A Thousand Steps

A Thousand Steps
A Thousand Steps by T. Jefferson Parker

Monday, March 30, 2020

Chariot on the Mountain by Jack Ford- Feature and Review


"Once old Mastuh be dead, you be workin' in the fields just like the rest of 'em. That day comin' soon."

Two decades before the Civil War, a middle-class farmer named Samuel Maddox lies on his deathbed. Elsewhere in his Virginia home, a young woman named Kitty knows her life is about to change. She is one of the Maddox family's slaves--and Samuel's biological daughter. When Samuel's wife, Mary, inherits her husband's property, she will own Kitty too, along with Kitty's three small children.

Already in her fifties and with no children of her own, Mary Maddox has struggled to accept her husband's daughter, a strong-willed, confident, educated woman who works in the house and has been treated more like family than slave. After Samuel's death, Mary decides to grant Kitty and her children their freedom, and travels with them to Pennsylvania, where she will file papers declaring Kitty's emancipation. Helped on their perilous flight by Quaker families along the Underground Railroad, they finally reach the free state. But Kitty is not yet safe.

Dragged back to Virginia by a gang of slave-catchers led by Samuel's own nephew, who is determined to sell her and her children, Kitty takes a defiant step: charging the younger Maddox with kidnapping and assault. On the surface, the move is brave yet hopeless. But Kitty has allies--her former mistress, Mary, and Fanny Withers, a rich and influential socialite who is persuaded to adopt Kitty's cause and uses her resources and charm to secure a lawyer. The sensational trial that follows will decide the fate of Kitty and her children--and bond three extraordinary yet very different women together in their quest for justice.

Based on little-known true events and brought vividly to life by Emmy and Peabody award-winning journalist Jack Ford, here is an astonishing account of a time when the traditions of the Old South still thrived, a treacherous journey toward freedom--and a testament to determination, friendship, and courage.



Chariot on the MountainChariot on the Mountain by Jack Ford
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Chariot on the Mountain by Jack Ford is a 2018 Kensington publication.

Historically interesting, emotionally riveting- and one whale of legal thriller!

This book is based on the true story of Catherine “Kitty” Payne, a slave and the daughter of her 'owner', Samuel Maddox. When Samuel dies, his wife, Mary, decides to set Kitty and children free, which leads to a contentious, and little- known court case where Kitty had to fight to remain free.

In Ford’s tale, the reader follows Kitty on her journey, chronicling her relationship with Mary and the bold decision to take Mary’s nephew to court when he refused to acknowledge her freedom. A slave taking a white man to court in the pre-civil war era was unprecedented to say the least.

I loved the way the author brought Kitty and Mary to life. The progress of their relationship is one of the most rewarding parts of the story. Naturally, Mary had every reason to feel resentful of Kitty and it would have been within her rights to sell Kitty and her children after her husband’s death.

When Mary decided to honor her husband’s last wishes, she goes above and beyond by escorting Kitty and her children to Pennsylvania where they can obtain their freedom. The journey is a dangerous one, but it is also one that solidifies the special bond the women developed which was like a mother-daughter relationship and a close friendship.

When Mary’s nephew interferes, claiming he had a right to take charge of Samuel’s estate, which included his slaves, he hires a group of ‘slave catchers’ to kidnap Kitty and her children and return them to Virginia. But Kitty insists she is free and decides to take her case to court.

From there, Zephania Turner, takes charge of Kitty’s case, and thus begins an arduous, complicated trial that had so many twists I was on the edge of my seat!

I had never heard of this case before now. What an incredible and fascinating story! I’m so glad the author stumbled across it, and shared it through this work of fiction. I so admired these women and their courage and faith.

Everything about this story seems to go against the grain. Mary's decision to help the daughter, her husband fathered with another woman, Zephania taking this case, despite the opposition of family and friends, and the court case itself is nothing short of a miracle considering the time and place in history.

While some abhorrent attitudes still held firm, and some of the characters are despicable, the good people who stood their ground, who faced their enemies and stuck by one another, no matter the consequences, is the part of the story that gives me a slight hope that humanity isn’t as dark and it often appears to be.

This is where we need to keep our focus- on the positive. Right now, times are scary and dark, and it’s brought out the worst in some people, but it’s also brought out the best. Mary and Kitty are an inspiration and a reminder to stay strong, be good to each other, to never give up hope!

Take care my friends and, please stay well!!






Jack Ford is an Emmy and Peabody Award-winning journalist, author, college professor, award-winning documentary film producer, and former trial attorney.  An original anchor at the launch of Court TV, he was the co-anchor of the Weekend Today Show, a substitute anchor for Nightly News and Meet the Press, and has worked as a correspondent for Good Morning America and ESPN. Currently he is a CBS News Correspondent for 60 Minutes Sports and the co-host of Metro Focus on PBS. He has received two Emmy Awards, a Peabody Award, an American Radio and Television Award, a National Headliner Award, and the March of Dimes FDR Award. A graduate of Yale University and the Fordham University School of Law, he is a Visiting Lecturer at Yale, NYU, and the University of Virginia, teaching a seminar on famous trials.

Friday, March 27, 2020

FLASHBACK FRIDAY: Redemption Road by John Hart- Feature and Review


Over 2 million copies of his books in print. The first and only author to win back-to-back Edgars for Best Novel. Every book a New York Times bestseller.

Now after five years, John Hart is back with a stunning literary thriller.


A boy with a gun waits for the man who killed his mother.

A troubled detective confronts her past in the aftermath of a brutal shooting.

After thirteen years in prison, a good cop walks free. But for how long?

And deep in the forest, on the altar of an abandoned church, the unthinkable has just happened…

This is a town on the brink. This is a road with no mercy.

After five years, John Hart returns with Redemption Road, his most powerful story yet.


Redemption RoadRedemption Road by John Hart
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Redemption Road by John Hart is a 2016 Thomas Dunne publication.

I don’t live under a rock, I promise, but I always have my face in a book, desperately trying to work through my ridiculous TBR pile. So, sometimes authors slip past my radar, even when they are back to back Edgar winners, like John Hart. I am just now getting around to reading one of his books, but with so much positive press behind him, I was confident I was in for a real treat.

Elizabeth Black, is a well -respected cop with an impeccable record, until she makes a spontaneous decision that has her under fire by the press, the state police, her partner, her superiors, and her father, who is a minister. But, that’s not her only problem by a long shot. Her former idol, Adrian, also a cop, who has spent the last thirteen years in prison, has been released early for good behavior, but his freedom is very short lived, and he soon finds himself the prime suspect in another murder, and on the run. Elizabeth always believed in his innocence and still carries a torch for him, but helping him could cost her everything.

Without having read his previous books, I can’t make any comparisons, but I believe this book certainly lives up to the high standard set for it.

Deemed a literary thriller, this story delves into the murky waters associated with the prison system, rogue cops, and religious zealots.

The innocence of children and their victimization is a key theme in the story as several threads come together exposing horrendous crimes that have far reaching consequences.

Elizabeth Black, is a character I will not forget anytime soon, but the supporting cast is also stellar, each bringing a crucial element to the story. I felt compassion, righteous indignation, and even fury on more than one occasion, on behalf of these characters, but I also came away with a lot of respect for them too.

This crime thriller has everything fans of the genre crave, but it is layered with a rich texture of emotions that touched every nerve fiber in my body. It’s creepy, suspenseful, with plenty of shock and awe, but has a human element to it that is often absent from the standard thriller.

While, it is difficult to provide too much in depth analysis due to the possibility of giving away a key plot twist, I can say I felt some uneasiness due to a few free passes, and was left scratching my head about the attitude of some secondary characters, but overall, I felt the key players came away with something they never really had before, which gave me a feeling of fresh hope even if their circumstances are flawed. So, all in all, I was quite impressed with this story and the author is certainly deserving of all the accolades.

Now that I have experienced John Hart’s writing, which is amazing, by the way, I intend to go back and enjoy more of his work post haste!






JOHN HART is the author of five New York Times bestsellers, The King of Lies, Down River, The Last Child, Iron House and, most recently, Redemption Road. The only author in history to win the best novel Edgar Award for consecutive novels, Hart has also won the Barry Award, the Southern Independent Bookseller's Award for Fiction, the Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Award and the North Carolina Award for Literature. With over two million copies in print, his novels have been translated into thirty language and can be found in over seventy countries. "My only real dream," John declares, "has been to write well and to be published well."

Hart was born in Durham, North Carolina in 1965, to a young surgeon and French teacher who quit teaching to raise her children. His parents divorced, yet, as he attests, his childhood was remarkably carefree. "My favorite memory of childhood is a five hundred acre farm where my friends and I would have adventures and get lost for days," he reflects. After high school, he attended Davidson College, just north of Charlotte, which he describes as a "marvelous school." He studied French literature and briefly lived in Paris and London. Upon returning home to North Carolina, he settled in Rowan County, where his first two novels are set, and on which the fictional Raven County is based. He earned graduate degrees in accounting and law where, after days of slogging through course work, he would find release through writing.

A former banker, stockbroker and criminal defense attorney, Hart now writes full-time. "I admire those who are able to write at four in the morning and still function in the real world," he states. "After two failed attempts, I decided that I lacked that particular talent." Shortly after the birth of his first child, John left his law practice to take a stab at chasing the dream of writing novels for a living. He spent nearly a year in a carrel at the Rowan County Public Library. The result was his debut bestseller, The King of Lies.

John Hart has three great passions: his family, his writing, and the protection of open spaces. He lives in Virginia with his wife and two daughters, and is already writing his sixth novel, a sequel to The Last Child.


Website: http://www.johnhartfiction.com

Twitter: https://twitter.com/JohnHartAuthor

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/johnhartauthor

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/johnhartauthor/

Monday, March 23, 2020

The River by Peter Heller- Feature and Review


The story of two college friends on a wilderness canoe trip—of a friendship tested by fire, white water, and violence

Wynn and Jack have been best friends since freshman orientation, bonded by their shared love of mountains, books, and fishing. Wynn is a gentle giant, a Vermont kid never happier than when his feet are in the water. Jack is more rugged, raised on a ranch in Colorado where sleeping under the stars and cooking on a fire came as naturally to him as breathing. When they decide to canoe the Maskwa River in northern Canada, they anticipate long days of leisurely paddling and picking blueberries, and nights of stargazing and reading paperback Westerns. But a wildfire making its way across the forest adds unexpected urgency to the journey. When they hear a man and woman arguing on the fog-shrouded riverbank and decide to warn them about the fire, their search for the pair turns up nothing and no one. But: The next day a man appears on the river, paddling alone. Is this the man they heard? And, if he is, where is the woman?



The RiverThe River by Peter Heller
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The River by Peter Heller is a 2019 Knopf Publishing Group publication.

An intense adventure between man and nature amidst a battle between good and evil…

Two close friends, Wynn and Jack, one from Vermont and the other from Colorado, each with different temperaments, decide to canoe the Maskwa River in northern Canada. They have dreams of taking it slow and easy, kicking back and enjoying nature at its finest.

However, a wildfire changes the tone of their trip, adding a sense of unease that intensifies when, after hearing a couple arguing, they attempt to warn them of the fire, but can’t seem to locate them in the fog. The next day they encounter a man paddling alone on the river, who claims his wife has gone missing.

From there Wynn and Jack find themselves in a taut, dangerous situation as they search for the missing woman, while the wildfire builds to a crescendo.

Wow! Talk about white knuckle suspense! This book is less than three hundred pages long, but sometimes the best things come in small packages.

The story is packed with exceptional and stunning scenery one can truly envision, and the characterizations are just incredible. I understood fully the different personalities Wynn and Jack possessed, how they each had definite and strong opinions about how to approach their unexpected dilemma. The precision timing carries the story from a relaxed excursion to a nightmarish race against time with exceptional pacing that kept me on the edge of my seat.

I would agree the story could and should be labeled as a thriller, but it’s much more than that. So much happens in such a short span of time, it isn’t until the final chapter that one has the chance to really stop an reflect on all events leading up to that moment, and how quickly one’s life can drastically change.

The deep emotional impact remains long after the final page is turned. This thought- provoking story was released in 2019 and the message was clear and profound enough at that time. Everyday life poses at least some risk and can turn on a dime, as we have witnessed in the past few weeks, making an already disquieting story about coping with random, unforeseen events feel even more timely than usual.

I’m pushing the ‘recommend’ button on this one.

All the stars for this one!






Peter Heller holds an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop in both fiction and poetry. An award-winning adventure writer and longtime contributor to NPR, Heller is a contributing editor at Outside magazine, Men’s Journal, and National Geographic Adventure, and a regular contributor to Bloomberg Businessweek. He is also the author of several nonfiction books, including Kook, The Whale Warriors, and Hell or High Water: Surviving Tibet’s Tsangpo River. He lives in Denver, Colorado.

Friday, March 20, 2020

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott


Katie and Eric Knox have dedicated their lives to their fifteen-year-old daughter Devon, a gymnastics prodigy and Olympic hopeful. But when a violent death rocks their close-knit gymnastics community just weeks before an all-important competition, everything the Knoxes have worked so hard for feels suddenly at risk. As rumors swirl among the other parents, revealing hidden plots and allegiances, Katie tries frantically to hold her family together while also finding herself drawn, irresistibly, to the crime itself, and the dark corners it threatens to illuminate. From a writer with "exceptional gifts for making nerves jangle and skin crawl," (Janet Maslin) You Will Know Me is a breathless rollercoaster of a novel about the desperate limits of desire, jealousy, and ambition.



You Will Know MeYou Will Know Me by Megan Abbott
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

You Will Know Me by Megan Abbott is a 2016 Little Brown publication.

I put this book on hold way back at the start of the 2016 Summer Olympics, and quickly discovered I had a very long wait ahead of me. FINALLY, I got a copy and immediately blew through the book at record speed.

I knew I was about to witness a train wreck, but I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the pages. This book disturbed me for days after I finished it, and I still get a queasy feeling when I think about it.

The story, as you know, is centered around Devon Knox, a promising gymnast who has the potential to become an Olympian. But, while Devon is at the center of the story, the spotlight is on her parents and the tight-lipped, exclusive enclave belonging to the world of the elite gymnast.

If you need a book that has a likeable character, (not counting poor little Drew), a person you root for, or who rises up to redeem themselves, or need a mystery/crime story to wrap everything up in a nice little knot, I warn you, this novel does not do that, but instead will leave you feeling disquieted and chilled right down to the bone. It's good stuff!

While we all watch the dwarfed little darlings who perform at Olympic levels and cheer our hearts out for them, hold our collective breaths while they perform death defying aerial feats on a four inch wide beam, four feet off the ground, buying into the heartwarming marketing ploys that guarantee endorsement contracts, we never see what happens behind the scenes. The falls, bruises, sprains, breaks, blisters, and the hours and hours of training, the money involved, and the toll it takes on a family.

This book gives the reader a little inside peek into that world, and exposes an ugly and dark underbelly that includes cover-ups, manipulations, scheming, little fiefdoms, abuse of power, intense pressure, and perhaps something far more sinister, like murder.

Katie and Eric live a middle class existence, but they are in deep debt, paying for all of Devon’s training, and gymnastic needs, while their son Drew lives in his sister’s dark, lonely, and cold shadow, practically ignored by his family, but seeing far more than the adults give him credit for.

Because the Knox family has no friends outside the world of elite gymnast, their parents, and coaches, and because their life is all about Devon, they spend every waking hour they aren’t working or sleeping, at meets and raising money for Devon’s needs. Devon is isolated and sheltered, ridiculed in high school for her stature and muscles, and for her underdeveloped female attributes, but at the gym, she is the object of awe, is looked up to, but she is also the target of jealousy and resentment. There are no boys, parties, or dating for Devon, who must work hard to achieve every goal her parents and those depending on her are expecting of her.

So, when a set-back causes Eric to take steps to get Devon back on track, a young, good looking guy enters this elite world and turns everything upside down and inside out. But, when a shocking crime is committed, this community, so solid and connected to each other will slowly implode, but will also close ranks to protect the only life they know… no matter what the cost.

This story almost held me in a trance like state while I watched the events unfolding before me, as Katie begins to find herself shut out of the life she thought she was so connected to, trying desperately to hold on to her daughter, and her marriage, but is ultimately left shell shocked by the irony of it all.

The tragedy shakes everyone up, exposes cracks in the Knox family, the world of gymnastics, and shines a light on the mental and emotional strain the family is under, the true feelings they have, deep down, and how horribly sad these abuses, neglect, and their obsession really is, but the sadness is far outweighed by how cold and terrifying this book is. It definitely left me feeling shaken, and I admit, I may never watch the Olympic gymnastics events the same way again!!

Overall, you have to read this book to really 'get' the intensity of it, and I hope you will check it out for yourself.





Megan Abbott is the Edgar®-winning author of the novels Queenpin, The Song Is You, Die a Little, Bury Me Deep, The End of Everything, Dare Me, and her latest, The Fever, which was chosen as one of the Best Books of the Year by Amazon, National Public Radio, the Boston Globe and the Los Angeles Times.

Her writing has appeared in the New York Times, Salon, the Guardian, Wall Street Journal, the Los Angeles Times Magazine, The Believer and the Los Angeles Review of Books.

Born in the Detroit area, she graduated from the University of Michigan and received her Ph.D. in English and American literature from New York University. She has taught at NYU, the State University of New York and the New School University. In 2013-14, she served as the John Grisham Writer in Residence at Ole Miss.

She is also the author of a nonfiction book, The Street Was Mine: White Masculinity in Hardboiled Fiction and Film Noir, and the editor of A Hell of a Woman, an anthology of female crime fiction. She has been nominated for many awards, including three Edgar® Awards, Hammett Prize, the Shirley Jackson Prize, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and the Folio Prize

Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim- Feature and Review


How far will you go to protect your family? Will you keep their secrets? Ignore their lies?

In a small town in Virginia, a group of people know each other because they’re part of a special treatment center, a hyperbaric chamber that may cure a range of conditions from infertility to autism. But then the chamber explodes, two people die, and it’s clear the explosion wasn’t an accident.

A showdown unfolds as the story moves across characters who are all maybe keeping secrets, hiding betrayals. Was it the careless mother of a patient? Was it the owners, hoping to cash in on a big insurance payment and send their daughter to college? Could it have been a protester, trying to prove the treatment isn’t safe?



Miracle CreekMiracle Creek by Angie Kim
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Miracle Creek by Angie Kim is a 2019 Sarah Crichton Books publication.

Fantastic! Lived up to the hype

Everyone knows I love a good courtroom drama, so this book was highly recommended to me by some of my GRs peers. But, try as I might, the book just wasn’t calling out to me when it was first released. So, I waited for the right mood, and I think my instincts paid off this time.

In a small Virginia town, a Korean couple has set up a Hyperbaric chamber on their land, which draws  a group of eclectic people, all hoping to find relief from conditions ranging from autism to infertility. However, some people are adamantly opposed to this controversial treatment for children with autism, and have begun protesting.

Then, a tragic explosion leaves two people dead, and severely injures several others, leaving many lingering questions behind.

Was it an accident or was it deliberate? Was it one of the protestors or a member of the group participating in the chamber treatment?

As the investigation proceeds, the mother of an autistic boy is singled out as the prime suspect. Did she, with malice aforethought, set out to murder her own child? There is strong circumstantial evidence that she did, but as the trial begins, the situation leading up to the explosion is revealed, exposing a plethora of secrets, cover-ups, lies, and agonizing guilt, providing more than ample reasonable doubt in the reader's mind. Is the right person on trial?

The premise of this book is a bit unusual, at least in the beginning. I have heard of the hyperbaric chamber, or something like it, probably from some medical drama on television, but I didn’t know its official name or what all it was used for.

Apparently, it is used for numerous health issues ranging from anemia to vision loss, but is questionable when it comes to certain other conditions. Interesting. I learn something new every time I read a book!

The downside, of course, was the uptick in the number of characters I had to keep track of. Again, I found myself reading slower to make sure I was understanding everything that was going on. I listened to portions of this book on audio as well, and thought it was very well done considering the amount of characters involved.

It feels like I have been waiting for decades for a riveting courtroom drama. The well is so dry, I soaked this one up like a sponge! As popular as this book became, I hoped it would prompt a legal thriller comeback- just so long as it didn’t turn into a ‘trend’ or oversaturation. (Doesn’t anyone know how to practice moderation?)

However, this story goes much deeper than the murder trial. It also takes a hard look at what it means to be a parent- the desire to shelter and protect our children and the strong urge to give them a better life and a brighter future, providing them with the best advantages possible. Yet, the moral example one sets, is equally important, as well as instilling a strong level of accountability, from both parent and child, building true character.

Parenting is difficult under the best of circumstances, but raising a child with special needs is an all- consuming effort, the challenges constant, and this novel provides some very realistic examples of that, measuring the exhausting toll it can take on even the most resilient and dedicated parents.

Overall, this is a well-rounded novel that could just as easily have relied on one dimension of the story- the trial,or the behind the scenes drama that revealed all those stunning secrets and resentments. To have adeptly combined the two aspects of the story, with balance, and near perfect pacing, is what really made this novel stand out.

Obviously, I am very impressed by this debut novel. Can’t wait to see what Angie Kim comes up with next.





Angie Kim moved from Seoul, South Korea, to the suburbs of Baltimore as a preteen. She attended Stanford University and Harvard Law School, where she was an editor of the Harvard Law Review, then practiced as a trial lawyer at Williams & Connolly. Her stories have won the Glamour Essay Contest and the Wabash Prize for Fiction, and appeared in numerous publications, including The New York Times, Salon, Slate, The Southern Review, Sycamore Review, Asian American Literary Review, and PANK. She lives in Northern Virginia with her husband and three sons. MIRACLE CREEK is her first book. Visit her website at www.angiekimbooks.com

Monday, March 16, 2020

The Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy- Feature and Review


An addictive psychological thriller about a group of women whose lives become unexpectedly connected when one of their newborns goes missing.

They call themselves the May Mothers—a collection of new moms who gave birth in the same month. Twice a week, with strollers in tow, they get together in Prospect Park, seeking refuge from the isolation of new motherhood; sharing the fears, joys, and anxieties of their new child-centered lives.

When the group’s members agree to meet for drinks at a hip local bar, they have in mind a casual evening of fun, a brief break from their daily routine. But on this sultry Fourth of July night during the hottest summer in Brooklyn’s history, something goes terrifyingly wrong: one of the babies is abducted from his crib. Winnie, a single mom, was reluctant to leave six-week-old Midas with a babysitter, but the May Mothers insisted that everything would be fine. Now Midas is missing, the police are asking disturbing questions, and Winnie’s very private life has become fodder for a ravenous media.

Though none of the other members in the group are close to the reserved Winnie, three of them will go to increasingly risky lengths to help her find her son. And as the police bungle the investigation and the media begin to scrutinize the mothers in the days that follow, damaging secrets are exposed, marriages are tested, and friendships are formed and fractured.



The Perfect MotherThe Perfect Mother by Aimee Molloy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The Perfect Mother by Aimee Malloy is a 2018 Harper publication.

Here is another book that lingered around on my TBR list for a while. I think I might have grouped it in with the onslaught of psychological thrillers dominating the publishing world at the time, so I put it on a backburner, while I recovered from PT burnout.

The premise:

A group of new moms, all of whom gave birth in the month of May, joined a ‘Mommy Group’ they aptly named the "May Mothers". They didn’t know each other before they had their babies, only corresponding through email before meeting face to face at Prospect Park.

The group meets bi-weekly to support one another and chat about the joys and challenges of being a new mom. When it is discovered that Winnie, who is usually very quiet, is a single mom and may be feeling overwhelmed, the ladies plan a night out without the babies, and insist Winnie get a babysitter and join them.

But their child-free ladies night turns into a nightmare when Winnie’s son, Midas, disappears while they were out drinking. This turn of events affects the entire group, compounding their already stressful lives.

As the investigation deepens, the women all find themselves under the watchful eye of the police, the press, and social media.

The story follows the mommy group members, each of whom get a turn at controlling the narrative, as they deal with the fallout of Midas’ disappearance. As they navigate through the unknown territory of parenthood, deal with marital issues, family relationships, and career woes, they also find themselves bonding with each other, and even turn into amateur sleuths, in an attempt to help Winnie find her son.

Because this book languished on my TBR list for so long, I had forgotten what the book was about, so I pretty much went into it blind, and as such, was completely taken off guard by the tone of the novel.

For one, I wouldn’t place this book in the psychological thriller category, per se. It is a crime story and a mystery, but the way the story develops, the missing child thread runs in the background.

The drama and demands of motherhood, family relationships, careers, and the pressure to be “The Perfect Mother” takes center stage, instead.

It took me a little while to decide how I felt about this novel. Despite the drama overpowering any semblance of suspense, I found myself wrapped up in the lives of these women.

It was only later, as I reflected on the book, that I realized how deeply the mystery was woven into the story, and how it played a big role in the way the new moms were coping.

The narrative shifts could be confusing at times, but surprisingly, I managed to keep up for the most part. Still, it took me out of the story on a few occasions, especially the parts I listened to on audio. It was probably just me, though, since I tend to struggle with a large cast of characters to begin with.

Other than that, I thought the story also made a little statement about the unrealistic expectations and pressures new mothers in contemporary times face, while at the same time giving these characters the option of doing what worked best for them, whether they were single moms, or had full time careers, or if they decided to be a stay at home mom. Not sure if that was what the author was going for, but it did give me something to ruminate on.

The mystery itself was the weakest element, unfortunately. It was a bit transparent to me. After decades of reading mystery and suspense novels, some plot lines appear to be recycling, only with a more modern spin. While those of you who missed out on all those awesome romantic suspense novels of the 80s and 90s might find the mystery thread to be completely original, I’m afraid I’ve encountered this one before. There were also a few highly implausible situations that almost made me laugh. However, because my attention was mostly on the drama, and the way the investigation was going to go, it didn’t stop me from enjoying the story.

Either way, the story took me away from all the bad news out there for a while. Sometimes getting involved in someone else’s high drama is just what you need to get your mind off things.

Although this book wasn’t exactly what I was anticipating, I ended up liking it, overall.






Aimee is also the author of However Long the Night and the co-author of several works of non-fiction, including Jantsen's Gift, with Pam Cope. She lives in Brooklyn, New York, with her husband and two daughters. Learn more at www.aimeemolloy.com.

Friday, March 13, 2020

FLASHBACK FRIDAY- After Her by Joyce Maynard- Feature and Review


The New York Times bestselling author of Labor Day and The Good Daughters returns with a warm and haunting novel of sisterhood, adolescence, sacrifice, and suspense

It's the summer of 1979, and a dry, hot, northern California school vacation stretches ahead for Rachel and her younger sister Patty-the daughters of a larger-than-life, irresistibly handsome and chronically unfaithful detective father who loves to make women happy, and the mother whose heart he broke.

Left to their own devices, the inseparable sisters spend their days studying record jackets, concocting elaborate fantasies about the life of the mysterious neighbor who moves in down the street, and playing dangerous games on the mountain that rises up behind their house.

When young women start showing up dead on the mountain, the girls' father is charged with finding the man responsible, known as The Sunset Strangler. Seeing her father's life slowly unravel when he fails to stop the murders, Rachel embarks on her most dangerous game yet: setting herself up as bait to catch the killer, with consequences that will destroy her father's career and alter the lives of everyone she loves.

It is not until thirty years later that Rachel, who has never given up hope of vindicating her father, finally smokes out the killer, bringing her back to the territory of her childhood, and uncovering a long-buried family secret.

As with her novel Labor Day, Maynard's newest work is part thriller, part love story. Loosely inspired by the Trailside Killer case that terrorized Marin County in the late seventies, her tale delves deep into the alternately thrilling and terrifying landscape of a young girl's first explorations of adult sexuality and the loss of innocence, the bond between sisters - and into a daughter's tender but damaged relationship with her father, and what it is to finally trust a man.



After HerAfter Her by Joyce Maynard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After Her by Joyce Maynard is a 2013 William Morrow publication.


Rachel and Patty are on summer break and are pretty much left to fend for themselves, while their mother spends most of her time in her room with her library books. Because their mother can’t afford cable, they watch TV through the window of their neighbor’s house and make up the dialogue themselves, and spy on another one their neighbors, creating elaborate stories about him.

However, they also spend time playing on the mountain behind their house which also happened to be the possible hunting ground of The Sunset Strangler.

The girls, Rachel especially, has a bird’s eye view of the case that is dominating headlines, because their charismatic father is the lead detective on the case. With her father's face on televison, the popular kids invite Rachel into their circle, eager for exclusive information about the case.

However, as the case drags on, with no arrest, Rachel watches her father, a man with a weakness for women, but a larger than life hero to her, begin to slowly come apart, putting his health at risk, as his career and reputation go down the drain.

As the years pass, Rachel never gives up on vindicating her father, determined to discover the identity of The Sunset Strangler....

If someone were to ask me if I had read any books by Joyce Maynard I would have quickly answered in the affirmative. How is it possible I never one of her books, right? Yet, I have only listed two of her books here on Goodreads. If I have read her work previously, it was long before I was keeping track of such things. So- I’m going to count this book as part of my 2020 challenge to read authors I’ve never tried.

Why I chose this book over her other novels, I’m not sure. I think it popped up on Goodreads or at the library and was the first one I came to on my list. Whether or not this is her best work or a book she is well known for, I couldn’t say. But, either way, I am glad I picked this book and will certainly go back and read more books by this author.

Rachel’s first- person narrative is what brings this story to life. The author based the book on a true crime case, one similar to the events that transpire in the story, as the detective working the case had two daughters who firmly believe their father’s death was directly linked to his job.

The time frame is also of great importance and as I was reading about the games Rachel and Patty played together in 1979, I was reminded of television shows and trends of the time. I was also struck by how free the girls were to roam and explore. Naturally, they put themselves in unnecessary danger and their whereabouts should have been monitored more closely.

On the other hand, living without cable, and without having every single hour of their day planned and structured, exercised their minds and bodies, and encouraged their imaginations, which no doubt, played a role in Rachel's eventual career path. Not only that, this book should come with a soundtrack! But this is just my rambling musings.

The book is a thriller, a mystery, a coming of age tale, and story about father and daughter relationships. It’s a poignant and bittersweet story that might make you grab for a tissue before all is said and done, but it’s also one of many surprises, ending on an upbeat note that hints at long overdue peace and new beginnings.

Overall, this book is much more than a mystery-thriller- it's a well-rounded story with a little something for everyone. I’m very much looking forward to discovering more of Maynard’s work.






Maynard is the author of seventeen books, including the novel To Die For and the best-selling memoir, At Home in the World--translated into sixteen languages. Her novel, To Die For was adapted for the screen by Buck Henry for a film directed by Gus Van Sant , in which Joyce can be seen in the role of Nicole Kidman's lawyer.. Her novel Labor Day was adapted and directed by Jason Reitman for a film starring Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin, to whom Joyce offered instruction for making the pie that appeared in a crucial scene in the film.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell- Feature and Review


Exploring the psychological dynamics of the relationship between a precocious yet naïve teenage girl and her magnetic and manipulative teacher, a brilliant, all-consuming read that marks the explosive debut of an extraordinary new writer.

2000. Bright, ambitious, and yearning for adulthood, fifteen-year-old Vanessa Wye becomes entangled in an affair with Jacob Strane, her magnetic and guileful forty-two-year-old English teacher.

2017. Amid the rising wave of allegations against powerful men, a reckoning is coming due. Strane has been accused of sexual abuse by a former student, who reaches out to Vanessa, and now Vanessa suddenly finds herself facing an impossible choice: remain silent, firm in the belief that her teenage self willingly engaged in this relationship, or redefine herself and the events of her past. But how can Vanessa reject her first love, the man who fundamentally transformed her and has been a persistent presence in her life? Is it possible that the man she loved as a teenager—and who professed to worship only her—may be far different from what she has always believed?

Alternating between Vanessa’s present and her past, My Dark Vanessa juxtaposes memory and trauma with the breathless excitement of a teenage girl discovering the power her own body can wield. Thought-provoking and impossible to put down, this is a masterful portrayal of troubled adolescence and its repercussions that raises vital questions about agency, consent, complicity, and victimhood. Written with the haunting intimacy of The Girls and the creeping intensity of RoomMy Dark Vanessa is an era-defining novel that brilliantly captures and reflects the shifting cultural mores transforming our relationships and society itself.




My Dark VanessaMy Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell is a 2020 William Morrow publication.

A powerful novel and one of the most disturbing books I’ve ever read

By now we’ve all heard the stories and have seen male and female teachers arrested for abusing their positions and embarking on inappropriate relationships with their students. I could tell you stories about things that happened way back when I was in high school, and things that happened at my children’s high school, where teachers crossed lines with their students. It is more widely reported now, almost to the point where it seems commonplace.

While we often get caught up in the feeling of betrayal we have, which is caused by someone we trusted to uphold our values, to be a mentor to our kids by setting an example, and of course, by obeying the law, we overlook the long lasting ramifications for those who were seduced- often with careful manipulation, by these men and women we have entrusted our children to, gradually luring in the most vulnerable with their attentiveness and flattery.

This book explores the psychological damage and the cruel emotional trauma left on one young victim, Vanessa Wye, who at fifteen, was seduced by Jacob Strane, a forty-two -year old teacher, at her school.

These emotional scars never fully healed, continuously reopened, constantly bleeding, and infecting this young woman, who simply could not move forward and live up to her full potential- nor could she maintain friendships or a normal relationship with another man, and simply could not admit to what is so obvious to others.

"Because even if I sometimes use the word abuse to describe certain things that were done to me, in someone else's mouth the word turns ugly and absolute....It swallows me and all the times I wanted it, begged for it"

Jacob Strane is vile. Period. His kind are far too common, and often infiltrate places where they have easy access to those they wish to lure into their web of seduction. What many fail to understand, is that although young people today are far more knowledgeable, mature much faster, and are exposed to erotic images and information daily, they put on a brave face, never admitting they might not have everything under control. They are perhaps much more desensitized, and jaded, seemingly confident and comfortable with the onslaught of information that surrounds them.

Don’t let them fool you. They are as vulnerable, sensitive, confused and insecure as ever. They cope with incredible pressure to conform, be accepted, and to do things they are emotionally unprepared for.

They are just as capable of falling under the spell of someone older, seemingly more sophisticated, someone they admire or look up to, whose attention is flattering and alluring, as more innocent generations before them. It can be quite heady and intense, making it hard for them to fully understand that they are indeed the victim in all this.

Vanessa, who is often paralleled with Lolita or, in some cases it might be a juxtaposition, falls straight into Jacob’s trap, as we helplessly stand by and watch.

It’s a struggle to see her life spiral out of control, and resign herself to a life of dark obsession, and living well below her intellectual means.

The psychological damage Vanessa endures is the reason I gave this book five stars. I know the book will be controversial. I know it is not for everyone. It will generate heaven only knows what kind of reaction once it hits bookstores, but I think it is an important examination, even if it is a work of fiction. It’s a portrayal we should welcome, as it proves many points women have been trying to stress for ages.

Crawling inside the mind of a predator is not easy- it’s not supposed to be. This book is not one you ‘enjoy’. It’s a book that should make one feel extremely uncomfortable, one that makes you squirm in your seat. It is supposed to have that type of deep effect on you. In fact, it took me a very long time to read this novel because I had to take frequent breaks from it.

When you enter Vanessa’s world, you will be transported into a deep, dark, twisted place and you will long to escape from it. But, remember, there are many, many, many real life ‘Vanessa’s’ out there. They, too, long to escape from it- only for them, it’s not a book they can put down at any time and simply walk away from it because it was just too upsetting...

Overall, this book is just downright chilling, and left me feeling shaken and very emotional. While it is not an easy novel, it is one I recommend reading, if you can. It is very thought-provoking, and I can see it bringing out some pretty intense discussions for book clubs.

Vanessa’s portrait is utterly heartbreaking. Her view of the situation- again, too common. She put everything on herself, and our society continues to enable that feeling of shame and guilt, and even goes so far as to threaten and warn off anyone who might think of doing otherwise. As others have pointed out, this book shows why recent movements like #MeToo, resonated with so many people and is another reason why I feel it is a worthy five -star book.

*Content warning

Shouldn’t need to even say it, but- if you have certain triggers this is NOT the book for you. I’ve written and re-written this review many times, and have toned down my frustrations, knowing my words might offend some. But, please, please, please- if you suspect a situation is not appropriate, under any circumstances, with your child, sibling, friend or colleague, don’t hesitate to listen, to hear them, to intervene or report your concerns to those who have the authority to do so- or encourage them to come forward or seek help. The details may be upsetting to hear, but your courage just might save someone you love from becoming another ‘Vanessa’.





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

Monday, March 9, 2020

Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent- Feature and Review


From the international bestselling author of Unraveling Oliver, an “unputdownable psychological thriller with an ending that lingers long after turning the final page” (The Irish Times) about a Dublin family whose dark secrets and twisted relationships are suddenly revealed.

My husband did not mean to kill Annie Doyle, but the lying tramp deserved it.

On the surface, Lydia Fitzsimons has the perfect life—wife of a respected, successful judge, mother to a beloved son, mistress of a beautiful house in Dublin. That beautiful house, however, holds a secret. And when Lydia’s son, Laurence, discovers its secret, wheels are set in motion that lead to an increasingly claustrophobic and devastatingly dark climax.



Lying in WaitLying in Wait by Liz Nugent
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent is a 2018 Gallery/Scout Press publication.

Sad, darkly humorous, and thoroughly chilling!

When Annie Doyle disappears, it has a profound effect on her sister, Karen. Law enforcement officials are not at all helpful, having made up their minds what kind of girl Annie was, deciding she wasn’t worth much effort on their part. But Karen never gives up trying to find out what happened to her sister.

Laurence Fitzsimons, a lonely, overweight boy discovers a dark secret about his parents, which haunts him all the way into adulthood. His mother, Lydia, a widow, keeps Laurence on a tight leash, keeping him as close to her as possible, manipulating him, monitoring his relationships, and his yo-yo dieting. Unlike other mothers, she doesn’t support his healthier choices, or emotional growth, wanting to keep him tethered to her.

In an ironical twist of fate, Karen’s life inexplicably intersects with Laurence, which sets in motions a shocking chain of events that even left ME stunned!

I have a few personal reading challenges in mind for 2020 and one of them is to read books by author’s I’ve never tried before. I’ve been meaning to sample Liz Nugent’s books, as they are often highly rated and seem to prompt a great deal of discussion.

I’m not sure why I chose this book as my introduction to this author, as ‘Unraveling Oliver’ has been on my TBR list longer. But I’m glad I plucked this one out of the pile first.

It took me a little while to find my groove with this one. I didn’t know what to make of it and kept waiting for the other shoe to drop. It took too long to get the good part, but once I got to the last quarter of the book, I was sitting on pins and needles.

I never would have imagined the insane path this story would take me down. It wasn’t until I had finished reading it and had a few days to mull it over that it really started to sink in. The author has a unique style and a quirky sense of humor, too.

The conclusion is a bit depressing, but I also ended up respecting the author’s boldness. I do love a good, unsettling, spine tingling climax, one that lingers for a long while, and this story certainly delivered on that count.

Although I was initially exasperated by the pacing, in hindsight the offbeat plot and execution was genius.

Overall, Nugent left a good first impression. I will definitely read more of her books and am now very excited about reading ‘Unraveling Oliver”. Hope I can fit that one in this year!





Liz Nugent worked as a stage manager in theatres in Ireland and toured internationally before writing extensively for radio and television drama.

Unravelling Oliver was published in 2014, hit the number 1 spot for several weeks and won Crime Novel of the Year at the Irish Book Awards.

Lying in Wait, published in 2016, went straight to number 1 and was chosen for the Richard & Judy Book Club. It won the Radio 1 Ryan Tubridy Listeners Choice Award at the Irish Book Awards.

In October 2017, Liz won the Irish Tatler Woman of the Year Award in Literature.

Skin Deep was published in 2018. It also went straight to number 1 in the bestsellers charts and scooped two awards at the An Post Irish Book Awards in Nov '18: Crime Novel of the Year AND the Radio 1 Ryan Tubridy Listener's Choice Award.