The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies

The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I chose this book initially because of the title. The Secret Lives of Church Ladies sounds very intriguing! I am a daughter of a deacon and children’s church leader, and I felt super connected to the title from the jump.

I tend to stay away from short stories because I am always left wanting more, but Philyaw does a great job in writing these vignettes that I felt satisfied after every story. This book made me feel like a kid listening to adults when I know I shouldn’t be! Every story gave you an insight into something taboo, especially considering these women were connected with the church somehow. You got the tea, the shade, and everything in between in this book!

The book highlights the fact that although you may be “in the church” the real world still affects you and makes you consider things that are “not of God” for the sake of joy, happiness, love, relationships, and self-discovery. This book also seemed to make a mockery of legalistic religion in a sense, and how having only Jesus may not be enough for some people. People are praying to God for a blessing, but they are still living reckless!

The black girls and women in this story are searching for something… trying to fill a void “that only Jesus can fill” but somehow still cannot be filled by Jesus alone. It really makes you think about your religious ideals and what you accept or don’t accept by church standards. Seeking individuality, love, reassurance, sex, passion, companionship, is something all women look for, but as a church lady, it seems so scandalous to want that when you should be saving yourself for the Lord’s blessing. There is a double standard that is being explained here, but in such a way that the topics are not in your face or confrontational. They are subtly wrapped and presented in such rich prose that you are filled with emotion when you read this book hoping for better, wishing for more, and weeping tears of sadness for the loss felt in these lives of women.

I think about the church ladies I’ve known in my life. Nobody is a saint, and Jesus is good, but he also gave you hormones that overwhelm your system that makes you do things you might not ordinarily do. We all have secrets, and church ladies aren’t any different. At the end of the day we are all human and we all have wants, needs and desires, and we should stop hiding behind the hypocrisy and contradictions that religion allows us to because we all have a cross to bear, as we are all sinners. This book is good! Solid 4.

Thank you to West Virginia University Press and Deesha Philyaw for providing me with this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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You Ought To Do A Story About Me by Ted Jackson

You Ought to Do a Story About Me: Addiction, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Endless Quest for Redemption

You Ought to Do a Story About Me: Addiction, an Unlikely Friendship, and the Endless Quest for Redemption by Ted Jackson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Wow! Such a heart-wrenching story about the story of Jackie Wallace and his life as an former NFL player and as a long-time crack cocaine addict. This story is more than just addiction and football, but about friendship, redemption, forgiveness, sacrifice, compassion, and love.

Jackie Wallace’s story is not unusual or uncommon unfortunately, but I definitely was truly engrossed in his story because I had such an emotional pull on my heart-strings while reading this book. I personally do not know anyone anymore who has been strung out on drugs, but I did know some people. Seeing them in sad states of disarray and mania was scary, shocking, and sadly expected. What drugs do to a person is just utterly devastating, and being a friend of a family member seeing their demise with their struggle with drugs is gut-wrenching and horrible to endure. Reading this book makes me understand how people continually go back to drugs even though they logically know it’s no good for them. The book explains how the body pulls them to the drug even knowing all the damage it will cause. It’s heart-breaking to understand how relapses work, how sobriety is tenuous and how one slip can cause a sheer decline into obscurity in a nanosecond.

The book was written by a photojournalist, and not from an investigative journalist standpoint. However, this book will keep you engrossed from start to finish learning about the man, Jackie Wallace. This book is documenting a photographer’s journey after meeting and befriending the once legendary Jackie Wallace, who he found in 1990, homeless and living near a highway ramp wrapped in plastic trying to shield himself from the elements of the New Orleans weather.

The book details Jackie’s life from the time he was a young man to present day, and how the author, Ted Jackson and Jackie formed a friendship and accountability relationship once Jackie allowed Ted into his life. We learn about the time when Jackie was in high school, college, and the NFL, and how football dominated his life. We see how his life practically crumbles to nothing once he is waived from his last NFL team, and how the transition from the NFL was something many players are unprepared to deal with. As readers, we are also taught some historical facts about race, the political climate during the 60’s and 70’s, and also the celebrity life many NFL players live during their heydays. Unfortunately for Jackie and many other former NFL players, the transition out of the NFL is unexpected, and many men are left stranded, penniless, jobless, riddled with health issues, and for many, uneducated in the ways of getting back on their feet. Today’s NFL seems to have better transitions and counseling in place, but for men in Jackie’s time, there was nothing to help them move on with their lives. These men were stuck in a time warp, living off the ‘good ole days’ with no help for the hard times to come assimilating back into civilian life.

Many parts of this book appealed to me. I didn’t necessarily enjoy the sports statistics and facts about football because the writing was not very engaging in those areas, seeing that this isn’t written by a sports journalist, but I was fascinated in the life of Jackie and how his family and friends have continued to surround him and love him no matter his status.

As a Christian, for both Ted and Jackie, it was very refreshing to know that God is doing the work in both of their lives and allowing us, as readers, to see that God is real. Jackie should have been dead a long time ago, but somehow, God has kept him alive thus far to help him and others reconcile with family, friends, loved ones who deal with this sick disease of addiction.

Another aspect that I appreciated was learning about Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy (CTE) and how the NFL has been handling this known issue for the sport. I really hope that more research is done on this condition because the impact of having the right information and treatment can save many past, present, and future players from the negative impacts this condition has on the health and well-being of these highly talented athletes.

You Ought To Do a Story About Me is gripping, heart-wrenching, frustrating, heart-warming, hopeful, and full of emotional rollercoasters. This book will make you pray for Jackie’s safety and his health. I googled everything I could about Jackie and prayed that he was still alive before I finished reading this book. A drug addicts life is not glamorous or fun. It is trauma everyday. A never-ending cycle. It is death. The failures and successes Jackie has in these 28 years since Ted found him will leave you exhausted, teary-eyed, and nervous. This book will leave you wondering, “Where is Jackie Wallace?” I could not put this book down after the first 30% of the book because I just had to know what was happening to Jackie. There is genuine concern for Jackie, as a friend, as a brother, as a teammate, and you feel everything Ted feels as you read this book. I highly recommend this book. 4.5 stars.

Thank you to HarperCollins (Dey Street Books) and Ted Jackson for providing me with this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

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Pachinko by Min Jin Lee


Pachinko by Min Jin Lee

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Historical fiction is my absolute favorite genre, and Min Jin Lee made it so easy for me to love her book from the very beginning.

Spanning 4 generations, this book is a beautifully interwoven family saga that chronicles the lives of a Korean family from the 1900’s to the late 1980’s. A sweeping tale of life during the Japanese occupation of Korea from 1910 to WWII, I was astounded to learn about how hard and racially abusive it was for Koreans to live in Japan. The Japanese were relentless in ensuring Koreans knew they were not welcome in Japan. However, for many Koreans, because of the war that ravished their country, they could not go back. They had no motherland. This family, showed incredible strength, resilience, hard work, and nobility in the face of sheer discrimination and struggle for survival.

We learn about the matriarch Yangjin and her husband Hoonie, who have a daughter, Sunja. After learning that she is pregnant and unable to marry the child’s father, she moves to Japan where her life begins an uphill battle of sheer survival. Her union with a Korean minister, Baek Isak, helps to salvage her dignity, as they move to Japan to start their life. Their union begets Noa and Mozasu.
Both Noa and Mozasu both have children, but we only get to see the life of Solomon, Mozasu’s son.

This family literally go hand to mouth in much of their life, struggling to stay afloat. They encounter defeat and sadness in everything they do, but yet they keep going somehow. Sunja’s oldest child’s father, Koh Hansu, follows them throughout their lives, keeping tabs on them and intervening during certain parts of Noa’s life to ensure the boy is able to have stable food, housing, and education. However, Sunja wants nothing to do with Koh Hansu, and tries to make a living for herself and her family by doing the right thing. However, even doing the right things, calamity strikes over and over.

“…a woman’s life is endless work and suffering. There is suffering and then more suffering. For a woman, the man you marry will determine the quality of your life completely. A good man is a decent life, and a bad man is a cursed life – but no matter what, always expect suffering, and just keep working hard.” (p.27)

Min Jin Lee brings up every topic you can think of in this book, and incorporates all of them beautifully. She discusses topics of racism, discrimination, bastard children, shame, forgiveness, single motherhood, a woman’s honor, family respect, familial bonds, generational strength, immigration, migration, wealth, life, health, education, work, and religion.

There is also the book title of Pachinko, and the various levels of understanding that comes along with this name as the title. Although Pachinko is a game played in Japan, worked by mostly Korean men, the name also constitutes a type of metaphor to the life Koreans have to live. Koreans’ lives are a game of chance, luck, loss, temporary freedom, a gamble, and living in fear, and living at the bottom.

There are some parts that are too long, and some parts that are not long enough. The character development for most is very well thought out and developed, but some characters drop off without notice. The dialogue between characters (in my opinion) did not feel very organic to me. Some of the dialogue reminded me of dubbed karate movies where the translation feels out of place or over dramatized. However, the descriptive prose that Min Jin Lee used in this epic novel kept me engaged from the very first page through the last page. I could have easily kept reading about the characters in this book, and I will continue to think about this book forever.

I highly encourage everyone to pick this book up. You will not be disappointed. 4.5 stars.

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Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

Everything I Never Told You

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was deeply sad. You learn of tragedy from the very first page and it never gets better.

Celeste Ng is notorious for a slow burn type of book. She carefully unfolds the layers to the story from the very beginning. Reading her books is like unfolding a delicate, paper thin, origami bird, and as you peel back the layers, you get to see the internal details that are so carefully hidden inside.

This book is about a middle daughter who is struggling with all types of angst. Put on by her parents, the constructs of society, and herself. This book discusses how family is not always what it seems. The backstories and histories matter because it can ultimately dictate how people parent their children, and the expectations they set on them, both knowingly and unknowingly.

The biggest theme I gathered in this book was EXPECTATIONS.

– Expectations from others
– Expectations we have of others
– Expectations of ourselves
– Expectations of motherhood
– Expectations of women
– Expectations of family

The author also explored how favoritism can put its damaging mark on an entire family. Living vicariously through children and putting expectations on them is significantly harmful and does not allow the child to make a life of their own, but puts them in a situation to choose between pleasing the parent or disappointing them.

We also see the struggle of interracial relationships, and how being the only (Chinese-American) in a town can put another type of vise around already fragile families. However, as fictional as this book is, I couldn’t help thinking that if this family were biracial (Black and white) they would not have survived this at all. This family was already fragile from the beginning in my opinion.

The last point to this book I’ll make is that the parents in this book had, from the beginning, made a decision not to look backward to the past, but to keep going forward. However, that was also deeply damaging because they never helped their children overcome anything. The parents remained silent on how they dealt with the past, which would have helped their children navigate through life better. The parents did more harm than good here, and it all came crumbling down on their heads when Lydia is found dead with no explanation. The parents could not even see how their own behaviors may have lead Lydia down a path that she didn’t make it back from.

All in all, this book was a good read. Not 3-worthy, but not a solid 4 either… but rounded up, it’s a 4 for Goodreads sake.

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we are never meeting in real life by Samantha Irby

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life.

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life. by Samantha Irby

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book pulled me out of despair. Not that I need to read about other people’s depression and despair to feel good about myself, but Irby literally pulled me out of a funk so hard I feel snatched.

I’ve never read anything by her, or followed her blog, but now I’m an undying follower for life. She articulates pain and anxiety and the black experience, and life in general in such a way that I literally teared up when I finished her book. I did not want to let go of her at all.

Although this book is humorous and makes you laugh so hard that you can’t even contain yourself, this book is also sharing her personal life experiences that reveal parts of herself that is private, sad, depressing, anxious, shamed, torn, and broken. From black women, to mental health, to fears and thoughts of being fat-shamed, to poverty, to broken/dysfunctional families, health issues, to love and loss… the list can go on and on. She, so charming and self-deprecatingly puts all of her life and life for many others and lays bare life in the raw, complete with wit and snarky banter.

“Not being able to deal with your life is humiliating. It makes you feel weak. And if you’re African American and female, not only are you expected to be resilient enough to just take the hits and keep going, but if you can’t, you’re a Black Bitch with an attitude. You’re not mentally ill; you’re ghetto.” (p. 110)

“Do Black girls even get to be depressed?” (p. 116)

“Never again will I be with someone who is unwilling to accept me as I am, or who has any desire to mold me into something that makes me uncomfortable.” (p. 264)

I felt all of this. I am her, she is me. Her discussion about anxiety and growing up black and being that awkward kid, and dating and love, and life, and, and, and… everything! It’s perfect, for me. This book will break your heart in many pieces, but also make you laugh out loud so hard you will lose your breath! This book can be very uncomfortable for some because of the content she is sharing, but she already told you from the start, “we are never meeting in real life,” so just read the book and get on with it!

If you like crass, dry, raunchy, expletives, snarky, humorous, morbid, depressive, sad, funny as hell writing, then you have met your next best friend. I promise you, she will take you on a ride of your life!

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Patsy by Nicole Dennis-Benn


Patsy by Nicole Y. Dennis-Benn

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

“What can a young woman on the brink of defeat say to the questioning face of her 5-year old daughter? Where is the honor in her daughter know she owns nothing? Not her dreams. Not her life. Not herself. What can she give her? What could her repression of desires, which she has resisted for so long, achieve other then resentment that could potentially destroy Tru?” (p. 60)

Patsy is a story of heartache, abuse, love, self denial, family, poverty, and relationships. Patsy is also of a young woman who wants independence and freedom to choose what she wants to do in life. However, she feels stuck as a mother she never wanted to be, and unable to be with the love of her life because she’s in America. Patsy feels like she’s drowning and needs to escape in order to be happy. So she runs to America, leaving everything and everyone behind her, including her 5 year old daughter, Tru. As a reader, you get to experience all of the emotions and pains that descend on Patsy and Tru as life happens to the both of them.

Patsy sacrifices everything to be in America, the place where she believes dreams are made. This story of immigration is sad, telling, exposing, and powerful. The viewpoint from Patsy’s eyes of Americans and America is poignant. Seeing it from her perspective, America is not the place where the streets are paved in gold, but unfathomable obstacles for those who come here hoping for a new chance in life. This story is raw, hurting, passionate, vibrant, sad, despairing, hopeful, and honest.

We see Patsy grapple with the abandonment she had put on Tru. We see Tru grow up without her mother, and live a life with her father who becomes her biggest supporter (which was quite refreshing to read). We see Patsy remove the rose colored glasses she had on before her arrival in America, and sees for the first time, her friend that she sacrificed everything for as a complete stranger. We see Patsy grow into a woman and take accountability for her past actions, and we see how that plays out in her life and relationships over time.

The author included many themes in this book that was so timely and relevant and real. She discusses:
– Immigration
– Perceived stability
– Shattered dreams
– Self-hate/classism
– Sacrifice
– Motherhood expectations
– LBGTQIA+ and homophobia
– Poverty
– Coming of Age
– Love/Relationships
– Cultural appropriation
– Sexism
– Racism

I am unable to articulate everything I read in this book. This book hit me hard in so many areas that I was deeply sad for everyone in this book. I could understand everyone’s perspective and see how a decision can affect not only the one person making the decision, but how it impacts everyone that is connected to them. I highly recommend this book from Nicole Dennis-Benn. I rate this a 5.

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