Thursday, May 24, 2012

Coming Up for Air - Like Air for a Reader's Soul...


Title: Coming Up for Air
Author: Patti Callahan Henry
Publisher: St. Martin's Press

Release Date: August 16th, 2011
Available to order here: Amazon / Book Depository / Barnes & Noble


Ellie Calvin is caught in a dying marriage, and she knows this. With her beloved daughter away at college and a growing gap between her and her husband, she doesn’t quite seem to fit into her own life. But everything changes when her controlling mother, Lillian, passes away. Ellie sees her ex-boyfriend, Hutch, at the funeral, and learns that he is in charge of a documentary that involved Lillian before her death – and he wants answers to questions that Ellie’s not sure she can face.

As Ellie and Hutch start digging into Lillian’s history, and speaking for the first time in years, Ellie’s closed heart slowly begins to open. Using both a hidden diary that Ellie found in her mother’s things, and a trip to the Summer House, a mysterious and seductive bayside home, they gamble that they can work together and not fall in love again. But in piecing together a decades-old unrequited-love story, they just might uncover the secrets in their own hearts…

About The Author

Patti Callahan Henry is the National Bestselling author of six novels with Penguin/NAL (Losing the Moon, Where the River Runs, When Light Breaks, Betweeen the Tides, The Art of Keeping Secrets, and Driftwood Summer).

Patti is hailed as a fresh new voice in southern fiction. She has been short-listed for the Townsend Prize for Fiction and has been nominated for the Southeastern Independent Booksellers Fiction Novel of the Year. She is a frequent speaker at luncheons, book clubs and women’s groups where she discusses the importance of storytelling and anything else they want to talk about.

Patti grew up as a Minister’s daughter, learning early how storytelling effects our lives. She grew up spending her summers on Cape Cod where she began her love affair with the beach, ocean, tides and nature of the coast. Moving south at the tender age of twelve, she found solace in books and stories. While attending Auburn University, she met a southern boy who later proposed on Daufuskie Island, South Carolina, next to a historic lighthouse overlooking the Sound. After earning her Master’s degree in Child Health, Patti worked as a Clinical Nurse Specialist until her first child was born.

Patti is a full time writer, wife and mother living with her husband and three children outside Atlanta on the Chattahoochee River where she is working on her next novel.

My Review

"Coming Up for Air" by Patti Callahan Henry is a beautiful story about reconciling your past with your present. Ellie's mother Lillian has passed away, and while Ellie is taking care of, and sorting through, her belongings she comes across her mother's journal locked away from the eyes of the world. This discovery raises many questions for Ellie who, in order to find answers for them, decides to leave her home and husband in Atlanta to travel to Alabama to stay with her mother's best friend, Miss Birdie. In the meantime, Ellie's ex-boyfriend, and her first-love, surprises her by showing up at her mother's funeral - it turns out that he is doing a documentary on ten women and Lillian, Ellie's mother, is one of them.

So together Ellie and Hutch try and uncover the real Lillian, before she was a mother and a wife, who she really was. And in trying to uncover the mysteries of her mother's past, Ellie learns a lot about her own self, her marriage and her life. It is this journey within her own self, and coming to the conclusions that she does, that results in Ellie's "Coming Up For Air".

Patti Callahan Henry is indeed, as the blurb suggests, a tour de force. When I won this novel, and looking at it's cover, I thought it would be a sugary sweet, rot your teeth out sweet, kind of a novel. But I was pleasantly shocked to find out that it is nothing of the sort. Although author Patti Callahan Henry sure knows how to spin a romantic tale, she knows its place in the narrative, and never forces the romance beyond its bounds. Although, I must admit, this author definitely knows how to characterize the dynamics between different relationships. And although the narrative deals with the Civil Rights Movement, ethics and social inequities, it never ends up being preachy or tedious. I also love that this tale is set in the South - anywhere else, and this story may have fallen flat. I love the dialect, the way of life, and the tales/stories that emerge from the South - they have a culture of their own down there, and it is absolutely beautiful to read about.

All in all, "Coming Up For Air" really was like coming up for air for me. My past few reads have been really fast-paced thrillers. This books incorporates some mystery into its narrative and is very well-paced, but it is far more about the characters within the novel, than it is about the mystery to be uncovered. I loved being able to connect with Ellie on various levels, and at times with Lillian as well. This book was a breath of fresh air, and I am really looking forward to more by author Patti Callahan Henry. It's a beautifully written novel, and one I would recommend to anyone who enjoys reading about family dynamics, family secrets, the Civil Rights Movement, or generally about "the South". Enjoy! :)

My Rating : 5/5 Stars

Disclaimer:  I received a copy of this book via a publicist for the novel/author. I was not compensated monetarily, or in any other way, for my opinion. The opinions stated in this review are solely mine, and are not representative of views of the author, or publishing company, of this book. 


  1. Welcome back Hira. Glad to see your blog is up and running again.
    How is school?

    1. Hey Zohar,

      Thank you very much. School is done and finished! :) I have my MD now, but I'm still working on my licensing. I've had some ups and downs...but yes, I'm finally back. Thank you for visiting! :D


  2. I love books that just need to be set where they are. They feel fuller somehow.

    1. Carol, sorry for the late reply - but yes, I completely agree. The setting aids the narrative, in establishing the personality of the story. In this case, this story could not have taken place anywhere but in the American South! Thank you for visiting! :)