Archive | book reviews

On Becca’s Bookshelf // 10 Favorite Books in 2016

collage-2017-01-231 I looooove to read a good book. This, I know, bemuses my husband, who appreciates my love for literature but envies my ability to dive into a novel and forget all else. My sense of responsibility to life fades when I have the hottest new title in hand! He gets it, though. We are a pair of readers who are doing our best to raise a whole family of bookworms.

This year I read 64 books, and you can see all of them here in my Goodreads account. I thought it would be fun to pick my 10 favorite books, the ones I still remember in my daily life (because let’s be honest… a lot of them I already barely remember reading…) and that had the biggest impact on me. They aren’t necessarily the best books I’ve ever read (although some of them are!), but they have been the most influential, thought-provoking, or just plain fun.

Let’s talk books…

*****

THE ONE IN A MILLION BOY by Monica WoodThis is the story of an 11-year-old boy and the 104-year-old woman he comes to help every Saturday morning, and the influence their lives and memories have on those around them. It reminded me of the current bestseller A Man Called Ove, a book I liked, but I didn’t love as much as this one. It took me a couple of chapters to get into One-in-a-Million Boy, but by then I was in love with the young boy with his records, the old lady with a touch of spice, the bewildered father finally growing up, and the grieving mother learning to live again. Deeper and sweeter and truer than I expected. Tears were shed. Highly recommend. — 5 stars

*****

THE WONDER by Emma Donoghue In rural Ireland, a lonely but meticulous nurse is hired to keep watch over a child who claims to be living on manna from heaven. It’s a mystery — can the nurse solve it? The author’s clean prose kept me engaged even when the story flagged a bit in the middle. Worth it for the ending! For some reason I keep thinking about this book, maybe because the plot was so unusual. — 4 stars

*****

MY BRILLIANT FRIEND by Elena FerranteThis Italian novel is intensely detailed and unlike anything I’ve ever read. Sometimes I felt bored, sometimes confused, sometimes awed. This book (and the two sequels in the trilogy) are mega-bestsellers, but while reading I wondered what the hype was all about. Was this just a soap opera about two poor Italian girls? But there is more here. There is truth in the portrayal of this dependent, jealous, undying friendship and the friends, family, and country that influences it. Time to find the second one in the series…. — 4 stars

*****

BABY CATCHER: CHRONICLES OF A MODERN MIDWIFE by Peggy VincentThis is a highly readable, endlessly entertaining account of a midwife who was practicing during the “wild west” of midwifery (1980s and ’90s) before a lot of our modern laws came into effect. Made me laugh out loud as well as cry. For those who love birth stories, or even just want to see inside the mind of your assistants, nurses, and doctors at childbirth, this is a wonderful read. — 5 stars

*****

THE DOLLHOUSE by Fiona DavisI recommend this book with caution, as it is certainly rated PG-13 in parts and many of you may not care for it. The book captured a slice of women’s history in the 1950s when women lived in a large hotel (nicknamed “The Dollhouse”) in Manhattan while pursuing acting, modeling, or secretarial careers. The story overlaps with a modern-day journalist who is writing about the hotel, and the entire book is all set in the old hotel itself. I could hardly put it down. — 3.5 stars

*****

FAITHFUL by Alice HoffmanA good story of loss, brokenness, and redemption. I recommend this one with caution as well as many of you might not connect with the main character. That said, the author realistically described someone who is suffering after a terrible tragedy for which she (wrongly) takes all the blame. After a slow, faltering journey, she finally matures out of the brokenness and into a strong, confident woman. (Also, as the wife of a veterinarian, I loved the veterinary angle. Animal rescuers will love this one.) — 3.5 stars

*****

TRULY MADLY GUILTY by Liane MoriartyLike all the best of Moriarty’s books, this one is set in a regular Australian suburban neighborhood with very human parents and their very beloved children — and then tragedy strikes and all presuppositions and choices in life are reexamined. This was so very insightful about the human condition, the way we think, and our motives and fears and desires. I loved the clever way the author told the story and the thoughtful weaving together of threads to resolve it. Another reason why Liane Moriarty is one of my favorites! — 4 stars

*****

THE NIGHTINGALE by Kristin Hannah “Some stories don’t have happy endings. Even love stories. Maybe especially love stories.” Beautiful, gripping, real, and so very sad. It is the story of two adult daughters and their father in occupied France during WWII and how each of them fights and survives the war in their own unique way. A love story of family and marriage and country. Beautifully written. I read this soon after reading All the Light We Cannot See and, truthfully, I enjoyed this one more. — 5 stars

*****

ELIGIBLE by Curtis SittenfeldWhat a fun, creative book! The author kept me totally entertained the entire time with her clever modernization of the story of Pride and Prejudice, beginning in Cincinnati, Ohio, where the Bennett family is abuzz with the gossip that the most recent star of the hit TV romance show (called Eligible, but clearly The Bachelor) has just moved to Cincinnati for his job as a doctor at the local hospital. I laughed out loud at many of the author’s reinterpretations of the story. Very smart, almost believable, and completely enjoyable. — 3.5 stars

Note: The story deals with many aspects of sexuality with which some might be uncomfortable, and it is not for the prudish. If you are a P&P fan and don’t mind a bit of a racy novel, you’ll enjoy this one, but I do recommend with caution.

*****

WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR by Paul Kalanithi And I saved the best for last. This book was written by a young neurosurgeon who has just discovered he has a potentially terminal cancer diagnosis. He grapples with work and faith and love as he struggles to finish his training, to prepare for possible death, and to continue to live fully in the world for as long as he can. Magnificent, gut-wrenching, true. One of the best and most powerful books I’ve read in a long time. I’ll be recommending this to everyone.5 stars

*****

And there you have it! Have you read any of these? Any recommendations to share with all of us?

Right now I just finished re-reading The Happiness Project, started The Gilded Years last night, and hope to get my hands on The Mothers by Brit Bennett at the library. Have you read any of these?

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7 :: in book reviews, On Becca’s Bookshelf

On Becca’s Bookshelf // January & February 2016 Edition

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Here is another series of book reviews, although I am falling farther and farther behind in their timeliness! It’s fascinating to come back to these books months later and remember what stuck with me and affected me.

*****

ALICE’S ADVENTURES IN WONDERLAND by Lewis Carroll — Stranger than I thought it would be! Still, I appreciated finally reading the book behind so much art, culture, and fantasy. I read this aloud to four-year-old Lena, and I am sure she didn’t retain much of it, so I think we’ll have to read it again in a couple of years. P.S. This is the beautiful edition that we read! Love the illustrations. — 3 stars

*****

BABY CATCHER: CHRONICLES OF A MODERN MIDWIFE by Peggy Vincent — The highly readable, endlessly entertaining account of a midwife who was practicing during the “wild west” of midwifery before a lot of our modern laws came into effect. Made me laugh out loud as well as cry. For those who love birth stories, or even just want to see inside the mind of the assistants/nurses/doctors at childbirth, this is a wonderful read. — 5 stars

*****

CLEANING HOUSE: A MOM’S TWELVE-MONTH EXPERIMENT TO RID HER HOME OF YOUTH ENTITLEMENT by Kay Wills Wyma Easy to read, kind of in the style of Jenn Hatmaker. The author has 4 entitled teens and preteens, so she establishes a year of chores, meal prep, handyman jobs, and other projects around their house and community to teach her kids to take responsibility and learn to be adults. It was inspiring… but harder to put into practice, I know, than to read about it while lying on the couch!  4 stars

*****

THE IMMORTAL LIFE OF HENRIETTA LACKS by Rebecca Skloot — Everyone loves this book and everyone has read this book, it seems, and I am finally catching up. I enjoyed it, but I guess I felt certain parts could have been explained better, and the book seemed to lose some momentum after the initial retelling of Henrietta’s life. Still, very entertaining and informative. — 4 stars

*****

SUMMERLAND by Elin Hilderbrand — So help me, I love this Nantucket dramas. It’s hard to find a better beach read than Elin’s books, although her characters’ depravity always surprises me. As it’s intended to, I suppose. —  4 stars

*****

FARMER BOY by Laura Ingalls Wilder — I read this one aloud to Lena as well, and she enjoyed it, although it is a little less exciting than some of the other books in the Little House series. As always, the author makes a period of American history come to life in brilliant color. — 5 stars

*****

LIFE AFTER LIFE by Kate Atkinson — This one was a little strange. A young woman lives her life over and over and over again, making different choices each time. It is set in England during the start of WWII, and the author draws the character into many national and international historical events. I didn’t love it, but it does offer excellent writing and a fascinating premise. — 4 stars

*****

BOUNDARIES WITH KIDS by Henry Cloud and John Townsend Full of wisdom, but dense. Best slowly digested over time. The book left me grateful that I was raised with clear boundaries (I knew when to say yes and no, what was right and wrong, and felt in control of my life), and I am inspired to continue to pass on structure, expectations, and the peace that comes from them to my children. That’s the goal, anyway!  4 stars

*****

ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr Finally, after everyone told me I should read it, I really did! And it WAS magnificent. However, the story was slow, a quiet unspooling of history, and didn’t grip me as much as I expected. It’s a book I’d like to return to down the road to read again and fully appreciate.  4 stars

*****

Have you read any of these books? Do you agree or disagree with any of my reviews? I’d love to know what you’re reading this summer!

4 :: in book reviews, good reads, On Becca’s Bookshelf

On Becca’s Bookshelf // September + October 2015 Edition

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So funny story about this. I sat down to write a book post, decided to combine my September and October reads from forever ago, began to make the collage — and then just had a nagging feeling that I’d already done this. I checked my drafts, and sure enough I started this post way back in the fall but never finished it!

So here’s to finishing things. Happy Friday!

The fall felt busy, and my reading slowed down a little as I got caught in some larger, longer books, like Seabiscuit and God’s Hotel. (The same is true now, but I’m reading a 500-page tome, so I’ll blame it on that!) I mixed up the fall reading with some fun, light stuff, though — as always!

*****

9780525426592_custom-771e68183dad310e9eff4577f588179e46f0421a-s300-c85AFTER YOU

Jojo Moyes

I was so excited about this follow-up to Moyes’ dazzling Me Before You (soon to be a movie!). But this novel was disappointing, especially after her last several novels, all vibrant bestsellers. It felt forced and too long, and I had a hard time caring about the characters, their troubles, and even their choices. Oh well, sequels must be so hard to write. 

3 stars

*****

book_cover_400x600SECRETS OF AN ORGANIZED MOM

Barbara Reich

Best to get this book when you’re ready to march around your house and do what she says, as it is basically an embellished, very helpful list of how to organize each part of your home at a time. Not exactly inspirational or bedtime reading, though. I found it a little too specific and less inspirational, so I still prefer The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up over this one.

3 stars

*****

41ER04S8koL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_WHY NOT ME?

Mindy Kaling

Silly and honest, light and fun. Her insights into Hollywood were more interesting to me now that I live close to L.A., and I read this book around the time Elliott and I spent a day there for a promotional dinner for his book. She describes a lot of her career track, which is fascinating, as well as many quirks and expectations of the film industry. Hard not to love Mindy! 

3 stars

*****

514QzhdM+LL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_HANDS FREE MAMA

Rachel Macy Stafford

Not what I expected! Not as much practical advice, mostly stream-of-consciousness meditations on how much the author would have missed had she not stopped, put down her phone, and forgotten her to do list for a while. I would have liked it better if she’d incorporated more stories from other women, or had mentioned her husband more than twice, and had made the book about half as long. Still, lots of wisdom.

3 stars

*****

51BgqdyrfGL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_PRETENDING TO DANCE

Diane Chamberlain

Touching story of adoption and healing after a childhood tragedy. Molly Arnette lives in San Diego and has a perfect life, but the story of why she ran away from her childhood home will come back to haunt her when she prepares to adopt her first child. The story was well-told, but the writing style and coming-of-age angle didn’t strike a deep chord with me.

3 stars

*****

indexGOD’S HOTEL

Victoria Sweet

I read this in anticipation of our trip to San Francisco, as it is the story of an SF “almshouse,” or long-term rehabilitation hospital for patients who have no other place to go. I loved the anecdotes of “slow medicine” (like slow food) that is gives people time to heal, even if it takes years. I’ve experienced some of that as a nurse, even in the ICU. For those with any interest in urban medicine, this is a beautiful and thoughtful memoir.

4 stars

*****

Seabiscuit_An_American_LegendSEABISCUIT

Lauren Hillenbrand

Slow in parts, but still masterfully written by Lauren Hillenbrand, author of Unbroken. The writer plunges deep into the backgrounds of the famous little racehorse, his owner, his trainer, and his jockey, before unspooling their story of a few losses, many more victories, and some amazing comebacks. I read this book while Elliott and I were hiking in Yosemite for six days, and it will forever remind me of that time!

4 stars

*****

51Ny5-y08NL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_THE RUMOR

Elin Hilderbrand

Easy reading and hard to put down, and the characters feel like people you know, even if they’re not the most admirable of folks. Readers be warned that this is your typical beach novel, and so the characters’ moral choices may not sit well with many readers. On the positive side, the book is set in Nantucket — always a lovely place to visit, if only through the pages of a breezy novel!

3 stars

*****

What have you been reading lately that you’d recommend? I think I need something light that I can’t put down; I’ve been reading too many WWII novels lately. I just finished reading all the Molly (American Girl) books to Lena, and even those were WWII!

Have a wonderful weekend! xoxo

6 :: in Becoming a Stay-at-Home Mom Series, book reviews, On Becca’s Bookshelf

On Becca’s Bookshelf // August 2015 Edition

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I thought I’d continue the theme of books on this fine Friday morning — what do you think? Our book giveaway is going strong, and here are some more book recommendations for your weekend! I have another post up my sleeve for next week, though, which is a smattering of pictures about our family these past few weeks, since I haven’t shared a personal update for a while.

In the meantime, here’s what I read in August!

  • The Aviator’s Wife by Melanie Benjamin I knew nothing about the Lindberghs other than Charles L. looked very handsome in that b&w photo after he flew across the Atlantic for the first time. This book was an amazing window inside a strong and influential woman in U.S. history, and was written in such a way that I didn’t want to put it down despite its length. I had no idea of the unlikely alliance of the Lindberghs’ marriage, the kidnapping of their infant son, Anne Morrow’s slow steeling over time, and her independent author’s life in the sunset of their marriage. Historical fiction at its finest. Definitely recommend.  4 stars
  • The Good Nurse: A True Story of Medicine, Madness, and Murder by Charles Graeber Over 16 years in 9 different hospitals, Nurse Charles Cullen intentionally killed approximately 400 patients with drug overdoses. His motive? The book explores that as well as the timeline of the murders and the investigation. It’s well-written but poorly edited, and the subject is definitely more interesting to me since I was an ICU nurse like Charles was… meaning that I think most people would find it too long and somewhat tedious.  2 stars
  • The Royal We by Heather Cocks and Jessica Morgan — This is a hefty tome entirely written for women who are obsessed with Will and Kate and all things British royalty. (I am the wrong person to read this book because I’ve forgotten Will and Kate’s children’s names, but even still, I really enjoyed this novel!) It’s is the first-person account of Becca, an American college student who spends a term at Oxford and lives in the same hall as Nick, the prince and heir apparent to the throne of England. The two fall helplessly in love, despite the fact that they can never get married — or can they? And what will the royal family say when they find out? It was fun, irreverent, and satisfying. Warning: it would be rated R if it was a movie, so don’t read it if you wouldn’t watch it! — 3 stars
  • Year of Wonders: A Novel of the Plague by Geraldine BrooksThis is my first Geraldine Brooks novel, and I found it to be magnificent in its scope and background research, a truly masterfully written novel. It’s not for the faint of heart or stomach because she spares little detail or mercy in describing the horrible suffering the plague victims endured, both socially and emotionally as well as physically. I was surprised and vaguely disappointed by the last 1/5 of the book, but I suppose that is the author’s choice. I though it was an abrupt departure from the direction the rest of the novel had taken. Either way — now I want to read her other two novels! — 4 stars
  • I Know How She Does ItHow Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time by Laura Vanderkam — This is a non-fiction book that I picked for my book club to read, and I’ll just say that in some small ways it has changed my life. The author researched the lives of working mothers who make over $100k per year by having them fill out a weeklong time log showing how they spent their time in 30-minute increments. How do they handle dinner, babies, childcare, and house cleaning? It was fascinating. The book was heavy on the data in the first half (about work), but it was easier to appreciate her wisdom and find it applicable in the second half (about time management and self care). I only work part time, though, not full time, and so I am sure moms would find it more relevant who work 30+ hours a week. Now I’m tracking every 1/2 hour of my week, just to see how I spend my time (ie. how I do it), and it’s already interesting and making me rethink my time management. — 4 stars
  • To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee — I read this only because Elliott was horrified to see that I’d checked Go Set a Watchman out of the library and wasn’t going to re-read TKAM again first. Apparently we’d agreed to do this and I had totally forgotten, but anyway — I went ahead and read TKAM again. Let me just say that the novel reads very differently when you are an adult who has experienced pain and suffering and life and death vs. a kid in 9th Grade who has just begun to feel. I laughed out loud, predictably teared up, and felt breathless when I closed the novel on the last page. What a magnificent book! After that, I felt like I’d experienced the greatest American novel, and I wasn’t going to ruin it or my opinion of Harper Lee by reading the discarded first draft of TKAM (Go Set a Watchman). Read it (again)! You won’t regret it! — 5 SPARKLING GOLD STARS

What’s on your bedside table right now? I am finishing this convicting memoir about putting down my phone and focusing on my children, and I just got this book at the library tonight to prepare for an upcoming trip to San Francisco! What have you read lately that you recommend?

8 :: in book reviews, good reads

On Becca’s Bookshelf // July 2015 Edition

Recently Updated5 I haven’t done one of these in a while! Did you guys get to read a lot this summer? Sometimes I find that I have less time in the looser, less-scheduled days of summer… and sometimes I have more! July was a good month because we spent two weeks of it back in Virginia with family — and lots of aunts and uncles and grandparents played with our kids while I got to read. ;)

  • Shepherding a Child’s Heart by Ted Tripp Took me 13 months to finish it, but I finally did! In the end, the book challenged and inspired me in my relationship with my children and my attitude toward training up a child in the way he should go. I deeply appreciate that the author’s main message is, “In the final analysis, you must entrust your children to God… the God who has dealt so graciously with you.” Amen to that.  4 stars
  • Little Beach Street Bakery by Jenny Colgan Such a sweet, heartwarming book! I couldn’t put it down. It’s a lighthearted British novel about a young woman who moves to a little Cornish town to get a fresh start in life, and in her newfound loneliness and spare time, she starts baking bread. Her delicious loaves win her a place in the heart of the town. Polly’s baking, kindness, and determination for a fresh, simple start in life made for a wonderful read.  4 stars
  • American Wife by Taya Kyle I originally decided to read this because the Naval Special Warfare (aka SEALs) wives were reading it for book club, but in the end I’m glad I read it for other reasons, too. It is a sad story of a marriage that went through extremes ups and downs with deployment and the demands of NSW life, but then achieved a level of peace and camaraderie — right before Chris Kyle (of the movie American Sniper) was killed in a tragic shooting. Taya writes about the year afterwards and how she coped, grieved, and matured. I think it is a stunning look into the heart of grief, and it is handled with grace, honesty, and faith. — 3 stars
  • Happier at Home by Gretchen Rubin Once again, Gretchen approaches finding joy in her life with a thoughtful and devoted year of goal-setting, goal-adjusting, and goal-achieving. I enjoyed it, just as I did The Happiness Project, but once again it grew tedious at times. Maybe I just feel like her ultimate purpose (to be happy) felt temporal, and so it’s hard to get totally on board. Overall a worthwhile read, and very inspiring about setting goals and accomplishing them.  3 stars
  • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury — This is a quick read that — although written in the 1950s — was amazingly insightful for its time. Sadly for us, the author’s predictions about our addiction to screens and disregard of history (the wisdom inside of books) become more and more accurate every year. Compelling and masterfully written. I’m so glad I finally read this one.  4 stars
  • An Old-Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott I’ve loved this book since I was a girl, and I’ve enjoyed coming back to it over the years. It’s the story of country-girl Polly (another Polly!) and her interactions with a city-bred family, showing the ways her values of honesty, mercy, and compassion win out in the end. Always a sweet reminder of remaining true to yourself and good, if old-fashioned, morals. It usually pays off!  4 stars
  • The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness by Timothy Keller Every Christian should read this… probably every week. Such a good reminder to find our true value in Christ’s finished work on the cross, rather than in our own self-fulfillment and self-worth. And because it’s only a very slim 45 pages, it takes just an hour to read!  5 stars
  • Why Christian Kids Need a Christian Education by Douglas Wilson Another quick book, easy to read in an hour. For me, Douglas Wilson is a tough guy to love. However, I do appreciate the case for a strong Christian culture and also that the most important work you have in this life is raising your children in an environment where they witness God’s work in history and goodness in their lives, that they might love and know him always. I am not sure that means you avoid “government schools” (his derogatory term for public schools) entirely, though.  — 2 stars

     ——–

There are a few hot topics about parenting mentioned in these books! Have you read any of these? Do you agree or disagree with my conclusions?

If you’d like other reading suggestions, check out my book review archives here!

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