Queenie (plus, a bundt cake fit for a queen)

The book: Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams.

A couple weeks ago, I read Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams. The title character, Queenie, has just separated from her boyfriend of two years, and now must make sense of her life without him. Between her job at a national newspaper in London, some tense familial relationships, and several post-breakup rebounds, Queenie is flailing and struggling to figure out who she is (in a society that will so readily tell her exactly who they think she is).

Queenie was a refreshingly slow read, and by slow, I’m referring to the pace of the plot. The novel wasn’t exactly action-packed or overly dramatic, and I think that was the point. Rather than focusing on distracting action and external drama, Queenie spends most of the book focused on internal issues. I found this refreshing because, in an age of near-constant distraction, a novel stressing the importance of slowing down and focusing on yourself (and not just through capitalistic “self-care” rituals like face-masks) seems necessary. I love the message that prioritizing mental health is a story worth telling.

Between Queenie, The Pisces, and the TV show Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (both of which I have written about on this blog before), the topic of internal issues leading to problematic romantic relationships is almost (but not quite) starting to feel like a cliched trope. The topic isn’t cliched though: novels that show characters responsibly addressing their anxieties and traumas are important because they set a positive example for their readers, who may also be suffering from anxieties and traumas.

In addition to addressing mental health, Queenie also takes on sexism and racism. Throughout the novel Queenie is fetishized and objectified by white men, and there is also a scene where she goes on a date with someone who turns out to be a white supremacist. Both scenes demonstrate that sexism and racism are still pertinent issues in today’s society, and that they are intersectional.

Overall, I really enjoyed Queenie. The writing style is easy to follow, and the plot is interesting despite being a bit slow-paced. The novel addresses many topics that are relevant today – including mental health, sexism, and racism – in a really effective and compelling way. Also, many readers will probably identify with Queenie to some degree, because the experience of simply trying to find yourself in your early 20’s is so relatable.

The bake: vanilla guava bundt cake.

For Queenie, I wanted to bake something simple and elegant, that would also pay tribute to Queenie’s British-Jamaican heritage. These considerations all came together in the form of a vanilla guava bundt cake: the shape of the bundt pan makes the cake look elegant, the sponge base of the cake pays tribute to Queenie’s British nationality, and the guava flavor pays tribute to her Jamaican heritage (my friend from Jamaica told me that guava-based desserts are common there).

To make this elegant, British-Jamaican-inspired dessert, I baked this simple vanilla bundt cake from Delish (with one modification: I used vanilla oat milk instead of whole milk, in hopes of giving the cake extra vanilla flavor). I topped it with a guava glaze, which I just made by boiling sugar and guava juice into a simple syrup.

This is a very nice cake! My bundt pan has a sort of non-traditional shape, which makes the cake look elegant, and more complex than it actually is. The cake recipe is also really good, and baking it in a bundt pan makes the final cake slightly crisp on the outside while soft on the inside. The only downside to this cake was that the guava flavor wasn’t very strong; if I were to try this again, I’d probably soak the entire cake in guava syrup instead of just making an outer glaze. But that being said, this cake was still delicious.

The Hate U Give (and red velvet cheesecake brownies that are somehow related to the book)

The book: The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas.

Earlier this month, I read The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. The Hate U Give tells the story of Starr, a 16-year old girl who is trying to fit into two separate worlds – one, the poor black neighborhood where she lives, and the other the rich white prep school she attends – when she witnesses the shooting of her childhood friend by a white police officer. As the story gains media attention, Starr copes with the trauma of losing her best friend, while also figuring out how much she – as the only witness – should publicly say about the shooting.

I loved The Hate U Give – it was one of those intensely engaging novels that I immediately loved and never wanted to put down. One reason why the book is so engaging is because the main character, Starr, is instantly relatable and likable: she is shy and feels awkward and unsure of her place in the world, but she is also sincere and thinks for herself. Another thing that makes The Hate U Give engaging is the plot. The initial shooting happens early on in the novel, and from there on the book is filled with page-turning events including heated family discussions, protests against police violence, and even high school dances.

While some people might feel desensitized to issues of police violence and racism in America, Angie Thomas does an amazing and responsible job of taking on these issues. By writing the novel from the perspective of a young girl who has lost friends (plural!) to police violence, Thomas allows the reader to understand Starr’s heartbreak and trauma. And since Starr is such a likable character, it is especially easy to empathize with her.

Despite tackling hard-hitting issues, The Hate U Give never feels excessively preachy. The book is full of “teachable moments,” but they are not forced or corny – they feel genuine. Examples of this include Starr’s dad explaining to her how racism is a systemic problem, and Starr explaining to her classmate Hailey how well-intentioned people can still say racist things. I liked these moments not only for the moral lessons they teach, but also because they demonstrated that it IS perfectly reasonable to have genuine and meaningful conversations about racism as part of everyday conversation.

Something that surprised me about The Hate U Give was that it was hilarious at times! The way Starr and her siblings – Sekani and Seven – tease each other is so funny; anybody who grew up with siblings will probably laugh out loud reading these passages. I also found a lot of humor in some of Starr’s painfully relatable teenage behaviors, such as praying that her mom will allow her to miss a day of school.

All in all, I absolutely loved The Hate U Give. It takes the subjects of racism and police violence in America, and makes them so much more real to an audience who might otherwise only see these topics as abstract. The book is also full of sincere teachable moments that are insightful and helpful, but never forced. I can’t recommend this book enough!

The bake: red velvet cheesecake brownies.

I didn’t immediately want to bake after reading the The Hate U Give, because it was a pretty heavy book. But a couple of weeks have passed since I finished the book, and I’m ready to celebrate this amazing novel with a bake! The Hate U Give references Mrs. Rooks’ red velvet cake a couple times (it is Starr’s uncle’s absolute favorite dessert) – so I decided to also make a red velvet based dessert.

Instead of a cake, though, I made red velvet cheesecake brownies following this recipe from Sally’s Baking Addiction. I followed the recipe almost exactly, with the only difference being that I used pink gel food coloring instead of red (my local grocery store didn’t have red!), which resulted in the brownies having a milder color. Also, I didn’t use any type of mixer for the brownies – I just waited for the cream cheese to reach room temperature and was able to mix it by hand.

These brownies were so good! Red velvet and cream cheese are a classic flavor combination for good reason: the tanginess of the cream cheese mixture perfectly complements the sweetness of chocolatey red velvet. And putting that flavor combination into fudgey, moist brownies: such a good idea! Although these brownies probably couldn’t rival Mrs. Rooks’ (fictional) red velvet cake, they are still incredibly satisfying – a definite close second.

Blogger Recognition Award

Thank you so much to Reasons2Stay for nominating me for the Blogger Recognition Award! According to their post:

“The award is a way that we recognize and support each other as bloggers, and especially to show that we appreciate how much time, work, energy, and effort goes into producing and maintaining a high-quality blog. It is a humbling experience to be recognized from my fellow blogger.”


The rules of the award:

  1. Thank the blogger that nominated you.
  2. Write a post to show your award.
  3. Give a brief story of how your blog started.
  4. Give two pieces of advice to new bloggers.
  5. Select other bloggers to give this award to.
  6. Comment on each blog and let them know you have nominated them and provide the link to the post you created.

How my blog started:

I started reading as a hobby near the end of 2018, and the first book that I read (Sour Heart by Jenny Zhang) inspired me to bake a little cake. I toyed with the idea of making a combination baking/reading blog after that, and – with a lot of encouragement from my fiancé – I started this blog. After engaging with other bloggers, my blog has expanded a bit beyond just “bakes inspired by books,” and I’m excited to see how it will continue to change over time!

Advice for new bloggers:

1. Be true to yourself! Your blog is your place to express yourself. Write in your voice, about the things that you want to write about. Not only does it feel good to express yourself earnestly, but you will also end up engaging with people in a more genuine way.

2. Engage with other people/blogs! The more you put in, the more you get out. Personally, I find the experience of blogging to be MUCH more satisfying when I’m interacting and making positive connections with other bloggers. Read more than you post, and comment on other blog posts to build relationships with other bloggers. 🙂

My nominations:

  • Ashley Leia (I know that you don’t do tags, and you have posted before about how your blog got started…but I still wanted to acknowledge your blog here!)
  • Alphe
  • Jan M. Flynn
  • Naty
  • and anyone else who wants to share their story and advice!!!

Month in review: June 2019

June was a busy month in my personal life, and a strange month in terms of reading! I had a lot of free time at the beginning of June, and blazed through like 3 books in 10 days (this is very fast for me). Then I started a new job and life got busy, and I only finished one more book after that. A strange and inconsistent month, but a good one nonetheless. Here are the details:

Books read:

Milkman, Normal People, and My Sister The Serial Killer were all longlisted for the Women’s Prize in Fiction, and they all featured female characters. They were all also fairly heavy, in terms of the topics tackled (a repressed, government-controlled society; two individuals who are struggling with sense of self and unable to let each other go; and tense, complicated family relationships). Red, White & Royal Blue, on the other hand, featured young men, and was a much lighter read. All these books were great, and I would honestly recommend all of them, but Normal People was my absolute favorite. I love Sally Rooney’s writing style, and after finishing Normal People I added all her other books to my TBR list.

Bakes:

I baked a blackberry jam cake at the very beginning of the month; that was inspired by An American Marriage (which I actually finished at the end of May). Then I went through a milkshake phase: I made tahini milkshakes for Milkman, and hazelnut latte milkshakes for Normal People. I also baked lavender macarons (inspired by My Sister The Serial Killer), and a colorful cherry-almond cake with cream cheese frosting (inspired by Red, White & Royal Blue). My favorite of these bakes was hands-down the lavender macarons, because it took macarons – basically the most perfect, light treat to exist – and then somehow made them even more perfect by adding floral flavor!

Books in progress/plans for July:

I’m currently reading The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas. I’m not even halfway through yet, but I already love this book SO much. I also plan to read Queenie and Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine this month. I’d also like to read one or two non-fiction books (not sure which ones yet), since I have been so consumed by fiction for the past six weeks.

(a handful of) the blog posts I loved this month:

I have a hard time writing this section of my “month in review” posts, because there is so much good content on wordpress. I am being sincere when I say that the following are just some of the blog posts I loved this month.

  • Troy Headrick wrote a post on how “critical thinking” should really be called “creative thinking,” and why it’s important.
  • Millenial Life Crisis compiled an awesome index of mental health terms, and questions related to each term to help people better understand themselves.
  • Ashley Leia wrote a powerful and inspiring response to the Vatican’s recent decision to basically deny the validity of transgender as an identity.
  • And Kaley taught me that you can make cold brew coffee at home using a french press!

Favorite photos/adventures of June: