The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richarson

Rating:           9

General Rating: Excellent writing and character development. I even loved the mule, Junia, named for the lone female apostle. (Google to verify.) This novel reminded me of The Whip, only I enjoyed it much more.

Skip factor:  Nothing.

Who should read: If you like fabulous writing about simple people but with deep meaning, you’ll love this one.

Summary: It’s the story of a blue girl from Kentucky. (There truly was a blue family in Troublesome, Kentucky, and other blues have been identified in other places on occasion. Methemoglobinemia, a blood disorder, causes the blue-tinged skin.) Cussy Mary or Bluet or Book Woman, as she’s sometimes called, takes a job in the Pack Horse Library Project distributing books to poor Kentucky families in the wilderness.

Every night her father lit a courting candle, hoping to find a husband for her, but Cussy Mary wanted nothing to do with marriage as a married woman wasn’t allowed to work for the Library Project.

The novel follows her hard life as she distributes books to the impoverished of the backwoods. She lives to deliver her books to her patrons.

Characters:  Great character development. The interaction between Cussy Mary and her dad, along with her relationship with her clients—especially Angeline and Henry—captured my heart.

Storyline: I had not heard of the Pack Horse Library Project before reading this novel. Although fiction, this story reads like non-fiction and is completely believable and realistic. The storyline follows the undulating life of the pack-mule librarian, but the way the author tells the story, how she sees the book woman’s simple life, will capture a reader’s heart.

Writing:  The writing is tremendous. No more need be said.

Read this author again?  Absolutely.

Read on!


CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, Dream Wide Awake, and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a sixth-sense paranormal element, and two ChickLit novels Friends Who Move Couches and Don’t Mind Me, I Came with the House. Many of her novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on Instagram, TwitterFacebookGoodreadsBookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Rating:           8

General Rating: A bit disappointed. (Like Crawdad’s, I may have expected too much.) Ng’s writing earns a nine, but the scattered storyline, a seven, averaging a solid eight rating.

Skip factor:  8%. I skipped some of Mia’s flashbacks. Her backstory dragged.  

Who should read:  If you read Everything I Never Told You, if you are a writer, or at least love writing, you’ll enjoy this. I don’t believe people who grab this book before reading Everything I Never Told You will be as enamored by Ng. This is a good book, but I expected great from Ng.

Summary: The story begins with a fire and the mention of Izzy Richardson. Izzy is one of four children who lives in the house burning to the ground. The story also mentions a mother and daughter, Mia and Pearl, who rent one of the Richardsons’ apartments. Mia and Pearl leave the afternoon of the fire, so right away the reader wants to know what’s going on.

The novel tells the story of the well-to-do Richardson family living in the Shaker Heights neighborhood of Cleveland. When Mia, an artist, and her daughter Pearl rent an apartment from the Richardson’s, their lives intersect in more than tenant-landlord fashion. Elena Richardson admires Mia’s art and hires her to cook and clean for them part-time, saying Mia must continue her art. Mia accepts reluctantly but the position, along with a second part-time job, allows her the freedom to continue her photography.

Eventually, all four of the Richardson children become involved with Mia and Pearl who seem slightly mysterious.

Enter Beebe and Mrs. McCullough. Beebe works with Mia at Mia’s part-time coffee shop job and Mrs. McCullough has been Elena Richardson’s best friend for years. When Mia realizes the adopted McCullough baby may be Beebe’s lost child, the story takes an emotional turn.

There are numerous twists and turns to this story. (Possibly too many.) The author jumps back and forth in time, and where normally I like this, I didn’t here. I found myself skipping Mia’s backstory.

Characters:  I loved all four Richardson children and Pearl. I did not like Elena Richardson or Mrs. McCullough, although I did feel sorry for Mrs. McCullough who could not have children of her own. I believe I experienced all of the emotions the author hoped readers would experience with the characters except for Mia. Mia was too odd for my liking, and the author’s attempt at creating a sad background for Mia didn’t work.

Storyline:  This novel winds through several important life topics: suburban racism, family dynamics, rich versus poor, adoption tribulations, motherhood, and even carries YA coming-of-age subject matter. The story has several protagonists, two mothers, one rich, one poor; five children between them who are at the height of their emotional teenage years; and a destitute woman who finds herself in an impossible situation.

Without spoiling the story, I’ll say this touches heartfeltly on family, pregnancy, adoption, and even abortion.

Writing:  The novel is well written, yet there were many parts where I felt the dramatics of the situations were drawn-out and overdone, hurting the importance of the topics. Mia’s backstory could have been tightened to make readers feel more of a connection with her.

Read this author again?  Yes, I will. I love her writing and am hoping for another book like Everything I Never Told You.

Read on!


CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, Dream Wide Awake, and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a sixth-sense paranormal element, and Friends Who Move Couches, women’s fiction. These last two novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on Instagram, TwitterFacebookGoodreadsBookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Rating:           9

General Rating: Ng is an author to watch. The writing is fabulous—the best I’ve seen recently.

Favorite line: “Everything seems worse in the darkest hours of the night.” (So true!)

Skip factor:  2%. I skipped little.

Who should read:  While I believe this is more for women or young females, anyone who has experienced discrimination or who would like to understand the suffering of those discriminated against, should read. Because the novel includes a suicide topic, I would NOT recommend for YA.

Summary: The beginning reveals Marilyn’s and James’s oldest child, Lydia, is not alive, but the family doesn’t know it yet. An interesting premise, which hooks you immediately.

The novel tells the story of the Lee family who attempt to survive the devastating death of the favored child, Lydia. Each struggle with regrets. The mother, Marilyn, is an American who disappointed her family by marrying a Chinese man. James, a college professor, could not secure the type of position he wanted due to his Chinese ethnicity. Though they were in love when they married, Marilyn is disappointed that she never fulfilled herself. She leaves her husband and two older children to pursue her dreams but then returns, when she realizes she is a few months pregnant with a third child.

James and the two older children, Lydia and Nath, never mend from her leaving them, and when Marilyn returns, feeling she will never reach her full potential in life, she transfers her hopes and dreams to Lydia. Lydia works wholeheartedly to please her mother for fear she will leave them again.

Despite being the center of her parent’s hopes, Lydia is not the student Nath is. Overshadowed by his sister, Nath attempts to win his father’s support but always feels second to Lydia.

Both Nath and Lydia are ostracized for their ethnicity in school and learn to rely on each other. When Nath is accepted to college, Lydia has a hard time fathoming what her life will be like without him. Hannah, the youngest child, adores Lydia but hides in the shadow of both of her older siblings. She notices everything around her, possibly knows more about the family than anyone.


Lydia – I loved this character. Ng shows the inner struggles of teenagers who are discriminated against through this character.

Hannah – The sweet, youngest Lee child is ignored by the family. I wanted to know more about her throughout the entire book.  

Nath – Through Nath, Ng clearly depicts the cruelty of discrimination, because of both his and his father’s Chinese heritage.

Marilyn – I felt sorry for this character. The author makes her out to be a monster. And herein lies the reason I did not give this a 9.5 or even a 10 for the writing. This woman, clearly conflicted, was unintentionally too hard on her daughter. Yet she loved her. There was good and bad to her of course, but, maybe because I am a mother myself, I felt the overtone of the book conveyed only bitterness, no empathy toward her. (I wondered if the author had a rocky relationship with her mother and would love to see how she feels about Marilyn twenty years from now when she herself has grown children.)  

James – I liked the father but couldn’t connect with thim. James was hard on his son, adored Lydia, and ignored Hannah. He was a bit too business-minded for me. However, he too deserved empathy. He was a product of his past.

Other characters – Ng brought a few other characters into the mix when needed to enhance the family’s story.

Storyline:  This novel depicts the hardship and discrimination of an American Chinese family. The suffering of the Lee parents impacted how they raised their children. Neither were bad people, but they allowed their past to influence, harm really, their children—a characteristic often present in many families. While that family dynamics may be common, the effect that discrimination has on a family is explicitly told here.

Writing:  I cannot express how well written this novel is. The writing is possibly the best I’ve seen in years. I dawdled over it. The author told the story from an omnipotent view, which is tough and often frowned upon in today’s literary world. She makes the transition from POV to POV appear easy. This is one of those books that is so well written, you wish you had bought rather than loaned.

Read this author again?  Absolutely. I’ve already begun Little Fires Everywhere. Ng writes flawlessly. I’ll read anything she writes.

To find more good books click here.

Read on!


CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, Dream Wide Awake, and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a sixth-sense paranormal element, and Friends Who Move Couches, women’s fiction. These last two novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on InstagramTwitterFacebookGoodreadsBookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.

Woman in the Window by A. J. Finn

Rating:                       7

General Rating:

Another what’s-the-fuss-about book. I liked this book, and there is a certain point (I won’t reveal so I don’t spoil) where I thought I’d rate this higher, but in the end, I ranked it 7. (I know. I know. Better authors than me are heralding. Still, I won’t be swayed. I like a lot, it’s just not one of my favorites.)

This will be a wishy-washy review. I’m not totally sure how I felt about it. When I find a novel that does very well with ratings but isn’t my cup of tea, I research the author’s education, expecting to see Ivy League connections. I believe their education affords them greater chances with major agents and authors. And sure enough, A. J. Finn (Dan Mallory is his real name), graduated in English from Duke. (You might consider reading a bit about him before you read this. I wish I had. There’s some controversy.)

Skip factor:               

10% Yeah, I did skip a bit.  

Who should read:            

Avid readers who read a minimum of a book a week will love. Why? It’s better than most. They’ll have fun trying to figure this one out.

But, if you are the type who reads a book every other month? I’d go with page-turners like Defending Jacob by William Landay, Nineteen Minutes by Jodi Picoult, or Absolute Power by David Baldacci.

Summary:  This is the story of a woman who is confined to her apartment building, stares out the window at her neighbors, and believes she’s witnessed a murder. This is nearly a remaking of Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window where Jimmy Stuart is wheelchair-bound. Instead of a physical disability, Anna Fox has an emotional disability. She fears going outside. Additionally, her wheelchair, of sorts, is alcohol. In that sense, her character reminded me much of Rachel from Girl on the Train. (That’s almost enough right there for you to decide if you would like or not.)

Characters: This is another novel where I did not feel a connection with any of the characters:

Anna Fox –  An alcoholic who no longer lives with her husband and daughter, the ending of her marriage unfolds throughout the book in several chapters. I didn’t like this character. I didn’t like her more than I didn’t like Rachel from Girl on the Train. In Girl on the Train, I at least routed for Rachel to stop drinking. With Anna? I didn’t care.

The Russells – The Russell family lives across the street, and Anna eventually meets the entire family. The only character I liked was the quirky Jane who appeared mostly in the beginning.

The tenant – There was a male tenant downstairs and at the risk of spoiling the story, I’ll simply say I neither liked nor disliked him. (I can’t remember his name, which says something.)

Other characters – I liked one police officer/detective who showed compass, not the other who didn’t. And through phone calls by the husband and daughter, of course, I liked what little I saw/heard of them. I neither liked nor disliked her counselors, doctors, or the people she spoke with online.

Storyline:  Despite everything I’ve said above, the storyline is fairly good. Is it believable? In the end, yes, maybe it was. The author inspires the reader to guess who the killer is or if there is a killer.

Writing style:    The writing is good. An easy, interesting read.  

Read this author again: Would definitely depend on the storyline, not the ratings.

 Read on!


CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, and Dream Wide Awake and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a paranormal element. These last two novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, BookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.

Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson

Rating:           7

General Rating: (Um. Really Jenna?) This is the most unusual, weird story I couldn’t put down. I told myself I didn’t like it and yet I read the entire book in three days.

Favorite line: None.

Skip factor:  8%, which mystifies me more. I loved the fire children and often rushed through a portion of the story to read more on them.

Who should read:  If you like weird books AND if you use the “F” word fluently and don’t take offense to others doing the same, this is for you.   

Summary: Lillian and Madison are roommates at boarding school. Lillian is on scholarship and Madison is filthy rich. When Madison is caught with drugs in her room, her father pays off Lillian’s mother to tell authorities the drugs were Lillians. Hence, Lillian’s only chance to claw her way out of poverty is gone. She is expelled. (This possibly made me angry enough to continue reading.)

Lillian works odd jobs and smokes weed in her mother’s house until one day, Madison offers Lillian a job caring for her husband’s children by his first wife. The problem? They catch on fire.

Characters:  I loved the children and couldn’t wait to read more of their story. That’s why I continued to read. (I think.) Here are the main characters.

Lillian is the main character. My apologies to the author. I couldn’t get past the male voice and the swearing. Her gruffness hid her kindness, and while I hated her voice, I grew to like her in the end. (Sort of.)

Madison is the rich roommate. She is bland and has no personality in the beginning, but is drawn out a little toward the end. She is Senator Jasper Roberts second wife.

Senator Jasper Roberts – The typical politician you love to hate.

Bessie – Is Jasper’s daughter who catches on fire. I liked this character so much that I kept reading to see what happens. She and Roland are the children of Jasper’s first wife, who committed suicide in front of them.   

Roland – Is Jasper’s son who catches on fire.

Carl – Is the grumpy right-hand man of Jasper. I sort of liked him. No clue why. (This review is turning out to be as strange as this book.)

Mary – Is the cook and I liked her. Thought there might be substance to her. But no. There wasn’t.

Storyline:  Quirky story. Strange, weird tale. I didn’t love this book nor did I understand it.

Writing:  The writing was easy.

Read this author again? Um. I have no idea. This was the most confusing book I’ve ever read. Should you read it? That’s on you.   

Read on!


CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, Dream Wide Awake, and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a sixth-sense paranormal element, and Friends Who Move Couches, women’s fiction. These last two novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on InstagramTwitterFacebookGoodreadsBookBubor LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.

House Rules by Jodi Picoult

Name:                 House Rules

Author:               Jodi Picoult

Rating:                3.5

General Rating:

This is my least favorite Jodi Picoult novel. Usually, I love her entire book, but House Rules is a slow start. I did not like the beginning, yet once I was into the middle there were times I could not put it down. I found myself laughing at Jacob’s take on life or words at times. (I would have enjoyed more of that.) I estimate a little over 50% of this book is page turning. I did not like the end at all. Hence my lower score.

Skip factor:

Despite this being my least favorite Picoult novel, skipping was minimal. I only skipped long speeches by attorneys toward the end and a few of Jacob’s involved descriptions.

Who should read?

Voracious readers will find this an easy read once they reach page fifty or there about. Readers who like action may not make it that far. Picky readers may not like. I believe people interested in Aspergers or Autism will enjoy. People with children who have those challenges? I’m not sure they will like. I have a friend, Rochelle, with two son’s. One has autism. Although she is a voracious reader, I advised her to skip this Picoult novel.

Summary:          This is the story of Jacob Hunt, a child with Asperger’s syndrome and the accompanying challenges for Jacob, his mother, Emma, and brother, Theo. The story is told from several character’s perspectives. Voices change with chapters. (Fonts change, too, which helps remind you a new character is speaking.) The people include:

Emma, the mother of an autistic son, also writes a parental column for a newspaper from home. Her entire life revolves around her autistic son. Jacob. She is divorced.

Jacob, relays his thoughts in an interesting way. At times he is comical, very smart, and other times you get lost in his logic. The author has done a great job helping readers see life from behind this challenging disability.

Theo is Jacob’s younger brother and is often caught between loving his brother and hating his brother’s Aspergers, and how his own life has been affected.

Oliver is the attorney thrust into the family situation.

Police Officers but to be completely honest, I wasn’t  sure these were needed. I never really understood why they were included.

Characters:         Picoult did okay with character development. Each character carries his or her own distinct voice. However, I did have a hard time connecting or loving any one individual person, and I never quite understood the purpose of the supporting characters (police officers/detectives.) Yet, dialogue between characters was good and they definitely had emotional depth.

Storyline:           The start fell short. The story had a good hook and was believable. The main conflict kept me turning pages, but at the risk of revealing too much, I’ll refrain from talking about resolving conflicts. Each of the main characters had purpose and goals, however here again, the minor characters fell short.

Writing style:    Simply, I love Picoult’s writing style. Narrative and dialogue was well balanced. Style exquisite. Voice great. Her writing flows well.

Read on!

_________________________________________                 Cyndie Zahner is the author of Dream Wide Awake, a paranormal novel that is totally fiction, but has been inspired by her own experiences. This is the first in a series of blogs about her inspiration behind the novel. Follow her on InstagramTwitterFacebookGoodreadsBookBubLinkedIn and purchase her books on Amazon.