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Fashion Scenes & Low Rise Jeans

Everybody (else) is perfect

Everybody (Else) is Perfect:  How I Survived Hypocrisy, Beauty, Clicks, and Likes by Gabrielle Korn (Atria Books)

“Under the guidance of 29-year-old Gabrielle Korn, an out lesbian who lives in Brooklyn with her musician girlfriend, Nylon has become one of the most politically-aware, racially diverse, LGBTQ-inclusive, and feminist-forward digital magazines out there since Korn was appointed editor-in-chief in September 2017 (the same time the outlet’s print edition folded).”

January 25, 2021

Dear Mr. Hemingway,

Women!  You were a fan…I am quite sure of that.  We empower one another to live life to the fullest, love who we want to love, feel confident in our bodies and demand equality in our everyday lives.  But the bottom line is…are we ever 100% happy within our own skin?  How can we get to a place of peace and acceptance of our most wonderful selves, especially when we are promoting this to those around us?  Sometimes a deep dive into the roots of these issues is more telling than a one size fits all answer.  Gabrielle Korn, a digital media expert, former editor at Refinery29 and former editor-in-chief of Nylon shares in her new memoir, personal essays relating to this very issue. Her story is an eye-opening, contemporary account of how damaging the fashion and beauty industries have been (and still can be) to women.  Her writing is fresh and alive and pretty much blew me away.  I hope you will read her book and find wisdom and courage in her words.

I will admit right away that I have never read Nylon (I have seen it referenced in books and on the internet though) and until I read Korn’s memoir, I didn’t even know who she was.  I am telling you this because I loved her book and I loved getting to know her through her writing.  I am not sure how much of a difference it would have made if I had more knowledge of who Korn was and what Nylon was all about.  FYI…Nylon is an international lifestyle publication that focuses on emerging culture (beauty, fashion, music, entertainment, etc.).  Korn’s book is a compilation of essays about her time spent in her twenties working in the fashion/beauty industry and her fast rise to the top of the publication, Nylon.  Korn had a great education, a supportive family and plenty of friendships.  Despite these blessings, she found herself in a cycle of eating disorders and body dysmorphia that not only impacted her health and well being, but had an acute influence on her intimate relationships with women.  Society’s view of sexualality was and still is in constant flux, making Korn’s goal of bringing diversity to this area and to all shapes, sizes and races to the media a constant battle. Fashion Week in New York City was one of the biggest culprits of all.  Stick thin models with dress sizes measuring an xxxs, is not ideal for anyone.

Korn talked a lot about trending body parts and their continuous sway on our self-esteem.  First it was a flat as a pancake stomach, then it was an oversized booty, followed by big boobs or bust.  Let’s not forget the thin waif look or the “strong is healthy” body.  What body part was the focus was and still is ever changing.   Looking in the mirror became a confusing vision for Korn and one that she battled everyday.    

“Even before hashtags, women’s body parts have been going in and out of style for as long as there’s been style.  What’s meant by that, really, is that for the moment, people with a certain physical characteristic are privileged. “ 

With popular body parts comes fashion to highlight them.  From low rise jeans, to high rise leggings, to crop tops to the no makeup makeup look, there is always a trend lingering around tempting us to conform or shaming us because we don’t.  Korn takes us through her days of dressing and undressing in the clothes of our time that were supposed to inspire us to feel beautiful but also had the potential of making one feel empty and not good enough.  She does mention that what you wear still can be valued.  Fashion has changed through the decades and for example, women being able to wear pants was a huge deal.  It was a sign of strength and equality that should be celebrated.  With this comes a hefty side order of  sexism, mental health issues and a variety of eating disorders that keep us from reaching our full potential and most happy selves.  Korn shares how her own eating disorder came to be and her battle to overcome it in a world that was determined to defeat her with unobtainable bodies and beauty standards. 

Through her years in the instrustry, Korn called out the fashion world for promoting diversity and women empowerment, while at the same time, not adhering to their own standards.  

“For any real change to happen in the fashion industry, all of the editors and bloggers and influencers would have to agree to stop showing up for designers that aren’t making an active effort to improve diversity.  That would mean going to probably four or five shows as opposed to the nearly one hundred that happen during New York Fashion Week.”  

Gabrielle Korn’s memoir was a deep-seated read.  I was beguiled with how she shared her most private moments in her life in a way that felt like she was talking in confidence with a close friend.  As a forty something year old straight woman who has never worked in the fashion industry, I could still relate to so much of what she revealed.  I have lived through my fair share of fashion/body trends and unreachable beauty standards and of course…sexism at its finest.  I can’t say that it was all bad (excluding sexism…that is always never welcomed here), but looking back now I wonder if some of it was even worth it.   Some trends worked in my favor, while others had me scrambling or left feeling pretty low.  Through the decades, I have witnessed media, fashion, diets and beauty products make strides towards diversity and inclusion of all shapes, sizes and even genders…at least from my perspective as a consumer. But is society moving in the right direction to meet the needs of our diverse and beautiful world?  Hopefully.  Do I still feel like I am reaching for the stars sometimes?  Absolutely.  But my one take away from Korn is that there are so many outside factors that influence our lives and we can’t change everything, especially all at once.  What we can change though, is our reaction to the cultural influences around us and how we let it seep into our minds and relationships.  We do not have to be a slave to our image.  We can just be who we are and love ourselves, flaws and all.   2021 continues to be an uphill battle. But as the steepness slowly decreases, our strength is increasing. Our bodies are our vessels that carry us through life.  I am focussing more on loving my vessel than hating it.  How about you?  

Much love, health and happiness to you!

Your Biggest Fan,

Kelly

P.S. Wallace ❤️❤️❤️

Click on the book pic below to purchase this book. It comes out January 26, 2021 🥰🥰🥰

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

Bree Hill Guest Writer Graphic

Bree Hill
Bookstagram Bonanza Edition

Guest Writer Bree Hill Graphic

October 14, 2020

Dear Book Friends,

If you are looking for love, you have come to the right place. Today’s Guest Writer is a retired Air Force police officer turned stay at home mom turned successful book lover/influencer. Bree Hill is the queen of romance reading! She is the creator of the very successful Bookstagram page, @falling4romance. If you are looking to read something from this genre, then Bree is the girl for you. I tend to visit her page quite often when I need a little more love in my life. In addition to all the work she does for her own page, she also is a contributing writer for Reading Women and Frolic and has been featured on the What To Read Next podcast and Shelf Love podcast. WOW!

Bree is a full time college student, wrapping up her degree in History, hoping to teach middle school one day. She picked up her first romance novel in 2017 and has been an avid reader of the genre ever since. When not reading, or chasing after one of her kids, Bree can typically be found having coffee at a local coffee shop or out for her morning run.

I hope you enjoy Bree’s letter to Mr. H. Romance is in the air everyone…….take a deep breath and enjoy!

P.S. This past summer, Bree was named one of the top 24 Black Bookstagrammers to put on your radar by BuzzFeed (can you say…the real deal?).

______________________________

Dear Mr. Hemingway,

One thing 2020 has shown me, is that the world can use a little more (or a lot more) romance. We need more love stories, more happy ever afters. Romance has been my go-to genre since I picked my first romance novel up back in 2017. I remember checking out a Debbie Macomber Christmas romance novel from my local library, and the genre instantly became a new life companion. Through dark mental health moments, retiring from the job I’d been doing since I was 18 and constant hits, we’ve been experiencing in 2020, I have always been able to depend on romance. 

A favorite romance from this year, that I recommend every chance I get is, The Trouble With Hating You by Sajni Patel. Here’s the thing: I read and finished this book back in July, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it yet! When you look at the cover of this book, you see this gorgeous yellow cover with the beautiful illustrated version of our heroine, Liya Thakkar and our hero, Jay Shaw. You see the cover and immediately think, “This is going to be a good time.” It is a good time, and so much more. This book is genius. Liya is a successful bioengineer in Houston, Texas who goes to her parent’s house for dinner one night. Unbeknownst to her, her parents have invited over Jay Shaw and his Mother, as a setup, hoping Liya and Jay will marry. As any 2020 woman would do, Liya bolts it out of there! When she goes to work the next day, she runs into Jay again because he is the lawyer her struggling company has hired to help them out. 

I love a good workplace romance. I love a not-so friendly to lovers romance too but what I love even more is how romance authors weave in serious issues women face into their stories, all with the promise of a happy ever after at the end. Liya is a sexual assault survivor and because of who her assaulter was, she’s basically been alienated from her community and by members of her own family. She is tough and maintains control at all times after having survived a situation where she didn’t have control. There is a scene in this book that still makes my blood boil every time I think of it and that I remember physically experiencing along with Liya when it happened; it was heartbreaking but the moment I think she and I as the reader, realized it was time to let go and move on. Romance authors are putting in work! Don’t let the pretty illustrated covers or promise of a happy ever after fool you; their stories include some hard hitting, real life issues. The happy ever after is the gift for making it through.

The Trouble With Hating You by Sajni Patel should absolutely be on your to be read list.

Remember, Kindness is Free

Bree

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

The Trouble Hating You book cover

 

Guest Writer

Guest writer Sol Kelly

Sol Kelly

Bookstagram Bonanza Edition

Guest Writer Graphic for Sol Kelly

October 2, 2020

Dear Book Lovers,

I am so very happy to introduce you to today’s Guest Writer. Sol Kelly lives in Houston, Texas. She is the creator of the gorgeous book blog, The Sol Reader, and the popular Bookstagram (Instagram for book lovers) page, @thesolreader. Sol is an absolute free-spirit who loves to travel and explore new bookstores while learning new cultures and languages along the way. She is currently working on becoming quadrilingual in English, Spanish, French, and Japanese 😮! Sol is a mood reader whose favorite genres include literary and contemporary fiction, social science, gender + sexuality, and poetry. Sunny beaches, cold beer, and good reads give this ray of sunshine life. I hope you enjoy her letter to Mr. H. and follow her around on all of her bookish adventures. I can assure you…this gem will brighten your day ☀️☀️☀️.

Enjoy!

❤️❤️❤️

Kelly

P.S. Sol told me she hails from the city where people second-line and throw a party for everything. Can you say New Orleans 🍺🎭🎉!!!

_____________________

Dear Mr. H., 

While 2020 seems to have been written by a fantasy and thriller author who gets a laugh out of that whole “it’s one thing after another” stunt, the one thing they did get right is the amount of amazing books that are coming out this year. I’m not sure how many books you now have on your TBR (to be read) list, but if it is anywhere close to mine, a number we shall not speak of, then I hope All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson is somewhere on there. If it is not, you need to add it as soon as possible because this book is a gem and the author is an incredible creative. 

I believe that knowing more about the author helps to elevate the reading experience. There’s something about getting to know them beyond their pages. With George M. Johnson, the more you learn about them, the more you fall in love with their authenticity, creativity, vulnerability, and innovation. I literally fangirl every time I see Johnson on my timeline, and if you’ve checked out their Instagram you will see why. They never disappoint..and I mean NEVER. George M. Johnson is an award winning writer and Bestselling author of All Boys Aren’t Blue who recently invited us in on identifying as nonbinary (pronouns: they/them) and queer. They are constantly and continuously demonstrating the importance of having agency over our lives. 

All Boys Aren’t Blue is an LGBTQIA+ Young Adult read (with a stunning cover for all my cover lovers like myself) that has an overarching theme of agency – being able to control our narrative. Johnson does an incredible job of showing what this has looked like in their life throughout every chapter from discussing their upbringing to their relationship with their family to their college experience in regard to becoming a member of a fraternity to exploring their identity and sexuality. We get a taste of it all, which I know with confidence will not only help younger readers see themselves in these pages, but everyone who cracks open the book, especially those of us who longed for books that gave us the words and convictions to navigate our own identities and sexuality in our respective worlds growing up and even now. Johnson words it perfectly on page 85 when they say, “You sometimes don’t know you exist until you realize someone like you existed before.” Have you ever read a book that made you feel understood and considered, Mr. H.? Maybe your works do that for others. 

The book is categorized as a memoir-manifesto with an outstanding amount of vulnerability expressed in every story that is admirable and is home to so much beauty. We are seeing a Black, queer, nonbinary author be an open book (pun intended lol) and give us stories we need – the stories that get buried in headlines, in graves, and in family secrets. Stories that never get told but should. Stories that challenge the gender binary and the heteronormative systems in society. Stories that speak to unconditional love and acceptance, and that give us permission to be our most genuine, authentic, bold, brave, and queer selves.

You should be adding All Boys Aren’t Blue to your cart…right…about…NOW!

Shine Brightly, 

Sol

P.S. Click on the book pic below to purchase this amazing read from an incredible bookstore!

Sol Kelly's bookstack

**Photo credit~Sol Kelly

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

Girls…Run The World

Untamed and Fierce, Free, Fire Beauty Shot

Untamed by Glennon Doyle (The Dial Press) &
Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire:  The Guide To Being Glorious You by Jen Hatmaker (Thomas Nelson)

August 24, 2020

Dear Mr. Hemingway,

I am coming at you today Mr. H. with a whole lot of girl power. I hope all your “masculinity” can handle it 😂. I am talking about the fabulous Glennon Doyle and Jen Hatmaker!  These two motivational ladies are the “QUEENS” of self love and all things good in the world.  They know how to navigate the murky waters of religion and sexual identity. With empathy, they champion those who struggle. They are “momming” hard with all the rest of us, sharing their triumphs and challenges with their kids every step of the way.  They believe in the power of relationships and the people around us. But most importantly, they want to live their most authentic lives.  Both women have the gift of connecting with their audience.  When I read their words or listen to them speak, it feels like I am in a room with one of my closest girlfriends. They are inspirational, compassionate, and downright hysterical. Let me move forward now and tell you about their latest books!

I have been following Glennon Doyle forever.  I have read her previous books, Carry on, Warrior:  The Power of Embracing Your Messy, Beautiful Life, and Love Warrior:  A Memoir.  I have listened to many of her interviews and podcast appearances and basically feel like she could be my next-door neighbor.  In her latest book, Untamed, Glennon once again invites her readers into her life sharing intimate details of her family and her mission for equality and all things good in the world. She shares with us her divorce from her husband (and father to their three children) and her love story with her wife Abby (ummm…greatest woman soccer player ever….just saying).  She talks about the importance of knowing who you are and how the relationship you have with yourself is your foundation, your home base in the world.

What I love about Glennon is that she embraces the awkward questions revolving around sexual identity, politics, sobriety, parenting and more.  She understands that so many of us are trying to figure out the hard stuff.  Let’s face it, life can be messy at times.  It’s having the guts to ask edgy questions that bring clarity to oftentimes difficult issues that moves us closer to the truth.  Glennon welcomes these conversations and nourishes them with her heart and soul. She shows her readers how to take on the gritty issues…She firmly believes that “We Can Do Hard Things”. She is so right…We totally can do hard things.  I can do hard things and so can you.  I felt so well balanced after reading Untamed.  Such a much needed pick me up during these strange pandemic times.  I hope you enjoy Glennon’s book as much as I did.

Let’s move on to the lovely Jen Hatmaker.  So Jen is another powerhouse woman that I have also been following for many, many years.  I am a fan of her Podcast, For The Love and an even bigger fan of her personal journey as a woman of faith and a motivational speaker.  Here is the thing about Jen.  She does the work.  She doesn’t just talk, talk, talk.  She examines, explores and researches the tough topics.  She is not afraid to try new things and she embraces failure.  Her latest book, Fierce, Free, and Full of Fire has everything you need to know about owning your space and not having to justify to ANYONE who you are.  Jen encourages women to stop hiding, pretending or posing as someone else.  It is all just too exhausting.  Our one and only life is ours and we need to live it well and live it truthfully.  When we do that, guess what happens…we flourish.  One thing that is awesome about her book is that it is not preachy. Jen makes it very clear that even though our journey’s  may look similar, each of our endgames are different.

Jen is the best girlfriend to her readers.  She shares the importance of our friendships and “vibrant relationships” in our lives.  She shares her personal exploration with religion and God and all the hiccups along the way.  She shows her readers how to examine their own faith (if they want to…again, no pressure) and figure out what is right for them.  Jen speaks about her friendships and faith with absolute honesty. That is what makes her shine.

Jen is no stranger to the everyday challenges of being a woman. Weight issues, self-esteem, wrinkles, loneliness and raising kids…Jen dives right into these issues with experience and of course, a whole lot of humor. Her book inspires me to be the best version of myself.  While I continue to nourish my relationships with my friends and family, I will most importantly be taking care of my one true self.  That feels pretty incredible to me.  Enjoy this treasure during these unprecedented times.  

Well my friends, Glennon Doyle and Jen Hatmaker are two women that not only speak their truth, but are vibrant with fantastic wisdom that so many of us women can truly appreciate. There is something for everyone in their books. Whether all or even just parts of their writing resonate with you, I hope you embrace their positivity and love yourself.  

Until next time!

Your Biggest Fan!

Kelly

P.S.  I did a combination of reading both books and listening to them on audio.  I am not going to lie,  both authors narrate their respective books so it is almost like listening to a super long fabulous podcast.  I loved both books on audio.  Jen adds extra commentary and clips from relevant podcasts, which enhance your listening experience of her book.  If you are an audio lover, be sure to check out Libro.fm.  I am a huge fan.  Your purchases go directly to the local bookstore of your choice.  How cool is that?

Click on the Book Pics below to purchase.

Barley Tea Just For Me

The Story of Mina Lee Cover

The Last Story of Mina Lee by Nancy Jooyoun Kim (Park Row Books)

Questions & Answers with Author Nancy Jooyoun Kim

August 18, 2020

Dear Mr. Hemingway,

Hello there and happy Tuesday! Today I am doing something different on the blog. I am sharing with you and all my readers a Q&A with author Nancy Jooyoun Kim about her debut novel, The Last Story of Mina Lee. I absolutely love reading about countries and cultures different from my own. It is a wonderful way to explore the world from the comfort of my own couch (perfect during a pandemic). In Kim’s book, Koreatown, Los Angeles and Korea are the backdrop, with family secrets taking center stage. During the Q&A, Kim talks about what inspired her to write this novel, the impacts of the Korean War on her family and mother-daughter relationships. She also talks about the importance of Korean food and why she incorporated it into her novel (drool worthy). Be sure to read the synopsis below and enjoy the Q&A with Nancy Jooyoun Kim. I hope this inspires readers to check out this book.

Until next time my friend,

Your Biggest Fan,

Kelly

P.S. The Last Story of Mina Lee comes out September 1, 2020. A big thank you to Park Row Books for the sneak peek of this anticipated read. Thank you also to Nancy Jooyoun Kim for participating in the Q&A. 🤗🤗🤗

Synopsis

THE LAST STORY OF MINA LEE opens when Margot Lee’s mother, Mina, doesn’t return her calls. It’s a mystery to twenty-six-year-old Margot, until she visits her childhood apartment in Koreatown, Los Angeles, and finds that her mother has suspiciously died. The discovery sends Margot digging through the past, unraveling the tenuous and invisible strings that held together her single mother’s life as a Korean War orphan and an undocumented immigrant, only to realize how little she truly knew about her mother.

Interwoven with Margot’s present-day search is Mina’s story of her first year in Los Angeles as she navigates the promises and perils of the American myth of reinvention. While she’s barely earning a living by stocking shelves at a Korean grocery store, the last thing Mina ever expects is to fall in love. But that love story sets in motion a series of events that have consequences for years to come, leading up to the truth of what happened the night of her death.”

Q&A with Nancy Jooyoun Kim

1. What was your inspiration for writing The Last Story of Mina Lee?

I wanted to write a story that I had never seen before, a story that explored the complicated interdependence between an immigrant mother and her American-born daughter, the ways in which they love, need, and sometimes resent each other. For example, as the only child of an immigrant single mother, the protagonist Margot loves her mother more than anyone in this world. She needs her. But at the same time, she resents how, growing up, she has to work at her mother’s store over the weekends and during school breaks. She resents how her mother refuses to talk much about her past, and Margot’s father, her origins as well. I also wanted to write a story that centered women, in particular marginalized women, and show how they not only live but lead extraordinary lives. Although this novel begins with a tragic ending for Mina, she is nonetheless very much the hero and the heart of this story—a woman who took risks and created change, a life for herself in surprising and unconventional ways.

2. Did you have to do any research during the writing process?

I didn’t need to do much research while writing this book because I’m very much a product of the communities that I write about. I might’ve asked friends or people I know some questions about Korea and Korean culture, but it was all very casual.

3. Korean food is mentioned throughout your book.  Was this done intentionally? 

As Margot tries to figure out what happened to her mother on the night of her death, she experiences Koreatown as an adult for the first time in her life. As she goes out to eat at Korean restaurants with her friend Miguel and spends time in her mother’s apartment by herself, Margot realizes that food was not only a way for her mother to show love; it was a way of teaching Margot how to nourish and take care of herself in a world that is often harsh.

4. How important is Korean food in your life and what is your favorite Korean meal?

I always say that “Korean food” is just “food” for me. It’s very much a part of who I am, and was perhaps, as it is in many immigrant families, one of the principal ways my mother showed me love. I don’t have a favorite Korean dish because I love so many of them depending on the occasion, the weather, the mood. But some of my favorite banchan (side dishes) include yangnyeom gejang (spicy raw crab), myeongnanjeot (fermented pollock roe), and kkaenip (pickled perilla leaves). All I need is one of those and a bowl of rice.

5. What was your favorite food-related scene to write and why?

There are so many food scenes, moments, and images that I love in this book. But the most memorable food scene for me is about three-quarters through the novel—after Mina and her friend Mrs. Baek reunite after over twenty years apart. They go to a restaurant and have soondubu jjigae together. I love the delicacy, the tenderness of this scene, how each of these two characters is attempting to rekindle and navigate this friendship with the guardedness that comes from being hurt and heartbroken so much. Mina also realizes that despite how strong and supportive Mrs. Baek has always been, Mrs. Baek needs Mina and friendship just like everyone else. Mina played and can play a large role in Mrs. Baek’s life and her survival too.

6. Which character in the book do you relate to the most?

I like to believe that I am both all of my characters and none of them at the same time. But I’m closest to Margot in age and certainly I know the challenges of being the daughter of an immigrant single mother. I also know how difficult it can be in your twenties. That was actually a terrible time for me because I found myself being pulled, or pulling myself in so many different directions. But I had to make all those mistakes to get to where I am today. I’m glad that decade is over!

7. Even though the Korean War technically ended in 1953, major turmoil still exists today between the North and South. How has Korea’s past and present situation directly impacted your life?

Both sides of my family come from what is now North Korea. As children, my parents fled the north during the war. So at the age of 13, my father left his home in advance of his mother and siblings, not knowing that a permanent border would forever keep them apart. For his entire life, he never knew what had happened to them, if they survived the war or if they continued to live behind the border, a border that continues to divide not only a culture and country but real families whose lives and identities have been shattered.

There were so many painful things, worries, and regrets, traumas, that my father and mother did not talk about when I was growing up. Silence was a form of protecting us, and themselves. But the silences in my family also left me with a lack of understanding of my parents, just as Margot never quite knows her mother’s story, even if the reader does. It’s these silences that I’m attempting to capture and write through and out of in my work. I think one of the beauties of fiction is how it can bring together the impossible in one story. For me, the conversations that would and could never happen in my life happen in this book.

8. “Movement for her mother was essentially an experience of loss that Margot, American-born, could never imagine.  And yet, Margot herself had inherited the same anxiety about driving fast, particularly on freeways.  She thought too much about the experience of speed itself, its danger, rather than getting somewhere at last.”  Can you speak to the experience of movement for both women?

What I really love about the structure, the dual narrative, of this book is that we experience how both Margot and Mina, are at turning points in their lives; they are both thrust into new narratives about themselves, new ways of being alive. For example, the book begins for Margot with the death of her mother which forces her to question who she is without her. (Who is Margot if she is not someone’s daughter?) While the book begins for Mina when she enters the United States in order to start a new life after the death of her husband and daughter. (Who is she now without being someone’s mother or wife?) Both of them are in mourning, mourning the dead as well as their past identities and lives. They are both terrifyingly unmoored and free to reinvent themselves. What story should they each tell now about who they are? So movement is very much tied to identity in this book.

9. Why did Margot resist embracing her past so much?  

It’s important to note that Margot never experiences the Mina that we, as readers, see, know, and love throughout this book. Margot never witnesses her mother fall in love. She never knows the full story of why she had fled to America. Although her mother clearly makes so many sacrifices for her, Margot views her mother as often harsh, secretive, inaccessible. For this reason and in the context of a society that often doesn’t fully embrace other cultures, as an adult, Margot resents her mother; she is ashamed of what her mother represents because she has internalized some of the mainstream views, even xenophobia, and racism against her. She judges her mother by the standards of the larger culture: “Why didn’t her mother learn to speak English?” Of course, this is only until her mother dies, which opens up the opportunity to finally get to know her mother, not only as a mother but as a woman with an extraordinary story and life.

10. What is the number one take away you want your readers to leave with after finishing Mina’s story? 

I hope this book sparks conversation about the mysteries, the secrets, and the silences within our own families. I hope this story encourages readers to ask the questions they’ve always wanted to ask of the people whom they love the most. I hope we risk discomfort more.

11. At one point, she said that “the fear of hell kept her alive.” How much did religion play a role in Mina’s life?  

Religion and places of worship play an important role in immigrant communities, often serving as resource centers where people find each other and themselves. For Mina, the church is a place where she can simply insert herself every Sunday and feel as if she belongs through sermon and song. For the most part, she doesn’t involve herself too much socially in the church, but she finds solace once a week in the crowd.

12. Do you have plans for another novel? If so, can you share with us any details?

Yes, of course! I’m writing my next novel which also takes place near Los Angeles’ Koreatown and centers on the life of a Korean American family still grieving the mysterious death of the mother five years ago. Since I live in California where the housing crisis is very real and ongoing, the book explores issues of gentrification and homelessness through the lens of an immigrant family, struggling in their own ways to belong.

Click on the book pic below to pre-order

Paint Me Into Your Life

Luster, a novel, cover

Luster by Raven Leilani (Farrar Straus & Giroux)

“For most of my life, I have not had to tell anyone where I planned to be.  I could walk the length of Broadway without a face.  I could perish in a fire and have no one realize until a firefighter came across my teeth in the ash.”

July 3, 2020

Dear Mr. Hemingway,

You once said, “Writing, at its best, is a lonely life”. Loneliness oftentimes yields individual efforts that beg to be explored.  I can only presume you know it well.  This palpable feeling of loneliness exists on the pages of some of your finest writing. You touch upon this solitude in Cat in the Rain and The Old Man and the Sea. Moving forward now to 21st-century writing, Luster, by Raven Leilani is a sharply written story that takes on this complex emotion and state of being with a modern flare.  In her debut novel, Leilani offers a powerful take on the lengths one will go to validate their existence. Her captivating story is an eye-opening experience that examines race, sexual exploration and the internal craving to be acknowledged. Luster is a contemporary triumph ideal for 2020. Let’s take a look.

“He is the most obvious thing that has ever happened to me, and all around the city it is happening to other silly, half-formed women excited by men who’ve simply met the prerequisite of living a little more life, a terribly unspecial thing that is just what happens when you keep on getting up and brushing your teeth and going to work and ignoring the whisper that comes to you at night and tells you it would be easier to be dead.”

Edie is a young Black woman in her 20’s trying to make sense of her life.  As an aspiring artist, she scrutinizes the people around her with her paintbrush. Through her poor choices and actions, Edie seeks out the universe to just notice her. Not only does her inappropriate behaviors at work lead her to unemployment, but she meets Eric (an older white man) on an online dating app and begins a relationship with him.  Their time together is anything but typical.  Edie’s and Eric’s affair swells to more than just cyber sex when she discovers that he is married and in an open marriage with his wife.  Edie’s perspective on life changes when she finds herself living at Eric’s house with his wife and adopted a Black daughter.  While bunking in a spare bedroom, she continues to paint those around her on anything that resembles a blank canvas. As relationships evolve under the same roof, the discomfort of their circumstances continues to widen.

“A way is always made to document how we manage to survive, or in some cases, how we don’t.  So I’ve tried to reproduce an inscrutable thing.  I’ve made my own hunger into a practice, made everyone who passes through my life subject to a close and inappropriate reading that occasionally finds its way, often insufficiently, into paint.”

After reading Luster, I had to sit with my thoughts to make sense of what I read.  The plot of this story appears straightforward, but the depth of Leilani’s writing has no boundaries. I enjoyed the clever way she intertwined Edie’s need for painting with her constant self-reflection.  I immediately fell into Edie’s world filled with tons of baggage, messy characters, and clouds of sadness.  I was particularly intrigued by her surprise relationship with Eric’s wife and adopted a Black daughter. The co-mingling of Edie and Eric’s family added a layer of despair I would never have known.   I love how Leilani made me feel uncomfortable under Eric’s roof.  There is a bizarreness to their codependency that fascinated me and a dolefulness to her characters that I desperately wanted to remedy. It was crazy how my feelings of intrigue and frustration could exist all at the same time. The unconventional dynamics and issues of race provided much clarity on these dimly lit characters that I so desired.   While there are a few splashes of dark humor throughout Leilani’s story, her book was more of a provocative wonder that implores to be talked about. The visible feeling of loneliness is widespread in this book. If you are in the market for a relevant and meaty read, Luster sparks conversation…….read this with your bookish friends.  

Until next time my friend!

Your Biggest Fan

Kelly

P.S.  Thank you to Farrar Straus & Giroux and Netgalley for an advance copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Click on the pic below to preorder. Luster hits bookstores on August 4, 2020.

July Discussion Read

Ernest Chitter Chatter Collage with Call Me American with Abdi Nor Iftin

Call Me American by Abdi Nor Iftin

June 29, 2020

Hello Lovely Readers,

I hope everyone is having a wonderful start to their summer. Over here at Dear Mr. Hemingway, I am constantly developing new bookish ways we can all connect over our love of reading. This month, I am hosting a book discussion on an extraordinary memoir by Abdi Nor Iftin…Call me American. Abdi was born in Somalia and shares his story from living in war torn Mogadishu to becoming an American citizen. What’s even better, Abdi lives here in Maine very close to me 🤗!

For the month of July, The Dear Mr. Hemingway community will be reading Call Me American. On July 9th and July 23rd, I will be facilitating a private group discussion on this memoir over on Instagram. To participate, all you need is an instagram handle. It is super easy and really fun. BONUS……….At the end of July, I am hosting a ZOOM Session with Abdi with everyone who is in our book group (Date TBA).

Here is what you need to do to participate……

  1. If you have an Instagram account, simply DM me on there @dearmrhemingway, and I will add you to the group. You will automatically be alerted to the Zoom Session.
  2. If you do not have Instagram, but would like to join in on the Zoom Session with Abdi to ask all of your questions, please email me dearmrhemingway@gmail.com, writing BOOK DISCUSSION in the subject line. I will add you in.

Check out the Synopsis in the postscript!

I look forward to our discussion.

❤️❤️❤️

Kelly

P.S.

Synopsis

“Abdi Nor Iftin first fell in love with America from afar. As a child, he learned English by listening to American pop and watching action films starring Arnold Schwarzenegger. When U.S. marines landed in Mogadishu to take on the warlords, Abdi cheered the arrival of these Americans, who seemed as heroic as those of the movies.Sporting American clothes and dance moves, he became known around Mogadishu as Abdi American, but when the radical Islamist group al-Shabaab rose to power in 2006, it became dangerous to celebrate Western culture. Desperate to make a living, Abdi used his language skills to post secret dispatches, which found an audience of worldwide listeners. Eventually, though, Abdi was forced to flee to Kenya.In an amazing stroke of luck, Abdi won entrance to the U.S. in the annual visa lottery, though his route to America did not come easily. Parts of his story were first heard on the BBC World Service and This American Life. Now a proud resident of Maine, on the path to citizenship, Abdi Nor Iftin’s dramatic, deeply stirring memoir is truly a story for our time: a vivid reminder of why America still beckons to those looking to make a better life.”

Click On the book pic below to purchase!

Audio Books Worth Your Hours

Audiobooks Worth Your Hours collage

Part 2

Tales From An Audio Book Junkie

June 12, 2020

Dear Mr. Hemingway,

I have written to you about my love of audiobooks before. In my days, they were actually referred to as “books on tape”. I still catch myself saying that from time to time…especially when my kids look at me like I am speaking a foreign language. Anyway, do you know how many times I have fallen asleep listening to your book, The Old Man and the Sea? Well, it feels like a thousand. As much as I adore that particular book of yours, it is my darling husband that plays it over and over again as he drifts off to sleep. Every now and then he throws on the audio version of your book, A Moveable Feast. I have no problem listening to that book over and over again. Falling asleep to your words from this story ensures my dreams will be filled with Parisian streets, salty oysters, and crisp white wine. Anyway, I digress. Today I am sharing some books that I found to be quite entertaining on audio. A little bit of romance, friendship, mystery, memoir, and time travel is coming your way today. Grab your headphones and hit play! Let the listening begin!

Your Biggest Fan,

Kelly

P.S. If you are looking for a way to listen to your books while supporting ANY participating local bookstore, check out Libro.FM. Feel free you use my REFERRAL LINK to get your first month free. Any member can share their referral code. Click on the book pics below to take you directly to their info page.

Abby Jimenez’s book, The Friend Zone, came out last year, and I JUST recently listened to it. I am actually pumped that I was was fashionably late to this fabulous book party. This book was the perfect feel good, pick me up during this uncertain time. Not only did I get to spend the night in bed reading this warm and fuzzy tale, I acquired a new book boyfriend who goes by the name of Josh. Married or not, you can never have too many book boyfriends 😂😂😂. Also, if you end up liking this book, the sequel just came out. It’s called The Happily Ever Playlist.

9 hours 32 minutes

Hachette Audio

Forever Publishing

Synopsis:

“Kristen Peterson doesn’t do drama, will fight to the death for her friends, and has no room in her life for guys who just don’t get her. She’s also keeping a big secret: facing a medically necessary procedure that will make it impossible for her to have children.

Planning her best friend’s wedding is bittersweet for Kristen — especially when she meets the best man, Josh Copeland. He’s funny, sexy, never offended by her mile-wide streak of sarcasm, and always one chicken enchilada ahead of her hangry. Even her dog, Stuntman Mike, adores him. The only catch: Josh wants a big family someday. Kristen knows he’d be better off with someone else, but as their attraction grows, it’s harder and harder to keep him at arm’s length.”

⁣WOW! I’m embarrassed to say that I did not know who Mikel Jollett was or for that matter, who his band, The Airborne Toxic Event was. Well, after listening to his brand new memoir, Hollywood Park I have a pretty good sense of who this writer and musician is! Mikel Jollett narrates his profound journey from his early childhood In the 70’s to present day with an honesty that spares no details! From his early days living in a cult with his family to his unsettled adolescence and young adulthood, Jollett’s journey was rocky to say the very least. He effortlessly brings his readers into his world of family love, loyalty and survival by exploring the intimate most details from his relationship with his parents and older brother. His writing is stunning and his story is absolutely unforgettable. His emotional memoir will no doubt stir your soul and fill your heart with love. ⁣Bonus……Jollett narrates his audio book.

11 hours 44 minutes

Macmillan Audio

Celadon Books

Synopsis:

“So begins Hollywood Park, Mikel Jollett’s remarkable memoir. His story opens in an experimental commune in California, which later morphed into the Church of Synanon, one of the country’s most infamous and dangerous cults. Per the leader’s mandate, all children, including Jollett and his older brother, were separated from their parents when they were six months old, and handed over to the cult’s “School.” After spending years in what was essentially an orphanage, Mikel escaped the cult one morning with his mother and older brother. But in many ways, life outside Synanon was even harder and more erratic.

In his raw, poetic and powerful voice, Jollett portrays a childhood filled with abject poverty, trauma, emotional abuse, delinquency and the lure of drugs and alcohol. Raised by a clinically depressed mother, tormented by his angry older brother, subjected to the unpredictability of troubled step-fathers and longing for contact with his father, a former heroin addict and ex-con, Jollett slowly, often painfully, builds a life that leads him to Stanford University and, eventually, to finding his voice as a writer and musician.”

The Guest List by Lucy Foley is absolutely wonderful on audio. Who wouldn’t want to attend a wedding with friends and family on a small Irish island? The privacy from the outside world, the weekend escape from everyday life, one big hurrah with friends and family to tide you over until someone else’s big day. Sounds like the perfect weekend. The narrators’ Irish accents and the icy cold ocean air will make you feel like you are actually on this Emerald Island. There is a creepy vibe while the bride and groom and all their guests get ready for the ceremony. Family drama and dark secrets from their pasts give this wedding day a very unsettling vibe. Throw in some blood and a dead body and you have one heck of celebration. Foley’s slow burn mystery is an atmospheric treat.

9 hours 53 minutes

Harper Audio

William Morrow

Synopsis:

“The bride – The plus one – The best man – The wedding planner  – The bridesmaid – The body

On an island off the coast of Ireland, guests gather to celebrate two people joining their lives together as one. The groom: handsome and charming, a rising television star. The bride: smart and ambitious, a magazine publisher. It’s a wedding for a magazine, or for a celebrity: the designer dress, the remote location, the luxe party favors, the boutique whiskey. The cell phone service may be spotty and the waves may be rough, but every detail has been expertly planned and will be expertly executed.

But perfection is for plans, and people are all too human. As the champagne is popped and the festivities begin, resentments and petty jealousies begin to mingle with the reminiscences and well wishes. The groomsmen begin the drinking game from their school days. The bridesmaid not-so-accidentally ruins her dress. The bride’s oldest (male) friend gives an uncomfortably caring toast.

And then someone turns up dead. Who didn’t wish the happy couple well? And perhaps more important, why?”

When I think about time travel, my mind instantly goes to The Magic Treehouse or Outlander. In Margarita Montimore’s new book, Oona Lockhart travels to a different time in her life every New Year’s Eve for one year. Can you even imagine revisiting yourself in the past or for that matter, meeting yourself in the future? If given the chance, would you alter your past knowing that in turn, it could change the future? Montimore offers her readers this, and so much more in her unique tale. Oona Out of Order definitely made me think. Between the pages of this compelling read are funny and light hearted moments coupled with self reflection and a giant splash of pop culture (80s and 90s anyone?). Do not think too deeply about the ins and outs of time travel. Simply enjoy Oona’s wild ride!

11 hours 30 minutes

Macmillan Audio

Flatiron Books

Synopsis:

It’s New Year’s Eve 1982, and Oona Lockhart has her whole life before her. At the stroke of midnight she will turn nineteen, and the year ahead promises to be one of consequence. Should she go to London to study economics, or remain at home in Brooklyn to pursue her passion for music and be with her boyfriend? As the countdown to the New Year begins, Oona faints and awakens thirty-two years in the future in her fifty-one-year-old body. Greeted by a friendly stranger in a beautiful house she’s told is her own, Oona learns that with each passing year she will leap to another age at random. And so begins Oona Out of Order...

Hopping through decades, pop culture fads, and much-needed stock tips, Oona is still a young woman on the inside but ever-changing on the outside. Who will she be next year? Philanthropist? Club Kid? World traveler? Wife to a man she’s never met? Surprising, magical, and heart-wrenching, Margarita Montimore has crafted an unforgettable story about the burdens of time, the endurance of love, and the power of family.”

The Boyfriend Project by Farrah Rochon is an all-star treat. Here is my favorite quote….“If sexy and adorable had a baby together, the result would be Daniel Collins.” SOLD! Farrah’s book is filled with sass, class, and a whole lot of smarts… did I mention Daniel Collins??? Women lifting each other up, staying true to yourself, and a tall, dark and handsome man lingering in the background….sign yourself up for this one. Such a perfect summertime listen.

9 hours 41 minutes

Forever

Hachette Audio

Synopsis:

Samiah Brooks never thought she would be “that” girl. But a live tweet of a horrific date just revealed the painful truth: she’s been catfished by a three-timing jerk of a boyfriend. Suddenly Samiah-along with his two other “girlfriends,” London and Taylor-have gone viral online. Now the three new besties are making a pact to spend the next six months investing in themselves. No men and no dating.

For once Samiah is putting herself first, and that includes finally developing the app she’s always dreamed of creating. Which is the exact moment she meets the deliciously sexy Daniel Collins at work.What are the chances?But is Daniel really boyfriend material or is he maybe just a little too good to be true?

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