Book Review: “The Book Woman of Troublesome Creek” by Kim Michele Richardson

Cussy Mary, known by Bluet by the townspeople of Troublesome Creek, Kentucky for her blue skin, is a packhorse librarian and the last-living blue-skinned woman of Kentucky. Her life has been hard–she has been treated like an outcast because of the color of her skin, yet she’s chosen to make the best of her life and cart library books all around the mountains of Kentucky on her mule. Despite a marriage that went awry, Cussy Mary sees the best in people by befriending the weak and outcast among her patrons, the poor and lost people of the Kentucky mountains. She cares for them as if they were her own kin even when they won’t let her in their homes or deign to touch her and brings them food and books as she goes on her routes.

Cussy Mary’s story is one of resilience, courage, and hope. She faces the worst of human nature: prejudice, hatred, and poverty in its ugliest stripes. Yet she chooses kindness, perseverance, and deep compassion for others, and she finds friendship in her fellow librarians, her patrons, and her family. Her life is an incredibly hard one, both because of the color of her skin and because of the difficult life as a widow in the poor Kentucky mountains. Yet her determination to care for others and make the best life for herself, her pa, and those she loves shines through. I fell in love with Cussy Mary as well as many of the other characters, like her Pa, Angeline, Jackson, and Henry. The story was heartbreaking at points as any story on poverty and prejudice is wont to be, but Cussy Mary is deeply inspiring. Though she struggles with the way her life has been hampered by the color of her skin, she still yearns for better things, for a richer life. It’s relatable, even for those of us who have never experienced such hatred.

I really enjoyed Cussy Mary’s story. Parts of it were a bit too trite and sentimental for me, but overall I loved her resilience. Her voice was relatable and beautiful. I also enjoyed the immersion into the setting of Troublesome Creek and its people. While sometimes the plot line felt a bit muddled to me, I really enjoyed getting to know the side characters as well as daily life in Troublesome. It was a hard life, and it’s hard for me to grasp it. Most of all, I loved Jackson Levitt. He is the dream.



Book Review: “The Yellow Wife” by Sadeqa Johnson

It was time for me to be my own savior.

Pheby Delores Brown is not a slave. Though she was born on the Bell Plantation to Ruth, an enslaved medicine woman, she has been told since birth that she is destined for greater things and has been promised her freedom at age eighteen. She has been taught to read and given many freedoms, raised by her mother and in love with Essex Henry, who works in the stables. However, when the master leaves for a business trip with her mother and Pheby is level with the jealous mistress, her world starts to shift, and before she knows it, everything spins out of control.

Next thing she knows, Pheby is sent to the jail for slaves, known as the Devil’s Half Acre–her life, as peaceful as a slave’s can be, has altered and everyone she loves has been separated from her. When Pheby is put on the block to be sold, she is purchased by the jail’s owner and forced to become the jailer’s mistress. She must risk everything to protect herself and those she loves from the man she must pretend to care for as she becomes his yellow wife.

This book is a hard read–there’s no other way to describe it. Pheby is an incredible main character. She’s spunky, strong, spirited, and resilient; she goes through things no human being should have to endure and faces choices that are inhumane. The book doesn’t ask what is right or wrong but only shares what she chooses to do for herself and those she loves, which I really liked. Survival doesn’t have time to consider moral quandaries. I also loved the other characters of the book–they were all incredibly well-rounded and complex. Essex, Pheby’s mother Ruth, July, Monroe, Abbie, and so many other characters–interesting, complex, not black and white. I loved reading about them.

This novel is not for the faint of heart. Many of the scenes are cruel and grotesque–the book is about the horrors of slavery, and some of it is really triggering. Johnson doesn’t shy away from rape, torture, and violence. But all of this is necessary to demonstrate just how awful their lives were–not only the violence and debasement they endured, but the choices they had to face, like some of the things Pheby had to choose between. It’s not always a beautiful story, but it’s a necessary one and I absolutely treasured reading it. I strongly recommend that you read it, just be prepared for some of the more extreme elements.

They came the same way I had come. The same way it would always be, until enough hearts had the courage to change. As long as there was breath, there was hope.


Book Review: “Poirot’s Early Cases” by Agatha Christie

“Young” Hercule Poirot is just beginning his profession as a private detective in this collection of short stories, showcasing his developing prowess and how he utilizes his “little gray cells.” These are bite-sized cases that are not connected, often with Hastings at his side, and show how Poirot often solves them before the reader can hypothesize a solution. He is still a genius, and I don’t think I was able to fully predict the who and how of any of the crimes although I got a few aspects right in a couple of the cases, but you don’t get to experience the red herrings and character development of a full novel. However, if you’re looking to get a taste for Poirot, this is a great short story collection, and he still appears with his typical eclectic wit on every page.


Book Review: “Precious and Grace” by Alexander McCall Smith

I am now on book 17 of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, and I have to say one thing: I don’t care if you don’t like mystery books. You need to read this series. This series has some of the best character-driven writing I have ever read, and while the plots often come secondary, I absolutely love reading about each of the characters–the compassionate, intelligent Precious Ramotswe, the precocious, indubitable Grace Makutsi, the honest, steady J.L.B. Matekoni, sweet Fanwell and loveable but troublesome Charlie, strong and determined Mma Potokwane and the rest of the wonderful cast of characters that make up this series set in Botswana, which you can’t help but love because of how much they love their homeland.

Mma Ramotswe, owner of the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, works to solve cases for the people of Botswana with the help of her friends and family. This seventeenth installment in the series involves a Canadian woman who has returned to Botswana, where she was born as an ex-pat, to uncover forgotten parts of her past, a dog that needs a home, and a pyramid scheme. As Mma Ramotswe works to uncover this woman’s past, she realizes the Canadian woman’s motivations may be multifaceted. She also must extricate Mr. Polopetsi, the agency’s susceptible part-time detective, from a pyramid scheme without landing him in an even worse situation.

These books are heart-warming and full of wisdom. I love every character and leave each book feeling richer for the experience. I love the richness of the characters as well as the way the author understands people and humanity. Every character is so fully fleshed with strengths and weaknesses that only make you love them more. The commentary on the world is so simple yet profound and can almost bring me to tears. I just love these books, every single one. If there is any downside, after 17 books they can feel a bit repetitive and the mysteries are not impressive, but I read these books for the characters and the wisdom, not the mysteries. You must read these books. They are beautiful.

“Mr. J.L.B Matekoni,” she asked, “do you think that our souls grow as we get older?”

He did not answer immediately, but when he did, she thought his answer quite perfect. “Yes,” he said. “Our souls get wider. They grow like the branches of a tree–growing outwards. And more birds come and make their homes in these branches. And sing a bit more.”


February Reading Wrap Up

February was a bit of a reading slump for me–I could blame my birthday (February 2nd) or the fact that I got a 5-month old puppy, or my busy MBA class, but whatever the reason, I only read 9 books this month. The good news? I’m still ahead of schedule for my 100 books this year, yay! I also got to read books from some of my favorite authors–Becky Wade, Stuart Turton, Kate Morton, and Patti Callahan Henry. If you haven’t read any of these amazing authors, I assure you, you are missing out!

Here’s my full reading list for February:

Memory Lane by Becky Wade – 4/5

The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Harcastle by Stuart Turton – 5/5

Surviving Savannah by Patti Callahan Henry – 4/5

Invitation to a Killer by G.M. Malliet – 3/5

Safe All Along by Katie Davis Majors – 3/5

The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton – 5/5

Find Your People by Jennie Allen – 4/5

Just Murdered by Katherine Kovacic – 4/5

Get Out of Your Head by Jennie Allen – 3/5

I had two five star reads this month. One was an old favorite, The 7 1/2 Deaths of Evelyn Harcastle. This was my second read of this twisty-turny mystery, and it was just as confusing and wonderful. It’s not for everyone since 99% of the time the reader has no clue what’s going on, but that’s what I love about it! It keeps you guessing to the very last page, and I will never stop recommending it.

My other five star read was The Forgotten Garden. This historical mystery, which often felt more like a fantasy novel, was absolutely ethereal. I loved it. It’s a long enchanting mystery stretching over almost 100 years–it feels like a fairy tale, and Kate Morton completely draws you in as she pulls you on to the climax. It’s magnificent, and Kate Morton, after only two of her books, has become one of my all-time favorite authors.

I also really enjoyed Surviving Savannah and Memory Lane, written by Patti Callahan and Becky Wade. These are two personal favorite authors, but these weren’t my favorite of their books, so I was a wee-bit disappointed. However, their “not as good” books are still better than the average read, as you can see by their ratings. My other reads were all average, and I most likely won’t read any of them again.

I’ve read 21/100 on my Goodreads challenge and nine this month. If you read any of these books or authors, let me know what you think in the comments or which book you think sounds most interesting!

Book Review: “Get Out of Your Head” by Jennie Allen

If you’ve ever been caught in the downward spiral of anxiety and haven’t known what to do to get out of it, this book is for you. If there’s one thing this book preaches, it’s this: You have a choice. Your anxious thoughts, fears, self-deprecations, and feelings of unworthiness do not control you. You do not have to remain in the lies. There is freedom. Using her own experiences with destructive thought patterns and anxiety, Jennie Allen gives both practical steps and inspiration on how to break free from those thoughts. She provides Scriptural examples of how God wants to use His truth about who we are in Him to take every thought captive and submit ourselves to God.

I really enjoyed Jennie’s hopeful approach to anxiety. As someone who struggles with letting negative thoughts of anxiety, hopelessness, and self-criticism overwhelm me, there were some helpful tools to remind myself that I can take those thoughts captive, submit them to Christ, and remember He is in control. She uses both research into neuroscience and mental health as well as Scripture to back up her statements, and while the Bible passages are often out of context, they are still usually relevant.

I struggled with the organization of this book. It felt pretty chaotic to me and sometimes I couldn’t make the connections. There were also a ton of personal stories which really took away from the core content. Finally, this book sometimes felt like a band-aid on a gaping wound for those who may struggle with long-term mental health challenges. I struggle with periods of anxiety, so many of the suggestions were really useful for me. But if you have struggled with diagnosed anxiety, depression, or other mental illnesses, I do not recommend this book. I do think, however, that understanding who God says we are and submitting to His truth is invaluable for everyone.


Book Review: “Just Murdered” by Katherine Kovacic

I have to confess at the beginning of this review that I am completely new to Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries. I had no idea who any of the Adventuresses were, and the world had no appeal to me–I honestly read the description and the idea of a historical mystery in the 60s was appealing! However, I’m happy to say I was not disappointed and may now check out the full show at some point.

Peregrine Fisher is a modern girl of the 60s who is still trying to find her place in the world when she is summoned to the Adventuresses’ Club, home of her late aunt, Phryne Fisher, the famous detective. Peregrine, eager to fill her aunt’s famous shoes, immediately attempts to join the club and takes on a case for the Adventuresses when one of their own, designer Florence Astor, is accused of murdering one of her models. Peregrine, with help from Detective Steed and the Adventuresses, sets out to determine who would want to kill Barbie Jones, Blair’s Department Store’s top model. As Barbie’s secrets come to light, however, it becomes clear that there were many motives behind her death. But danger is afoot, and Barbie may not be the only one who is murdered. When another body turns up in Blair’s, Peregrine needs to use every skill in her arsenal to prove herself as a detective, posing as a shop girl in Blair’s to sniff out the killer.

Just Murdered is a fun, fast-paced mystery with plenty of red herrings, surprising twists, and unexpected discoveries. It has a likable cast of characters, including the plucky Peregrine, a modern girl with enough grit to face down anyone, Detective Steed, the stuffy but loveable police detective, the Adventuresses, each with their own quirks, and more. I enjoyed the humor of the story as well as the dialogue between the characters–it was witty and fun. I also loved the setting–I could feel the 60s throughout the novel, especially in the descriptions of the clothing and style.

The biggest downside to this novel was that the characters, as likable as they were, were largely shallow. They were caricatures–the plucky feminist detective, the shy, straight-laced detective, the grumpy but soft on the inside matron, etc. Still, I enjoyed the mystery and didn’t mind the characters, which are typical for a story like this. Still, characters with more of a back story could have fleshed this novel out a little more.


Book Review: “Find Your People” by Jennie Allen

If you’re one of the 36% of people who struggles with loneliness, this book is for you. Written from the perspective of someone who has struggled with loneliness and building close relationships, Allen identifies the layers of the friendships and community in our lives, from villages to close friendships, with practical examples and steps of how to build these. She talks about how to look for the people who are in your life now and to invite them to join you–in your struggles, your vulnerabilities, and your every day. She gives suggestions for pushing past the acquaintance stage to deep friendship that feels like real community and how to have conflict with people without running away.

This book was much better than I anticipated. I enjoyed how she talked about the way communities have been structured in the past and other cultures compared to Western culture’s individualism as well as her use of statistics to support the problem of loneliness. I also liked the challenges and steps she gave to make this a reality. I didn’t always feel that these were attainable, but they were challenging nonetheless. The book was challenging without being calloused and made me think about how I have jumped ship on too many friendships.

This book did have its limitations. It assumes you live in an area with Christians everywhere; for many, including me, friends of the same faith are not readily available. They are often very hard to find. I also wish she would have brought more Scripture to back up her points; it felt like a self-help book more than a Christian book and teetered on that line a lot. Finally, I did not always enjoy the plethora of personal stories. While they were always humble, I felt at times that they were too much–I would rather hear about the theology and application than her life. The references to Rwanda were also a bit concerning–she seemed to idealize Rwandan culture in the way that many Western Christians do.

Overall, however, I really enjoyed this book. I read it looking for inspiration on how to find or build a community of friends and some of her arguments challenged me and changed my perspective.

Rating: 4/5

Book Review: “The Forgotten Garden” by Kate Morton

“That, my dear, is what makes a character interesting, their secrets.”

Oh. My. Goodness. This book is a dark fairy tale, a tour de force of emotions. I was exhilarated, devastated, heartbroken, intrigued, and overwhelmed, and I loved every page of this monster of a novel.

It tells the story of several women–Cassandra, who has lost her grandmother Nell and best friend and has been set upon a quest to discover where she came from; Nell, who is in search of her real parents and how she ended up on a ship to Australia alone as a child; Rose, a sickly young woman who passed away at a young age; Eliza, her cousin, the mysterious author of a book of fairy tales. These women are connected through many years, secrets, and mysteries, and when Cassandra goes to England to find the cottage her grandmother bequeathed to her, it takes more than just a few questions to uncover Nell’s parentage and past. The interwoven stories of Rose, Eliza, and Nell keep coming back to what happened in Cassandra’s cottage and its beautiful enclosed garden.

This novel has a beautiful sense of place. Its set at Blackhurst, a traditional British country house. Not so traditionally, it has a maze that leads to a cottage with a fenced-in garden. Cassandra unexpectedly inherits this cottage, which ends up being the key to unraveling the truth about her grandmother.

It’s a story of sisterhood, mothers and daughters and grandmothers, of betrayal and redemption, where heroes become villains and villains may surprise you. The plot keeps you guessing, the characters make you love and hate them, and the momentum of the story develops all through the 500+ pages. Her writing is gorgeous. It’s a book written for anyone who loves a good story, shown through the character of Eliza, the “authoress,” and the snippets of her fairytales that help to demonstrate parts of the plot. Her storytelling is very atmospheric, making you feel the darkness of the fairytale, the creepiness of the mansion, the beauty and fantasy-like quality of the forgotten garden. It’s incredible!

I have nothing negative to say about this book–it can feel a little slow at times in the beginning and middle, but everything connects so well and the last 20% of the book is so resoundingly perfect. My only complaint is that the maze wasn’t a bigger part of the plot.

If you enjoyed Grimm’s Fairy Tales or Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, you would certainly enjoy this book. This novel combines fairy tales, historical fiction, and fantasy into a saga that crosses generation, perfect for fans of atmospheric and immersive story telling.

“She’s understood the power of stories. Their magical ability to refill the wounded part of people.”

5/5 – can’t wait to reread soon!

Book Review: “Safe All Along” by Katie Davis Majors

“Peace isn’t a feeling; it’s a promise that finds fulfillment in a Person.”

Everyone struggles with feeling anxious and unsafe, yet for those who are Christians, we have access to a God who provides the ultimate peace and security in Him. Katie’s book provides practical ways to let go of control and stay connected to God when we find ourselves grasping for safety that we can’t find in this life. Using the story of how she and her family uprooted their lives in Uganda and moved to the United States, she shares about how she felt deep anxiety but ultimately, through both counseling and a deeper relationship with God, she found peace in Him. She provides thematic chapters as guides for ways to lean into God’s peace on topics like rest, community, and prayer, using stories from her life and abridged stories from the Bible to illustrate them.

What I really like about Katie’s books are that they feel like a friend is sitting down with you over a cup of coffee to share her experiences. She’s not condescending or overly preachy; she uses her experiences, which are many, to illustrate the wisdom she’s gained from her walk with God. When I read the description for this book, I was interested because this is a relatable topic–I struggle with control and feeling unsafe and anxious in a world that threatens me constantly, and many of the things Katie said I could connect with.

However, what I struggled with in this book was the lack of meat. It’s definitely more of a narrative style book, and a lot of the chapters had little theological or biblical content. She used summarized biblical stories or very short verses taken out of context, which is generally not a good idea, to support her points. Her general points were also very basic. Read your Bible, pray, rest, etc. Some of the points within the chapters were very good, but I felt in general that this book didn’t share anything new. Her stories were what made the book powerful, but the theology and practical sides of the book were lacking. However, if you enjoy more narrative-style books and aren’t looking to go super deep, Katie’s relatable, friendly voice is really a pleasure to read.