Wednesday, September 9, 2015

ARC Review & Author Interview ~ The Girl Without a Name by Sandra Block

Rating: 5/5 Stars
Author: Sandra Block
Available Formats: eBook, Paperback, Audio
Publishers: Grand Central Publishing 
Publication Date: 09-08-15                Pages: 368 
Another gripping pageturner featuring psychiatrist Zoe Goldman, the protagonist from Little Black Lies.

In what passes for an ordinary day in a psych ward, Dr. Zoe Goldman is stumped when a highly unusual case arrives. A young African American girl, found wandering the streets of Buffalo in a catatonic state, is brought in by police. No one has come forward to claim her, and all leads have been exhausted, so Zoe's treatment is the last hope to discover the girl's identity.

When drugs prove ineffective and medical science seems to be failing, Zoe takes matters into her own hands to track down Jane Doe's family and piece together their checkered history. As she unearths their secrets, she finds that monsters hide where they are least expected. And now she must solve the mystery before it is too late. Because someone wants to make sure this young girl never remembers.

The Girl Without a Name is a powerful novel of memory and forgetting, of unexpected friendship and understanding...and of the secrets we protect no matter the consequences.

My So-Called Review: 
The Girl Without a Name is the second book by author Sandra Block to feature her protagonist Dr. Zoe Goldman. Her first book, Little Black Lies was a favorite spring read for me and my review can be found here. What really sets this series apart for me is Zoe’s character, not only is she a doctor working in a psych ward but she also suffers from some pretty extreme ADHD that is dealt with realistically and with a touch of humor and I love that! Needless to say, when this second book in the series became available on NetGalley I was extremely excited and immediately snatched it up!

In The Girl Without a Name we find Dr. Zoe Goldman is now a resident in the psychiatry department of the Children’s Hospital in Buffalo. When a 13 year old African-American girl is picked up while wandering the streets, clearly distressed and in need of help, she’s admitted to the psych ward under Zoe’s care. The young “Jane Doe” is in a catatonic state and clearly doesn’t remember what happened to her or where she came from. That feeling of having no history, no past and no identity is what causes Zoe to connect with her on a deeper level. These themes of lost identity play into what Zoe experienced during the first novel and now she wants nothing more than to help her young patient regain her memories and find her family.

The psych ward is overseen by the very good looking and charismatic Dr. Tad Berringer who seems to be a little overly friendly with his colleagues despite the fact that he’s married. He and Zoe make a realistic treatment plan for Jane but initially no combination of medication will bring her around. So naturally Zoe takes matters into her own hands and, with the help of her computer whiz brother, begins her own investigation of sorts. She starts with a missing children’s website but soon she’s tracking down leads and possible clues to sleuth out the truth of where Jane came from and why no one seems to be looking for her. I’d rather not say anything further about the plot or story-line as to do so would potentially give spoilers. But I will say that once Zoe starts her investigation she takes us on a wild ride of plot twists, red herrings, and OMG moments!

In The Girl Without a Name we find that Zoe is currently on probation and one of her terms is that she must meet weekly with a psychiatrist and get her medications under control. Outside of the main plot-line these scenes were definitely my favorite. I loved the casual, yet professional banter they maintained with each other and I do hope we see more of her psychiatrist in the future. I also enjoyed that we had several (not all) of my favorite characters return for this sequel, it was great to be able to catch up with them. Zoe is quickly becoming my new bookland BFF :) I relate very much to her over-active thought process, OCD tendencies and her views on life, but it’s her tenacious spirit and ability to kind of laugh at herself that has me wanting to spend a girls weekend with her!

The only thing that truly disappointed me about this book was to find out that Zoe won’t be returning so soon :( I understand she’ll be making a small appearance in Sandra Block's next novel which centers on Detective Adams (very intrigued by this!) so I guess that’s a small consolation prize! I do LOVE that she chose a Forensic Psychiatry fellowship; I did a little happy dance for that! Overall, I absolutely loved The Girl Without a Name, maybe even a tad more than the first book. I did figure out a few bits in regards to the twist before it was revealed but this in no way detracted from my enjoyment because of course, Block had way more up her sleeve ;) I would absolutely recommend this book for anyone that enjoys psychological thrillers or mysteries surrounding the medical field. Even though this is book 2 in a series it absolutely works as a stand-alone novel, I do recommend you read Little Black Lies first though, just to get Zoe’s full background first!

A huge thank you to Grand Central Publishing and to NetGalley for providing me with a complimentary, advanced copy of this book in exchange for my honest review! Read on for a special Q&A with author, Sandra Block!

Author Interview: 

The Girl Without a Name touches on alcoholism, drug abuse, anorexia and mental illness. Do you deal with these tough issues in your practice as a neurologist?
            I'm a neurologist, not a psychiatrist, so I don't directly treat problems like depression or drug abuse. But, I do deal with these issues on a daily basis. Patients may have seizures every time they quit drinking, or neuropathy (peripheral nerve damage) or ataxia (unsteadiness) from years of alcohol abuse. Depression and anxiety also play a huge role in insomnia - on of my specialties as a sleep doctor. Most doctors, in every field, work with mental illness on some level.
What scares you as a writer, and why?
            Reviews always fill me with a certain dread, and yet it's so hard not to read them. Nowadays, I'm kinder to myself though. I used to read bad reviews as a sort of tough love, but I'm not so masochistic anymore. It just isn't helpful in a field already sewn with self-doubt. I've come to accept that not everyone will love my books, and everyone has a right to an opinion. I try to focus on the positive reviews and emails I've received. If reading my book has given someone, somewhere, a sense of wonder, escape, or even joy for a few hours, then I've done my job.

What inspired your new character, Jane Doe?
            The character came to me as first line, while I was on vacation. I had just finished Little Black Lies (the first Zoe Goldman novel) and scored an agent, so I was on a bit of a high. The line goes: "We call her Jane, because she can't tell us her name." Then Jane showed up in the hospital bed. I really couldn't shake the vision of the character, so I wrote her. 

We have grown to know and love Dr. Zoe Goldman! Whats next for our favorite doctor?
            Zoe is taking a bit of a break at the moment, getting ready for her Forensic Psychiatry fellowship. She does make a cameo in the Detective Adams novel I'm working on right now though. I also have a great case lined up for her next novel, but I'm afraid you'll just have to wait and see on that one...

You incorporate a lot of medical and criminal elements into your work. Do you research a topic before you write a plot or do you start writing your plotline and research as the story progresses?
            I don't have to do much medical research, because I live it. But any research I carry out occurs in the midst of writing. I'm too impatient to take the time out beforehand. I like to launch right in. And I know that Google is only a click away.

When you hit a writing road block how do you force yourself to break through it?
I keep writing. That's the best answer. If you stop, you take the risk that your fear (which represents writing block to me) will become insurmountable. I also give myself a break. Taking a walk or a long shower often leads to a plot solution. I try to have faith that this will happen. And it usually does.

All of your secondary characters (Dr. Berringer, Jason, Zoes patients Zoe) are well developed. Is your process of creating them different from how you create a main character like Zoe?
            Zoe is a voice more than anything. She has a body of course, but I can't visualize her very well. I hear her, more than see her. Side characters are more corporeal to me. I can see their clothes, their hair, the way they walk. That helps me make them real.

The intersection of literature and neurology has given us so many great novels. Do you think the study of neurology lends itself to more in-depth characters and plot?
            I think it helps plotting, especially mysteries. So much of neurology is solving puzzles. You backtrack from the symptoms through the history to the diagnosis. It's artful logic. Plotting a mystery is much the same.

What question do you wish people would ask about your work?
            Would you do it over again? And the answer is: I don't know. The road to medicine was a long one. I am happy where I am now, but I honestly don't know if I could do it all over again.

What advice would you have for aspiring writers who are already established in another field?
            Two things: read books on writing, and write. A good writing book can save you from heaps of beginner's mistakes. Writing is a passion, but it's also a trade. The more you read and write, the better you get.

Identity plays a big part in both Little Black Lies and The Girl Without A Name, will that be a recurring theme in Zoes ongoing story?
            Yes. I can't help it. Identity will always be there on some level. I am fascinated by self-identity. That's one thing about Zoe's ADHD. Her internal chatter distracts her, but also defines her in a way.  Our identify is ever-evolving, and dependent just as much on how others see us, as how we see ourselves. 

How do you juggle being a doctor, writing, and having a family?
            To me, writing is a passion and a hobby. Whereas, my job is my job. So, it's sort of like asking someone: how do you juggle knitting with everything else you do? I do it because I love it! Having said that, it does take time. I usually take 45 minutes in the morning before anyone is up to write, then steal time during the day (at a child's piano lesson, for instance.) Also, my husband "leans in," and helps greatly with childcare to allow me to be a writer and a doctor.

About the Author:
Neurologist by day... mystery writer by night 
Sandra A. Block graduated from college at Harvard, then returned to her native land of Buffalo, New York for medical training and never left. She is a practicing neurologist and proud Sabres fan, and lives at home with her husband, two children, and impetuous yellow lab Delilah. She has been published in both medical and poetry journals. "Little Black Lies" is her first novel. Her next Zoe Goldman novel, "The Girl Without A Name" is coming out in the fall of 2015.


  1. Thank you for your kind review...I appreciate it!

    1. Your welcome Sandra! I love this series and can't wait for the next installment :)