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.


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.


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 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.

THE HOURS by Michael Cunningham

At the end of I Remember Nothing, Nora Ephron listed Pride and Prejudice among the things she would miss. My Miss-List will include The Hours by Michael Cunningham.

I came across Cunningham’s version of Mrs. Dalloway around the time I let go of writing plays to explore the mysteries of prose. Cunningham mesmerized me with the beauty of his sentences—I often read them three or four times—and dreamed of orchestrating words so the rhythm and imagery would plunge the essence of each character into the reader’s soul.

Cunningham’s characters, Mrs. Dalloway, Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Woolf lingered with me until I had no other choice than to read Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway. Once finished I reread The Hours and discovered Cunningham’s work was more captivating the second time. I have just completed the novel for the fifth time. The richness of the world he creates for each of his characters and their individual pain becomes a second skin I don’t wish to shed, and yet when I do, my gratitude for the experience parallel’s that of Mrs. Dalloway.

An hour here or there when our lives seem, against all odds and expectations to burst open and give us everything we’ve ever imagined. 

The Hours travels through time to examine the lives of three women, all bound to Woolf’s character Clarissa Dalloway. These women are separated by time and locations that are captured with hardly more than a brushstroke, while establishing the playing field of conflict within which each woman lives.

It’s the city’s crush and heave that move you; its intimacy, its endless life. 

But this is the new world, the rescued world—there’s not much room for idleness. So much has been risked, and lost; so many have died. 

Although it is among the best of them, Richmond is, finally and undeniably, a suburb, only that, with all the word implies about window boxes and hedges; about wives walking pugs; about clocks striking the hours in empty rooms. 

Much like the characters in Erika Robuck’s Fallen Beauty, Cunningham’s characters appear distinct, yet are linked by a common thread. Mrs. Woolf, Mrs. Brown and Mrs. Dalloway struggle to find peace with the hope, sadness and sense of displacement they experience. While their methods of coping are unique, their struggles fuse them across time, as if each one has been reincarnated into the next. And if shared turmoil isn’t intriguing enough, Cunningham makes certain the reader stays engaged through the characters points-of-view. Each woman sees the miniature and big picture simultaneously. They are at one with themselves, and an objective observer ministering to the fragile doubting woman in the moment. In this way, Cunningham forces the reader to see themselves in these women’s lives.

All the man and boy required of her is her presence and, of course, her love. She conquers desire to go quietly back upstairs, to her bed and book. She conquers her irritation at the sound of her husband’s voice, saying something to Richie about napkins (why does his voice remind her sometimes of a potato being grated?).

The handling of point-of-view seems as natural as breathing for Cunningham. He is able to shift from one character to the next with no more effort than it takes to switch from looking out the front windshield to the driver’s side window. His execution makes you believe anyone can do it, but it is a mastered skill; or maybe an innate gift and he holds the key.

Clarissa says to Julia, “Take care of her.”

Fool, Mary Krull thinks. Smug, self-satisfied witch. She corrects herself Clarissa Vaughn is not the enemy. Clarissa Vaughn is only deluded, neither more nor less than that. […]

Fraud, Clarissa thinks. You’ve fooled my daughter, but you don’t fool me. I know a conquistador when I see one. I know all about making a splash. 

I was trained in the theatre, where inner monologues are part of the research and life force actors create so they may successfully bring a character to life. And still, whenever I read The Hours, I can’t help wonder how an inner monologue can be so fascinating? Why do so many books shy away from the interior rooms of characters? Why are writers and readers enamored with action upon action and hooks that feel like atomic explosions? Cunningham’s willingness to allow his characters to breathe into each moment gives rise to observations that are precise, objective and infused with an emotional undercurrent that stays with the reader.

She has aged dramatically, just this year, as if a layer of air has leaked out from under her skin. She’s grown craggy and worn. She’s begun to look as if she’s carved from very porous, gray-white marble. She is still regal. Still exquisitely formed, still possessed of her formidable lunar radiance, but she is suddenly no longer beautiful. 

After six readings the events within these pages hold no surprises and yet, each time the climax arrives, the truth grips and sears my heart unexpectedly. This is the result of how finely Cunningham orchestrates his chosen words.

The air itself seems to have changed, to have come slightly apart; as if the atmosphere were palpably made of substance and its opposite. 

In a world driven by excess, where cities are lit up by neon instead of gaslight or stars, and our senses are bombarded by ads, video clips, tweets and sound upon sound, it’s reassuring to know a book exists to show that a single glance, flower or hour can be enough.

Step into the quiet, life pulse of The Hours.


One of the fastest and funniest reads ever. All the horrible and outrageous thoughts you’ve ever had about life as a woman are splattered on the page for everyone to enjoy.

My son says, “It’s women’s humor.” I say, “It’s true.”

And there’s the rub. When Nora Ephron writes, all that is on the page is raw truth and, because she’s so serious about what she believes, I can’t stop myself from laughing out loud.

A little over a month has gone by since Nora passed away. I am crushed that she is no longer with us. But forever grateful she chose to share her quirky life wisdom with us in print and on the screen, so we can relive the joy of Nora again and again.

Experience the joy of Nora with one click.

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