Book Review (ARC) ~ DON’T CALL IT A CULT

Don’t Call It A Cult: The Shocking Story of Keith Raniere and the Women of NXIVM

by Sarah Berman

They draw you in with the promise of empowerment, self-discovery, women helping women. The more secretive those connections are, the more exclusive you feel. Little did you know, you just joined a cult.

Sex trafficking. Self-help coaching. Forced labor. Mentorship. Multi-level marketing. Gaslighting. Investigative journalist Sarah Berman explores the shocking practices of NXIVM, a cult run by Keith Raniere and many enablers. Through the accounts of central NXIVM figures, Berman uncovers how dozens of women seeking creative coaching and networking opportunities instead were blackmailed, literally branded, near-starved, and enslaved. Don’t Call It a Cult is a riveting account of NXIVM’s rise to power, its ability to evade prosecution for decades, and the investigation that finally revealed its dark secrets to the world.

My thoughts: This book turned out to be very thorough on the subject, which has been bouncing around the news for quite a few years now. It seemed that no matter how much I tried to ignore it at first, it still managed to capture my attention with the more and more bizarre stories that kept coming out. I thought I knew quite a bit for an interested reader, but I found that there was much more to it as I got further into it.

I think most are fairly familiar with the Executive Success Program, which later became NXIUM. When stories started coming out at long last, they were almost afraid to go after the story too hard and make them angry because of the money and power that had been amassed. They were known for suing those who didn’t please them, or running a campaign of harassment. But the more that was found out and then confirmed, about rumors of cult-like behaviors behind the secrecy, and worse, drove it to become a huge story. After a couple of insiders left the group and compared notes, it became clear that there was a serious problem.

For anyone with an interest in this group and what happened, this is an excellent source of information to learn about it. It’s amazing, the amount of details that seemed to have come out at the trial, and all of the craziness that was going on. Advance electronic review copy was provided by NetGalley, author Sarah Berman, and the publisher.

Don’t Call It A Cult

Publisher: Steerforth – 336 pages
Publication: Apr 20th, 2021
My rating: 5/5 STARS

About the author– SARAH BERMAN is an investigative journalist based in Vancouver covering crime, drugs, cults, politics, and culture. She is a former senior editor at VICE and past contributor to Adbusters, Maclean’s, The Globe and Mail, the Vancouver Sun and other publications. 

Book Review (ARC) ~ AT ANY COST

At Any Cost: A Father’s Betrayal, A Mother’s Murder, and a Ten-Year War for Justice

by Rebecca Rosenberg; Selim Algar

At Any Cost unravels the twisted story of Rod Covlin, whose unrepentant greed drove him to an unspeakable act of murder and betrayal that rocked New York City.

Wealthy, beautiful, and brilliant, Shele Danishefsky had fulfillment at her fingertips. Having conquered Wall Street, she was eager to build a family with her much younger husband, promising Ivy League graduate Rod Covlin. But when his hidden vices surfaced, marital harmony gave way to a merciless divorce. Rod had long depended on Shele’s income to fund his tastes for high stakes backgammon and infidelity–and she finally vowed to sever him from her will. In late December 2009, Shele made an appointment with her lawyer to block him from her millions. She would never make it to that meeting.

Two days later, on New Year’s Eve, Shele was found dead in the bathtub of her Upper West Side apartment. Police ruled it an accident, and Shele’s deeply Orthodox Jewish family quickly buried her without an autopsy on religious grounds. Rod had a clear path to his ex-wife’s fortune, but suspicions about her death lingered. As the two families warred over custody of Shele’s children—and their inheritance— Rod concocted a series of increasingly demented schemes, even plotting to kill his own parents, to secure the treasure. And as investigators closed in, Rod committed a final, desperate act to frame his own daughter for her mother’s death.

Journalists Rebecca Rosenberg and Selim Algar reconstruct the ten years that passed between the day Shele was found dead and the day her killer faced justice in this riveting account of how one man’s irrepressible greed devolved into obsession, manipulation, and murder.

My thoughts: I wasn’t sure what to expect on this one, but I came away more than pleased with the result. Once I got into the basic story that makes up this case, I was hooked and couldn’t put the book down. I stayed up all night inhaling this incredible story of a murder in New York of a mother of two. This is so worth the time to read, I’m still absorbing the ending. It’s books like this that I read true crime for. Written well, and sharing the entire experience from start to finish with so much amazing detail. Advance electronic review copy was provided by NetGalley, authors Rebecca Rosenberg; Selim Algar, and the publisher.

At Any Cost

Publisher: St. Martin’s Press – 304 pages
Publication: Apr 6th, 2021
My rating: 5/5 STARS

About the author– REBECCA ROSENBERG received her master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University. A staff reporter at the New York Post, she currently covers Manhattan Supreme Court. She has been a featured journalist on NBC’s “Dateline,” CBS’s “48 Hours,” the Discovery Channel, and ABC’s “20/20.”

SELIM ALGAR graduated from U.C. Berkeley and the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He has been a staff reporter at the New York Post since 2005 and covers the New York City Department of Education. His work has appeared in the New York Times, New York Magazine, The San Francisco Examiner, The Austin-American Statesman and

Book Review (ARC) ~ MOMMY CUSSES

Mommy Cusses: Inspiring Profanity and Stimulating Sarcasm for Mamas Who’ve Seen It All

by Serena Dorman

For fans of Go the F*ck to Sleep, Mommy Cusses is a hilarious novelty parenting book full of tell-it-like-it-is quotes, snarky lists, and too-true anecdotes that will resonate with new moms everywhere.

For new-ish mothers who need to laugh at the absurdity of parenting so they don’t cry, who are looking for a we’re-in-this-together sense of solidarity, and who don’t have time to read a “real” book, here is a hilarious and highly relatable collection of mom malarkey. There are real-talk quotes, helpful lists (such as “How to Look Like You Have Your Act Together”), “mom-tivities,” and quizzes, all delivered with a healthy dose of sarcasm. Packaged in a handy trim size with colorful illustrations throughout, Mommy Cusses is the perfect gift for moms and moms-to-be who need some comic relief.

My thoughts: Ok, for those of you out there wondering if this book is worth bothering with…I certainly felt that way reading it. It’s been more than a few moons since I was a young mom dealing with all of the little kid stuff, but I certainly haven’t forgotten how it felt at the time. This book turned out to be so funny and irreverent, with just the right amount of cuss words thrown in to keep it legit. Where was this book when I was dealing with all that stuff back then? This would have helped, for sure. And it would make a fun gift for a friend who is still going through those years. Most of the time I find that so called humor books turn out to not be all that funny when I actually read them. But this one cracked me up, and sarcasm is my favorite, so it really is a winner in my eyes. It’s very creative with it’s views on childhood and parenting. Advance electronic review copy was provided by NetGalley, author Serena Dorman, and the publisher.

Mommy Cusses

Publisher: Chronicle Books – 112 pages
Publication: Apr 6th, 2021
My rating: 4/5 STARS

About the author– Serena Dorman is a writer, popular digital content creator, humorist, and the sweary author of the blog Mommy Cusses. She is a contributor at Scary Mommy and Sammiches & Psych Meds, and has had her writing featured on many major parenting websites. She resides in Washington state with her husband and two children.

IIlustrator: Paige Vicker


Three Dreamers: A Memoir of Family

by Lorenzo Carcaterra

The #1 New York Times bestselling author of Sleepers offers a heartfelt homage to the women who taught him courage, kindness, and the power of storytelling: his mother, his grandmother, and his late wife.

At sixty-six, Lorenzo Carcaterra finds it easier to reflect on the past than ruminate on the future. “By the time you reach my age,” he writes, “you have witnessed too much loss to not be aware of what lies ahead.” This turn to the past inspired a poignant memoir about the women who made him the man he is today.

His Italian grandmother, Nonna Maria, gave him his first taste of a loving home during the summers he spent with her as a teenager on Ischia, an island off the coast of Naples. With her kindness, her humor, and the same formidable strength she employed to make secret trips for food when the Nazis occupied Ischia during World War II, she instilled in him the importance of community, providing shelter for a boy whose home life was difficult.

His mother, Raffaela, dealt with daily hardships: a loveless and abusive marriage, the burden of debt, and a life of dread. Though the lessons she taught were harsh, they would drive Lorenzo from the world they shared to the better one she always prayed he would find.

The third woman is his wife, Susan, a gifted editor and his professional champion. Their marriage lasted three decades before her death from lung cancer in 2013. While their upbringings were wildly different, their love and friendship never wavered—and neither did her faith in Lorenzo’s talent and potential as a writer.

Standing with his children near Nonna Maria’s grave on a recent trip to Ischia, Lorenzo realized how much of his life has been shaped by the women who taught him how to look for joy and overcome sorrow. This book is his tribute to them.

My thoughts: What a beautiful story as Lorenzo Carcaterra honors the loving women in his life with this memoir. I never realized what a life he had very early growing up in New York City. It was so enjoyable learning about the 7 years that he spent summers back in Ischia, Italy getting to know and learn all about his Nonna Maria. As he gradually discovers her heroic deeds during the war, through stories told by people on the island, a huge respect grows for this fabulous lady. She would never be so bold as to talk about herself, she prefers to remain quiet, calmly sipping her espresso, strong, with lots of sugar.

The next woman is his mother, Raffaella. He’s much more familiar with her life, since he grew up in it and suffered along with her. His father became their common enemy as he made their life a long, slow, living hell. Which is why Raffaella sought to send Lorenzo off to Ischia for summers in his teens, so he could see a different kind of life. To find for himself that things are not all misery and debt. And the third woman is Lorenzo’s wife Susan, who stayed by his side and believed in him and his talent. If you enjoy memoirs, and this author’s work, you might want to check this book out. I’m glad I did. I’d begun to forget how good a writer he is. Advance electronic review copy was provided by NetGalley, author Lorenzo Carcaterra, and the publisher.

Three Dreamers

Publisher: Ballantine Books – 240 pages
Published: Apr 27th, 2021
My rating: 4/5 STARS

About the author– Lorenzo Carcaterra is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of A Safe Place,  Sleepers,  Apaches,  Gangster,  Street Boys,  Paradise City,  Chasers,  Midnight Angels, The Wolf, Tin Badges, and Payback. He is a former writer/producer for Law & Order and has written for National Geographic Traveler, The New York Times Magazine, Details, and Maxim. He lives in New York City and is at work on his next novel.

Book Review (ARC) ~ AUTOPSY

Autopsy: Life in the trenches with a forensic pathologist in Africa

by Ryan Blumenthal

As a medical detective of the modern world, forensic pathologist Ryan Blumenthal’s chief goal is to bring perpetrators to justice. He has performed thousands of autopsies, which have helped bring numerous criminals to book.

In Autopsy he covers the hard lessons learnt as a rookie pathologist, as well as some of the most unusual cases he’s encountered. During his career, for example, he has dealt with high-profile deaths, mass disasters, death by lightning and people killed by African wildlife.

Blumenthal takes the reader behind the scenes at the mortuary, describing a typical autopsy and the instruments of the trade. He also shares a few trade secrets, like how to establish when a suicide is more likely to be a homicide.

Even though they cannot speak, the dead have a lot to say – and Blumenthal is there to listen.

My thoughts: I often find these kinds of books fascinating, where people who do autopsies share some of their more strange or famous cases. I can think of at least 2 TV shows about a similar subject, one where the lead was a male, and one where the lead was a female. I was a fan of both shows. Being curious about death is pretty natural, I believe. This book, by Ryan Blumenthal discusses cases in Africa, which makes it unique from the start. There are a certain number of people killed by large wildlife, insects, lightening, even malaria. There are a wide array of deaths, related by the author in an interesting manner from his early years of his time at that profession. A read on the shorter side for those who are interested in this sort of medicolegal mystery. Advance electronic review copy was provided by NetGalley, author Ryan Blumenthal, and the publisher.


Publisher: Jonathan Ball Publishers – 159 pages
Publication: Apr 13th, 2021
My rating: 4/5 STARS

About the author– Senior specialist forensic pathologist and associate professor at the University of Pretoria’s Department of Forensic Medicine. His chief field of interest is the pathology of trauma of lightning (keraunopathology). He has been involved in the publication of numerous articles and textbooks on lightning and electrothermal injuries and has helped generate both national- and international standard operating procedures and guidelines for lightning strike fatality and electrocution victims.


A Special Place in Hell: The World’s Most Depraved Serial Killers

by Christopher Berry-Dee

Sunday Times bestselling author Christopher Berry-Dee is the man who talks to serial killers. A world-renowned investigative criminologist, he has gained the trust of murderers across the world, entered their high security prisons, and discussed in detail their shocking crimes.

The killers’ pursuit of horror and violence is described through the unique audiotape and videotape interviews which Berry-Dee conducted, deep inside the bowels of some of the world’s toughest prisons.

Christopher Berry-Dee has collated these interviews into this astounding, disturbing book. Not only does he describe his meetings with some of the world’s most evil men and women, he also reproduces, verbatim, their very words as they describe their crimes, allowing the reader a glimpse into the inner workings of the people who have committed the worst crime possible – to mercilessly take the life of another human being.

My thoughts: I had gotten burned out on these compilations at one time a while back and have been giving them a pass. But this one caught my eye, along with this writer, who I am unfamiliar with. So I thought I would check it out and give it a chance. Apparently Berry-Dee has interviewed quite a number of serial killers in prisons far and wide, and has his own take on them after doing so extensively.

I did enjoy Berry-Dee’s stories of going into prisons and meeting with various serial killers to interview them for different reasons. He has an interesting way of interacting with them, at times being a bit snarky in his attitude, which kept things a little amusing, despite the subject matter. He interviews a surprising array of killers, from the more common to the less common. A good read, overall. Advance electronic review copy was provided by NetGalley, author Christopher Berry-Dee, and the publisher.

A Special Place in Hell

Publisher: Ad Lib Publishers – 207 pages
Publication: March 4th, 2021
My rating: 4/5 STARS

About the author– A noted writer and criminologist, Christopher Berry-Dee’s recent books include Talking With Psychopaths and Savages, the UK’s bestselling true-crime title of 2017, and Talking With Female Serial Killers.

You can visit his official website here:


Lawbreaking Ladies: 50 Tales of Daring, Defiant, and Dangerous Women from History

by Erika Owen

Discover 50 fascinating tales of female pirates, fraudsters, gamblers, bootleggers, serial killers, madams, and outlaws in this illustrated book of lawbreaking and legendary women throughout the ages.

Many of us are familiar with the popular slogan “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” But that adage is taken to the next level in this book, which looks at women from the past who weren’t afraid to break the law or challenge gender norms. From pirates to madams, gamblers to bootleggers, and serial killers to outlaws, women throughout the ages haven’t always decided to be sugar, spice, and everything nice.

In Lawbreaking Ladies, author Erika Owen tells the stories of 50 remarkable women whose rebellious and often criminal acts ought to solidify their place in history, including :

  • The swashbuckling pirate Ching Shih
  • “Queen of the Bootleggers” Gloria de Casares
  • The Prohibition-era gangster Stephanie Saint-Clair
  • And a band of prisoners who came to be known as the Goree Girls

The perfect gift for true crime fans and lovers of little-known women’s history, Lawbreaking Ladies serves as an engaging and informative guide to gals who were daring, defiant, and sometimes downright dangerous.

My thoughts: This is kind of a change of pace, reading about women from history who made it in a man’s world by taking up a life of crime. I’ve read a few of this type of book, but I’m not familiar with this author. She writes this collection of stories about 50 women who made a living through crime, beginning back in about the 1500s, to the mid 1900s. Some are the more popularly known, my favorites are some of the little or unknowns. I read these type of books to learn about new people in crime from history that I’ve not read about before. Or, at least have forgotten about until I get my memory refreshed, which sometimes happens. These women are split into categories, which are: Pirates; Gamblers; Bootleggers; Serial Killers; Madams; Outlaws, Gunslingers & Bandits; and lastly, Fraudsters, lots to enjoy here.

I found a few favorites among the new ones to me, as I’m sure you may too. This was quite an enjoyable read for me, I’d go through a few at a time, depending on the length, in between binge watching true crime on the new Discovery+ channel. I’ve been having a great time with that, especially the no commercials version. I’m still on my free week trial. The 50 women made a perfect breaktime read. Advance electronic review copy was provided by NetGalley, author Erika Owen, and the publisher.

Lawbreaking Ladies

Publisher: Tiller Press – 208 pages
Publication: March 16th, 2021
My rating: 3.5/5 STARS

About the Author– Erika Owen is a Brooklyn-based travel writer, editor, and content strategist. Her work has previously been published in Travel + Leisure, Departures, and Vogue. You can also find her work online at GQ, Martha Stewart Living, Bustle, Rachael Ray Magazine, and more.

Book Review ~ KEEPING ON

Keeping On: How I Came to Know Why I Was Born

by Gemma Hoskins

Fifty years ago, beloved teacher Sister Catherine Cesnik was the victim of a brutal unsolved murder. Ever since then, her students, colleagues, friends, and family have all been asking the same question: who killed Sister Cathy? Gemma Hoskins is one of Sister Cathy’s formers students. She appeared on The Keepers, the 2017 Emmy-nominated Netflix docuseries that had the world also wondering what happened to Sister Cathy. Gemma has been both deeply inspired and haunted by Sister Cathy’s life and death, leading her to decide to make her life’s purpose to uncover what really happened that November night in 1969.

In Keeping On, Gemma takes readers on a journey of her life, from her time as Sister Cathy’s student at Archbishop Keough High School through present day. She reflects upon the things that have shaped her, including her personal experience as a teacher, grassroots investigator, and fierce advocate for truth and justice. Gemma openly continues the search for the truth behind Sister Cathy’s murder, but also reflects upon how Sister Cathy’s life profoundly impacted those who knew and loved her.

My thoughts: This book, written by Gemma Hoskins, eases its way into the story of her former teacher, Sister Catherine Cesnik, who was killed back in November, 1969. Even though many years have passed since then, it remains an important issue to Gemma and as she learns, to others, to find out who is responsible for her death, and what really happened. The more that questions are raised about this, people begin coming forward about it, and it eventually opens the door onto other crimes. Was Sister Cathy becoming aware of crimes going on around her and threatening to blow the whistle? Was that why she was killed? Those who like true crime and mystery books may want to check this out. Advance electronic review copy was provided by NetGalley, author Gemma Hoskins, and the publisher.

Keeping On

Publisher: Mascot Books – 249 pages
Publication: Nov 3rd, 2020
My rating: 4/5 STARS


Almost Innocent: From Searching to Saved in America’s Criminal Justice System

by Shanti Brien

Shanti Brien was a practicing lawyer and a recovering NFL wife when the Department of Justice began a criminal investigation of her husband’s company. This collision of her personal and professional lives altered her view of the system she’d dedicated her life to and frames Almost Innocent, an insightful examination of the broader criminal justice system.

Detailing the stories of nine of Brien’s clients, from the obviously guilty to the surprisingly innocent, Almost Innocent candidly describes how each of Brien’s clients journeyed through the messy and tragic criminal system and touched Brien’s life, saving her from stupid mistakes, strengthening a football-ravaged marriage, and teaching her about humility, redemption, and humanity.

Almost Innocent walks the line between memoir and political commentary, crafting an intimate portrait of the criminal justice system and offering suggestions for what it could be: more fair, more humane, and more just.

My thoughts: This is Shanti Brien’s experience in the criminal justice system that she experienced beginning first as a law student, on through becoming more experienced as she became a full-fledged practicing attorney. She was also the wife of an NFL player and businessman, and eventually a mother to three children. The book recounts some of her more fascinating cases and how she dealt with them while juggling being a wife and mother, and many relocations. I found the criminal justice aspects really riveting as she kept getting such awful cases and worked so hard to try and help them somehow. These are horror stories of young people being sentenced to one or more life sentences, either wrongly, or for seemingly minor offenses. There’s just something off about each one that really requires looking into. I really enjoyed her book, sharing about her career, family, and insights. Advance electronic review copy was provided by NetGalley, author Shanti Brien, and the publisher.

Almost Innocent

Publisher: Amplify Publishing – 203 pages
Publication: March 2nd, 2021
My rating: 5/5 STARS

About the author– Shanti Brien has a Bachelor’s degree in Ethnic Studies from UC Berkeley and a JD from Stanford Law School. She is an accomplished criminal defense attorney, with a specialty in appeals and post-conviction proceedings. She is co-Founder of Fogbreak Justice, an education and consulting company with the mission to transform the criminal justice system through experiences which reduce bias, promote fairness, build community trust, and create equity. Shanti writes about criminal justice and other social justice issues on Medium @shantibrightbrien. She co-authored June Jordan’s Poetry for the People: A Revolutionary Blueprint (Routledge, 1995); and contributed to The Road to Independence: 101 Women’s Journeys to Starting Their Own Law Firms (American Bar Association, 2011) and Lose the Cape: The Mom’s Guide to Becoming Socially and Politically Engaged (Kat Biggie Press, 2018). She lives in the East Bay with her husband and three kids.

Book Review (ARC) ~ BUGSY SIEGEL

Bugsy Siegel: The Dark Side of the American Dream

by Michael Shnayerson

In a brief life that led to a violent end, Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel (1906-1947) rose from desperate poverty to ill-gotten riches, from an early-twentieth-century family of Ukrainian Jewish immigrants on the Lower East Side to a kingdom of his own making in Las Vegas. In this captivating portrait, author Michael Shnayerson sets out not to absolve Bugsy Siegel but rather to understand him in all his complexity. Through the 1920s, 1930s, and most of the 1940s, Bugsy Siegel and his longtime partner in crime Meyer Lansky engaged in innumerable acts of violence. As World War II came to an end, Siegel saw the potential for a huge, elegant casino resort in the sands of Las Vegas. Jewish gangsters built nearly all of the Vegas casinos that followed. Then, one by one, they disappeared. Siegel’s story laces through a larger, generational story of eastern European Jewish immigrants in the early- to mid-twentieth century.

My thoughts: I got this as an audio book to give my eyes a rest, as I’m really having trouble with them. I very much enjoyed listening to this look at the life of Benjamin “Bugsy” Siegel, as I really hadn’t known a lot about him beyond the casino and his gruesome end. It’s a good dive into his life as a Jewish gangster who had to really work his way up from nothing, and became fairly powerful in his own right. He was always just a bit full of himself, and I think it came back to bite him later on. He felt he was invincible and it turned out that he was not. The description of his final evening after he gets home becomes quite graphic and beyond. Overall, it was a good experience, I enjoyed the narrator’s voice and the book was good. Advance electronic review copy was provided by NetGalley, author Michael Shnayerson, and the publisher.

Publisher: Tantor Audio, Unabridged edition
Publication: Feb 9th, 2021
My rating: 4/5 STARS
Format: Audio CD
Narrated by Steven Jay Cohen
Time: 7 hours 12 minutes

Bugsy Siegel

About the author
Michael Shnayerson became a contributing editor at Vanity Fair in 1986 and is the author of eight books on a range of nonfiction subjects, including Boom: Mad Money, Mega Dealers, and the Rise of Contemporary Art. He lives in New York City.

Steven Jay Cohen has been telling stories his whole life, and has worked professionally as a storyteller since 1991. A classically trained actor, he has worked both on stage and behind the microphone for most of his career. Born and raised in Brooklyn, Steven now resides in scenic western Massachusetts.