• Kelly Fredericks

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 cybersex 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 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 continue 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 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


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.

  • Kelly Fredericks

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.





"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!

The Book Doctor by Britney King

June 19, 2019

Dear Mr. Hemingway,

As much as I love your writing and getting lost in your words, I sometimes crave a thrill that you simply can’t deliver (no offense).  The breathless feeling from dangling off the top of some absurdly wild amusement park ride. The feeling of my heart literally pounding out of my chest.  My mind playing tricks on me.  You get the idea, right?  Not to worry though.  While you are my go to for simpler prose and a straightforward story, Britney King is my go to for evocative writing and suspenseful storylines.  Her latest book, The Book Doctor, is a menacing read filled with unsettling vibes (not for the faint of heart) that supplied me with a book rush I so needed. The best part is, I enjoyed it from the comfort of my adirondack chair.  Let's get to it.

“Stories are everywhere just waiting to be found.  And finally, living is making peace with the fact that you are very likely going to be the villain in someone else’s story, even if you believed you were doing the right things.”

With so many psychological thrillers, a clear and concise synopsis is often hard to do without compromising the story.  I will share with you the basics, but please know…The Book Doctor encompasses depth and layers that go beyond the scope of any summary.  George, once a famous writer, is trying to make the ultimate comeback with one more book.  His publisher sends over a young gentleman apprentice named Liam to help him with his writing.  George is on to him immediately.  There is something more to this young, good looking and ambitious man than just helping out with some storylines.  Is it possible that he is actually committing disturbing crimes all for the sake of good writing?  With mainstream success lingering in the background, can George ignore his instincts in order to finish a soon to be best seller?   

Buckle up...King’s new book is a dark and creepy ride with twists and turns every step of the way.  I was mesmerized by her unrestrained plot, graphic imagery and warped characters. Full disclosure...King’s book has vivid scenes of death and murder.  She showcases deranged thoughts that will give even the squeamish-free reader the chills.  Fans of the hit show Dexter, will be in heaven with this book.   If you are looking for a distraction, King’s book will fulfill your wish.  The only thing you will need to worry about when reading The Book Doctor, is how fast you can turn the page.  One thing is for sure…..this mind gripping tale was the perfect binge worthy read.  Pair this psychological thriller with a glass of something fabulous, and you’ll have one hell of a night!  

Until next time my dear friend!

Your Biggest Fan


P.S. Thank you to the lovely Britney King for sharing with me her new book to read in exchange for my honest opinion. What can I say...I am a huge fan.

Be sure to check out her WEBSITE for all of her books, blog and future works.

Click on the book pic below to purchase!

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