speaking of this horrendous happening and how children are affected both mentally and physically, and hopefully in writing of Anna, she has found a way to allay somewhat her hurt about her own tragedy.


Bottom line is we have an extremely serious dilemma in this country with missing and abandoned children. Some are shuttled to foster care and as was in the author’s case go through a plethora of homes until they are let out of the system. Child predators know who to target as they lead these children into lives of depravity and horror. This story certainly focused its eye on that pivotal issue and the issue of how hard it is to find these children.


Thank you to Paula McLain, Ballantine Books, and Netgalley for a copy of this story due out on April 13, 2021

http://www.pollyklaas.org/about/pollys-story.html

and here’s the author:

Paula McLain is the author of the New York Times bestselling novels, The Paris Wife, Circling the Sun, and Love and Ruin. On April 13th, 2021 she introduces her latest title, When the Stars Go Dark.

Paula McLain was born in Fresno, California in 1965. After being abandoned by both parents, she and her two sisters became wards of the California Court System, moving in and out of various foster homes for the next fourteen years. When she aged out of the system, she supported herself by working as a nurses aid in a convalescent hospital, a pizza delivery girl, an auto-plant worker, a cocktail waitress–before discovering she could (and very much wanted to) write. She received her MFA in poetry from the University of Michigan in 1996.

She is the author of The Paris Wife, a New York Times and international bestseller, which has been published in thirty-four languages. The recipient of fellowships from Yaddo, The MacDowell Colony, the Cleveland Arts Prize, the Ohio Arts Council and the National Endowment for the Arts, she is also the author of two collections of poetry; a memoir, Like Family, Growing up in Other People’s Houses; and a first novel, A Ticket to Ride. She lives with her family in Cleveland.

Made in China: A Prisoner, an SOS Letter, and the Hidden Cost of America’s Cheap Goods by Amalia Pang #amaliapang @AlgonquinBooks @JanBelisle @absltmom

Americans love their cheap goods. We are super fans of the dollar stores, and never really glance at a label to see where the product comes from. We are proud of ourselves because we “save” money and tend to purchase throwaway goods because it guarantees us an easier lifestyle. In reading Made in China, we learn of the human toll it takes on the people who put together our goods. It is a harrowing tale and one that both Jan and I have resolved to try and do our part with by buying less and making sure we buy products produced under the auspices that might govern fair and equitable employment.

Made in China: A Prisoner, an SOS Letter, and the Hidden Cost of America's Cheap Goods

“Sir: If you occassionally buy this product, please kindly resend this letter to the World Human Right Organization. Thousands people here who are under the persicuton of the Chinese Communist Party

Jan’s review

In our quest to read more non-fiction, Marialyce and I settled on this book, and it was one that opened our eyes and caused us to examine our consumer habits.

In 2012 a woman in Oregon opened up a Halloween decoration purchased at K-Mart when a slip of paper fell to the floor. On it was written an appeal for help from Soon-Yi, a prisoner in China. The woman contacted various human rights agencies as well as the press and went public.

The author followed Sun Yi, an educated man imprisoned for his religious beliefs. It was difficult to read a first-hand account of what happened to him and his fellow inmates. Most of us know of the human rights abuses in China but few of us know how truly horrific they are. The inmates endure unspeakable torture worse than we can imagine, and forced to work 15-20 hours a day. Why? So we can buy cheap décor, toys, clothing, and other consumer goods. 

As horrendous as this is, China also sells the organs of prisoners for a tidy profit. Their execution dates eerily match up to when an organ is needed.

China’s Communist Party is to blame, of course, but so are we every time we choose to buy, and buy cheap. I’m fortunate in that, when possible,  I can choose to spend my money wisely in small businesses with ethical purchasing practices. But for most, if not all, Americans it’s nearly impossible to avoid items made in China, and impossible to know if what we buy is made in the labor camps. 

No U.S. company who has manufacturing plants in China, including well-known brands, can ensure their goods are made without prison labor. Manufactures believe they have little choice in using forced labor in order to keep up with consumer demand.

There are U.S. laws enacted to stop the flow of goods made by forced labor, but they are worthless words on paper. The only thing that will stop it is for us to stop demanding cheap goods. Having independent 3rd party inspections would help but it’s doubtful it would have a lasting impact because of China’s lack of transparency and a company’s habit of simply changing their name when sanctioned.

The author ends the book with a list of questions to ask before we purchase something which basically boils down to: do I truly need this, or would something I own work just as well? Do I need it enough to be willing to pay more for it? If I buy it how often would I use it? Would I be willing to get rid of three things if I do buy it?

If we are honest with ourselves, we all have our weaknesses, whether it’s electronics, home décor, fashion, small cheap toys /stocking stuffers, and the like. My husband and I have made a conscious effort to not buy more STUFF, and if we do, something needs to leave our house. Our primary motivation was to simplify our lives, but now we have an even more compelling reason to buy less and buy responsibly. 

According to one study, consumers wouldn’t buy something if told it was made in a labor camp. But the effect went away in thirty minutes. Our brain’s pleasure center lights up when we see something on sale or for less money than we would expect to pay. The solution is to not shop for entertainment or buy simply because something is cheap. 

Our consumerist society is causing untold suffering and torture worse than anything we can imagine. We can no longer claim innocence and ignorance as an excuse.

Marialyce’s review

Buyer Beware!


Imagine receiving a note from a Chinese labor camp prisoner in a bag of Halloween tombstone decorations. Such a thing did happen to Julie Keith which started her on a journey to discover if this could possible real. Sadly, it was written by Sun Yi. Later the author, Amalia Pang followed Sun, a prisoner jailed under horrific conditions for believing in the tenets of a faith he refused to give up.

Imagine a race being systematically wiped out by a country. Yes, indeed the thoughts of of Nazi Germany might enter your mind, but then we realize that this is happening to the Uyghur group in Northwest China.

Imagine a country that looks at you are a group of salable organs and indeed this is exactly what China is doing.

Many of us look to save money when buying products. From the electronics to decorations during holidays, we are constantly searching out bargains never really thinking about where or how these things were made.

In the Made in China book, we certainly get an eye opening and appalling look into the methods China uses to bring us those cheap bargains. 

The settings where they are constructed are mainly labor camps where the poor workers are treated worse than animals, where they arrive in these places on trumped up charges, or be found to do something the government considers punishable. There they labor hour after hour for despicable companies, in deplorable circumstances, eighteen hours a day seven days a week. Medical care is nonexistent and family is prohibited at times from seeing their loved ones.

It is even a fact that some are mined as organ givers, and there is a brisk trade for kidneys, lungs, etc.

Although the United States government is aware of these practices, it is a struggle to try and find definitive proof for there always seems to be ways in which companies wiggle out of being fined and exposed. Not much can be done for as we know, China is a communist country where every part of one’s life is watched and monitored.

One can be held in prison, never having a trial, for practicing the wrong religion, saying a word against the regime, or even looking to gain a bit of respect for your fellow man. Lawyers, doctors, and other professionals are imprisoned and sentences for all last years, if indeed they survive.

There is a viable option for we consumers and that is to stop buying products that are made in China. Money seems to be the only way to hit them and the only thing they care about.

This book might just make you reevaluate how you purchase products. What comes cheaply to we consumers bears a devastating price paid by countless millions. Amalia Pang wrote a wonderful exhaustive book after much research into the fact that many our goods are made at the detriment and death of others. 

and here’s the author:

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Amelia is an award-winning, investigative journalist of Uyghur and Chinese descent. Her work has been published in The New Republic, Mother Jones, and The New York Times Sunday Review, among other publications. She is currently an editor at EdTech Magazine.

She is the author of Made in China: A Prisoner, an SOS Letter, and the Hidden Cost of America’s Cheap Goods. It was shortlisted for the 2019 J. Anthony Lukas Work-in-Progress Award, co-administered by Columbia Journalism School and the Nieman Foundation for Journalism at Harvard University.

In 2016, the New York Press Association awarded Amelia first place in feature writing for her article on the devastation of an immigrant taxi driver as he fell behind on his mortgage.

 In 2017, the LA Press Club awarded her first place in investigative journalism for her undercover reporting on the exploitation of smuggled immigrants who are recruited to work in Chinese restaurants. 

In 2018, the LA Press Club awarded Amelia first place in Gender/LGBTQ Reporting for her coverage of sexual violence in Native American communities.

Amelia has given interviews about her work on NPR and C-SPAN. She received her BA in Literary Studies from the New School. 

Kill Shot by Jason Dearen #jasondearen @AveryPublishing #deadlydisease #contaminateddrugs @JanBelisle @absltmom

Jan and I decided to read something a bit different and increase our nonfiction reads and so we settled on Kill Shot, a new book that really brought home a very valuable but frightening lesson to the both of us. Do any of us honestly know where our drugs are made? Do we ever think to ask? Should we be more aware of the things that are being put inside our bodies?

Kill Shot: A Shadow Industry, a Deadly Disease

Jan’s review

Marialyce and I were in a slump with several disappointing fiction reads in a row. We decided to turn our attention to a few non-fiction titles. This was one of those books, one that highlighted a horrifying case of medical fraud and greed that cost lives and resulted in untold suffering. 

As an RN, I’m familiar with compounding pharmacies, which makes custom mixes of medications, but little did I know that the abuses outlined in this book went unchecked for so long. As a patient who has received countless joint steroid injections, I’m even more horrified –  and angry.

 In 2012 there was a fungal microbe that contaminated thousands of vials of methylprednisone acetate produced by the New England Compounding Center (NECC). This is a drug injected to  provide back and joint pain relief.

The CDC and FDA began investigating a multi-state series of cases of fungal meningitis that eventually sickened hundreds of patients and left countless others permanently disabled. Many died, and are still dying. The fungus was particularly lethal when injected into the epidural space of their spine where it traveled to their brain, causing devastating disabilities, and in many cases, death. In these pages we get to know many of these victims and their families, making it personal.

The investigation traced the contaminated vials to the NECC in Framingham, MA. The conditions in the lab where the drugs were made were contaminated, and failed to meet the most basic of clean conditions. Records were falsified, they failed to recall known contaminated vials, expired ingredients were used, vials were mislabeled, and the atmosphere in the lab was unprofessional and demonstrated a wanton disregard for the human lives at stake.

The pharmacists who owned the company became very wealthy from the business, making millions of dollars. When they knew they were in trouble they took great pains in moving money around and hiding their assets. One owner was arrested in the airport as he was attempting to flee the country. 

There was a trial but due to some misunderstandings on the part of the jury the individuals involved were acquitted of murder and got off with light sentences considering the gravity of their crimes.

I wish I could say this was a one-off with no possibility of this happening again, but I can’t. Since this case, more compounding pharmacies have been cited for unsafe practices. 

The author ends his book with a list of questions for patients to ask their physician if they are prescribed injectable drugs made in a compounding pharmacy. However, as a nurse and part of a medical family, I can guarantee that the physician would have no idea. The onus and responsibility of the safety of our drugs should not rest on the shoulders of patients and doctors. This pharmacy was licensed. Are doctors  supposed to travel and independently inspect every pharmacy where the compounded drugs they use are dispensed? Obviously the fact they are licensed is no assurance of safety.

This is a case of pure corporate greed  combined with bureaucratic failures and a lack of oversight from the very agencies who are supposed to protect us. 

The laws need to be changed and the agencies responsible for ensuring the safety of our drug supply needs to be fully funded to prevent this from ever happening again. The burden should be on the state and federal inspections and licensing departments.

Marialyce’s review

Honestly, before reading this book, I didn’t even know what a compounding drug factory was. Where my drugs came from never even crossed my mind. However in 2012, a deadly fungus microbe was, through negligence and unclean facilities, managed to infect hundreds of people. The bulk of these drugs were made in a facility called the New England Compounding Center, exposing some 14,000 people to a fungus that traveled up their spine creating havoc eventually entering their brains.

People became ill and the doctors were baffled. The illness resembled in a way, meningitis but that is carried by a virus and that virus was not detected in the bodies of the affected. It was a race to pinpoint the why as people were dying a horrible death, loss of motor functions, loss of the ability to breathe, and ultimately death.

Horrible as it was, once the disease was tracked to NECC, the owners, Barry Caden, Gregory Conigliaro, Glenn Chin, Robert Ronzio who had gained millions of dollars, multiple million dollar homes and the like, were both arrogant, haughty, and fraudulent The really salient and disgusting fact was that they knew their facility was unclean, harbored next to a recycling center with tons of old mattresses in their yard.

A trial was eventually held and due to misunderstanding in orders to the jury from the judge, the owners and the board got off with slightly more than a slap on the hand, even though the charge was murder. While some did serve a limited amount of time, it still didn’t come close to the suffering, the misery, the loss that so many endured while these heinous people grew very wealthy. To this day, some are still dying from this fungus that for many were injected into their spine to alleviate pain.

This powerful story begs one to demand the pertinent agencies to take efficient and active involvement in the assembling of drugs. It reveled so well the deficiencies that both the federal and state governments make as they fail to take sufficient measures to ensure these life threatening drugs are not made in a careless and reckless manner. We desperately need to demand our governments look into this with regularity and pass laws that bring these negligent and greedy drug makers very stringent and fitting punishments. They do hold the lives of the people in their hands and we have always trusted their effectiveness and the manner in which they monitor drug manufacturing. It is truly a heinous crime for some to make drugs that they know may someday cause and probably do cause such horrible outcomes. In the eve of so many new drugs and new drug making procedures, this is a priority. The people have always placed their faith and trust in the drugs they take. This book is a wake up call that we should pay extreme attention to the process to monitor drug makers as it seems to be severely broken.

We need Congress and the various agencies to take a very active role in how and where are drugs are manufactured. It is of great concern to many that countless numbers of our current drugs are made in China. We are playing with people’s lives and of course the cost to people and their love ones do not have a price.

Thank you to Jason Dearen for bringing this topic to light.

and here’s the author:

Jason Dearen

I am a Knight Science Journalism Fellow at MIT. Prior to coming to Cambridge I worked as a correspondent for The Associated Press, based in Florida and San Francisco. I am a member of AP’s Global Environment team, a group of journalists who work in different places around the country and globe who cover issues related to climate, industrial pollution, wildlife management, etc…

My focus has been on stories that look at the intersection of the environment and public health. Most recently this was a series and data project looking at the threat climate change poses to people who live around toxic waste sites and other polluted dumping grounds.

Narrative writing is my passion. I’m now working on a book for a Penguin imprint, Avery, that tells the story of a disease outbreak, and the unregulated drug manufacturing industry that caused it. I grew up in California.

When I’m not working I enjoy surfing/swimming, playing the guitar, drinking beer with friends and cooking.

We Begin at the End by Chris Whitaker @Whittyauthor @HentyHolt #drama #tragedy @JanBelisle @absltmom

At times, when you see a book receiving a lot of hype and praise, you raise your expectations and then unfortunately, the book doesn’t come close to what you were expecting. However, in Chris Whittaker’s book, We Begin at the End, both Jan and I found exactly what we were looking for, a story that made us run through the gauntlet of emotions and made us ever so glad we picked this one up. We both agree it belongs in our top ten list of books we loved……and that title so appropriate was one that gave us a forewarning about what the book contained.

We Begin at the End

Jan’s review

Duchess is a troubled young girl, marked by a life filled with tragedy and deprivation. Forced to grow up too soon In order to survive and take care of her 6-year-old brother, Robin, she’s hardened herself to protect herself from pain. Any softness in her is reserved for Robin, a sweet boy who wants nothing more than a family to call his own. 

The bond between brother and sister was touching and their search for belonging is heart-wrenching. These children have known more pain and loss than any person should have to endure at such a young age. Yet, still more tragedy and loss is coming.

This is a murder/revenge tale, that began 30 years ago, and continues to the present. It’s a book filled with pain and violence, but it’s the characters that wormed their way into my heart. All are vividly drawn and have a thread that connects them in one way or another to the tragedy that occurred 30 years ago. This event set a course that changes all of their lives. So much happens in this novel that to talk about the plot would involve spoilers. 

 But the characters!

–      Walk, the small town sheriff,  has struggles of his own but will stop at nothing to protect the children and seek justice for them. His best friend, Vincent, has just been released from prison after a 30 year sentence.  Walk has never stopped believing in him, while Vincent has never forgiven himself. 

–      Hal, the grandfather, is a character that reminds me of the ones in Kent Haruf’s novels. He’s a man of few words but deep character.  

–      Dolly is a woman who knows pain but has a heart of gold. She can break through Duchess’s defenses when no one else can.

–      And then there’s sweet Thomas Noble, a young boy who is also an outcast, and proves himself to be a great friend to Duchess.

 This is an intricate tale with many surprises along the way that I didn’t see coming. This gripping emotional story took hold of my heart and wouldn’t let go, bringing me to tears more than once. 

However, as much as I fell in love with Duchess, I do wish her tough exterior had been more nuanced. Her language and precociousness didn’t always ring true to me as the way a child (or even an adult) would talk.

It took a while for me to get into the story but my patience was rewarded. Once the setting moved to Montana, I couldn’t put it down. This is a book to savor, and one I won’t soon forget. The layers of this story are slowly revealed with a  final reveal that was shocking and heart breaking. 

This was a buddy read with my friend Marilayve, and it’s one we both highly recommended!

*I received a digital ARC of the book from Netgalley. All opinions are my own.

*Published March 2, 2021 by Henry Holt & Co

Marialyce’s review

Duchess, poor Duchess, saddled with so much in her young life. She is strength personified and coupled with her deep love for her young brother, Robin, she would go through hell and back to protect and preserve him. Duchess is a hard character, foul mouthed, ready to come to blows, should someone, anyone step into her path who challenges her. She and her brother live a hard life. Their mother has a reputation, and it’s not a good one, but she tries, and her children love her. However, the love of her life, has been behind bars for thirty years, and his crime is one that has split the town in factions of hate.


The characters in this book date back thirty years as Vincent King, the man who started the turmoil, his best friend Walk, the local sheriff, and Star, mother of Duchess and Robin come together in what would seem to be their final confrontation. Amazing characters are woven into this complex story as well. There is Hal, the grandfather of the children, who brings his love and presence into the children’s lives and perhaps can and does provide moments of sanity and peace. There is Dolly, a woman who sees what others can’t in Duchess, and provides for her a safe haven if she will accept it, and there is the very kind, noble, and awesome Thomas, a boy who likes Duchess, and is certainly willing to weather the barbs and insults Duchess throws at him to capture her friendship.


The story is tragic, how one event set in motion so many years ago, defined the lives of so many. It is a tale of heartbreak, of unrequited love put aside for those who don’t believe they deserve love, a story of consuming hate directed at those who could do little to prevent it. The story contains many surprises which keeps the action focused, and the reader’s eyes fully on the understanding one often gains in an all-consuming tragedy that repeats itself over and over.


Truly this is a book to be savored, one that will often bring tears to your eyes, and question why people can be so cruel and unforgiving. Be patient with the story as I found myself very hesitant at the beginning as to continuing.(thank you Jan for telling me to!) It is so worth it to continue this book as it allows us to see so very clearly life can be cruel and seems to have a hidden agenda for certain people. It is how these people survive and carry forth the gist of this beautiful yet tragic book. I definitely recommend most highly this story. It is one not to miss indeed!

Jan and I were so fortunate to have read this one as it touched our heart and souls.

and here’s the author:

Chris Whitaker is the award-winning author of TALL OAKS, ALL THE WICKED GIRLS, and WE BEGIN AT THE END.

He lives in the UK with his wife and three children.

Who Is Maud Dixon by Alexandra Andrews #alexandraAndrews @littlebrown #quirkyfun #debutauthor @JanBelisle @absltmom

Looking for a fun read, Jan and I stumbled upon Who Is Maud Dixon and from the write up, we were intrigued. It certainly was a bit out of our zone but after reading it, we were amazed at how this author brought all the elements together and made for a fun intriguing story.

Who Is Maud Dixon?

Jan’s review

Florence is adrift, not enjoying her life and envying the lives of others. She is a ship without ballast, tilting wherever the wind takes her, trying on and casting off different personalities as easily as trying on a pair of shoes. She has dreams of becoming a famous writer and is willing to do anything to shed her old life and get the life she wants and feels she deserves.

She is in NYC working in a low level job in the publishing industry when an opportunity arises to become assistant to Maud Dixon, a pseudonym for the reclusive author, Helen Wilcox.  The only caveat is a strict NDA. No one knows who Maud really is, and she intends to keep it that way.

Florence sees this as her chance to be mentored by a celebrated author and the road to becoming a famous novelist herself. Things are going well, until the two go to Morocco for research on Maud’s new novel. There is an accident and what follows is a wild twisty ride that kept me furiously flipping the pages. Sure there were a few plot holes and coincidences but this was such an engaging, original read I didn’t care.

I loved that the first half of the book gave us an in-depth peek into Florence’s life and thought processes, which is the set up for the events that transpire in the second half. I do love a book that delves into the psychology of a character.

This is great fun, with sly satire and dark humor. A very fresh and original debut novel that I highly recommended!

·     This was a buddy read with my friend Marialyce, and we both found it to be fresh new take in the genre that we enjoyed!

Marialyce’s review

The word cautionary is not a part of Florence Darrow’s makeup. She makes rash decisions without thinking of the consequences and does what many of us would call foolish things. Florence is lonely, realizing her job is just a dull boring thing, not the glamorous fun filled work she pictured herself to have after “escaping” her over bearing mother and her small-town existence. One less than sober weeknight, Florence has a one-night stand with a high-level boss. She rushes ahead, becomes fixated on his wife and kids, (of course he is married) and winds up losing her job.


However, all is not lost as she interviews and is hired by an extremely reclusive author, Helen Wilcox, author of the amazingly successful Who Is Maud Dixon.  It’s strange, sort of set up but hey, Florence is a tad strange herself, so off she goes into the glamour and notoriety she thinks will be hers one day. Soon after, off these two ladies go to Morocco, for research on Helen’s new book and tragedy happens as the car Helen is driving flies into the ocean.

Waking up in a hospital, pondering the situation, Florence sees an opportunity and seizes it, . . …and then things go off the rails and chaos ensues for Florence. Her plan seems to be thwarted at every turn and Florence take us what only can be described on a very wild ride on the Moroccan rails.

Jan and I had a lot of reading enjoyment from this gem, being somewhat surprised at both the events related and the way in which this new author kept us totally involved in the tumultuous goings on. Does Florence, survive her outing with the Moroccan police or does she succumb to the suspicion that she is the culprit in a serious crime?  If you are a fan of intrigue, plotting, and subterfuge, this book might just might be your thing.

and here’ the author:

Alexandra  Andrews


I’m a journalist-turned-copywriter-turned-novelist, with a brief stint as a graphic designer somewhere in there. I’ve lived in New York City for my entire life, except for the year and a half I spent in Paris writing Who Is Maud Dixon? I now live in Brooklyn with my husband and two children and am (theoretically) working on my second novel.

The Choice I Made by CynthiaEllingsen @CynEllingsen @bookuture #blogtour #humanemotion #tragedy #familydrama

At times it just so happens that a family binds itself together when a deep dark secret is revealed.

The Choice I Made

Julie, the main protagonist in the book The Choice I Made, does have the light shone upon her as she struggles to reconcile the love of her family home and business and the marriage to her husband. Wood Violet is not only a home Julie has treasured, it is also the business, the exclusive resort her parents own, bequeathed to them by their parents. Her grandfather is still alive, but loves to travel so he is away a lot and Julie’s mom and dad are the proprietors.

Tragedy comes in the form of a stroke suffered by Julie’s mom. As Julie rushes home to help, she finds her link to her husband becomes more and more tenuous. He wants her back in Chicago by his side and frowns upon her losing her lawyer job to care for her mom. She is torn between her duty to her husband and her love and care for her mother. It’s a hard road to travel, but Julie knows where her heart and head lie. Added to that is the fact that Wood Violet is in financial trouble and she feels she needs to do something to assist the place she loves.

Julie becomes involved in the goings on of the business, and one day discovers a runaway living in one of the old dilapidated cabins. The girl, Margaret, is on a mission, that of finding her birth mother, who has a tie to Wood Violet. Some of the present guests of Willow Violet are old friends of Julie’s, one of whom was a boyfriend of the past. The attraction is still there between them, but Julie feels duty bound to her husband, even though she realizes that they no longer have what they once did.

Things heat up when Julie finds a number of clues that point to the fact that Margaret does indeed have some sort of connection and as the family pulls together, they find themselves discovering a huge secret that effects the lives of the whole family.

This was a nice family drama and as I started to think about the story, I realized that all families have secrets. It’s how they handle those secrets that is the base of family love, comraderie, and the ability to carry on as a unit. Recommended to those who like the interactions of family.

Thank you to Cynthia Ellingsen, Bookouture, and NetGalley for a copy of this story due out on March 10, 2021.

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and here’s the author:

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Cynthia Ellingsen is an Amazon Charts bestselling author of contemporary women’s fiction. Her books feature heartwarming characters and strong family connections, often with a touch of mystery. The Starlight Cove series, her best-known work, is available on audio and has been translated into several languages.

Cynthia began her writing career as a screenwriter in Los Angeles and now lives in Kentucky with her family.

https://www.cynthiaellingsen.com/

https://www.facebook.com/cynthiaellingsen

https://twitter.com/CynEllingsen

Buy Links:Amazon: https://bit.ly/2PwDulRApple: https://apple.co/2IOUVemKobo: https://bit.ly/34arE59Google: http://bit.ly/3qfMHvs