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

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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 26, 2017

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A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor...

The excruciating story of a young man on a quest for knowledge and experience, a search that eventually cooked his goose, told with the flair of a seasoned investigative reporter by Outside magazine contributing editor Krakauer (Eiger Dreams, 1990). 

Chris McCandless loved the road, the unadorned life, the Tolstoyan call to asceticism. After graduating college, he took off on another of his long destinationless journeys, this time cutting all contact with his family and changing his name to Alex Supertramp. He was a gent of strong opinions, and he shared them with those he met: "You must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life''; "be nomadic.'' Ultimately, in 1992, his terms got him into mortal trouble when he ran up against something—the Alaskan wild—that didn't give a hoot about Supertramp's worldview; his decomposed corpse was found 16 weeks after he entered the bush. Many people felt McCandless was just a hubris-laden jerk with a death wish (he had discarded his map before going into the wild and brought no food but a bag of rice). Krakauer thought not. Admitting an interest that bordered on obsession, he dug deep into McCandless's life. He found a willful, reckless, moody boyhood; an ugly little secret that sundered the relationship between father and son; a moral absolutism that agitated the young man's soul and drove him to extremes; but he was no more a nutcase than other pilgrims. Writing in supple, electric prose, Krakauer tries to make sense of McCandless (while scrupulously avoiding off-the-rack psychoanalysis): his risky behavior and the rites associated with it, his asceticism, his love of wide open spaces, the flights of his soul.

A wonderful page-turner written with humility, immediacy, and great style. Nothing came cheap and easy to McCandless, nor will it to readers of Krakauer's narrative. (4 maps) (First printing of 35,000; author tour)

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1996

ISBN: 0-679-42850-X

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Villard

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 1995

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Well-told and admonitory.

Young-rags-to-mature-riches memoir by broker and motivational speaker Gardner.

Born and raised in the Milwaukee ghetto, the author pulled himself up from considerable disadvantage. He was fatherless, and his adored mother wasn’t always around; once, as a child, he spied her at a family funeral accompanied by a prison guard. When beautiful, evanescent Moms was there, Chris also had to deal with Freddie “I ain’t your goddamn daddy!” Triplett, one of the meanest stepfathers in recent literature. Chris did “the dozens” with the homies, boosted a bit and in the course of youthful adventure was raped. His heroes were Miles Davis, James Brown and Muhammad Ali. Meanwhile, at the behest of Moms, he developed a fondness for reading. He joined the Navy and became a medic (preparing badass Marines for proctology), and a proficient lab technician. Moving up in San Francisco, married and then divorced, he sold medical supplies. He was recruited as a trainee at Dean Witter just around the time he became a homeless single father. All his belongings in a shopping cart, Gardner sometimes slept with his young son at the office (apparently undiscovered by the night cleaning crew). The two also frequently bedded down in a public restroom. After Gardner’s talents were finally appreciated by the firm of Bear Stearns, his American Dream became real. He got the cool duds, hot car and fine ladies so coveted from afar back in the day. He even had a meeting with Nelson Mandela. Through it all, he remained a prideful parent. His own no-daddy blues are gone now.

Well-told and admonitory.

Pub Date: June 1, 2006

ISBN: 0-06-074486-3

Page Count: 320

Publisher: Amistad/HarperCollins

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 15, 2006

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