ME AGAIN by Keith Cronin

Do-overs are not a part of life, but I imagine we all wonder from time to time what a do-over would mean for our lives. Cronin’s characters in Me Again have a chance to find out. Two young stroke victims meet in a hospital. His memory is gone. Her personality has changed. They don’t fit in. And they’ll never be the same. But now they’ve got to decide what matters most. Who they were. Or who they want to become (video trailer).

From the moment I crossed paths with Keith on Backspace, I knew he was a writer I would learn from again and again. His posts for Writer Unboxed are informative and inspirational. His feedback on the Backspace forum is a must read for any writer who hopes to cross the finish line to publication. Keith has helped me understand loglines, queries and now with Me Again, he has shown me how to improve me WIP.

He packs a punch on the page. His prose is lean. No excess backstory. Each chapter drops the reader into the midst of action. He avoids long segues and he trusts his readers. As a result, his readers have no problem using their imaginations to connect the dots between scenes because he goes for the jugular in each chapter.

I admit, I was baffled by the cover art, but the payoff was grand. Me Again encompasses the three H’s of exemplary fiction: humor, heart and honesty. A must read no matter what genre you normally hang your reading glasses on.

Read Me Again now.


TO THE LIGHTHOUSE by Virginia Woolf

Woolf’s novel is a drowsy read compared to the high stakes action found in today’s genre fiction. Yet, I’d pit her characters against the wickedest villain and the most courageous heroine without hesitation.

Although I’ve never fired a gun, I have no doubt about my own ability to kill an attacker that threatened either myself, or someone I loved. This is bravery. But it is brought on by external forces, which automatically triggers our fight or flight reflexes. I don’t wish to take anything away from such heroes, but it is a different kind of brave than the bravery found in To The Lighthouse.

The characters that populate Woolf’s novel discover their courage moment to moment as they face their darkest fears. From their incompetence in offering sympathy to their inability to accept beauty, they blatantly acknowledge their weaknesses. The inner strength required for such honesty is doubled by their willingness to endure the most uncomfortable situation, and by doing so, discover a better part of themselves.

To The Lighthouse is filled with extraordinary human beings who struggle with personal turmoil and triumph through simple perseverance. In my mind braver souls can not be found. If you are a writer and wish to master the complexity of simplicity, read Virginia Woolf. Awesome.

Click to study the mastery of Virginia Woolf.


EVERYBODY SEES THE ANTS by A.S. King

Although I’ve been a book addict my entire life, I don’t ever remember reading fiction written specifically for young adults (12-18 years old). By the time I was ten, I’d entered the worlds of Tolstoy, Dostoyevsky and the Bronte sisters. I couldn’t get enough of tortured souls. But I may not have needed to dig into the past if A.S. King was writing when I was a teen. Everybody Sees the Ants has all anyone could ever want in the tortured soul category, but King also adds tons of humor and hope. Lucky Linderman is an unforgettable protagonist, who makes you want to not only examine how you behaved as a teen, but re-evaluate how you’re coping as an adult. If this is what YA fiction is about, I want more.

Discover Lucky Linderman’s world of Ants with one click.


HEARTSICK & SWEETHEART by Chelsea Cain

Other than Stephen King’s The Dark Tower Series, I detour around books with recurring characters. There are simply too many books and too little time to get tied down with one character. This was my story until I was introduced to Chelsea Cain’s serial killer Gretchen Lowell.

If you’re a Hannibal fan brace yourself. Gretchen has taken Lecter’s game to a new level. She’s so deliciously evil I wish I’d thought her up. But her evil ways are only a small part of why I’m hooked. The brilliance of the series is how Cain has interconnected the killer with the protagonist. The love/hate rollercoaster between our hero, Archie and Gretchen is twisted and complex. In addition to destroying his marriage and the bond with his children, their relationship is literally ripping him apart emotionally and physically. But Archie refuses to let go and Gretchen continues to risk her freedom to be near him.

The why behind each character’s actions is not yet clear and after book two, Sweetheart, the reader still knows nothing of Gretchen’s history. This is another strength for Cain—no info dumps. She doles out information like a peanut M & M junkie, who only eats one M & M every twenty minutes. The tension between the protagonist and the killer coupled with the increasing unknown makes this series a must read.

Become Heartsick with one click.


THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett

I’m excited to say, I came across the Help long before it became the rage. Makes me feel as if I discovered something special.

In the midst of struggling to find my own voice as a writer, I was immediately taken with this southern novel because the voices of the three point of view characters drive the story. As a reader I empathized with each character’s inner and external conflicts, and found myself fretting throughout the day over how the lives of these people would resolve. Would they find peace and happiness, or was there something waiting for them even bigger than their wildest imaginations could provide. This kind of reader angst stems only from great storytelling. the Help is a story that had to be told and must be read.


ORDINARY PEOPLE by Judith Guest

If I didn’t have a life, I would’ve read Guest’s debut novel in one sitting. She drags you underneath the skin of each character to feel their pain—even if you can’t understand it. But that’s the magic of drama. We don’t necessarily have to know all the whys or hows, we just need to believe that they exist. And the reader never doubts that Conrad, Calvin and Beth Jarret are driven in the present from what happened in their past.

We don’t know all the details, in fact, we only learn about one specific instance, yet there is a wealth of history behind each character. We feel it. This emotional connection is what propels us to turn the page. The other driving force is that none of the characters wish to wallow in their pain. They often sink, but they fight to remain buoyant—even when they recognize happiness may not arrive. Then, this inner conflict rubs up against external conflict and the characters ricochet off one another as if they lived in a pinball machine. No “woe is me”—A good lesson for every writer.

The Detroit Free Press said Ordinary People is, “A writer’s novel. A reader’s novel. A critic’s novel. A very important novel.” Read it. Feel the inspiration.


THE SURGEON by Tess Gerritsen

Mark this book as a First. The Surgeon is Tess Gerritsen’s first crime thriller, the debut for recurring character Detective Jane Rizzoli and my first experience with this author. The verdict:

Gerritsen has found another fan.

Her writing is without waste. Descriptions are vivid. Details flesh out character, or underscore the urgency of the situation. Another bonus is Gerritsen’s background as a physician. Her ability to translate complex medical procedures to the page with simple clarity is not only a joy for the reader, but also provides us with the knowledge necessary to deepen our empathy for the characters.

I chose The Surgeon as my first Gerritsen’s read because it was Rizzoli’s debut, so I was surprised to discover she was a secondary character. Rizzoli’s partner Detective Thomas Moore is the man that captures the reader’s heart. In fact, this reader was rooting so much for Moore, Rizzoli became a thorn in my side and I ended up disliking her as much as the other characters in the book. I couldn’t fathom how this character earned a strong enough following for the popular Rizzoli and Isles series. Then in the midst of the murder investigation Rizzoli’s inner turmoil was flushed out, and by the end of the book I couldn’t stop wondering what the future holds for this heroine. Applause for Gerritsen.

My only reservation with The Surgeon has to do with the antagonist. We become acquainted with the Surgeon through long monologues, which often explore behaviors of people from ancient lands, i.e. the Greeks, Vikings and Aztecs. Although this material revealed much about the Surgeon’s frame of mind these chapters often pulled me out of the story. Fortunately, Gerritsen’s follow through made the Surgeon real for me in the end, but oh, how I wish I had a stronger connection with him early on.

The Rizzoli and Isles series may never find their way into my TBR pile, but Gerritsen is definitely an author I will revisit.

Become a fan of Gerritsen with one click.


WHITE OLEANDER by Janet Fitch

Whenever a book is made into a movie I do my best to read before I watch. Sometimes, a book will get passed me, but as soon as I saw the trailer for White Oleander—years back—I ran to the bookstore. The imagery and inner conflict of the characters were so riveting, I read the first third of the book without a break. Probably would’ve finished the book in one sitting except my family woke up. Astrid’s mother, Ingrid, is the most passive-aggressive evil villain I’ve ever come across. I believe she creeped me out more than Hannibal Lecter. If you haven’t indulged in Janet Fitch yet. Please do. I started a second read as soon as I finished the first.

Indulge in White Oleander with one click.


I REMEMBER NOTHING by Nora Ephron

I Remember Nothing appeared on bookshelves in 2010. If I remember correctly (ha-ha!), I pre-ordered and consumed Ephron’s musings like a child who has just discovered solid food. When I learned of her death on June 26, 2012, I thought there was no better tribute than to reread every morsel she wrote.

A bittersweet read this time, knowing that Ms. Ephron had already been diagnosed with leukemia when she wrote about getting old, and what she would or wouldn’t miss once her time with us was over. My laughter and tears whipped together like a frozen daiquiri—chilling my heart yet warming my soul.

I’ve spoken of Ms. Ephron’s honesty. Her truth skewers us and we rejoice over the fact that we are not alone. Our crazy hopes and our outlandish expectations are shared. But what supersedes the honesty throughout the essays is the presence of courage.

How many of us are willing to expose our secrets to strangers? My guess is few. When confrontation arrives we’d much rather dress our hidden thoughts with a veil than walk them into the spotlight.

I Remember Nothing, like all of Nora Ephron’s written work is a touchstone for humanity. She reminds us to humble ourselves in each other’s presence while rejoicing in our unique quirkiness. So, in memory of Nora, be true, honest, brave and read good books.

Read I Remember Nothing with just one click.


BODILY HARM by Robert Dugoni

I will probably never write a thriller, but if I did I would love to write with Dugoni’s page-turning excellence. He never disappoints. No info dumps or backstory on his pages. The details of each moment are essential and the emotional landscapes of the characters are rich.

Because he trust his readers to connect the dots, Bodily Harm doesn’t just move, it leaps from one pivotal moment to the next. Tension remains high. His subplots are written with a delicate hand. They bring depth to the character without bogging down the story-something all wannabe writers need to master. Looking for a thriller?

Chose and learn from Dugoni.


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