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 Books

Review Posted Online: Dec. 22, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

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If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.


The authors have created a sort of anti-Book of Virtues in this encyclopedic compendium of the ways and means of power.

Everyone wants power and everyone is in a constant duplicitous game to gain more power at the expense of others, according to Greene, a screenwriter and former editor at Esquire (Elffers, a book packager, designed the volume, with its attractive marginalia). We live today as courtiers once did in royal courts: we must appear civil while attempting to crush all those around us. This power game can be played well or poorly, and in these 48 laws culled from the history and wisdom of the world’s greatest power players are the rules that must be followed to win. These laws boil down to being as ruthless, selfish, manipulative, and deceitful as possible. Each law, however, gets its own chapter: “Conceal Your Intentions,” “Always Say Less Than Necessary,” “Pose as a Friend, Work as a Spy,” and so on. Each chapter is conveniently broken down into sections on what happened to those who transgressed or observed the particular law, the key elements in this law, and ways to defensively reverse this law when it’s used against you. Quotations in the margins amplify the lesson being taught. While compelling in the way an auto accident might be, the book is simply nonsense. Rules often contradict each other. We are told, for instance, to “be conspicuous at all cost,” then told to “behave like others.” More seriously, Greene never really defines “power,” and he merely asserts, rather than offers evidence for, the Hobbesian world of all against all in which he insists we live. The world may be like this at times, but often it isn’t. To ask why this is so would be a far more useful project.

If the authors are serious, this is a silly, distasteful book. If they are not, it’s a brilliant satire.

Pub Date: Sept. 1, 1998

ISBN: 0-670-88146-5

Page Count: 430

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1998

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