Saturday, May 23, 2020

Rodham

Hillary Rodham grew up in a small suburb in Illinois. Close with her lovely mother, tolerating her overbearing father and cheered on by her two brothers, she was a straight A student, a leader and an overachiever - always. After a successful college career and delivering her famous commencement speech at Wellesley Hillary went on to attend law school at Yale. It is at Yale that Hillary has her first true romance, with none other than Bill Clinton. From the start Bill is a smart, fast talking southern charmer and she cannot grasp how this handsome, popular boy is so smitten with her. Through hard work, determination and drive the world is her oyster and those close to her are shocked when she follows Bill and his proposal to Arkansas to teach at the university while he runs for office. This is where the sliding doors open - Hillary says no. She says no to his philandering, no to his undeniable allure and yes to a future where she can follow her own heart while it is still in one piece. The rest is - well, you’d have to read the book to find out! This work of fiction is beyond a doubt extremely creative and interesting but the truth is, I did not enjoy it. When Hillary Rodham Clinton lost the election in 2016 many of us were devastated for a multitude of reasons. I loved the idea of an alternative story to the one we all (think) we know. Unfortunately the daily mundane campaigning details, of which this book is filled, are kind of boring. This alternative scenario made the truth of politics all the more sad.

Monday, May 18, 2020

Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982

In the center of Seoul, South Korea, lives a small family. Kim Jiyoung is a recent stay at home mom, having left her office job to care for their young infant. At first the couple blames her swinging moods on postpartum baby blues. But when Kim Jiyoung begins acting strangely, mimicking voices of other women and sleeping for extensive lengths of time, her husband arranges for her to see a psychiatrist. After carefully detailing their present life this author takes us back through Jiyoung’s rather ordinary upbringing. From early childhood relationships at school, her desperate search for a career and the eventual meeting of her husband. This book was quite different than described in the summary. It was a  great success in Korea a few years ago and has recently been translated and rereleased. The obvious inequality of men and women in the South Korean workplace is displayed in detail, as is the basic struggle in this culture for the older generation to behave in one way and the more westernized, young adults to rebel. This novel had some very interesting views but failed to bring the story to life in the way I am accustomed. Because it was well written, interesting and very short - I was able to get through it but there was definitely something missing for me.

A Good Marriage

Lizzie Kitsakis works long, hard hours at a prestigious law firm in NYC. Her marriage to Sam is on on the rocks and although she loves him with all her heart, she doesn’t know how to fix this mess. Her new job at Young & Crane will at least help reduce their debt and fill a spot on her resume. Late one evening she gets an urgent collect call from Rikers Island Jail and shockingly finds herself speaking to one time friend and fellow Penn law student Zach Grayson. His wife has been murdered and he is being railroaded as a prime suspect. Pleading innocence, Zach swiftly guilts her into taking his case. Lizzie, both bright and tenacious, is quickly pulled into the underworld of Park Slope - investigating Zach’s marriage to the beautiful Amanda, his life of luxury and a group of private school moms that appear to have many secrets lurking beneath their fashionable surface. While battling her own marriage demons and hidden past, Lizzie learns that facing the absolute truth is the only path to freedom. Another fabulous thriller from author Kimberly McCreight. The many twists and turns make this read completely unputdownable. Exactly what I needed! 

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

That's Not A Thing

Meredith and Aaron are a young, successful couple making their mark in New York City. Recently engaged, Meredith is working for a prestigious law firm while Aaron finishes up a coveted residency saving the lives of babies. One night they are invited to an engagement celebration dinner at one of the hottest new culinary spots in the city. By random chance, the chef comes out to greet them and he is none other than Wesley, Meredith’s ex. The forbidden Wesley, love of her life whom she never got over and refuses to speak of. Throwing all good things for a crazy loop, Meredith is completely distraught that Wes is back in the states. When she learns that his shaky hands are signs of his recent ALS diagnosis, she can barely breathe. The what if’s of her past hauntingly return and although Aaron is a spectacular guy - how much understanding can one man possibly have? Meredith must decide exactly who she is going to be when she grows up. This fast paced heartbreaking love story has wonderful characters and a lot to think about. Highly recommend and don’t forget to have the tissues handy.

Sunday, May 10, 2020

Kind of Famous

Layla Beckett’s lifelong dream has come true! After the last ten years as a number one fan and incognito fansite administrator, Layla has landed her dream job at a prestigious NYC magazine called The Rock Paper. A small town girl, she is both nervous and excited for her new life in the Big Apple. On Layla’s very first day she serendipitously meets and befriends a famed photographer/girlfriend of a rockstar, leading Layla to a life she never dared to imagine. Introduced to guitarist handsome Shane Morgan at a backyard bbq, she learns quickly the ins and outs, along with the many ups and downs of the music industry which is filled with these beautiful talented young artists. If you love music and fun romcoms, this is the latest sexy story from author Mary Ann Marlowe. Perfect snack for a much needed day at the beach.

Sea Wife

Juliet is depressed and boy does she hate that word. A lover of poetry, Juliet is a mother of two, deserter of her PhD and wife of Michael. She became progressively blue after the births of both of her children, now 7 and 2. Experiencing his own mid-life crisis, Michael’s long buried dreams of freedom on a sailboat are coming to fruition. All he has to do is convince Juliet, who has never sailed a day in her life. With their marriage on the rocks, both husband and wife admit a fork in the road is imminent. Cajoling her with visions of blue skies and sunsets, the novice sailors set off on their adventure in Panama aboard the newly christened “Juliet.” Each chapter filled with divorce docking, sleeplessness, bickering and the well known saying that voyaging is merely fixing your boat in exotic locations, suddenly those sunsets feel few and far between. Told in fascinating detail, Juliet explores what led her to this point with humor and honesty while Michael’s version is expressed through his daily log book turned diary. Mildly seasick from the swells of their marriage, relationship to their mothers and messy past - I devoured each and every page of Sea Wife, not wanting to miss a beat. Cannot believe with such detail that author Amity Gaige is not a sailor herself! I also am positive my husbands sailing dreams are now permanently crushed because I am quite sure that I would never, ever be brave/crazy enough to undertake this challenge!

Thursday, May 7, 2020

Your Blue Is Not My Blue

Aspen meets Justin while on her famous trek from Mexico to Canada, detailed in her first memoir Girl in the Woods. Falling in love at 19, she is excited to share her life with this handsome, mysterious man 10 years her senior, who literally saved her life in the woods. Quickly accepted by his family, the newlyweds explore the hills he grew up in and beatnik scene of Northern California. A bit naive, Aspen doesn’t think to ask questions regarding their finances or future plans. She is enjoying her newfound adult freedom, letting the days easily arrange themselves with Justin leading the way. The couple soon finds themselves in NYC so Aspen can return to college and focus on her writing career. Slowly their wandering thru-hiker existence is filled with school and writing responsibilities along with exorbitant rent to pay. As Aspen’s world expands, Justin’s free spirit begins to fade. A few years later, on a dark November morning Justin leaves to attend a friends funeral - and disappears. Aspen is left alone to pick up the shattered pieces of her young life. This honest, expressive memoir is heartbreaking and beautiful. I thoroughly enjoyed reading Aspen’s descriptive scenery and adventurous spirit as she deciphers the true definition of love.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Beach Read

January Andrews is a romance writer with a dreadful case of writer’s block. Penniless, mourning the loss of her father and her Mr. Perfect boyfriend, January is struggling to piece the puzzle of her life back together. With pressure from her agent to finish (ha! How about start!) the book she has committed to, she decides to spend the summer months at her father’s lake house before it sells. Much to her dismay it is filled with someone else’s memories and an annoying neighbor who turns the music up much too loud her very first night. The neighbor turns out to be Gus, her handsome secret college crush and fellow writer who has a tad more success in the ratings and evil sexy eyes that melt way more than her heart. The two writers in residence decide a small competition is in order. He will write the romance she is stuck on and she, the Great American Novel. And so begins this HILARIOUS and ADORABLE and DELICIOUS romcom by Emily Henry which I completely devoured on one perfect beach day. This fun, witty, well written story will grab your heart and make you believe in happy endings all over again.

Darling Rose Gold

Patty Watts is getting out of prison. After five long years this master manipulator is exhausted and cannot wait to reunite with her daughter Rose Gold and move on with her life. But Rose Gold is a grown woman now, 23. She has a job, lives on her own and recently, a newborn baby. Rose Gold is no longer the helpless child, wheelchair bound and surviving her mother’s carefully orchestrated emergencies. After years of endless fundraising and supporting the struggling duo this entire town paved the way to send Patty to jail and free her daughter from her dangerous clutches. Since Patty is an expert liar and sincerely believes her own fabricated stories, her love for Rose Gold runs deep and she will accept nothing less than winning her back. This outrageous take on a very real syndrome of Munchausen by proxy is a severe mental illness and form of child abuse. Author Stephanie Wrobel weasels her way into the very heart and mind of both mother and daughter with ease. Reminding me of The Act on Hulu, which I only watched a few episodes because it is so completely unpalatable, this fast paced, suspenseful book is full of unexpected twists and truly unputdownable.

Saturday, April 25, 2020

Last Couple Standing

Four Baltimore couples who have been best friends since college find their lives turned upside down as they hit their forties. Now in the burbs, with kids, mortgages and typical mid life sagging, one by one they divorce. The last couple intact are Jessica and Mitch. Jessica is an attractive, insightful therapist and Mitch teaches high school English. With two adorable kids and a comedic rapport they decide to ward off the contagious D word and spice up their marriage with a twist. They decide a relaxed marriage would do the trick and are each allowed a sexual encounter outside the marriage, think free pass. Quickly their little experiment turns to disaster when simple things like jealousy, truth and family get in the way. Love the title and the cover but this romcom could have been so much more than a silly wrap that began about 1/2 way through. Any lessons, even funny ones were lost in the random shuffle. Not my best as far as romcoms go.

Big Summer

Daphne Berg is a young woman trying to make it in NYC. She juggles a nanny gig while building her Instagram name and plus-size community. Snapping glam pics of her fashionable outfits while having real life experiences, Daphne is quickly impressing sponsors while displaying their products. Unexpectedly Daphne’s onetime high school best friend and current nemesis Drue Cavanaugh reappears. It’s been six years since that awful night in a popular Manhattan bar destroyed what was already a decidedly unbalanced relationship. The wealthy, beautiful, perfect Drue is getting married and would like Daphne, her oldest and truest friend, to be a bridesmaid. As unlikely as this all sounds Daphne decides the possibility of rekindling their friendship and meeting a cute guy at the wedding is too good to pass. The extravaganza is to take place on Cape Cod and what is meant to be the wedding of the year becomes the disaster of the century. Always a fan of Jennifer Weiner, her romcoms never fail to entertain. Cute to the point of silly, the amusing characters and mocking of our collective online vanity kept me laughing out loud. Great for the beach this summer, that is of course if they decide to let us in.

Monday, April 20, 2020

Summer Darlings

It is the summer of 1962 and Heddy Winsome, a Wellesley girl is working as a nanny on the exclusive island of Martha’s Vineyard. Raised in Brooklyn by an Irish immigrant single mother, Heddy has worked night and day to attain a scholarship and get herself to college. Desperate for stability and a brighter future, Heddy leaps at the chance to spend the summer amongst socialites while searching for the final piece to the puzzle, a husband. Sweet and pretty with a shy demeanor, Heddy has no trouble turning heads and winning the favor of her employers. As her heart is torn between two very different men, Heddy witnesses the extraordinarily flawed world of the rich and privileged. Excellent character description in an idyllic setting, it is unfortunate that the build up for 75% of this novel leads to a rushed and implausible finale.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

The Heir Affair

Bex Porter and Prince Nicholas, heir to the throne, finally make it to the altar. As the adorable couple ultimately survived their rocky road to matrimony, they are devastated after the ceremony when a friend turned paparazzi publicizes a scandal they can not escape. After they spend their first newlywed months hiding out in the countryside, the happy couple returns to face the music and try to regain the Queen’s favor. The ups and downs of their rollercoaster life gently mimics royals we see on the news and the emotions many young couples experience. I waited five years for this sequel after devouring The Royal We, unfortunately it dragged for me and the characters felt completely contrived. 

Tuesday, April 14, 2020

My Dark Vanessa

17 years ago Vanessa Wye, a shy young girl received a scholarship to attend a fancy boarding school in New England. Extremely self conscious, as most young girls can be, Vanessa has trouble making friends and rarely speaks up in class. When her English teacher Jacob Strane praises her poetry and physical beauty Vanessa quietly revels in his attention. Twenty seven years her senior, Professor Strane should know better than to cross lines that are clearly marked but Vanessa believes this is true love. At 32 Vanessa still struggles with love, relationships, intimacy and the memories of Jacob. As she begins therapy to face her father’s death, the past collides with her present and Vanessa must first find the truth in order to face it. This book is dark, at times hard to read. My Dark Vanessa is a very well written, thought provoking novel of a troubled girl learning about friendship, first love, rejection and the life long affects that each decision can bring. Highly recommend this intimate, psychological novel that is literally unputdownable.

Monday, March 30, 2020

The Red Lotus

It is late on Saturday night when Austin turns up in the busy ER where Alexis is working the night shift. This pretty, intelligent doctor expertly cares for his arm and feels lucky to learn that this handsome charming guy works in the hospital administration office. Six months later they are exclusively dating and enjoying an exciting cycling adventure vacation in Viet Nam. Austin, an avid biker, heads out on his own one morning to pay respects at the exact location his uncle died and father was injured during the war. When Austin is late returning, Alexis becomes worried. When Austin disappears, she panics. The truth becomes harder and harder to grasp when every clue leads to a dead end. It would be so much easier to walk away from this mess but as more details are revealed Alexis begins to see patterns and is determined to find out the truth. This suspenseful thriller takes the reader through the hills of Viet Nam and busy streets of New York, following FBI agents, a worthy private detective and clever cast of suspects. Could not put down and highly recommend this well written, fast paced mystery that hit a little too close to home during these trying times. 

Monday, March 23, 2020

North

Challenge: To break the speed record (FKT - Fastest Known Time) running the 2,189 mile Appalachian Trail. He would have to run nearly 50 miles a day, every single day for, 46 days. After many accolades and more than twenty years competing, speaking and writing, Scott felt he was at a point in his life that needed another challenge. Scott Jurek, world renowned distance runner sets out in the spring of 2015 with his best friend/wife Jenny, to accomplish this great feat. While Jenny would provide supplies, meals and directions she also assisted Scott through injury, sleeplessness, bad weather and unwelcome strangers. Narrated by both Jenny and Scott this memoir reveals the depths of their marriage and the magnificent terrain they pass through. Friends of the most interesting nature meet up with them along the way offering motivation and advice. The physical demands strip Scott of every ounce of energy he tries to maintain but he once again proves to athletes everywhere how the mind controls so much of our bodies. A beautiful journey through nature, this tale of friendship and perseverance will equally inspire runners and non-runners alike.

And They Called it Camelot

In 1952 Jacqueline Bouvier was a highly educated, multilingual, beautiful young woman working at the Washington Times Herald, when John F. Kennedy asks her out for a drink. The very charming and extraordinarily handsome Congressman from Massachusetts quickly swept her off her feet and a year later they were married. On to the Senate and then campaigning for Presidency, Jackie became an integral part of John’s team. Embracing her role with diplomatic ease, this well dressed woman with a refined manner and brilliant smile won the hearts of every American. Jackie’s road is rocky from the start. Her all encompassing love and devotion to both John and his family is often overwhelming and arduous, but Jackie appears to manage even the very dark side with exceptional grace. This touching portrayal of her life, from her fictional perspective is riveting and tearful. Her public persona, deep desire to contribute to society and unwavering love for her children, John Jr. and Caroline, make this novel an unforgettable journey. Exceptional author Stephanie Marie Thornton brings the Kennedy’s to life - every word and nuance captures the magic of this golden family, the closest we have to American royalty. Highly recommend this fabulous new read! FIVE STARS!!!

Bimini Rocks

Sirena, a mermaid actress and avid scuba diver from Florida, arrives at Isabelle’s Hideaway ready to explore the beautiful waters of Bimini, a magical chain of islands in the westernmost district of the Bahamas. Isabelle, her dear friend and hotel proprietor has arranged for Sirena to dive with her handsome brother Blue. He immediately takes Sirena to visit a secret cave he found near the reef and rock formations on the unexplained Road to Atlantis. For hundreds of years the story of the sunken city has filled the dreams of every historian and fantasizer in the area, these divers included. Unexplained severe shaking underwater leads the duo to investigate explosions that resulted from an array of illegal business activities threatening the nature of this lovely island. Submerge yourself in history, marine life, suspense and even a little romance with this fast paced underwater adventure. Thoroughly enjoyed this debut author (scuba diver!) and easy read. Perfect getaway - especially if you are stuck at home! 

Saturday, March 14, 2020

The Grace Kelly Dress

In 1958 Rose is an orphaned seamstress working at madame’s fancy atelier. Only the most prestigious and wealthy customers can afford to have their wedding dresses designed at this historical establishment. Rose has a special talent and behind the scenes she is completing one of the most important gowns they have ever worked on. She is more than capable of the task but the question remains if she can hide the fact that she is head over heels in love with the bride’s handsome brother, who is engaged to another woman. 60 years later, Rocky, a recent twenty something tech success is getting her mother’s dress refitted for her own wedding. As Rocky’s mother Joan lovingly arranges every last detail of the upcoming nuptials, she cannot help but relive her own emotional past. Rocky cannot find it in her heart to share the truth: she wants a wedding that represents who she has become and doesn’t want to wear the dress. Flashing back to the origin and details that created this family heirloom - Rose, Joan and Rocky find that what they have in common is much more precious than what makes than different. A love story of weddings and truth, highly recommend this delightful, easy read. Perfect for a day at the beach!

Thursday, March 5, 2020

Fast Girls

Sports pioneers of the twentieth century; Betty Robinson, Helen Stephens and Louise Stokes were among the few female athletes headed to the 1936 Summer Olympics in Berlin, Nazi Germany. After years of fighting to be part of their local track and field teams, these fast and feisty runners overcame adversity at every turn. Repeatedly told their sex was too fragile to compete, reprimanded for this unladylike behavior, in addition to racial discrimination;  Betty, Helen and Louise, along with many others spent years proving their abilities and strength on and off the course. With a tiny taste of success in 1928 and 1932, the women were training hard to make the U.S. proud and refute Adolf Hitler’s attempt to prove his theories of Aryan racial superiority. As the politically charged Berlin Games became a powerful propaganda tool for Nazi Germany the athletes who had considered boycotting the events, continued to strive for greatness. Narrated by their personal histories and newspaper clippings, Fast Girls shares these often untold historical stories of champions who paved the future for female athletes everywhere.

Saturday, February 29, 2020

You Are Not Alone

Shay Miller lost her job. Her adorable roommate Sean suddenly has a girlfriend. Feeling sorry for herself, imagining things can’t get any worse, Shay witnesses a beautiful woman jump in front an oncoming train. Still shaken, she gives her statement to the police but can’t let go of this horrific event and decides to attend the woman’s memorial service. It is there she meets the Moore sisters. They are exquisite, fashionable and successful. A small group of their friends closely gather and Shay can barely imagine what life would be like if she had that kind of support. Surprisingly Shay continues to bump into the sisters, which statistically in NYC is unlikely. And just like that her life begins to turn around. A job, a new apartment, new friends. As things spins out of control Shay realizes there may be nothing she can do to stop it. Murder, intrigue and suspense fill the pages of this fast-paced story of deceit. Just how far would you go for your friends? Highly recommend this latest release from the amazing writing duo Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen.

Thursday, February 27, 2020

The Last Train to Key West

Mirta Perez, Elizabeth Preston and Helen Berner. Three women that have little in common are brought together by The Great Labor Day Hurricane of 1935, the most intense Atlantic hurricane to ever make landfall. In Key West, Helen waits tables at the local diner. A born and bred local, she is 9 months pregnant and abused daily by her no-good fisherman husband, Tom. It’s a holiday weekend, the town is packed and The National Weather Service is unsure if this tempest will descend its wrath on the Florida Keys. Elizabeth who is escaping from her wealthy past and grim future marriage has traveled to Florida to find her long lost brother, whose help she desperately needs. Mirta, a socialite from Havana, sits in silence next to her handsome and powerful husband whom she barely knows. Fate has brought these three women together, to survive the storm of their lives and find their rightful place in the world. Over the course of this weekend these women must uncover the strength to protect themselves and act in good conscience. Gifted author Chanel Cleeton brings us back to the eye of the storm with a story of resilience, love and hope. A fast paced page turner you do not want to miss, will release June 2020.

Writers & Lovers

Casey Peabody is a writer. She is an artist through and through. Casey is a compilation of everything she has ever written and ravenously read throughout her young life. At 31 she never expected to feel so lonely, but since her mother tragically passed away this creative soul can no longer feel the words. The last 6 years Casey has spent traveling the world, waiting tables in bougie restaurants and working on her novel. She is exhausted by all the details that once inspired her, including all the men she cannot seem to hang on to. While working at a bistro in Boston near Harvard Square Casey crosses paths with a cast of quirky characters that may be just what she is looking for. She must dig deep inside herself to find the answers. Highly recommend this unique, imaginative journey of self discovery that is perfect for any book lover as the eloquent words of author Lily King take you away.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

This Terrible Beauty

Bettina Heilstrom is a young woman during World War II and has spent her entire life on the shores of Rugen, Germany. She had always been content with this quiet island living, working in her father’s fish shop. After both her parents are gone, the brutalities of war are on her doorstep. Resolved to remain alone, she unexpectedly marries Werner, not exactly love, but for companionship and maybe a chance to have a family of her own. Werner is a politico who works for a government agency. He derives great power controlling peoples lives with the information he gathers, including Bettina’s. When the Russians ultimately win control of the Eastern Bloc, a socialist republic is instituted and freedom is scarce. Bettina secretly falls in love with a writer/teacher named Peter and they begin a dangerous love affair. Flashing back from Bettina’s life in Chicago circa 1960 to her previous years in Germany, this now famous photographer must decide if she can start anew or if the past will haunt her forever. Excellent writing and a interesting history of postwar Germany that is rarely depicted.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Postscript

Holly Kennedy has spent the last seven years trying to build a new life for herself. After her husband’s tragic illness ended, Holly felt like she too disappeared. With much help from friends and family and most importantly a year of P.S. I Love You letters, Holly has finally found her way back to the living. She works in her sister’s shop, has a sexy tree trimming boyfriend and can see the future more brightly than ever. One day, as a favor to her sister’s podcast, Holly reflects in public for the very first time about her unexpected year of letters and adventures she received from Gerry after he died. Holly explains the pre-arranged monthly surprises that got her out of her house, anticipating all her needs and tremendous sadness. After the broadcast, a small group of terminally ill people form a club to create something similar for their loved ones and they want Holly’s help. Instantly threatening all the strides she has made personally, she still cannot resist the magnetic pull of Gerry’s love. Having waited more than a decade for a sequel to bestseller P.S. I Love You, (book & movie!) get ready to laugh and cry in Dublin with one of my all time favorite Irish authors, Cecilia Ahern.

Freedom Lessons

Colleen is a young woman on the cusp of realizing her dreams. She has just become an elementary school teacher and even though it is 1969 and America is deep in the Vietnam War, Colleen continues to envision a world where everyone is equal. When her husband is transferred to become a drill sergeant in Louisiana, Colleen quickly learns the deep South is nothing like New Jersey. She must disturbingly fight for the very basic freedoms and assistance all students deserve. Narrated alternately by Colleen; Frank - an outstanding local black high school student and Evelyn - an accomplished teacher and advocate who has become Colleen’s mentor. These different perspectives reflect the many ways that segregation, separate but equal and choice schools affected the painstakingly slow changes mandated in the United States with Brown v. Board of Education in 1954. A fictionalized account of the author’s own young life experiences, this dynamic teacher went on to become an educational advocate for the next forty years. Bravo, Eileen Harrison Sanchez, thank you for sharing your story; a wonderful, well-written historic reminder to keep moving forward, always striving to do even better for our children.

Saturday, February 15, 2020

The Girl with the Louding Voice

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

Where I Can Breathe


Guest Review and Author Interview 
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.”

Oona Out of Order


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

The Honey Don't List


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

The Sun Down Motel


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

Anyone But You


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!

Such A Fun Age


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

Tell Me Everything


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

American Dirt


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

A Good Neighborhood


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

Big Lies in a Small Town


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!