A few more new and upcoming books for your consideration…


Black Cake by Charmaine Wilkerson

In present-day California, Eleanor Bennett’s death leaves behind a puzzling inheritance for her two children, Byron and Benny: a traditional Caribbean black cake, made from a family recipe with a long history, and a voice recording. In her message, Eleanor shares a tumultuous story about a headstrong young swimmer who escapes her island home under suspicion of murder. The heartbreaking tale Eleanor unfolds, the secrets she still holds back, and the mystery of a long-lost child, challenge everything the siblings thought they knew about their lineage, and themselves.

Can Byron and Benny reclaim their once-close relationship, piece together Eleanor’s true history, and fulfill her final request to “share the black cake when the time is right”? Will their mother’s revelations bring them back together or leave them feeling more lost than ever?

My thoughts: Byron and Benny, the son and prodigal daughter of the recently deceased Eleanor Bennett, gather at a lawyer’s office to hear their mother’s final message to them. But the recording she has left them proves as illuminating as it is surprising, a lengthy recap of Eleanor’s life, from her humble childhood in the Caribbeans to the tragic event that drastically changed her life and set her on an unexpected path. The novel offers shifting narrative POV’s that chart the struggles of Byron, Benny, and a mysterious woman who is introduced late in the story but whose true identity ultimately impacts the lives of all. Eleanor’s chapters, however, are this book’s strong point, detailing an inspiring tale about friendship, conviction in the face of adversity, and secrets. Lots of secrets. There are times when it feels like this book stretches itself a little thin in its attempts to touch on varied social issues. While most are well-integrated into the story, a few feel like missed opportunities, simply presented and then glossed over in the telling. Still, wonderfully crafted characters, strong, nuanced relationships, and a central mystery that is only resolved in the closing pages make Black Cake a compelling and rewarding read.




The Tally Stick by Carl Nixon

Up on the highway, the only evidence that the Chamberlains had ever been there was two smeared tire tracks in the mud leading into an almost undamaged screen of bushes and trees. No other cars passed that way until after dawn. By that time the tracks had been washed away by the heavy rain. After being in New Zealand for only five days, the English Chamberlain family had vanished into thin air. The date was 4 April 1978. In 2010 the remains of the eldest Chamberlain child are discovered in a remote part of the West Coast, showing he lived for four years after the family disappeared. Found alongside him are his father’s watch and what turns out to be a tally stick, a piece of scored wood marking items of debt. How had he survived and then died? Where is the rest of the family? And what is the meaning of the tally stick?

My thoughts: This one starts off strong with the accident that orphans three young children, then takes an unexpected turn when rescue presents itself in an unexpected form.  From there, my reading experience mirrored the frustrations of our wayward protagonists as they attempt to make sense of, and then resist their new lives.  We jump back and forth in time between their struggles and the story of an aunt who, 32 years later, travels to New Zealand to learn the truth about what happened.  The latter feels more like a distraction that doesn’t add much to the overall story outside of a nice, ironic twist at book’s end.  It’s an interesting read albeit very bleak.  Given that we already know the sad ending, it often feels like we’re biding our time until the last predestined piece of the somber puzzle snaps into place.




Helltown: The Untold Story of Serial Murder on Cape Cod by Casey Sherman

1969: The hippie scene is vibrant in Provincetown, Massachusetts. Long-haired teenagers roam the streets, strumming guitars and preaching about peace and love… and Tony Costa is at the center of it all. To a certain group of smitten young women, he is known as Sire―the leader of their counter-culture movement, the charming man who speaks eloquently and hands out hallucinogenic drugs like candy. But beneath his benign persona lies a twisted and uncontrollable rage that threatens to break loose at any moment. Tony Costa is the most dangerous man on Cape Cod, and no one who crosses his path is safe.

When young women begin to disappear, Costa’s natural charisma and good looks initially protect him from suspicion. But as the bodies are discovered, the police close in on him as the key suspect. Meanwhile, local writers Kurt Vonnegut and Norman Mailer are locked in a desperate race to secure their legacies as great literary icons―and they both set their sights on Tony Costa and the drug-soaked hippie culture that he embodies as their next promising subject, launching independent investigations that stoke the competitive fires between two of the greatest American writers.

My thoughts: I don’t read a lot of true crime because I have a fundamental issue with books that blur the line between fiction and non-fiction, dramatizing events and incorporating fictitious dialogue to flesh out scenes and drive a true story-based narrative.  Helltown offers well-researched insights into serial killer Tony Costa, his horrific crimes that are laid out in visceral detail, and his subsequent trial.  In addition, the book also tracks the experiences of real-life authors Kurt Vonnegut and Norman Mailer who were tangentially connected to Costa’s story and ended up writing about the case.  Their dedicated chapters, while interesting, never failed to take me out of the story.  Nevertheless, if serial killers are your thing, this book does deliver an absorbing account of Cape Cod’s most notorious murderer.




The Swells by Will Aitken

A boatload of white privilege, The Emerald Tranquility is the most luxurious cruise liner afloat, its passengers some of the richest people in the world. Meanwhile the ship’s crew, overworked and underpaid, live packed tightly together in airless below-deck cabins.

Briony Paget, globetrotting luxury travel writer, emulates the rich — though homeless and penniless herself — as she hops from gig to all-expenses-paid gig. 

The passengers encounter a great number of cataclysms at sea, but no matter the catastrophe, the great ship always sails on.

On her own personal voyage, Briony encounters Mrs. Moore, an enigmatic old woman clandestinely fomenting a mutiny on this bountiful ship. With the captain overthrown, roles quickly reverse: the crew become the ship’s new leisure class and the aged passengers learn how to mop floors and scrub toilets. 

Briony, confused and terrified by the resultant chaos, must decide which lot to cast her fate with, in this savage satire of the way we live now.

My thoughts: It’s described as “darkly hilarious satire”, but I’d argue it’s more broadly farcical with its caricatures and over-the-top dialogue and situations.  More wacky than sharp in its skewering of social conventions, it’s tonally akin to a Wes Anderson film or any of the Marx Brothers offerings.  There are some very funny moments, but the humor is so silly that it becomes wearisome after a while.  This would have made a brilliant short story.



The Candy House by Jennifer Egan

It’s 2010. Staggeringly successful and brilliant tech entrepreneur Bix Bouton is desperate for a new idea. He’s forty, with four kids, and restless when he stumbles into a conversation with mostly Columbia professors, one of whom is experimenting with downloading or “externalizing” memory. Within a decade, Bix’s new technology, Own Your Unconscious—that allows you access to every memory you’ve ever had, and to share every memory in exchange for access to the memories of others—has seduced multitudes. But not everyone.

My thoughts: Jennifer Egan’s follow-up (prequel) to A Visit From the Goon Squad is a challenging read that. while clever and brimming with humor and memorable characters, ends up collapsing under the weight of its varied viewpoints.  Fans of the first book will be better served here than first-time readers to the Egan-verse.  Still, the book boasts some wonderful characters and terrific stories, one of my favorites involving a stubbornly contested property dispute.




Very Cold People by Sarah Manguso

For Ruthie, the frozen town of Waitsfield, Massachusetts, is all she has ever known.

Once home to the country’s oldest and most illustrious families–the Cabots, the Lowells: the “first, best people”–by the tail end of the twentieth century, it is an unforgiving place awash with secrets.

Forged in this frigid landscape Ruthie has been dogged by feelings of inadequacy her whole life. Hers is no picturesque New England childhood but one of swap meets and factory seconds and powdered milk. Shame blankets her like the thick snow that regularly buries nearly everything in Waitsfield.

As she grows older, Ruthie slowly learns how the town’s prim facade conceals a deeper, darker history, and how silence often masks a legacy of harm–from the violence that runs down the family line to the horrors endured by her high school friends, each suffering a fate worse than the last. For Ruthie, Waitsfield is a place to be survived, and a girl like her would be lucky to get out alive.

My thoughts: The entirety of the story is told in a series of short paragraphical observations, diary-like missives from our protagonist as she reflects back on her childhood growing up in a dysfunctional family.  This unique narrative approach was, to be honest, a little difficult to appreciate in the early goings but, as the story and these character developed, it was something I fully embraced.  In retrospect, it’s a deceptively clever structure that reads like a darkly humorous reminiscence but gradually strips away the nostalgia to lay bare the horrifying secrets underlying the whole.  No doubt one of the best books I’ll read this year.



So, what are YOU reading?

4 thoughts on “February 14, 2022: Baron’s Book Club Blab Blog!

  1. I should be reading but am instead being the most try hard of try hards on Fortnite. I discovered the big melee mode and found my calling fighting as a team, it’s chaotic fun. Off to google Black Cake, my fave books set in the Caribbean are Farming of Bones and Cereus Blooms at Night.

  2. I lost the path on your many works in progresses.A fil? A sci-fi serie? Something else? nothing else?

  3. Hi Gang. Apologies for medical update delay. My laptop finally conked. A neighbor was kind enough to dig out her old laptop from storage for me to borrow until i can get a new one. It doesn’t charge properly. hold its charge for very long. display doesn’t function properly. and the keys stick. so i still cant be online very much. At least it’s something to hold me over for now.

    Happy Belated Valentines and Palentines day to my blog sibs. I love you all, always And always more than words could ever say. If not for your friendship, warmth, kindness, generosity and over all humanity
    I could not have survived my exhausting fight and struggle this long.

    Joe, Sorry to hear about Suji. Gentle snuggies and kissies to her. Hope she feels well enough to walk again soon. Also, hope you are at least getting some research work done on your 1930’s feature idea while you are busy catching up on your reading. Have you asked Lou Anders for help? I could be recalling wrong, but i think? he might be able to put you in touch with some people with a keen interest in that time period.

    Do you guys remember that silly Monty Python movie scene where King Arthur approaches a bridging path in the forest he wants to cross and the Black Knight guarding it tells him Sorry. No way! – You’ll have to get past me, first!. They pull out their swords and begin to battle.
    King: Cuts off one of Knights arms.
    Knight: “Just a scratch”.
    King: Cuts off knights other arm.
    Knight: “Mere flesh wound”.
    King: Cuts off one of knights legs.
    Knight: Still defiant.
    King: Cuts off knights other leg. Proceeds to trot across forest bridge path.
    Knight: Sitting on the ground with no arms and legs …

    Poor Knight. I’m beginning to truly understand how he feels. 1/2

  4. Update: Part 2 of 2.
    2022 is off to a bit of a roller-coastery start.

    On one hand – my liver has improved well enough to eat more of the foods i enjoy. On the other hand – i need a new lower denture which, even on sliding scale, is going to cost hundreds more than I have. So, i still can’t eat much anyway due to severe pain in my gum when i chew anything but soft foods. Albeit, I did get to at least get to have some tiramisu courtesy of my closest local friend Don who was my palentines date yesterday.

    On January 14th i was hit by a car just trying to complete a pedestrian cross at a local side street. Oh Man!, Talk about being kicked when you’re already down!! I’m ok. Accident affected my mobility. I’m told my body will likely eventually make a full recovery. Lost a couple weeks income. Full details about happened can be found on my med fund page in the update section. –> fundrazr.com/d1rUX1

    Two days following the accident one of the roommates here tested positive for Covid. Fortunately i did not contract it. Albeit, I’m now having to mask up in layers just to use the bathroom or kitchen, because cases are still running high here in this part of Orlando and i have several housemates. Three days later, i showed up at the hospital to get a full body MRI for the cancer and my liver. An appointment I’d already had to wait several weeks for. Got to the sign in desk and was told they would have to postphone due to being short staffed. They have sinced rescheduled me for Feb 17th. The day after that, i was offered a local job with more hours that i had to turn down because it would require me to be on my feet for two hours at a time without a sitting break and they needed me to start immediately.

    Suffice to say, it has been decided at this point my best bet for short and longer term survival is to make the move north to Massachussetts, anywhere in the state, as soon as I can raise enough funds to do so. Even if affordable housing near Mass Gen and the outside nursing agency that would be providing supervisory care doesn’t open anytime soon to qualify me for targeted oral chemo, I’ll at least be in a state that pays better wages. Participates in ACA expansion to get full medical coverage. Has better doctors and medical care. And offers reliable ongoing financial assistance for housing. I’ll need to raise about 5k to make it happen and will definitely need EVERYONES help to get there.

    Venmo: DreaCrysel

    So much love and gratitude to Tam & Ponytail who have been going above and beyond to generously pitch in regularly.
    (((You Rock!!))) XO

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