Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson

Reviewed by Katy Zignego (Library Staff)

I refuse to believe that Black Cake is author Charmaine Wilkerson’s first novel. It is just too darn good to be her first try. I learned from reading the book jacket that she is a nonfiction writer of some standing, but her first novel showcases a mastery of fiction that few writers ever achieve.

The eponymous black cake is a Jamaican rum cake that Eleanor Bennett has left in the freezer for her children, Byron and Benedetta, to share after her death. She has also left them a recording that contains many revelations about her life, that she never chose to share with them while she was alive.

The story is told from several different characters’ points of view, and one of the greatest achievements of Wilkerson’s work is that each character’s voice rings true. The technique of multiple narrators is difficult for even seasoned novelists to manage, and rarely do all the narrators feel equally authentic. But Wilkerson writes the voice of an elderly Chinese-Jamaican man as easily as she writes a fortyish Black American woman.

The layers of symbolism are something else that one doesn’t expect to encounter in a first novel. The black cake itself, made from ingredients gathered to the Jamaica from around the world, is the concrete symbol of Caribbean identity (or lack thereof). Eleanor’s turbulent narrative highlights how she struggled to establish her own identity over and over again, while all of her children face identity crises in the aftermath of her death. Wilkerson beautifully integrates symbols and meditations on the theme of identity into every character’s arc.

My only concern about Charmaine Wilkerson is that Black Cake will be her first and last novel. Occasionally, a novelist produces an earth-shattering debut, then nothing (notable) ever again. These one-hit wonder novels are often semi-autobiographical–To Kill A Mockingbird, Bastard Out of Carolina–and seem to be the authors’ cris de coeur about the conflicts in their own lives. I desperately hope that Wilkerson can go to the well again and again, because I very much enjoy reading her writing.

Located in Adult Fiction (FIC WILKERSON)

Neon Gods by Katee Robert

Reviewed by Jen Bremer (Library Staff)

Neon Gods is the first book in Katee Robert’s Dark Olympus series. What started out as a self-published book on Amazon’s Kindle, has turned into a publishing powerhouse. Neon Gods is a dark, contemporary retelling of the myth of Hades and Persephone. Robert does an incredible job world-building a modern city that is Olympus and fills it with complex and page melting characters. I loved this book. If you like your dark romance novels on the spicy side, I think you’ll love it too.

Available through the Bridges Library System

Clever Jack Takes the Cake by Candace Fleming

Reviewed by Diane Basting (Library Staff)

Jack gets an invitation to the Princess’s 10th birthday party and uses ingenuity and determination to make a cake for a birthday present. Once the cake is all assembled, no easy task, Jack sets off to the party and learns when he gets there that sometimes the best presents are the intentions behind the gift and having a kind heart to go along with a clever mind. I would recommend this for older readers as there are a lot of words, and the message will hit different for anyone who has a difficult person to buy a gift for.

Located in Children’s Picture Books (E FLEMING (PRINCESS))

Twelve Mighty Orphans by Jim Dent

Reviewed by Jayne S (Library Staff)

This book is similar to Seabiscuit (the underdog racehorse) and Cinderella Man (the underdog professional boxer). This time it’s about a ragtag group of boys living in a Texas orphanage during the 20’s and 30’s.

Their new teacher and coach, Rusty Russell, wants to make a difference for these boys. He has overcome near blindness in World War I, and while only making $30 a week and starting without any football equipment – not even a ball! – he forms a competitive team that is beating the biggest high school teams in the state.

The book takes the reader through many memorable games and ends with how the young men fared in adulthood. This book was made into a movie in 2021, starring Luke Wilson. The movie changed and condensed a lot of the boys’ histories and sensationalized some aspects. As usual, the book was much better than the movie.

If you like the Depression era underdog stories, this book is for you.

Available through the Bridges Library System

In The Heights (2021)

Reviewed by Jen Bremer (Library Staff)

I don’t think Lin Manuel Miranda can do anything wrong! This film is such a beautiful adaptation of the Broadway musical. The songs are infectious and complex; the cinematography is colorful and vibrant; and the plot is as heartwarming as it is realistic. This was Miranda’s first award winning Broadway show, and it catapulted him into the mainstream. It’s so well cast and so well written. I highly recommend this film to anyone who is a musical and/or Lin Manuel Miranda fan.

Located in Blu Rays (BLU RAY IN THE HEIGHTS)

Polar Opposites by Erik Brooks

Reviewed by Diane Basting (Library Staff)

A polar bear and a penguin become pen pals and we learn they are complete opposites but distance and differences can all be met in the middle or rather the Galapagos Islands in this case. I loved this cute story about a Loud Polar bear who loved bright colors being best friends with a quiet penguin who likes a monochromatic wardrobe. Anyone need a pen pal?

Located in Children’s Picture Books (E BROOKS)

Poison for Breakfast by Lemony Snicket

Reviewed by Lisabet B (Library Patron)

“You had poison for breakfast.”

One note sends Lemony Snicket on a rambling investigation as he searches through the contents of his breakfast and embarks on a bewildering train of thought that ends trying to peruse philosophy.

A bewildering book that attempts to make sense of the paradox that is the world, a word which here could mean nothing. Poison for Breakfast questions and stumbles over life, death, and truth, then leaves you more bewildered than before, facing a breakfast of poison and scrambled eggs.

Available through the Bridges Library System

Forever Boy by Kate Swenson

Reviewed by Jayne S (Library Staff)

Kate grew up always knowing that she wanted to be a mother, so she was filled with joy with the birth of her son Cooper.

But as she relates, something was wrong. He did not sleep, he screamed on and on and did not make the baby achievement milestones like other babies did.

Her book tells her journey on trying to get a diagnosis, finding schooling to help him, trying to balance work, marriage and motherhood all the while having unconditional love for her son.

She went through the stages of grief, knowing Cooper would never drive a car, marry, or even live independently. She gradually came to acceptance and decided to share her insights with other parents that are adapting to live with autism.

This is a sad, but inspiring book. It gave me a glimpse of how parents with special needs children live their lives.

I recommend this book whole-heartedly. Five stars.

Available through the Bridges Library System