A Thousand Steps

A Thousand Steps
A Thousand Steps by T. Jefferson Parker

Friday, February 28, 2020

FLASHBACK FRIDAY- Two Girls Down by Louisa Luna - Feature and Review


When two young sisters disappear from a strip mall parking lot in a small Pennsylvania town, their devastated mother hires an enigmatic bounty hunter, Alice Vega, to help find the girls. Immediately shut out by a local police department already stretched thin by budget cuts and the growing OxyContin and meth epidemic, Vega enlists the help of a disgraced former cop, Max Caplan. Cap is a man trying to put the scandal of his past behind him and move on, but Vega needs his help to find the girls, and she will not be denied.

With little to go on, Vega and Cap will go to extraordinary lengths to untangle a dangerous web of lies, false leads, and complex relationships to find the girls before time runs out, and they are gone forever.



Two Girls Down (Alice Vega #1)Two Girls Down by Louisa Luna
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Two Girls Down by Louisa Luna is a 2018 Doubleday publication.

Taut Suspense- Impossible to put down!

Two young girls go missing from a local mall. However, the small-town police force is overwhelmed and ill equipped to handle the case, so the family hires bounty hunter, Alice Vega to find the missing girls.

From there, Alice hires a local guy, Max Caplan, a former member of law enforcement, who left the force under dubious circumstances.

In a taut race against the clock, Alice and Max forge a partnership, each bringing their own special skills to the investigation. Although the pair are not traditional detectives, the story works a lot like a procedural, but the plot is complex, dark, gritty, murky, fast-paced, and very smart.

Anytime I read a book with the missing child trope, it seems to have a sharper edge to it. But this story has two missing girls, a distraught single mother, and not much to go on, which creates a greater feeling of doom.

Vega and Caplan each had a unique style, and initially they had to make a few adjustments, but their partnership developed nicely. They both had a fierce drive, focus, and determination to bring those two little girls back to their mother.

I found myself immersed in the story, which held my rapt attention from start to finish. I can’t believe I forgot I had this book on my Kindle! Thanks to my GR friend, Betsy, for reminding me of this book, which also led to the realization that this author has already released the second book in the series! I can’t wait to read it!

Overall, this is a superb thriller, very well done!

*Content warnings:

I listened to small portions of this book on audio while I was working around the house. (I wasn’t very impressed with the audio version and can’t recommend it.) However, one thing about listening to books, as opposed to reading, is that I tend to notice the language a lot more. While some of the language was in context and fit the characterizations, some of it was over the top and unnecessary- in my opinion. Does everyone talk like that? My husband says that, yes, they do, and it’s not 'bleeping' attractive. LOL!






Louisa Luna is the author of the novels Brave New GirlCrooked, and Serious As A Heart Attack. She was born and raised in the city of San Francisco and lives in Brooklyn with her husband and daught

Thursday, February 27, 2020

New Year, New Guy- by Angela Britnell- Feature and Review


Out with the old life, in with the new
When Laura’s bride-to-be sister, Polly, organises a surprise reunion for her fiancé and his long lost American friend, Laura grudgingly agrees to help keep the secret. And when the plain-spoken, larger-than-life Hunter McQueen steps off the bus in her rainy Devon town and only just squeezes into her tiny car, it confirms that Laura has made a big mistake in going along with her sister's crazy plan. 
But could the tall, handsome man with the Nashville drawl be just what reserved Laura Williams needs to shake up her life and start something new?



New Year, New GuyNew Year, New Guy by Angela Britnell
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

New Year, New Guy by Angela Britnell is a 2020 Choc Lit publication.


Laura gets roped into helping her sister, Polly, stage a surprise reunion between her fiancé, Johnny, and an old friend of his from America, named Hunter McQueen. Laura’s job is to pick Hunter up from the bus and give him a place to stay while he’s visiting.

The pair get off to a bumpy, and comical start when Laura picks Hunter up in the pouring rain and is dismayed that because he is such a large man, he can barely squeeze into her car. The two continue to experience a great deal of awkwardness when they are around each other. Laura and Hunter suffer from the classic ‘opposites attract’ syndrome, especially as Laura is more of an introvert, and is still nursing deep wounds from her disastrous marriage. She doesn’t go out of her way to hide her dismay at having Hunter as a guest.

Hunter, on the other hand, has a secret from his past that Polly is not aware of. As a result, her fiancé may not be as thrilled to see Hunter as she had thought.

Will Polly and Laura send Hunter packing once his past is revealed? Can Laura find the emotional strength to try love again?

This is a lovely story, light and funny, but also addresses a few important issues. The characters are well defined. I think readers will really like Hunter, and will find his backstory to be very interesting.

I nearly read this book in one sitting. I was highly invested in this couple and the challenges they faced, and the way they each faced adversity, bravely taking charge to right wrongs and make healthy changes in their lives. I love stories that show personal growth, and also love seeing a couple work together to overcome the obstacles that stand in the way of their happiness.

Overall, this is a very enjoyable story of redemption, forgiveness and fresh beginnings!





Angela grew up in Cornwall and returns frequently from her new home in Nashville, Tennessee to visit family and friends, drink tea and eat far too many Cornish pasties!

A lifelong love of reading turned into a passion for writing contemporary romance and her novels are usually set in the many places she's visited or lived on her extensive travels. Thanks to over three decades of marriage to her wonderful American husband she's a huge fan of transatlantic romance and always makes sure her characters get their own happy-ever-after.

She is a member of the Romantic Novelists' Association, the Romance Writers of America and the Music City Romance Writers.

If you'd like to find out more of what Angela gets up to (warning this may include references to wine, chocolate and the hunky Aidan Turner) check out www.angelabritnellromance.com or follow her on www.facebook.com/angelabritnell and www.twitter.com/angelabritnell

Monday, February 24, 2020

The Lost Man by Jane Harper- Feature and Review


Two brothers meet at the border of their vast cattle properties under the unrelenting sun of outback Queensland, in this stunning new standalone novel from New York Times bestseller Jane Harper

They are at the stockman’s grave, a landmark so old, no one can remember who is buried there. But today, the scant shadow it casts was the last hope for their middle brother, Cameron. The Bright family’s quiet existence is thrown into grief and anguish. Something had been troubling Cameron. Did he lose hope and walk to his death? Because if he didn’t, the isolation of the outback leaves few suspects…

Dark, suspenseful, and deeply atmospheric, The Lost Man is the highly anticipated next book from the bestselling and award-winning Jane Harper, author of The Dry and Force of Nature.



The Lost ManThe Lost Man by Jane Harper
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Lost Man by Jane Harper is a 2019 Flatiron publication.


Jane Harper’s descriptive depictions of the Queensland scenery, places the reader smack dab into its harsh atmosphere, helping to create a dark and moody mystery, crackling with unbearable suspense.

The Stockman grave, a landmark with a storied legend behind it is the scene of the shocking death of Cameron, the middle son of the Bright family. The rumor is that Cameron, who had been behaving strangely, as of late, may have deliberately caused his own death.

Cameron's family, which includes his two brothers, Nathan and Bub, his widow, and their two young daughters, must decide what the future holds for each of them, now that Cameron is gone.

Nathan is grappling with a terrible deed from his past, which resulted in his becoming an outcast in the community, exiling him to a lonely existence, except for the occasional visit from his teenage son, Xander.

Bub is the youngest brother, struggling to find his own niche, and resentful of his brothers, wishing he could break free and live his own life away from the family business.

But, as the story deepens, questions continue to linger regarding Cameron’s death. What had been troubling him lately? Why had he been so on edge? Did he really commit suicide?

As the secrets slowly reveal themselves, a portrait of a family steeped in regrets, longing and misunderstanding, begins to emerge- one that is packed with horrible, stunning, and heartbreaking revelations.

While this is a very deep mystery, it is also a complex family drama so compelling and achingly painful, the book is almost impossible to put down!!

Harper outdid herself with this one! Highly recommend!

All the stars!!






Jane Harper's debut novel The Dry is an atmospheric thriller set in regional Australia.

The novel won the Victorian Premier's Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript in 2015 and rights have since been sold in more than 20 territories.

The Dry was a No.1 bestseller in Australia and has been optioned for a film by Reese Witherspoon and Bruna Papandrea's production company, Pacific Standard.

Jane worked as a print journalist for 13 years both in Australia and the UK and lives in Melbourne with her family.

Thursday, February 20, 2020

TRUE CRIME THURSDAY: Red River Girl: The Life and Death of Tina Fontaine- by Joanna Jolly - Feature and Review


A gripping account of the unsolved death of an Indigenous teenager, and the detective determined to find her killer, set against the backdrop of a troubled city.

On August 17, 2014, the body of fifteen-year old runaway Tina Fontaine was found in Winnipeg's Red River. It was wrapped in material and weighted down with rocks. Red River Girl is a gripping account of that murder investigation and the unusual police detective who pursued the killer with every legal means at his disposal. The book, like the movie Spotlight, will chronicle the behind-the-scenes stages of a lengthy and meticulously planned investigation. It reveals characters and social tensions that bring vivid life to a story that made national headlines.
Award-winning BBC reporter and documentary maker Joanna Jolly delves into the troubled life of Tina Fontaine, the half-Ojibway, half-Cree murder victim, starting with her childhood on the Sagkeeng First Nation Reserve. Tina's journey to the capital city is a harrowing one, culminating in drug abuse, sexual exploitation, and death.
Aware of the reality of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls, Jolly has chronicled Tina Fontaine's life as a reminder that she was more than a statistic. Raised by her father, and then by her great-aunt, Tina was a good student. But the violent death of her father hit Tina hard. She ran away, was found and put into the care of Child and Family Services, which she also sought to escape from. That choice left her in danger.
Red River Girl focuses not on the grisly event itself, but on the efforts to seek justice. In December 2015, the police charged Raymond Cormier, a drifter, with second-degree murder. Jolly's book will cover the trial, which resulted in an acquittal. The verdict caused dismay across the country.
The book is not only a true crime story, but a portrait of a community where Indigenous women are disproportionately more likely to be hurt or killed. Jolly asks questions about how Indigenous women, sex workers, community leaders and activists are fighting back to protect themselves and change perceptions. Most importantly, the book will chronicle whether Tina's family will find justice.



Red River Girl: The Life and Death of Tina FontaineRed River Girl: The Life and Death of Tina Fontaine by Joanna Jolly
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Red River Girl: The Life and Death of Tina Fontaine by Joanna Jolly is a 2019 Viking publication.

If this case got any media attention here in the US, I don’t recall it. This true crime case is centered around Tina Fontaine, an indigenous teenage girl, whose body was discovered in the Red River in Winnipeg, Canada. Searchers were looking for another person, they feared had died, when they found Tina’s body.

Tina’s case brought attention to the shocking number of missing and murdered indigenous women in Canada, when it made national headlines.

Here, journalist Joanna Jolly follows Tina’s case from the discovery of her body to the stunning trial of the man accused of murdering her. The primary focus of the book, however, is on the investigation, which eventually led to an arrest. There is also some focus on the Canadian system, many blame for having failed girls like Tina. The trial brings the case to a surreal close.

This is a very frustrating and sad book. As an American, I’m not at all familiar with Canadian laws, or their social system, but the core issues at play are very familiar, unfortunately.

The author did a terrific job of highlighting the challenges law enforcement faced and pointing a light of the various social and political issues that could no longer be shoved under the carpet.

The only downside to the author’s straightforward, journalistic style and approach, was that it didn’t leave much room for the reader to get to know Tina in a more personal way. Bringing the victim to life, might have driven the point home in a more forceful, emotional way, making it harder to forget this case and others like it.

The conclusion and outcome of the case was riveting and utterly gut punching! Although I knew ahead of time what the outcome would be, I still sat with my mouth hanging open trying to digest it all.

Overall, this is a very absorbing true crime book. For me, it was also a learning experience. The book is very effective, well researched and organized. True Crime enthusiast, no matter which country you hail from, should read this book!






Joanna Jolly is a journalist and author living in the UK. She loved writing as a child and, after graduating with a degree in English Literature, became a journalist. Her work has taken her all over the world - including covering the vote on and transition to independence in East Timor, working as a correspondent in India and Nepal and reporting from Jerusalem, Washington DC, South Africa and Brussels. She has won several journalism awards and in 2016 was a Shorenstein Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. Joanna's work has often focused on violence against women and their struggle for justice. Red River Girl is her first book.

Wednesday, February 19, 2020

You've Got My Number by Angela Barton- Feature and Review


Three isn’t always a magic number 

There are three reasons Tess Fenton should be happy. One, her job at the Blue Olive deli is dull, but at least she gets to work with her best friend. Two, she lives in a cosy cottage in the pretty village of Halston. Three, she’s in love with her boyfriend, Blake. 

Isn’t she? 

Because, despite their history, Blake continues to be the puzzle piece in Tess’s life that doesn’t quite fit. And when she meets intriguing local artist Daniel Cavanagh, it soon becomes apparent that, for Tess, love isn’t as easy as one, two, three 



You've Got My NumberYou've Got My Number by Angela Barton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

You've Got My Number by Angela Barton is a 2020 Choc Lit publication.

A well-balanced story of life, love, and new beginnings!

Tess is feeling restless and unfulfilled. Her job is unsatisfying, and her relationship with her boyfriend, Blake, is in a deep rut. Just as Tess is gathering her strength to make some necessary changes in her life, she suddenly finds herself trapped, feeling forced to remain in a situation she desperately wants out of.

Then Tess meets Daniel and an undeniable chemistry develops between them, but Tess can’t act on her feelings, which only compounds her frustrations.

Meanwhile, Daniel is still beating himself up over something that took place in his past, while also dealing with a very stressful situation involving his sister. He and Tess both try to keep their feelings for each other on the unrequited side, each coping with personal problems they can't see a way out of.

Will Daniel and Tess remain as two ships that pass in the night or will fate intervene on their behalf?

Barton did a fantastic job with creating these characters. Tess and Daniel, of course, are a couple that is meant to be, but there are forces working to keep them apart.

There are other threads in the book that are not exactly cheerful but are a part of life and added a touch of brevity to the story. I really loved the way the story came together in the end. I love a book that can balance real life problems, develop a sweet love story, and then add the right amount of feel good emotions and humor, leaving me feeling very satisfied with my reading experience.





Angela Barton was born in London and grew up in Nottingham. Having signed publishing contracts for three of her completed novels with Choc Lit's imprint, Ruby Fiction, Angela is excited to be working alongside such a lovely and supportive team. She is looking forward to completing her fourth novel in the beautiful countryside of Charente.

Monday, February 17, 2020

MONDAY'S MUSICAL MOMENTS-Songs of America: Patriotism, Protest, and the Music that Made a Nation by John Meacham and Tim McGraw- Feature and Review


A celebration of America and the music that inspired people and illuminated eras, from the Revolutionary War to the present, by Pulitzer Prize winner Jon Meacham and Grammy winner Tim McGraw.

From "The Star Spangled Banner" to "Born in the U.S.A.," Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw take us on a journey through the eras and the music that helped to shape a nation. Meacham writes a celebration of the history and songs of the eras, and McGraw reflects on these songs as an artist and performer. Beginning with the battle hymns of the Revolution, and taking us through songs from the defining events of the Civil War, the two World Wars, the Great Depression, the Civil Rights movement, the Vietnam War, into the twenty-first century, Meacham and McGraw explore the songs that defined generations and the cultural and political climates that made them. The songs of America remind us where we've been, who we are—and what we can be.



Songs of America: Patriotism, Protest, and the Music That Made a NationSongs of America: Patriotism, Protest, and the Music That Made a Nation by Jon Meacham
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Songs of America: Patriotism, Protest, and the Music that Made a Nation by Jon Meacham and Tim McGraw is a 2019 Random House publication.

I love reading books about music history. Naturally, this book piqued my curiosity, but I had no idea what to expect from it.

At first it was a little dry, but as we marched on through history, it got more interesting. There are so many great songs that reflect the feelings of more than one side of any given situation.

The book highlights the fact that there have been many times when our nation seemed more polarized than others, and there have always been two sides to any given situation. The songs showcased in this book reflect the various opinions of Americans all throughout our history.

Rarely ever were we all in agreement. Some voices overpowered others for a long time, but there have always been both patriotic songs and songs of protest- and yes, they can be both.

Music is an expression of emotion- ranging from pride to fear, from suffering to triumph. I thought the parallels were interesting and the history is very thought-provoking. Just as an example- the book examines Lee Greenwood’s massive hit- “God Bless the USA” alongside Bruce Springsteen’s "Born in the USA".

Lee Greenwood’s song is very patriotic, focusing on the promise and dreams of a country open to all, while Springsteen sings of broken promises and unfulfilled dreams. As the book points out- neither song is wholly right or wholly wrong- it’s a matter of perspective. But, no matter what your point of view, or unique circumstances- it’s still our country- we are all in this together.

You will recognize most of these songs, some are more obscure, but they all have a message- some we may no longer agree with- while others will always stand the test of time. I enjoyed the history, loved the two distinct voices- John’s and Tim’s- each bringing their own brand of expertise to the book.

I switched back and forth between reading the e- book version and listening to the audio version on Scribd. If possible- I recommend both print/digital and audio. The book has photographs you will want to see, and the audio adds some pizazz to the book, with an occasional bit of music playing in the background, plus Jon Meacham has a great speaking voice. For those who may be wondering- Tim McGraw does not sing on the audio version. LOL!

Also, be aware, there are few curious issues with the book. Some areas get a lot of attention, while others are hurriedly skimmed over. I’m not sure why that was, but it could have been a little more comprehensive in some places and lighted up in others. In other words, it sometimes lacked an appropriate balance.

There are probably many other songs that could have been highlighted, but this is not a ‘list’ book and there did seem to be a prominent theme, which was to highlight the various voices, with varying opinions, and how they expressed their plight through music.

For anyone who might be wondering about the tunes or melodies of these songs, there are many resources online, or maybe at your local library, to satisfy your curiosity on that front.

Overall, this was an interesting book with lots of rich history and inspiration. The patriotic and protest anthems are not as common now, but I’m thinking that instead of wasting time on vitriolic expressions on social media, we should consider utilizing the power of song, which has often brought us together in one voice, to express ourselves more meaningfully and productively, through verse and music.






Jon Meacham is a Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer. The author of the New York Times bestsellers Thomas Jefferson: The Art of Power, American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House, Franklin and Winston, and Destiny and Power: The American Odyssey of George Herbert Walker Bush, he is a distinguished visiting professor at Vanderbilt University, a contributing writer for The New York Times Book Review, and a fellow of the Society of American Historians. Meacham lives in Nashville with his wife and children.

Tim McGraw is an American country singer whose albums and singles have routinely topped the music charts, making him one of the genre's most popular artists. Married to singer Faith Hill, his hit songs include "Indian Outlaw," "Don't Take the Girl," "I Like It, I Love It" and "Live Like You Were Dying."

Wednesday, February 12, 2020

Under Currents by Nora Roberts- Feature and Review


From the #1 New York Times bestselling author, a novel about the power of family to harm—and to heal.

Within the walls of a tasteful, perfectly kept house in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, young Zane Bigelow feels like a prisoner of war. Strangers—and even Zane’s own aunt across the lake—see his parents as a successful surgeon and his stylish wife, making appearances at their children’s ballet recitals and baseball games. Zane and his sister know the truth: There is something terribly wrong.
As his father’s violent, controlling rages—and his mother’s complicity—become more and more oppressive, Zane counts the years, months, days until he can escape. He looks out for little Britt, warning her Be smart. Be careful. In fear for his very life, he plays along with the insidious lie that everything is fine, while scribbling his real thoughts in a secret journal he must carefully hide away.
When one brutal, shattering night finally reveals cracks in the façade, Zane begins to understand that some people are willing to face the truth, even when it hurts. As he grows into manhood and builds a new kind of family, he will find that while the darkness of his past may always shadow him, it will also show him what is necessary for good to triumph—and give him strength to draw on when he once again must stand up and defend himself and the ones he loves…


Under CurrentsUnder Currents by Nora Roberts
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Under Currents by Nora Roberts is a 2019 St. Martin’s Press publication.

Tense and Edgy- Nora Roberts style!

This is an intense novel of suspense from start to finish. However, it is also a novel about resilience, and the power of family and love.

Zane escapes from his abusive parents with the help of his aunt, who then gives Zane and his sister a loving home life. Blossoming into a well- adjusted and successful adult, Zane builds a wonderful life for himself. But, then the shadows of the past rise from the ashes and Zane realizes his battle with pure evil is not yet over…

Nora Roberts is so prolific and versatile. I read my fair share of her books, mainly her romantic suspense novels, before Goodreads, but with so many authors and genres to sample, I rarely reach for a Nora Roberts book anymore. Yet, I know, that when the mood strikes, any book of hers will be a dependable, solid story.

Under Currents is exactly that- solid and dependable. The good versus evil theme is hard to beat. The bad guys are truly horrifying, and some passages are hard to read. I loved Zane and his family, and their values and ethics. The first few chapters are difficult and riveting, but from there the suspense comes from the knowledge that evil lurks in the corners and shadows our heroes can’t see. However, an ultimate showdown is coming...

While much of what transpires here has been done before, at least to some extent, in other novels of suspense, Roberts manages to keep the predictability at bay, hitting the reader with a surprise or two they probably won’t see coming. The subject matter is one that is more than relevant and breaking the cycle is an important message.

This was a pretty quick read for me, because I had a hard time putting the book down! I am also reminded of how much I enjoy reading Nora Roberts’ books and will try not to wait so long to add another one to my list.

*Possible triggers- domestic and child abuse as well as a little out of context language.






Nora Roberts is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than 200 novels, including Shelter in Place, Year One, Come Sundown, and many more. She is also the author of the bestselling In Death series written under the pen name J.D. Robb. There are more than five hundred million copies of her books in print.

Tuesday, February 11, 2020

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano- Feature and Review


Inspired by a true story of one child’s incredible survival--riveting, uplifting, unforgettable.

After losing everything, a young boy discovers there are still reasons for hope in this luminous, life-affirming novel, perfect for fans of Celeste Ng and Ann Patchett.

In the face of tragedy, what does it take to find joy?

One summer morning, twelve-year-old Edward Adler, his beloved older brother, his parents, and 183 other passengers board a flight in Newark headed for Los Angeles. Among them is a Wall Street wunderkind, a young woman coming to terms with an unexpected pregnancy, an injured vet returning from Afghanistan, a septuagenarian business tycoon, and a free-spirited woman running away from her controlling husband. And then, tragically, the plane crashes. Edward is the sole survivor.

Edward's story captures the attention of the nation, but he struggles to find a place for himself in a world without his family. He continues to feel that a piece of him has been left in the sky, forever tied to the plane and all of his fellow passengers. But then he makes an unexpected discovery--one that will lead him to the answers of some of life's most profound questions: When you've lost everything, how do find yourself? How do you discover your purpose? What does it mean not just to survive, but to truly live?

Dear Edward is at once a transcendent coming-of-age story, a multidimensional portrait of an unforgettable cast of characters, and a breathtaking illustration of all the ways a broken heart learns to love again.



Dear EdwardDear Edward by Ann Napolitano
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Dear Edward by Ann Napolitano is a 2020 Dial Press publication.

A sad, uncomfortable, and heartrending journey- but ultimately a story of hope and inspiration!

Twelve- year old, Edward is the sole survivor of a plane crash, which took the lives of 191 people, including Edward’s parents and older brother. Now living with his aunt and uncle, Edward is faced with the daunting task of recovering physically, mentally and emotionally. This story follows Edward's coming of age journey, as he copes with the aftermath of the crash.

Along with his devoted family, Edward also finds an unexpected support system through his friendship with Shay, one his neighbors. The two become inseparable, when Shay offers Edward her unconditional support, honesty, and love. Their relationship defied convention at times, but Shay became Edward's rock on so many levels.

Edwards’s present -day journey is alternated with the stories of a select group of passengers who were on board the plane with Edward, giving the reader a bit of insight into their personal lives leading up to the flight, and how they co-mingled on the plane before the crash.

This book was inspired by true events and is understandably melancholy. The story is centered around grief, the way it affects people in different ways, and how they cope. How will Edward come out on the other side of something this traumatic?

Right from the beginning, I wanted to hug Edward and comfort him. What a resilient soul, so broken, but also brave and determined. If the story had stayed centered on Edward and the obstacles he and his family faced and how they worked through their grief and all the psychological pain of recovering under the glare of the media spotlight, I would have given the book all the stars and a rave review.

However, I have some mixed feelings about the airplane sequences. It was very uncomfortable to read about these people under those circumstances. I wondered if there might have been a different way to introduce them- perhaps telling their story as a prelude to the crash, before turning the spotlight over to Edward.

I felt it would only be right to give the reader some insight into Edward’s life before the crash, and naturally I could understand the impulse of the surviving family members to reach out to Edward, to want to ask him questions, but these passages made me squirm with unease and kept the book shrouded in pain and darkness longer than necessary- often overshadowing or disrupting insights into Edward’s progress.

I also found it a bit curious that the author chose to relate the story in such a neutral, disconnected format. Except for Shay, the other character's backstory and interactions often seemed to take place at a great distance, save for one or two moments of intimate conversations.

However, as the story progressed the grayness slowly lifts, and the sun gradually begins to peek out from behind the gloomy clouds, eventually lighting Edward’s world with long overdue, but generous warmth.

Edward's journey is long, slow, and painful, but he finds strength and wisdom through many avenues, building mental and emotional fortitude with grace, despite his profound grief.

But, of course, he didn’t do it alone. I would be lying if I didn’t admit, that for me, Shay steals the show. What an amazing character!! In this whole drama, she was the bright light that led Edward out of the tunnel of darkness. That is not to say that others in his life weren’t as essential- because they were. It took all these special people, who stayed solid and committed to Edward, for him to become whole again- and he was worth every bit of the effort! Their work and support paid off and I think each of them was blessed and touched by Edward as well. I loved the way the story concluded on such a wonderful and positive note. This story is a testament to the human spirit, and to the power of love and friendship.

Although, I felt the story was too remote much of the time, it did eventually morph into a stirring, inspirational and uplifting novel.






Ann Napolitano's new novel, Dear Edward, will be published by Dial Press in January 2020. She is the author of the novels A Good Hard Look and Within Arm's Reach. She is also the Associate Editor of One Story literary magazine. She received an MFA from New York University; she has taught fiction writing for Brooklyn College's MFA program, New York University's School of Continuing and Professional Studies and for Gotham Writers' Workshop.

Dear Edward will be published by Dial Press in the United States, and by Viking Penguin in the United Kingdom. The novel currently has fourteen international publishers.

Monday, February 10, 2020



Robert Johnson is the subject of the most famous myth about the history of the blues: he allegedly sold his soul at the crossroads in exchange for his incredible talent, and this deal led to his tragic death at age 27. This single notion can be recited by everyone who has ever heard of him, but the actual story of his life remains unknown save for a few inaccurate anecdotes. Up Jumped the Devil is the result of over 50 years of research. Gayle Dean Wardlow has been interviewing people who knew Robert Johnson since the early 1960s, and he was the person who discovered Johnson's death certificate in 1967. Bruce Conforth began his study of Johnson's life and music in 1970 and made it his personal mission to try to fill in the gaps in what was still unknown about him. In this definitive biography, the two authors relied on every possible interview, resource and document, most of it material that no one has ever seen before. As a result, this book not only destroys every myth that ever surrounded Johnson, but also tells a very human and tragic story of a real person. It is the first book about Johnson that documents his years in Memphis, details his trip to New York, uncovers where and when his wife Virginia died and the impact this had on him, fully portrays the other women Johnson was involved with, and tells exactly how and why he died and who gave him the poison that killed him. Up Jumped the Devil will astonish blues fans who thought they knew something about Johnson—most of those things are wrong—and will be a great read for anyone interested in blues, black culture and American music.



Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert JohnsonUp Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson by Bruce Conforth
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Up Jumped the Devil: The Real Life of Robert Johnson by Bruce Conforth is a 2019 Chicago Review Press publication.

Finally! A worthy biography of blues great Robert Johnson!

Even if you are not familiar with Robert Johnson, you have most likely heard his music, which has been covered by countless other Bluesmen and rock stars- most famously perhaps is Cream’s version of "Crossroads Blues", featuring Eric Clapton.

If you are familiar with Johnson, then you are probably aware of the aura of mystery and myth surrounding his life and his music. Legend has it that Johnson made a deal with the devil at the Mississippi crossroads in exchange for his extraordinary talent as a blues guitarist. What fueled this speculation was that Johnson appeared to have achieved virtuoso status in a very short span of time.

Although many were hearing Johnson’s songs, through other artists, and most assuredly his influence on music, for decades, it wasn’t until the early 1990s, when a box set of his music was released, containing all of his previous recordings, that he began to gain wide, commercial recognition.

The legends and myths surrounding Johnson and his alleged pact with the devil seemed to have been packaged right along with his Grammy winning box set, taking on a life of its own.

Suddenly people were wildly curious about Robert Johnson, whose apparently dubious and painful death at the age of twenty-seven, added even more mystique to his legacy.

There have been books written and documentaries made about Robert Johnson. One documentary - Can't You Hear the Wind Howl- The Life and Music of Robert Johnson- is one I can vouch for- although is was made many years back. There is another one on Netflix, Devil at the Crossroads, but I haven't seen it yet and can't speak to its quality or accuracy.

When it comes to the various books written about him, the ones I have read have been underwhelming- until now.

This book puts most things about Johnson's life into a proper perspective, dispelling a few myths along the way. Although the organization wasn’t as tight as I would have liked, for once, I came away with a descent portrait of Robert Johnson, both personally and musically. I'm not sure how I feel about him personally- specifically his womanizing and blaspheming of God-  but musically, one can't discount his long lasting influence.

Overall, if you are interested in learning more about Robert Johnson, this is the book you want to invest in.

*I listened to this book on Hoopla. The narration is very good- highly recommend!






Bruce Conforth was a longtime professor of folklore, blues, popular culture and the history of social movements at the University of Michigan. He was also the founding curator of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. He currently lives in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Friday, February 7, 2020

FLASHBACK FRIDAY: Poinciana by Phyllis A. Whitney- Feature and Review


On the Florida coastline stands Poinciana, the Logan family’s fabulous mansion. Inside its storied walls are the two most prized possessions of patriarch Ross Logan: his invaluable collection of Oriental art and, even more priceless, his new bride, Sharon. When Ross proposed, it seemed Sharon’s dreams had come true and her tragic past was at last behind her. Now she’d be safe and find happiness, a family, and a home as the wife of one of America’s wealthiest and most celebrated oil and banking magnates.

But upon her arrival at the sprawling Palm Beach estate, Sharon can’t ignore the strange undercurrents of hostility emanating from everyone who resides at Poinciana—from Ross’s principal assistant to his reckless and resentful daughter from a previous marriage to his strange and guarded mother, who has isolated herself in a cottage on the grounds. And when Sharon starts asking questions about the Logan family history, even Ross turns from a dynamic and solicitous husband to a dark and silent menace. As secret after secret is revealed, Sharon begins to doubt her sanity—and safety—in this isolated house of strangers.



PoincianaPoinciana by Phyllis A. Whitney
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Poinciana by Phyllis A. Whitney is a 2017 Open Road Media publication. (Originally published in 1980)

A solid, classic Gothic mystery from one of the best writers in the genre

This story is centered around Sharon, a young woman who lost both of her parents in a tragic accident. Shortly thereafter, she marries Ross, an old friend of her parents, who is considerably older.

Ross soon installs his new bride in Poinciana, his Florida estate, where she receives a rather chilly reception from Ross’s business associates. From there, Sharon must contend with Ross’s petulant, willful and resentful daughter, and his ex-wife, who gleefully keep Sharon off -balance.

The suspense builds as Ross becomes increasingly cold and controlling and Sharon discovers some shocking secrets Ross initially withheld from her. As the tension mounts, Sharon feels more and more isolated, as it becomes clear that someone is trying to drive her away from the estate…

This book reminded me of how much I enjoy reading Phyllis Whitney’s novels. Whitney published more than seventy books over the course of her career, so there are still many of her novels I have never read- and this was one of them.

The Gothic themes Whitney is famous for are all present and accounted for, as is her signature style of writing, which employs a slower, tantalizing pace that keeps readers on the edge of their seats waiting for the shock they know is coming- but that blindsides them all the same.

Sure enough, this story has a few huge twists I didn’t see coming and the atmosphere is relentlessly thick with tension. I was completely immersed in the story and even stayed up a little late a couple of nights unwilling to put the book down.

That said, there are a few things modern readers should know- and maybe long-time fans should be reminded of:

This book was published many years ago, and the style of writing reflects that. Sharon is a much more innocent, sheltered character than we encounter today, and I’m not sure how contemporary readers will feel about the age difference between Ross and Sharon. The pacing is not as brisk as we are accustomed to now, but in my opinion, that is part of why these stories are so suspenseful. However, despite the slight dated quality of the novel, it is still quite effective.

It also struck me, when I had finished reading the book, that the story was also very refreshing. The book only has a little mild language, and while it is very intense in some places, the violence isn’t graphic, and of course the very mild romance is chaste in the extreme. The story was just as suspenseful, creepy and enjoyable without all the sexual content, F-bombs, (or worse), and violent accoutrements.

Overall, this was a nice change of pace for me and I’m happy to have another Phyllis Whitney novel under my belt. I wish I could find the time to read more of these older books!





Phyllis Ayame Whitney (1903 – 2008) was an American mystery writer. Rare for her genre, she wrote mysteries for both the juvenile and the adult markets, many of which feature exotic locations. A review in The New York Times once dubbed her "The Queen of the American Gothics".

She was born in Japan to American parents and spent her early years in Asia. Whitney wrote more than seventy novels. In 1961, her book The Mystery of the Haunted Pool won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for Best Juvenile novel, and she duplicated the honor in 1964, for The Mystery of the Hidden Hand. In 1988, the MWA gave her a Grand Master Award for lifetime achievement. Whitney died of pneumonia on February 8, 2008, aged 104.