The Vanishing Half

The Vanishing Half
Author: Brit Bennett
Published: June 2, 2020
Audiobook

Reviewed By: Jessica
Dates Read: August 11-24, 2020
Jessica’s Rating: 3 stars     

Book Description:

The Vignes twin sisters will always be identical. But after growing up together in a small, southern black community and running away at age sixteen, it’s not just the shape of their daily lives that is different as adults, it’s everything: their families, their communities, their racial identities. Ten years later, one sister lives with her black daughter in the same southern town she once tried to escape. The other secretly passes for white, and her white husband knows nothing of her past. Still, even separated by so many miles and just as many lies, the fates of the twins remain intertwined. What will happen to the next generation, when their own daughters’ storylines intersect?

Jessica’s Review:

**Unpopular opinion alert**

Everyone seems to be raving about The Vanishing Half, but this is one novel that did not really work for me and I am still not sure why almost a month later. It has an interesting premise: The novel starts out in the 1950s and we have twin girls (Desiree and Stella), both black, but one can pass as white, and she does.  But keeping this secret from everyone, including her husband seems to damage Stella.  The novel ends in the 1990s with their daughters and lives intersecting.

To see twins live totally different lives despite being the same race during a time of racial changes and the effects of their decisions change everything including their daughters’ lives. 

The storyline I was most interested is not even mentioned in the book description, so it came off as a surprise: It dealt with Jude (Desiree’s daughter) and her relationship with Reese, a transgender man. This relationship almost did not make sense with some of the activities they participated in, as the LGBTQ community has not always coincided well/ been inclusive together in the past especially during this time in the past that the novel is based.

Overall, this is one that had promise, but maybe I just listened to the audiobook at the wrong time. Maybe it was the fact that I listened to the audiobook. Some books don’t translate well to audio.  I know it has been optioned for TV/Film, so I would give that a try and see what I think.   

Purchase Links:
Amazon US
Amazon UK

Eternal Youth by Alexander Williams

Eternal Youth
Author: Alexander Williams
Published: December 2, 2018
346 Pages

Reviewed By: Kim
Kim’s Rating: 4 stars

Book Description:

Caroline Owen is in recovery after a mental breakdown. Confined to a hostel, she has to avoid the addicts and strange, oppressive characters lurking in crannies and wandering the hallways. Getting her life back on track proves difficult as more than past ghosts are coming out of the woodwork. Bad dreams torment her of girls disappearing, girls like her, taken by some ancient evil that will do anything to stay young and beautiful. Caroline begins to learn that there are worst things than ghosts lurking in the darkness of the world. A mental patient tells her that her dreams are real, that every full moon a pair of killers take a life to replenish their youth…and are careful to take the ones who will not be missed, those that are outcast and alone.

Caroline has no choice but to confront these two monsters when she intervenes with them taking another victim and inadvertently makes herself their next target and finds that her nightmares are about to become a reality.

Kim’s Review:

This. Cover. Another cover buy for me and this one was a success! It scratched my horror itch. The characters were interesting and mostly likable, except for when they weren’t supposed to be. There was also a mental hospital, and y’all know I geek out over those! My main issues are relatively simple. The number of characters got a little overwhelming. And the perspective was constantly jumping between everybody. Chapter headings or some kind of marker would have been helpful. I also would have loved more background info on Charlie and Rose. It’s hinted at, but you know I love having as much info as possible. But other than that, Williams wraps up the story well and I liked the resolution. There were many places that were creepy; seeing the darker side of humanity is always fascinating! I would absolutely recommend Eternal Youth to the horror fans out there.

Purchase Links:
Amazon US
Amazon UK

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The Last Castle by Denise Kiernan

The Last Castle: The Epic Story of Love, Loss, and American Royalty in the Nation’s Largest Home
Author: Denise Kiernan
Published: September 26, 2017
Audiobook

Reviewed By: Kim
Kim’s Rating: 5 stars

Book Description:

The fascinating true story behind the magnificent Gilded Age mansion Biltmore—the largest, grandest residence ever built in the United States.

The story of Biltmore spans World Wars, the Jazz Age, the Depression, and generations of the famous Vanderbilt family, and features a captivating cast of real-life characters including F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, Teddy Roosevelt, John Singer Sargent, James Whistler, Henry James, and Edith Wharton.

Orphaned at a young age, Edith Stuyvesant Dresser claimed lineage from one of New York’s best-known families. She grew up in Newport and Paris, and her engagement and marriage to George Vanderbilt was one of the most watched events of Gilded Age society. But none of this prepared her to be mistress of Biltmore House.

Before their marriage, the wealthy and bookish Vanderbilt had dedicated his life to creating a spectacular European-style estate on 125,000 acres of North Carolina wilderness. He summoned the famous landscape architect Frederick Law Olmsted to tame the grounds, collaborated with celebrated architect Richard Morris Hunt to build a 175,000-square-foot chateau, filled it with priceless art and antiques, and erected a charming village beyond the gates. Newlywed Edith was now mistress of an estate nearly three times the size of Washington, DC and benefactress of the village and surrounding rural area. When fortunes shifted and changing times threatened her family, her home, and her community, it was up to Edith to save Biltmore—and secure the future of the region and her husband’s legacy.

The Last Castle is the uniquely American story of how the largest house in America flourished, faltered, and ultimately endured to this day.

Kim’s Review:

This is a great history book! I listened to the audiobook, read by the author, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Biltmore has a special place in my heart; I’ve been visiting since I was a kid and it ignited my imagination as a place of finery and magnificence! I’ve said many times that if you haven’t been to visit, you should and I hold to that.

Kiernan laid out not just the history of the house, but the people who built her. George Vanderbilt is the height of refinement and education and Ivan and I have already decided that we need more dapper gentlemen like him. Edith was a classy, yet humble woman who accomplish much. I grew to love them the more I learned and I’m so happy that their legacy survives in that estate.

As a historian, I was happy with the way Kiernan presented the facts. She did extensive research and put all kinds of resources throughout the book. The personal letters were fascinating. I also loved how she focused on the trailblazing that happened at Biltmore. The National Park Service practically started on the estate and the agricultural and forestry development procedures were revolutionary. Overall, this was a great and easy read and I learned a lot!

Purchase Links:
Amazon US
Amazon UK

Here a few pictures of Kim and Ivan at Biltmore:

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