Featured

Memorial Drive

Thank you to the publisher, Ecco Books, for the review book.

“Perhaps this division is a metaphor [sleep paralysis] for the way I’ve lived all these years: the conscious mind struggling to move on, but the body resistant. The mind forgetting, the body retaining the memory of trauma in its cells.”

Memorial Drive, Natasha Tretheway

When I first saw the cover and title of this book I immediately thought, I want to read this for several reasons. Little did I know I would be forced to look at places and streets familiar to me, differently from this point forward.

When reading the synopsis I knew, I would come away from this book changed after examining the “contours of loss” Trethewey pens in the pages of her memoir.

Three decades is a long time to get to know the contours of loss, to become intimate with one’s own bereavement. You get used to it. Most days it is a distant thing, always on the horizon, sailing toward me with its difficult cargo.”

I am incapable of formulating words that can convey the urgency of wanting someone to do something differently so Trethewey’s mother would be alive and well, but knowing very well, that’s not the outcome.

Trethewey says “Bereavement…always on the horizon, sailing toward me with its difficult cargo.”. Her statement reminds me of something I heard at a memorial service for a very dear friend and I try to remember it when moments of grief and loss are overwhelming, brought to the shore of my heart—grief is not something we get over, it’s something we help each other get through.

I am emotionally spent and taxed after moving through memories and events Trethewey recounts that culminated in the murder of her mother. The range of emotions while reading (+ listening author narrates) for what Trethewey has carried with her for so long. Seeing her during a virtual book event discussing the book and seeing her shed tears. All of which make it difficult for me to say anything as my own tears flow…

I’ll end with this passage from the book because the metaphor of this loop so poignant.

If trauma fragments the self, then what does it mean to have dominion over the self? You can try to forget. You can go a long time without making a full revolution, but memory is a loop. When I moved back to Atlanta, a decade and a half after my mother’s death, I would go miles out of my way to avoid driving 285. I thought that was enough, that if I didn’t drive that loop, the worst memories would be kept reliably at bay. The truth, however, was waiting for me in my body and on the map I consulted to navigate my way around: how the outline of 285 bears the shape of an anatomical heart imprinted on the landscape, a wound where Memorial intersects it.

Memorial Drive, Natasha Tretheway
Featured

Silver Sparrow

Women on television have friends they can count on. My mother’s favorite TV show was The Golden Girls, about these four old ladies that live together…solving each other’s problems, being each other’s bridge over troubled water. With my Grandma Bunny a year in the ground, my mama didn’t have anybody but me.

Silver Sparrow, Tayari Jones


First – I left out a small part of the quote because Chaurisse was wrong. The Golden Girls did not live in an apartment. I was visiting last night in the house they shared with Blanche paying a 7% interest rate. [Season 1 Episode 25 The Way We Met] #thegoldengirls

Second – am I glad I circled back to Tayari Jones’ Silver Sparrow after my false start with An American Marriage—I know you loved it don’t cancel me let’s just move on)! Yes I am.

After reading Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo, I remembered I had Silver Sparrow on my shelf. I knew it had something to do with two Black girls growing up in Atlanta in the 1980s. Dana, knows her father James, is a bigamist, living with his first family—wife Laverne and daughter Chaurisse, the same age as Dana.

While there are a lot of themes we could discuss from this book, I’d like to delve into loneliness & longing. Dana’s storyline was very familiar to me up to a point. I can remember being that kid who wondered why my father wasn’t around (I even called him by his first name) but unlike Dana, my father was never around (he and my mother divorced when I was a small kid).

As a teenager I learned he remarried and had kids which would make them my half siblings. Like Dana, I wondered, at that age, what it would have been like to grow up with a full time father. The loneliness of being the only child (for 12 years) pressed and vexed me while reading Dana’s story.

But then there’s Chaurisse, the daughter Dana thinks has it all. But little do we know all that transpired in the lives of Laverne and James prior to Chaurisse’s birth, when Chaurisse tells her story. The story of how her became a bride at age 14 when she learns she’s pregnant. What that meant for her mother’s dreams and aspirations, to go to Spelman.

Chaurisse who told me she figured out in kindergarten she wasn’t pretty. As she gets older she understands the difference between her and the ‘silver girls’, those “natural beauties, who also smoothed on a layer of pretty from a jar.” If you could be friends with oney, they’d teach you how to shine but they run together. So imagine when Chaurisse befriends her very own silver girl, her sister (she doesn’t know), Dana.

But one more thing, because Black hair needs to be unpacked in a discussion too. Wanting the long flowing hair. Dana had it & says it’s a hassle – Chaurisse wanted it but her mother was a master hair integrationist.

When Dana said “I just want to cut it off. Long hair is a hassle. I’m tired of living like this”, the ephinany I had feels multifaceted. Dana is tired of living with the loneliness and the longing for what Chaurisse has. But she doesn’t realize the same is true for Chaurisse.

There is so much wound up in our (Black) hair some of us have carried for years and the natural hair movement (I was late to that too) feels like a reckoning with ‘getting a handle on who we really are.’ How many of us have been playing pretend for years because the acceptance of what is pretty hasn’t looked like you or me, with hair like yours or mine. There is much to digest in this book. I’m so glad I read this and am excited to see what other gems are to be found from Tayari Jones.

Featured

Steeped in Books and Tea 8.7.2020

Steeping

I’ve enjoyed several great steeps but here’s one to highlight. Additionally, I finished one book this week. It was a good one so I’ll work on a review to share this weekend. More tea than books but that’s OK, live a little…

Big Easy Green Tea from August Uncommon

For the next five weeks, I’m collaborating with August Uncommon, a tea company with some uncommon blends. Steeping is underway and so far I haven’t been disappointed. Something uncommon in the month of August. Yes please!

From August 3 – September 12, 2020 use the code BYTHECUP for 20% off your tea purchase. I will be featuring teas from their Top Ten Iced Tea Kit using the Iced Tea Brewer. Of course some pours will be #courTEAsy of my tea pots because they get lonely & I miss them.

The Steep: Big Easy is a green tea blend full of surprises. I’ve heard people say SO MANY TIMES that they don’t like green tea because of its bitter taste. More than likely it’s bitter because you used boiling water which is a BIG NO NO! But I digress…

This blend contains pineapple and caramel with lemongrass and german barley malt (say what now) and some other ingredients. I’m trying but can’t come up with better tasting notes than the package

𝚃𝙰𝚂𝚃𝙴𝚂 𝙻𝙸𝙺𝙴 : 𝚙𝚒𝚗𝚎𝚊𝚙𝚙𝚕𝚎 𝚌𝚊𝚔𝚎, 𝚌𝚊𝚛𝚊𝚖𝚎𝚕 𝚋𝚎𝚒𝚐𝚗𝚎𝚝, 𝚍𝚛𝚒𝚎𝚍 𝚕𝚎𝚖𝚘𝚗 𝚙𝚎𝚎𝚕

𝙵𝙴𝙴𝙻𝚂 𝙻𝙸𝙺𝙴 : 𝚊 𝚕𝚊𝚣𝚢 𝚜𝚝𝚛𝚘𝚕𝚕 𝚝𝚑𝚛𝚘𝚞𝚐𝚑 𝚝𝚑𝚎 𝙵𝚛𝚎𝚗𝚌𝚑 𝚀𝚞𝚊𝚛𝚝𝚎𝚛 𝚒𝚗 𝙽𝚎𝚠 𝙾𝚛𝚕𝚎𝚊𝚗𝚜

I steeped and repeated 2 more times. I’m going to use imagination, but enjoy the #realiTEA of all this goodness in liquid form. Also feels like a book set in New Orleans would be a perfect pairing. I’ve downloaded A Kind of Freedom by Margaret Wilkerson Sexton because it’s set in —you guess it—New Orleans!

Book I finished

Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones
Silver Sparrow by Tayari Jones + Darjeeling Cold Brew Tea

After reading Clap When You Land I remembered I had Silver Sparrow on my shelf. Silver Sparrow is about two Black girls growing up in Atlanta in the 1980s. Dana, knows her father James, is a bigamist, living with his first family—wife Laverne and daughter Chaurisse, the same age as Dana. There’s a lot to unpack but let’s just sum it up with this. It was way better (IMO) than An American Marriage which I DNF’ed. I couldn’t put this one down and am looking forward to other books by Jones (I’ll check my library’s electronic catalog).

And that’s a wrap this week! What have you been steeping and reading?

Featured

Steeped in Shenanigans 7.23.2020

The best of intentions get lost in massive stacks of books and large pots of tea. So here goes, I will embrace the concept of a somewhat spontaneous planned weekly post. What’s going on with me?

The last time I wrote a conversation post was back in April during the early weeks of shelter in place at home. I was determined to get back on the blog track. Easy since one is at home right? Well no, not quite. I still work (from home) full time and try to balance other responsibilities outside of work. My idea of fun can range from baking cakes, hosting Afternoon Tea Parties on Zoom, naps or nothing at all.

So if I may, let me quickly catch you up…

April

I started something on my Instagram Stories I call The Morning Steep. I share my morning cup of tea in a short pour video. I have gotten a lot of positive feedback and people enjoy the tea cups and sets. A recent favorite for me was this one—I take milk and cream in some teas and watching this pour felt particularly soothing & theraupitc.

The Morning Steep – Chocolate Chai Supreme

May

Attended my first Zoom Wedding. Found my anniversary gift in the trunk of my car which meant a lot of baking. 💙 Baked two of these lemon cakes with lemon mascarpone frosting. Yes, I know the frosting doesn’t cover the whole cake, I was trying to make it look like the picture in the recipe book. 😂

Lemon Cake with lemon mascarpone frosting

A lot of tea gifts from friends showed up on my doorstep. They really know how to make a girl smile. And you know what, it’s probably subtle encouragement to keep hosting these Zoom Tea Events. 🤔 Happily accepting that assignment.

June

An anniversary caravan with signs for friends! Social distancing can be fun! Received more tea from friends. More baking and more fun things on Zoom.

Just Add Honey Tea Gift Box

July

I started riding my bike again. Whew. It’s tough but fun!

I’ve hosted Zoom Tea Events the last few weekends as a fun way slow down and stay in touch with friends. Back in June, some lovely friends sent me a gift box (see above) of 3 different teas from Just Add Honey Tea. I sent them samples of each tea so we could taste them together and talk about each tea. A post with details on the teas? OK sure, you twisted my arm. I’ll plan to share in the next few days. We’re doing it again but someone else will send out the teas we will taste. Tentative Tasting Date, August 2020.

I’m still reading and sharing reviews here and there. My #SteepedInShortStories challenge is going well and so is #SteepedInBlackLitfromAtoZ, another reading project. I have just about finished all the letters. I am just trying to figure out how to post them here without spamming everyone.

And that’s just about it…what have you been up to?

Featured

It’s Not All Downhill from Here

Thank you Random House #randomhousepartner for the review book.

“Would you like some hot tea or does that make you feel like an old lady?”

— It’s Not All Downhill from Here, Terry McMillan

First off, great Auntie Lo (Loretha), I implore you and Jalecia STOP MAKING TEA USING THE MICROWAVE and dunking tea bags in the water. Y’all missing out in life. Do I need to send you some of this tea from Brooklyn Tea, this Belgian Chocolate Rooibos is so good, ijs. I think you would love it.

I KNOW you are 69, slaying (I might add), but I know what you thought about saying. You were about to cuss me out but remember, you said you were working on that (I really appreciate it because you and the other aunties was, well you know, vocal). On top of the fact I know you also was about to pull the, WHO YOU THINK YOU TALKING TO card but Auntie, for real — you are NOT supposed to be making tea this way.

Understandably it has been a rough last year and a half, Uncle Carl, cousin Jalecia, Auntie Odessa and that’s not all. Your doctor’s have been telling you you need to take better care of yourself, but you are always helping everyone else. And it’s hard changing habits, because like you, I need to get in front of my diet and exercise.

Lessons I learned while reading your thoughts, I thought you’d like if I sent you a letter like great-great auntie (your mom) sends you. I am enclosing some stamps for you to give her until we can travel again (COVID-19 is nothing to play with).

  • You can still be fabulous at any age and own it
  • Your family can get on your last nerve but because you love them and you still bail them out of mess
  • Good friends will tell you the truth about yourself
  • We have to take better care of ourselves even when it’s hard if we want to have the best life we can (it’s not too late to start)
  • Don’t give up on the people you love
  • Aunties, great aunties and grandmothers cuss each other out on a regular basis
  • Mental health and well-being especially in the Black community is something we need to talk about and advocate

Auntie Poochie said, “It does not have to be all downhill from here. So put it in fourth gear and floor it!”

Well I will talk to you later because there are a few people I need to talk to real quick about your story. I know you won’t mind.

P.S. I’m sending the tea with some easy instructions on preparing it. Will change your life Auntie. Bye!

While it’s been awhile since I’ve read McMillan (college maybe), she really made you feel like you knew these ladies and ran in their circle. They are women with lives and families but at the heart of this story is coping with loss and how one way we can show we appreciate the gift of life we have is by being patient and understanding with each other and ourself. But also honest about getting the help we need and making changes before it’s too late.

Featured

Lady Audley’s Secret

“Surely a pretty woman never looks prettier than when making tea. The most feminine and most domestic of all occupations imparts a magic harmony to her every movement, a witchery to her every glance. The floating mists from the boiling liquid in which she infuses the soothing herbs; whose secrets are known to her alone, envelope her in a cloud of scented vapor…”

“To do away with the tea-table is to rob woman of her legitimate empire.”

—Lady Audley’s Secret, Mary Elizabeth Braddon

This quote. This book. This cover.

When I’m drinking tea and read something like this, it could possibly blind me to everything else in the book. But in the case of Lady Audley’s Secret, there was no need to be blinded. I sat back in my chair, sipped and continued to read with tea-lightful joy. At this point, everything feels as it should, this passage is completely accurate and I’m smitten while trying to figure out the secret.

But to be fair, I think my time spent years before reading Wilkie Collins, primed me to appreciate Lady Audley’s Secret. The suspense, the intrigue, the comic relief in the form of eccentric characters, some who charm but are conniving, sinister, and hiding a secret perhaps?

Lady Audley, it’s obvious from the title of the book, has a secret. As I was reading, I suspected a lot of things, recorded my theories and suspicions after each section, (this book is divided into three parts or volumes) and discussed them with my buddy reader.

I’m never really good at unraveling the mystery and sometimes don’t pay attention to the clues because I’m too busy reading to find out what happens. But this time, I allowed myself to take note and wasn’t I in for a treat at my own tea table.

Might I regret the missed #opportunitea for an alliteration by not reading this in April. But perhaps since I started reading it the last few days in April I could still call this one #AudleyInApril.

But I tell you what, I will be reading more Audley in the future. I think Madam Bovary might be next to prepare me for The Doctor’s Wife.

In conclusion, steeped in secrets, suspense, and supremely satisfying.

Featured

The Girl With the Louding Voice

“My cry is a soft wail, both a whipping and healing to my heart… until someone calls my name from afar, a sound that stops the wail so sudden, as if something snap off a rushing stream from the source of it.”

The Girl With the Louding Voice

My Dearest Adunni,

Finding the words to capture the enormity of what you’ve shared with me, with all of us, while reading your story, my words don’t seem adequate enough.  To learn of how your father didn’t honor your mother or you, in keeping his promise not to marry you off at the age of 14.  To experience the repeated mistreatment of women, women being treated as a commodity, demeaning their worth. Their value. Their voice.

A child-wife against your will because your father used you as a pawn. Poverty, heartbreak and loss are not by any means new to you. But your voice. The voice your mother demanded you have so your life could be different.

Khadija, the sister and friend born to you after you became a child-wife. I felt her love and care for you. I relieved, happy, you had someone to look after you.  But what happened next took all of us by surprise.  When Mr. Kola helps you, I cried again, and wondered how much more a young girl could endure.

Your Voice, your Louding Voice, your beautiful spirit and heart allowed you to recognize what was lacking in those who mistreated and abused you.  You didn’t allow hate to grow and turn you into a bitter and jealous person. You didn’t allow them or their actions, to silence you.  You knew how NECESSARY your voice was and would be for yourself and others like you.  Your story is a testament to resilience and courage.

Your Voice Adunni, reminds each one of us “to have our own louding voice.” We won’t be silenced because we have so much to say.

We say to you, to others, “Welcome to your new free.” Abi Daré sincere thanks for Adunni and her story of hope and courage.

Featured

Miracle Creek – Review

“We all have thoughts that shame us.”

Miracle Creek, Angie Kim
Miracle Creek

This simple statement reveals a truth about human nature. None of us are perfect and those moments of frustration, anger, fear, loneliness—the list is long—can spark a chain reaction of events we never expected.

Are we so consumed by our own lives and challenges, our personal disappointments or unrealized expectations, that our judgment becomes so clouded, we fail to consider the feelings of those we love?

Miracle Creek delves into the lives of several people affected by the explosion of a hyberbolic chamber that leaves two people dead. The layers of secrets and self-soothing justification in the aftermath of this explosion has left the lives of many people in shambles.

You can empathize with why a person may decide to seek experimental medical treatments to for a range of medical conditions, autism, cerebral palsy or infertility. As the trial for Elizabeth, the mother accused of starting the fire that resulted in the death of her autistic son, unfolds, you question yourself.

What are your expectations or hopes for parenting? When your child doesn’t reach the milestone that other people’s children do, those “normal” children. What about being pressured to become a parent by your spouse when it’s not something you’re sure you want to be?

The pacing of this book carries you along and as I learned about Young, Mary, Pak, Elizabeth, Teresa — I asked myself can we fully understand the decisions someone else makes. Does a person get pushed to a limit and they start to crack imperceptibly to the people around them, culminating in something catastrophic?

Then regrets for what’s happened and those lost, can never be undone. Miracle Creek forces you to look at life through a variety of people and circumstances. When you turn the last page, I hope we all appreciate the gift of life more and try our best to cultivate greater empathy to the people who are different but at heart, are people, with shortcomings and feelings, too.

To Angie Kim, thank you for sharing this book with all of us. I’d also like to thank her for interacting with me every time I shared / posted this book on Instagram. I Her honest thoughts on Matt made me read with an awareness that was justified, knowing she despised him too! I suspected I wouldn’t like him the more I learned and I was right! Kim said she despised one of her own characters. Could someone please get him away from everybody!

Overall, a page turner with human emotions, flawed yet honest, laid bare in the characters, and in your heart.

Featured

Ask Again, Yes – Review

“We repeat what we don’t repair.” — Ask Again, Yes, Mary Beth Keane

Thank you to the publisher, Scribner Books, Dart Frogg Company and the author for a complimentary copy of this book.
Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane

What do you think? Are we bound to make the same mistakes, further compounding them, when we don’t get to the heart of the matter? How do the actions we fail to take ripple into the psyche of those we love and try to protect?

At first glance, even in the first few pages, I expected this to be a run of the mill book about two couples living next door to each other. You know, the family next door with the boy meets girl type story. A somewhat typical trope.

Yes, two families live next door to each other, their kids growing up together. But one night all of their lives change when Anna, who has an undiagnosed mental illness, has a gun and her son Peter runs next door to his neighbor’s, Lena, Francis and Kate to call the police (his father Brian is a police officer and so is Francis).

Keane covers a lot of time in this book without it feeling rushed, and I was invested in seeing how it all turned out. The complexity in the relationships and people depicted convey quiet a bit. The awareness of EVERYONE knowing something is wrong with Anna, but the way we try to pretend or ignore problems, hoping they will resolve themselves, is to our own detriment. How the toxic thinking of minding your own business, that she’s not quite right, these very serious issues being taboo to discuss or get help for because, in the past, people knew little about mental illness.

How a person being sick, how a marriage mate with a stressful job comes home and just wants things to be normal. When coping begins to spill over into the lives of other people. When matters reach a breaking point and lives are changed forever.

Some walls (trauma) are difficult to climb over/tear down, feeling like insurmountable obstacles we just don’t know how to begin or where to start. Forgiveness is a theme that reverberates in this book. It’s sometimes easier said than done, especially when you need to forgive yourself first.

I was left wanting to hear from Brian because his role in the story felt unfinished but overall, a book to get lost in over the weekend.

Featured

Villette -Review

Villette by Charlotte Brontë with matching Fossil Handbag and Tea Set

“Lucy, I wonder if anybody will ever comprehend you altogether.”

Dear Charlotte,

I thought it would be a good idea to write a letter to you about Lucy Snow, the heroine in your book Villette. To say Jane Eyre and Lucy Snow are completely opposite characters is an understatement. You have a very large readership; there’s so many of us who love Jane Eyre but this isn’t about Jane. Let me explain further.

I loved that Lucy was somewhat mysterious, you didn’t just recreate Jane Eyre and change the title of the book so you get an A for that. But I’m not sure I know more about Lucy after finishing the book. Things felt a bit unfinished by the time I finished, if that’s possible, if that makes sense). I couldn’t help feeling like Lucy kept us somewhat in the dark about her feelings although I understood at one point in the book, she wanted to remain independent, but not alone.

Lucy felt stuck in an emotional black hole, a vortex, and I couldn’t figure her out. I’m glad she’s her own person, not a recycled version of Jane. Lucy is complex and independent in a way Jane was not. Jane was more transparent about her feelings and Lucy was not. That’s fine, but when she fainted, what’s going on? What did she reveal to the priest? Who is she in love with? I said to myself, “reader, will she remain single or marry?” Charlotte, please tell me before the book ends. Give me some insight, a bit more understanding about Lucy, her feelings, her thoughts.

But, I see what’s happening. Lucy keeps her cards close to her chest. I can understand that because sometimes I do the same thing. But I kept waiting for her to show me at least one or two of those cards and telling me what’s going on inside her mind and heart. I was waiting for her to read Madame Beck the riot act (to yell at her) when she oversteps and read Lucy’s personal and private letters. What, I wasn’t expecting this reaction. It’s almost like a pressure cooker you’ve got me in while reading this Charlotte and I’m literally about to explode.

Ginerva is a brat. Madame Beck, the professor. Let’s stop here for a moment. Perhaps the point of this book isn’t the decisions the people make and understanding them. This book a study in character and character development. The characters felt very human, flawed and complex as we all are. Am I on the right track now? Now I realize might have been looking at things all wrong because I was so busy wanting to understand the people instead of looking for how much they are human, people we can relate to in some way.

As I look back over the notes I made when I read this book, perhaps Lucy wanted to be her own person, to find someone she could express herself without restraint, but was it social decorum that caused her to keep everything to herself? Perhaps you of all people Charlotte, writing a book when women in literature wasn’t as widely accepted, not to mention your relationship with you sisters. I remember in the beginning of this book, Lucy caused some trouble and when she did, was that the point in her life where frustration, idleness, and emotional suppression started to take root?

I wanted Lucy to have someone she could talk to, someone she could admire and be herself with. I foolishly hoped that person would have been me. But it’s only now that I’ve had time to remove myself from the feelings and emotions I had when I first read the book (almost 2 years ) that I’m beginning to consider and accept, that maybe, for Lucy, she was the only someone she needed. She didn’t need me as the reader, and I suppose in the end, did she realize she missed the opportunity to experience love and happiness in a way she’d been afraid to, but now it was too late?

That’s all I have for now Charlotte. More books and (book reviews) are waiting.

Sincerely,

Books By the Cup

Featured

My Cousin Rachel – Review

“That was the infuriating thing about a woman. Always the last word. Leaving one to grapple with ill-temper, and she herself serene. A woman, it seemed, was never in the wrong. Or if she was, she twisted the fault to her advantage, making it seem otherwise.”

When Philip’s best friend and older cousin Ambrose, delays returning home because he *happened* to get married on one of his summer trips abroad, you might be a bit jealous.  Especially since your inheritance could be at stake.  You could be jealous that someone else has altered the dynamics of the friendship and camaraderie you’ve always enjoyed.

As Ambrose corresponds with Philip, all seems fine until before long, the tone of Ambrose’s letters change.  Ambrose is sick and suspects his wife, cousin Rachel, of potentially trying to kill him for his money?

I can understand Philip’s suspicion and concern since it doesn’t seem like Ambrose will be home anytime soon.  By the time Philip makes the journey to Florence, he’s too late, Ambrose is dead.  Cousin Rachel is gone.

Philip suspects that Rachel may have had something to do with Ambrose’s death.  He is determined to hate her, but when they meet, how things quickly change.  He’s frustrated by her behavior, but then again, he doesn’t have much experience with women.

“Christ! I thought, so that’s how women behave. I had never felt so angry, nor so spent.”

My Cousin Rachel is my second duMaurier and I believe might like this one more than Rebecca. Philip surprised me and so did cousin Rachel. The reoccurring theme or lesson in Vera (Elizabeth von Arnim) and this book:  grief is powerful and one should not make major life decisions too soon.

I have a feeling Philip doesn’t fair well at the end and I wonder what REALLY happened, to Ambrose and to Philip and Rachel. It’s all so mysterious.

Featured

The Yellow House – Review

“Remembering is a chair that it is hard to sit still in.”

The. Yellow House by Sarah Broom
The Yellow House by Sarah Broom with Chocolate Hazelnut Tea Latte from Plum Deluxe Tea

Last year, I had the opportunity to attend The Decatur Book Festival with the final session of the day, being one where Sarah Broom was discussing her book, The Yellow House. I had seen the book on bookstagram with intentions to borrow from my library. But when I heard her discuss the book, I changed my mind. Hearing the author speak about the book before hand left me with a better sense of expectation. Broom said at the festival, The Yellow House is the way she felt with her family living in New Orleans East.”

She said writing this book made her into a writer and gave her the opportunity to talk about black lives in an ordinary way, writing from the inside out. She also “puts Hurricane Katrina in context, being one of many events that happens in a family’s life.”

I read The Yellow House in February as my nonfiction book for Black History Month. The book is beautifully written, subtle at times, but familiar and straightforward too. Broom gives context on her place in her large family, and their home in New Orleans East.

I think having this perspective of what life was like and has been like, for Broom and her family, for so many people in communities like New Orleans, who have been displaced but haven’t been helped because of bureaucratic ineptitude, shows us how hundreds of thousands of people are facing similar problems. We examine through the lens of Broom’s family how race and class are still issues that affect us today. There was even a moment when I said, look at how we (black people) are still being treated as INVISIBLE (I was reading Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison while I was reading this).

I visited New Orleans once and can still remember trying to wrap my mind around the aftermath of what happened. Trying to wrap my mind around the fact that I’m standing in the French Quarter and look up to see a huge ship sailing by. Thinking HOW IN THE WORLD did some one think building a city surrounded by water, would not be detrimental the people who live here?

Did you realize Hurricane Betsy devastated New Orleans in 1965? “So awesome was Betsy that her name was retired from the tropical cyclone naming list. Governor John McKeithen vowed on television and on the radio, in front of everybody, that “nothing like this will ever happen again.

The truth of the matter is, The Yellow House, Broom and her family, are people, who like us, have experienced a variety of events in life. Broom has done an impeccable job of sharing her life with us, the history of her life, in a place she called home.

The Tea: Thank you at Plum Deluxe for the gift of my new favorite tea, a caffeine free, treat in a cup. This Chocolate Hazelnut Dessert Tea is a wonderful blend of rooibos, with hazelnut and chocolate. Pictured above is my latte version of this amazing tea. This cozy setup is in my tea nook where I can spend some time indulging in my favorite forms of self care.

Featured

Books By the Cup Café – Lakewood Book Tour

Welcome to Books By the Cup Café (BBTCC). Thank you Amistad Books (publisher) for the free review book. Thank you Amoda Tea for today’s featured tea.

Lakewood by Megan Giddings
Lakewood by Megan Giddings
  • Book: Lakewood by Megan Giddings (MG) available today, March 24, 2020, in the US
  • Featured Tea: Mint Green Chai, sencha green tea beautifully balanced with cardamom, ginger, and clove. A soothing peppermint finish
  • Participants tea selections: Peppermint tea, Chocolate Hazelnut Latte, Pomegranate & blueberry herbal tea, and Green tea

Let’s begins the Q&A. Now that everyone’s seated with their books, tea selections and tea treats of choice, it’s time to get started.

Note: This is a fictitious Q&A based on the book synopsis & interviews I read online, from theRumpus.net & Los Angeles Times. I did enlist help from fellow bookstagrammers, which I’ve linked below, to create an engaged & informed audience.

BBTCC: Let’s start with an intro from one of our audience members.

engineersreadtoo: (sips peppermint tea) It couldn’t be a more perfect time for this book to be available to the world. If the government told you that the only thing standing between a cure to covid-19 is participants to test it out on- would you do it? You’d be fully compensated and offered medical care for yourself and your family- you just have to do everything they ask. That’s the decision Lena had to make for her family. Suspenseful, horror-filled, Jordan Peel-ish… How much would you be willing to sacrifice?

BBTCC: Thank you, very fitting comparison! Megan, please tell us about your debut novel, Lakewood. There is a comparison to The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks as well.

MG: Lakewood is a literary fiction novel that takes place in a fictional town in Michigan. Lakewood is a coming-of-age novel that is more interested in what it looks like to come of age without putting sex in the equation. Lakewood is a novel that is about many kinds of inequity that are still thriving in the United States.

BBTCC: What motivated you to write Lakewood?

MG: Some of Lakewood was generated from many conversations with friends about what it’s sometimes like to be not white in the United States. When I started reading more about the different research studies that have happened on different at-risk populations in the US—I’m hesitant here to only say black because Native and Indigenous people were also used as research subjects and as far as I know, the US government has not apologized to them—I think this all worked together to help make the foundation for Lakewood as it is today.

bookedandrooted: (sips green tea) This book is weird, but in an interesting way. It gave me “Sorry to Bother You” (movie) and Jordan Peele’s Get Out vibes. With nuances of slavery, racism and the abuse of black and brown bodies Lakewood definitely hit the mark.

BBTCC: Those movie comparisons seem spot on. I couldn’t help but wonder about “an eye drop turning brown eyes blue” – I got some Black No More (by George Schuyler) vibes. Has anyone else read that book?

never_withouta_book: (sips Chocolate Hazelnut Latte) YAAAAS on Black No More. In Lakewood, they have this girl eating and drinking what she thinks is food but I know they put all kinds of experimental drugs in it and the questions they are asking her? Yeah, something’s not right.

melanatedreader: (sips pomegranate & blueberry tea) Like you know something is not quite right so you just have to keep reading… Girl it’s eerie 😩😩

BBTCC: Thank you ladies. Megan, does Lena really understand or give consent to the research being conducted on her and others at Lakewood?

MG: When you’re in a legitimate research study, the doctors will walk you through every possible thing that could happen. At Lakewood, I don’t count it as consent, because everybody who works at the facility always has more knowledge than Lena. They don’t really tell her the risks.

BBTCC: Thank you everyone for stopping by Books by the Cup Café for our discussion with Megan Giddings about her new book Lakewood. If you’ve read this book, I hope you will share it with others. If not, I hope this interview will encourage you read this book.

Featured

Hitting a Straight Lick With a Crooked Stick by Zora Neale Hurston

A woman robbed of her love is more terrible than an army with banners.

Reflecting on Hurston’s recently published collection, I needed to steep, sip and reflect on my thoughts on a few of my favorite stories.

In John Redding Goes to Sea, I could feel a tumult of emotions, especially for John, wanting to see the world outside of his childhood. A father encouraging his son, but the difficulty of a mother letting go. When John ventures outside of the boundaries he’s always known, we too now face the reality, he’s never coming back.

Just like that in the first story, Ms Hurston if you please. The Conversion of Sam had me thinking of how influential a black woman can be when Sam is motivated to get his life together. But also how jealousy can drive others to influence you back into bad habits. Sometimes you realize too late all you’ve lost. But will shame and embarrassment stop you from really turning around from the life you left, for good?

In the story SWEAT, I was watching Delia work hard although Sykes was a triflin’ no good nothing of a human. Delia worked hard, endured much and I think I was sweating in my feelings watching her deal with his foolishness. I was WAITING for Delia to show Sykes that an iron skillet can be used for MORE THAN JUST COOKING.

She seized the iron skillet from the stove and struck a defensive pose, which act surprised him greatly, coming from her. It cowed him and he did not strike her as he usually did.

Throughout this collection, I found a #Varietea of people and places, feelings and emotions. If laugh and get upset, but there’s glimpses into the simple joys of childhood and I appreciate Zora for showing me ‘A bit of Harlem,’ so I could enjoy being ‘Drenched in Light.’ I liked The Country in the Woman too because Hurston introduced us to Caroline in another story but I liked that Caroline wasn’t one easily defeated. If Delia (from Sweat) was friends with Caroline, I imagine they both would have been a force with the men folk they were dealing with but I digress.

Featured

Steeped in Short Stories #SteepedInShortStories

It’s been a while since I’ve had a chat outside of posted reviews. I’m getting my blog rhythm back slowly but surely. But I needed some time to think about what I wanted reading to look like this year. I shared my 2020 Reading Ambitions with one specific way I wanted to steep my reading.

That involved creating a challenge that would involve choosing short story collections from my shelves, steeping a pot of tea and staying #SteepedInShortStories

Short stories offer us something that novels do not. With a novel, even a masterpiece like THEIR EYES WERE WATCHING GOD, our attention is aimed at one or two characters as we take a deep dive into their complicated psychology, actions, and circumstances. With each short story, we encounter the same degree of complexity, but the characters’ experiences are distilled into a few defining moments.” -foreward by Tayari Jones

Hitting a Straight Lick With a Crooked Stick: Stories, by Zora Neale Hurston

I’ve heard people say they don’t like short stories for various reasons.  I can recall saying the same thing myself.  But over the last few years, I’ve come to savor their beauty, slowing my pace and allowing each story to stand on its own.  Pausing between each one, allowing myself the time to wait, similar to what I’d do while steeping a cup (or pot) of tea. Then enjoying what each sip (story) yields in flavor.

I’m super excited about the latest shenanigan that’s been steeping. When I read the quote above in the foreword of Hurston’s new book, I knew it was time to share this brew with you. To talk about and share the goodness to be had when you sit down with a cup of tea and a collection of short stories.

I hope you will join me. The idea is for you to pick up a collection of short stories throughout the year and use the hashtag to share them. After talking to a few book buddies, we realized short stories don’t get the time and attention they deserve. Stay tuned for a review of the book pictured here, Hitting a Straight Lick With a Crooked Stick by Zora Neale Hurston.

Hitting a Straight Lick With a Crooked Stick

The Steep: Coconut & Chai Blend from my travels abroad last year. I enjoyed it so much that’s it’s all gone now.

Featured

Quicksand – Review

“But just what did she want? Barring a desire for material security, gracious ways of living, a profusion of lovely clothes, and a goodly share of envious admiration, Helga Crane didn’t know, couldn’t tell. But there was, she knew, something else. Happiness, she supposed. Whatever that might be. What, exactly, she wondered, was happiness. Very positively she wanted it. Yet her conception of it had no tangibility. She couldn’t define it, isolate it, and contemplate it as she could some other abstract things. Hatred, for instance. Or kindness.”

Quicksand by Nella Larsen
Passing and Quicksand by Nella Larsen

When people ask the question about author’s you’d like to have a conversation with, I’m going to say Nella Larsen. Because with both of her books, I’ve been pulled into what I’m calling the #LarsenLure or maybe, #QuicksandQuagmire. Did the quote not just pull you along, lure you into thinking when you just sit there and ponder it? But imagine pages full of moments like this, sparse but gradually pulling you into the story awaiting the climax and then just like that, you didn’t see that coming.

Helga Crane is of mixed race ancestry which during the time the book was written, that meant she was colored, Negro, black.  Helga is wrought with frustration over her life, she’s a teacher at a school in the south called Naxos, resolving to leave because she doesn’t feel she’s accomplishing anything.

As the story progresses, it becomes evident that happiness is fleeting for Helga. She seems frustrated by her lack of belonging and seeks to remedy that by leaving for Copenhagen. But over time, consistent in her feelings of unhappiness, Helga returns to New York for her friend, Anne’s, wedding. Upon her return, she finds that she’s missed her people, something she didn’t realize until now.

“Frankly the question came to this: what was the matter with her? Was there, without her knowing it, some peculiar lack in her? Absurd. But she began to have a feeling of discouragement and hopelessness. Why couldn’t she be happy, content, somewhere? Other people managed, somehow, to be. To put it plainly, didn’t she know how? Was she incapable of it?”

There are many layers and tropes to examine outside of the obvious for Helga and her mixed raced identity. Larsen frames for the reader, the internal essence of a woman, her desires and ambitions, her mental, emotional and physiological states. Helga’s inner dissatisfaction also touches on her feelings of being irresponsible to marry and have black children who would be mistreated because of the color of their skin. No doubt she experienced and remembers her own childhood with frustration and still fractured feelings.

“In forgetting all but love she had forgotten, or perhaps never known, that some things the world never forgives. But as Helga knew, she had remembered, or had learned in suffering and longing all the rest of her life.”

Helga’s migration from Naxos, Chicago, Harlem, Denmark and finally Alabama, touches on the migration of African American people in a way we don’t always give attention to when looking at the past. In some books, we often see a person dealing with the ramifications of a person remaining stationary in a place confronting mistreatment and inequality. But, just like Larsen, we can further our education, and improve ourselves, by reading books that give attention to people in places and their life their in comparison to where they were before. I’m currently reading The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson so there is the intersection of thoughts and activities in my reading.

The introduction to this editon of Quicksand says, “Larsen’s Quicksand is a woman’s version of a similar response (to Toomer’s Cane and Johnson’s Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man) Mapping the body within the spaces though which it moves, Larsen confronts cultural phenomena such as the oppression of women under the institutions of patriarchy…”

Reading women’s literature allows us to examine things in a different context, with a rich perspective. As much as I enjoy reading as much as possible, I also enjoy taking some time to think more about what else lies within the framework of good literature. I think Larsen does us a favor in her sparse, but effective prose. Her second novel Passing feels more seasoned, but Quicksand should not be overlooked or dismissed.

Featured

Invisible Man – Review

“Perhaps, I thought, the two things are involved with each other. When I discover who I am, I’ll be free.”

Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison
Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Even though it’s been weeks since I finished this book, I believe it’s one I would continue to see in my reading, interactions and observations, looking at the past and the present. A full gambit of emotions, naivety, confusion, frustration, relief, humor, comfort food, nursery rhymes, ideologies, solutions, disappointments. Recognition, growth, cold, white, black, invisible, acceptance, & in the midst of all of this, gradual understanding.

This book absolutely can’t be rushed, it must be read with thoughtful intention and pauses after every chapter. What Ellison manages to do with our unnamed narrator, and by extension, the reader, is to allow us the opportunity to experience the same growing pains, emotions and experience of being an invisible black man. Conscious and aware of one’s existence in a world of people and situations that make us invisible.

Black people have long been treated as invisible and even still today, the chasm of invisibility exists, the blindness we see in others and ourselves. The ways racism still exerts itself in this “modern” society is still very present. The ideologies, the hidden agendas that are veiled under the cover of progress reveal the motives and intentions that some of us might see as opportunity to have our voices heard, but at what cost? We might be unaware of the invisible strings attached and before we are aware, we learn something else about ourselves and the entities advocating our sameness.

Ellison makes us painfully aware that we don’t have it all figured out, because as soon as we think we see things clearly, there is something from our past that reminds us that something about this new situation for progress is the ONE, this is how we will finally get to where we need to be as black people. And we are striped of our identifies, we are trying to understand how to be ourselves in a world that is cold and still very much black and white. How do we reconcile the fact that what we have been taught continues to baffle us in the face of racism. How can we be a whole person when even among our own race their is division. How do we enlighten ourselves to combating these race problems when so many look right through us, even those of our own race.

Ellison showed me my own naivety, my own shortcomings in the face of the experiences of this narrator. I found comfort in food, just like the narrator, in places that reminded me of home. To embrace who I am, but to remember that hard work and intelligence doesn’t level the playing field, I am still invisible to some.

In the other books I’ve read recently, I could see how black people have been treated as invisible, dispensible in where they live (New Orleans East in The Yellow House), how black owned business, redlining (gentrification), employment, mass incarcerations, police brutality, shows up and feels just like what Ellison wrote about over 50 years ago.

Ellison crafted a masterpiece in American literature that should be studied and contemplated by everyone.

Featured

The Gilded Years – Review

I need to keep up the act that I have been keeping up successfully for three years. You are allowed to have your own identity. I have to create mine.” -The Gilded Years, Karin Tanabe

The moment you realize the book you’re reading has your mind spinning, your heart racing with the gravity of a secret that if found out, could change the course of the character’s life. The Gilded Years is a historical fiction account of a real woman named Anita Hemmings.

Anita has 2 identities, her true self among family and close friends, and her other, she’s carefully crafted, in order to attend Vassar College. Anita Hemmings was the first African American woman to attend and graduate from Vassar College in 1897 although the school didn’t admit students of color at that time. So how was this possible? Anita made the decision to pass and enroll as a white student to obtain the education she deserved. She used her fair skin to her advantage but not without challenges.

Anita’s decision is not uncommon, in fact, it’s a decision that allowed many fair skinned people to ‘pass’ as white to obtain services or advantages they would otherwise be denied. In 1897, her senior year at Vassar, Anita steps outside of her comfort zone when she befriends the wealthy and eccentric Lottie Taylor, her new roommate. As their friendship develops, the walls of anonymity Anita has built to protect her secret, weaken to some degree, as she’s invited into Lottie social circle. Anita’s brother, Frederick, reminds her often, to stay focused on her goal. Anita can’t risk her identity being compromised; she can’t afford to blur the lines between her two selves, there is too much at stake. This becomes increasingly difficult when Anita falls in love with the handsome Harvard man named Porter Hamilton.

Anita lived two separate lives that caused her much anxiety; imagining what she’d have access to, the life she could have, if she made the decision to cross the color line permanently. Anita created an identity that allowed her to attend the college of her choosing; a decision some encouraged and supported her in making, but a decision others judged her severely for–as a betrayal to her race and heritage.

One character in the book said, “I think only someone who has lived as we have can truly understand our positions.” By reading this book and others like it, I attempt to understand the decisions many fair skinned people of color made. But it also allows me to explore and difficult it must have been to do so.

I enjoyed this book for many reasons. Anita decided to pursue the education she wanted and deserved, using her fair skin to her advantage.  Some may have judged her for ‘passing’ but the support she had from her family made a difference. I could imagine her feelings, the emotional and mental anxiety she must have experienced as she kept part of herself hidden from others. How difficult it must have been to be her complete self at a time in life when we are usually figuring out who we are and what we want to become. I could also imagine how she might have felt judged harshly by others in her community for her decision to cross the color line.

Attending Vassar College in the late 1890s was not an option for a woman of color since the school didn’t knowingly admit African American students until 1940. The narrative and history in this book felt authentic, like this could have been Anita’s life.  I applaud Karin Tanabe for bringing Hemmings to my attention.

I have read a few books about racial passing; Passing by Nella Larsen and The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man by James Weldon Johnson. I read a nonfiction book called, White Like Her: My Family’s Story of Race and Racial Passing by Gail Lukasik, PhD. Lukasik relates her journey of discovering her mother’s racial background, her mother’s decision to pass, during the time of racial segregation and discrimination. Lukasik’s mother asked her to keep this a secret until after her death. I have a few more books about this topic; have you read any of these books or have some you recommend?

Featured

2019 Reading Recap & 2020 Ambitions

Life has been busy, so it’s taken most of January 2020 to wrap up my Best of 2019. I’ll link them here ICYMI.

Now that’s finished, I can recap and reflect on my 2019 reading year.

2019 Reading Stats

GoodReads goal read 52 books. Total books read 111

My specific goals included reading short stories, poetry, nonfiction, and my biggest and always challenging, shop your shelf goal, meaning, I read the books I already have on my shelf.

So here’s how that breaks down by genre:

  • 5% short stories (total of 5)
  • > 1% poetry (total of 1)
  • 18% nonfiction (total of 20)
  • 26% classics (total of 29)
  • 23% fiction (total of 25)
  • 20% historical fiction (total of 22)
  • 8% mystery (total of 9)

Writing Reviews

I also wanted to be more intentional about reading, then writing reviews shortly after to share on the blog. This one still needs some work but I’m finding that it’s a mixed bag. Some reviews the words pour and others I need more time to formulate my thoughts so not forcing the process.

Tracking My Books

I wanted to track my reading across a few categories (see below) but I don’t have an accurate accounting on my oldest books and trying to make one was tiresome so I didn’t do well with this.

  • Oldest book shelved
  • Newest book shelved
  • Random Pick
  • Non-fiction

Instead, I have something simpler. If we don’t factor in the fact that some of these were added to my shelf this year (giveaways, gifted books, review copies) I did a stellar job at about 66%. But I’ll break it down below to be fair.

  • 50% were books I owned
  • 16% were review books
  • 33% were borrowed from my library

In 2020, I’ll go back to the simple category of owned versus borrowed. Easy peasy. I also created a shelf on GoodReads for review books so I can keep track for 2020.

Tomes of the year award

The five longest books of 2019 exceeded total page count of my longest five last year by 462 pages, for a grand total of 4,442 pages, an average of 888.4 pages. Coincidence that all of them were buddy reads or readalongs. A trend for 2 years now.

2020 Reading Ambitions

For 2020, I’m keeping things simple with tracking my books as I mentioned above.

I liked my weekly blog post feature, My Week in Books and Tea in 2019. I had a lot of fun sharing fun things outside of reading and tea, like trips to the symphony and food truck fun. I’ll bring that back or reboot that format going forward in 2020 (February is a good time to start right).

I’m also challenging myself with what I choose to read. I recently announced on Instagram a reading challenge I created called Steeped in Short Stories #steepedinshortstories. Last year I discovered the beauty in short stories when I didn’t read them straight through expecting a novel. That’s not the purpose of a short story. I’ve linked the details above. In short, the idea is for you to pick up a collection of short stories throughout the year and use the hashtag to share them. If you have followed my blog you know, tea is my favorite beverage so tea puns are a must.

Steeped in Short Stories Reading Challenge
Featured

JORD Suberhide Wallet at Books by the Cup Café

A few years ago, I had the pleasure to work with JORD (pronounced YODE) to try one of their wood watches, the Frankie in Ebony and Gold (on left wrist). I liked the watch so much, I ordered the CASSIA watch shortly thereafter.  I have what some might call a healthy (heavy) appreciation for beautiful and unique timepieces.  I wear a varietea of watches and always get compliments on just about all of them, JORD wood watches included.

I’m excited to announce my partnership with JORD in conjunction with the launch of their new Vegan Leather Wallet Collection. Pictured here is the beautiful Suberhide Wallet in Natural & Gold. Suberhide, created by JORD, is a vegan leather fusion between Portuguese Cork Oak tree bark and woven fabrics.

The Suberhide wallet is similar to leather but just a bit softer and much more durable. The wallet is made from sustainable vegan material that’s hypoallergenic and water resistant. Unlike traditional leather wallets, the Suberhide wallet is resistant to stains, scratches and tearing. Accidents happen with pens, lotions, and all the other items that coexist inside a purse or tote bag. The wallet can be cleaned easily with mild soap and warm water.

This wallet is available in a variety of finishes and colors, but JORD wants to hear from you too! I’m working with JORD to participate in the design of their products and share my opinions about colors, styles and more. I’d like to invite you along! Participants will receive $30 IMMEDIATE SAVINGS on JORD’s site! You can also receive VIP access to new products as they are released and special pricing too.

Please take this short survey here to share your opinion on what type of products you would like to see from JORD. The survey can be completed in just a few minutes. This is an affiliate link so I will earn a small commission towards future purchases with JORD.

Jord Suberhide Vegan Wallet

I don’t think it’s hard to tell my wallet is out of my purse more than I might care to admit.  With all the books and tea here, you know there’s hardly any cash left in this wallet.  You can’t leave home without YOUR WALLET because good habits like these require some funds.  100% necessary when browsing bookstores and tea shops (online with your wallet close by counts too).

I stopped at my favorite tea café, Books by the Cup, to order a cuppa tea and spend some time reading, Hitting a Straight Lick with a Crooked Stick, a collection of short stories by Zora Neale Hurston. As the owner/operator of said café, I have taken my wallet out many times to supply the tea, teaware, teapots and books that live in this space.

I look forward to working with JORD again and would like to thank you for stopping by. Thanks also to JORD for helping me be prepared in any situation with this beautiful, sustainable wallet in NATURAL & GOLD. Take the survey, get your discount to use for your JORD accessory and join the xeiYou won’t be disappointed.


Mens Wooden Watches
//www.woodwatches.com/widget/booksbythecup/250/250


Wooden Wrist Watch
//www.jordwatches.com/widget-article/booksbythecup|

Featured

Best of 2019- Audiobooks

Audiobooks have changed my reading life for the better especially when commuting and running errands, doing things around the house. I’m planning to use them in 2020 to get more active. If anyone can recommend affordable wireless ear buds, I’m all ears. Speaking of ears, here’s some of my favorite audiobooks of 2019.


Narrated by John Lee

THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO by Alexandre Dumas

The Count of Monte Cristo

Tackling tomes with great narrators contribute greatly to bringing the stories to life and being able to read on the go. John Lee has been a long time favorite and I’d recommend him, especially for some classics. He also narrates Ken Follett,s Pillars of the Earth series, I have 2 left.

THE LAST TRAIN TO LONDON by Meg Waite Clayton

The Last Train to London

Tante Truus, a Dutch woman who, with the help of many others, organized Kindertransports helping over 10,000 children out of Europe before the ourtbreak of WWII. This historical fiction account by Clayton seemed daunting at first but it reads quickly. I became invested in Truus story, her determination to help children whose childhoods were stolen from because of all the turmoil and uncertainty of impending war.


Narrated by Bahni Turpin and others

Look Both Ways

LOOK BOTH WAYS by Jason Reynolds is a short book of ten tales of middle grade kids that made me laugh and remember being a kid can be fun, but it can be hard too. Bahni Turpin and a cast of narrators made me feel like I was back in school facing some of the things common and not so common among the kids. Thanks to librofm for the free audiobook.

RED AT THE BONE by Jacqueline Woodson

Red at the Bone

I enjoy Bahni Turpin’s narration and now look for more books she narrates. When I got the chance to listen to Woodson’s new book courtesy of librofm listening program, it was an easy choice. Woodson evokes a rhythm in her writing that’s enchanting, hypotnotic in its fluidity and movement.  Her story telling feels familiar, drawing you so deeply, you feel like you’ve traveled the length of time and distance with those you encounter in the pages of the book. With talented narration, the book was one of my favorite. I’ll publish the full review later.


Narrated by Juliet Stevenson

DANIEL DERONDA by George Eliot

Daniel Deronda

One of the first books of 2019 and I have a review I need to proofread. (Reads another book with no shame). Juliet Stevenson’s narration is stellar and probably one reason this book didn’t feel as long as it did at times. Although the book bears the name of a young man named Daniel Deronda, we encounter him briefly in the early part of the book, we become well acquainted with a young lady name Gwendolen

Action Item: finalize and publish review for Classics Club list.

BELGRAVIA by Julian Fellows

Belgravia

Told in 11 episodes, Belgravia was reminiscent of Downton Abbey, each episode being delivered in a way to make you want more. I had no idea what the Belgravia was about but picked it up because of the narrator Juliet Stevenson. She is a phenomenal and I’m convinced I would listen to almost anything she narrates. Belgravia was a quick read/listen and I would 100% recommend the audiobook. Juliet Stevenson is stellar and I can’t say enough about her brilliant narration.


Narrated by Jonathan Pyrce

MY COUSIN RACHEL by Daphne duMaurier

My Cousin Rachel

After reading a book that was a forerunner to Rebecca, I decided it was time to revisit duMaurier. I chose My Cousin Rachel and found a new narrator that made finding out what happened with Ambrose, Philip and Rachel impossible to put down.


Narrated by Nadia May

ANNA KARENINA by Leo Tolstoy

Anna Karenina

Are tour surprised to see Anna Karenina on another list? I linked what I said about the book above so I won’t sound like a broken record. Nadia May is probably one of the first narrators I came to enjoy and look for in my audiobook journey. This audio was available at my library and thankfully, no one else was reading on audio because I had to renew it once to finish!

Featured

Best of 2019 – Nonfiction

The best of 2019 continues, I am trying not to take the whole of January 2020 to share everything but I also don’t want to spam anyone. Lesson learned, I will plan better to have these done in December but sometimes that’s hard when you’re trying to finish just one more book.


STAND BY YOUR TRUTH by Rickey Smiley

“No” is a complete sentence that requires no explanation.

“Everyone needs to know how to say that word with confidence and power. People may hate to hear it, but they’ll get over it. And the word “no” will save you a lot of headaches in the meantime.”

“No. No. No. I did not stutter.”

Stand by Your Truth, Rickey Smiley

I’ve been a fan of Rickey Smiley’s comedy for many years. I’ve even seen one of his comedy shows in person. I listen to his radio show, I’ve seen his reality TV show, Rickey Smiley For Real, and I always have a lot of good stomach hurting laughter. I laughed at his matter of fact but truthful approach even to something that’s seemingly simple but sometimes hard to execute.


I’M TELLING THE TRUTH BUT I’M LYING: ESSAYS by Bassey Ikipi

“Your voice is caught in the traffic between your brain and your mouth.  You can’t even look up.  You find a space on the floor, stare at it until it blurs.  You think of something you love.  Someone who loves you in ways you understand.”

I'm Telling the Truth but I'm Lying, Bassey Ikpi

 

EXCEPTIONAL READING. This is one of the best books I’ve read this year. These essays felt like flesh and blood; the constant pretense that’s everythings fine, but it’s not. Ikipi shares in these pages, her life with bipolar II and anxiety. It’s visceral and one I can’t stop recommending. Please see full review linked above.

 


BARRACOON: THE STORY OF THE LAST “BLACK CARGO” by Zora Neale Hurston

“When I think ’bout dat time I try not to cry no mo’. My eyes dey stop cryin’ but de tears runnee down inside me all de time.”

There aren’t any words I can use except thank you to Hurston for sharing Cudjo’s history, in his voice.  The tears run down inside of me when I contemplate this time in history.  I had never considered women soldiers who helped capture people, contributing to the illegal slave trade.  African kings who made this possible.

Hurston says its best, the epigraph at the beginning, a quote from her autobiography, Dust Tracks on a Road, “But the inescapable fact that struck in my craw, was: my people had sold and the white people had bought me…. It impressed upon me the universal nature of greed and glory.”


Featured

Black No More – Review

Thank you to Penguin Classics for gifting this book to feature and review.

“What, indeed, was fifty, sixty or seventy dollars when one was leaving behind insult, ostracism, segregation and discrimination?”

There is much to discuss in the pages of this satire and I’m not sure if I’m ready.  But I want to give it a try.

Imagine living in 1930s America, in New York City as a black man. Imagine undergoing a procedure that allows you to bleach your skin and become a white man. What if the institution of race was completely turned on its axis and black people could turn white?  In the 1930s, being a fair skinned black person who could (and can) cross the color line, choosing to pass or a mixed race person, mulatto, are considered the ‘desirables’ of the black race, accepted by others because they are closer to the pure white pigmentation. Even within the black race, colorism (race prejudice) shows up in the early pages of the book.

But, if you could be transformed into a white person, would you? Would you feel like Max and later millions of other black people and “save” yourself from the hardships that society has attached and contributed to the “race” problem?

Would you save your $50 to cash in on the solution Dr. Crookman has (cooked up) come up with at “Black No More” sanitarium? At Black No More, a person can walk into a mysterious chamber, “with a formidable apparatus of sparkling nickel,” that resembles “a cross between a dentist’s chair and electric chair,” to undergo a procedure that will change the color of the skin you were born with?

Max Disher does just that, leaving his pigmentation behind in the sanitarium chair at Black No More.  I thought it was interesting that shortly after Max’s skin bleaching procedure, he misses the fellowship he found among his people, black people.  When he ventures into once familiar places and spaces, he soon discovers he is no longer welcomed. He is looked at with suspicion and distrust now because he’s white.

“There was nothing left for him except the hard materialistic, grasping, inbred society of the whites. Sometimes a slight feeling of regret that he had left his people forever would cross his mind, but it fled before the painful memories of past experiences in this, his home town.”

Max rebrands/renames himself Matt Fisher and must now come up with a way to make a living.  He further invents himself as an anthropologist, one who gets into the business of white supremacy.  The very thing Max was once a victim of, becomes the thing he uses to make his fortune.

Matt is on his way to gaining the material and social advantages that at one time, were elusive because of the color of his skin. He even gets the pretty but not so intelligent,white girl who earlier rebuffed him when he was black man.

This satirical novel, although short, packs a punch and gives much food for thought.  The book lays bare some aspects of black life that become unnecessary as droves of people take their money out of the bank, dry up the once profitable but unfair real estate market in black communities. Even hair salons in black communities begin to feel the effects of the black people who decide to leave their race behind. There was a section in the book thst gives a glimpse into one business woman’s once profitable, now deteriorating hair straightening shops.

One girl says, “but I guess I can hold out with this  here bad hair until Saturday night. You know I’ve taken too much punishment being dark these twenty-two years to miss this opportunity.”

Of course this passage hit home for me in some ways. I remember being a child getting my naturally curly/kinky hair pressed or at straightened. Schuyler points mimics or pokes fun at many people and aspects of life but it’s spot on and draws attention to themes of racism and identity. Schuyler takes everything we think we believe about race relations, the movements (social and economic) and sort of turns it all upside down.

What I thought by the end, was how this book lays bare a very simple and plain truth.  We are all the same race, the human race.  We are all related and no one is better or greater than the next person.  But we live in a society that’s used race and other prejudicial attitudes as a divisive tool. 

Featured

Best of 2019 – Fiction

I’m back with the next installment for my best of 2019, I wanted to wait a few days to share my favorite fiction reads including short stories and historical fiction. Three of the books on this list were published this year.


UNMARRIAGEABLE by Soniah Kamal

“Jane Austen is ruthless when it comes to drawing-room hypocrisy. She’s blunt, impolite, funny, and absolutely honest. She’s Jane Khala, one of those honorary good aunts who tells it straight and looks out for you.”

My track record with retellings of classics have been hit or miss. But this book one of the best I’ve read. True to the essence of Pride and Prejudice, I think Austen would enjoy this modern spin on her beloved book. I had the opportunity to hear the author speak about this book twice. She even signed my book!

 


THE TWELVE TRIBES OF HATTIE by Ayana Mathis

Somebody always wants something from me,” she said in a near whisper. “They’re eating me alive.”

Some might find the structure of this book a bit complicated because they can’t connect with Hattie.  But if her own family, her children, found it a challenge to do so, why would Hattie allow you, me, a stranger to do so? The moments of understanding are there: Hattie’s heartbreak, hurt, her sacrifice, her longing, her desire to be happy.  It’s in there. I can understand it because there are parts of us that we keep to ourselves, some of those same things.


THE MATTER IS LIFE by J. California Cooper (short stories)

“All the time you thought you was spending only money, you been spending time. TIME. Chile,time. The most valuable thing you got! Or ever gonna have!”

 

Auntie Cooper and I started the year together and I was at home with this one. I pulled up my chair and soaked in as much of her wisdom as I did tea. If you haven’t had the chance to do so, pick up one of her short collections and enjoy some lessons about life.


HISTORICAL FICTION

THE NICKEL BOYS by Colson Whitehead

“You can change the law but you can’t people and how they treat each other.”

I’ve done you a disservice by not reviewing this book sooner. But it’s one that meant so much it was hard to find the right words to convey my thoughts and feelings. I’m thinking of turning Whitehead’s books into a personal reading project. I read The Underground Railroad and remember not being able to separate myself from the people in those pages. Maybe I’ll start there with a reread and work backwards.


THE STATIONERY SHOP by Marian Kamali

“Things don’t always work out the way we planned. Those who are young tend to think that life’s tragedies and miseries and its bullets will somehow miss them. That they can buoy themselves with naïve hope and energy. They think, wrongly, that somehow youth and desire or even love can outmatch the hand of fate.”

The Stationery Shop was the book that took me by both hands and pulled me in and didn’t let go. 77 year old Roya goes to an assisted living home to face the man who stole her heart over 60 years ago- to find out why he didn’t show up the day he promised for them to runaway and be married. What happened? Travel back in time and we meet young Roya and Bahman, in a Stationery Shop in Tehran. A story of first love,broken hearts against the backdrop of political unrest, social norms and expectations, the ripple effect it has on so many.


LILAC GIRLS by Martha Hall Kelly

The first book selection for my the seasonal book club, Seasons by the Book, that I co-host with Cate @ Ramblings of a Redheaded Snippet. I didn’t review this book but had the chance to do a Q&A with the author I’ve linked above. A memorable conclusion to a very good book.


THE WAKE OF THE WIND by J. California Cooper

“Don’t overestimate me and do not underestimate yourself.  We both are important to this freedom.”

Yes, Auntie Cooper gets another slot for a favorite of the year. Her writing is delicious and I have resolved to read all of her books again.

When an author stirs an excitement in the dedication of the book, you get ready. When the author’s note sets the tone for the people on the pages to come, you get ready.  The prologue…. ooooh chile!!! All of this and you HAVEN’T started the novel.  The stage is set and you get ready.  JCC is best consumed when all you have is time because you don’t want to put the book down.  When I started, I came up just long enough to refill my tea cup and forge ahead.  Lifee and Mor’s journey became my own.


THE GILDED YEARS by Karin Tanabe

“How hard it must be to constantly remain alert, to appear effortless with so much effort, to leave the reality about yourself somewhere else.”

The Gilded Years is a historical fiction book based on the real woman, Anita Hemmings. Anita Hemmings was the first African American woman to attend and graduate from Vassar College in 1897 although the school didn’t admit students of color at that time. So how was this possible? Anita made the decision to pass and enroll as a white student to obtain the education she deserved. She used her fair skin to her advantage but not without challenges.


Featured

Best of 2019 – Classics

As 2019 ends (ended) and we’re 3 days into 2020, I have been busy writing to share the books the fall into the best of the year. Reading 111 books isn’t bad, but makes it somewhat of a challenge to narrow down my favorites into just one post, like I did last year. But when have almost 30 books in one genre to choose from (29 classics read in 2019) I thought this would be a better way to balance things out.

So let’s get started. The next in my ‘best of 2019’ series will come in installments (posts) over the next week or 2 — fiction, non-fiction and audiobooks.


THE BLUEST EYE by Toni Morrison

“A little black girl who wanted to rise up out of the pit of her blackness and see the world with blue eyes.”

How I managed to read several of Morrison’s books I borrowed from my library while this one lingered on my shelf, I am almost embarrassed to admit. The Bluest Eye jump started my reading year, setting the bar high for what qualifies as memorable must reads. Morrison pierced a very deep part of my heart with this book. I plan to read the remainder of Morrison from my shelf in 2020, A Mercy, Tar Baby, and recently added, The Measure of Our Lives.

A TREE GROWS IN BROOKLYN by Betty Smith

“Everything struggles to live. Look at that tree growing up there out of that grating. It gets no sun, and water only when it rains. It’s growing out of sour earth. And it’s strong because its hard struggle to live is making it strong. My children will be strong that way.”

 

Through the eyes of Francie Nolan, A Tree Grows In Brooklyn is a book I now understand why it’s beloved by many. One I didn’t read in my childhood, but one I’m glad I found on my reading journey. Aunt Sissy is also unforgettable and in my opinion, everyone wants an aunt like her.

ROOTS by Alex Haley

What are slaves? Why are some people slaves and others not?”

February 2019 was the year for tackling this chunkster. Not to mention how to the experience is enriched when read and discussed along the way. This was my first conversation style post on the blog, something I hope to repeat in 2020. Roots begins in 1750 with the birth of Omoro and Binta Kinte’s first son, Kunta, named after his honored grandfather who is thought to have saved the village of Juffure from a famine. We follow Kunta for the majority of the book but when we are separated from him, I longed to know what happened to him.

THE BLACKER THE BERRY by Wallace Thurman

“They are human beings first and only white or black incidentally.”

The Blacker the Berry was my book pick for Our African-American Reads with blogger Melanie @ Grab the Lapels. This book made me think about what it means to live in the skin I’m born with. How living in that skin can be an issue for others, to the point that it effects us, mentally and emotionally. One might say, we’ve come a long way from the period this book was set, but examining matters through the eyes of Emma Lou Morgan, our main character, made me wonder if that’s a true statement. In 2020, I’d like to get back on track with this reading project and invite others to join.

THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISTO by Alexandre Dumas

“For there are two distinct sorts of ideas, those that proceed from the head and those that emanate from the heart.”

The longest book of the year but a memorable experience. Did I mention paleness and falling out of chairs on my journey with the Count? Check out the letter I wrote him.

ANNA KARENINA by Leo Tolstoy

“And the candle by the light of which she had been reading that book filled with anxieties, deceptions, grief and evil, flared up brighter than ever, lit up for her all that had once been in darkness, sputtered, grew dim, and went out for ever.”- Anna Karenina, Leo Tolstoy

Published serially from 1873 to 1877, Anna Karenina is regarded as one of Leo Tolstoy’s most notable works.  In the opening pages of the book, we’re presented with the effects of betrayal, marital unfaithfulness, and disappointment. Anna Karenina is long but reads quickly, much more accessible than another book I read by Tolstoy (side eyes 🙄War and Peace). I think a full review is in order because it *might* be on my Classics Club list.


Featured

The Nickel Boys – Review

“Elwood never ceased to marvel how you could walk around and get used to seeing only a fraction of the world.  Not knowing you only saw a sliver of the real thing.”

I don’t often, matter of fact, I don’t think I’ve ever, pre-ordered a book. But I promptly and without hesitation pre-ordered Colson Whitehead’s new book, The Nickel Boys. It’s a decision I don’t regret, except when I traveled to Europe over the summer and found the book in paperback, but I digress. When the book arrived promptly courtesy of Amazon Prime shipping, I sat down the next day and was consumed. Book devoured in ONE DAY. 

In The Nickel Boys, Whitehead relates the story of young Elwood, raised by his grandmother, full of hope and optimism as he looks at his future and that of other black people who have suffered discrimination and abuse. The speeches of Dr. Martin Luther King stir in Elwood’s heart the desire to do something, not to be a passive observer as he follows the Civil Rights Movement. Elwood’s grandmother is proud of him but doesn’t want him to involve himself in anything that could endanger his future; to finish school, go to college and make something of himself. While it’s important to want change in a world mired with injustice, its equally important to Elwood’s grandmother for him to be sensible in securing his future.

The story progresses quickly to the point when Elwood has an opportunity to take some college classes.  I felt like a proud relative, excited for what Elwood would be able to accomplish as his future begins to take shape.  But knowing a little bit about the book, my dreams turn into the worst of nightmares. As soon as Elwood hitch hikes in a stolen car with a seemingly nice guy, I know his life will change forever. My heart beats rapidly in anticipation because this shouldn’t be happening but it is. Elwood is sent to a reform school called Nickel Academy. And from this point forward, my heart is shredded. To pieces. Many, many pieces.

In less than 250 pages, Whitehead introduces us to the existence Elwood and other young boys at Nickel Academy endure. Whitehead masterfully shares the stories and the tragedies  succinctly, respectfully. This unforgettable book was inspired by the boys reform school that operated in Florida from 1900 to 2011, where boys were abused in horrific ways.

At Nickel, Elwood meets other young men who offer advice on how one can make it out of there alive because many don’t. Turner, one young man, is frustrated by Elwood’s naivety and optimism.

“You think you can do that? Watch and think? Nobody else is going to get you out–just you.”

While reading this book, I wanted to put it down and process everything. But I couldn’t bring myself to leave these boys. They didn’t leave my mind and heart. Elwood and Turner.  The unnamed boys, the forgotten boys. I’m terrified by the cruel and seemingly unfathomable reality of the events this book was based on. I applaud Whitehead for paying homage to the survivors and to those who remained unnamed in dignity and respect.

Although fictional, Whitehead gives voice to the many young boys like them, who suffered diabolical treatment at this supposed reform school. I could not concentrate on anything else. I kept wondering why was something so barbaric allowed to happen?  Even Elwood realized it was wrong and wanted to tell someone, but no one was listening. No one cared enough to make sure this didn’t happen. Over and over again. Was Elwood too optimistic, too hopeful for REAL change? Or was Turner right, to keep your head down, survive and just get out?

Over 50 years later, is there much difference? When what happened at a reform school like Nickel–unrestrained violence, abuse, mistreatment, and untold injustices that have literally been buried in a field behind a school?  To find out that the school Whitehead based the story and characters operated until 2011?

“You can change the law but you can’t people and how they treat each other.”

Featured

The Count of Monte Cristo – Review

“There is neither happiness nor misery in the world; there is only the comparison of one state with another, nothing more. He who has felt the deepest grief is best able to experience supreme happiness.”

Why hello there Dantès! I thought it would be nice to reach out to you, telling you about the epic experience I had in getting to know you and your story. I’m going to add dated entries to this letter because there is quite a bit I need to say. Becoming acquainted with your plight over 7 weeks and over 1,000 pages will take some time to explain. So patience my dear Dantès, we will prevail.

⚔️ May 11, 2019, Ch 1-30

You’re home and excited to see your beloved father and of course everyone you see knows about your beloved soon to be betrothed Mercédès. I couldnt be more happy for you. Things are looking up with your current employer, prospects of being promoted captain couldn’t have come at a better time. That must be a relief as you rush home and prepare for your wedding.

But wait a minute. Everyone doesn’t rejoice in your happiness. In fact there are some who are quite jealous of you. They are about to take advantage of your kindness and naivety. Edmund, hello, I’m waving a red flag over here but of course, you can’t see me. Things are about to get ugly Dantès. I can see it.

Caderousse is not the “good neighbor” you think he is. He a selfish and greedy drunkard. And can you believe he’s just sitting here watching Danglars, your colleague, conspire with Fernand, Mercédès cousin, who hates you because she’s in love with you and not him! They accuse you of being “an agent of the Bonapartist faction” which they know will mean your arrest.

You have no idea but I’m running to catch you, hurry up mate, marry quickly because the coppers are after you. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? This cannot be happening. Talk about wedding crashers. You’re being arrested at this moment. It feels too early for this because I *just* met you.

The travesty is further compounded when Villefort, the deputy procurer, hears your case, seizes and destroys the evidence that could clear you. This evkcemce incriminates Villefort’s father but Villefort cares only about himself so what does this mean for you going forward as injustice spirals out of control.

After seventeen months in prison, you remain hopeful. But as the years pass you meet another prisoner, Abbè Faria, who lift the veil of naivety from your eyes about your imprisonment. Dantès, you and the Abbè are good for each other, although now I think your keen on exacting revenge on those who have wronged you.

“For there are two distinct sorts of ideas, those that proceed from the head and those that emanate from the heart.”

⚔️May 25, 2019, Ch 31-60

“It was fourteen years, day for day, since Dantès’ arrest. He was nineteen when he entered the Château d’If; he was thirty-three when he escaped.”

I was holding my breathe, turning pale, I almost fell out of my chair. Talk about an escape Dantès! I assumed you had to succeed in making it out alive because there’s so much left to read but YES! It was an excellent scene, I think even you were surprised.

But wait, Count, I’m confused. Albert and Franz are strangers to me and I’m trying to figure out why they are here. I’m continuing on and things are starting to make sense. Franz is engaged to Valentine, she’s Villefort’s daughter. And Albert is Mercédès and Fernand’s son. Maximilian, Morrel’s son, happens to be in love with Valentine. Oh my heart! They are some of my favorite people and I can’t wait to find out what happens with the two of them.

“Well! What does it signify, Valentine, so long as I am satisfied, and feel that even this long and painful suspense is amply repaid by five minutes of your society, or two words from your lips. And I have also a deep conviction that heaven would not have created two hearts, harmonising as ours do, and restored us to each other almost miraculously, only to separate us in the end.”

It took me a while to figure out who Franz and Albert were but now that I know, what’s going to happen next? And Caderousse, I wasn’t expecting him to show up again, but oh my goodness, he’s still greedy and selfish.  Am I surprised by what Bertuccio revealed to the you about Caderousse, not so much.  More scandal regarding Villefort but I’m glad his father, Noirtier, just one upped him. The relationship between Valentine and her grandfather is tender and compassionate. I believe he’s the only allies Valentine and Maximilian have, not to mention you Count.

⚔️June 8, 2019, Ch 61-90

Villefort is warning Madame Dangler to beware of you! But are they catching up to you Count? I’m disgusted by their behavior and I hope that you will expose them. I know you are so many steps ahead of everyone but they have a secret they don’t want you to expose.

Dangler and his wife, there was a heated dispute between them but I wonder what it will mean. My gosh, not Caderousse again! Can we be done with him, he makes my skin crawl and he’s just so greedy.

And Maximilian, the son of the friend you loved, his heart is broken about Franz and Valentine. How can you help them, it feels impossible with the pressure from Villefort and now Valentine’s grandmother that she should marry Franz before she dies.

There are other people I’ve failed to mention but that’s fine. I must end this week’s letter because I have to see what happens next.

⚔️June 13, 2019, Ch 91-end

“What is missing from argument with myself now is a proper understanding of the past, because today I can view my past from the opposite end of the spectrum.  Indeed, as we advance through life, the past fades faster the further we move away from it, like a landscape through which we travel. What is happening to me is what happens to people who have suffered some injury in a dream: they see and feel their injury but do not remember how they came by it.”

Talk about an ending. This journey was full of intrigue, suspense, secrets and revenge. Despite the paleness and falling into chairs, this is one for the books. Hats off to you Count!

Featured

The Black Tulip- Review

“You don’t know, sir, what I suffer. You don’t know the struggle going on in my heart and mind.” – The Black Tulip, Alexandre Dumas

Tulips are a BIG deal in the Netherlands.  I discovered that when I visited a few months ago.  So when I started reading this book, I felt like I’d been in some of these places before.

The story within the pages are more succinctly crafted than some of the author’s more well known works (The Count of Monte Cristo, The Three Musketeers). But don’t for one moment be fooled into thinking it doesn’t contain the requisite historical backdrop, suspense, love and of course, jealousy.

The Black Tulip is set in the Netherlands surrounding the 1672 lynching of John DeWitt and his brother Cornelius.  I felt carried along in the mobs uproar, not fully understanding why these two men lost their lives.  But the stage is set for another story to be cultivated, take root and blossom, eventually coinciding with the opening scenes.

Cornelius Van Baerle, dedicated tulip-fancier, is determined to grow a black tulip, to win a monetary prize for a competition in Haarlem. The prospect of creating such an unusual tulip is foremost in Cornelius’ mind, but more importantly, to have a tulip named after him.  Unbeknownst to Van Baerle, his rival and neighbor, Boxtel, plots and schemes to steal the tulip bulbs, even laying false accusations against Van Baerle leading to imprisonment.  The opening scenes of the book begin to make more sense as the story continues and Dumas leaves us in suspense.

While in jail and waiting for his pending execution, Cornelius encounters the lovely and compassionate daughter of the jailers, Rosa. He wills his tulip bulbs to Rosa and gives her instructions for the bulbs, bulbs that can change her life for the better with that prize money she can win. What happens next is a story worth reading. Will the hero of this story, the black tulip triumph?

As I look back on my time with this short book from Dumas, my only regret is that I didn’t take my book with me on my summer trip to the Netherlands. I regret the missed photo opportunity in the Hague but enjoyed being transported back in time to a place I recently visited.

But I can still reflect on the wonderful time I enjoyed there.

The Hague, Netherlands 2019

Featured

The Wake of the Wind – Review

“And the wind never will blow all life away, you just got to find a way to live in the wake of that wind.  Cause it leaves a wake,  full of trash flying around everywhere.”

There are few who can craft and create as J. California Cooper does.  Her work should be savored while you learn a bit about life.  Ms. Cooper’s story telling and writing evoke feelings and emotions that stir in me a sense of belonging, history, nostalgia and pride.

The Wake of the Wind transports me back to Reconstruction in the South after the Civil War.  Lifee and Mor could very well be distant relatives, making a life for themselves when freedom finally arrives.  My life with Lifee and Mor over the last several weeks, their family, feels like my family. 

In this journey, I’ve been anxious and afraid.  Alone and on the verge of giving up, but never forgetting  how hope and endurance work together.  I felt relief when Lifee and Mor left slavery and walked into freedom.  But I was scared too because there were  many people who didn’t want to see these black people getting too much.  I cried when Mema was welcomed into the family because can a woman EVER hope for HAPPINESS after what she’d been through?

Lifee, always planning and thinking about securing a better future for her family, Mor and her children, the apple of her eye.  Lifee, wife, seamstress, intelligent ; teaching others to read and write, encouraging the women in her life to use their minds.  A woman who can take pride in her work, in her education, to save for the future.

As freedom doesn’t mean being treated fairly or as equals during this period in history, survival in  freedom (and in life) requires shrewdness and insight.  Lifee and Mor have that.

Hardship didn’t harden Lifee and Mor’s hearts.  It kept them vigilant in their determination.  Their freedom meant opening their hearts to others in need, in need of family, healing, and love.  We watch this family grow and expand to help each other improve–to forge the path for the generations after them.

In less than 400 pages, I’ve had a lesson in history, family history.  Mema and Ben, Abby and her girls, Mor and Lifee with their kids. This family is my family. As Aman and Able, twin boys, born to Mor and Lifee, soak in EVERY thing their parents instilled in them and I watch them grow.  I’m so proud of my family.

The Wake of the Wind champions the fortitude of the human spirit, the heritage of black people in America and, celebrates love.  What I loved about this book, it wasn’t the oversold many times told story of slavery and oppression.  This is a story built on love, family, kindness, hope and endurance.  Even in the face of hardships, this family continues to grow, in character and in love.  They are cautious but don’t become like the people who envy them.  They keep growing and striving to become better so they can help others do the same.

The family I reaped as the years pass and I before long, I know I’d have to say goodbye for at the end.

I am not sure I will ever be able to read Ms. Cooper without thinking of my beloved friend and BIG sister who introduced me to her work.  Another one I’d love to discuss with her.

Featured

An American Marriage – Review

Hello blog buddies! I’m back with an unpopular opinion on a book I recently attempted to read but stopped and DNF (did not finish). Let’s jump right into things.

“Marriage is between two people. There is no studio audience.”

As black people in America, our histories are complex, our present and future, bright and hopeful, but not without challenges.  We still encounter situations were the color of our skin becomes the only thing people see and not the content of our character.

Roy and Celestial, a newlywed couple, are faced with a new set of circumstances when Roy is wrongfully accused of raping a woman, sentenced and imprisoned.  Their relationship quickly begins to unravel.

As I kept reading, I could not understand the choices of the characters and that’s fine.  But what bothered me the most is that Roy and Celestial start to feel like clichés and stereotypes of black people.

Yes they are young, but not teenagers.  Their decision making feels confusing.  How do we end up with Celestial having an affair with her best friend, who also happens to be her husband’s friend too?  How does this happen if you love your husband and he’s innocent of what he’s been accused of?

I think I started to take her decisions  personally as a married woman, as a black woman.  Loyal love is an important aspect of marriage.  No marriage is perfect but successful marriages and relationships in the black community aren’t always celebrated.  Jones gives us glimpses into the varied relationships of the Roy and Celestial’s parents.  I suppose I had unrealistic expectations. In light of what happens with Roy and Celestial, I could see how his imprisonment strained and taxed an already volatile relationship.  This seems realistic and very relevant for the time period we live in.  But I expected things would be different for them, that this wouldn’t break them, that they wouldn’t become another statistic, another stereotype. But as I kept reading, I just couldn’t  keep going.  After Roy gets released from prison, I am more than frustrated and hence my decision to DNF.

Celestial did experience some things in her past even after Roy’s imprisonment that very well could cause her to come undone.  But I rolled my eyes countless times at the thought of her being such a talented woman who seems to not know anything about herself or the man she’s vowed to marry.  In the book, there are women, girlfriends, who stuck to their boyfriends who were in jail.  Was it convenient to start a relationship with Dre just because he’d always been there? I believe at one point Celestial’s dad calls her and Dre out about their relationship.  Celestial mom says she raised her to follow her mind, but what is her mind? She felt all over the place and didn’t seem to grow or mature from the situation.

While there were so many who raved about this book, this has turned into a bit of a rant for me.  While I appreciate a realistic depiction of a situation like Roy’s and Celestial’s, especially in a world where injustice abounds, I’d like to see, read and applaud the many who have not become another victim or statistic in the face of something like this.

Does a DNF count as a book read?  After reading about half of this book, I could no longer stomach this story and didn’t want to find out what happens.

I remember Melanie (Grab the Lapels) mentioning how it was strange that the female narrator didn’t read Celestial’s letters instead of the man. I listened to the audiobook while following in the hard copy, that is until I stopped, and I thought that was weird too.

Have you read this? What were your thoughts?

Featured

My week in books and tea 11.10.19

Last week’s post was a few days late (Friday) and I hope you don’t mind this one is too (Tuesday). I’m reducing my screen time on the weekend, especially Sunday afternoons and evenings. We’ve been inviting friends over playing (board) games and it’s turned into a hybrid game-tea time shenanigans. Last week’s blooming tea was a favorite, especially hilarious when the guys were sipping tea in cups that weren’t so prettea because this was NOT A TEA PARTY. Guess you had to be there to get the joke. Perfectly acceptable.

I’m recapping recent posts too, because for some reason, commenting has not been turned on by default in my last few posts. Sorry about that. So feel free to leave comment if you had planned to. I was wondering why I didn’t hear from anyone. 🦗(crickets)


What I finished

My Cousin Rachel is my second duMaurier and I believe might like this one more than Rebecca. Philip surprised me and so did cousin Rachel. The reoccurring theme or lesson in both books and in Vera (Elizabeth von Arnim), grief is powerful and one should not make major life decisions too soon.

“That was the infuriating thing about a woman. Always the last word. Leaving one to grapple with ill-temper, and she herself serene. A woman, it seemed, was never in the wrong. Or if she was, she twisted the fault to her advantage, making it seem otherwise.” – My Cousin Rachel, Daphne duMaurier

The Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas is one by the author I don’t see much. The Count of Monte Cristo and The Three Musketeers are books you see all the time. But this book made me mentally reprimand myself for lost book photo opportunities because over the summer I went to the Netherlands. And tulips are a BIG deal there. But the book, the real hero in this one, is the black tulip and what it represents. Van Baerle our main character is a

“You don’t know, sir, what I suffer. You don’t know the struggle going on in my heart and mind.” – The Black Tulip, Alexandre Dumas

Tulips are a BIG deal in The Netherlands.  I discovered that when I visited a few months ago.  So when I started reading this book, I felt like I’d been in some of these places before.

The Queen: Aretha Franklin was a short audiobook I picked up a few months ago as one of the free audiobook selections included with my monthly Audible membership. At less than 4 hours (which equals 2 for me), this audiobook gives some history of the woman Aretha Franklin, her music and her legacy.


What I’m reading

Wait for it…Nothing. Gasps! I’m still trying to figure out what I feel like reading next.


Steep of the week

Tea latte I suspect this is a Victorian London Fog but I can’t confirm or deny that. Some weeks mean more tea lattes than others. Since I had several including a chai latte, I can’t conclusively tell you what tea I used here to make this latte butit felt like one I should share. But I can say with confidence, it was amazing.


Featured

I’m Telling the Truth, but I’m Lying: Essays – Review

Thank you to the publisher, Harper Perennial, for gifting this book.

“The rocket of pain was already exploding in my head.  I couldn’t be responsible for creating new worries.  I was the oldest, it was my responsibility to be easy.  I couldn’t tell them anything else.  I was told not to write on my tests anymore.  I agreed and vowed to myself to keep the chaos I carried to myself.”

I’m Telling the Truth, but I’m Lying: Essays is one of the BEST nonfiction books I’ve read this year.  What book have you read recently that MEANS so much, you just WANT EVERYONE to read it?  This has been one of those books for me.  So much so, I’ve struggled to summarize WHY this book is unlike others, even after reading it several months ago.  This book didn’t feel clinical, it didn’t feel like science, it felt like a living breathing person.  Ikipi’s stream of consciousness approach felt like she allowed me access to something I can never fully understand.  Ikipi invites me into moments in her life, the early glimmers of what feels like something is wrong but she can’t tell, so I can’t either because, she’s not sure how to articulate what’s going on.

These essays open our minds and hearts to what it was like growing up with a whirlwind of emotional highs and lows.  When Bassey realizes her grandmother didn’t die *just* from old age. When a young Bassey is comforted by her mother with understanding after an emotional outburst she’s trying process.  The moments when she understands, when we understand, there is a silent family history no one talks about.  When we are all TELLING THE TRUTH BUT WE’RE LYING.  We feel it would be shameful, it’s family business and we don’t talk about family business, even in the family.  These essays felt like flesh and blood; the constant pretense that’s everythings fine, but it’s not.

I forced myself to live with each essay for a while before moving on to the next one, although I wanted to DEVOUR this collection without coming up for air.  But I would have done myself a disservice if I had done so.  Waiting, pausing, processing, feeling the angst, frustration, anxiety, stress, fatigue, desires.  A gambit of feelings and emotions in Ikpi’s life seem to gain a momentum of their own with each essay.  The structure gave me access to her personal experience in a way that felt like I was just beyond her grasp.  But at the same time enveloping me into her thoughts, feelings and emotions.

There were times I wanted to say, “No, Bassey your sick and it’s because your using the medium (writing) to allow me inside of the brain you said is broken.  But you don’t want anyone to be worried.  You don’t want to further disappointment your family.  But you can’t keep going like this.  Something is going to happen, you haven’t slept in days.” Now I’m crying because I feel exasperated and exhausted because I don’t know how to help.

As much as I could say, I HAVE to say, READ this book.  Read this book to understand what Ikpi calls the “fog and the hurricane” of living with bipolar II and anxiety everyday.  Read this book to heighten your sensitivity, increase your awareness, and to open the eyes of your heart.

In my opinion, exceptional reading, one of the most important and best books I’ve read this year.

Featured

Diamond Doris – Review

“Under no circumstances did I want a ‘normal’ life–a normal, regular, everyday Black life. No way. Being humiliated at work. Paycheck to paycheck. Church on Sundays. Regular clothes. Routine relationships that don’t go nowhere. Absolutely not. Not Miss Doris Payne. I wanted more than that. I wanted nice things. I wanted to travel the world. Normal was not me.”

Miss Doris Payne commanded our full attention at the Decatur Book Festival (DBF 2019). The place was packed as we eagerly await nuggets of insight into her life and career as a notorious jewel thief. She’s a phenomenal woman, graceful and refined, regal and beautiful for 88 years young. The motivation behind Miss Payne’s career left me eager to pick up her book to find out more.

Payne grew up in the segregated Southern US, a coal mining town in West Virginia. She was smart but recognized early in life she wanted independence for herself and vowed to never let a man beat (control) her as she’d seen her father do to her mother; Payne saw her father regularly beat her mother. There was one passage where young Doris takes matters into her own hands to, great her father of her mother. I won’t ruin it but I did think about Al Green. Payne was determined to get her mother away from the abuse and as she said at the book festival, she didn’t care what other people thought. As a young child she figured out a way to snub those who treated her as worthless because of her skin color, a lesson she learned in the store of a Jewish man named Mr. Benjamin. When she saw how he changed in front of a white man, treating her as inferior dismissing her, but forgetting he allowed Doris to try on some watches, Payne gets a glimpse into how she would create and finance the life she wanted.

Miss Payne started small, honing her skills and eventually took on the world in her jewelry heists. As she observed everyday life, shopping at the farmers market with her mother, she saw discovered a very important key to her work as a jewelry thief.

“But I uncovered the keys to getting away with stealing jewels: confusion and familiarity.

It’s noteworthy too, that Payne had made the right connections, people in positions of authority, judges, the right lawyers, or other involved in some shady business dealings. In this way, Payne would sometimes go through the motion of turning herself in to the police, but it seemed like a mere formality. Because she didn’t have the jewels and there was no proof (security cameras or concrete evidence), her exploits grew by leaps and bounds. She stole a lot of jewelry but because she ‘played the part’ of belonging, being deserving, she could con (confuse) some of the most experienced jewelry clerks. I’m not sure many were ready to admit, they had been robbed by a young, pretty black woman.

Payne had a full and long career, but she spent little time incarcerated over the course of her work. I enjoyed her story but, there felt like some pieces were missing. I’m sure it’s not easy to document the many years of her work, but what bothered me most was the uneven tone/writing of the book. The tone felt unauthentic or maybe a better word, is the tone shifted. Perhaps the co-author made some of what Payne would have said many years ago sound too modern, like something a younger person would say today. Some of the idioms and terminology didn’t feel like something a woman in her late eighties would say, as she tells us her story. Especially since I heard her speak at the book festival too. I expected to hear the authenticity of Miss Payne’s VOICE as well as her exploits. I have a grandmother a little younger than Payne and I tried to imagine the nuances of her speech, being from the same generation as Payne’s, to capture and experience her voice while reading, but it faded in and out.

And there are soooo many instances of the sh** word, I wanted to ask if someone could have done a word search when proofing and used some synonyms because the repetitive use of that word was RIDICULOUS and UNNECESSARY. A few times, sure, but my goodness, I feel sure Payne had a larger vocabulary. I cringed every time it was fired off back to back to back. I asked myself, does Payne and everyone she knows speak this way? I know we can put our best foot forward when we introduce ourselves to someone, but based on the book festival interview, it felt off to me. These things took away from the overall tone of the book for me.

One thing for sure, Payne didn’t “catch a case” that involved her doing any long term jail time. She knew what she wanted, studied her craft and made sure she took care of herself and her family on her terms. I laugh when I think about her saying that, about not catching a case, when someone asked her at the book festival why she didn’t stop her career as she got older. Very sad she lost several family members and friends to cancer.

Featured

Where are the books and tea? – an update

It’s been over a month since I’ve shared something on the blog. I’ve missed sharing content and chatting, but being honest, I’ve just been tired. I’ve also fallen into a bit of a rut. I’ve been questioning my content–is it too predictable, is this too much? I’ve over analyzed reviews which means I have many waiting for me in my drafts section. Am I still having fun on my blog or has it turned into another obligatory item on my to do list?

And on top of all that, my lovable fur baby, almost 12 years old, had a back issue that caused her some temporary paralysis in her hind legs. A trip to the vet since she has had flares in the past but nothing this severe before. Dealing with her vet, which I will probably change after this ordeal, and a visit to the emergency vet! Recommendations for surgery and coping with the reality that my pup is aging– the stress and anxiety levels were exceedingly high.

Update: she’s in physical therapy once a week along with therapy exercises at home, she’s doing much better but has a ways to go. The goggles are to protect her eyes during her laser therapy treatment, followed by treadmill water therapy.

So I thought before I shared any of my regularly scheduled content, books and tea, it would be a good idea to share this catch up/chat post. A few highlights from the last month thanks to my journaling tendencies (book, bullet and tea journals). I’ve read more books than I’ve shared, but consider this a highlight reel for the time I’ve been away.


Week of 9.8.19

I’m Telling the Truth, but I’m Lying: Essays is one of the best books I’ve read in a while. It’s so good I’ve had a hard time trying to capture in words why this book is so important and why I think everyone should read it. I’m going to work on finalizing this review so I can share more soon.

“Broken heats are easier to explain– how do you tell someone your brain is broken?”


Week of 9.15.19

Anna Karenina was one of the readalongs I co-hosted for #AnnaInAugust19. I learned:

1) Less is more. A few well chosen discussion questions and the option for participants to leave a question to spark more conversation is ideal. I love buddy reads and readalongs but sometimes, I might be doing TOO MUCH, scarring people off with too many questions.

2) Anna Karenina is my favorite Tolstoy to date. She was complicated and I’m not sure she or I knew what she really wanted from life. Maybe that’s one of the things Tolstoy wants us to ponder.


Week of 9.22.19

Ladysitting: My Year with Nana at the End of Her Century by Lorene Cary was a book I was compelled to buy after hearing the author speak at the Decatur Book Festival at the end of August. There was something like kismet in many of the things she said when discussing her book as I thought about my own family and caregiving. I hadn’t read any of her other books but I believe I will now.

Tea Tasting at ZenTea – this was a much needed period of contentment and relaxation. Since my friend and I were the only two people who showed up for the tasting, the owner did something a little different and we had a tea-rrific time! I’m planning to write up a short post on experience and share some of the teas we had.

Here’s one that I loved enough to purchase and bring home with me – an almond oolong.


Week of 9.29.19

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson, was a free/complimentary audiobook selection from Libro.fm (Riverhead Books) in September. Libro.fm is an audiobook subscription service that supports local/independent bookstore of your choosing. Woodson evokes a rhythm in her writing that’s enchanting, hypotnotic in its fluidity and movement.  Her story telling feels familiar, drawing you so deeply, you feel like you’ve traveled the length of time and distance with those you encounter in the pages of the book.

“Something about memory; it takes your back to where you were and lets you just be there for a time.”

I binged and listened to Another Brooklyn, one of Woodson’s earlier books I picked up from my library. This book championed the beauty of female friendships, especially in those formative, adolescent and teenage years. I loved the way the picture turned out and couldn’t resist sharing.

The House of Mirth was for the #wereadwharton readalong in September and I organized the final discussion. Reading this book again showed me the value of reading a book more than once. When I read it years ago, I hadn’t discovered how much I enjoyed the classics, but one thing that didn’t change was my desire to read more Edith Wharton. Lily Bart was someone I felt more empathy for time around. The final discussion was stellar.

The Scarlet Pimpernel was the perfect change of scenery! Some mystery and intrigue plus the building suspense. A quick read to help me take my mind off things.


Week of 10.6.19

Queen Sugar by Natalie Baszile – Book or TV series adaption? My husband watches the show and I told him, like I usually do, there was a book the show was based on.  I had every intention to read the book before I started watching the show but one evening, he was watching it and filled me in on who was who and what was going on.

I think I’ve watched the last 2 seasons I felt like I knew a lot about the characters when I started the book a few days ago. The book was OK, but there was a lot of difference in the two. I’ll admit, I’m looking forward to the next season of the show, which I liked better than the book.


Now that we’ve had a chance to catch up, tell me what I’ve missed! I’m hoping to get back to a regular weekly schedule but will have to see how things go this week. What great books have you read? Teas you’ve tried and want to tell me about? Thoughts on this post? Hope to chat with you soon!

Featured

My week in books and tea 8.11.19

This week’s editon is different for a few reasons. I’ve been out of town and read very little while away. I’m still a bit jet lagged so trying to formulate complete thoughts could potentially go awry.

As I thought about jumping back into the weekly post routine, I wanted to try this instead. Since I’ve shared something about every book below in the weekly books and tea posts for July, I thought it might be fun to revisit the books by sharing a quote I liked from each book instead. Let me know what you think in the comments below.


“Of silence, her mother had been master. Entering rooms, as carefully as if each one held a bomb, hesitating on the threshold, moving quietly inside a conversation, quietly out.” – The Guest Book


“She possessed the gift of walking into hearts.” – Zora and Langston: A Story of Friendship and Betrayal


“Under his touch things deep down in her struggled to the light and sprang up like flowers in sunshine.” – Summer


“Never in my life had I seen such a boring movie. I chewed nine consecutive sticks of gum, to remind myself I was still alive.” – The Idiot


“I think of my life as a kind of music, not always good music but still having form and melody. And my life has not been a full orchestra for a long time. A single note only—and that note unchanging sorrow.” – East of Eden


“Men are the weak ones, luv. Didn’t you know? Oh, you make a lot of noise, but it’s the women who are strong. Where it counts. In ‘ere.” – The Tea Rose

Full Review


“How to get through the day if every indignity capsized you in a ditch? One learned to focus one’s attention.” – The Nickel Boys


“And was there ever such a hopeful beginning to a day, and so full of promise for the subsequent right passing of its hours, as breakfast in the garden, alone with your teapot and your book!” – The Solitary Summer


Do any of these quotes make you curious about the books? Which books would you like to hear more about? Do you like the idea of my sharing something like this at the end of each month, to see all the books in one post? Just thinking out loud…

Featured

Seasons by the Book: Q&A with Martha Hall Kelly

Seasons by the Book (SBTB), our seasonal book club, has enjoyed a wonderful start with our first book, Lilac Girls; our discussion and giveaway on Instagram were just a few highlights. To conclude our spring book selection, Cate and I, are happy to share this bonus Q&A with author, Martha Hall Kelly (MHK). We are incredibly grateful to Random House (publisher) for making this possible and to Martha Hall Kelly for taking the time to answer our questions.

SBTB: If you could spend an entire day with Caroline Ferriday what would you do?

MHK: I would start with breakfast at her house and ask her all the burning questions I’ve been dying to know, then walk around New York City with her and see the site of the old French consulate and hear her stories of working there. Then dinner at a French restaurant and after that she’d be ready to rest.

SBTB: Is the lilac plant you purchased from Ferriday’s home still alive and thriving? 

MHK: Sadly, I had to leave it behind when we moved from Connecticut to Atlanta. I’m back in Connecticut now and planting tons of lilacs on our new property and some of Caroline’s iris too.

SBTB: Do you think the political and social changes we see today helped this book feel relevant to modern readers? Do you think it would have had the same affect on readers if it was published 20 years ago, 40, or even right after the war? 

MHK: Yes, the political and social change we see today 100% makes the book relevant today. So many things have barely changed—isolationism, racism, anti-Semitism, anti-immigrant sentiment. It is sad and disappointing we can’t seem to progress in a meaningful way on these issues and are even moving backwards. I think this was the perfect time for Lilac Girls—as the greatest generation slips away, the memory of WWII is growing dimmer and we need reminders like this of our history. I think it was way too soon right after the war for a book like this, though. Caroline actually tried to get some of her friends’ memoirs published right after the war and they were soundly rejected—she kept the rejection letters in her archives. I think people just were tired of war and wanted to move on right after it ended.

SBTB: Did you have any rituals or writing quirks while writing, ‘Lilac Girls’.

MHK: I tried to start writing at 7:00 when I woke up, since I’d read Eudora Welty once said you should write before you brush your teeth in the morning. The earlier the better for me.

SBTB: Since flowers, especially lilacs play heavily in your book, what flower would you associate yourself with, and why? 

MHK: A Lilac for sure. It’s the flower that started this incredible writing journey and there is no lovelier scent.

SBTB: What is your favorite season to write in, and why?

MHK: Fall, absolutely. At my house in Connecticut it is quiet but so beautiful, with all the leaves turning. From my office window my view of the Berkshires practically on fire with autumn color is so calming and inspires me every day.

SBTB: What has influenced you the most as a writer?

MHK: I love the writing books of Sol Stein. I have all of his books, in every format and reread them regularly. 

SBTB: If you had the opportunity to live and write for one year, in one of the cities mentioned in this book, which one would you choose and why?

MHK: Paris for sure! As I write this I’m in Paris for a book fair and the release of my second book Lost Roses in France and have already written several scenes here in my hotel room. I have a view overlooking Jardin Luxembourg and it is a joy to wake up every day and look out over the chestnut trees.

SBTB: When you went on your pilgrimage in 2010, what was your favorite place to visit and see in person, and why? 

MHK: Lublin Poland was an incredible place to see. After reading so much about the Polish “rabbits” who were arrested there after working in the underground, it felt dreamlike to walk around the very place they had lived and talked about in their memoirs.

SBTB: What is your favorite genre to read and why? 

MHK: I read a lot of non-fiction about the period I’m writing about at the time so when I read outside of work I like to read something completely different, thrillers or David Sedaris or something super emotional. Love Steven Rowley. Still weepy after reading Lily and the Octopus.

SBTB: If you could invite three people living or dead to a tea party, who would you invite?

MHK: Margaret Atwood, Tatiana de Rosnay and Liane Moriarty to talk writing and life.

SBTB: How do you think writing has shaped you, and in particular this book and it’s prequel? 

MHK: Becoming an author has made me much more confident.I used to be afraid to own the fact that I write, but now I love talking about it. Also, in the past it felt like something was missing from my life and now it feels complete. Both books have helped me feel more connected to the world and the challenges we face as a human race, since I have travelled to France, Germany, Poland, and Russia. I used to be quite a homebody and this has really widened my lens, thank goodness.

SBTB: What was your favorite book as a child?

MHK: Sarah Crewe. I still love that book.

SBTB: What was your first bookish memory?

MHK: My mother reading Charlotte’s Web to me and my siblings at the dinner table. That book has it all. Love E. B. White to this day.

SBTB: What books are currently on your nightstand?

MHK: Mostly Civil War books about Abolition and Civil War medicine for research on book three, about Caroline Ferriday’s incredible great grandmother Jane Eliza Woolsey. 

SBTB: Other than ‘Lilac Girls’ and ‘Lost Roses’, about how many audio books do you have in your collection?  What are some of your favorites and why? 

Just counted. 59! I liked A Hundred Summers by Beatriz Williams a lot. Love her writing.

SBTB: As a writer of historical fiction, your attention to research, including traveling and interviews is noteworthy.  What do you find most challenging as you move from research to writing, balancing facts and people with fiction, while maintaining authenticity?   

MHK: The most challenging for me in this respect is doing enough research about an aspect of the period so I can feel comfortable walking around in that world and writing as if I’m there. The further I go back in time the harder that gets, since everything is so different. Civil War New York, for example was such a different place in every way, so before I write a scene I have to know types of carriages, landscape, clothes, etiquette. It’s a lot of fun time traveling though.

SBTB: What wine do you pair with Four Fat Fowl’s St. Stephen?  What would be your signature pairings for each of your books?  

MHK: Flowers Chardonnay is great with St. Stephen! (And with anything, actually.) For the book pairings, I asked my husband, who loves wine and he said: for Lilac Girls:  A good Cabernet from Bordeaux. And Lost Roses: a Pommard from Burgundy. 

SBTB: Since you enjoy the art of handwriting, could you tell us, what your favorite pen and notebook?

MHK: I love the uni-ball VISION finepoint and write on Office Depot “professional” legal pads.

 

Featured

Our African-American Reads #ourafricanamericanreads

Thank you to publishers, Penguin Classics and Harper Perennial for providing books in support of this reading initiative.

As a lover of the classics, there are books by or about African-American people, I’ve read and enjoyed, but still there are many I haven’t. Pictured below is one I’m currently reading and the other 2, I’m planning to MAKE time for them this year. I’m excited by the possibilities of what’s waiting to be discovered in this stack and on my bookshelves.

After reading and discussing Roots by Alex Haley with fellow blogger Melanie @ Grab the Lapels, we decided we would like to read and discuss more books together. But sharing the experience with other makes reading even more meaningful. So this post is to announce a new feature called Our African-American Reads. Feel free to use the hashtag on your social media platforms, #ourafricanamericanreads.

You can join us for a (1) potential buddy read or readalong; maybe we tackle a lengthy African-American book. (2) We select and read a book that’s already on our shelf by or about an African-American and discuss the books based on a set of questions relevant to both books. (3) Simply use the hashtag and share the books you’re reading by or about African-American people.

This month we are inviting you to join us for for option 2. You can read either one of the books and then join our discussion when posted. See the section below for the books we’ve selected and the questions we will discuss.

This will be a bi-monthly feature so we can still manage our never ending lists and stacks of books to be read. Would you like to join us for our first discussion? This idea was a culmination of many thoughts and discussions, all of which motivated me to do something I’ve been thinking about, so now, it’s time to make it happen.


The Books

The Blacker the Berry by Wallace Thurman (Shell’s Book)

Synopsis: Emma Lou Morgan is a young black woman who experiences prejudice within her own race because people think she’s too dark.

Go Tell it on the Mountain by James Baldwin (Melanie’s Book)

Synopsis: Baldwin chronicles a fourteen-year-old boy’s discovery of the terms of his identity as the stepson of the minister of a storefront Pentecostal church in Harlem one Saturday in March of 1935.


The Questions

  • What does your book say about the African-American experience during the time period in which it’s set?
  • What differences and similarities do you notice in your book about the African-American experience today?
  • Compare the treatment of African-American men and women in your book.
  • What is the role of white characters in your novel?
  • How did your book affect you emotionally?
Featured

Battle of the Hazelnut Teas

I have raved endlessly about a wonderful hazelnut tea from a local tea shop called ZenTea. From the first time I smelled these tea leaves I knew I’d found a favorite. When I steeped my first cup I thought my goodness, have you had something so wonderful in your life? As my friends often tell me, I get very excited and enthusiastic when it comes to tea.

I have shared this hazelnut tea without hesitation to my tea friends and a few who have come to appreciate the relaxing effects of a good cuppa, if they don’t have a nut allergy. I participated in a tea swap a few years ago and another opportunity to share this tea along with the sheer joy of making a hazelnut tea latte.

So out of curiosity and to give myself something fun to do, I decided to order Field to Cup’s Hazelnutty tea after discussing with one of the founders my love for the hazelnut tea I mentioned above. The Tealock Holmes in me couldn’t resist the idea of my own taste test. Alright senses, get ready for the taste off!

So here’s how it breaks down, one tea is a black tea blended with hazelnut, we will call that Hazelnut 1, while the other, also a black tea with hazelnut, clove and a citrus we will call Hazelnut 2.

Since my well used pre-programmed electric kettle decided it wouldn’t open again one day a few weeks ago, I’ve gone back to using my stove top kettle while I wait for a replacement. *Sigh* I prepared my water, my tea pots (I like to preheat them with hot water before steeping) and got ready to steep each tea.

Hazelnut 1 calls for one level scoop of tea leaves, boiling water with a steep of 3-5 minutes. Hazelnut 2 calls for 2 level scoops, with water just before reaching a rolling boil, with a 3 minute steep. I steeped both teas for 3 minutes.

Each tea smells good, the hazelnut in Hazelnut 1 sends me to the moon. Hazelnut 2 gives off the aroma of clove and citrus, which when I take my first few sips, the clove comes through with the cirtus finish. But all I want is hazelnut. Hazelnut 2 was sweet and I probably should not have added any agave to this one. I also believe the flavor profile is more prominent because I used 2 scoops versus 1, but I followed the instructions on the label.

In hindsight, I should have done pictures of the tea leaves beside each cup of steeped tea but I used all of one and can’t create that picture. But such is life, I got really excited when preparing this tasting battle. Drinking the tea and capturing a good photo while I had some sunlight became the focus, so I didn’t plan this one as well as I should have ahead of time. But this gives me some ideas about something else I can share here on the blog.

Which tea would win the battle if you can imagine the flavor profile on your palate after pouring from your teapot? Looking at the picture can you see a difference visually? Probably not, but it’s all in the cup and the aroma. For me, Hazelnut 1 remains the winner in the hazelnut tea arena. Hazelnut 2 is not by a bad tea, by any means, but as I said, all I want is the hazelnut.

On a second steep of Hazelnut 2, I used 1cup of water per scoop of tea and I like that the flavors are more subtle, not as sweet and I get a hint of hazelnut but more clove. Sometimes the second steep can allow for the discovery of other flavors in the tea to come through. Maybe I should order another sample and have blind taste at my next tea party?! That could be fun.

Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry —Review

“Cassie, there’ll be a whole lot of things you ain’t gonna wanna do but you’ll have to do in this life just so you can survive.”

—Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, Mildred D. Taylor
Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, e-book on tablet with a list of  books on The ​Zora Canon with a small glass cup of tea
Roll of Thunder Hear My Cry, e-book on tablet with a list of books on The Zora Canon with a small glass cup of tea

Reasons to be upset with a book
😢 Your younger self is upset because you don’t remember reading this book when you were Cassie’s age
😢 You don’t want a dirty book like Lil Man, something someone treated without care
😢 You finished

Reasons to be in love with a book
😍 Mrs. Mary Logan is your mama and she reminds you of your own because she is “still considered by many of the other teachers as a disrupting maverick. Her ideas were always a bit too radical and her statements a bit too pointed.”
😍 Cassie and her siblings, her family, Uncle Hammer don’t do it because I don’t want anything to happen to you.
😍 You finished and there are more books to read in the series

There are innumerable reasons why you should read Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry but I will exceed the caption if I tried to list them all. Although I skipped ahead to read this book in the series, having read The Land earlier this year has made the Logan Family feel so familiar, like my own in a way.

I even asked myself to try to remember, like Cassie, when I learned some of those hard lessons and did a bit of growing up. When Cassie’s mom told her this, I just had to sit there and absorb the totality of that truth. Those moments when we start to understand more and more about life and living.

“Baby, you had to grow up a little today. I wish…well, no matter what I wish. It happened and you have to accept the fact that in the world outside this house, things are not always as we would have them to be.”

Jeremy, if more hearts were like his. I hope I see him again and that he doesn’t allow the hard heartedness of the people in his family to change him.

But, wait, didn’t Cassie learn a few more things and teach them to Miz Lillian Jean?

Do yourself a favor, read this book and the rest of the series.

What it Means When A Man Falls from the Sky: Stories

“Some people find it easy to be good when the going is good but lack the fortitude for hardship.” – What It Means When A Man Falls From the Sky

What it Means When A Man Falls from the Sky, Lesley Nneka Arimah

This collection of 12 stories was quite enjoyable. I had to steep and repeat a few times as I made my way through this collection.

The first story jolts you into attention. The Future Looks Good is a tale of two sisters and mistaken identity. The sisters didn’t get along with each other but are brought together in empathy and concern, when one is a victim of domestic violence. Left wondering and wanting to know more.

War Stories features a rebel riser in a young girl but is layered in lessons over chess between a father and daughter. She’s a fiesty child who gathered a bag of ants to put in her classmates hair. Yes, I laughed but had to listen twice to dissect. Her mother is at odds with her behavior, but in the deft strokes of Arimah’s pen, our understanding of this girl and her family become clear. Those lessons you learn with your parent when playing a game.

Wild reminded me of something I heard growing up, “I can show you better than I can tell ya.” A reality check when a young girl is sent to stay with her aunt and cousin.

In Light, a father and daughter relationship, the beauty of the daughter’s childhood but sad when that relationship starts to fracture as she grows up. “He should chastise the girl, he knows that, but she is his brightest ember and he would not have her dimmed.” With her mother absent from the everyday —abroad pursuing education— the shift in the family dynamics is executed with clarity and yes, light.

Windfalls will leave you shaking your head in disbelief because not only is all of this happening, you realize this was and could very well be, someone’s life at this present moment. Keywords/ phrases: gold digger, hustle. But oh what it cost and how I wonder what happened to this young daughter who knew what her mother was doing was not love.

I could go on, but in short, this collection was one I enjoyed very much. Who Will Greet You At Home reminded me of Sula by Toni Morrison.

🎧 The audiobook narrated by Adjoa Andoh was outstanding.

What it Means When A Man Falls from the Sky book beside a cup of tea
What it Means When A Man Falls from the Sky

Steeped in Books and Tea 11.14.20

This has been a good week as far as reading is concerned. I had a few days off from work and was able to finish these books.

The Steep: Coco Chai from Natur’el Tea – a delicious rooibos with dark chocolate and spices like cardamom, cinnamon, ginger goodness in liquid form

Books from left to right: Anxious People, I Tried to Change So You Don’t Have To, The Office, The Silence, Make Me Rain

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman: I’ve read all his books (except one) and about midway through, you feel a connection & empathy for the characters. For me, it took too long to unravel & wasn’t his best. The book is Backman’s classic style, a slow unraveling of the backgrounds of the characters, it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t great for me.

  • Steep Rating: OK, but no re-steep for this book.

I Tried To Change So You Don’t Have To By Loni Love: I didn’t know much about Loni Love outside of her being a comedian and a co-host on a talk show called The Real.

  • Steep Rating: Funny. Re-steep some of her life lessons & share.

The Office: The Untold Story of the Greatest Sitcom of the 2000s: An Oral History by Andy Greene: That’s what she said.Save Bandit! Parkour. If you know the show you know what I’m talking about.

  • Steep Rating: Enjoyed this oral history of one of my favorite TV shows.

Make Me Rain: Poems & Prose by Nikki Giovanni: Am I the only person who thinks about how author’s I love become my relatives? J. California Cooper, she’s my auntie too, I’ve been saying that forever.

  • Steep Rating: Steep & Repeat. Multiple Steeps to have with my new Auntie Nikki.

Which books would you like to read? Or have you read any of these?

Steeped in Books and Tea 10.27.2020

Update

I’m giving myself a break because the reality is the whole world is dealing with a pandemic. I will not stress myself out about keeping up with my blog. I will do better and eventually get back on track. I’m getting things a bit more organized and will be scheduling some review posts soon so keep an eye out for those.

Just wanted to say a proper hello and life has been busy. My reading is not as consistent as it has been in the past for said reasons, but I have been drinking drinking tea with regularitea. I am opening myself up to the idea of being brevity on the blog along with more content that’s easier to create (tea) because I consume it so much.

Steeping

Crème au Caramel Rooibos from Natur’el Tea

There is a story I’d like to share about this tea but I’ll save it for later. This rooibos blend is full of caramel goodness 5 minutes later and beyond.

The Steep

  • I used 1 tablespoon of tea, steeped in 1 cup of water as listed below with the following results
    • 1st steep: steeped at 212°F for 5 mins – call home and share some of this caramel with someone you love
    • 2nd steep: steeped at 212°F for 10 mins – the caramel notes aren’t as strong but present and plentiful even after steeping for 10 minutes.
    • Both steeps topped with frothed almond milk mixed with hazelnut creamer.

important note: herbal blends are typically more forgiving with longer steeps. Since they are not made from the tea plant (Camellia sinensis) you can steep it a little longer.

If you’d like to try this or another tea from Natur’el Tea, use coupon code BYTHECUP for 20% off your tea order.

Caramel Rooibos from Natur’el Tea

Reading

Recent Reads

“Do you both want to come to my house for tea?” asks Rose.

Eudora regards her for a moment. She doesn’t want to but is starting to realize that it’s difficult to refuse Rose.

“I would love to, but I think I should leave these menaces at home,” says Stanley, gesturing toward the dogs. “I’m sure you agree, Miss Honeysett?”

—The Brilliant Life of Eudora Honeysett, Annie Lyons

THIS. BOOK. ALL. THE. FEELS. I tend to enjoy a book with an older protagonist and Eudora didn’t disappoint. I’ll share more thoughts on this one in a separate post. Thank you publisher (William Morrow) for gifted copy for review.

The Brilliant Life of Eudora Honeysett with a cup of tea
The Brilliant Life of Eudora Honeysett