A Thousand Steps

A Thousand Steps
A Thousand Steps by T. Jefferson Parker

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.



Sunday, March 21, 2021

MONDAY'S MUSICAL MOMENT: They Just Seem a Little Weird by Doug Brod- Feature and Review


 A veteran music journalist explores how four legendary rock bands-KISS, Cheap Trick, Aerosmith, and Starz-laid the foundation for two diametrically opposed subgenres: hair metal in the '80s and grunge in the '90s.

THEY JUST SEEM A LITTLE WEIRD offers an original, eye- and ear-opening look at a crucial moment in hard-rock history, when the music became fun again and a concert became a show. It's the story of four bands that started in the '70s and drew from the same seminal sources but devised vastly different sounds. It's the story of friends and frenemies who rose, fell, and soared again, often sharing stages, producers, engineers, managers, and fans-and who are still collaborating more than 40 years later.

In the tradition of books like David Browne's bestselling Fire and RainThey Just Seem a Little Weird seamlessly weaves the narratives of the mega-selling KISS, Cheap Trick, Aerosmith with . . . Starz, a criminally neglected band whose fate may have been sealed by a shocking act of violence. It's the story of how the four groups-three of them now enshrined in the Rock and Roll Hall Fame-went on to influence multiple generations of musicians, laying the foundation for two diametrically opposed rock subgenres: the hair metal of Bon Jovi, Poison, Skid Row, and Mötley Crüe in the '80s, and the grunge of Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, and Melvins in the '90s.


They Just Seem a Little Weird: How KISS, Cheap Trick, Aerosmith, and Starz Remade Rock and RollThey Just Seem a Little Weird: How KISS, Cheap Trick, Aerosmith, and Starz Remade Rock and Roll by Doug Brod
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

They Just Seem a Little Weird by Doug Brod is a 2020 Hachette Books publication.

Mommy's alright, daddy's alright, they just seem a little weird.
Surrender, surrender, but don't give yourself away, ay, ay, ay.

The title of this book caught my eye and made me give it a closer look. At first, it confused me- Starz? What does a cable movie channel have to do with seventies arena rock? 😕😕

As familiar as I thought I was with the music of this era, I honestly have no memory of a rock group named Starz- which is partially the point of this book, as is the way these groups are connected- maybe not through six degrees, but they often rubbed elbows with one another all through the various stages of their careers.

The author alternates chapters between the four featured groups, giving the reader a brief history, and then taking us through their careers as they became successful enough to fill arenas. In the meantime, the author also shows how members of the four groups kept crossing paths in one way or another, even winding up on tour together.

Along the way Aerosmith and KISS had a complicated love/hate relationship, while both groups loved Cheap Trick. Starz on the other hand, who had a similar look to KISS, but had a different, more diverse, sound, had trouble making it off the launching pad. It could easily have gone another way- and the author examines the various elements at play that kept them from enjoying the same success as the other three bands featured in this book.

The author also examines the climate of the seventies that was ripe for the sort of raunchy, choppy, edgy sounds of Aerosmith and the comic book theatrics of KISS. The magazines – like Creem, and Circus, the famous groupies, the behind- the -scenes dramas within the bands, the songs, their inspiration- lots of cool trivia.

But, of course, the popularity of this brand of rock music reached a peak and the public turned their attention to MTV and the eventual surge of over produced music and hair metal- which certainly owed a debt of gratitude to the bands featured here. But then came grunge…

KISS conventions, and a mega-tour with KISS and Aerosmith kept them in the public eye well into the 2000s, and now Cheap Trick, KISS, and Aerosmith have all been inducted into the Rock Hall of Fame.

After giving us a little background on each band, we move through their highs and lows, breakups and reunions, and where they all eventually ended up. Sometimes it was the luck of the draw that propelled one group to mega stardom, while others are now currently residing in the ‘where are they now files’- but too often it was politics and power plays that promoted one band, while obliterating another’s chance for fame and fortune.

The book is very well- researched. In fact, it took me a while to read it, because I spent a healthy amount of time Googling some of names mentioned in the book or reminiscing about some forgotten song or band… like ‘Angel’ for example. I hadn’t thought of that group in decades. I also never heard of Enuff Z'Nuff or Piper - though I do remember Billy Squire- as a solo act.

I have my own opinions about these groups and of course, my opinion is always different from everyone else. I thought KISS remained one-dimensional- not much growth musically, but they did a remarkable job marketing the group as a brand. Rock n Roll All Nite is a quintessential rock anthem- but I have a soft spot for Hard Luck Woman from the early days. I always thought it was ironic that KISS removed their makeup in the hair metal craze, while all the other MTV glitz and glam rock stars were piling it on. Poor KISS – they struggled in those days.

Aerosmith- always seemed to be compared to other groups- “the poor man’s Rolling Stones”, for example- were also stuck in a rut for a long time- but managed to pull themselves together for another resurgence. I confess- I’ve always been a fan, and have seen the group live- in various stages of their career.

Some babe’s talkin’ real loud
Talkin’ all about the new crowd
Try and tell me of an old dream
A new version of the old scene

Cheap Trick- probably the most original of the three- a unique look- no scarves, makeup or costumes- I loved them in my late teens, and I appreciate their contributions and talent- I still turn up ‘Dream Police’ if I hear it and have really fond memories of ‘Surrender’- the song that provided the title for this book.

While I admit I added this book, thinking it would be a nostalgic trip down memory lane, the book turned out be a comprehensive look at select portion of hard rock music, compartmentalized in a moment of time, but one that inspired a myriad of other bands and trends in music and pop culture.

It’s also examined the way the music transitioned- branching away from mammoth rock pioneers like the Stones and the Who. It takes a deep dive into management, promotion, the competition between bands, and the underbelly of the business.

It occurs to me know now, looking back on the seventies rock era, that there were other rock ‘cliques’, like Styx, Journey and Foreigner, for example. I’m sure there were other similar groups who ended up as ‘also rans’, like Starz.

The talent, the look, the music was all there, right on target- just like the bands filling stadiums, but they were extinguished by the powers that be, or didn’t offer kick backs to the radio stations, or caught on just as the fire started to lose its flame.

Whatever happened to all this season's losers of the year?
Every time I got to thinking, where'd they disappear?
When I woke up, mom and dad are rolling on the couch.
Rolling numbers, rock and rolling, got my kiss records out.

As for Starz- they got a raw deal in many ways. I'm glad this book called attention to them and I honestly found their story to one of the more interesting aspects of this book.

This is an absorbing book- it’s one- part musical history and criticism and one part pop culture. The tone is not really one of warm nostalgia, though- as I had originally thought. It’s more of a serious study, almost like a history class on a concentrated segment of seventies rock music.

Maybe the author will do another book like this one- over another group of rock cliques- maybe one like Deep Purple, Bad Company and Foghat or maybe one with a southern theme- like The Allman Brothers, Molly Hatchett, and Lynyrd Skynyrd – or like Bob Segar, The Eagles, and Fleetwood Mac- I could probably do this all day- so I’ll stop there- but if Doug writes another book like this one- I’ll be the first in line to read it.




Doug Brod is the former editor in chief of SPIN magazine and was a long-time editor at Entertainment Weekly. He has worked for Atlantic Records, taught at New York University, and was a segment producer of the comedy/music television series Oddville, MTV.

Friday, March 19, 2021

FLASHBACK FRIDAY: Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan- Feature and Review


Sophie’s husband James is a loving father, a handsome man, a charismatic and successful public figure. And yet he stands accused of a terrible crime. Sophie is convinced he is innocent and desperate to protect her precious family from the lies that threaten to rip them apart.

Kate is the lawyer hired to prosecute the case: an experienced professional who knows that the law is all about winning the argument. And yet Kate seeks the truth at all times. She is certain James is guilty and is determined he will pay for his crimes.

Who is right about James? Sophie or Kate? And is either of them informed by anything more than instinct and personal experience? Despite her privileged upbringing, Sophie is well aware that her beautiful life is not inviolable. She has known it since she and James were first lovers, at Oxford, and she witnessed how easily pleasure could tip into tragedy.

Most people would prefer not to try to understand what passes between a man and a woman when they are alone: alone in bed, alone in an embrace, alone in an elevator… Or alone in the moonlit courtyard of an Oxford college, where a girl once stood before a boy, heart pounding with excitement, then fear. Sophie never understood why her tutorial partner Holly left Oxford so abruptly. What would she think, if she knew the truth?



Anatomy of a ScandalAnatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Anatomy of a Scandal by Sarah Vaughn is a 2018 Atria/Emily Bestler Books Publication.

Timely, with a few very intriguing twists!

When the Junior Member of England, James Whitehouse, is caught out in an affair, it looks as though he will weather the storm, both professionally and personally- until his mistress, Olivia, comes forward with an accusation of rape.

Kate, a prosecutor/barrister believes James is guilty as sin. But, his wife, Sophie, despite enduring the humiliation of his affair, doesn’t think her husband is capable of sexual assault. She plays the part of the supportive politician's wife- a cliche if there ever was one, going along with James' management team, saying and doing what was expected of her, while she denies the lie her life has become.

During the investigation and subsequent trial, Sophie, Kate, and James all reveal their inner thoughts, revealing their innermost secrets, some of which are explosive, dangerous, and raise many questions about ethics, about the rape culture, the way the courts handle rape cases. It examines the mindset of the elite and entitled, the nature of politics, and the rationalizations people make, the lies they tell to maintain a way of life they are accustomed to, or to have a taste of power. It also examines gray areas of human nature, which can make the reader think- "What would I do in that situation?"

The story grabbed my attention right away, although the story moved in a predictable fashion, at least in the beginning. But, then a very, very, unique twist develops along the way, which puts a fresh spin on a familiar plot. This revelation creates a suspenseful situation that had me holding my breath, sitting on the edge of my seat. I love courtroom dramas and am always especially interested in the court systems outside the US, so I found the trial segments of great interest, as well.

Usually I’m not a big fanof multiple POV novels, but in this case, it was quite effective and really gave readers deep insight into the characters moral code, the lines they draw in the sand and the ones they are willing to cross- for revenge or for justice.

I thought this book was thought provoking, and of course, it’s very timely and emotional topic. The pacing drags in some places, but other than that, the book is polished, well- constructed, with a unique style and presentation. Legal thrillers have been too few and far between for a long time, so it’s good to find one that well and truly fits into that category!





Sarah Vaughan read English at Oxford and went on to become a journalist. She spent eleven years at the Guardian as a news reporter, health correspondent, and political correspondent. She left to freelance and began writing fiction the week she turned forty. Her debut novel, The Art of Baking Blind, published by Hodder & Stoughton, St. Martin's Press, and in seven other languages, was the result. The Farm at the Edge of the World was published in June 2016 and will be published in Germany and France. Sarah lives in Cambridge with her husband and two children.

Sunday, March 14, 2021

The Star-Struck Sisters of Tuscany by Lori Nelson Spielman- Feature and Review


 A trio of second-born daughters set out to break the family curse that says they’ll never find love on a whirlwind journey through the lush Italian countryside by New York Times bestseller Lori Nelson Spielman, author of The Life List.

Since the day Filomena Fontana cast a curse upon her sister more than two hundred years ago, not one second-born Fontana daughter has found lasting love. Some, like second-born Emilia, the happily-single baker at her grandfather’s Brooklyn deli, claim it’s an odd coincidence. Others, like her sexy, desperate-for-love cousin Lucy, insist it’s a true hex. But both are bewildered when their great-aunt calls with an astounding proposition: If they accompany her to her homeland of Italy, Aunt Poppy vows she’ll meet the love of her life on the steps of the Ravello Cathedral on her eightieth birthday, and break the Fontana Second-Daughter Curse once and for all.

Against the backdrop of wandering Venetian canals, rolling Tuscan fields, and enchanting Amalfi Coast villages, romance blooms, destinies are found, and family secrets are unearthed—secrets that could threaten the family far more than a centuries-old curse.



The Star-Crossed Sisters of TuscanyThe Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany by Lori Nelson Spielman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Star -Crossed Sisters of Tuscany by Lori Nelson Spielman is a 2020 Berkley publication.

Family secrets, curses, lost and found love, romance and good food!!

The second daughters of the Fontana family are believed to be cursed- doomed to live a life without love. Emilia and her cousin Lucy, both second daughters, are invited to visit Italy by their Aunt Poppy, who has been disassociated with family for years.

Going against her grandmother’s wishes, Emilia, a straight-laced girl who lives a quiet, unadventurous life, decides to accept the invitation, hoping her aunt's promise of breaking the family curse will come true.

Once in Italy, the girls discover their aunt’s health is fragile and that she is intent on meeting up with her one true love after decades of separation. As Poppy regales the girls with stories from her past, Emilia and Lucy explore the Italian culture and discover the truth themselves, their own past, and how to live life with gusto!

I found myself caught up in Poppy’s historical story, and less engaged with Emilia’s contemporary one, which is usually the case with me. Lucy’s role was underdeveloped and seemed tacked on as an afterthought. That aside, I really enjoyed this gentle story about breaking away from the limitations and expectations that bog down the full experience of life and love.

The Italian backdrop adds a beautiful air of culture, history and romance that took the story to a higher level. It was almost like taking a virtual trip, whisking me away on a lovely romantic adventure!



Lori Nelson Spielman is a former speech pathologist, guidance counselor, and teacher of homebound students. She enjoys fitness running, traveling, and reading, though writing is her true passion. Her first novel, The Life List, has been published in over thirty countries and optioned by Fox 2000. Her second novel, Sweet Forgiveness, was also an international bestseller. Her third book, The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany, releases November 17, 2020. She lives in Michigan with her husband and their very spoiled puppy.

Wednesday, March 10, 2021

TRUE CRIME THURSDAY: The Poisoner's Handbook by Deborah Blum- Feature and Review


Deborah Blum, writing with the high style and skill for suspense that is characteristic of the very best mystery fiction, shares the untold story of how poison rocked Jazz Age New York City. In The Poisoner's Handbook Blum draws from highly original research to track the fascinating, perilous days when a pair of forensic scientists began their trailblazing chemical detective work, fighting to end an era when untraceable poisons offered an easy path to the perfect crime.

Drama unfolds case by case as the heroes of The Poisoner's Handbook—chief medical examiner Charles Norris and toxicologist Alexander Gettler—investigate a family mysteriously stricken bald, Barnum and Bailey's Famous Blue Man, factory workers with crumbling bones, a diner serving poisoned pies, and many others. Each case presents a deadly new puzzle and Norris and Gettler work with a creativity that rivals that of the most imaginative murderer, creating revolutionary experiments to tease out even the wiliest compounds from human tissue. Yet in the tricky game of toxins, even science can't always be trusted, as proven when one of Gettler's experiments erroneously sets free a suburban housewife later nicknamed "America's Lucretia Borgia" to continue her nefarious work.

From the vantage of Norris and Gettler's laboratory in the infamous Bellevue Hospital it becomes clear that killers aren't the only toxic threat to New Yorkers. Modern life has created a kind of poison playground, and danger lurks around every corner. Automobiles choke the city streets with carbon monoxide; potent compounds, such as morphine, can be found on store shelves in products ranging from pesticides to cosmetics. Prohibition incites a chemist's war between bootleggers and government chemists while in Gotham's crowded speakeasies each round of cocktails becomes a game of Russian roulette. Norris and Gettler triumph over seemingly unbeatable odds to become the pioneers of forensic chemistry and the gatekeepers of justice during a remarkably deadly time. A beguiling concoction that is equal parts true crime, twentieth-century history, and science thriller, The Poisoner's Handbook is a page-turning account of a forgotten New York.




The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New YorkThe Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York by Deborah Blum
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Poisoner’s Handbook by Deborah Blum is a 2010 Penguin Press publication.

Interesting history of forensic pioneers!

After some initial push-back, Charles Norris was named the first official Chief Medical Examiner in 1917 by the city of New York. He then brought in Alexander Gettler to create a toxicology lab. Although, forensic science was met with skepticism, Norris and Gettler were beneficial in uncovering deaths attributed to tainted alcohol during prohibition, and deaths caused by carbon monoxide, and radium poisoning. But murderers were also caught out as poisons such as arsenic, cyanide and thallium were discovered post-mortem.

There were so many common uses for some of these poisons and in some cases the dangers were not apparent until it was too late. Science has advanced, thanks to Norris and Gettler, and we are much more aware of the dangers poisons present. The work these gentlemen pioneered has both acquitted and convicted criminals and helped to prevent further illness and death.

The spotlight on prohibition is a bit long winded, as other consequences of the era get a share in the examination. Still, the number of deaths from tainted alcohol was shocking!

The Radium Girls story was already familiar to me, but it is still one of the most powerful segments in the book. Incredibly sad and difficult to read about.

The entire book is interesting and fascinating, but what propelled me to bump this one up on my list was a recent Dateline episode in which a man was poisoning his wife with Thallium and used this book as a guide!! (She survived- miraculously- just by the grace of God!)

Thallium is a poison I was not all that familiar with. During the 1930s it was used in dyes, and women, in particular, used it as a depilatory agent.

It was also used to treat certain ailments. It is known as the ‘Poisoner’s Poison’ and ‘Inheritance Powder’ as it is odorless and tasteless.

Positively chilling!

Overall, an incredibly interesting book. The only complaint I have is that we didn’t really get to know our hero scientist in a more personable way. A bit more biographical information might have been nice, but certainly not necessary.

Thank goodness Norris and Gettler stayed strong, sticking to the science and facts, despite all the forces working against them. Some of Gettler’s toxicology tools are still in use today. I shudder to think how many people would have gotten away with murder, or how many would have been wrongfully convicted, or how many substances would continue to sicken and kill, without their brains, and their determination to keep corruption out of their work.

True Crime readers will enjoy this one as well as those interested in the history of forensics, pathology, toxicology.



Deborah Blum has always considered herself a southerner, although she has no real Southern accent and was born in Illinois (Urbana, 1954). Still, her parents moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana when she was two, and to Athens, Georgia, when she was twelve. And she has always believed that the Southern culture of story-telling had a real influence on the way she uses narrative in writing about science.
After high school, Blum received a journalism degree from the University of Georgia in 1976, with a double minor in anthropology and political science. She worked for two newspapers in Georgia and one in Florida (St. Petersburg Times) before deciding to become a science writer and going to graduate school at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. A University of Wisconsin fellow, she received her degree in 1982 and moved to California to work for McClatchy newspapers, first in Fresno and then in Sacramento. During her 13 years, at The Sacramento Bee, she won numerous awards for her work, culminating in the 1992 Pulitzer Prize in beat reporting for a series investigating ethical issues in primate research.
The series became her first book, The Monkey Wars (Oxford, 1994), which was named a Library Journal Best Sci-Tech book of the year. Three years later, she published Sex on the Brain: The Biological Differences Between Men and Women (Viking, 1997), which was named a New York Times Notable Book. Her 2002 book, Love at Goon Park: Harry Harlow and the Science of Affection, (Perseus Books) was a finalist for The Los Angeles Times Book Prize. She followed that with Ghost Hunters: William James and the Search for Scientific Proof of Life After Death (Penguin Press, 2006). Her latest book, The Poisoner's Handbook: Murder and the Birth of Forensic Medicine in Jazz Age New York, will be published in February 2010.
Blum is also the co-editor of a widely used guide to science writing, A Field Guide for Science Writers (Oxford, 2006). She is currently the Helen Firstbrook Franklin Professor of Journalism at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, where she teaches science journalism, creative-non-fiction, magazine writing and investigative reporting. A past-president of the National Association of Science Writers, she currently serves as the North American board member to the World Federation of Science Journalists. She also sits on the board of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing and on the board of trustees for the Society for Society and the Public.