The Secret to Hummingbird Cake by Celeste Fletcher McHale: A Book Review

_140_245_Book.1817.coverWhen all else fails, turn to the divine taste of hummingbird cake.

In the South you always say “yes, ma’am” and “no, ma’am.” You know everybody’s business. Football is a lifestyle not a pastime. Food—especially dessert— is almost a religious experience. And you protect your friends as fiercely as you protect your family— even if the threat is something you cannot see.

In this spot-on Southern novel brimming with wit and authenticity, you’ll laugh alongside lifelong friends, navigate the sometimes rocky path of marriage, and roll through the outrageous curveballs that life sometimes throws . . . from devastating pain to absolute joy. And if you’re lucky, you just may discover the secret to hummingbird cake along the way. 

My Review: There is a lot to love about this book! This is a story about friendship, and not just any friendship, but deep, authentic, I’d-do-anything-for-you friendship. This book describes the kind of friendship that has always been the goal of my life. The story centers around three friends and their lives, but the heart of the book revolves around their friendship.

This book has heart and depth. Getting to know the girls in this story was so much fun. Their friendship felt so natural and flowed easily. Even though this is a fun read, it is also a story full of pain, tragedy and loss. The difficult circumstances dealt with in this book are handled very, very well. It felt very authentic and I applaud the author’s sensitivity to the subject matter. I don’t often become overwhelmed with emotions while reading, but this book brought me to tears.

Probably my most favorite thing about this book was the fact that two of the three girls were married and unapologetically housewives. There was no shame or condemnation in this, and it seemed to be considered quite natural, which as a very happy housewife, I found refreshing!

There was one thing about this book that I greatly disliked.  (spoiler ahead) At the beginning of this book, both happy housewives were also without children. Neither seemed interested in motherhood, especially the one. She was emphatically uninterested in being a parent and seemed decidedly child-free. To read a novel with a happily married, child-free housewife was awesome…until you guessed it, BOTH women ended up having babies. I could understand the one, but the other was clearly not interested in being a mom. This felt so out of character and it frustrates me that a woman cannot be considered happy and complete unless she has a child. I would have loved this book beyond measure if the character had remained true to character and stayed child-free and happy. I know most women want children, and that’s absolutely wonderful for them! I completely get that they have that desire, but not every woman does.

Despite this frustrating flaw, this was a wonderful book and I greatly enjoyed it.

*I received a copy of this book free of charge from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my honest review.

About the Author

Celeste Fletcher McHale lives on her family farm in Central Louisiana where she enjoys raising a variety of animals. Her hobbies include writing, football, baseball, and spending much time with her grandchildren.

Journaling the Bible

Recently, my dear friend Amy and I both acquired journaling bibles. Shortly after this, we felt inspired to start a weekly scripture journaling that we would share via Instagram. We’ve only been at it for a few short weeks, but I have been so blessed by it already.

I’ve never been a good notetaker or journaler, and it’s always been challenging for me to “write” in my bible. However, since taking the plunge into this, I have felt so inspired. Journaling the bible has stirred up so much in me, and it’s caused me to see the word in a fresh new way. I feel so blessed to be on this journey with my precious friend.

I thought I would share an example of what we are doing. If you are on Instagram, you can follow our posts by searching for #ourheartshisword #weeklyword

This week’s word comes from the book of Isaiah, chapter 43 verse 19.

Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.

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This week, I felt drawn to Isaiah 43:19. In this passage, Israel is in captivity. They’ve lost everything and their faith is shaken. They’ve failed God time and again. Even though God has done incredible things in their past, they need a renewal of faith for the future. They need to look ahead, instead of to the past.

Often times, we get too focused on the past. Our failures, mistakes and disappointments. It’s so hard for us to look ahead and to move forward. We have to quit looking behind us and focus our attention on what lies ahead. We need to fix our eyes on what God wants to do in our future. Dwelling on the past will keep us from moving forward with the new thing God wants to do in us! Maybe you have regrets, constantly asking yourself “What was I thinking?” Don’t let the past keep you trapped. It’s time to rise up and move on. Regret won’t move you forward. It will keep you stuck in the past. Learn what you can from your past, and begin to move forward with God. The old is passed away. The former things are gone.

But, God wants to do a new thing in our lives! Do you not perceive it? He wants to grow you. He wants to renew you. He wants to show you himself in a new way. It’s so easy to get comfortable in our walk with God. To stay with what is familiar and safe. To say, “God has done so much with me “here” where I am. Why bother moving?” We can easily get “stuck” where we are. But, just like we need to move beyond the mistakes and failures of our past, we also have to be continually moving forward in our faith. We can’t stay where we are. Even if it’s comfortable there. God wants to spring up something new in us! What new thing does God want to do in your life?

My prayer for those of us journaling this verse and all of us reading this, is that we would be people who look ahead with anticipation. That we would be movable and ready to go wherever God takes us. May we leave the past behind us, and spring forth with God! May we grow and flourish as we fully embrace the new things God wants to do in and through us!

January Reading Round-Up!

I’m going to try to end every month (or start every new month, as the case may be!) with just a short overview of what I’ve read throughout the month. I don’t intend to do full reviews on every book I read. I generally save my reviews for those books that I receive from publishers/authors for reviewing purposes. However, I thought it would be a good thing to just recap my reading monthly.

January was a good reading month for me, and an excellent start to the year! My reading goal for 2016 is 75 books, so I’m happy to have gotten off to a good start!

I’ve completed 6 books this month, and they are as follows:

I’m happy to say that I’ve enjoyed each one of these. One of them was on my Christmas reading list and leftover from the end of 2015. (Trading Christmas) Two of them I own, and had been resting on my shelf, waiting to be read for quite some time. (Unveiled & White Picket Fences) One of them was borrowed from a friend. (The Death Cure) One of them was a Goodreads Firstreads win. (Brooklyn on Fire) And, one of them fulfilled the January portion of one of my reading challenges for the year. (Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín) The January challenge was to read a book that has been made into a movie.

It was a good reading month. Stay tuned for the February round-up, where hopefully I have less computer issues!! This should have been posted yesterday!

Me, Myself & I

Do you ever think about what it would be like to interact with your former self? Let’s say the you from a year ago, the you from five years ago and perhaps even the you from twenty years ago were suddenly standing in the room with the you right now.

How would you relate to yourself(s)? Would you know each other? Would you even recognize each other? What would you have to say to your former selves? Would you argue with each other? Would you embrace each other? Would you scold each other? Offer advice and warnings?

I think I’d have a lot of things I’d like to tell my former selves, but I wonder if “I” would listen to myself? I think we have to experience life and all it’s twists and turns to grow and become who we are currently. It’s funny to think about though. I’m not even the same person I was yesterday, let alone last year…five years ago.

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“Me” about a year ago.

This was me in either late January or early February of 2015. I may not “look” that different from then til now, (albeit my hair and glasses are different!) but trust me when I say, I am a completely different me now.  Just thinking back to where I was in life last year to now, it’s startling how much I’ve changed and what I’ve learned from my experiences. I have so many things I could tell my winter 2015 self, but I know I had to learn those things on my own. Still, it’s incredible to think about how we change and grow through the years.

 

This is me *roughly* five years ago. So much has changed in my life since then. I honestly hardly recognize myself! On the outside, I don't recognize myself at all! On the inside, the changes have been just as drastic.
“Me” about five years ago. Sorry, I don’t have a lot of pictures from that particular time period!

This is me *roughly* five years ago. So much has changed in my life since then. I honestly hardly recognize myself! On the outside, I don’t recognize myself at all! On the inside, the changes have been just as drastic. I’ve learned a lot in the last five years. I’ve become more disciplined, more focused, less fearful, less naive. I’ve become a much healthier version of me, both physically and mentally. I’m stronger, wiser and braver. I’ve been through a lot of relationship heartache, learned some valuable lessons and reevaluated my priorities. The me from five years ago would not recognize the me I am now, and vice versa.

 

 

"Me" at 22. Kevin was only 20 then! Yes, I was a cradle robber!
“Me” at 22. Kevin was only 20 then! Yes, I was a cradle robber!

And, then there is the me from almost 18 years ago. Setting out on our first “meet the parents” date, shortly after we began dating. I was so young then! My whole life was before me. I had so much to experience. So much to learn. This version of me had not yet experienced great loss, the concerns and cares of adult life or all of the wonders and joys of marriage. She hadn’t lived on her own, she was much more hesitant and less likely to stand up for herself. She was still learning what she loved and what she believed. She had never given a thought to calories, budgets or how to survive losing someone she loved. She’s innocent and has so much to learn.

 

"Current Me" Turning 40, and looking ahead to the future.
“Current Me” Turning 40, and looking ahead to the future.

Here is a picture of me “now”. This was actually taken a few weeks back, as I turned 40 years old. It may be a “current” photo, but in reality, I’m already a different person than I was just a few, short weeks ago. I feel as though the processing of growing & changing is such a constant motion. Since this picture, I’ve laughed & cried, I’ve learned & grown, I’ve experienced new things, I’ve read new books, I’ve thought new thoughts, I’ve decided new decisions, I’ve planned new plans. I’ve changed.

 

Future me. I can't wait to see what she becomes!
Future me. I can’t wait to see what she becomes!

This is future me. The me of tomorrow, and the next day and the next. She is full of promise and mystery. She has the potential to be anything…to do anything. She will inevitably experience things I have yet to fathom. I hope that she has a lot of happiness ahead for her. I hope that she makes good choices and has wonderful adventures. I hope she becomes stronger, kinder and wiser. I hope she laughs more than she cries. I hope she experiences life more than death. I hope she makes an impact on the world around her. I hope she dances and sings and inspires.

Different moments. Different "me"s.
Different moments. Different “me”s.

A Reading Update

January is flying by, but I’m happy to say that I am doing quite well at keeping up on my reading. I’ve already completed four books, and I’m almost done with my fifth.

My list thus far includes:

  • Trading Christmas by Debbie Macomber
  • Brooklyn on Fire by Lawrence H. Levy
  • The Death Cure by James Dashner
  • White Oicket Fences by Susan Meissner

And, my current read is Unveiled: Tamar by Francine Rivers

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I’m happy that so far, I’ve enjoyed all of my choices. A couple of these books have been on my TBR shelf for a while, (White Picket Fences, Unveiled) so it’s nice to finally get to them. The Lineage of Grace series (Unveiled) is interesting to read, since it is so closely tied to the biblical story of Tamar. (as well as the other women in the series)

I’ve realized that the month is winding down, and I have yet to choose my January book choice for the reading challenge I posted about. The selection for January must be a “Book-into-Movie”.  I’m excited about this, since I have a long list of books on my TBR list that fall into that category. Never fear, I am preparing to make a choice. I have several options on hold at the library and tomorrow I shall make the final cut. I’ll be sure to post my choice here soon!

 

In the meantime, Happy Reading!!

 

The Feast or Famine of Friendship

washingtonquoteFriendship has always been very important to me, yet it’s always been something that I’ve struggled to find and hold on to in my life. My journey in friendship has had many ups and downs and lots of highs and lows. It has been both a source of strength and happiness, as well as a source of anguish and grief.

Over the past few years, I’ve gone through a lot of friendship struggles. Most recently, I’ve hit some pretty low lows and I’ve felt some of the hardest hurts I’ve ever experienced. I have a lot of huge regrets and I made a lot of mistakes that I willingly own up to. I’ve also gained some valuable perspective, and I hope that makes it all worth it.

My biggest regrets are allowing another person to influence my thoughts and decisions, thus greatly altering the course of my life. I’ve learned that I can’t let another person’s issues cause me to change who I am, and what I do. I am not a magical genie, able to change another person to their core, just by the mere loyalty of my friendship. Also, there is a difference between showing steadfast loyalty, and allowing another person to order your life. Further that, no friendship is worth sacrificing who you are. It’s just not.

What I’ve learned most through my recent experience is that I have been severely lacking in personal boundaries in my life. I’ve allowed other people to trample through my life as they please, and I’ve always just stepped aside and let them. Heck, I’ve even offered them a chair and a cold beverage as they stomped through my metaphorical house.

I’m now learning that I need boundaries, and that boundaries are healthy and necessary in our lives. I’m learning where I end, and another person begins. I’m learning what I am responsible for and what belongs to the other party. It’s been a life changing realization.

I’m also thankful that coming out from such a difficult experience with friendship has not left me bitter to the idea of friendship. On the contrary, I feel more motivated than ever to secure and cultivate healthy friendships in my  life. The task feels daunting, because I think it’s difficult to find others to which you can connect on an intimate friendship level.

I’m also being very careful in my choices. I’ve never really thought about the fact that I can choose my friends. Usually, it feels like they just sort of fall into my life somehow, and I accept them. Now, I’m looking at it from a different perspective and I am attempting to be proactive in my search for friends.

I’m looking for qualities that I respect and admire. Though, common lifestyle and interests would be nice, I’m not putting my emphasis there. I’m focusing on people who are worth the investment of my time, people who value friendship as much as I do and people who possess qualities that matter to me.

I am not:

  • Going to pursue friendship with anyone who makes me feel like I’m not good enough as I am.
  • Going to pursue friendship with anyone who makes me feel like I need to change or hide some aspect of who I am.
  • Going to pursue friendship with anyone who exhibits intense signs of jealousy or control.
  • Going to pursue friendship with anyone who expects an unreasonable amount of my time.
  • Going to pursue deep friendship with anyone whose values are suspect and do not line up with mine in the areas that matter.
  • Going to jump into any “best” friendships or make any promises that I don’t know if I can keep.
  • Going to maintain exclusive friendships, and disregard others. I won’t allow anyone to restrict my socialization with others because of their jealousy.

I will:

  • Seek out those who have qualities I respect and admire.
  • Value the friends I have been blessed with, and make sure they know how much I do.
  • Always, always be myself and stay true to that.
  • Protect my boundaries at all times.
  • Cautiously and carefully allow others deeper into my life, as they’ve shown and proven their character.
  • Make my friendships a priority and make every effort to spend quality time with them.
  • Allow my friends to be true to who they are and respect their opinions, ideas and personal tastes.

I will-but I won’t:

  • I will be forgiving, but I won’t allow myself to be emotionally abused.
  • I will be trusting, but I won’t be stupid.
  • I will make allowances for their faults and shortcomings, but I won’t live in a vicious cycle.

I’m far, far, far from perfect. I’m a flawed person, but I’m a person that recognizes that and seeks to maintains friendships with those that are just as flawed, but just as willing to own it. I’m also a person that not only recognizes their shortcomings, but also strives to be better and make better decisions.

As 2016 gets into full swing, I’m hopeful for what it has in store. I’m feeling more inspired, more encouraged and more motivated to develop healthy friendships than I have ever been, and my prayer is that I will follow God’s wisdom and leading as I take that leap into connecting with others this year. I hope that my posting at the end of 2016 tells of new relationships made that have blessed my life, and more than that, that I have been a blessing to others.