Win By Two is the true story about a Kansas City drug dealer and a private school teacher, bonded together through basketball. This is a powerful story about race, leadership, and what can happen when people get outside of their comfort zones and build bridges in their community. It also challenges our internal biases that we may not even know exist.
As a former Division 1 basketball player at Marquette University and current ecommerce executive, I’m always looking for new sources of inspiration. Please enjoy my list and send me any comments on what you find inspiring!
Walk-On Warrior: Drive, Discipline, and the Will to Win
What is my book about?
A basketball journey like no other. The incredible first-hand account of a college season at Marquette, a summer with Hall of Fame coach, Rick Majerus, and a court-side seat with the NBA's Milwaukee Bucks.
Small town. Undersized. Not enough talent. John Willkom heard it all as a young basketball player growing up in rural Wisconsin. Despite the odds, John dedicated his life to the game, an arduous journey that challenged the very core of even the most disciplined. As John’s hard work lands him amongst basketball’s elite, it is the workouts, the people, and the behind-the-scenes interactions that not only change his skill set but how he lives his life. Both heartfelt and funny, Walk-On Warrior takes you into the mind of an athlete from John’s perspective. Take a journey that will reignite your passion for life, challenge your perspectives on toughness and fear, and ultimately, inspire you to maximize your talent.
Lois Ruby is a YA veteran who has more than 20 books to her name, many of them historical fiction, including the beloved Steal Away Home, which appeared on basically every year-end best list back in 1994. She also happens to be my mom. And her latest book, which takes place during the “red scare” of the 1950s, is among her best. It’s a tense story about a baseball-crazy 13-year-old boy whose parents are accused of being communist sympathizers, turning his life upside down when he’s supposed to be studying for his bar mitzvah. The clock-ticking backdrop, leading up to the notorious execution of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg for supposedly passing on nuclear secrets to the Soviets, gives the whole book terrifyingly high stakes.
I’ve spent pretty much my entire adult life as a journalist, a dining critic, or a humor columnist. But over the past ten years, my reading choices have been influenced less by, say, The New Yorker, than by my daughter, Hannah. As she grew from Knuffle Bunny to Junie B. Jones to Judy Moody, so did I. And when she began reading middle-grade novels, I did too. Then I began writing them. There is something amazing about the endless possibilities of a kid’s imagination before they get cynical and start to care about things like being cool that makes middle-grade the sweet spot for ideas. It’s like Hannah came along and recalibrated my brain—for reading and writing alike.
Penelope March Is Melting
Jeffrey Michael Ruby,
What is my book about?
Something sinister has come to Glacier Cove, an icy-cold town on top of an iceberg. And the only person who seems to notice is a 12-year-old bookworm named Penelope March. When Penelope meets a mysterious man in an ice house who seems to know terrifying secrets—not only about Glacier Cove but about Penelope herself—she is pulled into an ancient mystery and a confrontation with the coldest, cruelest enemy ever known. It’s an offbeat, imaginative adventure story full of horror, humor, and heart, with a razor-sharp female protagonist and a supporting cast of fearsome and lovable characters. Also, magic cookies, volcanoes, chainsaw art, and a submarine staffed by military penguins.
The “deep map” that Least Heat-Moon unfolds for us in this revelatory book is the history of Chase County, Kansas, home of the largest and least corrupted stand of tallgrass in America. He takes us with him—by car, on foot, and in mind—as he explores this story-rich land, its plants, animals, and the homespun people who have struggled to occupy this forbidding landscape.
In one breath, he reminds us it was the tall grasses of the African savannah that first made humankind stand up. In another, he tells us that the humans who peer across America’s tall grasses have “prairie eyes.” In “a place where you see twenty miles sitting down,” you have prairie eyes if you take in the horizon with stoic calm, knowing it can bring the deliverance of rain or the destruction of a tornado, dust storm, prairie fire (the “red buffalo”), or locusts.
I’m an author of YA fiction who spent his earlier years “wiggling dollies” (as the Brits say) in the trenches of Jim Henson’s Muppet world and then spent a decade writing children’s television of the PBS kind. After writing my first kids’ novel (Out of Patience), I never looked back. OK, I did glance back for the inspiration for a second novel…
Suck It Up
What is my book about?
While writing for a kids’ TV series, The Magic School Bus, I became amused by the level of political correctness and censorship for children. It led me to the question: “What will be the last minority to be recognized and embraced by our multicultural society?” My answer: vampires. They’re a persecuted bunch with special needs, and they suffer from the hate crime of staking.
Suck it Up is the story of a teenage boy, Morning McCobb, who’s a rather wimpy vampire; he drinks a soy-blood substitute called Blood Lite. Morning is selected as the first Undead American to come out of the casket and prove that vampires are citizen worthy. Of course, he falls in love with a mortal girl, triggering his baser instincts, and the troubles begin.
Scott Thomas was nominated for a Bram Stoker award for his spine-chilling story about four famous horror writers who are invited to spend Halloween in a haunted house as a publicity stunt, only to find themselves tormented by the unholy entity that roams its silent halls. Clearly an expert on the horror genre himself, Thomas brings a much-needed new twist to the haunted house trope and elevates it to a fearsome new level. But this novel’s real strength lies in its character development. A horror story only works if you care enough about the characters to hope (and pray) for their survival, and by the end of this one, you’ll feel like you’re clinging to old, familiar friends as they fight for their lives.
I’ve been obsessed with Halloween traditions since before I could finish my own bag of candy. In many ways, those dark and chilly childhood nights of trick or treating are what gave rise to my lifelong love of horror. Inspired by the thrill of staying up late on the one night of the year when the dead can return to earth, I have since delved deep into the ancient history and folklore of All Hallows’ Eve, much of which features prominently in my Book of Shadowsseries. I hope the books on this list help you capture the spooky magic of the season!
All Hallows Eve
What is my book about?
Alice Jacobs didn't believe in ghosts... until her daughter was taken by one.
One hundred years after the infamous Salem witch trials, a single mother races against time to rescue her daughter from the vengeful spirit of a woman hanged for witchcraft. Desperate to find her child before the sun rises and she is lost forever, Alice embarks on a spine-chilling adventure that takes her from forgotten dungeons and gloomy cemeteries to the haunted forests of Gallows Hill. Along with a roguish sailor searching for his own missing child, she battles deadly supernatural forces and uncovers a dark secret that may be the key to saving her daughter’s soul... if only she can survive the most terrifying night of her life.
The fact that the capitalist class organizations, with their use of capital strike and flight, lobbying, funding right-wing “grassroots” organizations, think tanks, media, and Chicago school intellectuals, wanted to drive economic policy in a certain direction does not inevitably lead to the conclusion that they would have succeeded in achieving these goals. Neoliberal policies could not have been implemented in even a nominal democracy without at least a modicum of support from its victims. Remarkably, large sections of the American electorate vote for and support policies that favor the very business class that has profited from their economic decline. This is the first book to describe the abandonment of the Democratic Party by less-educated Whites which had a significant effect on the American shift to the right from the 1970s onward. My co-authors and I explore this shift in up-to-date detail in our book.
Neoliberalism and I have grown up in opposition to one another over the past four decades. As a professor of economics, union, and political activist I have observed, wrote about, and resisted its effects on the life chances of the great majority of its citizens with particular focus on the United States as its primary protagonist and gatekeeper. The opposition to this transformative epoch included writing about the significant contributions of my profession to Neoliberal economics in two previous books; The Profit Doctrine: The Economists of the Neoliberal Era and Economics in the 21st Century: A Critical Perspective.
Neoliberal Lives: Work, Politics, Nature, and Health in the Contemporary United States
What is my book about?
In Neoliberal Lives we decided to write a different kind of book one which not only contained an overview of Neoliberalism but the changes that took place in the lives of Americans at work, their income and wealth share, debt levels, schools, hospitals, environment, political capacity, and perspective. After all the Business Roundtable established in the 1970s representing what some would call a more organized American oligarchy set out to change the rules the rest of us live by and were remarkably successful in what alternatively has been called the new Gilded Age. As Warren Buffet made clear “it’s class warfare and my side is winning.” We set out to examine the interconnected results.
This historical novel in verse brings the Kansas prairie alive in all its beauty and harshness. The story is tense with few light moments as young May B is stranded alone in a sod house as blizzards rage outside. She’s a realistic heroine, tempted to despair but ultimately finding hidden sources of strength. Oh, and she suffers from dyslexia. Sometimes I think novels in verse will be too artsy or literary, but they’re actually easy to read, right? Perfect for a struggling reader, perhaps one with dyslexia.
I’m a former high-school and middle-school English teacher and a current instructor in the Writing Program at Rutgers University. I live in hilly New Jersey, but I’ve always been fascinated by the flat, treeless American prairie and the people who have lived there, from the Native American tribes of the Great Plains to the early homesteaders. I believe that to understand where we are, you need to understand where we’ve been, which is why I love to read and write historical fiction.
Cabby Potts, Duchess of Dirt
What is my book about?
A sod house, a grand manor. A mystery, a matchmaking scheme. A tale of the prairie with humor and heart and a touch of romance.
Kansas, 1875. Twelve-year-old homesteader Cabby Potts is an outdoor kind of girl with an “intemperate tongue,” as her Ma puts it. When she’s forced to work as a housemaid at a grand English manor down the railroad line from her sod house, she’s desperate to escape but equally desperate to save her family’s struggling homestead. So, she plays matchmaker between her older sister and the rich young lord of the manor. When her impulsive scheme backfires, she must solve a mystery and use her voice to stand up for her family, a Native American friend, and an entire community threatened by land-grabbers.
In 2014 I went to my first Romance Writers of America Conference in New York City. On the first day, a five-author panel discussed the romance genre and read excerpts from their work in a shaded area of the park at the back of the NYC public library. One of the panelists was my favorite author, Susan Elizabeth Phillips (which is why I was at the discussion.) At the time I had never read a Beverly Jenkins book.
When I heard her speak and read an excerpt I knew I wanted to read her books. I bought the two books she had with her.
When I got back to the hotel room I was sharing with my editor and her best friend I realized the books were numbers four and five in a series. Bummer.
I wanted to start reading her right away.
I went online and bought the first—…
My real name is Susan Berger and I'm a certified bookaholic. I'm also an actor and I love my work. Being older has been very lucky for me. I wrote children’s books as Susan J Berger. COVID closed my publisher and I'm not actively submitting at the moment. I write romance as Susan B James because I didn’t want my children to have to acknowledge that their mother knew anything about sex. Falling in love and living happily ever after is an ageless state. But in romance novels heroines are mostly under thirty. I happen to be chronologically gifted myself. And many of my favorite romances feature older heroines. I think we need more.
Time and Forever
Susan B. James,
What is my book about?
Two women in their sixties time travel to 1969—London and Los Angeles. One finds an old love. One finds a new. But time travel has rules. And that's a problem...
Being in their sixties has its perks. Sherry is a successful businesswoman. Lorena’s an actress on a popular sitcom. Sherry’s husband dumped her for a younger woman eighteen years ago. Lorena’s husband died of cancer. Sherry wants a second chance at love. Lorena doesn’t think second chances are possible. She can’t imagine loving anyone but Dave. But when a glitch in a Virtual Reality Adventure game sends them back to 1969 London, “possible” takes on a whole new dimension. Are they willing to pay the price to alter their future?
Truman Capote’s groundbreaking “non-fiction novel” tells the story of the brutal 1959 murders of the Clutters, a farm family in Holcomb, Kansas, by two punk sociopaths, Dick Hickock and Perry Smith. The murders are transformed by his artistry—stark Hemingwayesque prose, seemingly detached but deeply humane—into an existential tragedy played out on the American prairie. It is, I think, the only indisputable literary masterpiece in the genre it inspired. Not incidentally, Richard Brooks’s motion picture version from 1967 is a worthy companion piece.
Long before the rest of the planet jumped on the bandwagon in the age of Netflix and Murders in the Building, I have been a true-crime buff (books, films, television miniseries, podcasts, whatever). Capote’sIn Cold Blood was the gateway drug and ever since I’ve consumed an embarrassing number of books about serial killers, hit men, parricides, homicidal pick-up artists, and spouse slayers. Like most aficionados of the genre, the crimes of embezzlement and real estate fraud hold no interest for me, unless, of course, they lead to a murder. By the way, personally, I am quite harmless. Really.
Little Lindy Is Kidnapped: How the Media Covered the Crime of the Century
What is my book about?
Little Lindy Is Kidnapped: How the Media Covered the Crime of the Centuryis the first cultural history devoted exclusively to the media coverage of the Crime of the Century—the kidnap-murder of the twenty-month-old son of Charles and Anne Lindbergh in 1932 and the trial of the accused perpetrator, Bruno Richard Hauptmann, in 1935. The Lindbergh story was a transformative moment for each lane on the information highway—the print press, the radio, and the newsreels. The responses of the three media set the patterns for the coverage of every shock wave that would rock American culture for the rest of the century and beyond.
Ryman describes himself as a fantasy writer who fell in love with realism, and there’s something of that in each of the novels I’ve chosen here. In Was he draws together three story strands and weaves from them something unique and moving around the cultural tentpole ofThe Wizard of Oz. The main strand concerns little Dorothy Gael whose harsh life inspires Baum’s fictional revision of her unhappy childhood: then there’s ‘baby Frances’ who, as Judy Garland, embodies Dorothy in screen fantasy: and Frank, a dying man for whom Garland’s movie has been a lifelong obsession and source of comfort. The connections are effortless, the story engrossing. Here’s a confession; I love this book, but I’ve never actually read or watchedThe Wizard of Oz.
They say that we begin by imitating what we love and find our personal themes in the process, and that’s certainly been true for me. I grew up reading horror and fantasy and now I write realistic fiction with something deeper and darker always throbbing under the surface. My subjects can be contemporary, like Nightmare, with Angel or The Spirit Box, but I’ve had some of my biggest critical successes with historical fiction. I’ve had parallel career paths in books and TV, each often crossing with the other, but it’s in the novels and short stories that you’ll find me uniquely invested.
The Bedlam Detective
What is my book about?
It's 1912 and Sebastian Becker, Special Investigator to the Lord Chancellor's Visitor in Lunacy, arrives in the West Country to interview Sir Owain Lancaster on his run-down country estate. Descending from his train in the coastal town of Arnmouth, Becker finds the entire community mobilised in a search for a pair of missing girls.
Sir Owain is one of only two survivors of a self-funded Amazonian expedition which saw his entire party wiped out, wife and child included. His explanation for that tragedy was a nightmarish fantasy of lost-world monsters and mythical beasts. The questions that face Sebastian: what really happened then, and how dangerous is this man now? A Kirkus 100 Best Books of the Year pick.
Angelina M. Lopez is my all-time favorite romance author. With beautiful prose and incredible wit, she always delivers on the steamy as well as the positive representation of Latina women.
After Hours on Milagro Street is her latest release featuring a fire-cracker, prickly heroine clad with tattoos and a partially-shaved head. Dead-set on saving the family bar, the only person standing in her way is an incredibly hot professor wanting to turn the bar into a historical museum.
This book has a special place in my heart because it takes place in small-town Kansas, highlighting the little-known vibrant Mexican-American communities that settled here with the railroads and have stayed for generations.
Come for the feels and history, and stay for the scorching-hot steamy scenes with the hot professor.
I write romance with Latinas on top. Strong, confident, and successful women (or women on their path to success) who are also sex-positive and know what they want are featured in all my work. I’m passionate about this type of representation of my community because until recently, it has been incredibly difficult to find. While the stories of our struggles are important stories to tell and read, I want to read more stories of our triumphs. Latina women have among the lowest reading for fun rates of any group, but why would we read for fun when we are not seeing our reflection anywhere on the page? This is why representation is so important.
What is my book about?
This slow-burn, steamy, age-gap contemporary romance is full of positive Latine(x) representation. They are both physicians and researchers. He’s her mentor and off-limits, and she will not risk her career for the sake of her heart.
The sexual tension between Dr. Hector Medina and Dr. Carolina Ramirez might melt your e-reader. Remission is a complete standalone novel in the Heartland Metro Hospital series with a guaranteed happily ever after.