Category Archives: Ballantine Books

Review: The Unsinkable Greta James by Jennifer E. Smith

Title: The Unsinkable Greta James by Jennifer E. Smith
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Length: 320 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley


An indie musician reeling from tragedy reconnects with her estranged father on a week-long cruise in this tale of grief, fame, and love from bestselling author Jennifer E. Smith.

Greta James’s meteoric rise to indie stardom was hard-won. Before she graced magazine covers and sold out venues, she spent her girlhood strumming her guitar in the family garage. Her first fan was her mother, Helen, whose face shone bright in the dusty downtown bars where she got her start–but not everyone encouraged Greta to follow her dreams. While many daydream about a crowd chanting their name, her father, Conrad, saw only a precarious life ahead for his daughter.

Greta has spent her life trying to prove him wrong, but three months after Helen’s sudden death, and weeks before the launch of her high-stakes sophomore album, Greta has an onstage meltdown that goes viral. Attempting to outrun the humiliation and heartbreak, she reluctantly agrees to accompany her father on a week-long Alaskan cruise, the very one that her parents had booked to celebrate their fortieth anniversary.

This could be the James family’s last chance to heal old wounds and will prove to be a voyage of discovery for them, as well as for Ben Wilder, a historian also struggling with a major upheaval in his life. Ben is on board to lecture about Jack London’s The Call of the Wild, the adventure story Greta’s mother adored, and he captures Greta’s attention after her stre pak of dating hanger-ons. As Greta works to build up her confidence and heal, and Ben confronts his uncertain future, they must rely on one another to make sense of life’s difficult choices. In the end, Greta must make the most challenging decision of all: to listen to the song within her or make peace with those who love her.


The Unsinkable Greta James by Jennifer E. Smith is a humorous yet poignant novel.

Greta James reluctantly agrees to join her father, Conrad, on an Alaskan cruise. She is an Indie musician who was closer to her mother who unexpectedly passed away. Greta and her father’s relationship is fraught due to his lack of support for her career. Their time together on the cruise is uneasy as they navigate their grief and tense moments between them. Luckily Greta has become friends with Ben Wilder who is also dealing with life-altering change. With a mutual attraction flaring between them, is there any chance for a future together once the cruise ends?

Without her mother to buffer their relationship, Greta and Conrad will have to come to terms with their painful past if they want to be part of each other’s lives.  Letting go of their hurt and resentment will take time but neither finds it easy to discuss what is wrong between them. Greta and Ben’s unanticipated friendship provides her the opportunity to escape the tension with her father.

The Unsinkable Greta James is a thought-provoking journey of healing. The characters are well-drawn with relatable issues to overcome. The storyline is engaging with beautiful scenery that springs vibrantly to life. Jennifer E. Smith brings this heartwarming novel to an uplifting conclusion.

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Filed under Ballantine Books, Contemporary, Jennifer E Smith, Rated B+, Review, The Unsinkable Greta James, Women's Fiction

Review: The Accomplice by Lisa Lutz

Title: The Accomplice by Lisa Lutz
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length: 368 pages
Book Rating:

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley


Everyone has the same questions about best friends Owen and Luna: What binds them together so tightly? Why weren’t they ever a couple? And why do people around them keep turning up dead? In this riveting novel from the New York Times bestselling author of The Passenger, every answer raises a new, more chilling question.

Owen Mann is charming, privileged, and chronically dissatisfied. Luna Grey is secretive, cautious, and pragmatic. Despite their differences, they begin forming a bond the moment they meet in college. Their names soon become indivisible–Owen and Luna, Luna and Owen–and stay that way even after an unexplained death rocks their social circle.

Years later, they’re still best friends when Luna finds Owen’s wife brutally murdered. The police investigation sheds some light on long-hidden secrets, but it can’t penetrate the wall of mystery that surrounds Owen. To get to the heart of what happened and why, Luna has to dig up the one secret she’s spent her whole life burying.

The Accomplice examines the bonds of shared history, what it costs to break them, and what happens when you start wondering if you ever truly knew the only person who truly knows you.


The Accomplice by Lisa Lutz is a captivating mystery that features an unlikely friendship.

In 2002, outgoing Owen Mann becomes friends with closed off Luna Grey. Their friendship does not seem like it will last past college, yet seventeen years later, they are still close friends.  In 2019, Luna is married to a doctor, Sam Burroughs, and she is friends with Owen’s wife, Irene. After stopping by one morning, Irene reveals unexpected information then heads out for her daily run. That evening, Owen and Luna get together for a drink, but neither has heard from Irene since that morning. The next day, Luna finds her lifeless body and her actions afterward make the two detectives assigned to the case a little suspicious of her and Owen.

Luna is self-contained and offers up little information about herself. She is shocked when Owen befriends her but they are soon thick as thieves. Their college years are a bit of a drunken blur with one very notable exception. In the aftermath, Owen and Luna are physically distant yet stay in touch. Owen continues drinking excessively and indulging in one-night stands. Luna moves in with friends and indulges in an under the radar romance with an unexpected person. Although their lives go in different directions, the one constant in their lives is their unbreakable friendship.

After Irene’s murder, Detectives Margot Burns and Noah Goldman look very closely at Owen and Luna. Owen’s answers to their questions are eyebrow raising and they cannot rule him out as a suspect. Luna is more forthcoming but Burns and Goldman find it difficult to believe the pair have never been romantically involved. Unable to find any proof that either Owen or Luna killed Irene, will they ever catch her killer?

The Accomplice is a brilliantly plotted mystery that is quite clever. Luna is more likable than Owen and they are each a little quirky. The various characters are hiding plenty of secrets that eventually come out. The story seamlessly moves back and forth in time and the pacing is brisk. With stunning revelations,  Lisa Lutz brings this engaging mystery to a very surprising conclusion.


Filed under Ballantine Books, Contemporary, Lisa Lutz, Mystery, Rated B+, Review, The Accomplice

Review: Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult

Title: Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: Contemporary, Women’s Fiction
Length: 336 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley


From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of Small Great Things and The Book of Two Ways comes “a powerfully evocative story of resilience and the triumph of the human spirit” (Taylor Jenkins Reid, author of Malibu Rising)

Rights sold to Netflix for adaptation as a feature film

Diana O’Toole is perfectly on track. She will be married by thirty, done having kids by thirty-five, and move out to the New York City suburbs, all while climbing the professional ladder in the cutthroat art auction world. She’s an associate specialist at Sotheby’s now, but her boss has hinted at a promotion if she can close a deal with a high-profile client. She’s not engaged just yet, but she knows her boyfriend, Finn, a surgical resident, is about to propose on their romantic getaway to the Galápagos—days before her thirtieth birthday. Right on time.

But then a virus that felt worlds away has appeared in the city, and on the eve of their departure, Finn breaks the news: It’s all hands on deck at the hospital. He has to stay behind. You should still go, he assures her, since it would be a shame for all of their nonrefundable trip to go to waste. And so, reluctantly, she goes.

Almost immediately, Diana’s dream vacation goes awry. Her luggage is lost, the Wi-Fi is nearly nonexistent, and the hotel they’d booked is shut down due to the pandemic. In fact, the whole island is now under quarantine, and she is stranded until the borders reopen. Completely isolated, she must venture beyond her comfort zone. Slowly, she carves out a connection with a local family when a teenager with a secret opens up to Diana, despite her father’s suspicion of outsiders.

In the Galápagos Islands, where Darwin’s theory of evolution by natural selection was formed, Diana finds herself examining her relationships, her choices, and herself—and wondering if when she goes home, she too will have evolved into someone completely different.


Wish You Were Here by Jodi Picoult is a poignant novel that takes place during the early months of the Covid pandemic.

Diana O’Toole and her boyfriend, surgical resident Finn Colson have a perfect vision of how their lives are going to go. They are about to embark on a trip to the Galápagos where Diana is sure he is going to pop THE question. Instead, COVID strikes and Finn’s vacation is canceled as New York is hit hard by the new virus. At his insistence, Diana goes on the trip where nothing goes as planned as travel is halted, everything shuts down and she remains stuck on the island. Thankfully, she is offered a place to stay and Diana befriends the kindhearted woman’s great granddaughter, Beatriz. As the days stretch into weeks, she also becomes friend with Beatriz’s father, Gabriel Fernandez.  While on the island, Diana begins to questions some aspects of her life.

Without a reliable cell signal, Diana finds it difficult to remain in touch with Finn. His emails come through sporadically and he details the horrific toll COVID is taking on New Yorkers. He also reveals, in heartbreaking detail, how helpless he feels when patient after patient succumbs to the virus. In contrast, Diana’s days are spent exploring the natural wonders and beauty of Galápagos.

Wish You Were Here is a beautifully rendered novel that will resonate with readers. The vivid and realistical portrayals of the early days of COVID are especially heartbreaking given how many people lost their lives. Diana undergoes an unexpected transformation as her perspective is reshaped by her experiences.  As a doctor on the frontlines, Finn’s accounts of the care and subsequent deaths of patients is heartrending.  The beauty of Galápagos springs vibrantly to life and paints a stark contrast to ravages of COVID around the world. With an absolutely jaw-dropping plot twist, Jodi Picoult brings this incredible novel to an unpredictable yet satisfying conclusion.

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Filed under Ballantine Books, Contemporary, Jodi Picoult, Rated B+, Review, Wish You Were Here, Women's Fiction

Review: You Can Run by Karen Cleveland

Title: You Can Run by Karen Cleveland
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: Contemporary, Thriller
Length: 336 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley


A CIA analyst makes a split-second decision that endangers her country but saves her son—and now she must team up with an investigative journalist she’s not sure she can trust in this electrifying thriller from the New York Times bestselling author of Need to Know.

We have your son. It’s the call that’s every parent’s nightmare. And for CIA analyst Jill Bailey, it’s the call that changes everything.

It’s Jill’s job to vet new CIA sources. Like Falcon, who’s been on the recruitment fast track. But before she can get to work, Jill gets the call. Her son has been taken. And to get him back, Jill does something she thought she’d never do.

Alex Charles, a hard-hitting journalist, begins to investigate an anonymous tip: an explosive claim about the CIA’s hottest new source. This is the story that Alex has been waiting for. The tip—and a fierce determination to find the truth—leads Alex to Jill, who would rather remain hidden.

As the two begin to work together, they uncover a vast conspiracy that will force them to confront their loyalties to family and country. An edge-of-your-seat thriller, You Can Run will have you asking: What would you do to save the ones you love?


You Can Run by Karen Cleveland is a breathless, action-packed thriller.

CIA analyst Jill Bailey is having an ordinary day at work until a shocking phone call alters her and her husband Drew’s lives. Since returning to work from maternity leave, Jill’s lunch hour coincides with their baby Owen’s feeding time, so she watches him on the day care cam. On this day, she is confused that Owen is not on any of the cameras. The reason becomes stunningly clear when she receives a phone call with a demand in exchange for the safe return of her son. Willing to do anything to save Owen, Jill does as she is told. Within a matter of days, she quits her job and convinces Drew it is time for them to move. But her hopes of escaping the people who took her son are soon dashed. However, over the next several years, Jill and Drew have a wonderfully normal life. That is until the day she realizes someone is watching her. And her fears drive her to team up with journalist Alex Charles in an attempt to understand the full spectrum of her actions that fateful day.

Jill is so frightened by what happened to Owen that she has never revealed to anyone a single word about his kidnapping and what she did in order to get him back. When Alex mentions Falcon, the asset Jill approved in exchange for Owen’s return, she knows it is time to uncover the truth. Fearing for her family’s safety, Jill finally comes clean with Drew, who is understandably furious with her. While she sends Drew off with their children, Jill returns to DC and confronts Alex in order to understand what the journalist knows. Knowing time is of the essence, Alex and Jill begin their search for Falcon and the people who are involved in what turns out to be a horrifying conspiracy.

You Can Run is an absolutely riveting thriller with an outstanding storyline. Jill and Owen are brilliantly developed characters that are easy to cheer on as they find out the truth about Falcon. Fully realizing how dangerous their endeavor is, they nonetheless pursue every lead they unearth. The trail takes them to an undeniably disturbing plot with far-reaching implications. With astonishing twists and non-stop action, Karen Cleveland brings this pulse-pounding thriller to a jaw-dropping conclusion.

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Filed under Ballantine Books, Contemporary, Karen Cleveland, Rated B+, Review, Thriller

Review: The Dare by Lesley Kara

Title: The Dare by Lesley Kara
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery, Suspense
Length: 288 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley


At the time it was exciting. A game of dare, but one that had motive and justification. Children can be so judgmental, can’t they? I can still hear her cry as she toppled forward, the dull thud of her body as it landed on the pavement.

Lizzie and Alice are the best of friends, as close as can be. Until the day when they’re out playing by the train tracks and a childish spat triggers Lizzie’s epilepsy. When she comes to, she finds an unimaginable horror: Alice has been killed. Lizzie is devastated, and as she tries to cope with her grief, she is shocked to find herself alienated from Alice’s friends and relatives, who are convinced Lizzie and “the dare” somehow had a role in her friend’s death.

I knew that whatever she wanted me to do, I’d do it. Like that first, dreadful dare.

Years later, Lizzie has tried to move on. She’s engaged to a wonderful man and is starting a new life in London. But someone from her past isn’t willing to forgive and forget. And they’ll do anything to pry answers from her. Even if Lizzie doesn’t know them herself.


The Dare by Lesley Kara is a suspenseful mystery that seamlessly weaves back and forth in time.

As a child, Lizzie Molyneux is socially awkward and a bit of an outcast because of her epilepsy. She is befriended by Alice Dawson and the two are soon inseparable.  As they enter their teen years, they have a few serious arguments, but they always make up. One day while they taking a walk, a fight erupts between them. As they near a railroad crossing, Lizzie has an epileptic seizure and Alice is struck by a train. Although Alice’s death is ruled an accident, Lizzie cannot let go of her guilt over her friend’s death.

Twelve years later, Lizzie is now engaged to Dr. Ross Murray and they are planning their wedding. Her epilepsy is now well-controlled but she still struggles to fit in. Getting settled into her new home, she is finishing unpacking where she discovers childhood items that bring those long-ago memories of Alice, their friendship and her death coming rushing back. Lizzie still cannot recall exactly what happened to Alice that day by the train tracks.  Already a little frightened by eerie  phone calls and other unsettling occurrences, Lizzie is stunned when her present collides with her past.

The Dare is a clever mystery with a fast-moving storyline. Lizzie is a sympathetic character that is very likable. Her relationship with Ross is quite happy as they plan their future together.  Lizzie has yet to make friends and she is a little lonely. A little vulnerable, Lizzie decides to trust a newcomer but will she regret her decision? With spine-tingling twists and shocking turns,  Lesley Kara brings this engrossing mystery to a jaw-dropping conclusion.

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Filed under Ballantine Books, Contemporary, Lesley Kara, Mystery, Rated B+, Review, Suspense, The Dare

Review: The Sinful Lives of Trophy Wives by Kristin Miller

Title: The Sinful Lives of Trophy Wives by Kristin Miller
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Genre: Contemporary, Mystery
Length:288 pages
Book Rating: B+

Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley


Meet the trophy wives of Presidio Terrace, San Francisco’s most exclusive—and most deadly—neighborhood in this shrewd, darkly compelling novel from the New York Times bestselling author of In Her Shadow.

Mystery writer Brooke Davies is the new wife on the block. Her tech-billionaire husband, Jack, twenty-two years her senior, whisked her to the Bay Area via private jet and purchased a modest mansion on the same day. He demands perfection, and before now, Brooke has had no problem playing the role of a doting housewife. But as she befriends other wives on the street and spends considerable time away from Jack, he worries if he doesn’t control Brooke’s every move, she will reveal the truth behind their “perfect” marriage.

Erin King, famed news anchor and chair of the community board, is no stranger to maintaining an image—though being married to a plastic surgeon helps. But the skyrocketing success of her career has worn her love life thin, and her professional ambitions have pushed Mason away. Quitting her job is a Hail Mary attempt at keeping him interested, to steer him away from finding a young trophy wife. But is it enough, and is Mason truly the man she thought he was?

Georgia St. Claire allegedly cashed in on the deaths of her first two husbands, earning her the nickname “Black Widow”—and the stares and whispers of her curious neighbors. Rumored to have murdered both men for their fortunes, she claims to have found true love in her third marriage, yet her mysterious, captivating allure keeps everyone guessing. Then a tragic accident forces the residents of Presidio Terrace to ask: Has Georgia struck again? And what is she really capable of doing to protect her secrets?


The Sinful Lives of Trophy Wives by Kristin Miller is an entertaining mystery that takes place in an exclusive neighborhood for wealthy San Franciscans.

Brooke and Jack Davies have recently moved to San Francisco so he can be closer to the tech industry. Brooke is a mystery writer who becomes fast friends with neighbors, news anchor Erin King and soon to be married Georgia St. Claire. Brooke’s latest book is due soon and she is struggling with writer’s block. Erin takes one look at Brooke’s life and decides that maybe her husband Mason would appreciate it if she were home more often. Georgia is living under a cloud of suspicion because her first two husbands met rather untimely deaths. These three very disparate women become fast friends who band together to support and help one of their own during a time of crisis.

With Georgia and her fiancé Robert Donnelly’s wedding just days away, she is surprisingly calm and in control. Their last party before their wedding is a mutual bachelor/bachelorette soirée on Robert’s yacht. Erin and Brooke practically have to drag their husbands to the party and the men are eager to escape when the evening sail is finished. Georgia invites Brooke and Erin to stay overnight on the yacht with her and Robert and both women happily accept. By the next morning, Georgia is frantic with worry about Robert and the next few days are filled with tension and concern. By Georgia’s wedding day, shocking secrets are revealed as they anxiously wait for the investigation to yield results.

The Sinful Lives of Trophy Wives is an enjoyable mystery with unexpected twists and turns. Although the chapters alternate between the three women’s points of view, Brooke is the best developed character. She and Georgia are easier to like than Erin who is a little shallow. The storyline is engaging and well-written.  Kristin Miller brings this clever mystery to a surprising conclusion.

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