Flashback Friday

Flashback Friday
Flashback Friday

The Comeback

The Comeback
The Comeback by Ella Berman

Friday, April 9, 2021

FLASHBACK FRIDAY-Tangerine by Christine Mangan- Feature and Review


The last person Alice Shipley expected to see since arriving in Tangier with her new husband was Lucy Mason. After the accident at Bennington, the two friends—once inseparable roommates—haven’t spoken in over a year. But there Lucy was, trying to make things right and return to their old rhythms. Perhaps Alice should be happy. She has not adjusted to life in Morocco, too afraid to venture out into the bustling medinas and oppressive heat. Lucy—always fearless and independent—helps Alice emerge from her flat and explore the country.

But soon a familiar feeling starts to overtake Alice—she feels controlled and stifled by Lucy at every turn. Then Alice’s husband, John, goes missing, and Alice starts to question everything around her: her relationship with her enigmatic friend, her decision to ever come to Tangier, and her very own state of mind.

Tangerine is a sharp dagger of a book—a debut so tightly wound, so replete with exotic imagery and charm, so full of precise details and extraordinary craftsmanship, it will leave you absolutely breathless.



TangerineTangerine by Christine Mangan
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tangerine by Christine Mangan is a 2018 Ecco publication.

I seldom give much credence to author recommendations, having learned a long time ago, that they are mostly meaningless. I've helped authors through various stages of marketing, and trust me, sometimes authors just pull those blurb quotes right out of thin air without even reading the book first.

But… Then I saw that Joyce Carol Oates had written an endorsement for this debut novel, saying:

“As if Donna Tartt, Gillian Flynn, and Patricia Highsmith had collaborated on a screenplay to be filmed by Hitchcock—suspenseful and atmospheric.”

I must admit, I was intrigued, and the synopsis did capture my attention. That, along with a few friend reviews, convinced me to see what all the fuss was about.

I can tell you up front this book may not be for everyone, but I really liked it. The time period- 1950’s, the location- Morocco- sets the stage nicely, for a charlatan tale of obsession and manipulation that left me chilled to the core.

Alice and Lucy were roommates in New York until a horrendous incident separated them. Not long afterwards, Alice got married and moved to Morocco. Now, Lucy has decided to take a vacation to Morocco to visit her old friend-showing up unannounced, out of the blue, without an invitation.

‘Everything changes, sooner or later. Time moves along, without constraints- no matter how hard one may attempt to pause, to alter, to rewrite it. Quite simply, there is nothing to stop it, nothing at all.”

Lucy is shocked by her friend’s condition, the way her husband, John, treats her, and is determined to pull the wool from Alice’s eyes and convince her to go back home with her to New York.
Alice remains torn, slowly coming around to Lucy’s way of thinking- until her husband disappears…

This novel is certainly a slow burner, but the atmosphere alone was enough to keep me invested in the story. There are a few minor issues, places that didn’t gel completely, but books centered around fixations and obsessions must allow for a few inconsistencies here and there, as characters create and absorb information and respond to it, occasionally reacting to revelations in unexpected ways, as we would in reality.

“There were moments when I had thought that I did not so much want her as wanted to be her”

This is one twisted and deliciously wicked little tale and does most assuredly have a whisper of Patricia Highsmith running through it, and a knack for leaving one feeling very unsettled, ala Gillian Flynn. I’m not comparing this book or the author to either one of these authors, or their work, but the atmosphere and clever twists on top of layers of mistrust and re-inventions did put me in mind of them, which leads me to believe JCO may have really read this book and her assessment was spot-on. However, this little gem stands on its own merits just fine and this author is definitely one to watch.

I have the feeling this book may end up being underappreciated, which is too bad, because it really is a very worthy competitor, extremely well written, and certainly a cut above the average, over rated, psychological thriller out there, and most definitely falls into the literary thriller category.

As for me, I am almost embarrassingly grateful and quite appreciative of the work done here. There are so few novels, especially within this genre, written with this type of prose, this ability to create such rich characterizations, against such a vivid backdrop.

“I had realized what a hard place it could be. It was not a place where one simply arrived and belonged- no, I imagined it was a process, a trial, even an initiation of sorts, one that only the bravest survived, it was a place that inspired rebellion, a place that demanded it, of its people, of its citizens. A place where everyone had to constantly adapt, struggle, fight for what they wanted.”

I found the novel to be utterly chilling, but understated, quite unnerving, and well- constructed, especially for a debut novel!

I highly recommend this one to readers who enjoy nuanced, atmospheric, sophisticated, and stylish novels of suspense.





Christine Mangan has a PhD in English from University College Dublin, where her thesis focused on eighteenth-century Gothic literature, and an MFA in fiction writing from the University of Southern Maine. Tangerine is her first novel.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

The Comeback by Ella Berman- Feature and Review


Grace Turner was one movie away from Hollywood’s A-List. So no one understood why, at the height of her career and on the eve of her first Golden Globe nomination, she disappeared.

Now, one year later, Grace is back in Los Angeles and determined to reclaim her life on her own terms.

So when Grace is asked to present a lifetime achievement award to director Able Yorke—the man who controlled her every move for eight years—she knows there’s only one way she’ll be free of the secret that’s already taken so much from her.

The Comeback is a powerful and provocative story of justice in the #MeToo era—a true page-turner about a young woman finding the strength and power of her voice



The ComebackThe Comeback by Ella Berman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Comeback by Ella Berman is a 2020 Berkley publication.

Painful, Powerful, and Ultimately Liberating!

After years of intense grooming as a teen star, Grace Turner, now in her early twenties, is right on the cusp of her big acting breakthrough, when she abruptly walks away from Hollywood without a word.

She’s been living under the radar, staying at her parent’s home, coping with addictions, and the pain of internalizing an insidious secret eating away at her.

As the story unfolds, through Grace’s flashbacks, we see the repulsive way she was molded, manipulated, and abused by powerful men in Hollywood.

When Grace returns to Hollywood, staging her 'comeback', she contacts old acquaintances, friends, and lovers- but, ultimately, she must decide how to navigate her life, and how to take control of her own destiny.

This is a dark story, approached with a polished, understated atmosphere which slowly builds tension and emotion as the horrifying truth is unveiled.

The subject matter is handled perfectly, without unnecessary or vivid details. The emotional impact is felt more strongly as a result.

The author states in her notes, that this book was written some months before the #MeToo Movement, which makes her insights even more impressive.

I was impressed with the way the author presented this convincing cautionary tale. It’s raw, dark, and sad, but not heavy handed or strident. The story is submitted with a subtle style, so as not to overpower nor downplay Grace's conflicts, or mettle; yet it still manages to drive home the harsh realities of the abuse she endured.

While nothing about this story should come as a shock at this point, it still boggles the mind that through all of the advances in entertainment, some things never change.

Overall, this is an impressive and timely debut, spotlighting the disturbing imbalance of power in the movie industry, the sickening exploitation of young performers, and the importance of recognizing your worth, your strength, and about having the courage to take control over one’s own life.



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

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Wild Women and the Blues by Denny S. Bryce- Feature and Review

A Fascinating and Innovative Novel of Historical Fiction

Goodreads Debut Novel to Discover & Biggest Upcoming Historical Fiction Books
Oprah Magazine, Parade, Ms. Magazine, SheReads, Bustle, BookBub, Frolic, & BiblioLifestyle Most Anticipated Books
Marie Claire & Black Business Guide’s Books By Black Writers to Read
TODAY & Buzzfeed Books for Bridgerton Fans
SheReads Most Anticipated BIPOC Winter Releases 2021
Palm Beach Post Books for Your 2021 Reading List

In a stirring and impeccably researched novel of Jazz-age Chicago in all its vibrant life, two stories intertwine nearly a hundred years apart, as a chorus girl and a film student deal with loss, forgiveness, and love…in all its joy, sadness, and imperfections.

“Why would I talk to you about my life? I don't know you, and even if I did, I don't tell my story to just any boy with long hair, who probably smokes weed.You wanna hear about me. You gotta tell me something about you. To make this worth my while.”

In a stirring and impeccably researched novel of Jazz-age Chicago in all its vibrant life, two stories intertwine nearly a hundred years apart, as a chorus girl and a film student deal with loss, forgiveness, and love…in all its joy, sadness, and imperfections.

“Why would I talk to you about my life? I don't know you, and even if I did, I don't tell my story to just any boy with long hair, who probably smokes weed.You wanna hear about me. You gotta tell me something about you. To make this worth my while.”

1925: Chicago is the jazz capital of the world, and the Dreamland Café is the ritziest black-and-tan club in town. Honoree Dalcour is a sharecropper’s daughter, willing to work hard and dance every night on her way to the top. Dreamland offers a path to the good life, socializing with celebrities like Louis Armstrong and filmmaker Oscar Micheaux. But Chicago is also awash in bootleg whiskey, gambling, and gangsters. And a young woman driven by ambition might risk more than she can stand to lose.

2015: Film student Sawyer Hayes arrives at the bedside of 110-year-old Honoree Dalcour, still reeling from a devastating loss that has taken him right to the brink. Sawyer has rested all his hope on this frail but formidable woman, the only living link to the legendary Oscar Micheaux. If he’s right—if she can fill in the blanks in his research, perhaps he can complete his thesis and begin a new chapter in his life. But the links Honoree makes are not ones he’s expecting . . .

Piece by piece, Honoree reveals her past and her secrets, while Sawyer fights tooth and nail to keep his. It’s a story of courage and ambition, hot jazz and illicit passions. And as past meets present, for Honoree, it’s a final chance to be truly heard and seen before it’s too late. No matter the cost . . .



 Wild Women and the Blues

Wild Women and the Blues by Denny S. Bryce
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Wild Women and the Blues by Denny S. Bryce is a 2021 Kensington publication.

I love the jazz age!

This debut novel, set in 1925 Chicago, is centered around Honoree Dalcour and the Dreamland Café- a high-end black and tan club- and Sawyer Hayes, circa 2015- a film student- haunted by the loss of his sister.

Sawyer finds some photographs belonging to his grandmother, which sends him on a quest to find Honoree Dalcour, a woman now in her 110th year of life.

As Sawyer slowly coaxes Honoree's memories to the surface, an amazing story unfolds revealing a 1920s saga full of crime drama, heartbreak, and romance. While Sawyer feels there is a connection there somewhere with his family, the truth is far more shocking than he bargained for.

I loved this book! The author has created complex characters, as well as an authentic atmosphere to create a well -rounded historical mystery and drama, which spotlights black filmmakers and stars of the era. Naturally, with the book set in the twenties, there was plenty of crime drama involving the mob and illegal substances… and murder.

As usual, for me, the historical segments are what truly made the story sparkle. The contemporary storyline is a means to an end, for the most part, but there are some compelling emotional pulls to Sawyer’s side of the story, for a more well-rounded tale. Several characters taking part in the story, were actual filmmakers, movie stars, and performers of the day, making the story even more interesting.

This is an exceptional view of the Chicago Jazz age, from the position of black people, juxtaposing the glamour of the decade against the powerful criminal elements that held a tight gripe on the era.

The story also highlights the power of friendships and love, while the mystery is tense and suspenseful!

Overall, I truly enjoyed this book! It is a compelling story set in one of my favorite historical time periods, but is written from a fresh perspective. There were several historical elements I was unfamiliar with, which sent me on a Googling frenzy on a quest to find out more about the real- life characters featured in this book. I’d also like to mention the fabulous cover on this book- I love twenties fashions!

An impressive debut novel for Bryce- hope to hear more from her in the future!



An award-winning author, Denny won the RWA Golden Heart® and was a three-time GH finalist, including twice for WILD WOMEN AND THE BLUES. She also writes book reviews for NPR Books and entertainment articles for FROLIC Media.

The former professional dancer is a public relations professional who spent over two decades, running her marketing and event management firm. For nearly 10 of those years, however, she wrote and read Buffy/Spike fan fiction. A devoted fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Firefly, and Angel (the TV series), she is also a classic film buff and loves genre TV. Current favorites include A Discovery of Witches; This is Us, The Flash, and Seal Team.

She is represented by Nalini Akolekar, Spencerhill Associates. A member of the Historical Novel Society, Women's Fiction Writers Association, and Novelists, Inc., she is a frequent speaker at author events and lives in Northern Virginia.

Tuesday, March 30, 2021

Just As I Am by Cicely Tyson- Feature and Review


In her long and extraordinary career, Cicely Tyson has not only succeeded as an actor, she has shaped the course of history.” –President Barack Obama, 2016 Presidential Medal of Freedom ceremony

"Just As I Am is my truth. It is me, plain and unvarnished, with the glitter and garland set aside. In these pages, I am indeed Cicely, the actress who has been blessed to grace the stage and screen for six decades. Yet I am also the church girl who once rarely spoke a word. I am the teenager who sought solace in the verses of the old hymn for which this book is named. I am a daughter and mother, a sister, and a friend. I am an observer of human nature and the dreamer of audacious dreams. I am a woman who has hurt as immeasurably as I have loved, a child of God divinely guided by His hand. And here in my ninth decade, I am a woman who, at long last, has something meaningful to say.” –Cicely Tyson



Just as I Am: A MemoirJust as I Am: A Memoir by Cicely Tyson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Just as I am: A Memoir by Cicely Tyson is a 2021 HarperCollins publication.

Magnificent! A Real Class Act!

Much like Viola Davis, who wrote the foreward for this book, my appreciation for Cicely Tyson came via her role as Miss Jane Pittman. I had seen the movie 'Sounder' a few years prior, but after a few key years of maturity, seeing the actress made up to look one hundred and ten years old, made an even bigger impression on me at the time. I never forgot that performance and made a concerted effort to catch as many of Cicely’s shows and movies as possible over the coming years.

Despite that, I knew next to nothing about Cicely’s personal life- other than she had once been married to jazz great Miles Davis. When Ms. Cicely started doing promos for this memoir, I immediately put in a pre-release hold on it at the library, so I would be one of the first people to get a copy. Literally one day after my hold came through, I heard the news that Cicely had died.

Under normal circumstances, I would have put the book on a back burner after such a devastating event, not wanting to appear ghoulish. But, since this was a library loan, I forged ahead. I had already finished reading the book when I noticed the audio version was available on Scribd- so, I decided to listen to it on audio too- and loved both versions.

Ms. Cicely tells her story her own unique way, which was not always on a chronological train of thought. Yet, it is organized and fluid enough the timeline switches aren’t as jarring as they might be ordinarily. It wasn’t a big deal most of the time, and I was able to adapt quickly.

Tyson stuck to her principles by not accepting stereotypical roles and lived by her deeply religious moral code. She dealt with harassment and racism, workplace demands, and personal challenges throughout her life but…

She was a strong woman, tenacious and dedicated, and unafraid to stand up for herself, especially as she matured. While that might have yielded her a ‘difficult’ reputation as an actress, in her private life she was less inclined to vocal protests, instead using her work, and speaking through the characters she portrayed as a statement- and I would say her statements were mighty powerful indeed!

Her tumultuous relationship with Miles Davis was probably the most difficult passages to read. Cicely knew him well, understood his inner demons, and tried her best to help him beat them. Her approach here is light, but it was obvious that living with addiction and numerous infidelities took a heavy toll, bringing to the surface a different side of Cicely I wasn’t quite sure she recognized in herself.

No person is perfect, and of course when reading a memoir there are moments when we wonder about certain choices or poor judgement calls, but overall, I think Cicely was loved and well respected, and a quiet presence of strength and inspiration to many. She was an incredible actress, always elegant exemplary- and like Obama stated- She was just gorgeous!

I truly mourned the passing of this legendary actress. She remained one of very favorite actresses nearly my whole life and that is not something I get to say very often.

It is no surprise then that her memoir is not only revealing and poignant, but a true triumph!

Borrowing from one of Cicely’s characters- ‘Sipsey’ in Fried Green Tomatoes- ‘A lady always knows when to leave’- and Ms. Cicely was most definitely a lady.



Cicely Tyson was an American actress and fashion model. In a career spanning more than seven decades, she became known for her portrayal of strong African-American women.

MICHELLE BURFORD is a #1 New York Times bestselling author and a founding editor of O, The Oprah Magazine. She is a Harvard-trained journalist whose work has taken her to more than 35 countries on six continents. A native of Phoenix, Michelle now resides in New York City. Read more about her creations at www.MichelleBurford.com.

Sunday, March 28, 2021

A Perfect Marriage by Kimberly McCreight- Feature and Review


Big Little Lies
 meets  Presumed Innocent  in  this riveting novel from the  New York Times  bestselling author of  Reconstructing Amelia, in which a woman’s brutal murder reveals  the perilous compromises some couples make—and the secrets they keep—in order to stay together.

Lizzie Kitsakis is working late when she gets the call. Grueling hours are standard at elite law firms like Young & Crane, but they’d be easier to swallow if Lizzie was there voluntarily. Until recently, she’d been a happily underpaid federal prosecutor. That job and her brilliant, devoted husband Sam—she had everything she’d ever wanted. And then, suddenly, it all fell apart. 

No. That’s a lie. It wasn’t sudden, was it? Long ago the cracks in Lizzie’s marriage had started to show. She was just good at averting her eyes. 

The last thing Lizzie needs right now is a call from an inmate at Rikers asking for help—even if Zach Grayson is an old friend. But Zach is desperate: his wife, Amanda, has been found dead at the bottom of the stairs in their Brooklyn brownstone. And Zach’s the primary suspect. 

As Lizzie is drawn into the dark heart of idyllic Park Slope, she learns that Zach and Amanda weren’t what they seemed—and that their friends, a close-knit group of fellow parents at the exclusive Brooklyn Country Day school, might be protecting troubling secrets of their own. In the end, she’s left wondering not only whether her own marriage can be saved, but what it means to have a good marriage in the first place.



A Good MarriageA Good Marriage by Kimberly McCreight
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A Good Marriage by Kimberly McCreight is a 2020 Harper publication.

Lizzie has taken a job with Young & Crane out of necessity after her marriage and finances took a serious hit.

Out of the blue an old friend, Zach Grayson, calls asking for her help. He’s in a bit of a bind after his wife, Amanda, was found dead. Seems he hit a police officer at the scene, and is perhaps the prime suspect in Amanda’s death. Although her firm does not handle criminal cases, Lizzie is given permission to represent Zach- although she’s not exactly thrilled about taking his case.

As Lizzie begins to dig into Amanda’s life, and the affluent enclave she and Zach lived in, she discovers Amanda’s closest friends were into a few unconventional activities, such as open marriages and key parties, for example. Did Amanda participate? Did someone become jealous? What about Amanda’s ambiguous past, or her best friend, Carolyn, a woman no one else has met? And what about Zach? What motive might he have for murdering his wife?

I was expecting the usual domestic thriller set-up with this one, but got a little more than I bargained for. I love Legal Thrillers, and this book has a bit of that included in the story, so that certainly enhanced my enjoyment of this book. The story is also a bit titillating, kind of soapy, but oh so entertaining.

There were a few open- ended threads I would have liked to have been tied up or given a little more explanation- because some avenues seem to just dead end. The exploration of marriage in general, the secrets hidden behind closed doors, the struggles no one else knows about, or the dangerous games people play, was a great backdrop and the way the case intersects with Lizzie’s life was surprising.

Overall, this was a twisty, absorbing, thrill ride- a bit convoluted at times- but I still enjoyed it. This would be a good book to pack in your beach bag this summer!



Kimberly McCreight is the New York Times bestselling author of RECONSTRUCTING AMELIA, WHERE THEY FOUND HER, A GOOD MARRIAGE and THE OUTLIERS, a young adult trilogy. She's been nominated for the Edgar, Anthony and Alex awards and her books have been translated into more than twenty languages. She attended Vassar College and graduated cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. She lives in Brooklyn, New York.

Friday, March 26, 2021

FLASHBACK FRIDAY- The Broken Girls by Simone St. James- Feature and Review


A suspense novel from the award-winning author of The Haunting of Maddy Clare...Vermont, 1950. There's a place for the girls whom no one wants--the troublemakers, the illegitimate, the too smart for their own good. It's called Idlewild Hall. And in the small town where it's located, there are rumors that the boarding school is haunted. Four roommates bond over their whispered fears, their budding friendship blossoming--until one of them mysteriously disappears. . . . 

Vermont, 2014. As much as she's tried, journalist Fiona Sheridan cannot stop revisiting the events surrounding her older sister's death. Twenty years ago, her body was found lying in the overgrown fields near the ruins of Idlewild Hall. And though her sister's boyfriend was tried and convicted of murder, Fiona can't shake the suspicion that something was never right about the case.

When Fiona discovers that Idlewild Hall is being restored by an anonymous benefactor, she decides to write a story about it. But a shocking discovery during the renovations will link the loss of her sister to secrets that were meant to stay hidden in the past--and a voice that won't be silenced. . . .



   The Broken GirlsThe Broken Girls by Simone St. James
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Broken Girls by Simone St. James is a 2018 Berkley publication.

Now THIS is my kind of book!!

Set in Vermont, alternating between 1950 and 2014, this well rounded thriller, centers around a girl’s only school named Idlewood Hall. During the fifties, this school was where troubled girls were sent, and where a group of girls forge an unlikely and formidable friendship which would cause a rippling effect for decades to come.

Over the years, the abandoned school was nothing more than an eyesore, protecting its memories and ghosts from the outside world, its most recent claim to fame being the general location of where Fiona Sheridan’s sister was found dead over twenty years ago.

Now, in present day, 2014, someone has taken an interest in Idlewood, determined to restore the old boarding house, which only intensifies Fiona’s obsession over her sister’s death. She convinces her boss to allow her to do a story about the school's restoration for the magazine she works for. While she barely manages to conceal her ulterior motives, the restoration efforts inadvertently led to a shocking discovery, and sends her down a rabbit hole, as she searches, not only for peace of mind concerning her sister’s death, but for the answers to a decades old mystery.

This gloomy, atmospheric thriller enveloped me in its Gothic fog, keeping me utterly riveted and on the edge of my seat from the beginning to end.

The creepy aura surrounding Fiona’s investigation into her sister’s death is nail biting suspense at its finest. This is a crime drama, thriller, and chiller all rolled into one. While the haunting of Idlewood adds a deliciously spooky element to the story, what is truly haunting is the heavy toll that losing a daughter and sister had on Fiona and her family, as well as the ever present feeling of impending doom.

But, the mystery of the disappearance of one of Idlewood’s boarders during the fifties was a story that goes beyond the ghostly rumors. It is poignantly sad and infuriating tale, that slowly morphs into an inspirational and touching story of friendship and long overdue closure.

I have always been a sucker for a good ghost story, mainly because contrary to the creepy, spooky, chilling aspects of hauntings, more often than not, ghosts are quite often helpful, or asking for help from the living, to give them long sought after peace, which is a not at all frightening when you look at it from that angle. This story is no exception, but I have to tell you, this ghost story packs a powerful punch and is incredibly edgy!!

But, mostly, this story is about solving all the mysteries surrounding two very different types of crimes, with two entirely separate circumstances. The author manages to connect the past to the present fluidly, despite the stark differences in themes and urgency. While the location and Idlewood provide a physical link, it is really the power of familial love and the enduring bonds of friendship, with a little help from beyond, that brings everyone and everything together in the end.

This story is evenly paced, giving the well timed twists a great deal of power. It is very well written, and embodies everything I love about a good thriller. Overall, this was an immensely satisfying read.

Pulling out all the stars for this one!





Simone St. James is the award-winning author of The Haunting of Maddy Clare, which won two prestigious RITA® awards from Romance Writers of America and an Arthur Ellis Award from Crime Writers of Canada. She writes gothic historical ghost stories set in 1920s England, books that are known for their mystery, gripping suspense, and romance.

Simone wrote her first ghost story, about a haunted library, when she was in high school. She worked behind the scenes in the television business for twenty years before leaving to write full-time. She lives just outside Toronto, Canada with her husband and a spoiled cat.

Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker- Feature and Review


The heartrending story of a midcentury American family with twelve children, six of them diagnosed with schizophrenia, that became science's great hope in the quest to understand the disease.

Don and Mimi Galvin seemed to be living the American dream. After World War II, Don's work with the Air Force brought them to Colorado, where their twelve children perfectly spanned the baby boom: the oldest born in 1945, the youngest in 1965. In those years, there was an established script for a family like the Galvins—aspiration, hard work, upward mobility, domestic harmony—and they worked hard to play their parts. But behind the scenes was a different story: psychological breakdown, sudden shocking violence, hidden abuse. By the mid-1970s, six of the ten Galvin boys, one after another, were diagnosed as schizophrenic. How could all this happen to one family?

What took place inside the house on Hidden Valley Road was so extraordinary that the Galvins became one of the first families to be studied by the National Institute of Mental Health. Their story offers a shadow history of the science of schizophrenia, from the era of institutionalization, lobotomy, and the schizophrenogenic mother to the search for genetic markers for the disease, always amid profound disagreements about the nature of the illness itself. And unbeknownst to the Galvins, samples of their DNA informed decades of genetic research that continues today, offering paths to treatment, prediction, and even eradication of the disease for future generations.

With clarity and compassion, bestselling and award-winning author Robert Kolker uncovers one family's unforgettable legacy of suffering, love, and hope.



Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American FamilyHidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker is a 2020 Doubleday publication.

This is a hard review to write.

I knew going in the book was bound to be a difficult read, but I had no idea how emotionally draining it would become. I also didn’t realize, until I finally sat down to write this review, how conflicted I would still feel about it…

Don and Mimi Galvin started their family in the mid-forties and continued having children, despite doctor’s orders, until the mid-sixties, eventually adding a total of twelve children to their family. While the size of their family raised eyebrows, they seemed well adjusted- at least on the surface. But, behind closed doors the family was trying to internally cope with an epidemic of mental illness.

Meanwhile, those children who were not afflicted, were left to their own devices, emotionally neglected, and were at times victims of horrific abuse inflicted on them by their mentally ill siblings.

The author alternates the developments in the Galvin family with facts about Schizophrenia and mental illness, the way psychiatry approached it, the medical treatments, genetics and environmental connections through the years. I was amazed by the attitudes about mental illness and the effects of the drugs prescribed to help control the disease, with the side effects greatly reducing the quality of life and leading to an early death at times. I just can’t imagine!

While I agree that the author took a very measured and delicate approach with the family, I still picked up on a distinct narrowing of blame, despite all efforts to avoid it. I think that even now, with all the various avenues of support available, with the push to destigmatize mental illness, there is still a feeling of shame attached to it for many people of a certain era.

In the seventies, mental illness was often handled privately in families, or labeled as some other type of illness, because no one wanted to admit, sometimes not even to themselves, what the true nature of an illness might be. I’m not making excuses for anyone, but some will want to judge this family by today’s standards, which is not entirely fair.

I had to wonder if Mimi also suffered from a form of mental illness herself, or if her ‘magical thinking’, acting as though everything was normal, was a coping mechanism for someone who has lost control of her life, who is watching her children suffer greatly, and is helpless to prevent it. Perhaps her actions were an attempt to hold herself together- because what would happen if she collapsed under the strain?

The only good thing that has come from this terribly painful situation is that the family DNA has been beneficial in the study of this very difficult disease, opening up avenues in understanding genetics, treatment, or maybe even prevention- which gives the reader much needed hope after watching a family endure such incredible pain for so long.

This is an agonizing book to sink oneself into. My heart went out this family. My feelings are all over the place, though. I’m pained by some of the judgments passed, while also understanding why one might feel that way about the Galvin’s. Although, I have to admit, if I had been in Mimi’s shoes, I would have been completely overwhelmed. It sounds unbearable.

I once knew a couple who had four children- one of which has beaten cancer. While the child was in treatment, I could see how hard it was to divide the ratio of time between the sick child and the healthy children. I see that it’s not fair, but I also saw a support system in place, there were people around to pick up the slack, to talk to, to provide counseling, although it’s rarely enough.

I didn’t see that Mimi had much of this kind of support. In fact, she once admitted she had no one to talk to, and frankly her children’s lives were obviously at risk too, as it was so shockingly made clear.

My point being that apparently people are still judging mental illness in a different way, and Mimi wasn't given the help and support she might have if her children had been physically handicapped or ill.

At the same time, Mimi's response to her daughter’s revelations was almost too appalling for me to digest. My brain is still on overload, and I remain very torn on how to feel about this book. I really can’t see how anyone could have a pat answer, though.

It’s a painful story to read, incredible on so many levels, but also one that is compelling, and informative. I’m glad I read the book because it has awakened a desire to learn more about severe mental illness and to better understand the needs of families living with this disease.