Books I Love! Kristen Harmel’s The Forest of Vanishing Stars is a Richly Researched, Inspiring Novel

Book Description

The New York Times bestselling author of the “heart-stopping tale of survival and heroism” (People) The Book of Lost Names returns with an evocative coming-of-age World War II story about a young woman who uses her knowledge of the wilderness to help Jewish refugees escape the Nazis—until a secret from her past threatens everything.

After being stolen from her wealthy German parents and raised in the unforgiving wilderness of eastern Europe, a young woman finds herself alone in 1941 after her kidnapper dies. Her solitary existence is interrupted, however, when she happens upon a group of Jews fleeing the Nazi terror. Stunned to learn what’s happening in the outside world, she vows to teach the group all she can about surviving in the forest—and in turn, they teach her some surprising lessons about opening her heart after years of isolation. But when she is betrayed and escapes into a German-occupied village, her past and present come together in a shocking collision that could change everything.

Inspired by incredible true stories of survival against staggering odds, and suffused with the journey-from-the-wilderness elements that made Where the Crawdads Sing a worldwide phenomenon, The Forest of Vanishing Stars is a heart-wrenching and suspenseful novel from the #1 internationally bestselling author whose writing has been hailed as “sweeping and magnificent” (Fiona Davis, New York Times bestselling author), “immersive and evocative” (Publishers Weekly), and “gripping” (Tampa Bay Times).

My Take

What a remarkable read! I was swept away from the start, into the heart of the forest, richly written with vivid details, and into the heart of Yona, our brave but innocent heroine. This is a World War II novel unlike any I’ve read, and was woven with the results of the author’s deep research, which only made the book more gripping.

Yona is kidnapped by a mysterious gypsy-like woman at age two and spends the next 20 years with her captor living deep in the forest, avoiding humanity, hunting and gathering their food, and venturing into nearby villages in the dark of night to take what they need. However, Yona’s captor, Jerusza, is a brilliant and worldly woman who teaches her everything she knows about the forest, the world, and survival. Far from the safety of their forest, war is raging across Europe and the Holocaust is in full throttle.

When Jerusza dies, Yona is left alone, but soon encounters a band of Jewish refugees, innocents in the wilderness, whom she realizes need her help, which she is driven to provide regardless of the danger to herself. With them she discovers, love, betrayal, and loss.

This is my first novel from this author; I will be reading more.

Highly recommended for readers who enjoy historical fiction with strong heroines, suspense, lush landscapes, and an inspiring ending.

About the Author

Kristin Harmel is the New York Times bestselling, USA Today bestselling, and #1 international bestselling author of The Book of Lost Names, The Winemaker’s Wife, The Room on Rue Amelie, and a dozen other novels that have been translated into 28 languages and sold all over the world.

A former reporter for PEOPLE magazine, Kristin has been writing professionally since the age of 16, when she began her career as a sportswriter, covering Major League Baseball and NHL hockey for a local magazine in Tampa Bay, Florida in the late 1990s. After stints covering health and lifestyle for American Baby, Men’s Health, and Woman’s Day, she became a reporter for PEOPLE magazine while still in college and spent more than a decade working for the publication, covering everything from the Super Bowl to high-profile murders to celebrity interviews. Her favorite stories at PEOPLE, however, were the “Heroes Among Us” features–tales of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

In addition to a long magazine writing career (which also included articles published in Travel + Leisure, Glamour, Ladies’ Home Journal, Every Day with Rachael Ray, and more), Kristin was also a frequent contributor to the national television morning show The Daily Buzz and has appeared on Good Morning America and numerous local television morning shows.

Kristin was born just outside Boston, Massachusetts and spent her childhood there, as well as in Columbus, Ohio, and St. Petersburg, Florida. After graduating with a degree in journalism (with a minor in Spanish) from the University of Florida, she spent time living in Paris and Los Angeles and now lives in Orlando, with her husband and young son. She is the co-founder and co-host of the popular web series and podcast FRIENDS & FICTION.

Connect with Kristin Harmel

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Twitter

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Books I Love! Hour of the Witch by Chris Bohjalian Will Haunt You

Description

A young Puritan woman—faithful, resourceful, but afraid of the demons that dog her soul–plots her escape from a violent marriage in this riveting and propulsive novel of historical suspense from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Flight Attendant.

Boston, 1662. Mary Deerfield is twenty-four-years-old. Her skin is porcelain, her eyes delft blue, and in England she might have had many suitors. But here in the New World, amid this community of saints, Mary is the second wife of Thomas Deerfield, a man as cruel as he is powerful. When Thomas, prone to drunken rage, drives a three-tined fork into the back of Mary’s hand, she resolves that she must divorce him to save her life. 

But in a world where every neighbor is watching for signs of the devil, a woman like Mary—a woman who harbors secret desires and finds it difficult to tolerate the brazen hypocrisy of so many men in the colony—soon becomes herself the object of suspicion and rumor. When tainted objects are discovered buried in Mary’s garden, when a boy she has treated with herbs and simples dies, and when their servant girl runs screaming in fright from her home, Mary must fight to not only escape her marriage, but also the gallows. 

A twisting, tightly plotted novel of historical suspense from one of our greatest storytellers, Hour of the Witch is a timely and terrifying story of socially sanctioned brutality and the original American witch hunt.

My Take

Venturing into 1660’s Boston through this book was more than just a time travel. Life, even a pampered life, was hard then, none of the modern conveniences we take for granted, such as central heating, running water, and plumbing. No supermarkets either. No automobiles. The population was small enough so that everyone knew everyone else’s business and gossip was the city’s favorite past time. People were ugly, unforgiving, judgmental. Women’s rights were nonexistent. Wives were considered to be an extension of their husbands, their child at best, in need of guidance and discipline to keep them on a heavenly path.

Our heroine, Mary Deerfield, who left her family home of privilege and wealth to marry a man far older than herself and without the means to keep her in the lifestyle she was accustomed to, finds herself unable to bear children, “barren,” and the victim of her husband’s creative cruelty which leaves her scarred and with a hunger for vengeance. She is not afraid of him, no, and asks the magistrates that a divorce be granted. She is refused and returned to her husband’s home where his abuse, physical, mental, and emotional, continues. But our heroine devises other means to satisfy her need for vengeance, to escape her loveless marriage, and to find happiness with the man she does love.

The characters in this novel, the townsfolk, are a provincial bunch, worse than a small town Facebook page spreading rumors, lies, and gossip shamelessly while piously sitting through church services for hours on Sunday, hypocrites all. It is this stream of venom that leads to Mary’s demise. It seems everyone else knows what’s being said about her but her. She is not nearly as tuned in to the party line as the rest of her neighbors. The book is interesting in that it seems not much has changed since the 1660’s, except perhaps the technology. In any era, people are the same: quick to judge, blame, gaslight, and throw someone else under the bus to save their own selves. With the town talk so pervasive it was fun trying to stay ahead of the story to figure out what happens next and whether or not Mary escapes her inevitable doom. It kept me on my toes. I read the 400 page book in two days.

Recommended for fans of richly researched historical fiction and women’s fiction told from a man’s point of view. This one will haunt you.

STa

About the Author

CHRIS BOHJALIAN is the #1 New York Times best-selling author of twenty-two books, including The Red Lotus, Midwives, and The Flight Attendant, which is an HBO Max limited series starring Kaley Cuoco. His other books include The Guest Room; Close Your Eyes, Hold Hands; The Sandcastle Girls; Skeletons at the Feast;and The Double Bind. His novels Secrets of Eden, Midwives, and Past the Bleachers were made into movies, and his work has been translated into more than thirty-five languages. He is also a playwright (Wingspan and Midwives). He lives in Vermont and can be found at chrisbohjalian.com or on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Litsy, and Goodreads, @chrisbohjalian.

Great Escapes! Viola Shipman’s The Clover Girls is a Trip Back to 1980’s Summer Camp

A perfect read to take you back to youthful summer days!

Description

“Like a true friendship, The Clover Girls is a novel you will forever savor and treasure.” —Mary Alice Monroe, New York Times bestselling author

Elizabeth, Veronica, Rachel and Emily met at Camp Birchwood as girls in 1985, where over four summers they were the Clover Girls—inseparable for those magical few weeks of freedom—until the last summer that pulled them apart. Now approaching middle age, the women are facing challenges they never imagined as teens, struggles with their marriages, their children, their careers, and wondering who it is they see when they look in the mirror.

Then Liz, V and Rachel each receive a letter from Emily with devastating news. She implores the girls who were once her best friends to reunite at Camp Birchwood one last time, to spend a week together revisiting the dreams they’d put aside and repair the relationships they’d allowed to sour. But the women are not the same idealistic, confident girls who once ruled Camp Birchwood, and perhaps some friendships aren’t meant to last forever…

Bestselling author Viola Shipman is at her absolute best with The Clover Girls. Readers of all ages and backgrounds will love its powerful, redemptive nature and the empowering message at its heart.

My Take

What a joy this was on so many levels! I discovered this author on the Friends & Fiction Show. To my surprise, Viola Shipman is the pen name of Wade Rouse. To think a man wrote this gorgeous book that probes deep feminine issues and ponders the emotional decisions women make that impact and change their lives forever, changing themselves in the process. I got lost in it immediately and didn’t come up for air until I finished it.

The four woman at the heart of the story, The Clover Girls – Emily, Veronica, Elizabeth, and Rachel – are decades past their summer camp days and lifelong friendship pact. Left behind were backstabbing plots, deep hurts, broken hearts, and lost dreams. Their adult lives have been disappointing and difficult and all are “lost,” unsure of their purpose, their places in the world. All of this is etched out in the inner thoughts of each character, the thread that drives the tapestry of this richly woven novel. As they break through the pains of their past and rekindle their friendship, long dormant, they emerge with renewed purpose, both personally and as The Clover Girls. Throughout all is the music and pop culture of the ‘80’s: TV, fashion, John Hughes movies, Molly Ringwald, Boy George, Madonna, and so much more.

I never went to summer camp so am unfamiliar with all that goes on there but reading this book gave me a certain nostalgia for easier times and the benefits of long summer days outdoors, by a lake, with friends who are everything, and I’m certain I missed out on a good thing.

Recommended for lovers of women’s fiction, the 80’s, and women who long to go back to their girlhood and fix things.

About the Author

Viola Shipman is the pen name of Wade Rouse, a popular award-winning memoirist and internationally bestselling author of 12 books translated into 20 languages and selected as Today show Must-Reads, Indie Next Picks and Michigan Notable Book. Rouse chose his grandma’s name, Viola Shipman, to honor the woman whose heirlooms inspire his fiction. He lives in Michigan and California, and hosts Wine & Words with Wade, A Literary Happy Hour, every Thursday.

Connect with Viola Shipman

Viola Shipman Website

Wade Rouse Website

Books I Love! The Ride of Her Life is an Engrossing Tale of a Woman’s Quest to Realize a Lifelong Dream

Description

The triumphant true story of a woman who rode her horse across America in the 1950s, fulfilling her dying wish to see the Pacific Ocean, from the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Perfect Horse and The Eighty-Dollar Champion.

“The gift Elizabeth Letts has is that she makes you feel you are the one taking this trip. This is a book we can enjoy always but especially need now.”—Elizabeth Berg, author of The Story of Arthur Truluv

In 1954, sixty-three-year-old Maine farmer Annie Wilkins embarked on an impossible journey. She had no money and no family, she had just lost her farm, and her doctor had given her only two years to live. But Annie wanted to see the Pacific Ocean before she died. She ignored her doctor’s advice to move into the county charity home. Instead, she bought a cast-off brown gelding named Tarzan, donned men’s dungarees, and headed south in mid-November, hoping to beat the snow. Annie had little idea what to expect beyond her rural crossroads; she didn’t even have a map. But she did have her ex-racehorse, her faithful mutt, and her own unfailing belief that Americans would treat a stranger with kindness.

Annie, Tarzan, and her dog, Depeche Toi, rode straight into a world transformed by the rapid construction of modern highways. Between 1954 and 1956, the three travelers pushed through blizzards, forded rivers, climbed mountains, and clung to the narrow shoulder as cars whipped by them at terrifying speeds. Annie rode more than four thousand miles, through America’s big cities and small towns. Along the way, she met ordinary people and celebrities—from Andrew Wyeth (who sketched Tarzan) to Art Linkletter and Groucho Marx. She received many offers—a permanent home at a riding stable in New Jersey, a job at a gas station in rural Kentucky, even a marriage proposal from a Wyoming rancher. In a decade when car ownership nearly tripled, when television’s influence was expanding fast, when homeowners began locking their doors, Annie and her four-footed companions inspired an outpouring of neighborliness in a rapidly changing world.

My Take

The simple idea of a woman setting out on horseback alone to traverse the country – from Maine to California – in 1954 was enough to get me to pick up this book. Once I started turning pages I couldn’t stop. Annie’s early life was interesting, as she was raised on a remote farm with no modern conveniences, and I enjoyed those well-written early chapters that sucked me into the story. She was never a woman used to comfort, thus she faced her journey with practicality and little expectations for aid. But as the story wound on it became even more fascinating. It describes a way of life long gone as Annie made her way along country roads, avoiding highways becoming more and more congested with cars and danger, and finding kind, generous, trusting strangers along the way who provided food, shelter and support. I wondered how or if someone could make a similar journey today.

Throughout the story I felt like I was riding right behind Annie on Tarzan, little Depeche Toi on my lap. The descriptions of the struggles she faced due to winter weather, cold, heavy rains, overnight stays in jail cells because those were the only available rooms in town, illness, and injuries to her horses were gripping. The beauty she encountered in nature and the landscape, and the goodness she found within the hearts of townsfolk was heartwarming and inspiring. She traveled without GPS, or even a decent map of the country, relying on regional maps and instructions from those she passed on how to get to her destination. It took her a lot longer than she expected but she finally made her way to California, although with some disappointment.

Highly recommended for those interested in Americana, women’s history, and a good road trip.

About the Author

If you want to know why I’m a writer, you’d have to thank Mrs. Barclay, the children’s librarian in the Malaga Cove Library in Palos Verdes, California, and my mother. who has read more books than anyone else I know, and who carted me to the library from the time I could barely walk. From the day I sounded out my first board book (Ann Likes Red), read my first poem (Block City, by Robert Louis Stevenson) and was swept up in my first long chapter book, (Little House in the Big Woods) I’ve been a passionate reader and fascinated by the lives and personalities of my favorite authors. But I was a late bloomer. I spent my twenties and thirties working as a nurse-midwife and raising four children. When I turned forty, I decided that I didn’t want to be one of those people who thought she had a book in her but never gave it a try, and I sat down to write my first novel. Now, writing is my full-time pursuit. My passions are horses and all animals, my children, singing in a choir, and long road trips through the backroads of America. I care deeply about issues that affect women and children, and especially those who are fleeing danger. But my favorite hobby is still the one that Mrs. Barclay and my mom got me started on– reading.

Connect with Elizabeth Letts

http://www.elizabethletts.com
Twitter: @elizabethletts
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/eightydollarchampion
instagram: elizabethletts

Books I Love! Hunter Biden’s Memoir Beautiful Things is a Raw, Honest Look at Addiction

Description

“I come from a family forged by tragedies and bound by a remarkable, unbreakable love,” Hunter Biden writes in this deeply moving memoir of addiction, loss, and survival.

When he was two years old, Hunter Biden was badly injured in a car accident that killed his mother and baby sister. In 2015, he suffered the devastating loss of his beloved big brother, Beau, who died of brain cancer at the age of forty-six. These hardships were compounded by the collapse of his marriage and a years-long battle with drug and alcohol addiction.

In Beautiful Things, Hunter recounts his descent into substance abuse and his tortuous path to sobriety. The story ends with where Hunter is today—a sober married man with a new baby, finally able to appreciate the beautiful things in life.

My Take

From its first pages I knew Hunter Biden’s memoir Beautiful Things would be a beautiful book, not because of its subject matter for that is extremely ugly, but because of the writing, and the way he presents his story with raw honesty. I doubt he held much back because the tale he tells of his spiral into alcohol and crack addiction following the death of his beloved brother Beau is harrowing, and I can’t imagine much worse. The Biden family’s story is well-known by anyone paying attention to recent events in America: A wife and mother, a baby daughter and sister killed in a tragic car accident. Two brothers left motherless and injured in a hospital, forging a lifelong bond that remains strong even through death. A father who becomes President of the United States at one of the worst times in our nation’s history. In spite of the tragedy and politics they are a simple family at their core, loving one another deeply and persevering in spite of their pain, building lives of service, using their own experience to comfort others. Hunter’s story is the dark side of all of that love and altruism. His story leaves us with a glimpse into a world that most of us never encounter, except perhaps in the movies, or on TV, or in novels. Here are some of his observations I will carry with me forever:

“The most insidious thing about addiction, the hardest thing to overcome, is waking up unable to see the best in yourself.”

“Sobriety is easy. All you have to do is change everything.”

“Even when the ghosts of addiction have been banished, they still exist.”

As a nurse who encounters people with addictions often and a woman who once cared for a man plagued with similar demons these words help me to empathize and better understand those who fall into the belly of this beast. Recommended for lovers of memoir, addictions specialists, and readers who enjoy entering new (though ugly) worlds.

About the Author


Hunter Biden is a lawyer and an artist. A graduate of Georgetown University and Yale Law School, Hunter has worked as an advocate on behalf of Jesuit universities, and served on numerous corporate and nonprofit boards, including as vice chairman of Amtrak and chairman of the board of World Food Program USA. The son of Joe and Jill Biden, Hunter is the father of three daughters: Naomi, Finnegan, and Maisy. He lives with his wife, Melissa Cohen Biden, and their son, Beau, in California.

Books I Love! 5-Stars for Sarah Moon’s Middletown, Terrific #YA

Description

Thirteen-year-old Eli likes baggy clothes, baseball caps, and one girl in particular. Her seventeen-year-old sister Anna is more traditionally feminine; she loves boys and staying out late. They are sisters, and they are also the only family each can count on. Their dad has long been out of the picture, and their mom lives at the mercy of her next drink. When their mom lands herself in enforced rehab, Anna and Eli are left to fend for themselves. With no legal guardian to keep them out of foster care, they take matters into their own hands: Anna masquerades as Aunt Lisa, and together she and Eli hoard whatever money they can find. But their plans begin to unravel as quickly as they were made, and they are always way too close to getting caught.

Eli and Anna have each gotten used to telling lies as a means of survival, but as they navigate a world without their mother, they must learn how to accept help, and let other people in.

My Take

This audiobook had me from the start with its story of two teenage sisters coming to grips with their mother’s alcoholism. Eli (13) and Anna (17), aka Peanut Butter and Banana, are determined to stay together when their mom ends up in a 90-day rehab and will go to several extremes to make this happen. At the same time they’re dealing with a few other angsty issues such as Eli’s crush on her best girlfriend and the bully at school who makes each morning miserable, and Anna’s chasing after a boy known as “The Jacket,” while conflicted about taking on the mom role for her sister. This story has a full slate of social issues in addition to alcoholism and coming out: sexual abuse, abandonment, poverty, and more, but the story doesn’t get bogged down with it. Instead, the author uses tight dialogue, snappy little comebacks, relatable characters and a fast pace to keep it all moving. The narrator did a terrific job keeping all of the characters straight and bringing the appropriate emotion to each role. Recommended for YA readers of all ages.

About the Author

Sarah Moon is a teacher and writer. She lives and works in Brooklyn, New York, with her wife, Jasmine, and their daughter, Zora. She is the coeditor of THE LETTER Q, a young adult anthology. Her first YA novel was the critically acclaimed SPARROW; the second is MIDDLETOWN, publishing in 2021 with Levine Querido.

Connect with Sarah Moon on Twitter

Books I Love! Little Pieces of Me, Alison Hammer’s Latest Women’s Fiction, is a Fun, Funny Read

This was not the typical woman joins DNA registry, woman finds lost relatives, and they all lived happily ever after (except they seemed pretty happy at the end.)

Paige, 43 (a little older than I expected for this story, but hey) starts an account with FamilyTree.com, does the swab, submits it, and moves on. She wasn’t really interested in learning about her genetic makeup or discovering relatives she doesn’t know. The account was a perk for her job at an advertising firm, research, nothing serious.

So Paige is dumbfounded when she receives an email from FamilyTree.com alerting her that someone new to their database is her father. Which completely throws her because her father has died, and she is still in mourning.

Yet all of her life she has felt as though she doesn’t belong to her family. She looks different. Her mother is strangely aloof. Some things don’t add up. She has to know: Has her mother been lying to her all of her life? Was her dad not her dad? If not who is? And what happened between him and her mother?

As Paige explores these possibilities with the help of her friends Maks and Margaux, and her fiancé, Jeff, we’re entertained with their antics, banter, and dedication to Paige (these are some great friends.)

This is a fun, funny read.

Recommended for readers who like quick reads, a little mystery, and an emotional conundrum.

Start reading now!

About the Author

Founder of Every Damn Day Writers, Alison Hammer has been spinning words to tell stories since she learned how to talk. A graduate of the University of Florida and the Creative Circus in Atlanta, she lived in 9 cities before settling down in Chicago. During the day, Alison is a VP Creative Director at FCB Chicago, but on nights and weekends you can find her writing upmarket women’s fiction.

Connect with Alison Hammer

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Goodreads

Books I Love! Harmels’ The Book of Lost Names is Swoonworthy

Inspired by an astonishing true story from World War II, a young woman with a talent for forgery helps hundreds of Jewish children flee the Nazis in this unforgettable historical novel from the New York Times bestselling author of the “epic and heart-wrenching World War II tale” (Alyson Noel, #1 New York Times bestselling author) The Winemaker’s Wife.

Eva Traube Abrams, a semi-retired librarian in Florida, is shelving books one morning when her eyes lock on a photograph in a magazine lying open nearby. She freezes; it’s an image of a book she hasn’t seen in sixty-five years—a book she recognizes as The Book of Lost Names.

The accompanying article discusses the looting of libraries by the Nazis across Europe during World War II—an experience Eva remembers well—and the search to reunite people with the texts taken from them so long ago. The book in the photograph, an eighteenth-century religious text thought to have been taken from France in the waning days of the war, is one of the most fascinating cases. Now housed in Berlin’s Zentral- und Landesbibliothek library, it appears to contain some sort of code, but researchers don’t know where it came from—or what the code means. Only Eva holds the answer—but will she have the strength to revisit old memories and help reunite those lost during the war?

As a graduate student in 1942, Eva was forced to flee Paris after the arrest of her father, a Polish Jew. Finding refuge in a small mountain town in the Free Zone, she begins forging identity documents for Jewish children fleeing to neutral Switzerland. But erasing people comes with a price, and along with a mysterious, handsome forger named Rémy, Eva decides she must find a way to preserve the real names of the children who are too young to remember who they really are. The records they keep in The Book of Lost Names will become even more vital when the resistance cell they work for is betrayed and Rémy disappears.

An engaging and evocative novel reminiscent of The Lost Girls of Paris and The Alice NetworkThe Book of Lost Names is a testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the power of bravery and love in the face of evil.

My Take

I am newly in love with this author, Kristin Harmel. The Book of Lost Names is a World War II novel told from the resistance movement in France that is engrossing and full of the “feels,” a love story, a war story, and so much more. Definitely swoonworthy.

Eva is a young college student interested in not much more than books, a good Jewish girl who strives to please her parents. But when the Nazis tear them apart she is thrust into a new world that puts her and her mother in danger for their lives and introduces her to a priest and a young forger, Remy, furiously working to save as many Jews as they can. Together they work at their own peril to create the “papers” that will allow these people – including children – to escape to Switzerland and safety.

The story is told in two parts: Eva looking back as an old woman and the story’s unfolding in real time during the war. We learn of Eva and Remy’s slow growing deep love for each other, and Eva’s mother’s refusal to accept what is really happening to them, and the fate of her husband, who was sent east to Auschwitz, and her bitterness at her daughter’s dedication to the resistance. Through it all we see Eva’s efforts to remain true to her Jewish faith and her parents’ expectations for her, resulting in her losing the love of her life.

This is a gripping read that I will remember for a long time. I’m especially thrilled that this author has an undiscovered backlist for me to enjoy this summer. Highly recommended for those who like World War II dramas based on actual circumstances and rich research.

About the Author

Kristin Harmel is the New York Times bestselling, USA Today bestselling, and #1 international bestselling author of The Book of Lost Names, The Winemaker’s Wife, The Room on Rue Amelie, and a dozen other novels that have been translated into 28 languages and sold all over the world.

A former reporter for PEOPLE magazine, Kristin has been writing professionally since the age of 16, when she began her career as a sportswriter, covering Major League Baseball and NHL hockey for a local magazine in Tampa Bay, Florida in the late 1990s. After stints covering health and lifestyle for American Baby, Men’s Health, and Woman’s Day, she became a reporter for PEOPLE magazine while still in college and spent more than a decade working for the publication, covering everything from the Super Bowl to high-profile murders to celebrity interviews. Her favorite stories at PEOPLE, however, were the “Heroes Among Us” features–tales of ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

In addition to a long magazine writing career (which also included articles published in Travel + Leisure, Glamour, Ladies’ Home Journal, Every Day with Rachael Ray, and more), Kristin was also a frequent contributor to the national television morning show The Daily Buzz and has appeared on Good Morning America and numerous local television morning shows.

Kristin was born just outside Boston, Massachusetts and spent her childhood there, as well as in Columbus, Ohio, and St. Petersburg, Florida. After graduating with a degree in journalism (with a minor in Spanish) from the University of Florida, she spent time living in Paris and Los Angeles and now lives in Orlando, with her husband and young son. She is the co-founder and co-host of the popular web series and podcast FRIENDS & FICTION.

Connect with Kristin Harmel

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Books I Love! The Girls Are All (Not) So Nice Here, a Chilling Thriller

Two former best friends return to their college reunion to find that they’re being circled by someone who wants revenge for what they did ten years before—and will stop at nothing to get it—in this shocking psychological thriller about ambition, toxic friendship, and deadly desire.

A lot has changed in the years since Ambrosia Wellington graduated from college, and she’s worked hard to create a new life for herself. But then an invitation to her ten-year reunion arrives in the mail, along with an anonymous note that reads “We need to talk about what we did that night.”

It seems that the secrets of Ambrosia’s past—and the people she thought she’d left there—aren’t as buried as she’d believed. Amb can’t stop fixating on what she did or who she did it with: larger-than-life Sloane “Sully” Sullivan, Amb’s former best friend, who could make anyone do anything.

At the reunion, Amb and Sully receive increasingly menacing messages, and it becomes clear that they’re being pursued by someone who wants more than just the truth of what happened that first semester. This person wants revenge for what they did and the damage they caused—the extent of which Amb is only now fully understanding. And it was all because of the game they played to get a boy who belonged to someone else, and the girl who paid the price.

Alternating between the reunion and Amb’s freshman year, The Girls Are All So Nice Here is a shocking novel about the brutal lengths girls can go to get what they think they’re owed, and what happens when the games we play in college become matters of life and death.

My Take

Don’t start this if you have to get up early. This one will keep you flipping pages and then leave you with a book hangover. I couldn’t stop thinking about the characters at the heart of the story, Ambrosia and Sully, two of the most unlikable characters I’ve ever encountered. They’re so much “girls you love to hate” that I couldn’t look away. Both of them are beautiful, narcissistic, insecure, dangerous villains who team up to wreak havoc on the guys and girls who unfortunately enter their orbit at school, resulting in the tragic death of an innocent girl who unwittingly gets in their way. I think the story goes a little too far and the ending is a bit neat, but Ambrosia and Sully each meet satisfying (and well deserved) endings. Recommended for those who like a suspense novel with characters you love to hate.

About the Author

Laurie Elizabeth Flynn is a former model who lives in London, Ontario, with her husband and three children. She is the author of three young adult novels: Firsts, a YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults pick, along with Last Girl Lied To and All Eyes on Her, under the name L.E. Flynn. Her adult debut, The Girls Are All So Nice Here, has sold in eleven territories and has been optioned for television by AMC. Visit her website LaurieElizabethFlynn.com or connect with her on Twitter @LaurEllizabeth.

Books I Love! American Dirt is Enlightening and Humanizing

También de este lado hay sueños. On this side, too, there are dreams.

Lydia Quixano Pérez lives in the Mexican city of Acapulco. She runs a bookstore. She has a son, Luca, the love of her life, and a wonderful husband who is a journalist. And while there are cracks beginning to show in Acapulco because of the drug cartels, her life is, by and large, fairly comfortable.

Even though she knows they’ll never sell, Lydia stocks some of her all-time favorite books in her store. And then one day a man enters the shop to browse and comes up to the register with a few books he would like to buy—two of them her favorites. Javier is erudite. He is charming. And, unbeknownst to Lydia, he is the jefe of the newest drug cartel that has gruesomely taken over the city. When Lydia’s husband’s tell-all profile of Javier is published, none of their lives will ever be the same.

Forced to flee, Lydia and eight-year-old Luca soon find themselves miles and worlds away from their comfortable middle-class existence. Instantly transformed into migrants, Lydia and Luca ride la bestia—trains that make their way north toward the United States, which is the only place Javier’s reach doesn’t extend. As they join the countless people trying to reach el norte, Lydia soon sees that everyone is running from something. But what exactly are they running to?

American Dirt will leave readers utterly changed. It is a literary achievement filled with poignancy, drama, and humanity on every page. It is one of the most important books for our times.

Already being hailed as “a Grapes of Wrath for our times” and “a new American classic,” Jeanine Cummins’s American Dirt is a rare exploration into the inner hearts of people willing to sacrifice everything for a glimmer of hope.

My Take

Quite possibly one of the best books I’ve ever read, although getting to the end of it was an arduous process. I first checked it out of the library to see what everyone was talking about, read a few chapters, but reluctantly returned it because it was overdue and my TBR list was massive. Then my book club decided to read it, so I checked it out again and ended up reading it in hardcover, Kindle, and audio before finally finishing it and I was gobsmacked. This is a real eye opener.

The tragic and terrifying plight of the people desperate to enter the US at the southern border are well known to me, but in Cummins’s hands they seem tangible and compelling. It’s one thing to read a news story or analysis of a Mexican immigrant caught at the border, but to witness the journey of a mother and her young son fleeing from their comfortable home in Acapulco, Mexico after the vicious murder of their family, desperate to stay alive to make it to the safety of “el norte,” had me putting aside pretty much everything to find out what happens. My heart raced each time they encountered a stranger they did not know if they could trust, and soared at the generosity of those who offered them comfort. I particularly liked the characters of the teenaged sisters, and Beto, as well as the coyote.

There is a lot of hype about this book. To each their own. I found it enlightening and humanizing and recommend it to anyone looking for something to take them out of their normal reading routine.

About the Author

Jeanine Cummins s the author of THE OUTSIDE BOY, THE CROOKED BRANCH, the true crime work A RIP IN HEAVEN, and AMERICAN DIRT, all of which are published by Tinder Press. She lives in New York with her husband and two children. You can follow Jeanine on Twitter @jeaninecummins.