By Heidi Simmons

An another year gone and it’s time to pick my book review “favorites.” It is always fun to look over the past 12 months and see the books I read and those that left a lasting impression.  There are so many wonderful books and each has its merits, so it’s never an easy task to choose faves.

Fiction or nonfiction, I try to find the book’s heart and soul, its significance and meaning –– and share it with you.

Here is a list of  books I read in 2018 that most resonated with me and why. 



Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann

In the 1920s, the Osage Indians were some of the wealthiest people in the world.  After being relocated to Oklahoma, oil was discovered and the Osage owned the mineral rights!

The book explores at least 24 murders surrounding one Osage family and the investigation to uncover the killers. 

This history of the native people and the beginning of the FBI is gripping.

The Real Lolita by Sarah Weinman

The author introduces the reader to Sally Horner, an 11-year-old girl, kidnapped and taken across the country by an opportunistic child molester and pedophile. 

Weinman makes a case that the character of Lolita, in the seminal work by Vladimir Nabokov with the same title, was taken from the Sally Horner incident.  Nabokov denied Horner’s story had any connection to his book Lolita.

I was especially intrigued by the story of Nabokov, his family and writing process. Horner’s story and its connection – true or not – to Lolita is a great conversation to have with friends or Nabokov readers.  It also puts a real face to an innocent girl.

Daughters Betrayed by Their Mothers by Holli Kenley

Therapist, psychologist and educator, Kenley conducts a study that features seven women who have been betrayed by their mothers.  The author shares her own story to better understand and explore the impact and long-term damage bad mothers have on their daughters.  Of all the participating women, only two chose to have kids.

The interviews are insightful, revealing, powerful and healing.  Kenley now has a private practice in Rancho Mirage.


White Chrysanthemum by Mary Lynn Bracht

My librarian friends at the Rancho Mirage Library recommended this book and it was my favorite fiction read this year.  This compelling, well-written story revealed a shocking history I new nothing about.

The story is about a young Korean girl taken from her family and island home by Japanese soldiers in 1943 and turned into a “comfort woman” or sex slave.  This is wonderful historical fiction that immerses the reader in another world, culture and time.

Beautiful Exiles by Meg Waite Clayton

This is a fictional story based on the real life character Martha Ellis Gellhorn, war correspondent, author, and third wife of Ernest Hemingway. Author Clayton has Gellhorn tell her own story and it is an engaging ride.

I really appreciated dropping into the lives of these accomplished writers and getting a glimpse at the challenges and discipline of creating lasting work.  There were wonderful surprises and insights into Hemingway as writer, father and partner.  Gellhorn was an incredibly brave, strong and talented woman.

Blown by Mark Haskell Smith

The story is about a Wall Street savant, LeBlanc, who absconds with a bunch of cash – 17 million — for all the right reasons.  Loathing the greed, dishonest games, and service to the one percent, he hopes to sail into the sunset and leave the crooks scrambling to explain.  Unfortunately for our hero, they send out the big dogs to get their money back.

With all that money at stake, everyone wants a piece and nothing goes right or as planned.  

Smith does a great job making reading not only interesting but loads of fun.  If you haven’t picked up a book in awhile, start with any one of Smith’s novels.  He will inform and entertain you before you know it.


You Are a Badass by Jen Sincero

If you need a boost to better understand your own crazy reality, Sincero gives you lots of good advice.  “You are awesome” is her theme and she backs it up with good ideas and ways to rethink your path. 

I liked Sincero’s badass book more than Unfuck Yourself by Gary John Bishop which seemed directed at millennials.  Sincero speaks to everyone in plain and simple ways that make sense so positive change can be put into action.


The Largesse of the Sea Maiden by Denis Johnson 

This book was published posthumously, which makes the five short first-person narrated stories even more poignant.

Johnson writes these tales with the honest and blatant reality that death is inevitable and an important part of our own narrative.  It is impossible to run away or hide from death.

These stories share death as perfectly natural.   Death is not to be feared nor is it a mystery.   Death is far less bizarre than the lives we live.   Thank you, Denis Johnson, RIP. 

Thank you dear readers for sharing your favorite books, providing me with suggestions and letting me know if I got a review right or not. 

I want to be sure to thank CVW publisher Tracy Dietlin who is an amazing human being.  She is the smartest and hardest workingwoman I know, and because of her and this paper, I am allowed to celebrate books and share the joy of reading with you dear reader. 

As a publisher and editor, Dietlin gets how important reading is.  She understands the pleasure of sitting down with a print copy and being swept away by a narrative. 

Dietlin is to be commended and celebrated for believing in readers and quality content.

May your New Year be filled with wonderful books!

(To read the complete reviews go to under Columns heading Book Reviews.)