Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett Paired with Cookie Dough

I did it. I went on a blind date… with a book.

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Outside M. Judson Booksellers in Greenville, SC

On a weekend trip to Greenville, SC with my best friend (check out last Sunday’s post for a back story on my bestie), we sought out two destinations in particular: a trendy coffee shop and an adorable bookstore. We were more than satisfied when our Google investigation lead us to M. Judson Booksellers. The exterior– I mean come on! Gorgeous, right?! The interior– a comfy-cozy brightly colored space with creative displays and quirky art literally made from books themselves. I was in heaven.

Even though I have literally zero space left on my bookshelf, I have some weird obsession/self-imposed obligation to buy a book in every new city I visit. So… while already planning which nooks and crannies I’ll stuff some old paperbacks into in order to make room for my Greenville edition, I began searching the stacks. As usual, I became overwhelmed with the variety of choices in the fiction section, I wasn’t feeling a play, and nothing was catching my eye in nonfiction… I was now at this point wandering away from the bookshelves and contemplating buying a macaroon from the charming in-house bakery when it hit me– a display labeled “Blind Date with a Book”. I was immediately intrigued.

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I have to hand it to the booksellers at M. Judson– they did an amazing job assigning gripping adjectives to their books because I was torn in several directions when I attempted to make a decision. Ultimately these keywords hooked me: Magical, Funny, Heart-Wrenching, Heart-Warming, & Charming. Without thinking any further, I grabbed the book off the shelf, swiped my credit card, and raced off to the bakery where I sat at a table and immediately began to rip of the wrapping paper.

The reveal… Rabbit Cake by Annie Hartnett.

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I had never heard of this book or this author, but I was captivated by the cover art and the back cover summary:

Elvis Babbitt has a head for the facts: she knows science proves yellow is the happiest color, she knows a healthy male giraffe weighs about 3,000 pounds, and she knows that the naked mole rat is the longest living rodent. She knows she should plan to grieve her mother, who has recently drowned while sleepwalking, for exactly eighteen months. But there are things Elvis doesn’t yet know—like how to keep her sister Lizzie from poisoning herself while sleep-eating or why her father has started wearing her mother’s silk bathrobe around the house. Elvis investigates the strange circumstances of her mother’s death and finds comfort, if not answers, in the people (and animals) of Freedom, Alabama. As hilarious a storyteller as she is heartbreakingly honest, Elvis is a truly original voice in this exploration of grief, family, and the endurance of humor after loss.

After my experience reading Rabbit Cake— which felt so personal, definitely a touch whimsical, and very heartfelt– I will 10/10 always take a chance on a Blind Date with a Book.

My reaction to this book in three emojis:

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Thinking Face: Annie Hartnett definitely provides a lot of food for thought in her first novel, Rabbit Cake. The inquisitive Elvis demonstrates the unceasing curiosity and bluntness of a typical child her age, while also exhibiting an enormous amount of wisdom beyond her years. Questions such as, “What happens when we die?” and, “What is a normal timeline for grief?” gave me pause. And yet– never was there a point where I feel uncomfortable or unnecessarily challenged while on this winding, whirling and difficult journey of Elvis’. Before I knew it, my lovable narrator had come to her personal conclusion, but I did not want the pages to end!

Pink Hearts: A huge theme in this book was that of family ties and unconditional love. I know sisterly love is quite different from the relationship between a brother and sister, but the bond between Elvis and her sister, Lizzie, made me examine all that me and my brother had been through together. We both put each other through the ringer– we’ve stood up for each other, physically and verbally fought with each other, been each other’s main source of comfort, and have been each other’s worse enemy. Even though my brother, Genaro, and I can go months without talking, there is still literally nothing that I wouldn’t do for him simply because he’s my brother. That much I understood– what was interesting, however, was Elvis’s younger sibling idealization of Lizzie as someone older and wiser. Since I am the oldest sibling in the dynamic between Genaro and I, I can’t say I ever experienced those sensations of disillusionment when the “hero” I worshiped proved to not only be a normal person, but at times, a self-destructive monster. After reading certain chapters, I felt painfully sorry for all the times I must have disappointed Genaro by not being the ultimate big sister and best friend. I’m not sure if he ever truly looked up to me or desired friendship from me, but maybe he did… and maybe I failed him.

Four Leaf Clover: I had no idea until I read this book that rabbit cakes could have a place in our lives at any other time other than Easter. According to Elvis’s mother, rabbit cakes are essential for welcoming new beginnings and symbolic of good fortune. Fate and luck were concepts that Elvis wrestled with the entire book as she tried to make sense of her mother’s death. Can we change our fate? Are some of us just unlucky? Does a rabbit cake with a burnt ear actually predict a twisted end is in sight? As a theatre artist, I’ve always been a touch superstitious. I’ve definitely knocked on wood before saying, “I think I nailed that audition” and avoided speaking of the Scottish play in any performance venue…

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Chocolate Moose Bakery inside M. Judson Booksellers

My Favorite Moment:

The best part of Rabbit Cake, for me, was reading about Elvis’s developing interest in her love for animals. Without revealing too many spoilers, Elvis eventually finds herself volunteering at the local zoo and she completely thrives in even the most mundane daily duties of caring for the exotic creatures. There is one chapter where Elvis is invited to watch and assist a veterinarian with the birth of a pygmy hippo. The care and delicacy in the descriptions that Ms. Hartnett laces together of Elvis experiencing this natural phenomenon is nothing short of magic.

My Favorite Quote:

“You want to defend those you love, even if the ones you love aren’t very good all the time. And sometimes they’re even downright awful.”

Halo Top Pairing…

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I’ve gotta be honest, I picked this particular flavor solely because I remember it used to be one of Genaro’s favorites when we were kids. I was personally rather disgusted by it and stuck to mint chocolate chip because I was “older and more sophisticated”. As I stood examining the freezer of frozen desserts, it occurred to me that because of my prejudice against it, I don’t think I have ever actually ordered cookie dough ice cream for myself ever in my life. Now was the time. I found it… very delicious. Dare I say… one of my new favorites? Halo Top does it right– rich, full chunks of cookie dough swirled into creamy vanilla ice cream. My only criticism is that I’m an Eat-the-Whole-Pint kind of gal (this is why I get Halo Top– I just can’t limit myself to half a pint and Halo Top is half the calories), and I simply couldn’t bring myself to finish the ice cream in its entirety… in one sitting. But don’t worry– I didn’t let that kind of deliciousness go to waste and I did in fact finish it the next day.

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