We Are All the Same in the Dark

         Life hasn’t been kind to Wyatt Branson in the last decade but there’s always Trumanell, his older sister, homecoming queen and once the prettiest girl in the small Texas town where they live who is always there for him. So when Wyatt brings home an abandoned young girl he found lying out in the hot sun alongside a road and brings her home, Trumanell understands his need to keep her safe.

         But there’s a problem here and it’s not the young girl who Wyatt calls Angel as she refuses to talk, not even to give her name. The big trouble is that Trumanell disappeared ten years ago on the same evening their abusive father also vanished. That was also the night Wyatt’s girlfriend Odette was in a car accident and lost her leg.

         So begins Julia Heaberlin’s newest mystery thriller “We Are All the Same in the Dark” (Ballantine 2020) Heaberlin, who worked for two decades as a journalist for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram and The Detroit News started reading thrillers when very young. Her favorite authors included Stephen King, Tana French, Thomas Harris, Daphne du Maurier, Edgar Allan Poe and Patricia Highsmith. Writing a novel was always her dream but it never seemed to happen.

         “My husband encouraged me to take a chance,” says Heaberlin.

         And so she did.

         “I was very lucky,” she says, noting that she had struggled with how to write fiction, often getting stuck when outlining. “Then I read Stephen King’s book on writing. He says go with the character and so I did to the point that sometimes I don’t know what’s going to happen next when I’m writing.”

         Her novels include “Black-Eyed Susans” and “Playing Dead,” each, as she describes them, an ode to Texas, her beloved home state.

         Heaberlin likes writing about strong, resilient female characters, women like Odette, who hasn’t let the loss of a limb slow her down and is now the youngest police detective in town. Hearing that there’s a young girl at Wyatt’s house, she stops by to see what’s happening. Resistant at first, Odette starts the bonding process after noticing Angel is missing an eye and immediately shows she’s missing a leg. That starts their friendship, one where Odette, like Wyatt, wants to protect Angel and is afraid a state agency might send her back to her abusive father.

         Because she is strong, Odette has found the courage to go on with her life despite losing her leg. But Wyatt has not. Suspicion has always surrounded him because of his missing family and it only increases when a pseudo-documentary mixes facts and fiction to make it look like he’s murdered them.

         For Odette, saving Angel again involves her in the mystery of what happened the night Trumanell disappeared. Unfortunately, as she begins digging deeper into the past, someone is working equally hard to keep her from learning the truth.

 #mystery #thriller #art #horror #bookstagram #love #drama #crime #murder

The Herd

As Katie, Hana and other staff members of The Herd attempt to discover what happened to Eleanor, their missing boss, they unearth secrets not only about her but each other. It seems that everyone had something to hide.

         Founded by the beautiful and charismatic Eleanor Walsh, Herd is an elite, glamorous all-female co-working space in New York City. It’s a scene where employees are considered celebrities and a lure for young and ambitious women. Katie Bradley believes she has a serious in there, her older sister Hana was Eleanor’s roommate in college and is head of Herd’s public relations department.

         But Eleanor, who always treated Katie like a younger sister, isn’t so sure that she has what it takes for Herd. After all, Katie had a spectacular book deal that fell apart and for the last year she’s been living in Kalamazoo, Michigan (which for this uber group of New York women is like time spent on the Mongolian Plains) taking care of her mother who was undergoing cancer treatments.  For her part, Katie, desperate to jumpstart her failing career, is secretly planning on making Eleanor the subject of her new book. With all these factors in play, on the evening when Eleanor says she will be making a huge announcement, she disappears instead.

         And so begins The Herd, the second thriller written by Andrea Bartz, who the Los Angeles Times called a master “of the female thrillers.”

         As Katie, Hana and other staff members attempt to discover what happened to their missing boss, they unearth secrets not only about her but each other. It seems that everyone had something to hide.

         “I had the idea for The Herd a few years ago, when I was trying to come up with a great setting for a mystery: somewhere exclusive and tightly knit, with its own complex social dynamics,” says Bartz whose first novel, The Lost Night, was optioned for TV by actress Mila Kunisproduction company, Orchard Farm.  “A lightbulb went off when I pictured The Herd with the H-E-R in purple, and I was off and running. The Herd is a dark and twisty take on commercial feminism, ambition, and the pressures of being a woman in the world, and hopefully it’s a super fun read.”

         Bartz, who never outlines and allows her many plot twists to “develop organically as she writes,” says she learns about her characters while working on her first draft.

         “Trust me at the beginning they were much less interesting,” she says. “Once I’d hammered out the theme I wanted to explore–how hard it is for women to succeed in a man’s world, I wanted all the female characters to have very different approaches to success.”

         Where the book goes is as much a surprise to Bartz as it is to her readers.

         “To give one of many examples, in the first chapter, someone scrawls misogynistic graffiti in the Herd; until the very end, I had no idea who had done it, or how, or why,” she says. “But somehow, the pieces come together at the eleventh hour—and then I go to work revising so that all the pieces align. It’s not very time-efficient, but it works for me.”   

         Female empowerment and the ensuing backlash is an important theme in Bartz’s book.

         “I’m frequently annoyed and exhausted by the double standards of how women are supposed to behave,” she says. “We’re supposed to be competent but not bossy, ambitious but not work-obsessed, agreeable but not weak, authoritative but not intimidating, pretty but not superficial, and so on. Men don’t have to bend themselves into a pretzel to be liked, the way that women do. The pressure to be perfect is such a huge mental and emotional drain on ambitious, high-achieving professional women, and I hoped to get readers thinking about the consequences of holding half the population up to impossibly high standards. All that said, I mostly hope it’s a fun, escapist read.”

Sidebar: Virtual Book Events with Andrea Bartz

         Working with influencers, bookstores, podcasts, and Facebook groups, Bartz has set up virtual events that are livestreamed (and, ideally recorded so people can watch them later), to keep in touch. For the most part, she says, she chats about the book as she would in conversation with someone in an in-person bookstore event.

         Though it’s not as good as meeting people in real time, Bartz says it does allow folks from all over the world to tune in.

         Check out her virtual events at AndreaBartz.com/events.

The Wellness Lifestyle: A Chef’s Recipe for Real Life.

“The Wellness Lifestyle is an all-in-one life-long wellness plan,” says Daniel Orr. “Dr. K and I wanted to create something that was a one size fits all in both understanding health and enjoying life. A lot of that is food. “

         It’s a place many of us have been in–counting calories, obsessing about what we ate and shouldn’t have and still seeing the scale tip higher and higher. There’s a different way according to Chef Daniel Orr, owner of FARMbloomington, an award winning restaurant in downtown Bloomington, Indiana and Kelley Jo Baute, owner of A Splendid Earth Wellness, a company she runs offering wellness coaching to individuals and businesses and workplace ergonomics consulting in Seymour, Indiana. The two, who are friends, melded their skills in creating MyTendWell Lifestyle Plan, a program focusing on eight different wellness factors — social, occupational, intellectual, physical, emotional, spiritual, environmental, and nutritional. That in turn led to writing The Wellness Lifestyle: A Chef’s Recipe for Real Life.

Daniel Orr and Kelley Jo Baute

         “We’re really unique because there are no books where there’s really an exercise scientist working with an international chef,” says Baute.

         When she says international, she means it. Orr, a graduate of Johnson & Wales University, a culinary school in Providence, Rhode Island, has worked in France at such restaurants as Auberge des Templiers, Restaurant Daguin and three-star L’Esperance, and Belgium’s three-star Restaurant Bruneau. After that he worked as an executive chef at several high end New York restaurants and becoming executive chef of the Cuisinart Resort & Spa in Anguilla, BVI in the Caribbean.

         For her part, Baute was working on her PhD at Indiana University Bloomington when she was diagnosed, at age 41, with Stage 2 breast cancer and embarked upon a rigorous regime of chemotherapy and a year of Herceptin treatments. Doctors also removed a tumor and surrounding lymph nodes and she underwent a bilateral mastectomy. Though ongoing tests showed her to be cancer free, for the next five years she had further biopsies, a hysterectomy, and other surgeries. Despite this, she managed to complete her PhD in kinesiology and start her own business. In other words, she says, she wasn’t going to let cancer define her.

         Pulling on their diverse backgrounds, Baute and Orr created an easy-to-follow book designed for those who want to enjoy food and also have a healthy and fulfilling life.

         “It’s about taking care of yourself and taking care of each other, reaching a handout to help others,” Baute says.

         “The Wellness Lifestyle is an all-in-one life-long wellness plan,” says Orr.  “Dr. K and I wanted to create something that was a one size fits all in both understanding health and enjoying life. A lot of that is food. The fresher your food is the more nutritious it is. Many of the antioxidants are most available in the whole raw ingredient of fresh fruit and vegetables. Growing and cooking your own food is the number one thing you can do to live a healthier lifestyle.”

         If you can’t grow your own, you can still cook fresh foods found at supermarkets and farm stands.

         It’s important to plan a schedule of exercise, wellness and eating healthy and stick to it says Baute.

         “Wellness is a lifestyle, so get started and stay committed,” she continues. “Encourage others to join you. Just keep moving.”

         “And just keep eating healthy,” adds Orr.

The Wife Stalker by Liv Constantine

The story is told from two points of view — Piper Reynard, a beautiful and somewhat predatory holistic therapist, and Joanna Drakos, the wife of successful attorney Leo Drakos and mother of the couple’s two young children. But it’s really not that simple.

Lynne and Valerie Constantine

Well, I have to admit that “The Wife Stalker,” the latest book from Lynne Constantine and Valerie Constantine, two sisters writing under the pen name of Liv Constantine, certainly fooled me. The story is told from two points of view — Piper Reynard, a beautiful and somewhat predatory holistic therapist, and Joanna Drakos, the wife of successful attorney Leo Drakos and mother of the couple’s two young children.

When Piper meets Leo, she almost immediately decides to snag him. It’s a task made simpler because he’s willing to be snagged. Soon she’s living in the family home, playing parent to his children.

Joanna, relegated to living with her tiresome and cantankerous mother, is astounded to learn that not only is Piper not her rival’s real name but that she has been married not once but twice before. Both husbands died in accidents when she was with them, and so did her stepdaughter. “Stalking” may be too strong a word, so let’s just say as Joanna gathers information, she quickly learns that husband number two’s ex-wife believes Piper killed both her husband and her daughter while on a sailing trip. And the mother of her first husband has a few concerns about her son’s death as well. Oh, and did we mention that each time a hubby died, Piper inherited a ton of money?

While Joanna is sleuthing, their youngest son begins complaining of feeling ill while being forced to eat the “wholesome” foods his new stepmother forces on him.

Is Piper a black widow working on her next set of victims?

The answer is much trickier than you’d think. I ask the authors how they came up with their surprise ending. It started as a joke during their many brainstorming sessions.

“But then we immediately looked at each other and said, ‘That’s it,’” said Val, adding that to say more would ruin the ending. “Once that was decided, we discussed who the characters were and began to draw them out together. We do a deep dive into their backgrounds, trauma, difficulties, family relationships, and let them develop organically from there. Lynne has a degree in human development and we both do extensive reading and research on psychology. Additionally, we consult with a friend who is a clinical psychologist to vet our psychological profiles.”

Though they don’t live close together, the sisters use social media, such as Facebook, to talk every morning about what scenes are next and agree on who is writing what.

They describe themselves not as plotters or strict pantsers (a writers’ term describing an author who flies by the seat of their pants and who doesn’t plan out much, if anything, beforehand), but instead say they’re plantsers—a combination of plotter and pantsers.

“So we know the twist, the beginning and the end, but we figure out how to get there along the way,” Lynne said. “The resolution for certain characters is also up in the air, and we wait to see how things are going to play out as the book develops. We both write all characters and we edit each other’s scenes so that by the time the book is finished it isn’t unusual for us to each have written one half of a sentence.”

Learning how they go about writing their best-selling books is intriguing, but so is how they work together. I asked them if they were the type of sisters who always got along or whether they fought a lot when younger.

“There are 13 years between us, so we didn’t grow up together, however, when Lynne was around 13, we got very close and have remained so ever since,” Val said. “We have a great time working together as we have very similar senses of humor and truly enjoy each other’s company. Over the past three books, our process has evolved, and it’s almost like a well-oiled machine where we’ve figured out the most efficient and productive way to write together. “

He’s Making You Crazy: How to Get the Guy, Get Even, and Get Over It

“We weren’t born crazy—we were made crazy. It’s true, and I have plenty of stories to prove it. My turbulent dating history has brought me an abundance of peaks and valleys, but I didn’t get there on my own. Crazy is a two-person job.”

         “Women all over the world get called crazy every day,” writes Kristen Doute, star of Bravo’s long running TV series Vanderpump Rules, in her new book, He’s Making You CrazyHow to Get the Guy, Get Even, and Get Over It  (Chicago Review Press 2020). “But we weren’t born crazy—we were made crazy. It’s true, and I have plenty of stories to prove it. My turbulent dating history has brought me an abundance of peaks and valleys, but I didn’t get there on my own. Crazy is a two-person job.”

         Indeed, Doute who co-authored the book with Michele Alexander who in turn was a coauthor of How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, that was turned into a movie of the same name starring Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey, has plenty of tales to tell.

         But first a little background. Vanderpump Rules started as a spinoff of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills and is centered around one of the 36 or so restaurants that Lisa Vanderpump and her husband own. This one, SUR, is in West Hollywood and Doute was working there as a server while waiting for her acting career to take off when the series first began. Since then she’s been a main character on the show which started its eighth season this January.

         Detailing her relationships and the lessons she’s learned including how to accept her own emotionality and not let it negatively define her, she shares her wisdom in this easy-to-read book written in her typical hilariously outspoken style.

         “In the beginning, the term Crazy Kristen had negative connotations given to me by the people who called me by that name,” she says. “People would say she’s crazy, she’s psycho, she’s outlandish, she’s irrational.”

         Being young, she says she allowed herself to own their opinion of her.  With age and experience came wisdom.

         “What does crazy mean? Is it because I’m passionate or feel strongly and stand up for what I believe in?” she asks rhetorically. “Does that make me crazy? Now I wear Crazy Kristen as a badge of honor.”

         That meant being herself and not trying to change who she is to please a guy, as she did early on in relationship. After all, there are always going to be differences between two people in a relationship. The questions to ask yourself, she says, is if the differences are something you can live with and can you work out. In all, she wants us to learn from her mistakes and the wisdom she’s acquired.

         Doute also sees a double standard—what she terms “himpathy” or male sympathy.

         “That’s where it’s like, ‘Oh, he’s a guy–he’s allowed to lash out or do this or do that. But if she does that, she’s crazy’,” she explains, noting that she’s not man bashing because she really likes men—we know, we’ve seen the show.  “Just because we’re passionate doesn’t mean we’re insane.”

         For those who love the show, there’s some juicy stuff about the people she works with. For others, the book can stand alone as a relationship guide or an interesting autobiography of a woman who turned a server job into a career as an actress and also added James Mae, a 1970s-inspired clothing line and her “Witches of Weho” wine collection to her resume.

         Now she can author to that list.

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