Book Review: Praisesong for the Widow

Reading Writers of Color 2021 Challenge

January: By a woman of color.

Paule Marshall was born Valenza Pauline Burke Brooklyn, New York. Her father had Caribbean roots and left the family when Paule was a child, but the themes of the Caribbean run through her work. She studied at Hunter College, planning to go into social work. But she switched her major to English literature. Her first novel was Brown Girl, Brownstones. She received numerous awards during her career, including a MacArthur Fellowship. She also taught writing workshops at several universities. Her book, Praisesong for the Widow, was published in 1983 and won a National Book Award.

Praisesong for the Widow by Paule Marshall


Avey Johnson—a black, middle-aged, middle-class widow given to hats, gloves, and pearls—has long since put behind her the Harlem of her childhood. Then on a cruise to the Caribbean with two friends, inspired by a troubling dream, she senses her life beginning to unravel—and in a panic packs her bag in the middle of the night and abandons her friends at the next port of call. The unexpected and beautiful adventure that follows provides Avey with the links to the culture and history she has so long disavowed.

My thoughts:

I’m not sure why I picked this one up, but something about it caught my eye. Maybe it was the unusual title. Mine had a different, less vibrant cover. The one I shared captures more about the story. So I don’t think it was the cover. Or maybe it was the book description. I read some heavy books last year, and I think something about an “unexpected and beautiful adventure” sounded appealing to me.

At its heart, this is a book about a woman who should be at ease and enjoying this more relaxed, affluent stage of her life. She has no responsibilities, no stress. But as she sails on her big white ship across the Caribbean, she realizes that she has no roots anymore either. She feels adrift, no anchor, no ties, and no sense of who she is anymore.

She begins to remember how it all started, as a child with her great-aunt, as a newlywed couple with a dashing young husband, then as an overburdened young mother with a workaholic husband. And slowly, as her journey continues, she rediscovers who she was, and who she still is.

I loved this book. I typically struggle with too much metaphor and magical realism. I’m not even sure that’s how I would describe this book. I see bits of stream of consciousness, which I thought I hated. But it reads more like a dream or a memory, then drops back into reality. Maybe it’s because the entire book is so short, only 256 pages, but I just could not put it down. By the time Avey get to the end of her journey, my heart was so full. This is my first 5 star read of the year and I am already predicting it will be the most beautiful book of the year.

5 stars!

Book Review: The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate

Children’s Historical Fiction Reading Challenge

Find more here.

Prompt: Takes place in a place where you have lived: (Texas)

Also for Pioneer Book challenge, Newberry Award Nominee

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

Calpurnia, known as Callie Vee to her 6 brothers, is not one of those quiet, homemaking type of girls. She likes being outdoors, studying nature. The hot summer of 1899 marked a big change in her life. That was the year that she made friends with her Granddaddy and became a naturalist.

But Calpurnia’s mother is not giving up her only daughter without a fight. She’s forced into piano lessons, needlework lessons, cooking lessons, and knitting lessons. Knitting isn’t so bad, at least when it’s a wet and rainy day, but they all make her feel completely inadequate. Is she doomed to be nothing but a wife and mother? And what’s the rush? She’s only 11!

This story was set in the dawning of a new era, with the coming of the first telephone – and first FEMALE telephone operator, the first automobile, and yet the ties to the past, with Granddaddy and his stories of service in the Civil War. Then the excitement of New Year’s Eve, and a new century!

When I started reading this one, it made me think back to my own summers in Texas, with the heat reaching over 100 for days in a row, when we would turn our clawfoot bathtub into a little swimming pool, and the heat would turn everything into a dead brown landscape, make my nosebleed, and then bake the blood right onto the sidewalk. At least we could occasionally escape to my Grandma’s air conditioned living room. But Calpurnia has no escape except her private swimming hole.

I loved this book. I was a little disappointed by the end, which is why I took off half a star. I hope this is the first in a series; otherwise, Calpurnia is just sort of hanging at the end of the story. While I am very happy being a wife and mother, I understand her feeling of being trapped into a narrow role she has no way to fight. It’s a choice between her mother’s way, or some unknown way, and Calpurnia really has no idea what else is out there for her. I have to hope that the coming years will reveal some new possibilities to her and give her the strength to choose her own life. 4.5 stars

This was a reread for Susan’s challenge, and I found it just as absorbing and delightful the second time around. I definitely recommend it and it would be a fun one to read aloud. CW: They do slaughter their turkeys for Thanksgiving and one child is heartbroken, so be aware of that.

First Unhaul of 2021

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m ready to clear out. As I was considering my reading goals for this year and my giant TBR, I made a realization. I have a bunch of books I don’t want to read.

See, here’s the thing: I firmly believe there are no such things as “Must Read Books.” I know that people love making those lists, 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die, so on. I think everyone should read what they want. Sure, there are some books that are collectively considered classics, but that doesn’t mean I think there’s any one book that every single person person should read. Just like there’s a reader for every books (probably), not every book is for every reader.

And yet I have been pretty proud of my eclectic reading. And I am perpetually curious – I want to know everything. OK, maybe not everything, but almost everything. I will sometimes tackle tough subjects. But the past couple of years, my anxiety has been climbing. With the lockdown and political events and my personal life, I just can’t deal with books that make me more anxious or depressed. I don’t really know when that’s going to change any time soon. Not this year, that’s for sure, and maybe not next year or the year after. So I decided it was time to get rid of these unread books.

Books I won’t read (starting at the top of the pic)

Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demmick

Not sure where I got this one. It does sound interesting, but this just sounds too difficult.

Be Frank with Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson

Thrift store find. This one doesn’t sound too difficult, it sounds annoying. Quirky child, heartwarming. Not for me.

A collection of old paperback cookbooks, including Amazing Avocados or Jif Easy Mix.

My mom’s old books.

Say You’re One of Them by Uwem Akpan

Used book store. This is a collection of short stories, mostly about African children in miserable circumstances. I didn’t know that when I bought it. I can’t stomach reading about child abuse.

My Story by Elizabeth Smart

Thrift store. I think I bought this because I admire her and the way she advocates for missing and exploited children. But I have to honest: there’s no way I can read this book.

Schindler’s List by Thomas Keneally

Used book store. I read a book about one of Schindler’s survivors last year so I guess I thought I’d be okay to read this. Not now.

A Train in Winter: An Extraordinary Story of Women, Friendship, and Resistance in Occupied France by Caroline Moorehead

Used book store. About a bunch of French women, some Resistance workers, sent to Auschwitz.

Liberty and Freedom by David Hackett Fischer

Library sale. I really like this writer; the only reason I got rid of this book is because it weight like 10 pounds. If I want to read it, I’ll get in on Kindle. This edition is just a doorstop.

Books I read and don’t want to keep

I Am Half Sick of Shadows by Alan Bradley

ARC. I liked this one, but not enough I need to keep it.

The Girls of Atomic City: The Untold Story of the Women Who Helped Win World War II by Denise Kiernan

Used book store. Pretty good book, but too many unnecessary details, strangely organized.

Our First Murder by Torrey Chanslor

Amazon. I don’t remember a single detail about this book except that I named one of my characters after one of the MC.

The Asylum by John Harwood

From a friend. Pretty satisfying Gothic.

Woolly: The True Story of the Quest to Revive One of History’s Most Iconic Extinct Creatures by Ben Mezrich

Used book store. Silliest book I’ve read in a while. To be clear, it’s the scientist I find silly, not the writer. But the writing was bad too. DNF. Maybe someone else will read it for the laughs.

I’m planning to trade all of these (except the little cookbooks; they went in the trash) for new/used books at Pioneer Book. That way I can buy books I will actually read. I admit, I’m still fretting a bit about getting rid of these. I feel a little like a quitter. But honestly, I don’t have to read every book there is. I even removed about 100 books from my Goodreads TBR. This year I’m reading books that I enjoy. Everything else can wait.

TTT: Hopes for 2021

Happy New Year!

2020 was not the best year. It wasn’t my worst year either, but it was pretty bad. And this year doesn’t seem to be starting any better. Between riots in the Capital and my own viral bronchitis and sinus infection, I’m hoping this is not a sign for the rest of the year.

But I do have some hopes and plans for the year and I’m not giving up.

My Plans and Hopes for 2021

  1. More little book challenges. I have had more fun with the shorter challenges. I do like the Pioneer Book Challenge; it’s only 40 books. But I have 2 others planned, a YA/Children’s historical challenge, a POC challenge, and maybe I’ll take on a few more if I feel up to it.
  2. Join in online book chats. I use Habitify to help me organize my life. Recently I joined in on the social aspect. It’s been kind of nice to talk about books. I joined in the Books subreddit too.
  3. No fries or regular soda. I’m trying to control my diabetes better, but it’s so hard to break all my emotional eating habits. I’m starting here.
  4. Clean up the garage. It’s full of boxes and stuff to donate. I want it all cleared up.
  5. Put up the Christmas stuff. I’m not sure this belongs on the list, but given how crummy I feel right now, it’s going to be a major accomplishment to get this done. So it counts.
  6. Exercise. But that will have to wait until my lungs feel better.
  7. Unpack the rest of my books. Some of them are still in storage.
  8. Anniversary trip with my sweetie. 30 years this year! We’re hoping to make it to San Diego, but darn Covid has thrown a little curveball into our plans. So I’m not sure exactly when we’ll make it to California.

I guess that’s it. I’m not much for making big plans, but I’m going to work hard on these. Wish me luck!

2020 Reading Challenge Results, Pt. 2

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Welcome back to part 2 of the Pioneer Book Challenge. Part 1 can be found here.

Popular book published in 2000: Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer

Reread for book club. I really enjoyed this one! 4.25 stars

The Great American Read: The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison

Definitely a classic, but shocking. TW: racism, violence, incest, domestic abuse. 4 stars

Bestseller fiction display: The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

Own Voices book about the Vietnam War. Heartbreaking and so brutal. TW: racism, graphic sexual assault, war, violence, death, you name it, it’s there. Can’t rate this one.

Author you’ve never heard of: The Sound of Glass by Karen White

Book club fail. Precious kid, dying mom, and a weird plane crash subplot. TW: domestic abuse, suicide. 1.5 stars

Science book: Animals in Translation by Temple Grandin.

Really enjoyed this one. TW: animal abuse and death. 4 stars

Sci-fi or Fantasy: Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo

OK, I know it’s full of tropes, but I really liked it. TW: violence 4 stars

Customer pick: The Best of Robert W. Service

Most poetry I don’t love, but there were a few real gems in here. I’d just borrow it though. Very funny. 2 stars overall

Published in the year of your birth: The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle

Nice to have a break from the heavy stuff! 5 stars

Topic/genre of interest to a friend: The Nonesuch by Georgette Heyer

My DIL loves Regency romance, and Heyer is the master! 5 stars

Newberry winner/honoree: The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare

Hated it. I read it as a teen, but as an adult, I felt differently. Too much to go into here. DNF. 1 star

Popular book published in 2010: Work Song by Ivan Doig

The writing style nearly threw me, but I finished it and would rate it 3.5 stars.

TIME Magazine 100 best non-fiction: On Writing by Stephen King

Part memoir, part style guide. TW: drug and alcohol abuse. 2.5 stars

New arrival display downstairs: How We Got to Now by Steven Johnson

Interesting look at technology advances. 4 stars

Author born prior to 1920: My Man Jeeves by PG Wodehouse.

Always reliable, always a delight. 5 stars

Military history: The March of Folly: From Troy to Vietnam by Barbara W. Tuchman

Insightful and infuriating. She’s a great writer. TW: for war, violence and racism. 5 stars

Book that makes you laugh: Guards, Guards by Terry Pratchett

Night watch Discworld series. I listened to this one and I laughed so hard. 5 stars

Wildcard upstairs (500 + pages): Arms of Nemesis by Steven Saylor

Not great. Kind of forgot most of it, honestly. 2 stars

Second book in a series: Children of Virtue & Vengeance by Tomi Adeyemi

I hated the ending of book 1, and this was more of the same. DNF

Adapted as a movie or TV series: Kindness Goes Unpunished by Craig Johnson

Longmire TV show based on this. Really solid mystery. TW: violence. 4 stars

National Book Award winner/finalist: A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeleine L’Engle

A fun weird little book, but no idea why it won an award. 3.25 stars

That’s the list! This is not a comprehensive list of everything I read in 2020, but I’m happy with my challenge. I’m going to do again for this year and I’m already well underway! Hope life is being good to you. Happy reading.

2020 Reading Challenge Results, Pt. 1

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I realized today that I hadn’t posted the results of LAST year’s challenge. I’m not a very reliable book blogger, TBH, but I hope you still enjoy reading what I have to say. I appreciate all my readers and subscribers!

Here are the final results from my Pioneer Book 2020 Reading Challenge, which I finished around mid-November.

Popular book published in 1980: The Panda’s Thumb by Stephen Jay Gould

OK, maybe labelling this as a “popular book” is a stretch, but it’s always cited among non-fiction lists and it’s by a popular (within a certain niche) author. 4 stars

TIME Magazine 100 Best Fiction: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

One of the best of the year. An absolute gut punch of a book. 5 stars TW for racism, domestic abuse, death

Bestseller non-fiction display: The Ice Master by Jennifer Niven

I love stories of polar exploration. 4 stars

Canadian author: Elevator Pitch by Linwood Barclay

Started off strong, then fell apart. 2.5 stars

Graphic novel: Moon Knight: From the Dead

Very odd. 2 stars

Biography: Becoming by Michelle Obama

Optimistic and information. Miss her so much! 4 stars

Employee pick: The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman

Well written and powerful. 5 stars TW for war and violence

Animal as main character: Blackfoot by W R Gingell

This was cheating, since there’s magic involved, but 4 stars

About or set in your ancestral home: Half in Love with Artful Death by Bill Crider

I picked Texas. Love this series. 4 stars

PEN/Faulkner winner: Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel

Much better and enjoyable than I expected. 4 stars TW for violence, attempted sexual assault.

Popular book published in 1990: Devil in a Blue Dress by Walter Mosley

Pretty bleak story, but genre breaking. 3 stars TW for sexual assault, violence, police brutality, death, racism.

AP Lit recommended reading list: The Cherry Orchard by Anton Checkhov

Hated the characters, but that was the point. 5 stars

New arrival display upstairs: Six Stories by Matt Wesolowski

Total surprise that ended up being really good. 4.5 stars. TW for bullying, death.

Latin American author: Pedro and the Gringo by Maria Cristina Brusca

Trickster stories that made me smile. 3.5 stars

Music book: With a Banjo on My Knee by Rex M Ellis

Didn’t actually finish this one.

Political or social issue that affects you: Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey

Beautiful writing mixed with shocking chauvinism. 3 stars. TW for so, so much – look it up first.

Wildcard downstairs (500+ pages): Dogs of God: Columbus, the Inquisition, and the Defeat of the Moors by James Reston, Jr.

So much brutality and gruesome violence. Couldn’t finish. TW for everything.

Blue cover: Veins of Gold by Charlie N. Holmberg

Fantasy in US West setting. 3.5 stars

Book on religion other than your own: When the Emperor was Divine by Julie Otsuka

About Japanese internment camps. 4 stars. TW for animal death, racism.

Michael L. Printz Award winner: Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor

Dreamlike fantasy. Loved it! 5 stars

That’s only 20 out of 40 book in this challenge, but I want to get something posted today. I have been so behind about posting anything lately. I really hope to do better this year, but then again, it may be the year I decide blogging is not for me. Right now I have viral bronchitis and ANOTHER sinus infection, so I feel horrible and it’s not the time to make any decisions. Instead I’m going to post this and wish you all happy reading and be safe! — Love, Cindy aka Speedy Reader

Pioneer Book 2021 Reading Challenge

Guess what time it is? Time to start new reading goals for the year! I loved doing this one last year – and I won a $40 gift certificate- so I can’t wait to do it again.

2021 Categories

Pioneer Book, Provo Utah

When you buy new books online, you can support us by shopping here:

Read a book in all 40 categories to receive a $50 gift certificate.

*BOLD categories must be purchased at Pioneer Book to claim prize.

Start January 1, 2021

Finish by December 31, 2021

Claim prize by January 15, 2022


450 W Center Street

Provo, UT

(801) 225-2665

Holiday Reading

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Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Happy Hanukkah and Happy Kwanzaa!

Happy Yule!

Whatever you celebrate, I hope it was great. Our Christmas was surprisingly low stress. After all the worrying I did the week before! Maybe that’s a sign?

Anyway, I wanted to chat about what books I got for Christmas, what books I gave, and what I’m reading.

New Books!!

Rag and Bone (Billy Boyle #5) by James R. Benn

Santa gave me this one. All right, here’s the deal – I took my son shopping at the used bookstore to see if we could find some presents for his wife. While we were there, I found this one. It’s the next book in a series I’ve in enjoyed about an Irish American cop drafted into WWII where he’s sent to solve politically sensitive crimes among the allies. This was the next one on my TBR so I’m quite happy to find it.

Rhythm of War (Stormlight Archive #4) by Brandon Sanderson

Sorry, this picture is a lot bigger. But the detail on that cover! I love it! I am actually one behind in this series because I wanted to read 3 & 4 together for the first time. Maybe that’s silly, but I planning to start Oathbringer as soon as I finish my current read, which should be today. I have managed to avoid spoilers but I’m super excited! This was a gift from my kid Jack. Can’t wait!

And that’s all for new books! Kind of a lean year, but that’s cool because if we go by page count, I’m still good! However, a Kickstarter I backed came in and I told my husband to wrap it.

Book Wallet – Pride And Prejudice

I love this so much! It turned out great. They had so many awesome ones to choose from. I almost got the Edgar Allan Poe wallet, but I went with my Jane Austen. Here’s a link if you want to see if you can still order a wallet.

Books I Gave!

The Complete Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Airframe by Michael Crichton

My son picked out both of these at the store. He’s been wanted to try a Michael Crichton book and this one looked the best out of the ones they had. And he loves Douglas Adams, but didn’t have the set. This is all the books in one volume.

Lord Fenton’s Folly by Josi S. Kilpack

Which turned out to be my DIL’s favorite Regency! She was super excited!

2 Other Romances!

Sorry, I can’t remember the titles. I know one was set at the Chicago World Fair and the other was another Regency, but that’s all I remember. I hope she likes them too!

Books I’m Reading

Classical Murder by Joan Carter

I won this from Net Galley and waited so long to read it that I lost my digital copy. I felt so bad I finally bought it from Amazon. It’s not that great. It reads like a first novel. The author describes every single outfit that the MC wears and every single meal that her boyfriend cooks for her. Isn’t there a murderer on the loose? I may just skim the rest. I will say if you are an opera fan or even into classical music, that part is done well and it’s pretty fun.

The Roman Empire and the Silk Routes: The Ancient World Economy & the Empires of Parthia, Central Asia & Han China by Raoul McLaughlin

Some interesting stuff, but definitely not a page turner. It’s great as a book I can pick up and just read a few pages before moving on. I wish it included a few maps though and maybe some illustrations of the garments he talks about.

Slay by Brittney Morris

I don’t know what took so long to read this, but I finally spent and Audible credit and I’m listening to it now. I’m not very far in, but I’m loving it. The worldbuilding is great and I love all the Black culture and positivity. Kiera is great character too. Plus I’m a sucker for fiction about VR.

That’s it for today. I will try to be back for Top 10 Tuesday and start some Best of/Worst of Lists for 2020. Happy Reading and Happy New Year!

TTT: Top 10 on my Winter TBR

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10 Books I Want to Read This Winter

Top 10 Tuesday is courtesy of That Artsy Reader Girl and can be found here.

My Winter TBR

  1. Woolly: The True Story of the Quest to Revive One of History’s Most Iconic Extinct Creatures by Ben Mezrich. Kind of an odd style for a non-fiction, but hey, woolly mammoths!
  2. The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden. I loved book 1!
  3. Be Frank with Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson
  4. Lungdon by Edward Carey. Keeps getting put off because my library only has a physical copy. I need to go in to the library or just buy it. It’s been a really great series so far.
  5. Brambles by Intisar Khanani. This one is a novella.
  6. The Haunting of Bryn Wilder by Wendy Webb
  7. King of Scars by Leigh Bardugo. Excited for this one.
  8. The Great Passage by Shion Miura. I’ve been reading this in tiny bites for a while now. So much fun.
  9. Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson. Yes, I know I’m a book behind. But there it is.
  10. Child of the Prophecy by Juliet Marillier. This one is still packed, but if I can find it soon, I would like to read it.

I have no idea how many of these I will actually read in the next couple of months, but I hope I can get about half. And of course, I’ll get distracted by something shiny. Happy reading!