From the Editor: Yes, we changed the title, just slightly. These are reviews of books we recommend, and we only recommend quality. Admittedly, quality is in the eye of the beholder, but we try to give you lots of reasons why these are “must reads.” What piques your interest?
Would you like to review books for Writer Advice? Send us a query letter, telling what book, published in the last 2 years, you would like to review. Tell why. Include a link or two to writing samples if you have them. Many thanks.
- BE CAREFUL WHAT YOU WISH FOR
- Written by Hallie Ephron and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
- ISBN 13# 978-0-06-247365-3
- Harper Collins Publishers
Thriller With an Important Point
Hallie Ephron’s latest thriller Be Careful What You Wish For is so fast moving and fraught with deception that I was grateful to be a reader and not a character. The story gets more enticing, complex, and suspenseful with every new chapter.
After eight years Emily Harlow stops teaching elementary school and becomes a professional organizer, video-taping the process to lure more clients to her new business Freeze Frame Clutter Kickers. When her partner calls with a second client in one weekend, she’s thrilled. The business is finally taking off despite the fact that her husband, Frank, keeps filling the basement with new clutter that he picks up at garage sales.
Emily Harlow is both likeable and vulnerable, and her foes are not necessarily who they seem to be. With complex characters and a plot that just keeps spinning, this book delivers on its promises. It’s a thriller with an important point about greed and manipulation.
Of course things are never what they seem, but in this fast-paced page turner, you barely have time to realize how much is askew, much less who could be responsible, if you zip through in two days as I did.
In Ephron’s skilled hands, every nuance matters and even the most mundane occurrences could be clues. Chaos abounds but it does not overwhelm. The story is both extremely well-written and accessible. Ephron is an Edgar Award finalist and five-time finalist for the Mary Higgins Clark Award. If you like suspense and relatable characters, this book is the page-turner for you.
- ELEANOR OLIPHANT IS COMPLETELY FINE
- Written by Gail Honeyman and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
- ISBN-13: 978-0735220690
- Penguin Books
I rarely review a book I’ve listened to, but Gail Honeyman’s Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine breaks that rule. In her own eyes, Miss Oliphant, is completely fine. She’s worked with the same company for eight years doing invoices. What’s odd about that? Her Friday night treat is always pizza and a bottle or two of Vodka to carry her through until Monday. She’s brilliant with a memory that’s almost photographic, but stifled and obsessed with manners. She checks in with Mummy every Wednesday night and she doesn’t date. Isn’t even interested. And really she has no friends at all. Though the IT guy in her office finds her quirky and cool from their first encounter.
Lacking social skills her thoughts and comments are blunt and un-nuanced. She resents social interactions, especially when she’s expected to bring a present to a wedding or shower. So unfair! No one has ever reciprocated.
When her office computer refuses to cooperate one day, she’s forced to contact Raymond, the bumbling, scruffy IT guy who comes with his own set of quirks and a fascination for her uniqueness. One day after they have coffee together, Sammy, an elderly gentleman who has fallen on the sidewalk, needs their help, and the three inadvertently become friends. Could they actually need each other? And as the relationship build, how will Raymond’s Googling skills and big heart help Eleanor find a way to repair her emotionally damaged one? In Honeyman’s skilled hands, this improbable story becomes a wonderful tribute to resilience.
Like my memoir, Never Too Late: From Wannabe to Wife at 62, this is a book for lonely people and those who wonder about them even though the two stories are very different. It’s for those stuck in routines and those who wonder why others are so strange. The narrator’s voice is one-of-a-kind. Simultaneously funny and heartbreaking. Be sure to read or listen to Honeyman’s amazing novel.
- Written by Michelle Obama and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
- ISBN-13: 978-1524763138
- Crown Publishing Group
Inclusivity and Life in the White House
What does it mean to be First Lady—especially if you and your husband arrive in the White House with a different culture and racial background than your predecessors?
It means putting your personal goals for your own life on hold while supporting your husband, keeping your children out of the spotlight, and putting forth your own agenda to protect the health and education of all children. It means letting your personal life and values shine through—but not too brightly—while adjusting to expectations that life has not prepared you for. It means discovering what you can and cannot control, and embracing what is right regardless of how you may feel about insults hurled at you. And it means finding ways to remain optimistic because change is always happening. In Becoming Michelle Obama discusses who she was, who she became, and where she is headed now.
Born Michelle Robinson, Mrs. Obama grew up on the South Side of Chicago. Her parents lived in the apartment above her great aunt, and her family was always a priority. Her mother was her rock and went to Bryn Mawr School when Michelle was in second grade to pull her out of a classroom where the teacher let discipline problems keep out education. She traveled across town to an accelerated high school, and despite her counselor’s warning that she was not Princeton material, she applied and was accepted. She followed that with Harvard Law and the legal career she thought she wanted. It was not enough except in one way: she met Barack Obama there. When he went into politics she followed reluctantly, but he had a charm that worked and together they became the first African American First Family. Lotta firsts for all of the Obamas.
In this one-of-a-kind story we get an inside look at her goals, desires, and hopes as she explains the differences between Barack and her . With wisdom, experience, and insight she explores the values that made her life a success, identifies the people who assisted her along the way, and reflects on the many turning points in her life. Her book is a woman’s look at inclusivity and life in the White House. It is a story like no other, and if you haven’t already read this one, you should. Strongly recommended.
- THE EMANCIPATION OF EVAN WALLS
- Written by Jeffrey Blount and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
- ISBN-13: 978-1633938106
- Koehler Books
When a Child Wants More Than His Parents
Author Jeffrey Blount shares some harsh, compelling stories—harrowing even—in his powerful novel, The Emancipation of Evan Walls. He gives readers perspective on what went on inside some black neighborhoods in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s and how it shaped a boy who wanted more. In some neighborhoods those same attitudes persist.
The story begins with a man terrified by the birth of his first child. He doesn’t want his baby daughter to suffer from the isolation he experienced growing up. When his wife asks him to explain, he tells of being a black child growing up in the racially charged 1960s. Once a week the fears, reasoning, and protections shared by his parents, aunts, uncles, and others on the porch of the young narrator’s home push him into wanting more in his life. Clinging to their distrust and reinforcing it were paramount for the older generation.
Inspired to overcome the racism and class status imposed on blacks, he dreams of a life bigger than that lived by most everyone he knows in the small Virginia town of Canaan. The resentment he faces is huge. Among the smartest in his class, Evan becomes a target of white kids threatened by the forced integration of their schools.
Caught in a crossﬁre of hate from whites and his own people, who question whether he is black enough, Evan is often alone and bewildered. Only the love of his great grandmother, Mama Jennie, and his mentor, Bojack, keeps him on track. Together, they help him ﬁnd perspective and peace.
How do you improve your opportunities without turning your back on your history and culture? Evan Walls found his way out through football. Today there are many additional ways out, but a resurgence of racism makes this an important, contemporary book. This may provide a whole new perspective and help you look at your own background and values no matter what your story is. Don’t miss this book.
- LOST CHILD
- Written by Torey Hayden and Reviewed by B. Lynn Goodwin
- ISBN-13: 978-0062836069
- William Morrow Paperbacks
Honesty, Insight, and a Gift for Storytelling
What happens to an infant who never bonds with her family? She might become needy or she might dissociate from everyone and everything. What if those two aspects combine and collide? You have a girl like Jessie in Torey Hayden’s Lost Child.
When Jessie became impossible to control her family let her go. They institutionalize her and do not want her to come home. She carries the scars of rejection along with a flagrant disregard for the truth and social conventions. The world believes she’s unable to bond, and she seems eager to prove they are right.
Enter educational psychologist Torey Hayden, a woman with skills and infinite patience, who meets with Jessie one on one, observing her manipulation and flagrant lies. Hayden sets boundaries, brings in games and other tools, and wins Jessie’s approval with a bag full of puppets. Jessie especially loved Puppy, a puppet she set on the table so it could watch over their sessions each time Torey brought her bag of puppets. Other favorites included Mama and Baby Bears, who fought with one another allowing Jessie to act out her story of life with her family.
Because of her inappropriate closeness, Hayden suspects the child has been abused, and when Jessie talks about a warm, loving male teacher touching her inappropriately, she costs him his job. Who is she lashing out at and what will it take for her to handle her feelings appropriately?
The author brings her story to life in well-recounted scenes showing her maintaining a professional distance in their interactions. She tries so hard and makes the reader her confidante as she despairs over Jessie’s outrageous behaviors.
Hayden is a well-known writer and therapist, who shares her journey with honesty, insight, and a gift for story-telling. The joyous moments are blissful, and if you are a parent or a teacher you really should read this. You’ll look at the children in your life in a whole new way.
Publicists and publishers, if you have a book you’d like me to review, please use the contact button and send your request. Many thanks.