Who’s That Classic Author? Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe

Hi Everyone – this post originally appeared in 2015, but I’ve spiffed it up and I’m posting it again, in case you missed it way back when!

Edgar Allan Poe (1809 – 1849) was an American writer, editor and literary critic and is mostly known for his Gothic short fiction and poetry. Much of his work incorporates suspenseful themes of horror and death. He is considered the inventor of the modern detective story and a contributor to the development of science fiction. Poe was known for writing vicious reviews and made a number of enemies because of them. He died in Baltimore under mysterious circumstances, after being discovered nearly unconscious outside a bar room.

Some quick facts:

  • Poe was the second of three children.
  • His parents were traveling actors.
  • His father abandoned the family in 1810 and his mother died when Poe was three years old.
  • He was raised by John Allan, a wealthy tobacco merchant, and his wife Frances Allan.
  • Allan tried to make Poe into a businessman, but Poe preferred writing poetry. Their relationship had many ups and downs.
  • In 1826, Poe enrolled at University of Virginia, but left after one term due to lack of money. Allan had sent him there with less than one third of what he needed and Poe gambled to pay his debts and burned his furniture to stay warm.
  • After leaving the university, he adopted the pseudonym “Henri Le Rennet”.
  • In 1827, he published his first book of poetry, Tamerlane.
  • That same year, at age 18, he enlisted in U.S. Army under the name “Edgar A. Perry” claiming he was 22. He served for two years, became a Sergeant Major and then tried to get out of the remaining three years by confessing his real name and situation. His commanding officer said the only way Poe could leave the army was if he reconciled with his foster father. Poe reached out to Allan for help, but Allan ignored his request. Eventually, however, Allan gave in and used his influence to get Poe into West Point.
  • In 1830, Poe entered West Point and was thrown out eight months later.
  • In 1833, he moved to Baltimore where one of his short stories, “MS. Found in a Bottle” won a contest sponsored by the Saturday Visiter.
  • In 1835, Poe became an editor for Southern Literary Messenger in Richmond, where his short stories were published. His boss fired him three weeks later for being drunk on the job, but he was eventually taken back and worked there until 1837.
  • Poe married his thirteen-year-old cousin, Virginia Clemm in 1835. They had a happy marriage until her death in 1847, despite rumors of affairs.  Poe was devastated by her death and lived only two more years.

From left: Virginia Clemm, Rufus Griswold, Nancy Richmond

  • During this period, Poe became rivals with Rufus Griswold when Griswold took Poe’s place as editor (at a higher salary) of the publication, Graham’s Magazine. Poe had also written some biting reviews of Griswold’s work,  adding to the rivalry.
  • In 1845, “The Raven” was published and made Poe famous.
    In 1848, Poe met Nancy Richmond, the wife of a wealthy businessman. They had an intense, but platonic love affair.
  • In 1849, Poe was found nearly unconscious outside a bar room. He died three days later. An article from Smithsonian.com – “The (Still) Mysterious Death of Edgar Allan Poe” – explores different theories as to the cause of Poe’s death.  Poe was found outside a polling house for elections on an election night. Popular theories include being beaten, excessive alcohol consumption, rabies, poisoning, murder, and the practice of “cooping” (a type of voter fraud in which a man was kidnapped and disguised and forced to vote multiple times for a candidate, receiving alcohol after each vote).
  • After Poe’s death, Rufus Griswold wrote an unflattering obituary, and later, a memoir/biography about Poe in which he portrayed Poe as drunk and a womanizer. Ironically, the biography led to increased sales of Poe’s work.
  • Griswold died of tuberculosis in 1857. The only decorations in his room when he died were three portraits, one of himself, one of Poe and one of the American poet Frances Osgood, who had a complicated and intense relationship with Poe!

Here is a partial list of Poe’s short fiction and poetry

“The Cask of Amontillado”
“The Pit and the Pendulum”
“The Purloined Letter”
“The Tell-Tale Heart”

“Annabel Lee”
“The Raven”

Thanks to the following websites for providing information about Poe:

The Museum of Edgar Allan Poe
Wikipedia article about Edgar Allan Poe
Wikipedia article about Rufus Griswold
The World of Edgar Allan Poe

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Book Review: And Then There Were None by Agatha Christie

And Then There Were None
Agatha Christie

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Ten strangers are invited to visit a luxurious private island off the coast of Devon, England. People are talking about who the mysterious new owner of Soldier Island might be. The curious guests don’t care. Their invitations suggest a vague connection to a person named Owen and they all accept. When they arrive, there is no host, just a message to settle in.

After dinner, a shocking and eerie recording charges each with separate murders. “Prisoners at the bar,” the voice asks, “have you anything to say in your defence?” Although never officially charged with the murders, it’s a new kind of justice on Soldier Island and it turns out that each guest has something to hide:

Something went terribly wrong for one of Dr. Edward Armstrong’s patients. The butler and cook, Mr. and Mrs. Rogers, must explain how a woman under their care died. Spinster Emily Brent must account for the death of a young woman. Former detective William Blore lied under oath, and the defendant died. For Vera Claythorne it’s the drowning death of a young boy. Captain Philip Lombard once left twenty-one East African tribesmen without food or water. General John Macarthur sent one of his men to certain death. Anthony Marston’s drunken driving took the lives of two young people. And Justice Lawrence Wargrave abused his influence in court, sending the defendant to his death.

As a storm rages, one by one, the guests die, just like in the children’s nursery rhyme, “Ten Little Soldiers.” They soon understand they are isolated and their supply boat won’t return for days. What to do?

This is my second Agatha Christie mystery and it’s perfectly constructed. Every clue means something (even the red herring!) and the eventual explanation is clever and satisfying. Just like when you meet a stranger, you have to go through the process of learning about the person and understanding his or her motives. Because they each have something to hide, you can’t know for sure if this one has a good reason for having a weapon or if that one has a good explanation for what went wrong in the past. And as the numbers dwindle, their strategies change. Is staying together as a group a good idea? Is it best to lock yourself in your room?

In a twisted form of vigilante justice, the killer makes his/her guests pay for crimes that were untouchable by the law. How they react and how they justify their actions is just as interesting as the mystery itself.

I enjoyed And Then There Were None, but I’m taking off a star because of the occasional racist commentary, which I also noticed in The Mysterious Affair at Styles. Can you go back and change the way a classic and famous book is written? I don’t think so, but this story did undergo a couple title changes. You can read my review of The Mysterious Affair at Styles and find links about the subject here.

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Book Review: There There by Tommy Orange

There There
Tommy Orange

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Tommy Orange’s debut novel, There There, has been on my TBR list since it was first published in 2019. It was one of The New York Times 10 Best Books of the Year, winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award and is about the urban Native American experience of twelve characters as they plan to attend the Big Oakland Powwow in Oakland, California.

Each character has a separate story, all leading up to the day of the powwow. Central to the story and to these characters is the need to recognize and celebrate their native heritage as full or partial Indians. In the beginning, the reader only gets to know these characters as individuals, but Orange brings them together in unexpected ways. Honestly, even when I could feel the momentum building, I could not have predicted the genius of this story, which is tragic, sad, uplifting and a lot of other things. Orange says he thought of the ending first, then took several years thinking about how to connect the characters from the beginning.

How to explain this book, without saying too much? The first-hand experience of reading it is the way to go. But the characters need a brief description because they give you an idea of the additional struggles they face. Now imagine them all preparing for the powwow.

Tony Loneman, born with fetal alcohol syndrome, scored low on intelligence tests and suffered from ridicule in school. Now he’s a grown man, sensitive, strong and intuitive, but he’s mixed up with Octavio, a drug dealer. Dene Oxendine, half native, wins a grant to interview Native Americans in the Oakland area and these stories play into the events at the powwow. Edwin Black has a master’s degree in literature, but he won’t leave his room, he’s grossly overweight and is addicted to the internet. Bill Davis is Edwin’s mother’s boyfriend and an ex-con. He’s white and works clean-up at the Oakland Coliseum. Opal Viola Victoria Bear Shield and her half-sister Jacquie Red Feather look back at their lives on Alcatraz during the nineteen-month protest from 1969-1971. Jacquie, now a recovering alcoholic mourns the suicide death of her daughter, Jamie. Jamie’s three young sons live with Opal. Orvil Red Feather, Jamie’s oldest son, secretly dresses in Opal’s native regalia and learns how to dance from YouTube videos. Calvin Johnson owes a drug dealer money and gets caught up in a scheme to rob the powwow with Octavio and others including, Daniel Gonzales, Octavio’s cousin. Blue, head of the powwow committee, was adopted and raised by a white family. She ran off to the Midwest but is back in Oakland, seeking connection. Thomas Frank, an alcoholic, is half-native. He lost his job at the Indian Center due to drinking. Now he’s headed to the powwow as one of the drummers.

All these people attend or are in some way connected to the powwow. Some make discoveries. Some meet tragedy. Some become heroes. And they all grapple with their identities.

As I’ve said about other excellent books, There There is the kind of book that you want to re-read, to understand the complexity of the characters and the issues they face and to appreciate the effort Tommy Orange put into writing it. I highly recommend this book!

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Book Review: The Pocket Wife by Susan Crawford

The Pocket Wife
Susan Crawford

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

Dana Catrell isn’t sure what happened at Celia Steinhauser’s house that afternoon. The only thing she knows is that her neighbor is dead. As she tries to piece together the events, Dana vaguely remembers an argument after a lot of drinks at Celia’s house. That and a picture on Celia’s phone of Dana’s husband, Peter and another woman. Alcohol isn’t the only reason Dana can’t remember, however. She’s on a manic bipolar disorder climb and headed for a crash.

Detective Jack Moss gives the Steinhauser case his full attention, as always. Now it’s a nice distraction from his ruined life at home. Under pressure from the prosecutor’s office, Jack has to solve the case quickly and everything else will have to wait. Moss interviews neighbors as well as Dana, Peter, Celia’s husband, Ronald. Is Dana’s account reliable? Is Peter having an affair? Does Ronald’s alibi check out? In addition to these questions, when forensic evidence points in a new direction, Moss may have to consider an alarming alternative.

Set in Paterson, New Jersey, outside of New York, this debut thriller/mystery looks inside the mind of a woman who struggles to separate the truth from a confusion of thoughts and images. Her manic self becomes obsessed with finding Celia’s phone and the picture of Peter and another woman. If Dana can find that picture, she’ll still have a grip on her life.

I enjoyed this suspenseful story, told in third person, but from both Dana and Jack’s points of view. The author uses Dana’s unreliable memories to drive the story and I was fascinated by Dana’s ability to grasp at pieces of truth, despite her mental illness. That made me want her to prove herself innocent, despite incriminating facts. Readers will feel the stress of Dana’s confusion and watch her approach the brink.

If you’re from New Jersey, you may wonder why the book is set in Paterson, a dangerously violent city, not really a nice suburban town. I’m not sure why. The story does include a violent murder, but the author’s description of the town and the neighborhood where the Catrells and the Steinhausers live don’t seem to fit the actual town. The author also uses a lot of rain to add mood to the story. I thought it was a little overdone, as if the sun never comes out in New Jersey! These are small comments, however, because I felt the story and the suspense of Dana’s eventual collapse were very engaging. I think the story’s strongest parts were the looks inside Dana’s mind.

I recommend The Pocket Wife to readers who like suspense and mystery and are looking for a quick read.

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Book Review: The Address by Fiona Davis

The Address
Fiona Davis

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I’ve always enjoyed reading stories set in New York and have been meaning to read The Address for a long time. In this 2017 novel by Fiona Davis, Sara Smythe and Bailey Camden live in New York, one hundred years apart. They are connected in indeterminate ways to the 1885 murder of the fictional architect Theodore Camden. Set in 1884 and 1984, their narratives revolve around the famous Dakota, an apartment building in New York.

The Dakota is a real place. Located on the northwest corner of 72nd Street and Central Park West on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, its tenants include famous musicians, artists and actors. It’s also where John Lennon was murdered in 1980. When it first opened in 1884, the Dakota was actually in a remote part of NYC, if you can believe it. Designed to attract the newly wealthy, the building opened its doors to a full staff and plenty of luxuries.

Sara’s story begins in 1884 when Theodore Camden recruits her from the London Langham Hotel to become the first managerette (how do you like that job title?) of the Dakota. Unmarried and in her thirties, Sara works as the head housekeeper. She’s ready for a change, however and drawn to Theodore’s charms, despite the fact that he’s married with three young children. In a bold decision, Sara quits her job and crosses the Atlantic to start a new life during New York’s gilded age. She lives at the Dakota and confidently manages a large staff of housekeepers, porters, maintenance crew and the tenants’ maids. Unable to resist their mutual attractions, Theo and Sara begin an affair that leads to Theo’s ultimate death and the end of Sara’s career.

Jumping to 1984, interior designer Bailey Camden must rebuild her life after a struggle with drugs and alcohol. Out of rehab and jobless, she visits her wealthy cousin Melinda Camden, who lives at the Dakota, in the same apartment where Theo was murdered. Bailey’s family connection to the wealthy Camdens began when her grandfather became Theodore Camden’s ward. Melinda will soon inherit trust money, but Bailey, whose family has learned to live without, will not. In a gesture of seemingly good will, Melinda hires Bailey to redesign her apartment and agrees to let her live there until she gets on her feet. When Bailey discovers personal items belonging to Sara and Theo’s family, she will soon learn more about the affair and just how she fits into the Camden lineage.

I enjoyed this novel which is part mystery and part historical fiction. Davis explores the messy themes of money, class, inheritance and family and entertains the reader with images of New York’s upper and working classes and the city’s development and its varied architecture. In addition, a special appearance by investigative journalist Nellie Bly provides an up-close look at the horrors of Blackwell Island’s Insane Asylum. I recommend The Address to fans of New York stories as well as readers who like historical fiction, interesting characters and themes of money and class.

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Book Review: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

An American Marriage
Tayari Jones

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Can a young marriage survive a long separation due to a prison sentence? How will they cope and what could it look like at the end? Roy and Celestial, a young black couple, must face these questions and additional challenges as they begin what they hope is a temporary, though daunting situation.

Roy and Celestial have just celebrated their first anniversary at the Piney Hotel in Louisiana when Roy is arrested for assaulting a woman at the hotel. Although falsely charged during a time of racial profiling, he’s convicted of rape and sentenced to twelve years at a prison in Jamison, Louisiana. Time can only tell if their marriage is strong enough.

Despite their love, Roy has a weakness for women, Celestial has a fiery temper and there are a few additional conflicts in the making. But before his arrest, they were managing and were on the road to success. Roy’s career was taking off and Celestial, an artist, was building a promising doll-making business. They were both proud of their achievements, especially Roy who grew up in Eloe, Louisiana, the son of hardworking parents. Celestial, from Atlanta, also came from humble beginnings, but her father, a high school teacher had recently hit pay dirt with a scientific invention. Both have strong ties to their families, but different ideas about parenthood, tied to their own experiences.

In the first year of Roy’s sentence, they exchange heartfelt letters and Celestial visits regularly, but over time, Celestial becomes more distant as she builds a life of her own and turns to her childhood friend, Andre. In prison, Roy can only count the months and years as he thinks about family, fatherhood and winning his appeal.

When Roy’s conviction is overturned after five years, Roy, Celestial and Andre must decide what their new lives will look like and what a marriage commitment means. Andre tells Celestial, “My parents’ divorce made it clear what kinds of raw deals are brokered at the altar. But right now, in America, marriage is the closest thing to what I want.” Celestial thinks of marriage differently, “like grafting a limb onto a tree trunk.” Roy wants to return to what he had.

I enjoyed the central conflict in this story, a reminder of the unfair suppositions and treatment of blacks in America, making it an important read. But I found the main characters unlikable, especially Roy for his transgressions and Celestial for her selfishness. Minor characters were more likable, but no one seemed to have good judgement. In my opinion, the story could have been more powerful if there had been at least one character readers could feel good about.

In addition, readers must accept Roy’s wrongful arrest and conviction, with no discussion of evidence, the investigation or trial. How could he have been convicted during an age of detailed crime scene investigations? I also had trouble believing the highly unlikely coincidence involving his cellmate.

Despite these comments, I enjoyed reading about Roy and Celestial’s college experiences at Morehouse and Spellman, how their relationship developed and the overwhelming problems they faced. I recommend An American Marriage to readers looking for a light story about real problems.

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Book Review: The Lying Room by Nicci French

The Lying Room
Nicci French

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

When Neve Connolly’s phone pings during a family breakfast, she drops everything and goes to Saul Stevenson’s pied-à-terre. At forty-five, she’s deeply embedded in what’s become a drudgery of marriage and children. Her affair with Saul makes her feel young again.

When Neve arrives, she finds Saul dead on the living room floor, brutally murdered. Terrified their affair will be found out, she scours the apartment and removes all evidence that she had ever been there. After hours of careful cleaning, Neve returns home, anxious to resume a normal life. But she can’t shake the feeling that she’s forgotten something and it begins to torment her.

Saul was her boss. His company, Redfern Publishing, has just taken over Sans Serif, a small printing company that Neve and her friends started after college. Now all of Redfern is shocked at Saul’s death. His assistant seems to know all and Detective Chief Inspector Alastair Hitching is on the scene, asking questions and taking DNA samples.

As the story develops, readers learn that Neve and her husband, Fletcher have been struggling. Neve is the main breadwinner and Fletcher, an illustrator, can’t find work and battles depression. Their two young boys need attention and their moody daughter, Mabel may or may not go off to college.

Neve and her Sans Serif friends move in a unit and know each other’s business. Tamsin’s marriage is over. Renata drinks too much and Gary’s bitterness over the merger has changed him. At the center is Neve, the friend everyone thinks has it all together. During the investigation, she continues to play this role, but she’s cracking underneath. Hitching’s relentless questions and shocking revelations at home force Neve into a manic overdrive. A days-long party at their house with awkward overnight guests provides a look at how the characters interact with each other and the secrets they keep.

I enjoyed reading The Lying Room, a standalone book set in London. It’s much different from the other book I read by Nicci French (Blue Monday, the first in the Freida Klein series.). At first, I thought I was reading a thriller but the more I got into it I felt like it was more of a classic mystery. Scenes at the Connolly house remind me of other mysteries in which clues and motives emerge. And while the story begins with the tension of a thriller, it becomes much lighter as we learn about the characters and their lives. In addition, many references to cooking up sophisticated meals during the chaos of Neve’s nightmare give it a cozy feel. Although I enjoyed getting to know all the characters, I didn’t like all of them, but that’s okay.

Themes of marriage, friendship and motherhood play strongly in the story. The authors (yes that’s plural – it’s a husband-wife team) finish up with an exciting confrontation and a satisfying tie-up. I recommend The Lying Room to readers who enjoy lighter suspenseful mysteries.

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Book Review: The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel

The Glass Hotel
Emily St. John Mandel

Rating: 4 out of 5.

“Why don’t you swallow broken glass.” Someone has scrawled this disturbing message on the glass wall in the lobby of the Hotel Caiette, a five-star hotel on Vancouver Island. Vincent, a bartender at the hotel, doesn’t understand the message, but she has an idea who wrote it.

The staff quickly covers the words before Jonathan Alkaitis, the hotel’s owner and a wealthy investor, arrives, and Jonathan never learns the message was intended for him. When Vincent serves him a drink and they strike up a flirtatious conversation, she sees an opportunity and takes it. She walks out on her job and into the “kingdom of money,” living with Jonathan as his trophy wife.

Jonathan’s wealth gives Vincent “the freedom to stop thinking about money,” but the source of his wealth is a Ponzi scheme that ultimately sends him and his asset managers to prison. That’s not a spoiler. It’s the premise of an excellent story about greed, naïve and vulnerable investors and ultimately, the downfall of a mastermind who knew what he was doing but couldn’t resist the opportunity.

Set in New York and Vancouver, the story follows Jonathan, Vincent, his team and an assortment of investors, both before and after the collapse. In prison, Jonathan contemplates a parallel life outside of prison. He’s plagued by ghostly visions that pick at his conscience. Vincent reinvents herself and goes under the radar, choosing a life that’s drastically different. And investors, many of whom have lost their life savings, enter the “country of the cheated.”

Through her characters, the author studies the idea of morality as the fund managers, who never actually invested their clients’ money, either face up to or rationalize their involvement in massive theft. She shows the incongruity of how some led their everyday lives with the idea of knowing they were stealing but trying to be a good people “around the margins of the bad.”

A separate point looks at the moment Oskar Novak, part of the investment team, consciously decides to continue with the fraud. He later backpedals in court, saying “It’s possible to both know and not know something.” Likewise for Vincent, who suspects something, but prefers to look away.

In addition, Mandel shows how each of her characters acts when they face opportunity, related to the fund and in their own relationships. Jonathan, his employees and some inside investors seize the chance to take advantage. On the other side are investors like shipping executive Leon Prevant who is about to be laid off and a once-promising artist. Both and many other vulnerable investors lose their life savings.

There are no real main characters in The Glass Hotel. It’s more a story of what happens to a group of people and how the collapse of the fund affects them. But Mandel looks at relationships, particularly between Vincent and her half-brother, Paul and their semi-connected lives. This relationship is also one of opportunity, tying it to the author’s theme.

I recommend The Glass Hotel to readers who like stories in which characters face a crumbling of life as they knew it. Throw in a lot of moral decisions and you come up with an engrossing read.

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Book Review: We Must Be Brave by Frances Liardet

We Must Be Brave
Frances Liardet

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

This historical novel is set during World War II near Southampton, England and follows the story of Ellen Parr, a woman whose strong thoughts about motherhood are tested when she and her husband, Selwyn take in a young girl who has lost her mother.

The story begins in 1940 during the aftermath of a German bombing when Ellen discovers five-year-old Pamela asleep in the back of an evacuation bus. Ellen brings the girl back to their home in the fictional village of Upton where they have offered shelter to other evacuees.

Offering temporary shelter is one thing, but as time passes and no relatives come forward, Ellen becomes emotionally attached to Pamela. Married just one year, Ellen and Selwyn must confront conflicting feelings about family and parenthood. Selwyn, forty-one and a veteran of the Great War, believed they would not have a family, choosing instead to run the mill he inherited from his uncle. Ellen, still very young, was only eighteen when she first met Selwyn and had just landed on her feet. As a girl, she had endured tragedy, poverty and loss. Now at twenty-one, Ellen has agreed with Selwyn. No children. But Pamela pulls her heartstrings and Ellen sees endearing traits of fatherhood in her husband. So maybe things could be different…

Of course, the inevitable happens and Ellen must choose what’s best for Pamela over her own feelings. But these feelings haunt her and, over decades become a problem that seems impossible to fix.

Parenthood, especially motherhood and “what life is meant to be” are the central themes in this story that spans over eighty years. Told mostly through Ellen’s point of view, the author returns to 1932 and provides the reader with Ellen’s back story. Letters and jumps to the future fill the reader in on the full story, which comes to a neatly tied-up, though somewhat unsatisfying conclusion.

I enjoyed this book, though at 452 pages, seemed overly long with repetitive descriptions of Ellen and Pamela’s connection. The author introduces many characters, who over the years become Ellen’s lifelong friends. I liked reading about her friendship with various villagers, including her friend and former classmate, Lucy Horne, Lady Brock, who lives in the grand Upton Hall and William Kennett, Lady Brock’s benevolent gardener. The World War II backdrop is always interesting to me, but does not play into the story much except to frame it. Fans of historical fiction may want to give it a try. I’d call this a light historical fiction, good for casual reading.

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Book Review: The Stranger in the Mirror by Liv Constantine

The Stranger in the Mirror
Liv Constantine

Rating: 3 out of 5.

Suspenseful psychological thriller about a woman with amnesia, who builds a new life for herself, only to be confronted by her past. Many twists, plus the absolutely required suspension of disbelief, take you on a wild ride of new developments, just when you’re getting comfortable with how things are.

The story begins when a strikingly beautiful and vulnerable young woman finds herself on a highway in New Jersey, injured and with no memory of how she got there. A trucker named Ed picks her up and fortunately, he’s the good kind. Wanting to do the right thing, Ed and his wife, Gigi take the young woman into their home in Philadelphia.

Ed and Gigi provide loving support while the young woman recovers and struggles with questions about her injuries and disturbing flashbacks. After the woman recovers from her physical injuries, the new “Addison Hope” begins a job at a photography store. While working, she meets Gabriel Oliver, a gallery owner from a wealthy family. It’s instant attraction. Gabriel and Addison fall in love and Gabriel proposes. Gabriel may be smitten, but his mother, Blythe is suspicious. She wants to love Addison, but Blythe’s protective instincts tell her that they must know more about this woman before she joins the family.

Meanwhile, Julian Hunter, a prominent doctor from Boston, has not given up hope that he will find his missing wife, Cassandra, mother to their seven-year-old daughter, Valentina. A chance discovery reveals, as the reader has already figured out, that Addison has another life in Boston. Readers see how the two families react to this news, especially Addison/Cassandra. The interesting part is how Gabriel, Blythe, Julian and Valentina adjust, as a lurking evil overshadows them all.

Constantine’s characters represent the good, the evil and the manipulated, and a few who do the right thing but for selfish reasons. And the story’s villain, while somewhat obvious, acts unpredictably with a twisted set of ideas. The author includes themes of marriage, family and parenthood, especially what it means to be a good mother. Problems of mental health and domestic violence show the repetitive nature of these family struggles.

The Stranger in the Mirror is a fast read, with an interesting premise. In the first half, the author lulls the reader into a false sense of security, only to pull out the rug and disrupt the characters’ lives. The second half of the book is filled with twists and reveals, many too outrageous to believe. But the story moves along to a satisfying conclusion.

Liv Constantine is the pen name of sisters Lynne Constantine and Valerie Constantine. They are also the author of The Last Mrs. Parrish, The Last Time I Saw You, and The Wife Stalker.

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