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My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell

Rating:                              6

General Rating: No, no, no, no, and no. I don’t usually bad-mouth other authors or books but this is a hard no. I give it a 8 for writing but a 4 for content.

Skip factor:  20% At least. I skipped much. I don’t like reading the sex details between a pervert and a child.

Who should read:   For the first time I’m talking about people who SHOULDN’T read this rather than those who should. No one under eighteen (maybe twenty-one), that’s for sure. No one that doesn’t like sex scenes, and certainly no sex addicts. (Let’s not encourage them to get off thinking about kids.)

Summary: It’s the typical student-teacher sex affair. I’m not going to say much more.

I read similar student-teacher story, Choose Me, by Tess Gerritsen and LOVED it. This one? I googled the publishing company to see who would allow sex scenes between a child and pervert to go to print. Okay, they weren’t long lived, but the author sneaks in information I thought better left unsaid.

Characters:  The character development was good. Characters seemed unlikeable and true-to-life. I felt complete empathy for the abused girl. I searched after to see if the author had done extensive research on victims, but could not find.

Storyline: Classic retold teacher-student sex—not love—story.  

Writing:  This author writes well. My unworthy two cents is that she needed a better edit. (This is my blog and I’m usually cautious in criticizing other authors, but this story went too far.)

What she did extremely well was relay how manipulative an abuser can be and how devastating the consequences to a victim. For that, the author deserves credit.

Read this author again?  Not if she publishes with this publisher again. I’m totally shocked other authors condoned this.

Find another book and read on!

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CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, Dream Wide Awake, and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a sixth-sense paranormal element, and Friends Who Move Couches, women’s fiction. These last two novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on InstagramTwitterFacebookGoodreadsBookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon. 

9

The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Kim Michele Richarson

Rating:           9

General Rating: Excellent writing and character development. I even loved the mule, Junia, named for the lone female apostle. (Google to verify.) This novel reminded me of The Whip, only I enjoyed it much more.

Skip factor:  Nothing.

Who should read: If you like fabulous writing about simple people but with deep meaning, you’ll love this one.

Summary: It’s the story of a blue girl from Kentucky. (There truly was a blue family in Troublesome, Kentucky, and other blues have been identified in other places on occasion. Methemoglobinemia, a blood disorder, causes the blue-tinged skin.) Cussy Mary or Bluet or Book Woman, as she’s sometimes called, takes a job in the Pack Horse Library Project distributing books to poor Kentucky families in the wilderness.

Every night her father lit a courting candle, hoping to find a husband for her, but Cussy Mary wanted nothing to do with marriage as a married woman wasn’t allowed to work for the Library Project.

The novel follows her hard life as she distributes books to the impoverished of the backwoods. She lives to deliver her books to her patrons.

Characters:  Great character development. The interaction between Cussy Mary and her dad, along with her relationship with her clients—especially Angeline and Henry—captured my heart.

Storyline: I had not heard of the Pack Horse Library Project before reading this novel. Although fiction, this story reads like non-fiction and is completely believable and realistic. The storyline follows the undulating life of the pack-mule librarian, but the way the author tells the story, how she sees the book woman’s simple life, will capture a reader’s heart.

Writing:  The writing is tremendous. No more need be said.

Read this author again?  Absolutely.

Read on!

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CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, Dream Wide Awake, and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a sixth-sense paranormal element, and two ChickLit novels Friends Who Move Couches and Don’t Mind Me, I Came with the House. Many of her novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on Instagram, TwitterFacebookGoodreadsBookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.

Choose Me by Tess Gerritsen

Rating:           9

General Rating: A riveting read! Loved this. If you haven’t selected your FREE June Amazon First Read yet, choose this, Choose Me.

Skip factor:  1%. Nearly nothing.

Who should read: If you like a fast-moving whodunit or a puzzling mystery crime novel, you won’t want to put this book down.

Summary: When Frankie Loomis investigates the apparent suicide death of a beautiful, brilliant college student, Taryn Moore, she knows something is amiss.

Enrolled in Professor Jack Dorian’s English class, Taryn friends an overweight, quiet boy and butts heads with several female students. She argues with them over who is to blame in the star-crossed lover tales class they’re studying. The class examines famous mentors who have had affairs with students and the outcomes of those relationships.

There’s only one direction for this story to go, right? And it does.

Taryn Moore, more than a little over the top, has recently been dumped by her high school sweetheart, and now, fits nicely into the stalking-my-ex category. But when Professor Dorian—who is married to an over-worked doctor, spending too much time on her ailing father in addition to her patients—compliments her, Taryn refocuses her stalking onto Professor Dorian. And like the classic mentors of his class lectures, Dorian makes a fatal mistake.

The story spirals forward. Was it suicide? Murder? And if murder, was the perpetrator her old boyfriend? Her side-kick friend? The professor? Detective Frankie Loomis pulls the reader along in her journey to the truth.

Characters:  This story is totally plot-driven. I made little connection with any of the characters other than the professor’s wife, whom I felt sorry for. Yet, despite not being drawn to the main characters, Gerritsen creates clear pictures of each. I believed Taryn was beautiful and crazy. Jack Dorian could have been anyone’s typical professor (until he wasn’t), and even Taryn’s overweight student friend slithered into the suspect box, Red Sox baseball cap and all.

So character development? Good.

Storyline:  Great storyline. The author doesn’t hide the fact she is copying a story that has been around since the beginning of time, she flaunts it. You know what’s going to happen. It’s one of those books you mumble, don’t do it, don’t do it, don’t do, it….dang, they did it.

BUT, her story-telling skills are superb, so you can’t put it down.  

Writing:  Writing is better than good. Perfect pitch between dialogue, narration, and mystery. Gerritsen keeps you guessing without boring you.

Read this author again?  Absolutely.

Read on!

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CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, Dream Wide Awake, and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a sixth-sense paranormal element, and two ChickLit novels Friends Who Move Couches and Don’t Mind Me, I Came with the House. Many of her novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on Instagram, TwitterFacebookGoodreadsBookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.

The Overdue Life of Amy Byler by Kelly Harms

Rating:           7

General Rating: A fun summer read.

Skip factor:  4%. I skipped a little, not much.

Who should read: If you are a single, unappreciated mom or a woman immersed in the dating world, you’ll like this book.

Summary: Amy Byler’s ex-husband up and left three years ago, so when she runs into him in the drug store, she’s shocked, to say the least. John, the ex, went to Hong Kong on a business trip and never returned. He left Amy alone to raise their two children, Corrinne (Cori) and Joe, and moved in with a much younger woman, as his son Joe puts it, “to rebuild his self-esteem at the expense of his family.”

With the help of Amy’s best friend Lena, Amy gathers herself together, lands a library job at her kids school, and carries on as best she can.

But when John comes back in the hopes of reconnecting with his children, Amy, for the first time ever, is able to concentrate on herself. A little frightened, she takes off to a conference in New York City and her life does a complete three-hundred-sixety degree turn.

While she had thought she and John might reconnect, she begins dating, strikes a romantic relationship, and begins questioning her life and where she is going.  

Characters:  Harm’s characters are both realistic and unique. Amy’s children and friends each have their own quirky personalities, and I especially liked her daughter, Cora, and looked forward to reading the remarks she sent her mother.

Storyline:  Simply, this is the story of a mother who finally has time for herself. I rated this a bit lower because I couldn’t identify with the main character in that, she sometimes appeared sorry that she had children. I couldn’t fathom a mother even remotely feeling that emotion. The story evolved into a happy medium between being a good mother and finding yourself, but I liked Amy the least after that.

Writing:  Writing is good. This wasn’t a page-turner, but it was a fun, easy read. While I didn’t have a passionate desire to return to it, I did look forward to finding out how the story would wrap up.

Read this author again?  Yes. I’d try another of Harm’s books.

Read on!

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CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, Dream Wide Awake, and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a sixth-sense paranormal element, and Friends Who Move Couches, women’s fiction. These last two novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on Instagram, TwitterFacebookGoodreadsBookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.

Hadley and Grace by Suzanne Redfearn

Rating:           8

General Rating: This is Lucy and Ethel turned Therma and Louise.

Skip factor:  6%. I skipped a bit a quarter of the way through along with long paragraphs thereafter.

Who should read: Enjoy humor? You’ll like. People who need a break from deep should read this. 

Summary: Thelma—I’m sorry—Hadley is the wife of Frank, a bookie and small-time drug lord, Of course, Hadley has no idea of her husband’s extra-curricular job activities. She’s too busy planning her get away. She’s leaving Frank and his demanding, bad-tempered, chauvinistic personality.

Enter Grace.

The story begins slowly, but wait for it. WAIT FOR IT.

Grace works for Frank. In and out of foster homes all her life, Grace has done time for something unextraordinary (in other words, I can’t remember it). But she’s out and married, the mother of a colicky baby, and she’s landed the perfect job working for Frank. But when Frank reneges on a commission he’s promised her, she decides she’ll go to the office on a Friday night and remove the files she’s worked so hard on.

Serendipitously, Grace runs into Hadley, who’s there to steal Frank’s cash—she’s sure he has some cash somewhere—and leave him. Instantly and despite their common interest of getting back at Frank, the two womens’ personalities clash.

Ready?

They find and take Frank’s money and through a series of mishaps they find themselves on the run from the FBI, who have been watching Frank and his laundering-money doings.

Enter recently divorced, nice-guy, FBI agent ???.

From here on out, this story takes turns only an unhinged roller-coaster could take.

Characters:  Superb. I loved Grace, Hadley, Maddie, Skipper and ??? nearly the moment I read the first letter of their names. No sense belaboring the point. Redfearn has mastered character development.

Storyline: This story is cute. At about 30% in I lost interest, but again…wait for it… the storyline picks up speed and carries you to the finish. It’s the story of two who can’t take any more of the same man. One is leaving her marriage and the other her employment. It’s cute, different, and readers will find themselves smiling and saying, “Oh, no…” A LOT.

Writing:  Writing is good but the humorous flow of the story is better. I’ll have to go back and reread some. I don’t recall stopping to say, hey, this is a beautiful piece of writing, but then I was laughing too hard.

Read this author again?  I’d try another Redfearn novel. Yes.

Read on!

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CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, Dream Wide Awake, and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a sixth-sense paranormal element, and Friends Who Move Couches, women’s fiction. These last two novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on Instagram, TwitterFacebookGoodreadsBookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.

NetGalley readers, need a fun summer read?

Don’t Mind Me, I Came with the House is a frivolous, easy-to-read rom-com about an unappreciated, awkward mom who finally finds love.

This is the stand-alone sequel to Friends Who Move Couches!

Thank you to Isabel Nicholson for your lovely ARC review. Here’s her review:

I loved the first book and this book took that journey further into a wonderfully fun, warm and funny world. A big part of the joy in these books is Nikki Stone, she’s that awkward part of every woman who survives as the walking disaster she is and is loved for it. I love her resilience but also how she copes with the crazy that happens around her. This book continued her journey and it was a joy to return to her world. I also love her cast of supporting characters, you can feel every eye roll, hug and tear from the start to the finish.


I really love the way CJ Zahner writes, it is captivating and succeeds in making me laugh out loud like a crazy person (even in public). The book has a great pace and even though some of the situations Nikki finds herself in seem initially to be unbelievable, when you think about your own life, the unbelievable can and does happen.


One thing I really took away from reading this book was about change, we are often nervous about it and it takes time to cope with, but it is possible. I really liked the message that working to change things about yourself because you want to can be successful but it won’t happen overnight.

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CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, Dream Wide Awake, and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a sixth-sense paranormal element, and Friends Who Move Couches, women’s fiction. These last two novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, FacebookGoodreadsBookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.

American Dirt by Jeanine Cummins

Rating:           9.5

General Rating: This novel looks inside the mind of an illegal immigrant. Want to know why they risk their lives to come to America? Read this. Seldom does a book impact me like American Dirt.

Skip factor:  2%. I hate admitting this. I skipped paragraphs when I became so invested in the characters’ situations that I felt utter desperation and had to move on. Simply, I paged forward to find the outcome, many times returning to read Cummins’ great writing.  

Who should read: Those who long to understand why some risk their lives to cross the border, compassionate people, or readers who enjoyed The Grapes of Wrath.

Disclaimer: There has been disparaging of this fictional story for several reasons. (I learned this from my wonderful Farmhouse Book Club friends.) I did not read a single word of the controversy before finishing the book or writing my review.

Summary: Lydia and Luca are from a middle-class family, and they live in Acapulco. Lydia, the wife, and Luca, the son, are the immediate family of journalist Sebastian Perez. Lydia owns a book store, and Luca attends private school.

The story opens dramatically with a devastating shooting/killing of Sebastian and fifteen other family members. By chance, Lydia and Luca are able to hide until the cartel members leave, and their journey begins.

This book is about that journey.  

Characters:  Although the novel portrays the life of fictional characters, the author has skillfully created people who seem so real you feel you know them and are walking, step-by-step, beside them as they flee for their lives.

Readers will love the boys, Luca & Beto, the teenage girls, Soledad and Rebeka, and Lydia, the young mother, along with interesting minor characters introduced along the way.

Because the characters seemed lifelike, I googled the author and wasn’t surprised to see she had done extensive research. To read about people/organizations who truly do risk their lives to help immigrants, check out her site at https://www.jeaninecummins.com/how-to-helppre/

Storyline: Cummins captures your attention in the opening chapter and holds it throughout the book. You can’t let go. You must find out if Lydia and Luca survive.

This novel is entirely about Lydia and Luca’s journey, the people they meet, the atrocities they see, and the pain they experience. With the cartel on their heels, Lydia is forced to ferry her son as far from Acapulco as she can manage. She heads toward el Norte and this consumes the storyline.

Writing:  

Cummins’s tremendous writing draws readers into the journey. You are alongside them jumping trains, limping from twisted ankles, traipsing through the cold black nights or scorching afternoons. She writes so eloquently I couldn’t put it down. You hold your breath at times. Her vivid descriptions of situations and settings and the migrants’ inner feelings reel you in and you become completely invested in not only the two main characters, but several of the people they meet along the way.

Read this author again?  Yes, no question. I loved the writing.

Read on!

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CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, Dream Wide Awake, and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a sixth-sense paranormal element, and Friends Who Move Couches, women’s fiction. These last two novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on Instagram, TwitterFacebookGoodreads, BookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.

Don’t Mind Me, I Came with the House

A story about love, forgiveness, and accepting yourself as you are—faults and all. 

Nikki Stone just wanted to be noticed.

Recently divorced and juggling an accounting job with an after-five life as her kids’ maid, Nikki’s luck suddenly changes when a popular golf pro, Blake Andersen, falls in love with her. She’s offered a CFO position at work, her kids release the death-like grip they have on her life, and she spends weekends traveling the glamorous US golf circuit with Blake the Pro.

But when female problems surface in her forty-seven-year-old body, she’s certain illness will dash her future.

Then she gets the news. She’s not dying—she’s pregnant.

Dumbfounded, demoralized, and determined not to force Blake into marriage, she vows to keep her pregnancy secret until he proposes. Her bungling efforts catapult her into online sensationalism.

Careful what you wish for.

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Written with unappreciated mothers in mind, Don’t Mind Me, I Came with the House is my newest ChickLit novel, out, appropriately, on Mother’s Day. If you need a unique gift for a friend or mother in your life, consider purchasing on Amazon for $2.99.

Kindle Unlimited users read free by downloading on Amazon.

As always, if you are a REVIEWER on Goodreads, BookBub, or Amazon, I am able to provide a free ebook copy for an honest review. Email cyndie@cyndiezahner.com with your reviewer name, review site, and I will forward an epub or mobi copy.

Happy reading!

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CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, Dream Wide Awake, and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a sixth-sense paranormal element, and Friends Who Move Couches and Don’t Mind Me, I Came with the House, women’s fiction/ChickLit. These last two novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on Instagram, TwitterFacebook, GoodreadsBookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.

Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

Rating:           8

General Rating: A bit disappointed. (Like Crawdad’s, I may have expected too much.) Ng’s writing earns a nine, but the scattered storyline, a seven, averaging a solid eight rating.

Skip factor:  8%. I skipped some of Mia’s flashbacks. Her backstory dragged.  

Who should read:  If you read Everything I Never Told You, if you are a writer, or at least love writing, you’ll enjoy this. I don’t believe people who grab this book before reading Everything I Never Told You will be as enamored by Ng. This is a good book, but I expected great from Ng.

Summary: The story begins with a fire and the mention of Izzy Richardson. Izzy is one of four children who lives in the house burning to the ground. The story also mentions a mother and daughter, Mia and Pearl, who rent one of the Richardsons’ apartments. Mia and Pearl leave the afternoon of the fire, so right away the reader wants to know what’s going on.

The novel tells the story of the well-to-do Richardson family living in the Shaker Heights neighborhood of Cleveland. When Mia, an artist, and her daughter Pearl rent an apartment from the Richardson’s, their lives intersect in more than tenant-landlord fashion. Elena Richardson admires Mia’s art and hires her to cook and clean for them part-time, saying Mia must continue her art. Mia accepts reluctantly but the position, along with a second part-time job, allows her the freedom to continue her photography.

Eventually, all four of the Richardson children become involved with Mia and Pearl who seem slightly mysterious.

Enter Beebe and Mrs. McCullough. Beebe works with Mia at Mia’s part-time coffee shop job and Mrs. McCullough has been Elena Richardson’s best friend for years. When Mia realizes the adopted McCullough baby may be Beebe’s lost child, the story takes an emotional turn.

There are numerous twists and turns to this story. (Possibly too many.) The author jumps back and forth in time, and where normally I like this, I didn’t here. I found myself skipping Mia’s backstory.

Characters:  I loved all four Richardson children and Pearl. I did not like Elena Richardson or Mrs. McCullough, although I did feel sorry for Mrs. McCullough who could not have children of her own. I believe I experienced all of the emotions the author hoped readers would experience with the characters except for Mia. Mia was too odd for my liking, and the author’s attempt at creating a sad background for Mia didn’t work.

Storyline:  This novel winds through several important life topics: suburban racism, family dynamics, rich versus poor, adoption tribulations, motherhood, and even carries YA coming-of-age subject matter. The story has several protagonists, two mothers, one rich, one poor; five children between them who are at the height of their emotional teenage years; and a destitute woman who finds herself in an impossible situation.

Without spoiling the story, I’ll say this touches heartfeltly on family, pregnancy, adoption, and even abortion.

Writing:  The novel is well written, yet there were many parts where I felt the dramatics of the situations were drawn-out and overdone, hurting the importance of the topics. Mia’s backstory could have been tightened to make readers feel more of a connection with her.

Read this author again?  Yes, I will. I love her writing and am hoping for another book like Everything I Never Told You.

Read on!

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CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, Dream Wide Awake, and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a sixth-sense paranormal element, and Friends Who Move Couches, women’s fiction. These last two novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on Instagram, TwitterFacebookGoodreadsBookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.

A Little Drug Called DES

Thirty-eight years ago today, I sat at the back of St. Peter’s Cathedral in Erie, Pennsylvania, sobbing inconsolably, my dreams vanishing because of four little words.

There is no heartbeat.

Years before while in high school, I participated in the drama category of a Forensics Club, performing a speech from a book called A Raisin in the Sun. I began with a poem by Langston Hughes which goes like this.

What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it dry up

Like a raisin in the sun?

Or fester like a sore-

And then run?

Does it stink like rotten meat?

Or crust and sugar over

Like a syrupy sweet?

Maybe it just sags

Like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

I had no idea ten years later, my dreams would explode. But on a cold morning in the last pew of a dark church on Easter, I found myself praying God would end my life.

I’d grown up at a time when most women wanted to get married and have children. I had married a man I truly loved, intending on filling our home with love. Then at a doctor’s office during my first pregnancy, I received those four little words that changed my life.

There is no heartbeat.

Suddenly, life lost all meaning.

After that first miscarriage when I was twenty-five, I learned my mother had taken a drug, Diethylstilbestrol, or DES, while she was pregnant with me. Forevermore, doctors and history books would refer to me as a DES baby. My children would be third-generation DES victims and my grandchildren fourth-generation. But back then, in that church, I didn’t care about anything other than having a baby.

Today, this Easter morning thirty-eight years later, I am out in California visiting my daughter, waiting for my sweet little granddaughter to wake up and scurry through the house in search of Easter eggs. I am one of the lucky ones. I didn’t develop cancer (yet—hopefully never). I bore three healthy children. So many DES babies never have kids. I’ve read about women who developed cervical cancer in their teen years, had fifteen miscarriages, bone loss, depression.

Before the 1970s, DES was given to women who had a hard time carrying babies full term, and occasionally, doctors prescribed this drug for morning sickness. What effects this had on the women who took the drug and their offspring is just now being examined and discussed.

A recent study of over 700 DES babies and their siblings revealed 85% of DES babies attempted suicide. (https://www.intechopen.com/books/psychopathology-an-international-and-interdisciplinary-perspective/evidence-for-link-between-mental-disorders-and-in-utero-exposure-to-synthetic-hormones-a-long-and-cr)

You would think that statistic would appall me, but it didn’t. I am in the fifteen percent of DES babies who never attempted suicide. Yet for years I condemned myself for my depression.

We never know the DNA of another person. Some of us suffer from depression. If you don’t yourself, count yourself lucky and don’t condemn those who do. Depression can be caused by hormones, environment, mental deprivation and abuse, or a little drug from back in the nineteenth century called DES.

If you or someone you know is a DES baby and suffering depression this Easter morning, please contact me at Cyndie@cyndiezahner.com. I’d like to hear your story.

Sometimes talking helps heal. Thanks for listening.

#Iaminthe15%

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Cyndie “CJ” Zahner is a mother, grandmother, wife, author, and DES baby. She is currently writing her DES story in a memoir, The House that Loved. She is also accumulating stories of other DES children. If you have a story you would like to share, please send it to cyndie@cyndiezahner.com.