My Sister, The Serial Killer (plus, dainty, delicate treats for a deadly book)

The book: My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite.

The latest book I finished is yet another novel from the Women’s Prize for Fiction shortlist. My Sister, The Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite tells the story of two sisters: Ayoolah, the beautiful golden child with an unfortunate habit of murdering her boyfriends out of “self defense,” and Korede, the under-appreciated sister who helps Ayoolah clean up her messes (both literally and figuratively).

The premise of this book may seem a bit silly, but My Sister, The Serial Killer is actually a wonderfully thought-provoking novel! It is surprisingly deep, tackling topics of family, loyalty, and how people respond to trauma. But even if you were read this book without looking past the surface, it would still be an interesting and thrilling read. Several intriguing questions are raised early on in the book, and you will find yourself turning pages to resolve these mysteries. For example: Will Ayoolah and Korede be caught for their most recent murder? Will Ayoolah ever be found out for who she really is? Will Korede continue to clean up after and cover for her little sister? Is Ayoolah an innocent person acting in self-defense, or is she a sociopath?

Going beyond the surface, My Sister, The Serial Killer raises much deeper philosophical issues about loyalty and morality. I found myself wrestling with what the “right” thing would be for Korede to do in her situation. Should she be disloyal to family and turn Ayoolah in for her murders? Or should she protect her sister, and in the process knowingly put more men at risk for murder? I am firm in my answer to that question, but I won’t share it here, because…

…the last thing I want to say about My Sister, The Serial Killer was that I was disappointed with the ending. This isn’t to say that the ending felt like a let-down or weak writing on the author’s part. The ending was well-written like the rest of the book – I just happen to strongly disagree with the choice that Korede made. That being said, My Sister The Serial Killer was an intriguing and surprisingly thought-provoking read, and I do not in any way regret reading it.

The bake: lavender macarons.

In My Sister, The Serial Killer, Ayoolah (the serial killer) is constantly being courted by men, and there are several scenes where suitors show up at her house with flowers. In tribute to that, I decided to bake something floral. Floral desserts are often seen as feminine and dainty, too, which makes a floral bake the perfect antidote to the sinister novel of My Sister, The Serial Killer.

The specific bake floral bake that I decided on was lavender macarons! How lovely and delicate and unlike the novel that inspired this bake! I followed this recipe for the macarons, but instead of making the honey buttercream I just filled the macaron shells with raspberry jam.

Macarons are notoriously difficult, but this recipe does an excellent job of spelling out the steps needed to bake them successfully. Some of my macarons cracked, and not all of them achieved “feet” at the base of the cookie…but they taste so good! Macarons are normally quite sweet, and the addition of lavender brings a pleasant sharpness to the dessert. I suspect I’ll make this recipe many more times in the future!

The final product: two macaron shells sandwiched with raspberry jam.

MWF seeking BFF (to take to cookie parties)

The book: MWF seeking BFF by Rachel Bertsche.

My second Books and Bakes project was MWF seeking BFF, Rachel Bertsche’s true account of her experience trying to find a new best friend in a new city. As someone who lives on the opposite coast from my oldest and closest friends, I was intrigued by the idea of this book. Specifically, I wondered: could Bertsche’s story give me the perspective needed to make new best friends as an adult? 

I have to admit that I was skeptical of Rachel Bertsche at first. To start, her attitude at the beginning of the book struck me as excessively judgmental: she had so many qualifications about who she did and didn’t consider to be “friend material.” Also, she admits at the beginning of the book that she does already have friends in Chicago, just not best friends. I wondered why she was aggressively pursuing new friends instead of attempting to deepen the relationships she already had – were her current friends not “best friend material?” There was also an insensitive joke about Alzheimer’s disease that rubbed me the wrong way. 

Despite my initial reservations, this book turned out to be a pleasant and eye-opening read. Bertsche becomes aware of her judgmental attitude early on and resolves to be more open-minded about making friends. By the middle of the book, she develops meaningful friendships with women that she initially would have written off, and even reconsiders her notion of what a “BFF” should be. Toward the end of the journey, Bertsche stops fixating on what other women bring to the table and instead focuses on her own tendencies, acknowledging and improving on her shortcomings as a friend.

One of my favorite things about MWF seeking BFF was the juxtaposition of Bertsche’s journal-like reflections of her friend-dates with scientific studies on friendships and relationships. The presentation of research findings added depth to this book: Bertsche’s conversation with an authority on loneliness and the importance of relationships, for example, elevates the story from a journal about going on friend-dates to a reflection on how to find meaningful connection with others. It was these well-summarized snippets of social science research that had me deeply considering my own relationships: do my friends and I generally share similar values?, how can I become a better conversationalist and “click” with people more easily?who are my “fossil friends?” 

Overall, I enjoyed this book. My initial skepticism was occasionally re-sparked by insensitive or problematic comments like Bertsche’s proclamation that she would love it if her one of her new best friends happened to be black, or her use of the phrase “separate but equal” to describe keeping her marriage separate from her friendships. That being said, I still learned a lot from this book (in general, I think you can learn from most people, even people who are in some ways problematic). I realized how much I appreciate my long-distance friends and initiated conversations with people I hadn’t talked to for a while, and I also reflected on how I can become a better friend. I guess you could say that MWF seeking BFF took me on two journeys: Bertsche’s and my own. 

The bake: macarons with raspberry jam filling.

Early on in MWF seeking BFF, Bertsche attends a “cookie exchange” with a new friend: the premise of the event is that each attendee brings 3 dozen cookies, then at the party people socialize and eat and take home a variety of cookies. While Bertsche has to actively talk herself into attending this type of event (overcoming her biases toward moms in the suburbs and “Suzy Homemakers”), I would greet an invitation to a cookie-exchange with a loud and whole-hearted “YES!” I absolutely love baking, especially for others, and I am also a fan of bonding over food. 

So my bake for MWF seeking BFF is the 3 dozen cookies that I would bring to a hypothetical cookie exchange (note to self: host a cookie exchange). I went with macarons, because they are something that I’ve wanted to attempt for over a year now. I followed this comprehensive macaron recipe from Tasty and filled them with store-bought raspberry jam. 

This is how the macarons came out! I think they are definitely cookie-exchange-worthy.

When I say that I followed the recipe, I mean that I followed it to a T. I separated my egg-whites by hand, processed and sifted my dry ingredients, and did the “figure 8 test” to determine if my batter was ready to pipe. It was so much work, but y’all, it was worth it. Although some of my cookies cracked a bit on top (my oven runs a bit hot, and too-high temperature will crack macarons), these came out amazingly well for my first attempt at macarons! I will certainly make these cookies again, maybe to take to a cookie-exchange with a friend.