Friday, February 10, 2017

ON MY RADAR (02-10-17 edition): Books that have hit my radar...

Here are some books that have recently hit my radar and set off my alarm bells...

The Underworld by Kevin Canty

For readers of Russell Banks and Richard Ford, a novel about loss, love, and redemption following a catastrophe in a small mining town.

In The Underworld, Kevin Canty tells a story inspired by a true incident that begins with a disastrous fire in an isolated silver mining town in Idaho in the 1970s. Everyone in town had a friend, a lover, a brother, or a husband killed in the mine. The Underworld imagines the lives of a handful of survivors and their loved ones—a young widow with twin children, a college student trying to make a life for himself in another town, a lifelong hardrock miner—as they struggle to come to terms with the loss. It’s a tough, hard-working, hard-drinking town, a town of prostitutes and priests and bar fights, but nobody’s tough enough to get through this undamaged.

A powerful and unforgettable tale about small-town lives and the healing power of love in the midst of suffering.

The Animators by Kayla Rae Whitaker

She was the first person to see me as I had always wanted to be seen. It was enough to indebt me to her forever.

At a private East Coast college, two young women meet in art class. Sharon Kisses, quietly ambitious but self-doubting, arrives from rural Kentucky. Mel Vaught, brash, unapologetic, wildly gifted, brings her own brand of hellfire from the backwaters of Florida. Both outsiders, Sharon and Mel become fervent friends, bonding over underground comics and dysfunctional families. Working, absorbing, drinking. Drawing: Mel, to understand her own tumultuous past, and Sharon, to lose herself altogether.

A decade later, Sharon and Mel are an award-winning animation duo, and with the release of their first full-length feature, a fearless look at Mel's childhood, they stand at the cusp of success. But while on tour to promote the film, cracks in their relationship start to form: Sharon begins to feel like a tag-along and suspects that raucous Mel is the real artist. When unexpected tragedy strikes, long-buried resentments rise to the surface, threatening their partnership—and hastening a reckoning no one sees coming.

The River at Night by Erica Ferencik

A high stakes drama set against the harsh beauty of the Maine wilderness, charting the journey of four friends as they fight to survive the aftermath of a white water rafting accident, The River at Night is a nonstop and unforgettable thriller by a stunning new voice in fiction.

Winifred Allen needs a vacation.

Stifled by a soul-crushing job, devastated by the death of her beloved brother, and lonely after the end of a fifteen-year marriage, Wini is feeling vulnerable. So when her three best friends insist on a high-octane getaway for their annual girls’ trip, she signs on, despite her misgivings.

What starts out as an invigorating hiking and rafting excursion in the remote Allagash Wilderness soon becomes an all-too-real nightmare: A freak accident leaves the women stranded, separating them from their raft and everything they need to survive. When night descends, a fire on the mountainside lures them to a ramshackle camp that appears to be their lifeline. But as Wini and her friends grasp the true intent of their supposed saviors, long buried secrets emerge and lifelong allegiances are put to the test. To survive, Wini must reach beyond the world she knows to harness an inner strength she never knew she possessed.

With intimately observed characters, visceral prose, and pacing as ruthless as the river itself, The River at Night is a dark exploration of creatures—both friend and foe—that you won’t soon forget.


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

2016 Literary Review

I missed getting my "Best of 2016" done before the end of the year, but here we go.

I had a bad reading year. I read less than usual AND I didn't get reviews written on all of the books that I read, i.e. some of my book club reads. My favorite book of the year would probably have to be between All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood or Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman.

All the Ugly and Wonderful Things by Bryn Greenwood

As the daughter of a meth dealer, Wavy knows not to trust people, not even her own parents. Struggling to raise her little brother, eight-year-old Wavy is the only responsible "adult" around. She finds peace in the starry Midwestern night sky above the fields behind her house. One night everything changes when she witnesses one of her father's thugs, Kellen, a tattooed ex-con with a heart of gold, wreck his motorcycle. What follows is a powerful and shocking love story between two unlikely people that asks tough questions, reminding us of all the ugly and wonderful things that life has to offer.

Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman

Richard Mayhew is a plain man with a good heart - and an ordinary life that is changed forever on a day he stops to help a girl he finds bleeding on a London sidewalk. From that moment forward he is propelled into a world he never dreamed existed - a dark subculture flourishing in abandoned subway stations and sewer tunnels below the city - a world far stranger and more dangerous than the only one he has ever known... 

The other eight, in no particular order, would be:

The Golden Son by Shilpi Somaya Gowda

America's First Daughter by Stephanie Dray and Laura Kamoie

The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson

Girls on Fire by Robin Wasserman

The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra

Cast-Iron Cooking by Rachael Narins

Be Frank with Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

I've had a slow start to 2017 so far. Let's hope that I can pick up the pace. Let's read!

Love of Reading

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

QUICK REVIEW: The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd


Hetty “Handful” Grimke, an urban slave in early nineteenth century Charleston, yearns for life beyond the suffocating walls that enclose her within the wealthy Grimke household. The Grimke’s daughter, Sarah, has known from an early age she is meant to do something large in the world, but she is hemmed in by the limits imposed on women.

Kidd’s sweeping novel is set in motion on Sarah’s eleventh birthday, when she is given ownership of ten year old Handful, who is to be her handmaid. We follow their remarkable journeys over the next thirty five years, as both strive for a life of their own, dramatically shaping each other’s destinies and forming a complex relationship marked by guilt, defiance, estrangement and the uneasy ways of love.

As the stories build to a riveting climax, Handful will endure loss and sorrow, finding courage and a sense of self in the process. Sarah will experience crushed hopes, betrayal, unrequited love, and ostracism before leaving Charleston to find her place alongside her fearless younger sister, Angelina, as one of the early pioneers in the abolition and women’s rights movements.

Inspired by the historical figure of Sarah Grimke, Kidd goes beyond the record to flesh out the rich interior lives of all of her characters, both real and invented, including Handful’s cunning mother, Charlotte, who courts danger in her search for something better.

This exquisitely written novel is a triumph of storytelling that looks with unswerving eyes at a devastating wound in American history, through women whose struggles for liberation, empowerment, and expression will leave no reader unmoved.

Hardcover, 384 pages
Published January 7th 2014 by Viking
ISBN 0670024783 (ISBN13: 9780670024780)

About the Author

SUE MONK KIDD was raised in the small town of Sylvester, Georgia. She graduated from Texas Christian University in 1970 and later took creative writing courses at Emory University and Anderson College, as well as studying at Sewanee, Bread Loaf, and other writers’ conferences. In her forties, Kidd turned her attention to writing fiction, winning the South Carolina Fellowship in Literature and the 1996 Poets & Writers Exchange Program in Fiction.

When her first novel, The Secret Life of Bees, was published by Viking in 2002, it became a genuine literary phenomenon, spending more than 2½ years on the New York Times bestseller list. It has been translated into 36 languages and sold more than 6 million copies in the U.S. and 8 million copies worldwide. Bees was named the Book Sense Paperback Book of the Year in 2004, long-listed for the 2002 Orange Prize in England, and won numerous awards.

The Mermaid Chair spent 24 weeks on the New York Times hardcover bestseller list, reaching the #1 position, and spent 22 weeks on the New York Times trade paperback list. She is also the author of several acclaimed memoirs, including the New York Times bestseller Traveling with Pomegranates, written with her daughter, Ann Kidd Taylor. Kidd lives in Florida with her husband.  

Check out the author's website
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My Thoughts

Hetty (aka Handful), a young slave on a Charleston plantation, is given to Sarah on her eleventh birthday as a handmaid. The story follows the lives of Hetty and Sarah over the course of 35 years, laying bare the differing difficulties that both endure throughout their lives.

This story is inspired by the historical figure Sarah Grimke, and it was fascinating to read more about the lives and accomplishments of her and her younger sister after finishing the story.

Hetty is indeed a "handful", and a willful young girl who grows into an impressively strong young woman. 

Sarah likewise is willful, and finds herself constricted by social standards for women. She is smart and ambitious, but trapped in a man's world. So she carves out a place for herself in a world that only views women as wives and mothers or property or burden.

I liked this story. There were a lot of hard moments to get through, but overall it was rather inspiring and perhaps even empowering. And it made me realize how closely intertwined women's rights and civil rights were, as the real Sarah Grimke was heavily involved with both. Hetty is equally impressive in her struggles, and fights tooth and nail for everything. This is a great book club read!

Buy Now:
Barnes and Noble
My Rating: 

The Cerebral Girl is a forty-something blogger just digging her way out from under a mountain of books in the deep south of Florida.

This book was the November 2016 selection for the Cape Coral Bookies.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

TLC BOOK TOURS and REVIEW: The Dude Diet by Serena Wolf


From chef and creator of the popular food blog, 125 outrageously delicious yet deceptively healthy recipes for dudes (and the people who love them), accompanied by beautiful full-color photography.

Dudes. So well intentioned when it comes to healthy eating, even as they fail epically in execution—inhaling a "salad" topped with fried chicken fingers or ordering their Italian hero on a whole wheat wrap (that makes it healthy, right?).

There are several issues with men going on diets. First, they seem to be misinformed about basic nutrition. They are also, generally, not excited about eating "health food." You can lead a dude to the salad bar, but you can’t make him choose lettuce.

Enter Serena Wolf—chef, food blogger, and caretaker of a dude with some less than ideal eating habits. As a labor of love, Serena began creating healthier versions of her boyfriend’s favorite foods and posting them on her blog, where she received an overwhelming response from men and women alike. Now, in The Dude Diet, Serena shares more than 125 droolworthy recipes that prove that meals made with nutrient-dense whole foods can elicit the same excitement and satisfaction associated with pizza or Chinese take-out.

The Dude Diet also demystifies the basics of nutrition, empowering men to make better decisions whether they’re eating out or cooking at home. Better still, each recipe is 100% idiot-proof and requires only easily accessible ingredients and tools. With categories like Game Day Eats, On the Grill, Serious Salads, and Take Out Favorites, The Dude Diet will arm dudes and those who love them with the knowledge they need to lead healthier, happier lives—with flattened beer bellies and fewer meat sweats.

The Dude Diet includes 102 full-color photographs.

Hardcover, 352 pages
Published October 25th 2016 by Harper Wave
ISBN 0062424386 (ISBN13: 9780062424389) 

About the Author
(from the back cover)

Serena Wolf is a graduate of Harvard University and Le Cordon Bleu Paris. She puts her culinary skills (and sense of humor) to work as a private chef, culinary instructor, food writer, recipe developer, and blogger at She lives in New York with her dude.

Check out the author's website
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My Thoughts

You know, I'm not a dude, but I tend toward eating like one. I like fatty, salty comfort food. I want nachos and chili and steak and grilled sandwiches. My hips are not happy about this. I need to trick myself into eating healthfully while convincing my stomach and brain that I'm still just as bad as ever!

This book can help with that little problem. The author offers up recipes that will appeal to any "dude", while making those who care about them feel okay about what they are feeding their dude. The full title says it all: "The Dude Diet: Clean(ish) Food for People Who Like to Eat Dirty". That's me! I like to eat dirty!

The book is divided into chapters like Badass Breakfasts and Take-Out Favorites. The author starts out with an introduction on how how her boyfriend got her started on this path, leading to not only this book, but also the website She was pleasantly surprised at the enthusiastic response she received from not only her boyfriend, but from plenty of dudes everywhere-- even a couple of NFL players.

The book includes a list of 14 "Dude Diet Commandments", with "rules" like: 
2. I shall eat more fish, poultry, and lean pork. Red meat is an indulgence, not a diet staple.  
12. I shall exercise on a regular basis. Such exercise will break a sweat. Sitting in a steam room or sauna does not count.
She then walks you through the basics of the Dude Diet, and how to be successful at it before leading you into a collection of recipes like Apple Pie Overnight Oats and Cheeseburger Quinoa Bake, and classics like Epic Meatloaf and Dude Diet Philly Cheesesteaks

Now in full disclosure I admit that I tried the Skirt Steak and Avocado Quesadillas, and I must be honest and say that I was not a fan. However I also must say that I don't think this really reflects much on the recipe, but rather that I discovered that I am not a fan of the flavor or texture of skirt steak (which I'd never had before) nor whole wheat tortillas. With a few tweaks to suit my own taste buds, I think this recipe could be a winner. There are still plenty of recipes in the book that don't contain skirt steak. The Apple Pie Overnight Oats are at the top of the list, as well as Chicken Parmesan, Chopped Chicken Club Salad with Honey-Mustard Dressing, and Double Chocolate Pound Cake. 
I would like to thank TLC Book Tours for including me on this tour. Check out the website for the full tour schedule:

Monday, October 17th:
Friday, October 28th: Create With Joy
Friday, October 28th: Joyfully Retired
Monday, October 31st: Just Commonly
Tuesday, November 1st: Art Books Coffee
Wednesday, November 2nd: Library of Clean Reads
Thursday, November 3rd: Wall-to-Wall Books
Monday, November 7th: Stranded in Chaos
Tuesday, November 8th: What Will She Read Next
Wednesday, November 9th: Jathan & Heather
Monday, November 14th: Rebecca Radish
Tuesday, November 15th: Cerebral Girl in a Redneck World
Thursday, November 17th: Oh, That’s Tasty!
Friday, November 18th: WildmooBooks
Monday, November 21st: From the TBR Pile
Tuesday, November 22nd: In Bed with Books
TBD: Diary of a Stay at Home Mom

My final word: This is a great idea for helping the dudes in your life, as well as yourself, eat more healthfully. We're talking hearty food cleaned up and made lighter without losing flavor. It's a homerun!

Buy Now:

Barnes and Noble

My Rating:

The Cerebral Girl is a forty-something blogger just digging her way out from under a mountain of books in the deep south of Florida.  .


I received a copy of this book to review through TLC Book Tours and HarperCollins, in exchange for my honest opinion. I was not financially compensated in any way, and the opinions expressed are my own and based on my observations while reading this novel.