New York Times Bestselling Author

Posts made in June, 2017

Book Review: Mystery > Thriller

Posted by on Jun 26, 2017 |

The Good Neighbor by A.J. Banner



This is a lightweight mystery that had potential it didn’t fulfill. It wasn’t bad—it had its moments.  

Sarah Phoenix is in love with her new husband, Dr. Johnny McDonald. She has good neighbors—she thinks—until a fire next door leads to tragedy and the unravelling of secrets.

 I liked the twist ending. However, once the scoundrel was revealed, the dialogue between Sarah and the mastermind of villainy reminded me of the literary equivalent of a cartoon villain tugging at his mustache while cackling diabolically after tying the damsel in distress to a railroad track—it just had this inauthentic quality to it. Maybe I just like more literary suspense/mystery/thrillers.


Emma in the Night by Wendy Walker


Mystery > Thriller

This psychological thriller is told from the alternating points of view of Cassandra, who was fifteen years old when she and her then-seventeen-year-old sister Emma disappeared, and Abby, the forensic psychologist who has been tormented by this case in the three years since the girls disappeared.

Now eighteen, the reader knows that Cass has some kind of hidden agenda when she returns home early one morning and tells her story to the FBI, but it’s not clear what until the end.

Abby has done research on narcissistic disorder because she and her own sister had a mother who suffered from it. In her studies, Abby looked at how daughters of narcissistic mothers either repeat the cycle or find ways to deal with it—some less healthy than others. No one wants to hear her theories about Jane, the girls’ mother, but when Cass returns and describes where she and Emma have been and why they couldn’t return earlier, Abby continues to read between the lines and refine her theories.

I thought this was a unique way to tell a story. It was a fast read and I wanted to learn whether the FBI could find Emma and what Cass’s full story was. The ending didn’t disappoint.


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Book Reviews: Children’s Book > Illustrated

Posted by on Jun 26, 2017 |

Women in Science by Rachel Ignotofsky


Children’s Book > Illustrated

I bought this book for my niece’s sixth birthday and we read it together along with her mom. I loved the illustrations and learned a lot about women I’ve never even heard of, such as physicist Lise Meitner, who was driven out of Germany during WWII because she was Jewish—and was thus denied her half of the Nobel Prize for her findings in nuclear fusion. I also learned more about women I have heard of, such as Jane Goodall, Marie Curie, and Rachel Carson.  

The obstacles these women faced are appalling and makes their accomplishments even more impressive. I’m going to buy a copy for myself because this is the kind of book you can return to again and again. Many of the topics were over my niece’s head—frankly, some concepts neither my sister nor I fully understood—but the different brief bios of the women provide a wonderful jumping off point for discussion of science and the evolving role of women in history.


She Persisted by Chelsea Clinton


Children’s Book > Illustrated

This is a wonderful book about thirteen women who persisted even after being told they should shut up and stay in the kitchen. In the case of prima ballerina Maria Tallchief, she was told she should change her name because “Tallchief” revealed her Native American heritage. Instead, she became the first American prima ballerina.

The illustrations were wonderful and the vocabulary appropriate for my first-grade niece. The stories are inspiring and important. Highly recommend.

I Dissent: Ruth Bader Ginsburg Makes Her Mark by Debbie Levy


Children’s Book > Illustrated

Like most people who care about what’s happening in the world and aspire to live in a more just society, I’m a huge admirer of Justice Ginsburg. The discrimination she faced as a Jewish female was appalling. She was one of nine women and 500 men in her class, and despite tying for graduating first in her class, she had trouble finding work because women were supposed to stay home with their children.

What Ginsburg has accomplished is awe-inspiring. I bought this for my six-year-old niece, and she needed help with the vocabulary and concepts, but I think it’s important to bring up the topics of religious and gender bias young.

Another thing I never knew about RBG was that she wears a different color collar if her opinion is in the majority—if she concurs—or if she’s in the minority—if she dissents. She is an awesome lady that everyone—boys, girls, adults—should know all about.


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Book Reviews: Mystery

Posted by on Jun 26, 2017 |

The Dark Lake by Sarah Bailey


Mystery > Detective

The writing of this mystery/detective story is excellent, but in some ways I think it’s a better women’s fiction novel than a mystery.

One of the lead detectives on the case is twenty-eight-year-old Gemma Woodstock. The victim went to her high school—the mysterious and beautiful Rosalind Ryan, who came back to the small town of Smithson to be a teacher. It’s not surprising that Gemma knew her—she knows most of the people in Smithson.

Author Sarah Bailey did an excellent job creating a complex character in Gem. Sometimes when I read a novel I get the idea that the author sat there and brainstormed, “How can I make my main character complex and flawed?” Gem’s layered history flows naturally over the course of the novel.

The reason I think it stumbled a bit as a mystery/detective story was that some of the clues and findings were left just dangling and I was slightly disappointed in the ending—although right up until that point, the writing and story and characters were excellent.

Thanks to NetGalley for the opportunity to review this book.


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Book Review: Historical Fiction

Posted by on Jun 26, 2017 |

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi


Historical Fiction > Literary Fiction

This is a beautifully written, complex novel that begins in Ghana. Half-sister Effia is married off to an Englishman and lives in the Cape Coast Castle above where humans are kept in horrific confinement until they are sold off to the British, Dutch, or Portuguese as slaves. Her half-sister Esi is one of the humans snatched from her village and survives the unimaginable conditions and ends up in the American south where she faces different horrific treatment.

The novel follows the lives of the offspring of these women from different parts of Africa to various places and conditions in America. Each chapter was told from the point of view of a different member of the family tree. I’d find myself getting incredibly absorbed in one story line and then have to shift gears to a new character’s perspective.

One of the story lines I found most riveting took place in 1880, when technically slavery had ended, but, at least in Alabama, they got around that pesky freedom business by conjuring “crimes” that black men committed such as failing to cross the street when a white woman was on the same side of the road. To pay off the time in prison they were sentenced to ten years of hard labor in coal mines.

I knew about some of this awful history through books and films, but Gyasi vividly and deftly chronicles the past (to the present) through her words. This is a stunning book, a masterful achievement.


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Book Review: Nonfiction

Posted by on Jun 21, 2017 |

I Can’t Make This Up: Life Lessons by Kevin Hart


Nonfiction > Memoir > Humor

This is a surprisingly inspiring book. Yes, it was inspiring to read about how he overcame a challenging childhood to become the only comedian in history to sell out an NFL stadium, but it was also jam-packed with motivational passages for anyone who is working toward a dream.

I read it the whole time from the perspective of my sister and myself—we’re both published novelists. Also, because of my sister, I know more than the average nonperformer about the world of stand-up, sketch, and improv comedy and what it takes to make it in these careers. But I think if your goal is to move up the corporate ladder, become a chef, have more success in relationships—including the relationship with yourself—you’ll also find much to keep you going through difficult times.

There were some very funny bits to the book, which should surprise no one. I already knew some of Hart’s biography from his own stand-up specials and from reading an article in Rolling Stone magazine. To write this memoir, Hart had the help of Rolling Stone writer Neil Strauss, who is also the author of eight New York Times bestsellers.

The highlights of Hart’s making-it-big story began with him growing up in a rough neighborhood with a drug-addicted father who would literally steal from his own son (Hart’s older brother Kenneth). Hart’s brother briefly veered into selling street drugs before joining the Army and cleaning up his act. Hart’s mother was so strict that no matter what your issues with your mom might be, you should probably go ahead and forgive her right now.

It was fascinating hearing how hard he worked for so long and all the mistakes he made along the way. Persistence is how he ultimately made it. “It’s okay to fail, but it’s not okay to quit.”

As I mentioned, what made this book worth the money was all of the inspirational bits I took away from it. I could quote a million passages, but I leave you with this.

Your dream is a huge boulder. It takes a lot of effort to get it moving. But if you can budge it just a few inches in the right terrain, then it starts picking up speed all by itself.”


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