An unforgettable account of one woman’s voyage after an unimaginable loss.



A debut memoirist shares the devastating loss of her three children and her journey of healing and forgiveness.

The first time she met John Ritzert, the author thought he was “weird.” But she ignored her first impression and they began dating. Eventually, they married and had two children—Jarod William and Brandi Marie—and Ritzert adopted James’ son from a previous marriage, Sean Michael Tilk. For a while, they were happy, but Ritzert often worked out of town as a bricklayer. As they grew apart, he refused counseling, and when his behavior began to deteriorate, James insisted on a divorce. At first, the split was amicable. She dismissed his occasionally erratic actions, but as he became more emotional and violent, she started to fear him. Early one July morning, on a day he was scheduled to pick up the children for the weekend, James woke to the sound of shattered glass. Ritzert had broken in, brandishing a shotgun and a sinister expression (“He was not on drugs or alcohol. He was full of evil. It was in his eyes”). She watched in horror as he shot their youngest child, Brandi. Discovering the phone lines had been cut, James ran to a neighbor’s house to call for help. By the time the local police, unaccustomed to dealing with SWAT situations, entered her home, Ritzert had killed all three children and himself. With the help of family, friends, and counseling, James survived the next few years, producing this memoir as part of her healing process. She then put it away, publishing it nearly two decades after her children’s deaths. Despite the painful subject, the book is engrossing, seeming more like a suspense novel than a memoir. Knowing the deadly outcome—which the author discloses in the preface—fails to make the incident any less shocking. James writes well, with her surprising ability to forgive Ritzert coming through in her lack of bitterness or self-recrimination. She glosses over some parts of the tale, such as Sean’s relationship with his biological father and his reaction to his son’s murder. While it’s not the focus of the work, the insider view of how the media intrude in times of tragedy is one of the author’s most poignant revelations. Despite the inherent sadness of the story, James manages to imbue it with hope.

An unforgettable account of one woman’s voyage after an unimaginable loss.

Pub Date: Feb. 14, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-5043-7365-4

Page Count: 248

Publisher: BalboaPress

Review Posted Online: June 27, 2017

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Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

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More life reflections from the bestselling author on themes of societal captivity and the catharsis of personal freedom.

In her third book, Doyle (Love Warrior, 2016, etc.) begins with a life-changing event. “Four years ago,” she writes, “married to the father of my three children, I fell in love with a woman.” That woman, Abby Wambach, would become her wife. Emblematically arranged into three sections—“Caged,” “Keys,” “Freedom”—the narrative offers, among other elements, vignettes about the soulful author’s girlhood, when she was bulimic and felt like a zoo animal, a “caged girl made for wide-open skies.” She followed the path that seemed right and appropriate based on her Catholic upbringing and adolescent conditioning. After a downward spiral into “drinking, drugging, and purging,” Doyle found sobriety and the authentic self she’d been suppressing. Still, there was trouble: Straining an already troubled marriage was her husband’s infidelity, which eventually led to life-altering choices and the discovery of a love she’d never experienced before. Throughout the book, Doyle remains open and candid, whether she’s admitting to rigging a high school homecoming court election or denouncing the doting perfectionism of “cream cheese parenting,” which is about “giving your children the best of everything.” The author’s fears and concerns are often mirrored by real-world issues: gender roles and bias, white privilege, racism, and religion-fueled homophobia and hypocrisy. Some stories merely skim the surface of larger issues, but Doyle revisits them in later sections and digs deeper, using friends and familial references to personify their impact on her life, both past and present. Shorter pieces, some only a page in length, manage to effectively translate an emotional gut punch, as when Doyle’s therapist called her blooming extramarital lesbian love a “dangerous distraction.” Ultimately, the narrative is an in-depth look at a courageous woman eager to share the wealth of her experiences by embracing vulnerability and reclaiming her inner strength and resiliency.

Doyle offers another lucid, inspiring chronicle of female empowerment and the rewards of self-awareness and renewal.

Pub Date: March 10, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-9848-0125-8

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Dial

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.


The debut memoir from the pop and fashion star.

Early on, Simpson describes the book she didn’t write: “a motivational manual telling you how to live your best life.” Though having committed to the lucrative deal years before, she “walked away,” fearing any sort of self-help advice she might give would be hypocritical. Outwardly, Simpson was at the peak of her success, with her fashion line generating “one billion dollars in annual sales.” However, anxiety was getting the better of her, and she admits she’d become a “feelings addict,” just needing “enough noise to distract me from the pain I’d been avoiding since childhood. The demons of traumatic abuse that refused to let me sleep at night—Tylenol PM at age twelve, red wine and Ambien as a grown, scared woman. Those same demons who perched on my shoulder, and when they saw a man as dark as them, leaned in to my ear to whisper, ‘Just give him your light. See if it saves him…’ ” On Halloween 2017, Simpson hit rock bottom, and, with the intervention of her devoted friends and husband, began to address her addictions and underlying fears. In this readable but overlong narrative, the author traces her childhood as a Baptist preacher’s daughter moving 18 times before she “hit fifth grade,” and follows her remarkable rise to fame as a singer. She reveals the psychological trauma resulting from years of sexual abuse by a family friend, experiences that drew her repeatedly into bad relationships with men, most publicly with ex-husband Nick Lachey. Admitting that she was attracted to the validating power of an audience, Simpson analyzes how her failings and triumphs have enabled her to take control of her life, even as she was hounded by the press and various music and movie executives about her weight. Simpson’s memoir contains plenty of personal and professional moments for fans to savor.

An eye-opening glimpse into the attempted self-unmaking of one of Hollywood’s most recognizable talents.

Pub Date: Feb. 4, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-06-289996-5

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Dey Street/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: Feb. 16, 2020

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