The Vanishing Half by Britt Bennett

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’ story lines intersect?

The Vanishing Half Blurb

Spoiler-Free Thoughts

Right off the bat, I’m going to contribute to the hype that this book has already received on the internet. If you’re put off by over-hyped books, then please skip this review and cut straight to reading this book.

The idea of this story is really simple and yet Bennett infuses it with complexity because of the themes and topics she addresses. I really liked how it shows the development of two twin sisters’ lives, both together and separately, and how their individual choices impact the family as a whole.

This book is very representative of a lot of different people, and the characters vary in race, sexuality, gender identity, class and relationships. I think Bennett creates a cast of characters who are not only widely diverse, but also are not simply stereotypes of the different groups they represent- we see a real spectrum of personalities within the society that she creates. No character is portrayed as perfect, and this book really shows how our flaws bring us together just as much as our merits.

The plot doesn’t take any major turns that you wouldn’t expect, but this book never feels predictable, and the characters’ actions always have consequences that ripple through the family and those around them. It’s an emotional story that will definitely tug on your heartstrings, and it takes you on the up-and-down journey that we all experience as we go through life. At the same time as it is utterly relatable, Bennett explores really important issues such as colourism, which for me was really eye-opening and educational about the nuances that can exist within this issue that I may not have been aware of due to cultural differences.

There are a lot of sensitive topics included in this book, including racial abuse, sexual abuse, domestic violence, death, colourism and racism. If you are particularly affected by any of these issues, you might want to consider whether or not this book is the right read for you.

All in all, this is an excellent read, and I don’t want to offer too many thoughts for fear of spoiling your first experience reading this. It is beautifully written, and a truly touching read.

Plot and Characters Review (Spoilers!)

The plot of this book is so cleverly crafted, and I personally really liked the jumps in time as we switched from the twins’ generation to their children’s. I think that by taking this approach, Bennett keeps the reader on the same journey as her characters as they discover how intertwined and yet separate their lives have become. By prolonging this process, the reader becomes more emotionally invested in the story, almost participating themselves in the efforts to retrace Stella’s steps and find out what happened to cause such a rift.

I really liked how the twins were distinguished from each other from the outset of the novel through their personalities, avoiding the stereotypical portrayal that equates identical looks with identical characters. The different motivations that the girls had to leave echoed this as well, but were cleverly similar; both were trying to escape trauma. I liked the fact that the subsequent lives the twins ended up living, with Stella married into a white family and Desiree returning home to Mallard to look after their mother, were the reverse of how each one had reacted to leaving their hometown. I think this shows how much we change as we grow up, and poses an interesting comment on the nature vs nurture debate in terms of showing how our experiences can change us.

In terms of the children, I have to confess that when I first started reading about Jude and Reece I really thought Reece was going to end up being the Stella’s son. Which was of course very disturbing, and I was very glad when I realised that this was not the case. Classic reading misunderstanding moment. I really liked that Jude seemed quite similar to Stella, being more practically minded and wanting to study medicine, and being quieter or more nervous. Then, when we meet Kennedy, she seems more similar to how Desiree is described as a teenager: more confident and outgoing. It was a really clever way to demonstrate how family ties remain regardless of distance and lifestyles. I did get that Kennedy was meant to be a bit spoiled, but the main part of her character to me was just how lost she was. It felt like she was the typical posh girl who was hiding behind an act of confidence how stuck she really was. Maybe that was just because I had built up a lot of sympathy for the characters in general, so I might have been too kind on her in my character assessment.

It was really sad to see how similarly tragic both Desiree and Stella’s lives were. They both felt semi-trapped after running to escape unpleasant situations, with Desiree running from her abusive husband back to her hometown and then staying there for years, and Stella running from her sexually abusive employer and getting stuck in a life pretending to be white. I did think there was going to be a big freeing moment when they reunited, and although I was surprised that this didn’t happen, I think it was better that way. It would’ve felt too false and engineered against how raw and natural the rest of the story felt. There were quite a few moments like that throughout the novel, where Bennett almost dangled the carrot of escape in front of them, whether it be Stella’s friendship with Loretta, when Jude finds Stella at the play, and the ending when Jude tells Kennedy their grandmother has died. They made the book even more beautifully painful.

I really liked the portrayal of relationships in this book. Stella and Blake represent the couple that look perfect on the outside, but are secretly unhappy and suppressing themselves to keep the relationship working. Desiree and Early are the childhood sweethearts, but are far less conventional than this trope tends to be, due to their not getting married and getting reunited under such dubious circumstances. Kennedy’s relationship with Frantz on the surface seems like a rebellious reaction to her mother’s refusal to admit her real identity, but I also think is a way for her to try and connect to her secret family and stop feeling so lost. Jude and Reece were just a refreshing couple, and it was nice to have trans representation in a novel without it being pushed to the centre; this didn’t feel performative in the slightest.

The setting of Mallard was really interesting, and it gave a different perspective of colourism than I’m used to reading. I think most of the literature I’ve consumed that confronts racism and colourism is more similar to the parts where the twins’ dad is killed by white men, or the racist abuse that the Walker family face when they move into Stella’s white neighbourhood. I thought that Bennett did a really good job of showing colourism as well as racism, particularly when Jude enters Mallard as a child and is treated as an object of disapproved spectacle. This is not something I feel particularly educated about, so I really appreciate the chance to understand this issue more.

I’ve seen some reviews that didn’t like how the ending left things unresolved between Stella and Desiree, but I personally thought it fit really well with the story. This book feels really intimate, and it is almost like looking into another family’s memories. For me, although I’d love to have seen more of how their lives unfurled, I felt like I had just reached the end of what I had a right to see. It felt like a natural point to finish the book, and I actually really like Bennett’s choice to do that.

Concluding Thoughts and Rating

This book is just amazing. I think it’s my favourite book that I’ve read this year. If you’re in doubt, read this. It’s beautifully written, emotional and completely captivating.

I’m rating The Vanishing Half by Brit Bennett five stars.

Five Stars



The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman (famous co-presenter of BBC’s Pointless) is set in a retirement home, where a group of 4 friends investigate unsolved cases to pass the time. When the murder happens on their doorstep, the group have to trade in their old case files for real investigative work. The novel follows their attempt to uncover the truth about the crime.

Spoiler-Free Review (Overall Thoughts)

This book definitely didn’t disappoint. When I started reading this I had just finished my degree, and to be honest I went in with a bit of academic snobbery. Is this just another celebrity book that probably wouldn’t have gotten published without their status? Safe to say, I was glad to be proven wrong.

I really liked the idea of setting this book in a retirement village for two reasons. Firstly, I think it puts an interesting twist on murder mystery novels, which has become fairly saturated due to its popularity. Secondly, I think it works to dissolve the idea that people in retirement villages are boring and no longer valuable to society.

Without going into too much depth, the characters were really well-written and really showcased the broad range of personalities that exist within the elderly population. Once again, there’s a strange misconception that when you reach a certain age you lose your personality, which Osman really works against. There are adventurous and shy characters, thriving and struggling characters, angry and happy characters- the novel features a varied and multi-dimensional cast.

Overall, if you want a well-written murder mystery read that has an interesting setting and characters, I’d recommend The Thursday Murder Club. It wasn’t the most shocking whodunit reveal at the end, but it definitely wasn’t too simple or obvious.

If you don’t want any spoilers, skip to the end of this review to see my rating!

In-Depth Thoughts About the Plot and Characters (Spoilers!)

I’ve read that some reviewers found the book had too many murders and suspects, which made for a confusing ending. I do agree that to get the most out of Osman’s story, it’s probably best to read the entire book in a short period of time, ideally in one to two sittings. For me, though, having multiple murders worked well because it cast suspicion on literally everyone, even Joyce and Elizabeth. Rather than having the characters involved in dodgy dealings being the main viable suspects, Osman cleverly shows that absolutely anyone could have been the killer- helping to dispel the idea that the elderly have little impact on society in a slightly more negative way.

There’s quite an unlikely band of killers: Penny, a now-dementia sufferer who used to work for the police, John, her husband, another resident of the retirement village, and Bogdan, a worker who befriends the central protagonists. Once you divert past the actual murders, you have a celebrity son with gang associations, a reverend whose secret affair with a nun ended up in her pregnancy and subsequent suicide, and a man who gave his dead wife’s family fake ashes to scatter abroad because he couldn’t part with them. I really liked how Osman captured the darkness that can hide within normal society, and the ways in which he infused each wrong-doing with complex shades of morality and humanity. There definitely were no straight forward crimes in this book.

The one critique I would make is that the start of the novel is a bit slow. It’s nothing I couldn’t push past, and I’ve seen far worse examples of a slow-opening, but nevertheless Osman doesn’t put as much animation into his scene-setting as the main action. The book really shone when the murder investigation was underway, rather than discussions about the retirement village.

The characters in general were well-written and multi-dimensional, and I especially enjoyed the group dynamics between the Thursday Murder Club and the detectives Chris and Donna. The ways in which the Club were able to use their knowledge and connections in order to make breakthroughs in the case was really interesting, and made a fresh change from detectives solving crimes in other works in the crime genre. It almost had a true crime feeling to me, and reminded me of cases where reddit users or podcast listeners have made progress with cases that previously had been left unsolved.

I also really liked how Elizabeth and Joyce’s characters complemented each other, with Elizabeth’s confidence and gumption aiding Joyce’s social awareness and perceptiveness. They felt like a real friendship duo, which made the plot seem even more authentic. I actually felt nervous when Stephen was playing chess with Bogdan at the end of the novel in case something happened to him, largely because of my investment in these two leading ladies. They also brought a real comedic aspect, especially in the moments where Elizabeth was pressing Chris and Donna for information. Their bribing of Chris with Joyce’s cakes that Joyce springs to mind as a very entertaining scene, and one of the lighter moments within the book.

Concluding Thoughts and Rating

Overall, I think The Thursday Murder Club is a crime book that everyone would enjoy, particularly readers who like the crime genre and are looking for something a little bit different. It’s an easy and entertaining read, whilst retaining enough of the mystery that makes crime literature so compelling. I thought the character writing was where Osman really shone here, and he creates a plot that is complex and multifaceted enough that it would be hard to guess all the different elements to complete accuracy.

I’m giving Richard Osman’s The Thursday Murder Club five stars, and would highly recommend it!

Mythos by Stephen Fry

Mythos by Stephen Fry- Hermes’ Sandal Illustration

As a lover of Percy Jackson as a child, any novel that retells Greek mythology has an instant draw for me. Fry states that the purpose of Mythos isn’t to offer a new interpretation on these stories, but merely to retell them in a way that is more palatable and accessible to a 21st Century reader. I think that Fry achieves this perfectly, infusing his own satirical comedic voice into the narration of these age-old tales.

As these stories are age-old, I’m not sure that there’s much merit to trying to offer a spoiler-free section to this review. If anything, as Greek mythology is complicated due to the sheer number of characters, locations and events combined into a complex chronology, I think anything traditionally considered a ‘spoiler’ would potentially be helpful.


So, as stated above, Fry’s novel retells stories from Greek mythology in a rough chronological order, from the creation of the universe, the age of the Titans, the age of the Olympians, and the creation of Man. In the latter part of the novel, Fry abandons the strict chronological approach and starts to group stories based on shared themes and locations. I think this works really well, and although I definitely noticed this switch, it was far better to read a group of stories about, for example, the consequences of mortals challenging gods, then to try and slot these into a linear chronology that ends up losing appeal and relevance.

I think that Fry does a really good job at offering enough explanation early on in the book so that the plot becomes palatable to a modern reader. The concept that the primal gods and goddesses such as Gaia were a personification of what they represented, and therefore could be viewed as both a physical figure and the element itself (e.g. Gaia is the earth itself but can materialise physically as a ‘mother Earth’ style figure). Although I don’t think I’ve explained it well, Fry does a great job. This becomes really important later when explaining how the Titans and gods of Olympus differ from the primal gods, and it really helps to emphasise the significance of the various events that Fry describes. By doing this, Fry is able to create a sense of plot that modern readers can follow, without dramatically altering the plots of the original stories.

Obviously there’s not as much to talk about to do with the plot of this novel because, at the end of the day, the myths are the myths and Fry is simply retelling them. What I can stand testament to is the fact that the way in which these are arranged in the plot of the novel and delivered to readers is very compelling.

Narrative Voice/Storytelling

Another difference from how I’d normally write a book review- I can’t really talk about the characters because they aren’t Fry’s original characters.

What is original to Fry, however, is the way he writes the characters and their narratives. Fry’s voice is so prominent in the book, not in an annoying, I’m-a-celebrity-so-my-books-must-be-good way, but in a way that genuinely enhances the narrative. His personal twists and articulations make the mythology even more palatable to modern readers, using colloquial language and comedic dialogue interpretations to infuse the characters with something that hard to find in ancient figures- relatability.

Of course, Mythos loses some historical accuracy and diverts from the source material in this sense, but honestly I think Fry breathes life into the myths. Zeus, Poseidon, Athena and the like are quite well-known for their personalities, but the less known gods such as Demeter and Hestia really benefit from this updated interpretation, and allows each story to be just as compelling as the last, whether it be about a river nymph or the King of the Olympians.

Overall Thoughts

If you couldn’t tell from all the good points I’ve already listed, I really enjoyed this book. I’d happily read it again, which I think is a great achievement by Fry to tell the sheer number of Greek myths in detail and create a book that is still charming and entertaining. Although I already am interested in Greek mythology, I do think anyone would be able to read Mythos and enjoy it.

If you want to know more able Greek mythology, or like Stephen Fry’s television work, then you’d definitely love this book. However, and arguably more impressively, if you’re just looking for a new read and like fantasy or fiction novels, I can’t say you’d leave Mythos disappointed.

I’d give Stephen Fry’s Mythos an easy 5 stars and would recommend it to absolutely anyone.


5 Stars