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The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row by Anthony Ray Hinton {review}

The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row - Anthony Ray Hinton 

The Sun Does Shine


My Review: 4 Stars

The Sun Does Shine is an important complement to Bryan Stevenson's Just Mercy and Michele Alexander's The New Jim Crow. Hinton's firsthand account of wrongful imprisonment which landed him on Death Row in spite of his innocence is an important read for us all.

While the book can be an uneven reading experience due to the inclusion of legal documents and transcripts, I believe Hinton's story to be incredibly important and I'm so glad I was able to read it.

Anthony Ray Hinton is one of the longest-serving condemned prisoners facing execution in America who was proven innocent and eventually released. He was arrested in 1985 and finally released from prison on April 3, 2015. He proclaimed his innocence the entire time and when you read about the case, there can be no dispute to that fact.

Lieutenant Acker: "I don't care whether you did or didn't do it. In fact, I believe you didn't do it. But it doesn't matter. If you didn't do it, one of your brothers did. And you're going to take the rap." p. 60 

Hinton's only crime was being born black and in Alabama. The people who sentenced Hinton to Death Row, from the witnesses who lied to the cops who arrested him without concrete proof to the DA and judge who decided his guilt before the trial even began, even his pro bono lawyer who kept asking for money, made me furious. This was racism in action and downright evil.

Time and again the state repeatedly denied his petitions and blocked evidence. It didn't seem to care that he was innocent or that there were real issues with the case. Or that, you know, they'd essentially let a murderer go free. 

Can you imagine how Hinton felt that whole time?

Reading Hinton's experience gave me a much better understanding of what Death Row prisoners face and the reality was horrifying.

During his time in prison, he watched 54 men walk past his door on the way to their execution. The execution chamber was 30 feet from his cell. Hinton describes the smells, the sounds, the visceral experience of watching guards leading someone to their death knowing you might be next. Every time someone is taken to execution chamber, they bang on the bars and scream to let the person know they're not alone. 

Hinton understandably feels a variety of emotions over his injustice. He spent the first three years in silence but eventually starts reaching out to fellow prisoners and realizes he can't let the state of AL steal his soul or humanity. He eventually was able to start a book club and that led to all prisoners being allowed to have two books.

Hinton shows us the humanity of his  fellow prisoners, who are "so much more than what we had been reduced to" p. 133. When a prisoner's parent died, Ray passed him a cup of coffee and prisoners passed down candy and whatever food they had from the commissary. It was their way of expressing condolences. He doesn't deny there were men there who had done terrible things but he also has a lot of wisdom to share regarding how we view our fellow human beings regardless of what they've said and done.

"Until we have a way of ensuring that innocent men are never executed—until we account for the racism in our courts, in our prisons, and in our sentencing—the death penalty should be abolished." p. 202

The Anthony Ray Hinton who went into prison is not the same man who emerges. My heart broke as he candidly discussed his fears about something like this happening again and the way he grappled with the men who did this to him. He forgives McGregor, Perhacs, Acker, Judge Garrett and every attorney general who fought to keep the truth from being revealed, which is more than I would be capable of, especially because I'm sure Hinton was not the only person of color they did this to.

If not for Bryan Stevenson's involvement, Hinton would either still be on Death Row or dead and all for a crime he never could have committed. If this does not convince you our criminal justice system needs a serious overhaul, I don't know what will.

The Afterword includes a list of the men and women who sit on death row as of March 2017. He invites us to read each name and know statistically one out of every ten of them is innocent. I urge you not to skip this. I urge you to read Hinton's story and take his words to heart.

"The death penalty is broken, and you are either part of the death squad or you are banging on the bars. Choose." p. 231




A powerful, revealing story of hope, love, justice, and the power of reading by a man who spent thirty years on death row for a crime he didn't commit.

In 1985, Anthony Ray Hinton was arrested and charged with two counts of capital murder in Alabama. Stunned, confused, and only twenty-nine years old, Hinton knew that it was a case of mistaken identity and believed that the truth would prove his innocence and ultimately set him free.

But with no money and a different system of justice for a poor black man in the South, Hinton was sentenced to death by electrocution. He spent his first three years on Death Row at Holman State Prison in agonizing silence—full of despair and anger toward all those who had sent an innocent man to his death. But as Hinton realized and accepted his fate, he resolved not only to survive, but find a way to live on Death Row. For the next twenty-seven years he was a beacon—transforming not only his own spirit, but those of his fellow inmates, fifty-four of whom were executed mere feet from his cell. With the help of civil rights attorney and bestselling author of Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson, Hinton won his release in 2015. 

With a foreword by Stevenson, The Sun Does Shine is an extraordinary testament to the power of hope sustained through the darkest times. Destined to be a classic memoir of wrongful imprisonment and freedom won, Hinton’s memoir tells his dramatic thirty-year journey and shows how you can take away a man’s freedom, but you can’t take away his imagination, humor, or joy.


Buy The Book Here:

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Disclosure: I received an advance copy from St. Martin's Press in exchange for an honest review. Affiliate links are included in this post.

Updated Mug Brownie

UpdatedMug Brownie

Almost 7 years ago, I shared my Mug Brownie recipe. I've been making a variation of the recipe I originally found in the Chicago Tribune for about ten years now. I like tweaking it and trying different add-ins but I recently came up with my best version yet. 

I was craving a sweet treat while I was petsitting a couple of weeks ago and luckily they had all the ingredients on hand so I whipped one up. And it was tasty but I found myself thinking it could stand to be more balanced. The chocolate was just a little too much—words I rarely utter, especially not when it comes to a staple recipe.

I decided I'd try cutting down the cocoa powder next time and see what happened. Earlier this week, I was in need of dessert and out of Oreos. Mug Brownie to the rescue! I cut down the cocoa powder and on a whim, I added some cinnamon.


It's not a new idea to add cinnamon to brownies, I just hadn't thought to do it with this recipe before. I can go months without making a Mug Brownie but I've made myself this updated version almost every day this week! It's that good.



Updated Mug Brownie

4 T all-purpose flour

4 T sugar

1 T cocoa powder

2 T vegetable oil

2 T water

a pinch or two of cinnamon (I just eyeball this but it could be as much as an 1/8 teaspoon)


Simply mix all the ingredients in a mug or ramekin. Microwave for one minute. If it doesn't look cooked through enough, do another 30 seconds. It will be very hot so you may want to let it cool for a minute or two before eating.


Advanced Physical Chemistry by Susannah Nix {review}

Advanced Physical Chemistry (Chemistry Lessons #3) - Susannah Nix

Advanced Physical Chemistry


My Review - 5 Stars

I positively inhaled this story! Susannah Nix creates such relatable, interesting characters that I simply had to know what would happen to Penny and Caleb.

At the heart of Nix's novels are heroines who work in STEM fields. Penny is a patent examiner, who was good enough at her job to be allowed to work remotely in LA. After her fourth boyfriend cheats on her, Penny decides she needs to figure out why this keeps happening to her and I loved the self-reflection that occurred throughout the story. 

She realizes she rearranges her life to suit men, even men she doesn't particularly care for, and that she needs to shut that behavior down. This empowers her to take chances, ask for what she needs, and reevaluate her life choices. There was some really great character growth as the story developed.

I liked that she's a plus-size character but her focus is on eating healthy and exercising. She's at a good weight for her body, even if it doesn't meet societal norms, and she's accepted this but still deals with lingering self-esteem issues. I thought this aspect was handled well.

"He looked like he should be followed around by a key light and a menagerie of cartoon animals." p. 26

Penny doesn't think she has a chance with Caleb, aka the Hottie Barista at her local coffee shop. I so understood this! Caleb is a more mysterious figure at first and getting to know him was like opening a good present that kept getting better. He was such a dream of a man. When Caleb kisses her out of nowhere, Penny has to rethink the way she views herself, as well as him. I think that's why I found their burgeoning relationship to be so delightful. Plus, that first kiss was swoon-worthy as hell.

Because there's a time limit on their fling and Penny's no longer making accommodations for men, there's potential for miscommunication and developing unrequited feelings. Sometimes this made me laugh and sometimes it made me wince or broke my heart but I was always, always with and for these characters. I especially loved seeing how Caleb felt about Penny and the ways they were good for one another. I just kept rooting for them to take a chance on one another and I loved how this ultimately played out.

I really wish Antidote was near where I live because I would frequent it all the time. I loved all the regular customers and the staff that worked there, as well as the off-menu drink Caleb only makes for Penny. I especially loved how George, this lovable curmudgeon, factored into bringing Penny and Caleb together. He was one of my favorite characters and I now wish to have a George in my life.

We also have to talk about how great Penny's friends are, especially her knitting group. I loved how they supported one another no matter what. I really appreciated the way Nix showed that it's possible for the friends to be happy for one another, while also being sad for themselves, depending on their circumstances.  So true and so relatable.

This book made me so happy! The ending was completely satisfying and I can't wait to see what Nix writes next. The world needs more of her brand of smart romance.



After four lousy boyfriends in a row, chemical engineer Penny Popplestone swears off men until she can figure out why they keep cheating on her. But her no-men resolution hits a snag when the mysterious and superhumanly hot barista at her favorite coffee shop strikes up a friendship with her. 

Penny strives to keep things platonic, but when Caleb gives her the kiss of her life, she realizes he wants to be more than just friends. Tired of always being “good little Penny,” she throws caution to the wind and pursues a no-strings fling with the hottie barista. It’s not like they have anything in common beyond scorching physical chemistry, so what does she have to lose? 

Only her heart.

Now, this fanfic-reading, plus-size heroine faces an unsolvable problem. What do you do when being apart is unbearable…but being together is impossible?

Advanced Physical Chemistry is the third in a series of standalone rom-coms featuring geeky heroines who work in STEM fields.


Buy The Book Here:

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Disclosure: I received a complimentary copy from the author in exchange for an honest review. Affiliate links included in this post.

Remember When I Wrote A Novel?

2017-08-06 10.24.47

Mid-December 2011 I typed the last sentence of my first novel A Storied Life and then I burst into happy tears. I'd always hoped I had a novel in me but I had no idea if I could really do it. 

I finished my novel and what's more, I was really proud of what I wrote. I liked my story and I thought there was a chance other readers would like it too.

I edited it and still felt really good about it. I was debating whether to self-publish or pursue a traditional deal so I sent one query just to see. I never heard back. Then it looked like I might write a nonfiction book about singleness and I looked into an agency that could represent me for both fiction and nonfiction so I put querying on hold while I worked on a proposal. Ultimately, I decided not to write the memoir and everything was on hold again.

Then I moved a couple more times and life kept interfering. But A Storied Life was always ever in the back of my mind.

My novel has been patiently biding its time for me to decide a course for a little over six years now. But in the meantime, I've continued to grow as a writer and gain more experience so I can't regret the years that have gone by.

If you've read my What I'm Into posts or seen my updates on social media, then you already know this news: I'm self-publishing my novel.

It's gone through a few revisions and it's a better novel as a result. It's interesting to think about the ways it's changed and grown since I first wrote it.

I got my final proofread back from my editor a few weeks ago and I hired a cover designer. IT'S REALLY HAPPENING!

I finished my final proofread the other night and that means it's time to figure out formatting and converting it into the necessary files. 

I need to write the synopsis (hardest thing ever) but for now I can tell you it's contemporary fiction that explores end of life issues...with a love story thrown in. By the end of this month, I should be able to determine a release date. Once that's all in place and I get my cover design, you'll be the first to know. It still feels unreal but my long To Do list proves this is very much real.

(And yes, I will be putting together a launch team so stay tuned for those details.)

In 1994 at our Spring Banquet, my 8th grade classmates predicted I would be an author. I'm happy to say that prediction is finally coming true.

Thank you to each and everyone of you have asked about when you might read my novel someday. Someday is almost here.

And thank you to my friends and family who have encouraged and supported me throughout this process, in particular my best friend Tracy Eckert. When I first had the seed of an idea, she was the first person I told and when I asked her if she thought I could actually write a novel, she didn't hesitate to tell me she believed in me. What a gift.

This is one wild ride and I'm thrilled you are all on it with me!

The Radical Element: 12 Stories of Daredevils, Debutantes, and other Dauntless Girls by Author/Anthology Editor: Jessica Spotswood {review}

The Radical Element: 12 Stories of Daredevils, Debutantes, and other Dauntless Girls by Author/Anthology Editor: Jessica Spotswood 

Original stories by: 

Dahlia Adler, Erin Bowman, Dhonielle Clayton,
Sara Farizan, Mackenzi Lee, Stacey Lee,
Anna-Marie McLemore, Meg Medina, Marieke Nijkamp,
Megan Shepherd, Jessica Spotswood, Sarvenaz Tash

  The Radical Element


My Review - 5 Stars

Short story collections are often more miss than hit for me, generally because they're...too short. Or they're rushed or packing too much story into too few pages. But when I saw someone mention The Radical Element on Twitter, I was intrigued. What might a YA short story collection be like?

It turns out YA short stories are perfect for me.

There's not a bad one in the bunch. They're self-contained and give us a glimpse into the life of a young woman who's grappling with familial, religious, or societal expectations. A few stories stood out especially.

Dahlia Adler's Daughter Of The Book explores the accessibility of Jewish education to boys and girls. The main character wants to learn, she wants more than what her father and community will allow her and other girls to do. She isn't ready to get married or to start her own family. She simply wants to learn and discuss and debate the Torah the way boys and men do so she asks her friend to help. And even though he has reservations, he agrees and can see how her questions and insights help his own learning. I really felt for her and also felt glad that my education was never called into question by virtue of my gender.

Mackenzi Lee's You're A Stranger Here also explored religion and gender, this time with the Mormon faith. This story had more to do with doubt and what to do when you feel like your faith is propped up on everyone else's. It also dealt with the very real persecution Mormons faced because of their beliefs that caused them to continue moving westward in search of a safe place to land. It has very real applications to what Muslims currently face in the US and we would be wise to remember this.

Anne-Marie McLemore’s Glamour was simply stunning. I loved the way McLemore explored identity and the masks we wear, both literal and figurative, through Grace, a Mexican woman who passed as white in order to work toward her dream of a film career. It also examines societal ideas of beauty and peels back the veil on Hollywood to reveal the racism at work in the 1920s, which is unfortunately still at work today. I loved how the character of Sawyer factored in and where he and Grace are by the end of the story.

My very favorite of the collection was Marieke Nijkamp's Better For All The World. It's an incredible story taking on eugenics with a neurodiverse character and there were just so many great moments and details.  It centers around the Carrie Buck case in the Supreme Court and I don't want to say much more than that because I am so deeply amazed by how Nijkamp built the story and I want you to experience it for yourself. I wasn't familiar with the author before this but I promptly put Before I Let Go on hold at the library and I'm so excited to read more of her writing.

There are author's notes at the end of each story and these added another layer of insight.I really appreciated the diversity of the characters, whether religion, race, or sexuality. While there are probably still more white characters than POC characters, this is by no means a WASPy collection. I'm so grateful to have had the chance to read it.




In an anthology of revolution and resistance, a sisterhood of YA writers shines a light on a century and a half of heroines on the margins and in the intersections.

To respect yourself, to love yourself—should not have to be a radical decision. And yet it remains as challenging for an American girl to make today as it was in 1927 on the steps of the Supreme Court. It's a decision that must be faced whether you're balancing on the tightrope of neurodivergence, finding your way as a second-generation immigrant, or facing down American racism even while loving America. And it's the only decision when you've weighed society's expectations and found them wanting. In The Radical Element, twelve of the most talented writers working in young adult literature today tell the stories of the girls of all colors and creeds standing up for themselves and their beliefs—whether that means secretly learning Hebrew in early Savannah, using the family magic to pass as white in 1920s Hollywood, or singing in a feminist punk band in 1980s Boston. And they're asking you to join them.


Buy The Book Here:

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Disclosure: I received an advance copy from Candlewick Press in exchange for an honest review. Affiliate links included in this post.