Take A Peek Book Review: The Cactus by Sarah Haywood

“Take a Peek” book reviews are short and (possibly) sweet, keeping the commentary brief and providing a little peek at what the book’s about and what I thought.

Title: The Cactus
Author: Sarah Haywood
Publisher: Park Row
Publication date: May 7, 2019
Length: 384 pages
Genre: Contemporary fiction
Source: Library

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.


In this charming and poignant debut, one woman’s unconventional journey to finding love means learning to embrace the unexpected.

For Susan Green, messy emotions don’t fit into the equation of her perfectly ordered life. She has a flat that is ideal for one, a job that suits her passion for logic, and an “interpersonal arrangement” that provides cultural and other, more intimate, benefits. But suddenly confronted with the loss of her mother and the news that she is about to become a mother herself, Susan’s greatest fear is realized. She is losing control.

Enter Rob, the dubious but well-meaning friend of her indolent brother. As Susan’s due date draws near and her dismantled world falls further into a tailspin, Susan finds an unlikely ally in Rob. She might have a chance at finding real love and learning to love herself, if only she can figure out how to let go.


My Thoughts:

I borrowed the audiobook of The Cactus from my library on a whim, based on its being available and also being a Reese’s Book Club pick (because I do seem to like most of their selections). This was an enjoyable, diverting story, although I’m not sure that I loved it. Susan is set in her ways, negating emotion at every turn, always aiming for efficiency and neatness. When her life turns upside down, she’s forced to start letting others in, and learns some hard truths about her own childhood. 

The cactus metaphor is a little heavy-handed, in my humble opinion. We get it: Susan is prickly, defensive, making sure others don’t get too close… but with proper attention and nurturing, she’s still capable of flowering. Geez.

I mostly enjoyed Susan’s brand of no-nonsense bossiness and solitude, although some of her behaviors are a bit extreme. The love story didn’t grab me — I didn’t feel convinced by the relationship and its development. I was much more interested in Susan’s family history and its dysfunctions, and how her childhood experiences slowly turned her into the woman she’d become. 

The Cactus is a fairly light read, and I enjoyed it overall, but I wouldn’t put it at the top of my priority recommendations.

Shelf Control #164: Lilli de Jong by Janet Benton

Shelves final

Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!


A little note for 2019: For the next short while, I think I’ll focus specifically on books I’ve picked up at our library’s fabulous annual sales. With all books $3 or less, it’s so hard to resist! And yet, they pile up, year after year, so it’s a good idea to remind myself that these books are living on my shelves.


Title: Lilli de Jong
Author: Janet Benton
Published: 2017
Length: 352 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

A young woman finds the most powerful love of her life when she gives birth at an institution for unwed mothers in 1883 Philadelphia. She is told she must give up her daughter to avoid lifelong poverty and shame. But she chooses to keep her.

Pregnant, left behind by her lover, and banished from her Quaker home and teaching position, Lilli de Jong enters a home for wronged women to deliver her child. She is stunned at how much her infant needs her and at how quickly their bond overtakes her heart. Mothers in her position face disabling prejudice, which is why most give up their newborns. But Lilli can’t accept such an outcome. Instead, she braves moral condemnation and financial ruin in a quest to keep herself and her baby alive.

Confiding their story to her diary as it unfolds, Lilli takes readers from an impoverished charity to a wealthy family’s home to the streets of a burgeoning American city. Drawing on rich history, Lilli de Jong is both an intimate portrait of loves lost and found and a testament to the work of mothers. “So little is permissible for a woman,” writes Lilli, “yet on her back every human climbs to adulthood.”

How and when I got it:


Why I want to read it:

Something about the description on the back cover absolutely drew me in. I do enjoy historical fiction, and I’m always up for reading about women’s struggles to control their own lives in difficult times. This novel sounds powerful and moving, and I’m excited to rediscover it on my shelves!

What do you think? Would you read this book?

Please share your thoughts!


Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!














Don’t bother me. I’m reading.

Are reading and being part of a social unit mutually exclusive?

Why is it that I feel the need to sneak in order to satisfy my reading desires?

I’ve often said that if I didn’t have a husband and kids, I would be most naturally inclined toward the life of a hermit. I can see it now — holed up for hours in my house, just me, a pair of fuzzy slippers, a steaming mug of coffee, and piles and piles of books. I’d come up for air occasionally — hit the kitchen, grab a snack, take a bathroom break — then dive back into the pages of whatever novel happens to be my obsession at the moment. If it’s a sunny day, maybe I’d even take my mug, slippers, and book out on the back porch for a change of scenery and a breath of fresh air. Doesn’t sound half bad, if you ask me.

And yet… I’m a mom, I’m part of a family, and I love all my various and sundry people like crazy. But, for realz, there just aren’t enough hours in a day for work, kid time, homework time, play time, couple time, house time — the list is endless. So where does that leave me and my piles of books?

Consider this scenario from a recent vacation: My husband, son, and I were on a lovely camping trip, and decided to spend the day by the nearby lake. Hubby and kid wanted to rent a motorboat; I most emphatically do not do boats. So off they went, and I spent a very enjoyable hour on our picnic blanket, novel in hand, sun on my face, blissfully reading and relaxing. When they returned, my son’s first comment to me was, “Mom! You’re on vacation! Everyone else here is having fun, and you’re just sitting there reading a book!” It pained me to have to explain to my own flesh and blood that, hey, this is my idea of fun!

And so, I sneak. When I wake up on a weekend morning, I grab my book and read a quick chapter before getting out of bed and joining the family. When my son decides to work on his latest video game, off I head with my book. When he gets in the shower at night, out the book comes again. It’s not until we’ve finished up the bedtime rituals and the kid is safely ensconced in slumber for the night that I can sit down publicly in my own house, put up my feet, and enter my reading zone. No sneaking required.

I wish I could put up a Do Not Disturb sign every now and then, and declare myself temporarily off-limits. When the lights are flashing, do not approach mom! My pleas for “five more minutes”, “let me finish my chapter”, or “wait! I’m at a good part!” would be a thing of the past.

I’m a good mother, try to be a good spouse, but honestly, would a little more time to read hurt anybody? Never mind, don’t answer that.