Monday, February 17, 2020
Saturday, February 15, 2020
Adunni is a fourteen year old girl living in a small village in Nigeria. There is nothing she loves more than going to school. She dreams of becoming a teacher someday and helping all the village children learn how to read and write. When her mama unexpectedly passes away Adunni’s life changes dramatically. Her father quickly arranges a marriage as third wife to the old man who drives taxis so he can use her bride price to pay community rent. School is no longer an option and Adunni sees her future slipping away. Surviving both verbal and physical abuse, Adunni finds herself escaping to the big city of Lagos where she becomes a housemaid. It is while scrubbing floors with a toothbrush that Adunni embraces her louding voice. Realizing a slave does not always have chains you can see, Adunni is desperate to be heard, right the wrongs young women suffer and speak for those who cannot. With a little help she can once again find her future. Written in a surprisingly easy to follow broken English, this debut novel is a unique, deeply moving story of resilience and hope.
Sunday, February 9, 2020
Guest Review and Author Interview
by Sara Matthis
editor of the Marathon Keys Weekly
by Sara Matthis
editor of the Marathon Keys Weekly
FROM A to Z
Hays Blinckmann is super happy she’s making people cry. “I know it sounds weird, but I love it. It means people are connecting to this story,” she said, laughing. “I cry when I read it!”
The former Keys Weekly staffer (2015 to 2019) and Key West resident just published her second novel, “Where I Can Breathe,” on Amazon. It’s available in paperback or for Kindle. The positive feedback from readers is feeding a happy “high” as she rides the wave of another success. In fact, she’s already at work on her third novel. Her first, “In the Salt,” was published in 2015.
The Keys Weekly had the opportunity to read the book, and then sit down with the author and former colleague. We had questions. So. Many. Questions.
Do your first and second novels have similar themes? They’re both “dramedies” (dramatic comedy) about family — children and parents. And they’re both about the struggles of a family trying to stay together in the midst of alcoholism. Both feature large personalities and adversity. The difference is that “Salt” was an angry look at the family’s circumstance. “Where I Can Breathe” is much more compassionate and understanding.
You’re getting this question a lot, so we’ll go ahead and get it out of the way. How much is autobiographical? The only true-life part is that my late mother was an alcoholic who entered hospice. And the character of Agnes is based on my mother. My mother did grow up in the last half of the century, she was part of that generation that was lost between being housewives and feminists. She did her best to chart the new world as a young mother, in a time when things were constantly changing. I think they started their lives out with big dreams but things got in the way — marriage, children, horrible events.
Was the second novel easier to write? Writing for the Keys Weekly for four years was like getting up every morning and going to the gym. Then, when it was time to run the marathon, I was ready. I don’t want to say it was easier, but it was better. One thing I want to say is that when writing for the paper, I learned to write for other people. It wasn’t self-serving. In writing the second novel, I made the same adaptation; I was focusing on the subject and the end reader.
For such a serious subject, there’s a lot of humor in this book. I grew up with a very good sense of sarcasm; there were high levels of that in my home, as well as comedy. It’s the way we dealt with our issues and I rely on sarcasm and humor to get me through horrible situations. It was so much fun writing these characters, and this dialogue.
Who is your favorite character in “Where I Can Breathe”? Ansel. He’s just very large, and passionate, and angry and wears his heart on his sleeve. (His sister Abby and big brother Arthur have to be more metered. She’s a mom, he’s a businessman.) But Ansel is all over the place until Hector, his love interest, pulls him together. I love Hector, the Cuban American doctor from Miami. A lot of people love that character. Ansel is the youngest in the story, and has the hardest time finding love.
How long did it take you to write “Where I Can Breathe”? Well, I thought about it for two months, and then it took 10 weeks to write. I knew the ending and the beginning, I just had to fill in the middle. So a lot of the events were unscripted until I actually sat down to write it. I just had to answer the biggest question: How did this beautiful woman who seemingly had everything – wealth and family – choose to end her life on the most tragic note possible? How do you get from A to Z?
Can you describe a good writing day? I’m a mom. I’m a wife. I chauffeur to soccer practice. I have lunchboxes to make. So I wait until the kids go to school and my husband goes to work. I tried to put in four or five hours a day. On a good day, I would get 6,000 words. The funny thing is that sometimes it wasn’t like that. There would be a bunch of screaming, 10-year-old boys in the house and my husband using the chop saw outside. But if you’re really writing, and really dedicated, you do it.
I thought the parts about Agnes’ and Asher’s early life in New York City were really evocative. What was the inspiration? I drew on my grandfather’s annual New Year’s Eve party for his business associates. It was about breeding and education. And Agnes and Asher came at it from a disadvantage – trying to assimilate into the upper city echelon although they came from rural suburbia. It was a way to describe Asher’s drive by contrasting it with these socialites, that maybe didn’t have the same drive because they grew up so privileged. And Asher needed a wife that would play along. Plus, back in the ’70s, everyone wanted to be a tycoon. It was the American dream.
What’s the most satisfying part of this book? I think that readers start out wanting to hate some of the characters in “Where I Can Breathe,” but by the end, they couldn’t. And I didn’t want the readers to hate the characters. We’re human, though, so we want to see things in black and white – you want the villain and the good guy. But, listen, parents do horrible things, children do horrible things and the truth is somewhere in the middle where it’s murky. I love that the readers are responding to that natural sense of confusion and love and raw emotion that the family has for each other. Oh, and also that reviewer who wrote “This is not chick lit.” I love that.
What’s the third novel about? Well, it’s more mystery, not as “weepy.”
In 1982 Oona is living in Brooklyn, New York. She is madly in love with her rockin roll boyfriend Dale and they are throwing a New Year’s party with all their friends to celebrate Oona’s birthday at midnight. Their band has been offered a killer gig to open for the coolest band, Oona is beautiful and only 18! The world is her oyster! But the darnedest thing happens. When midnight strikes Oona finds herself in the body of a middle aged woman, an unrecognizable version of herself. In a beautiful mansion her handsome assistant Kenzie begins to explain that it’s 2014, she is a generous philanthropist and along with her mother Madeleine, no-one else knows about this mysterious affliction Oona has developed. Every year on her birthday she is sent on a time traveling experience to another year of her adult life. Out of order. She can hop from 19 to 40 and will remain there for one year. As society, technology and her heart goes on a rollercoaster through time Oona tries to figure out the meaning and value of each day when she knows it’s all about to disappear. Oona experiences good years and bad, trying to leave clues for her future and past selves to smooth over the often confusing transition. WARNING: If you want to enjoy this unique, well written story you must be open to time travel that doesn’t always make sense. There is some meaning here but it is in tiny little bits scattered throughout and you just gotta roll with it.
Thursday, February 6, 2020
Carey has spent the last decade working for America’s king and queen of home remodeling - superstars, Melly and Rusty Tripp. Their home decor stores, television series and books have been a smashing success. At 27 yrs old, Carey has essentially spent the last decade of her life working her fingers to the bone as Melly’s assistant. James is hired as Rusty’s nerdy sidekick/engineer and is expected to keep the handsome celebrity squeaky clean and out of trouble. At first Carly and James find themselves at extreme odds battling their level of importance over who has been there longer (Carey) and who has fancy degrees and a chip on his shoulder (James). As they begin to truly accept that their future success is completely dependent on the Tripp’s business, the duo make a plan to keep the rocky show on the road and prying social media fans at bay. The public must never find out that Melly and Rusty’s marriage is falling apart behind the scenes. Trapped on the tour bus from hell tests all of their shortcomings and the young colleagues finally take the boxing gloves off. This sweet, laugh out loud rom-com will have you begging for more and perhaps preparing your very own honey-do list. Add to your TBR, release date set for March 24th!
Wednesday, February 5, 2020
In 1982 Vivian Delaney left home in Illinois to make her way in the world. Young and pretty, she dreamed of the bright lights of NYC. After a creepy ride with a stranger she unexpectedly lands in Fell, New York. This chilly, broken down little town doesn’t have much to offer but she finds work as the night shift clerk at a dilapidated motel, she even finds a nearby apartment to share with another young woman. Viv figures she will save her money and make her move to the big city very soon. What Viv doesn’t count on is that The Sun Down Motel is creepy and haunted, the town has a string of unsolved murders and Viv has an insatiable curiosity for the morbid. Thirty-five years later Viv’s niece Carly shows up in Fell determined to find out what happened to her aunt. She weasels her way into a job at The Sun Down and the very same apartment her aunt once inhabited. As years of secrets begin to unfold this dual narration will take you on a hair raising rollercoaster ride. Highly recommend this absolutely unputdownable thriller that had me guessing until the very spine chilling end. Will be an incredible book club discussion. Perhaps our meeting at night - at a hotel will add to the fun?!
Friday, January 31, 2020
Nina is turning 40. She is newly divorced and living on her own for the first time in forever. Happy in her small apartment, selfishly focusing on her needs and loving her new job in publishing, Nina’s next triumph is to get a puppy, something her ex had forbidden! She teaches Fred to go down the fire escape and do his business. Fred discovers a friendly neighbors window instead. When Alex walks into her life Nina realizes things will never be the same again. This handsome, ER doc is a decade younger and their chemistry is instantaneous. Logistics make this rom-com a laugh out loud adorable journey and it was the perfect one sitting, feel good read that I needed!
Alix Chamberlain has two sweet little girls and an adoring news anchor husband. When life in NYC becomes overwhelmingly expensive and difficult they move to Philadelphia where Peter lands an ace position with a local television station and Alix continues her business from home. Alix writes to companies and both compliments and criticizes them to receive free products and services. This hobby turned professional when her brazen outspokenness lands her a book deal and speaking gigs. Alix hires Emira from a Craigslist ad to babysit Briar, her 3 yr old, while working on these projects. She becomes obsessed with Emira’s skin color, personal life and boyfriend whom Alix coincidentally dated in high school. Emira is a college grad who along with her closest gal pals is still trying to find herself. And that’s it folks. This story bizarrely turns into one of racism. Alix is unexplainably jealous and desperate to bring Emira into their lives and while I think there is some scattered meaning the only likable character in the entire story is the toddler, Briar, who is quirky, funny and painfully honest. Despite the hype I was disappointed by this new release.
Wednesday, January 29, 2020
Jessica and Jake Snyder are enjoying a typical date night. Their teenage kids are at her ex’s house for the weekend and they are relishing an adult evening at a local dance/bar club in Seattle. Lately their lives are overbooked with work responsibilities, soccer games and basic family chores. It seems like they never have enough time for themselves as a couple, often too tired for anything more than a quick goodnight kiss. Frustrated, Jessica intends to bring back the spark she once treasured. A few drinks in, a handsome stranger asks Jessica to dance and Jake encourages it. After the dance the handsome stranger quietly slips them his business card and they can barely stumble to the car - let alone make it to their bedroom. This one simple act has them sexually aroused for weeks and Jessica is thrilled with their recharged intimacy. Weeks later when they decide to call this man and arrange a meetup, their lives are changed forever. The rules of marriage must be altered to suit this newfound excitement. Their number one promise to each other: honesty always. As this risky new lifestyle spirals out of control, it threatens their marriage and businesses. Everything Jake and Jessica cherish is at risk. This scandalous story explores marriage, parenting and the perils of the social media age. It originally published as A Casual Encounter with a very different cover and received little hype. Either way, I found this risqué story unputdownable and highly recommend it if you’re in the mood for a steamy fast paced read.
Sunday, January 26, 2020
Lydia lives a fairly quiet life in Acapulco, Mexico. She runs her quaint bookstore and is madly in love with her husband Sebastian and 8 yr old boy, Luca. At 32 she is content with her comfortable life and is slightly surprised when a stranger befriends her in the bookstore. This customer is called Javier and their unexpected literary and spiritual connection thrills Lydia. Nothing more than friends, she treasures Javier’s visits and his charming intellect. As a journalist her husband runs a risky piece exposing the local drug cartel that has destroyed their city and filled it with violence and fear. When Lydia accidentally learns that the head of the cartel is none other than her beloved friend Javier, her peaceful life is ripped to shreds. Fleeing with Luca, Lydia is suddenly fighting for their lives and must use all her strength to get them out of Mexico. This absolute page turner is a suspenseful, tragic, heart stopping read from the first page to the last. It took every ounce of my restraint to not be tainted by the massive controversy surrounding this new release so I could give an honest review. The writing is excellent. I loved the characters and waited with bated breath for each new chapter. It is FICTION and I highly recommend this fabulous read.
Wednesday, January 22, 2020
Picture a beautiful, quiet neighborhood in North Carolina. Valerie Alston-Holt, an African American woman and passionate community leader lives in a small home with her straight A, talented son Xavier. She is an ecology professor at the local university and he has recently been accepted with a scholarship to a prestigious San Francisco conservatory program. In the lot behind them the Whitman family has recently built a magnificent home and to do so destroyed much of the local greenery. The Whitmans are a white family with two lovely daughters, the eldest named Juniper. As an incensed Valerie watches her ancient Oak tree begin to die, her son and Juniper are secretly falling love. It took 75% of this book to set up the characters and lead up to something actually happening. It is narrated by too many voices along with an alternating “we” as if the neighborhood was telling the story. The author tried to highlight an overabundance of subjects at once; racism, love, law, history, nature, suicide, molestation - to name a few. The “we” part, although unique, was ultimately confusing - by the time something happened in this novel I was completely bored, confused and could not wait for it to be over.
Wednesday, January 15, 2020
Morgan Christopher is sitting in a jail cell while her handsome, brilliant boyfriend is attending law school at Georgetown - as if nothing ever happened. Smart, pretty and a wonderful artist, Morgan was once a typical college student excited about her future. Now serving a three-year sentence in North Carolina after a night she prays to forget, Morgan finds herself alone in the world with nothing to look forward to. One day two women show up to speak with her. Stern and not exactly friendly Morgan is shocked when they offer her a way out. All she has to do is successfully restore a famous mural in an unheard of little town. The mural was originally painted by Anna Dale, an artist who mysteriously disappeared in 1940. A well known benefactor is paying her way if she can accomplish this monumental challenge. Filled with art, intrigue and even a little romance, I absolutely loved unraveling the secrets in this latest novel by fabulous author Diane Chamberlain!