The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett 352 pages

Stella and Desiree Vignes are identical twins who grew up in Mallard, Louisiana.  Mallard is a very small town where the population is 100% light skinned African Americans, and the twins are two of the whitest.  Both of the girls are eager to leave their hometown and live in New Orleans.  However, Desiree returns with her dark skinned daughter, Jude, after fleeing an abusive marriage while Stella never returns, marries a white man, has a blond daughter and spends her adult life passing as white.

The Vanishing Heart gripped me from the beginning and never let go.  Bennett’s second novel, artistically weaves in themes of truth vs lies, prejudice, family and several others.  The Vanishing Half would be a good selection for a book club to discuss.

The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett 352 pages

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride by Cary Elwes 245 pages

For me, The Princess Bride was the perfect movie to see after having been quarantined for two months.  I had read the book several times, and had just seen the movie for the second time, so then I wanted to know more about what happened behind the camera.   As You Wish is written by Cary Elwes who plays Westley, the handsome hero.  As You Wish is fun to read if you’re a fan and Elwes is so positive and upbeat, never negative about anybody.  The Princess Bride, the book and the movie as well as As You Wish,  are great ways to escape the horrors that have recently occurred.

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride by Cary Elwes 245 pages

Simon the Fiddler by Paulette Jiles 352 pages

Simon Boudlin is an orphan from Kentucky who is forced to join the Confederate army just before their surrender.  After the war, the fiddler and three other men form a band.  They travel throughout Texas, playing in hotels, saloons at celebrations and any other venue they can find.  While traveling, Simon meets a gang of colorful characters and falls in love.

I almost gave up on Simon the Fiddler.  The writing is great, but Simon’s journey through a bleak, brown, hot Texas grew tedious for him as well as for me.  However, about 2/3’s through the novel becomes exciting.  If you were a fan of News of the World,  Jiles’ latest work is worth your time, and a bonus – Captain Kidd makes a very brief appearance in Simon the Fiddler.

Simon the Fiddler by Paulette Jiles 352 pages

All Adults Here by Emma Straub 368 pages

Astrid Strick is a 70 year old widow with three grown children. She is in love with her hairdresser, a woman named Birdie, but like so many things in her life, she is afraid to let her family see who she really is and how she truly feels. Also, her children have not been forthright with themselves, each other nor Astrid.  The only upfront, honest character in the Strick family is Cecelia, Astrid’s thirteen year old granddaughter who is living with her temporarily.

After reading a number of sad books during these depressing times, I felt it was time to read something lighter and a bit humorous.  All Adults Here filled the bill. It’s not too heavy, yet nor pure fluff, with relatable, engaging characters.

All Adults Here by Emma Straub 368 pages

Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker 335 pages

Mimi and Don Galvin married in the early 1940’s and in twenty years had a dozen children-10 boys and 2 girls.  What began as a charmed life-handsome family, ambitious father, caring mother-slowly unraveled into a nightmare.  Eventually it was discovered that six of the Galvin sons suffered from schizophrenia.  Life was not only a living hell for Mimi and Don and the six sons with schizophrenia, it was also unbearable for the healthy siblings.  Although Mimi tried to present to the outside world a perfect family, the Galvin household was filled with violence, abuse and chaos.

I read Hidden Valley Road while I was suffering from the corona virus.  It is such an intense, interesting, alarming work of nonfiction that I couldn’t put it down even when I should have been napping.  Hidden Valley Road is a must read for anyone interested in mental illness and dysfunctional families.

Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker 335 pages

A Thousand Moons by Sebastian Barry 251 pages

Winona Cole is an orphaned seventeen year old.  She is a Lakota Indian who saw her mother and sister murdered.  Subsequently, she was raised by two men.  Thomas McNulty and John Cole are not your average Tennessee frontiersmen, but they are loving, kind and honest.  A Thousand Moons takes place soon after the Civil War,  Although the north has won in western Tennessee, which is where the novel is set, bigotry and violence against minorities is often accepted, even encouraged.  When Winona is raped and her friend and former slave, Tennyson Bouquereau is beaten to within an inch of his life, Winona decides to search for the culprits and seek justice.

I had never read Sebastian Barry before even though I know many who enjoy him, and he is the recipient of many literary awards.  I hope A Thousand Moons isn’t ranked one of his best.  I couldn’t empathize with the characters nor did I find their situations very realistic.

A Thousand Moons by Sebastian Barry 251 pages

The Sacrament by Olaf Olaffson 292 pages

A French nun is asked to investigate a Catholic school in Iceland that has been anonymously accused of abusing some of its students.  At the center of these allegations is the school’s headmaster.  Coincidentally, while the investigation is going on, the headmaster dies after falling from the church’s bell tower.   Twenty years later, the same nun is asked by the Vatican to return to Iceland to finally decide if these accusations are true.

The Sacrament is a good read and a fine mystery.  However, there is a lot of jumping around in time, which sometimes was confusing.

The Sacrament by Olaf Olaffson 292 pages