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A Trio of Books Just For You

The Selfless Act of Breathing by JJ Bola (Atria Books)

The Prynne Viper by Bianca Marais (Audible Original)

Woman on Fire by Lisa Barr (Harper Perennial)


March 7, 2022

Dear Mr. Hemingway,

I have three books for you today and they are all so very different from one another. These three works of fiction each have their own unique vibe and I am thrilled to share them with you. I am offering up a man in search of his soul, a courtroom drama set way into the future, and a mystery around some Nazi stolen artwork. I can honestly say that I was swept away by all three of the books below. I was shocked, entertained, made to think, and above all…simply wowed by these three authors. I do believe there is something for everyone in today’s round-up. Happy reading and listening!

Until next time dear friend!

Your Biggest Fan,

Kelly

Click on the book pic to purchase.

First up is The Selfless Act of Breathing by JJ Bola. All I can say is that I absolutely LOVED this book.  Bola’s writing knocked my socks off, that is for sure.  His main character Michael truly lost his way and my soul literally ached for him.  His journey is beyond profound and left me with a feeling of sadness that was hard to shed.  I was mesmerized by his introspection and oftentimes found myself drifting off into my own world of ruminating and reflecting on life, love, and loneliness.  The connections with the people he met along the way truly highlighted his internal needs and fears and I was in absolute awe of how Bola could take on the heavy themes of suicidal thoughts, race, culture, and family using a poetic tone.  The Selfless Act of Breathing is a raw and powerful read and I highly recommend it.

Synopsis:

“Michael Kabongo is a British-Congolese teacher living in London on the cusp of two identities. On paper, he seems to have it all: He’s beloved by his students, popular with his coworkers, and the pride and joy of a mother who emigrated from the Congo to the UK in search of a better life. But behind closed doors, he’s been struggling with the overwhelming sense that he can’t address the injustices he sees raging before him—from his relentless efforts to change the lives of his students for the better to his attempts to transcend the violence and brutality that marginalizes young Black men around the world.

Then one day he suffers a devastating loss, and his life is thrown into a tailspin. As he struggles to find a way forward, memories of his father’s violent death, the weight of refugeehood, and an increasing sense of dread threaten everything he’s worked so hard to achieve. Longing to escape the shadows in his mind and start anew, Michael decides to spontaneously pack up and go to America, the mythical “land of the free,” where he imagines everything will be better, easier—a place where he can become someone new, someone without a past filled with pain.

On this transformative journey, Michael travels everywhere from New York City to San Francisco, partying with new friends, sparking fleeting romances, and splurging on big adventures, with the intention of living the life of his dreams until the money in his bank account runs out.”

Click on the book pic to purchase.

Next up is Woman on Fire by Lisa Barr. Run, don’t walk to grab yourself a copy of this literary gem.  The dazzling art world, high-stakes journalism, and the history of Nazi stolen artwork during the Second World War are well framed in this remarkable literary mystery. Barr’s story is teeming with intricate details and a chic background that pairs well with her multi-layered and quite juicy characters that undeniably lit up the pages of this book.  The combination of unparalleled research weaved into modern-day fiction was THE creme de la creme for me.  Every luscious page I read made me more ravenous for the next because I simply had to know what happened next. I refused to cease my reading adventure until I reached the wicked satisfying ending the Barr so meticulously delivered.  At the end of the day, there is nothing better than being immersed in a world where the past meant everything and secrets kept everyone in the game.  Woman on Fire was an absolute pleasure to read. 

Lisa Barr’s stunning creation is the true work of art here and SHE is… The Ultimate Woman on Fire!

Synopsis:

“After talking her way into a job with Dan Mansfield, the leading investigative reporter in Chicago, rising young journalist Jules Roth is given an unusual—and very secret—assignment. Dan needs her to locate a painting stolen by the Nazis more than 75 years earlier: legendary Expressionist artist Ernst Engel’s most famous work, Woman on Fire. World-renowned shoe designer Ellis Baum wants this portrait of a beautiful, mysterious woman for deeply personal reasons, and has enlisted Dan’s help to find it. But Jules doesn’t have much time; the famous designer is dying.

Meanwhile, in Europe, provocative and powerful Margaux de Laurent also searches for the painting. Heir to her art collector family’s millions, Margaux is a cunning gallerist who gets everything she wants. The only thing standing in her way is Jules. Yet the passionate and determined Jules has unexpected resources of her own, including Adam Baum, Ellis’s grandson. A recovering addict and brilliant artist in his own right, Adam was once in Margaux’s clutches. He knows how ruthless she is, and he’ll do anything to help Jules locate the painting before Margaux gets to it first.”

Click on the book pic to purchase.

Last but never ever least is The Prynne Viper by Bianca Marais. Marais, author of Hum if You Don’t Know the Words and If You Want to Make God Laugh is back with something 100% fresh.  This time around she is not writing about South Africa, the Apartheid, or the Soweto Uprising.  Instead, she wowed me with a short story offered as an Audible Original. The Prynne Viper is a futuristic tale (yes, you heard me correctly) that left me thinking long and hard about the fate of humanity if left in the hands of some crazy predictive software. I was transfixed by this terrifying world and the idea that mankind could be predetermined by a courtroom jury haunted me for days.  Don’t let the length of this story fool you though.  Marais’ magnificent storytelling, the full cast of narrators, and an extremely pleasing ending all neatly fit into a unique two-hour listen. Marais’ ability to switch writing gears by seamlessly transitioning to a completely different genre was wicked impressive and she will forever be an auto-buy author for me.

Synopsis:

“In a futuristic world where predictive software can map out the lives of every living person and their descendants, Naomi Prynne is on trial. The charge: endangerment by way of a pregnancy.

Thirteen jurors will determine whether Naomi is allowed to carry the pregnancy to term, but the jurors are also all plaintiffs, the software having predicted how Naomi Prynne’s child will affect each of them in life-changing ways. Among them: a history professor who has given up on her own dreams for the sake of the greater good; a student participating in his first-ever trial who’s about to discover an earth-shattering truth; and a former mathematician, who knows all too well the dark machinations of the state, but is prohibited from speaking out against them. The future of the Prynne Viper – an acronym for “viable person” – is in their hands.

But this Prynne Viper is unlike Naomi’s other pregnancies. This time, Naomi Prynne is carrying a secret, one with the power to alter the future into something incalculable, and therefore, unpredictable.”

Happy 122nd Birthday Ernest Hemingway

The Garden of Eden by Ernest Hemingway (Scribner)

July 21, 2021

Hello Gorgeous Readers!

I am here to share with you that today would have been Ernest Hemingway’s 122nd birthday.  Just to refresh your memory, Hemingway was born in 1899 and died at the age of 61 years of age. He is considered one of America’s greatest novelists and short story writers of all time.  This past spring, filmmaker extraordinaires Ken Burns and Lynn Novick made a three part series on Ernest Hemingway for PBS.  Because of this, there has been a renewed interest in this literary genius!  To celebrate Hemingway on this day, I am sharing with you one of his most controversial novels, The Garden of Eden.

The Garden of Eden was published posthumously in 1986 by Scribner.  The story takes place in the 1920s in the French Riviera and Spain and follows American writer David Bourne and his wife Catherine on their honeymoon.   Catherine announces to David that she has a big surprise for him and that she will be “changed”. She runs off to the local coiffeur (French barber) and has her hair cut short in a masculine style.  She insists that David not refer to her as a girl during certain times and that he too, will be changed to… “her girl”.  

If you are familiar with Hemingway’s other work you might be saying, hmmmmm.  However, just when you think there is enough unexpected drama to work with here, Hemingway brings a woman named Marita into their lives and a new menage a trois develops. Through all of this, David continues on with his writing.  He abandons his original piece documenting his and Catherine’s extended honeymoon and moves on to writing about Africa.  Catherine does not like this one bit and they argue about his disloyalty to her. 

So here is the scoop.  I am an everyday reader and not an English scholar who can provide you with a deep analysis of this book.  I can assure you, there are TONS of qualified people who have done that already.  What I can tell you is that Hemingway worked on this book sporadically from around 1946 until he died.  Because this book was published after he died, it was edited immensely.  Literary scholars argue how much of this writing is actually his and how much was slashed or rearranged before publishing.  With that said, I will tell you my thoughts. 

The Garden of Eden opens up with a classic fishing scene and scrumptious descriptions of food and drink.  My mind immediately went to The Old Man and the Sea and of course, A Moveable Feast. It felt very much like the Hemingway I was familiar with…  straightforward dialogue, and an undemanding prose.  What was different about this novel was its contemporary vibe.  Hemingway was clearly exploring gender roles, transgenderism, and sexuality between the pages of his book.  Catherine appeared uncomfortable in her own skin and was desperately trying to examine her gender and how she fit into the world around her.  She had no guidance in this arena and instead not only leaned on David, but tried to incorporate him into her journey for validation and acceptance.  

My thoughts on David are still all over the place.  Yes he loves Catherine and accommodates many of her wishes, but I am trying to determine where he stands with all of this change. His own feelings on gender roles, love and even marriage are confusing in my opinion.  His nickname for Catherine is Devil, which in all honesty, can be discussed for days on end.  

The Garden of Eden is a tremendous read.  Though it was a huge success in 1986, I wonder how it would have been received if it was published in the 1940s.  I love how it was ahead of its time and fits so well into present day literature. I enjoyed how this wasn’t a plot driven story, but more of an exploration into the main characters.  This is a book I plan on reading again and again and again.  There is so much to unpack that I imagine each re-read will bring more clarity and perhaps even more questions to dissect.

If you are a Hemingway fan or just an inquisitive reader, I highly recommend checking this one out!  An excellent book club choice!

All my best to you!

Kelly

P.S. I Highly recommend you check out the three part series on Hemingway on PBS if you haven’t already.


P.P.S.  Click here to read some of my previous Hemingway Birthday posts.

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A Letter To Steven Rowley


Lily and The Octopus
by Steven Rowely (Simon & Schuster)
The Editor by Steven Rowley (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)
The Guncle by Steven Rowley  (G.P. Putnam’s Sons)

July 17, 2021

Dear Mr. Rowley,

Now that sounded weird.  Since we are so close in age I toyed with just calling you Steven, but because we do not know each other personally, I’m keeping it “profesh” and using your last name with a big old MR. right in front of it.  For the past three years, I have exclusively written my letters of bookish love to Hemingway…you know, that famous American writer who is beyond controversial in his professional and personal life, and who is also DEAD! Today, however, I am not only trying my hand at writing to someone new, but also to someone who is actually alive for that matter (AKA…YOU).  But please do not panic.  I assure you that I am not changing my Blog name to Dear Mr. Rowley. I know, I know, I know it would be so fantabulous to have me as a pen pal gushing (yes I just said gushing) about our favorite books, authors, and other shenanigans on the regular, but I promise to curb my enthusiasm. 

Let me start by saying that I have read and loved all three of your books immensely.  In Lily and the Octopus, you basically shattered my heart into a million pieces, then without fail, assembled it back together again with your magical writing and approximately 3.5 boxes of tissues (we can talk later about how fantastic my puffy and tear-stained eyes looked upon completion of this book and what future remedies you recommend for these casualties that come from your brilliant writing).  I digress. In your sophomore novel, The Editor, you completely roused me with how you mindfully placed THE Jackie Kennedy Onassis in the midst of James Smale’s story to offer truth and wisdom to his writing and personal life in the most ingenious manner. But what I really want to chat with you about today though is your latest creation, The Guncle.  The second you mentioned Cassie’s solo in this work of art, I knew I had a friend in you.  

When I first read the premise of The Guncle, I was ready for a light and funny tale of Gay Uncle Patrick (GUP) prancing around in his Kaftans and cocktails taking in his niece and nephew for the summer in his Palm Springs home after their mom died and their dad went to rehab.  I mean, a single and gay forty-something-year-old/ex-sitcom star taking care of two small kids has to be funny, right?  Obviously, you know the answer to this, but I am announcing to you out loud that it was truly hysterical.  I mean, as a mom to three kids, I have been to hell and back with that Blue Lizard sunscreen you cleverly mentioned.  This thick pasty white lotion can repel the sun’s harmful rays and any other toxins lurking in the air, but it also has the unique ability to push parents to the edge of their sanity while leaving children with white stained faces to frolic about in the pool.  Funny, funny, funny. And while I loved Patrick’s chucklesome side with his Guncle rules to live by and daily interactions with the wee ones, I loved him most for his oversized heart and profound emotions he slowly revealed. 

You see Mr. Rowley, you did something pretty damn special in The Guncle.  You brought out the unexpected beauty that is sometimes embedded in the walls of grief. You wholeheartedly wrote a story that captured the unimaginable feeling of hope after a tragic loss.  You showed how experiencing grief through the lens of a child can be the ultimate lesson in healing for an adult’s aching heart.  You tackled grief, loss, addiction, family and so much more by infusing laughter and love throughout the pages of your book, making life’s challenges a little less scary to read about. You wrote a book that captures the human spirit in more ways than I could ever count.  For that, I am eternally grateful.  

So here’s the scoop Mr. Rowley.  It is pretty obvious that I admire your writing. You have dazzled me on three different occasions by keeping me up way past my bedtime reading your splendid tales.  You have moved me to a rainstorm of tears and to a belly full of laughter all in the matter of a few pages.  But most importantly, you have provided me with stories that continue to keep my love of reading alive and thriving.  

One last thing before I go.  Because we grew up more or less during the same time period, I will always be in tune with your subtle jokes and pop culture references. Your sarcasm and wittiness are totally my jam. For the record, when you said “Dance 10 Looks 3”, I immediately shouted, “And I’m still on unemployment”. 

On that note, I will gracefully end my letter to you.  I wish you health and happiness and many more books to come. Feel free to write to me any time!  Your words are always welcome here!  

Your Biggest Fan,

Kelly Fredericks


P.S. If you ever want to watch A Chorus Line (the movie version) with me, I will happily make you an incredible mimosa (minus the orange juice plus the Veuve) with an organic orange slice placed on a nearby cocktail napkin for your drinking pleasure.  We can critique the dancers while giggling how Michael Douglas was such a “baby” back then and WHERE DID THE TIME GO!

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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.  

Batteries Not Included

The Roxy Letters Beauty shot with a chicken

The Roxy Letters by Mary Pauline Lowry (Simon & Schuster)

July 24, 2020

Dear Mr. Hemingway,

As I write to you each week, it never escapes me that you too wrote letters. Whether it was to F. Scott Fitgerald, Ezra Pound, or even James Joyce, you were known to write your letters on anything that resembled a piece of paper. To me, there is something so intimate about writing an actual letter as opposed to an email or text (trust me on this one).  Well, Mr. H., I couldn’t help but think of you and even myself when I read Mary Pauline Lowry’s book, The Roxy Letters.  Lowry’s twenty-something protagonist named Roxy scribbles letters to her ex-boyfriend/roommate about the state of her life in Austin, Texas.  If you are looking for a fall over from laughing, I need to escape my life kind of read, look no further…….The Roxy Letters will do the trick. 

Let’s meet our main girl, shall we?  Roxy is in her twenties, works as a deli maid at Whole Foods, is an almost vegan trying to save the animals one face cream at a time, and will do everything in her power to boycott the new LuLulemon store (even though their leggings make her backside look incredible) that just opened in her precious Austin. When paying rent becomes too much for her alone, her ex-boyfriend Everett moves in.  Because they are essentially two ships passing in the night, Roxy decides to vent her discontent with life to Everett via letters.  Her daily correspondences are pretty much a brain dump on paper.  Her every thought is there for the taking and she holds NOTHING back. She cleverly writes to him about her struggles to find a long lasting boyfriend, her desperate need for an orgasm that does not require a battery operated object, and her mission to save Austin, Texas from a corporate takeover.  With her new eccentric friend Artemis by her side and “Dirty-Steve” (her boss from Whole Foods) lingering nearby, Roxy begins to make changes to her mediocre life. 

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.  Lowry’s girl is absolutely delightful and her colorful cast of characters surrounding Roxy help shape her into the woman she longs to be. 

Enjoy this breath of fresh air.  I hope you get a few chuckles out of it to brighten your day!

Until next time my friend!

Your Biggest Fan,

Kelly

P.S.  If you are an audio book lover, give The Roxy Letters a go using Libro.Fm and support your local bookstore while listening.  Feel free to use my Referral Code here.  Happy listening!!

Click on the book pic below to purchase The Roxy Letters

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