This inspirational chain of islands has attracted an impressive number of authors throughout history. Here are five fiction favorites from women of the Florida Keys.

Where I Can Breathe
by Hays Blinckmann

Agnes Williams is an alcoholic battling the advanced stages of cirrhosis. Her three grown children gather at her sickbed to reflect on their childhood and the ways they have always protected each other. While their father, Asher, acquired vast wealth and a multitude of women, their mother managed the house and their lives. As Arthur, Abby and Ansel approached their teenage years, their self-destructive mother turned to alcohol. 

No longer able to hide her sadness, Aggie became increasingly bitter; her erratic behavior legendary. Filled with a deep-seated sense of loyalty, the siblings do anything they can to allay Aggie’s suffering, divulge their own secrets and make peace with a painful past. 

This heartbreakingly beautiful story is filled with the complicated challenges of marriage, parenting and everlasting sibling bonds, but most of all it’s about love. You will laugh, cry and most certainly adore this page-turning novel by Key West resident author Hays Blinckmann. Her latest, a young-adult book called “Yell Out Loud,” hits the shelves soon.

Bimini Rocks
by Cheryl Shepherd Bartoszek

Sirena, a mermaid actress and avid scuba diver from Florida, arrives at Isabelle’s Hideaway ready to explore the beautiful waters of Bimini, a magical group of islands in the westernmost district of the Bahamas. Isabelle, her dear friend and hotel proprietor, has arranged for Sirena to dive with her handsome brother, Blue, who takes Sirena to visit a secret cave he found near the reef and rock formations on the unexplained Road to Atlantis. For hundreds of years the story of the sunken city has captivated historians and dreamers in the area, these divers included. 

Then severe and inexplicable shaking under the water leads the duo to investigate explosions that resulted from an array of illegal business activities that are threatening the nature of this lovely island. 

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Submerge yourself in history, marine life, suspense and a little romance with this fast-paced, nautical adventure. When this debut author is not under the deep blue sea she is hard at work on her next tale, “Emerald Curse,” set in Old Key West.

This Terrible Beauty
by Katrin Schumann

Bettina Heilstrom, a young woman during World War II, has spent her entire life on the shores of Rugen, Germany. She had always been content with this quiet island living, working in her father’s fish shop. After both her parents are gone, the brutalities of war reach her doorstep. Assuming she was destined to remain alone, Bettina is surprised to find herself marrying Werner, not exactly for love, but for companionship and perhaps the chance to raise a family of her own. Werner is a low-level politico working for a government agency. He takes great pleasure in controlling people’s lives, Bettina’s included, with the information he accumulates. 

When the Russians ultimately win control of the Eastern Bloc, a socialist republic is instituted and freedom is scarce. Bettina secretly falls in love and begins a dangerous affair with a writer and teacher named Peter. 

Flashing back from Bettina’s life in Chicago circa 1960 to her early years in Germany, this now- famous photographer must decide if she can start a new life, or if the past will haunt her forever. This gifted local author is busy at work on her latest novel set in 1967 Ibiza, Spain.

Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret
by Judy Blume

Young Margaret Simon moves from the Big Apple to the New Jersey suburbs in the sixth grade. It’s an era of great importance to an 11-year-old girl, and Margaret is deeply self conscious of her body’s changes — or lack thereof. 

Being the new girl can be both exciting and terrifying. As Margaret and her school friends obsess over boys and Two Minutes in the Closet, she prays to God for guidance, while questioning what it means to be half Jewish and half Christian. 

This classic young-adult story encourages honest discussion for young girls who are beginning to learn how to express themselves during adolescence. It was no easy to task to choose from the dozens of Judy Blume books I adore, but as this timeless coming-of-age story celebrates its 50th anniversary, iconic Key West resident, teacher, writer and bookstore owner Blume has recently sold the movie rights to bring “Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret” to the big screen. Pass the popcorn.

Without Her
by Rosalind Brackenbury

Claudia and Hannah were inseparable at their all-girls boarding school. Growing up in England and feeling abandoned by their parents, these young girls bonded like sisters. Having dreamed of running away together, the pair eventually attend Cambridge and their lives take different paths after graduation. 

Claudia follows her passion for filmmaking to America. Hannah marries Phil and settles into a somewhat predictable English life. Many years later Claudia receives an urgent message from Phil, who says Hannah is missing. As Hannah’s oldest and dearest confidant, he doesn’t know where else to turn. Together they investigate the possibilities of Hannah’s sudden disappearance. The choices one makes throughout their life affect not only themselves but those closest to them. The meaning of love, jealousy and loyalty continues to evolve over time, redefining our most valued relationships. 

This captivating story is a witness to a fragile and precious friendship. We are blessed to share our sunshine with this award-winning poet, novelist and teacher.

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