Black Cake (A Book Review)

The new novel, Black Cake, by Charmaine Wilkerson unfolded into a much more complexly woven book than I expected. It starts out with two estranged adult siblings, Benny & Byron, who come together to listen to an audio recording their mother Eleanor left for them after her death.

They haven’t been on speaking terms for years and they can’t wait to get through their mother’s funeral and get back to their lives. When their mother’s lawyer sits them down to listen, their mother reveals one hidden layer of her life after another, stunning Byron and Benny with what she tells them. And the secrets they discover about their mother’s life will change their own.

I loved reading about Eleanor, and her friend, Bunny, as they grew up on the island, and about their lives after they left. Eleanor is really the main character and such a rich, unexpected and beautiful person.

I honestly didn’t like Byron or Benny. Byron is 45 years old, but emotionally is like a 25 year old. And Benny is also immature and self-centered. I can’t imagine not answering my mother’s texts or voice messages for years and years, no matter what happened.

There was such a message of regret through the whole book, which to me said very clearly, “Don’t let this happen to your family!” Life is beautiful and brief. Forgive. Move forward. Let stuff go. Be kind. Love your people. You’ll never regret these actions when you’re at a family member’s funeral.

Read Black Cake, enjoy the story, and may you be encouraged toward love and good deeds.

Memphis (A Book Review)

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I will receive a small compensation at no extra cost to you. This helps keep my blog ad-free.

This richly beautiful novel, Memphis, by Tara Stringfellow tells the stories of three generations of Black women living in the South.


It weaves back and forth from the 1930s to the present day to unfold the lives of Hazel, her daughters Miriam and August, and Miriam’s daughter, Joan. (Her younger daughter Mya is a supporting character.)
It opens with Miriam, Joan, and Mya returning to live with her sister August in their mother’s home.

Miriam’s marriage has fallen apart and now she must find a way forward, make a new life for herself and her girls. August has been on her own for many years, raising her troubled son alone, supporting herself with the beauty salon she owns and runs from her basement. Joan is an artist and a dreamer who experienced trauma at age three and hasn’t recovered. And eventually the story winds back to Hazel, how she fell in love and married, and how she carried on after white violence changes her life forever.


One of the assets of this family is the Black community who know and love “the North women” and rally around them whenever they need it. Throughout the book, Black women and men are talked down to, mistreated, abused, and even killed by white people. The only white person the North women consider a friend is the Jewish deli owner.


There are tough circumstances, tragedy, traumas, and hardships but these women each find their strength, lean on one another, and keep living. Through the years, they support themselves, raise their children, reach for their dreams and let some go, lose and find love, and continue to discover truths about themselves and each other.


I highly recommend Memphis to everyone! The release date is March 8, 2022.

*I received a free e-copy from Net Galley in exchange for my honest review.

Our Crooked Hearts (A Book Review)

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I will receive a small compensation at no extra cost to you. This helps keep my blog ad-free.

Melissa Albert’s new book, Our Crooked Hearts, exceeded my expectations in so many directions. I knew it would be dark, and it is. And twisted. And a story of a mother’s and daughter’s relationship, the love, the mistakes, the ugly and beautiful, and the thread that connects them. This was one I stayed up late reading.


Get ready to be scared and for good reason. Teenage girls dabbling in magic seems like a fairly normal plot, except when the magic is real and overpowers them; when it gives them power to do things that cannot be undone, for better or worse.


The story is about Ivy, a smart, introverted teen who is trying to discover who she is and understand her mother who seems harsh and self-centered and definitely weird. It’s also about her mother’s teen years and how she and her friends got involved with magic that changed their lives forever. The narrative switches between present-day Chicago from Ivy’s POV and the Chicago of twenty years earlier with her mom, Dana, telling the story.


There are some intensely dark and scary scenes, so if you like fantasy and horror YA, you definitely will be thrilled. I highly recommend Our Crooked Hearts! The release date is June 28, 2022; pre-order your copy wherever you purchase books.


*I received a free e-galley from Net Galley in exchange for my honest review.

A Thousand Steps (A Book Review)

*This post contains Amazon affiliate links. If you click through and make a purchase, I will receive a small compensation at no extra cost to you. This helps keep my blog ad-free.

Here is a mystery that takes you back to the late 60s scene in California, with hippies, experimental drugs, bands, VW vans, wild parties, etc. If you dig this era, then you’ll enjoy reading A Thousand Steps by T. Jefferson Parker.


Matt is the central character: a teenage boy with an absentee dad and a druggie mom, living by his own wits, working a paper route odd jobs, and fishing and visiting the local food pantry to get enough food to eat. (My mother heart went out to him.)


When Matt’s sister goes missing, no one seems to take it seriously. They assume she went off on her own for some reasons of her own, but Matt believes something has happened to her. He is determined to find her, and doggedly looks for clues and refuses to give up searching until he does.


Along the way, he has run-ins with cops and gangsters, experiences his first tastes of teenage love, works hard to keep himself fed and clothed, and to convince the adults around him that his sister needs their help.


This book felt a bit lengthy, but perhaps that was the author’s intent to portray Matt on a long and sometimes tedious path of sifting through possible evidence for clues (with many frustrating dead ends and false hopes in between) that will lead him to his sister.


Was it worth reading? Yes! It was a fascinating look into the past and a good mystery as well.
If this time period interests you, give A Thousand Steps a read.

*I received a free e-galley from Net Galley in return for my honest review.

Saint X (Book Review)

Saint X is one of the very few books I’ve read this year that I could not put down! The bright, tropical cover disguises the depth of the subject matter. For although it is a clever, suspenseful thriller, this novel addresses the evolution of self, the parent-child relationship in its various stages, the advantages and guilt of white, wealthy people, and the disadvantages of poor people of color on Caribbean islands and the rest of the world.

It starts like a film, zooming in to the fictional Caribbean island of Saint X. It’s the mid-1990s. The reader is introduced to a well-to-do white family from New York vacationing at a luxurious resort for their New Year holiday.

Alison, the elder daughter, is eighteen, pretty, self-absorbed, bored, and typical of girls of that age. The unusual one and the heroine is the younger daughter, Claire, or Clairey, as the rest of the family affectionately calls her. She is seven years old, has an unusual appearance, is shy, socially awkward, and appears to display possible OCD tendencies. The parents remain on the periphery of the story, and what we know of them is seen through the eyes of Claire.

The other main character in the novel is Clive Richardson, a young man who was born and lives on Saint X, and who, along with his friend, Edwin, becomes a suspect in Alison’s death. In comparison to the comfortable lives led by Alison and Claire, Clive is without the advantages that wealth can provide. He grows up without many prospects for the future, so after high school, he and Edwin find employment serving the rich white people at the resort. Which is how they meet Alison and become involved with her on the night she goes missing.

As the novel unfolds, we glimpse some of what Alison gets up to and who she interacts with in the days and nights leading to her disappearance and death. After her body is discovered, Alison and Claire’s parents are frantic to find answers, to discover who is responsible for their daughter’s death. Although Clive and Edwin did spend some time with Alison on the night she disappears, not enough evidence is found to charge them with her supposed murder, so it goes unsolved.

The novel moves forward to when Claire is in her mid-twenties and living a fairly normal life in New York City complete with a good job and friends. She calls herself by her middle name–Emily–in an attempt to put the past behind her. Except she can’t. She still longs to learn more about Alison, and more about why and how she died.

We flash back in time to the months immediately following Alison’s death when Claire’s parents are wrapped up in their own grief and she feels forgotten. Then we see her as she grows up, through all the awkwardness of adolescence and into young adulthood, and how she must deal with the way people treat her when they discover who she is. And even though she wishes she could forget, Alison haunts her wherever she goes.

So Claire is in NYC, trying to live like other people do. As a way to assuage her guilt for her affluent background, she moves into an apartment in a part of Brooklyn that is mostly inhabited by economically disadvantaged people of color. She is still socially awkward, so she doesn’t interact much with the other tenants in her apartment building, but she wishes she could.

Then, out of the blue, while taking a taxi home one day, Claire looks in the rearview mirror and is shocked to find that her driver is Clive Richardson–the man that she has always believed was involved in Alison’s death! Everything she lived through as the sister of a murder victim comes flooding back in that instant. She becomes obsessed with getting Clive to confess. She relentlessly stalks him every night after work. She finds out everything she can about him. Then she pretends to befriend him.

What comes of this obsession with and connection to Clive? Will he eventually confess to his involvement in Alison’s murder? Will Claire ever be able to heal and let go of the past? Ah, but that would be telling! That is what you’ll find out when you read Saint X for yourself.

I was very fortunate to receive an Advanced Reading Copy of Saint X from Celadon Books; however, all opinions are entirely my own. Saint X, written by Alexis Schaitkin, will be published on February 18, 2020 and I absolutely recommend this novel to lovers of mysteries, crime thrillers, and really good fiction.

Friday Favorites (Links I Love)

This is where I share inspiration from the week–podcasts, books, music, art, movies, food, and more!

FOOD

Alan and I made a fantastic new vegan gluten free soup recently in the Instantpot. Although I’m not much of a gadget person, since my mom gave me an Instantpot, (thanks, Mom!) we gave it a try and the soup was amazing. Honestly, I probably could’ve made the soup just as quickly on the stovetop. It’s not “instant” at all.

First you have to wait for the pressure to build (about 20 minutes), then it cooks (about 25 minutes for this particular soup), and then the pressure slowly releases (another 15 minutes). But it would come in handy if I was cooking several dishes at once and needed an extra burner.

Here is the soup recipe for Cozy Autumn Wild Rice Soup from Gimme Some Oven. This is one vegan soup that is so creamy and delicious it can fool the dairy eaters in your life.

BOOKS

I have four great books to share with you and I recommend all of them. Yes, all of them! They are like vitamins that will boost your nutrition in different ways.

Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad by Austin Kleon can be read in about an hour. If you’re an artist, maker, entrepreneur, influencer, etc., grab this book and prepare to be encouraged. Kleon’s ten ways are so helpful to be reminded of: The first one is that “Every Day is Groundhog Day”, meaning every day we start over. Have a to-do list and work through it.

The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success by Deepak Chopra is also a shortish book. This book was the first I’ve read by Deepak Chopra, and it won’t be the last. The Laws include The Law of Pure Potentiality, The Law of Giving, and The Law of Intention and Desire. At the end of each chapter are several ways to practice and act upon what you’ve read. If you know you have inner work to do in order to develop a more mature character who can handle success, start with this book.

Body Thrive: Uplevel Your Body and Your Life by Cate Stillman is a 10-week introduction to Ayurveda. Since I am studying Ayurveda with Yoga Veda Institute, I absolutely wanted to read this to see what I was in for. In her straightforward, no-nonsense way, Cate shares ten ways to take your life to a higher level.

Where does she start? With earlier, lighter dinners, moves on to go to bed early, and start your day right. Ayurveda is super practical and gets right to work dealing with your habits and what needs to change in order to have a better life. If you need a wellness boost or want to learn more about Ayurveda, here is practical place to begin.

Emergence: Seven Steps For Radical Life Change by Derek Rydall is one of two books by this author I purchased this summer. There is so much in this book that was new to me and many things that aligned with what I learned while living much of my life in a Christian culture.

Some of the many valuable pieces of wisdom he shares on are: giving, generosity, visualization, and acting from where you want to be, not where you are. This book is great if you recognize you need to develop a more positive, grateful mind and attitude and if you have goals you are working toward but have a feeling it all starts with you. This book will show you the way!

PODCASTS

Brendon Burchard had a few recent podcast episodes that I listened to several times over: Developing Momentum helped me stay productive right before school started, and Take Back Your Morning are all about morning routines. This has been a theme in my life since starting Ayurveda school: I wrote about this topic in Monday’s post and did a Live video on Facebook about it last week.

OK, that’s it for now. I would love to hear about what’s inspired you this week.

One Book I Didn’t Finish and Why I Don’t Always Finish Books

I’ve heard nothing but high praise for The Huntress by Kate Quinn. Since I didn’t read The Alice Network, I thought I’d see what all the fuss was about. I placed a hold at the library and as soon as I finished City of Girls (loved it!), I opened it up. Post-WW2, the Nuremberg Trials, two men on the trail of Nazi criminals, a woman fleeing from justice…It could be good, I thought. But six or seven chapters in, I still wasn’t feeling it, so I quit.

What I liked about The Huntress: the writing was solid and the story didn’t stagnate. From one chapter to the next, readers are introduced to the various main characters in turn, each round building on their backstories and moving the plot forward. There was danger, romance, and suspense: all the important elements in a novel.

What I didn’t like: Overall, none of the characters (except Nina) intrigued me or made me want to invest in the story. Also, the huntress is revealed right away, so there’s no mystery as to who she is. I guess the suspense is how she is going to be caught, but that took away a lot of excitement for me.

Also, this is dumb, but one of the characters is a young American woman named Jordan. The novel begins in 1946. Tell me who in white-bread America named their baby girl Jordan in 1928, which would’ve been the year she was born? I have a believability radar for films and novels and this was just off the charts unbelievable and silly. People were naming their girls Doris, Ruth, Mildred, and Betty in 1928–not Jordan.

I also didn’t care for the two men who are tracking down the huntress. Nothing particularly wrong with them, they just seemed run-of-the-mill stock military guys with no real personalities.

I may not have given this book enough time, it’s possible. If you liked it, please don’t be offended! We don’t all like the same things and that’s what makes reading and the reading community so much fun. I learn about books I’d never have dreamt of picking because other readers recommend them.

My reading philosophy is that life is short and there are too many books I want to read, so I better make sure they are books I actually want to read. Because my TBR is always growing, and I don’t read for a living (yet, anyway!), I want to read books that either captivate my attention with the characters or the plot. Recently I listened to the podcast episode of Getting Bookish With Shawna and Lizz where they talk about their DNF (Did Not Finish) books. You might enjoy this episode!

Are you a reader who has to finish whatever she starts? Or do you regularly say no to books that just aren’t for you? I find that the more I read, the more I discard. At least half, if not more, of the books I bring home from the library get sent back with only the first few chapters read.

I’d love to hear what you thought of The Huntress. If you read it, please comment below or tell me about whatever else you’ve picked up or discarded lately.

Elizabeth Gilbert’s City of Girls (A Review)

Like many other Liz Gilbert readers, I couldn’t wait for the release of the novel City of Girls. Whenever Liz mentioned City of Girls on Instagram, she said it was going to be lighthearted and fun; she said it was going to involve theatre and showgirls; she said it would involve plenty of sex.

City of Girls has all of those elements and much more. The novel is written from the perspective of Vivian, a woman in her nineties, who looks back over her life from age nineteen and on. She writes about arriving in New York City in 1940 and experiencing a very different kind of life from the one she had previously known: sheltered, stuffy, unimaginative. She gets to know all sorts of colorful characters and lives wild and carefree for a time.

As the story unfolds, she makes and loses friends, survives scandal, lives through WW2, fashions a successful and creative career for herself, and, as she lives all these experiences, she learns to know who she is.

I loved the descriptions of old theaters and night clubs, the fashion of the various decades in which Vivian lives, the energy of New York City and how it changed over the years. Overall, the tone is positive, light, and joyful. But, if you’re worried, as I was, that the book is just fluff, think again. There is substance here. There are passages that I will read and reread. Oprah read one during her interview with Liz Gilbert on Super Soul Sunday. And here is words of wisdom from Vivian’s aunt, Peg, that resonated with me: (on page 327)

“You must learn in life to take things more lightly, my dear. The world is always changing. Learn how to allow for it. Someone makes a promise, and then they break it. A play gets good notices, and then it folds. A marriage looks strong, and then they divorce. For a while there’s no war, and then there’s another war. If you get too upset about it all, you become a stupid, unhappy person—and where’s the good in that?”

So, am I going to recommend this novel? Yes! If you’re a reader of fiction, add this to your TBR. Buy a copy or place a hold at your library, but definitely read it. Particularly, I think it’s an important read for women because it’s a story of strong women who lived unusual, successful, and satisfying lives.

And when you read it, comment here, send me an email or DM me on Instagram and let me know what you think!

Bird Therapy (Book Review)

Nearly every day I read articles about mental illness, burnout, and the stress of modern life. And do you know what almost always makes the list of ways to relieve or remedy the symptoms? Time spent in Nature! Time spent out-of-doors, away from screens surrounded by sky and trees, near bodies of water, in the company of birds and other wildlife will do much to calm the mind, relieve tension and stress, and leave one with an overall sense of wellbeing.

In Bird Therapy, Joe Harkness shares his personal story of living with OCD, generalized anxiety disorder, and depression, and how he manages it with hours outside birdwatching. Let me just say that even though the book begins with his mental state in a dark and dangerous place, the book doesn’t stay there and doesn’t focus on his illness. It’s a positive read about how much his life has changed for the better because of what he calls “Bird Therapy”.

If you’re like I was before reading this book, you might tend to think birdwatching is for retired, elderly people or just for super nerdy types. But the author became a birdwatcher as a young man, so the book is written with a youthful voice full of energy and enthusiasm.

In each chapter, he shares a different glimpse of his birdwatching journey, from his very first attempts to connect with other birders, to setting up his first bird feeders in his back garden, to finding a patch to call his own. He describes experiences of rare bird sightings, interactions with other birders, regular visits to his patch, and what it is like to birdwatch in different seasons. At the end of each chapter, he shares a list of helpful tips for people who would like to begin the birdwatching adventure.

An interesting and positive aspect of this book is that it’s published by Unbound, a crowd-funded indie publisher.

If you or someone you know struggles with mental illness, you would benefit from reading this book. Also, if you’re curious about birdwatching, especially about how to get started, read this book. After reading Bird Therapy, I am paying closer attention to the birds all around me, and am spending more time outside every day. Published on June 13, this book is recommended reading! One last note: you might want to check out Joe’s blog, also named Bird Therapy, about his birdwatching experiences.

I received a free e-copy of this book from Net Galley, but all opinions are completely my own.

Girl, Stop Apologizing! (Book Review)

Have you read anything by Rachel Hollis yet? Have you listened to her Rise podcast? If you’re an entrepreneur–particularly a woman entrepreneur, you need to read this book. If you’re someone who dreams of something more, but is afraid to try, this book is for you. If you have goals, but are in “the dip”, as Seth Godin so aptly named the space and time in between starting and finishing, you need to grab a copy of Girl, Stop Apologizing.

What I love about Rachel Hollis is that she has been at the bottom, but she had dreams and goals like a lot of us do, but she didn’t quit. She didn’t give up. This woman has drive and she knows how to focus on what she wants and does not give up though all the disappointments, all the setbacks, all the negativity that would crush most people. She’s not superhuman, she’s just dedicated, and she shows us how to go after our goals.

There is practical, usable advice in every single chapter of this book, but not one word is dry or boring. You won’t find your mind wandering or read it just because you know you should. Rachel is a great writer! She is hilarious, outrageous, and unexpected.

Another thing I love about her is her honesty. She shares deeply personal, even humiliating stories from her life experience because she wants us to know who she is, where she’s come from, and how she got to where she is now. She does not hold back and because she’s so real, she builds trust with her audience, and makes us listen to what she has to say.

Rachel comes against the patriarchal ways of thinking that have held women back for thousands of years. She addresses downright lies about what women are for, how women should behave or what we should want out of life. It is very liberating, life-giving language that, even in 2019, women (and men!) need to hear.

Her chapter “Choose One Dream and Go All In” or “Ten Years, Ten Dreams, One Goal” is worth the price of the book alone. In this chapter, Rachel explains exactly how to go after your dreams. This is priceless information! Her chapter “Planning”, about reverse engineering your goal, or starting with the end in mind, was another chapter I found extremely practical and helpful.

So, yep, it’s another highly recommended, “You Need This Book in Your Life”, book review. Get it on Amazon or your local bookstore or public library, but definitely put this in your TBR pile for this year!