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Nutcrackers & Handsprings: Books About the Cutthroat World of Ballet and Gymnastics

Swan Dive: The Making of a Rogue Ballerina by Georgina Pazcoguin (Henry Holt & Company)
The Turnout by Megan Abbott (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
The Happiest Girl in the World: A Novel by Alena Dillon (William Morrow)
Head Over Heels by Hannah Orenstein (Atria Books)

September 21, 2021

Dear Mr. Hemingway,

Like so many young girls, I wanted to be a famous ballerina AND an Olympic gymnast.  I was little, so both professions seemed like reasonable career goals even though I could barely touch my toes. Images of me gracefully dancing across the stage in a white nightgown clutching a wooden nutcracker or sticking a round-off back handspring on a balance beam filled my wandering mind.  I, of course, only saw what was directly in front of me.  Beauty, elegance, strength, and perfection were what graced the stage and gym mats for all the dreamers like me who dared to dream.  Little did I know what the making of an elite athlete indeed looked like.  Today I am sharing four books that capture the fierce passion and wild side of ballet and gymnastics.  Scandal, abuse, injuries, eating disorders, and love fill the pages of today’s reads.   The lineup is dripping in all of the blood, sweat, and tears that we love to read about.   And GUESS WHAT?  Legwarmers and leotards are entirely optional.   You can be captivated by these stories from the comfort of your living room couch wearing sweatpants and a baggy t-shirt.  How great is that!!!! 

Point shoes and tutus, anyone??? I LOVED Georgina Pazcoguin’s memoir, Swan Dive. Pazcoguin was the first Asian American soloist in the New York City Ballet.  Her story from leaving her small town in Pennsylvania at age 16 to train in New York City was mind-boggling.  Pazcoguin’s memoir is a backstage pass into the making of a true ballerina.  She is brutally honest with the highs and lows of the profession.  From bloody toes to dancing with injuries to the abuse and racism she experienced, Pazcoquin’s story of dancing in the ballet to performing in the Broadway musical CATS is exceptionally enchanting.  I could not put it down.

While we are still in the mood for tortured ballerinas and scandal galore, let’s move on to a work of fiction that takes place against the provocative backdrop of a ballet school and its yearly performance of The Nutcracker.  The Turnout by Megan Abbott is one heck of a page-turner.  Sisters Maria and Dara Durant run their family’s ballet school.  Things unravel when they hire a contractor to rebuild part of their studio that recently caught fire.  All I can say is that this man is more significant than he lets on. Nutcracker drama, family secrets, irresistible sexual encounters, razor blades in point shoes, and even a dead body fill the pages of this “un-put-downable” book.  I officially know what a “turnout” is and OUCH! The Nutcracker will never be the same again!

All you gymnastic fans out there will love Head Over Heels by Hannah Orenstein.  Avery’s Olympic dreams come to an end after an injury occurs during her Olympic trials.  To make matters worse, she is newly single and moving back to her hometown in Massachusetts.  In comes Ryan, Avery’s childhood acquaintance, and Olympic gold medalist.  When Ryan discovers that Avery is back home, he eagerly asks her to take the job as his assistant coach to Hallie, an up-and-coming gymnast.   As these two former gymnasts train the next Olympic star, sparks begin to fly on and off the mat.  Picture twists and turns, switch leaps and layouts, and maybe just maybe, some steamy fooling around on a sticky pile of mats.  Head Over Heels has it all…the love of gymnastics, the tension, the hot topics, and most of all, the romance.  Can you say perfect 10!

Alena Dillon’s book, The Happiest Girl in the World is a work of fiction reminiscent of the recent sexual abuse scandals in gymnastics.  Sera and her best friend Lucy are training for the Olympics.  Everything changes for these two when Lucy reports to the authorities that the team doctor sexually abused her during treatment sessions.  Sadly, Sera denies these facts to protect her career and destroys their friendship.  Dillon’s book is overflowing with dusty chalk and intense training but also takes a deep dive into the byproduct of sexual abuse and the ultimate drive for perfection in the cutthroat gymnastics world.  Reading this book felt very timely, especially with the 2021 summer Olympics still in the rearview mirror.  

Now that I have filled your To Be Read pile with pirouettes, flips, and spins, it’s time to get reading!

Until next time my friend!

Your Biggest Fan,

Kelly

P.S. When I was little, my sister and I used to pretend the black lane lines in our community pool were balance beams.  In between swimming around, we would put together gymnastic routines and perform them in the pool, making sure to always stick our landings on the lane lines.  So much fun!

Click on the book pictures below to purchase!

9/11 ~ 20 Years Ago

The Only Plane in the Sky: An Oral History of 9/11 by Garrett M. Graff (Avid Reader Press)

September 10, 2021

Today there will be no letter to Mr. Hemingway. I have no words. I have been moved to complete stillness.

Kelly

Synopsis:

“Over the past eighteen years, monumental literature has been published about 9/11, from Lawrence Wright’s The Looming Tower to The 9/11 Commission Report. But one perspective has been missing up to this point—a 360-degree account of the day told through firsthand.

Now, in The Only Plane in the Sky, Garrett Graff tells the story of the day as it was lived—in the words of those who lived it. Drawing on never-before-published transcripts, declassified documents, original interviews, and oral histories from nearly five hundred government officials, first responders, witnesses, survivors, friends, and family members, he paints the most vivid and human portrait of the September 11 attacks yet.

Beginning in the predawn hours of airports in the Northeast, we meet the ticket agents who unknowingly usher terrorists onto their flights, and the flight attendants inside the hijacked planes. In New York, first responders confront a scene of unimaginable horror at the Twin Towers. From a secret bunker under the White House, officials watch for incoming planes on radar. Aboard unarmed fighter jets in the air, pilots make a pact to fly into a hijacked airliner if necessary to bring it down. In the skies above Pennsylvania, civilians aboard United 93 make the ultimate sacrifice in their place. Then, as the day moves forward and flights are grounded nationwide, Air Force One circles the country alone, its passengers isolated and afraid.

More than simply a collection of eyewitness testimonies, The Only Plane in the Sky is the historic narrative of how ordinary people grappled with extraordinary events in real time: the father and son caught on different ends of the impact zone; the firefighter searching for his wife who works at the World Trade Center; the operator of in-flight telephone calls who promises to share a passenger’s last words with his family; the beloved FDNY chaplain who bravely performs last rites for the dying, losing his own life when the Towers collapse; and the generals at the Pentagon who break down and weep when they are barred from trying to rescue their colleagues.

At once a powerful tribute to the courage of everyday Americans and an essential addition to the literature of 9/11, The Only Plane in the Sky weaves together the unforgettable personal experiences of the men and women who found themselves caught at the center of an unprecedented human drama. The result is a unique, profound, and searing exploration of humanity on a day that changed the course of history, and all of our lives.”

NEVER FORGET 09.11.2001

Rural 207

Downeast by Gigi Georges (Harper Collins)

“Over time, “Downeast” became a catchall phrase for the geography, culture and distinct accent of the northern reaches of Maine’s coast.  Guidebooks will tell you that there is no precise southern or midpoint in the state where Downeast Maine begins; indeed, locals often use the term colloquially to describe any point east of where they are.  But by the time you get far enough north to the coastal county marked in gray on the map-Washington County-you’re universally acknowledged to have arrived Downeast.”

September 3, 2021

Dear Mr. Hemingway,

Rural America!  Between recent presidential elections and the current pandemic, there has been no shortage of news covering this area in our country. I am not going to get into elaborate definitions of what constitutes a rural county in the United States, but for all intents and purposes…it is the opposite of urban (city) living. As you know, I have lived in Maine for over 15 years.  Even though I am not a “true” Mainer, I am intrigued by this magnificent state and how it ticks from county to county. I recently had the opportunity to read Gigi Georges’ book, Downeast. Georges follows the  lives of five young women who attended the same high school in rural Maine.  For four years, Georges interviewed, shadowed and immersed herself into these women’s past, present and future opportunities. She underlined the common hardships of living in a rural area in one of the most rural states in America while accentuating the hidden beauty that resides from within all through the lens of five women.  

Maine is often referred to as “vacationland” and “the way life should be”.  But let’s face it, it’s not all cozy cabins, lobster rolls and L.L.Bean. Rural Maine has its own set of challenges unique to its location that have impacted generation after generation.  In Downeast, Georges introduces her reader to Mckenna the softball star, Willow the photographer, Vivian the writer, Audry the basketball star and Josie the valedictorian.  All five of these young women went to Narraguagus High School in Washington County.  While Georges highlights drug and alcohol addiction, economic distress, and a variety of family dynamics that oftentimes serve as barriers for women living in rural Maine, she also showcases the true gumption and grit these five women possess that make their stories possible to tell.  

“The challenges faced by the rural swath of our nation run deep.  But hope is not lost in small-town America. Far from it.  True, places like Downeast Washington County are geographically isolated, continue to struggle with persistent poverty, and lose too many in their midst to opioid addiction.  But they also embody some of the strongest tenets of our American model-through their work ethic, closeness of community, deep social capital, devotion to the natural surroundings that help sustain them, love of country, and intense drive to improve their lot in life.  Not every girl will be a hero in the narrative of small-town America’s survival.  But the choices that rural girls make, and the paths they travel, lie at the core of what’s to come.  It’s time, at last, to allow these girls to speak for themselves.”

Georges opened my eyes to the sense of community,  family roots and values that have truly stood the test of time and are very much present to this day in Washington County.  These essential elements add simplistic beauty to the everyday trials that accompany the leading ladies in this work of nonfiction.  In Downest, Georges shares with readers the importance of being the messenger of these individual stories and what she hopes readers will take away when they finish. There is no shortage of details in her book and the number of people she talked to, interviewed and observed in order to write this is more than I can count. Her writing is crisp, well researched, full of compassion and captures the most personal moments with empathy, respect and heartfelt sensitivity.  Most importantly though, to all of the outsiders looking in…Georges’ book unveils the extraordinary sparkle that rural Maine has to offer. I hope you enjoy Downeast as much as I did.

Until next time!

Your Biggest Fan,

Kelly

P.S.  Be sure to check out Georges’ interview on Politics and Prose with Secretary Hillary Clinton.

Click on the book pic to purchase!

***I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.  My opinions are 100% my own. If I don’t like it…I don’t share it!

Mother of Dragons

Slay Like a Mother:  How to Destroy What’s Holding You Back So You Can Live the Life You Want by Katherine Wintsch (Source Books)

“Your cruel inner voice is your worst enemy, and it’s making life harder than it has to be.  To make changes, you need to hear, trust, and believe the following statement with every bone in your body: You are not the voice in your head. It might sound like you, but it is not you; it might be inside of you, but it is not rooting for you.  It is fueled by your dragon, and therefore, it is fighting against you.”

June 24, 2021

Dear Mr Hemingway,

Being a mother is tough stuff.  Let’s face it, raising small human beings to be independent, good people is no easy feat.  Throw in a healthy portion of self doubt and this motherhood gig just got a whole lot more interesting. As a mom to three, I personally know all about self doubt, negative thinking and how pure exhaustion can literally take over and lead the way (been there, done that and still a work in progress).  Self confidence is hard to come by, especially when it’s competing with all the garbage that has invaded our heads.  Why just muddle through motherhood though when we can enjoy the experience without losing ourselves along the way.  It’s time to rejoice!   Katherine Wintsch is here to share that you can be a thriving mom and eat your cake too.  Young mothers and seasoned mothers alike will find nuggets of wisdom from Wintsch’s book, Slay Like a Mother, that will carry them through this crazy mom journey with some much needed peace and understanding. Let’s take a look!

“If you despise “perfect mothers”, then stop trying to be the bitch you hate.”

Wintsch’s book is all about slaying our dragons.  Dragons are the things that are holding us moms back from being the best version of ourselves.  Traumatic events, negative thinking, self doubt, being too sensitive, and my favorite…comparing ourselves to other moms are just a few examples of dragons that are taking up residence in our heads.  Wintsch offers her readers a behind the scenes look at where these dragons come from, how to manage these beasts and how to eventually eliminate all of these fire breathing creatures from our lives. Struggling is a part of motherhood. However, it’s when the switch flips from struggling to suffering that reevaluation becomes dire. Slay Like a Mother is filled with everyday examples of situations that wreak havoc on our personal growth and fuel those flame throwing dragons. There are interactive sections between the pages that aid in identifying what our unique issues are.  For example, would you talk to your friend the way you talk to yourself, what battles are worth winning, and how do you define success for yourself are all situations that can be explored and analyzed in a constructive way.  How great is that?  You can read this book, write in it and then re-visit it for optimal results.  Peace Out self doubt!!!

“When you give away your free time, you believe others deserve it more than you.

Slay Like a Mother is a breath of fresh air to mothers young and old.  I loved how it didn’t read like a “self help” book, but instead like a friend helping a friend. Instead of preaching and lecturing (no one likes that), Wintsch shares and relates.  Her writing has a vulnerability and understanding to it that gives off an empowering vibe. Learning how to “not care what other moms think” or how to get off the comparison merry-go-round may not be rocket science, but it is still downright HARD to do. Having a few of those oh so shiny swords at our disposal to slay these nuisances are always welcome.

“Be the slayer you want to see in the world.”

It is time to get our slay on and take care of some much needed business so we can be kick ass moms and live our lives to the fullest! 

Write to you again soon my friend!

Your Biggest Fan,

Kelly

P.S. Be sure to check out everything about Slay Like a Mother Right Here.

Click on the book pic to purchase!

***I received a copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.  My opinions are 100% my own. If I don’t like it…I don’t share it!

Golden Ticket

Miseducated:  A Memoir by Brandon P. Fleming (Hachette Books)~June 15, 2021



May 24, 2021

Dear Mr. Hemingway,

As you know, I truly enjoy your writing. I’ve been chipping away at all of your books and short stories for quite a few years now.  As much as I enjoy reading your words, I am equally intrigued by your life and your complicated journey that was often masked behind your work and public persona.  As we all know, you can’t judge a book by its cover, which is why I absolutely love reading memoirs.  Memoirs give me a sneak peek into someone else’s life.  I am a fly on the wall somewhere different.  Somewhere vulnerable, somewhere true. Whether I am laughing, crying, learning or relating, memoirs are personal treasures that writers share with their readers.  I just finished reading Miseducated:  A Memoir by Brandon P. Fleming and my eyes are wide open.  I challenge any reader not to be inspired by this fantastic read.  Let’s take a look.

First, let me introduce you to the author.  Brandon P. Fleming is the Assistant Coach of Debate at Harvard University and the Founder/CEO of the Harvard Diversity Project. The Harvard Diversity Project recruits underserved high schoolers of color from Atlanta to Harvard’s summer residency program with Fleming raising money for their tuition.  WOW…right?  Fleming may be an award winning educator, but his road to a professional and scholarly life was a rough one to travel. He grew up in an abusive home with little to no role-models.  Basketball was his golden ticket into college. Classwork did not come easily for Fleming, so when an injury ended his college basketball career, he dropped out of school.  Without an education or skill set to obtain a stimulating job, he worked on an assembly line at a vitamin factory day in and day out returning to his delinquent behaviors.  It didn’t take him long to end up in the hospital after a failed suicide attempt.  From there Fleming slowly began to grow and discover a whole new world outside of his gangster life.  One with possibilities.  One with hope.  One that he was willing to work for.

Fleming invites his readers into his world with straightforward,  powerful words.  Through trial and error and being knocked down more times than I can count, he discovers the whole concept of being “miseducated”.  If you are raised only seeing Black men become “gangstas”, drug dealers and athletes, then that is what you aspire to be.  It wasn’t until Fleming discovered Black scholars, the Harlem renaissance and the power of debate that his life started to turn around.  When he realized that he could take his experience and newfound knowledge and help other at-risk kids not only survive, but thrive, he jumped on it.   How we teach and connect with learners is just as important as what we teach. Because of his past, Fleming knew how to tap into the young and underserved Black community and he inspired them through the power of debate.  

Guts and perseverance fill the pages of Fleming’s memoir from start to finish.  His journey encompasses aspiration after so much despair.  His story is one that not only at-risk Black kids need to know, but all kids need to know.   Watching Fleming rise up was beautiful and quite moving. His enthusiasm for learning shines so brightly in his teaching and his eagerness for knowledge and thoughtful discussion is contagious. Our youth are beyond lucky to have him. 

Until next time my friend!

Your Biggest Fan,

Kelly 

P.S.  Fleming’s memoir comes out June 15, 2021.  Be sure to pre-order it below from your local indie bookstore!

Click on the book pic to pre-order

~Moms Need Time To Read This Book~

My 2021 Mother’s Day Book Recommendation

Moms Don’t Have Time To: A Quarantine Anthology  Edited by Zibby Owens (Skyhorse Publishing)

April 29, 2021

Dear Mr. Hemingway,

Today I am talking all about moms (I am aware that this can be a sore subject for you).  We are master jugglers, keeper of secrets and the CEOs of our homes and everything that lives and breathes beneath our roofs.  Whether we work outside the home or wear the SAHM (stay at home mom) hat with style, we are a force to be reckoned with.  We are by no means perfect though.  Life continues to shape us each day, and living during a global pandemic has whittled our form in unexpected ways. With that said, Zibby Owens, the host of the award winning podcast, Moms Don’t Have Time To Read Books has a new book to comfort our souls.  Moms Don’t Have Time To: A Quarantine Anthology is a book of essays written by dozens of best selling authors. All of the essays reflect the things they do not have time to do as moms, during these unprecedented times. This book provides laughter, a few tears and most of all… good company during a truly crappy time.  Let’s take a look.

When the pandemic began, Owens launched an online magazine called We Found Time, where authors who appeared on her literary podcast wrote unique essays about life during quarantine.  The success of this series led Owens to compile all of these beautiful essays and create an anthology for busy readers (AKA…moms).  The essays fell into five different categories of things moms don’t have time to do: eat, read, work out, breathe and have sex.  How brilliant is that?  All the things I have zero time for these days.  Here are some of my favorite essays to wet your whistles.

I absolutely loved and related to author Ashley Prentice Norton’s essay titled, Why Moms Really Join Book Clubs.  Let’s face it, our IRL book clubs are way more than a fantastic book selection.  They serve as an excuse for a cocktail midweek, an escape from our homes during primetime bedtime routines, and most importantly…a place to laugh, cry and everything in between. Zibby Owen’s essay, Racing Against The Coronavirus:  How Working Out Is Keeping Me Sane not only inspired me, but gave me hope that I too, could, and would enjoy working out one day (trying to figure that one out still 😂).  Author Courtney Maum had me dreaming of pineapples, freshly squeezed OJ and a simpler life in Mexico.  My heart strings felt quite the tug reading Julie Satow’s, Does My Daughter Miss Her Babysitter Too Much?  She truly tapped into what constitutes a family unit and the loss we feel when we are not physically connected to the people who are ginormous parts of our lives.  And lastly, I literally almost died reading author Lisa Barr’s essay, Forget Date Night-Try Date Day.  I couldn’t agree with her more that “dating” your husband during the day is way hotter than the ritualistic “date night”. But with shelter in place with your kids all around you now the hot new dating spot, suddenly sexy foreplay through texting is out and emptying the dishwasher is the new turn on.  Barr was quick to note that “this virus is a serious cockblocker”, and I concur with her statement 100%!

Mother’s Day is right around the corner.  Zibby Owen’s anthology has got you covered in the gift giving department.  MOMS NEED TIME TO READ THIS BOOK and the greatest thing is that it can be read in short snippets of time.  Moms can enjoy an essay before work, during a lunch break, in a school pickup line or right before bed.  The odds of relating to one or more of these gleaming essays are high.  It’s a timeless book of being a mom during extraordinary times.  These essays are a literary hug to moms, a gift that keeps on giving long after they are read.  Gift this treasure to someone who is “momming hard” this Mother’s Day.!

Until next time my friend!

Your Biggest Fan,

Kelly

P.S. All proceeds of this book will go to the Susan Felice Owens Program for Covid-19 Vaccine Research at Mount Sinai Health System.

P.P.S.  Be sure to check out Zibby Owens and all that she does.  She is a ray of sunshine in the literary world.

Click on the book pic to purchase and support Covid Vaccine Research

Kelly’s Top 10 Books Of 2020

January 4, 2021

Dear Mr. Hemingway,

Happy New Year!  We made it to 2021!  Let‘s face it, 2020 was an absolute doozy!  I personally had a difficult time focusing on reading and was in a perpetual state of ruffled feathers.  This year, quality over quantity was the name of the game and I found myself way more picky with my book selections.  If a book didn’t reel me in from page one or work with whatever my current mood was on that day (or hour 😂😂), I tossed it.  Definitely a bit harsh for me, but I truly needed books that distracted me from my distractions and took me somewhere outside of my quarantined mind.  Here are my Top 10 Books Of 2020 in random order!  Whether I laughed out loud or was completely moved, each one of these books spoke to me in a unique way! Click on the book pictures for their full synopsis or to purchase from your local bookstore.   Here we go….

His & Hers by Alice Feeney (Flatiron) ~ This book was sooooo good! I could not put this down.  I listened to this on audio and the narration was incredible.  This was the ultimate suspense/thriller.  Click here to read my past review.

Admission by Julie Buxbaum (Delacorte Press) ~ Can you say,  juicy tale?  I really enjoyed this behind the scene look at what it takes to get into college and how far families will go to ensure their kids receive the creme de la creme education. Buxbaum explored issues of wealth, race, white privilege and more in her latest book. Though this is a work of fiction, it was inspired by the recent admission scandal this past year. I love how the teenager’s point of view is so prevalent in this story. Admission is an eye-opening read that will have you glued to your seat. It is the perfect book club pick. Discussions galore will come out of it.

Untamed by Glennon Doyle (The Dial Press) ~ This book was hands down, the equivalent to a perfect cup of tea!  I am a huge Glennon fan and her book was the breath of fresh air I needed this year.  Click here to read my past review.  

Green Lights by Matthew McConaughey (Crown Publishing) ~ Such a fun read.  Though Matthew’s life is most definitely different than mine, I strangely found comfort and could even relate to some of his words. I love how green lights, yellow lights, and even red lights are all opportunities to halt what you are doing or move ahead.  It is like the universe is talking to us.  Maybe some things do happen for a reason. Nevertheless, I got quite a few laughs from this charmer. Wait until you read about all of his “dreams”!!

My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell (William Morrow)~ Why all the fuss about this book???? In short, it is the story of a fifteen year old girl and her relationship with her 42 year old HIgh School teacher. It is a book that shines light on things that are strenuous to acknowledge. It is a book that is easier to just not read. It is a book that had my mind twisted every which way. It is a book that never left me, even when my reading time was through. It is a book that made me feel terribly uncomfortable yet completely captivated. It is a book that made my stomach turn and my mind wander. It is a book filled with power. It is a book that is so beautifully written, my heart ached. 

The Girl With The Louding Voice by Abi Dare (Dutton)~ I do not think this book has a star rating less than 5+.  Adunni absolutely stole my heart.  I rooted for her with all my heart and soul throughout her journey.  Dare’s book was powerful and complete perfection! If you have not read this yet, make it happen ASAP.  You will have no regrets.  

Blacktop Wasteland by S.A. Cosby (Flatiron)~  I am so glad I squeezed this book in before 2020 ended.  WOW……this was awesome! Robberies, car chases, drugs and family drama….this book was a 100 mph ride that kept my beating heart in business.  Cosby’s writing was colorful, sharp and seriously captivating.  Enjoy this high speed read!!

The Happy Ever After Playlist by Abby Jimenez (Forever Publishing)~ Oh La La.  Sloan and Jason…need I say more.  This was the super fun and steamy read I needed this 2020. I loved Jimenez’s last book The Friend Zone, and her follow up was equally as fabulous!  Be prepared to swoon.  Consider yourself warned!

Master Class by Christina Dalcher (Berkley) ~ I am obsessed with this book. Dalcher’s contemporary dystopian tale incorporates contentious issues from the past and present into a fictional world where the unimaginable may not be far from the truth. This was a 5 star read for me.  Fans of The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood will be all over this one.  Click here for my past review.

The Roxy Letters by Mary Pauline Lowry (Simon &Schuster) ~ Take it from me, The Roxy Letters is the PERFECT book to slip in your bag when heading to the beach (or pool, or lake, or front porch).  With so many uncertainties in the world, why not escape for a few hours with some much needed laughter and a story that just makes you feel great.  I spent so much of my time reading this book giggling, while my cheeks turned uber pink.  With a heart of gold and a thirst for all things good, Roxy is one to root for. Click here for my past review.

Well my friend, that is a wrap!  Look out for all my bookish love coming your way this 2021.  Until next time…

Your Biggest Fan,

Kelly

P.S.  Click here to read my last post in December.  If you love a good domestic suspense novel, I have got you covered.  

Guest Writer

Guest writer Amanda Benwell graphic

Amanda Benwell
Bookstagram Bonanza Edition

Guest writer Amanda Benwell graphic

October 28, 2020

Dear Book Worms,

Happy Wednesday! I am thrilled to share with you that Amanda Benwell is on the blog today writing to Mr. Hemingway about one of her favorite books of all time. Amanda is the creator of the wonderful Bookstagram account, @lilacsandliterature where she highlights her love of reading and all the books you can possibly imagine. If you need a book recommendation, Amanda will steer you in the right direction. If you don’t believe me, ask one of the 9,000+ followers she has. Amanda is the real deal!

Amanda is a born and raised Mainer, and shares a home with her husband of twelve years and their three sons (see why I like her)! When she is not spending time with all of the men in her life or quietly reading, she enjoys anything and everything true crime: podcasts, documentaries, etc. as well as bad reality TV and cooking! She lives for the nostalgia of growing up a 90s kid and is a huge fan of 70s soft rock, country music and CHRISTMAS! Amanda shared with me that she could never live without caffeine, comfy blankets, sarcasm and pasta! This my friends… is someone I can trust!

Though Amanda and I both live in Maine, we have never met in person (unless you count ZOOM). Did I mention that Maine is a really big state with slow moving “highways” and country roads? The minimum time it takes to get anywhere feels like 25 minutes, and Amanda and I live miles away from one another. I look forward to enjoying a cup of coffee or fabulous cocktail with this Bookstagram Treasure one of these days. I hope you enjoy her letter to the big guy and check out all of her bookish love over on instagram.

❤️❤️❤️

Kelly

P.S. The book Amanda eagerly chose to share today started from one small article in the New York Times in 1959 and resulted in an Edgar Award in1966 for best fact-crime novel and a Pulitzer Prize nomination that same year, not to mention multiple film adaptations as well (hmmm…have you guessed yet?)

___________________________

Dear Mr. H.,

Fall is here in Maine and as a lifelong resident I can easily say this is my favorite time of year. The leaves are changing, the weather is much cooler, the sky turns darker earlier, and there is nothing that says “reading time” to me more than a blanket and a cup of tea. In case you were wondering, decaf chai spice is my go to right now. And as I contemplated what book I would want to chat with you about, it really wasn’t very difficult to choose. When I was a high school student (I won’t date myself but it was roughly two decades ago – keep this between us?) I read a book that would forever change me. Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood shocked me and instantly made me a fanatic of all things true crime – documentaries, books, tv specials – you name it and I devoured it. And even now, in the age of podcasts and Netflix where true crime is a thriving brand, I’m still taken back to years ago when I first read the story of the Clutter family from Holcomb, Kansas.

I am by definition, not a re-reader. I can probably count on one hand the number of times I have read a book more than once. I’m not sure exactly why that is. Part of it is because there are so many good books out there that I hesitate to choose something I’ve already read over the adventure of a new story. I am also a staunch anti-synopsis/spoiler reader which means I do not read the synopsis of a book before I dive in, as I do not even want the generic plot revealed. This is for a few reasons – I read many thrillers where there is often a “twist” in the book and even reading a synopsis has me guessing it all the way through and can easily ruin the excitement for myself. But there are a few books I’ve read over the course of my life as a reader – and one could argue I’ve been a reader since birth as books have always been my escape – that have been so powerful that I would read all over again. And this brings me to this amazing book. 

A note to readers: In Cold Blood is not for the faint of heart and deals with four savage murders so please continue reading with caution. 

In 1959 in the small town of Holcomb, Kansas lived four members of the Clutter Family – Herb, the patriarch, Bonnie, the timid “afflicted” mother, Kenyon, the high school son, and the teenage sweetheart Nancy, who was the town’s pride and joy. One Sunday morning, Nancy’s friend arrives at the Clutter’s house and finds it silent which is highly unusual. What follows is the discovery that the entire family has been murdered – and worst of all there is no apparent motive or any suspects to name. The Clutter family was widely known, very well liked, and not an overly wealthy family, although they did just fine on their sprawling ranch. But it doesn’t appear much was stolen from the house, and everyone knew Mr. Clutter never carried cash, choosing to pay for everything by check. So what happened here? Why did this horrific crime – shotgun blasts in close range to the entire family – happen? Was it personal? But why?

Capote’s writing is unlike anything that came before or after, and broke the true crime genre wide open. He interviewed absolutely everyone he could – from friends and family of the Clutters to people who knew the eventual suspects – and who of course turned out to be the perpetrators. But the most important aspect of the novel is not how much time and research was spent on the information, but how it was presented. In Cold Blood reads like a titillating crime novel, fictional in its appearance, but every word of it true. Capote was able to put you inside the Clutter home on the night of November 15, 1959 with the wind whistling across the plains and the silence of the country roads. You can taste the fear of the family, the shock and terror as they realize this isn’t your run of the mill robbery and that evilhad entered their home. 

As the entire town scrambles to understand this horrific crime, Capote not only takes us through the journey of law enforcement, but also takes us along for a ride with the two men who committed the crime. We learn everything about them, including their childhoods, what they ate after the brutal murders, and everything in between. It is an unprecedented look at both the victims and perpetrators that was unheard of at the time. No one writes with such amazing detail as Capote. He captured the emotions of all those around, not only the family, but the murderers as well. 

I cannot recommend this book enough, even for those who would not consider themselves interested in the true crime genre. This was written well before “click-bait” and the obsession with serial killers and every sensationalized detail. Capote wrote the truth, and it was more chilling than any horror movie or fictional verse. He also takes an approach to the death penalty that has much validity in the conversation even now. 

So here we are, Mr. H. I hope you take my suggestion into consideration and pour yourself a cup of chai, wrap up in a nice cozy blanket and meet the Clutter family with me. Herb, Bonnie, Kenyon, and Nancy will stay with you. And you might just meet your new obsession: true crime and the desire to understand the darkest parts of humanity. It’s been 20 years and I’m still in deep.

Your true crime bookworm friend,

Amanda

P.S. Click on the book pic below to purchase!

Book cover of Truman Capote's In Cold Blood

Guest Writer

Graphic for guest writer Carrie Torrisi

Carrie Torrisi

Bookstagram Bonanza Edition

Guest Writer, Carrie Torisi graphic

October 7, 2020

Dear Lovely Readers,

I am so excited to introduce you to today’s Guest Writer…Carrie Torrisi. Carrie is the mastermind behind the ever so popular Bookstagram (fancy name for Instagram for book lovers) page, @bostonbookfanatic. If you have never visited Carrie’s Instagram page, then HOP TO IT! She loves reading family dramas, particularly multigenerational and nonlinear/dual timeline stories. She does an impressive job highlighting the latest books, promoting authors, and featuring debut novels. Carrie is one of the creators of #thesixspotlight and a co-creator of the @mystery.book.club on Instagram.

Carrie’s book recommendations are a slam dunk. If you are looking for something to read, look no further. With over 42,000 followers (I am most definitely one of them), it is safe to say that this Boston Book Fanatic has got you covered. And guess what…this isn’t even her day job! A successful lawyer by day 😮 and respected book lover/book influencer by night, Carrie is awe-inspiring!!! How on earth she has time to ride her deeply loved Peloton bike is beyond me. I hope you enjoy her stellar letter to Mr. H. Its a keeper!

❤️❤️❤️

Kelly

P.S. Carrie’s coolness doesn’t stop there… she even has a cat named RBG. Can you say GIRL POWER!

______________________

Dear Mr. Hemingway,

Perhaps a book that’s comprised of individuals sharing the darkest moments in their lives isn’t the best to recommend to someone whose tumultuous life was filled with mental health struggles and ended in suicide.  However, given that the biggest takeaway from everyone I’ve talked to about this book is that the stories made them feel less alone in their struggles, perhaps you would have found some comfort in it, as well.

I know not everyone wants to read an emotional book, but if you’re going to read just one this fall (hell, even this year), then make that one be Craigslist Confessional by Helena Dea Bala. Are you going to be sad?  Oh, most definitely.  But are you also going to feel connected to strangers and fellow readers in a way that you didn’t know possible?  Also yes.

Helena gave up her law career to follow her passion. That passion?  Listening to strangers share their problems.  What started as a conversation with a homeless man who panhandled near her office led Helena to place an ad on Craigslist (hm, how to explain Craigslist to you… or the internet…  This letter will be far too long so just imagine a huge billboard in the city square that anyone can see.) offering to meet with strangers and listen anonymously to them as they shared whatever they felt they couldn’t tell anyone else.  An offer to allow them to unburden themselves and ideally walk always feeling a bit emotionally lighter. She got thousands of responses, and Craigslist Confessional was born.

As a lawyer who sometimes gets caught up in the daily grind (we all know how that goes, right?), I so admire Helena’s decision to leave her unfulfilling legal career behind and choose a path that gave her a sense of purpose. Especially given how wild that path seemed and how it, um, didn’t seem like it could possibly lead to any kind of income. Thankfully, people saw the value in these stories and now not only do we all have an opportunity to read them, but hopefully Helena will have a long and prosperous writing career ahead of her.

This book is made up of 40 individual stories from people going through the gamut of personal problems.  It’s split into five categories:  Love, Regret, Loss, Identity, and Family. Some of the stories will break your heart, some of them will bring you bittersweet joy, some of them will open your eyes to different experiences, and some of them you’ll relate to on a deeply personal level.  ALL of them will make you feel like you’re less alone. And ALL of them will remind you that we can never truly know what is going on behind a person’s façade. 

I’ve listened to people discuss these stories and connect over some of the deepest and darkest moments in their lives.  I’ve watched friends discuss their failed pregnancies and lost babies and rather than being crushed by sorrow, they’re comforted by their solidarity.  I’ve listened to people reference a moment in one story or a particular chapter where they thought, “yes, I’ve been there,” or “whoa, that’s me.” I’ve heard others say that they found their pain and struggles validated within these pages.

If you’re looking for a book with a happy ending where everything is tied up in a neat little bow, then be warned that this isn’t it. These stories are captured from a single conversation that Helena had with these individuals and are focused on whatever they needed or wanted to share to unburden themselves, so we don’t find out how their lives or situations turned out. While that might be hard for some, I found that it allowed me to be hopeful for them even in what seemed like the most hopeless of circumstances.

Reading Craigslist Confessional has reminded me not to be so quick to judge others and that there isn’t a single person whose life is all happy all the time. It’s truly a must read.

All the best,

Carrie – Boston Book Fanatic 

P.S. Click on the pic below to purchase this book!

Author photo of Carrie Torisi
photo credit – Carrie Torrisi

How To Save A Life

The Beauty in Breaking Beauty shot

The Beauty in Breaking by Michele Harper (Riverhead Books)

The Beauty in Breaking Beauty shot

September 1, 2020

Dear Mr. Hemingway,

Every time I read a memoir I say to myself, “ Kelly…..why don’t you do this more often?” I have always been fascinated by other people’s stories…. Sometimes it’s me being nosey 🤣🤣, but mostly I enjoy reading about someone else’s  journey and perspective on life.  Memoirs to me ignite empathy and understanding.  They often bring to the surface, unexplored feelings I never even knew I had. Whether I finish someone’s story feeling inspired, sad, horrified or utterly joyous, I am one step closer to understanding the human spirit. 

I recently read Dr. Michele Harper’s medical memoir, The Beauty in Breaking.  Dr. Harper is an African American, Harvard-educated ER doctor.  Mr. Hemingway… you could have easily swapped stories with this woman.  Like Dr. Harper,  I am sure you saw your share of emergencies while driving an ambulance for the American Red Cross in Italy during the first World War.  You even experienced your own traumas when you were hit with a mortar shell (I hear you even saved a piece of the shrapnel) and survived two consecutive plane crashes.  To say you cheated death a few times is an understatement.  From the war torn battlefields in the 1900s to the modern day ER battlefields, you and Dr. Harper could probably chit-chat all night long. I have digressed…once again. Lets get on with it.

In her memoir, Dr. Harper does a wonderful job weaving together her abusive childhood and past relationships with the wide variety of patients she has treated in the ER.   Her experience working as a physician in a hospital as a Black woman and the ethical boundaries that are pushed in such an intense setting was extremely eye opening.    Dr. Harper also brings to light the racism and sexism she experienced and witnessed in her career and reveals the flaws that exist in our healthcare systems today.  

What I truly loved about Dr. Harper’s memoir was how her encounters with patients helped her with understanding her own trauma and relationships.  At times,  I felt like I was in the middle of a Medical TV Drama. The intensity of waiting for your next patient to come crashing through the hospital door, to the painstakingly devastating outcomes that are often endured, Dr. Harper’s medical details are not for the faint hearted.  However, what her book offers that most medical dramas lack, is the human connection to her patients.  Day in and day out, Dr, Harper worked on healing her patients.  It was through this process of remedying and restoring health in others that she truly began to heal herself.   I love how she incorporates her yoga practice into her medical practice.  Like medicine, she believes that yoga too, needs to be practiced everyday for optimal gains. Through the patients she comes in contact with everyday and her selfcare journey, she taps into the value of truth and happiness.  Her writing is intellectual, thought provoking and filled with compassion. I am thrilled to have Dr. Harper’s book on my bookshelf.  

Until next time my friend!

Your Biggest Fan,

Kelly

P.S. I not only enjoyed reading this book, but I also enjoyed the audio version as well. If you are an audio book enthusiast, check out Libro.fm for all your listening needs. Your purchases support your local bookstore of choice 🤗🤗🤗.

Click on the book pic to purchase.

Cover of The Beauty in Breaking

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