Archive | good reads

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 // November & December 2015

Once again, this is another post I got ready before Forest arrived! Lots of good books in here. I’d love to know what you thought if you have read some of them as well!


Recently Updated7 So it’s May, and springtime, and but summer is in the breeze… but for a moment, take yourself back to the cozy, holiday-rich evenings of November and December. Is there anything more delightful than curling up with a good book at the end of a long day, or of reading before a fire after a cold walk? (Yes, we get cold walks in southern California, too!) Almost makes me miss those days, so full of good books!

A lot of these books, though, would make amazing summer beach reads, and many of them are still fresh off the press. In fact, the “hold” list at your library might have just died down on a few of them, so you can go pick them up right away without a long wait. Read on for some good book recommendations.


THE REAL THING by Ellen McCarthy — I didn’t expect to enjoy this one so much! It’s a memoir written by The Washington Post’s weddings reporter, and it covers the things she’s learned, some of her favorite anecdotes, a lot of good relationship advice — and the story of how she found her own love of her life. I laughed out loud and learned a lot, too. This would be a wonderful gift for a sister or friend who’s getting married. — 4 stars


A YEAR IN PROVENCE by Peter Mayle Hilarious and beautiful, this is a lovely memoir of an English couple’s first year of life in Provence… with food, fix-it men, and foibles galore. It reminded me so much of our life in Sicily with the stories and cultural expectations, and it took me back to our little yellow house on the cliff for a couple of weeks. — 4 stars


PEOPLE OF THE BOOK by Geraldine Brooks The plot flips back and forth between modern day and past history as the reader slowly learns the story and journey of an old Jewish book through the centuries in Europe. I enjoyed the story, but I didn’t connect with it as deeply as I did with Year of Wonders. Highly recommended for history buffs and book lovers, though. — 3 stars


THE KNOCKOFF by Lucy Sykes and Jo Piazza — Similar theme to A Window Opens about being nudged out of your own career due to age and technology, and finding a new place for yourself in tried-and-true yet changing industries. Fun even if you’re not much of a fashionista, and definitely an easy and entertaining read. Doesn’t have much enduring quality, and really far-fetched, but still a satisfying story in the end. — 3 stars


THE LAKE HOUSE by Kate Morton — So good! Couldn’t put it down, and it’s a big novel. The three overlapping mysteries are fascinating and touching, filled with surprises and plot twists. Still not as dazzling as The Secret Keeper, but this is probably my second-favorite of her novels now. — 4 stars


THE GIRL FROM FOREIGN by Sadia Shepherd — The author is the daughter of a white Protestant from Colorado and a Muslim from Pakistan, and then she discovers her beloved grandmother is a descendant of the Bene Israel, a tiny Jewish community shipwrecked in India two thousand years ago. Shaken and inspired, she travels to India to uncover the secrets of her family’s past. I loved the cultural connections, but became bogged down in the details and emotions. Recommended for third culture kids! — 3 stars


CAREER OF EVIL by Robert Galbraith I inhale these novels whenever they come out… and when I couldn’t finish the library’s copy in two days before we left for vacation, I ordered it on Amazon because I couldn’t wait to finish it! This one is violent again, and her first Cormoran Strike novel might still be my favorite, but the brilliant, full-bodied main characters keep me coming back for more no matter what mystery they must solve. — 4 stars


EIGHT HUNDRED GRAPES by Laura Dave — This one seemed so promising: a love story based around a family vineyard. Georgia Ford is used to secrets, but then she discovers her fiance has been keeping a devastating secret from her. Returning to her family’s Sonoma vineyard offers little relief, though, when she learns of all the hidden secrets kept there as well. I was disappointed with the writing style, and I found it hard to connect with the main character herself. — 2 stars


THE WONDERFUL WIZARD OF OZ by L. Frank Baum Fascinating to read the true, original story! So much is similar to the movie, but a lot took us by surprise. Lena and I both really enjoyed it. L. Frank Baum wrote much of the Wizard of Oz series in Coronado (“the emerald city”), so it was especially magical to read this book here. — 4 stars


A WINDOW OPENS by Elisabeth Egan — If you enjoyed Where’d You Go, Bernadette?, this is a good one. The main character is Alice Pearce, a mother and part-time editor who decides to take on a full-time job when her husband makes a career change. She lands a job at Scroll, which promises to be the future of reading. When her life and work take several unexpected turns, though, Alice has to make some hard decisions about what she really wants.3 stars


AMERICANAH by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Brilliantly written; it sucked me in from page one. I loved the vivid portrayals of characters in a world that is so foreign to me, and the taste of a culture that is so human and yet so unknown. The characters are not perfect beings, so I was left somewhat disappointed in the end, but perhaps that is how it should be — and, to her credit, I think the author was true to her characters. — 4 stars


Some good, some not so good, but all entertaining. Have you read any of these? Any new book recommendations for this summer, or a new mama with some nursing + reading sessions on her hands?

3 :: in good reads, 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!

4 :: in book reviews, good reads

How Do You Get Rid of Things?

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Earlier this week, I reviewed the books I read in April. One of them was The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, a book I really enjoyed. I would like to put more of Marie Kondo’s ideas into practice, but there is one thing stopping me.

What do you do with all the stuff you want to get rid of?

Marie suggests you put it all in trash bags, but she is vague after that. What you do with perfectly good clothing mixed up with used lotions and extra shampoo and knicknacks? I kept reading her book to find out what she suggested.

But she suggested nothing. She was not concerned about the stuff she purged. After reading the entire book, my best guess is that she puts all of it in a dumpster and forgets about it.

But when I look at my pile of “no longer wanted” stuff in our garage, I can’t imagine just heaving it all into a dumpster. There’s a pair of barely used Chacos (women’s size 9, do you want them?) and three pretty vases and two boxes of books and stacks and stacks of kids’ clothing.

There are two reasons I can’t just dump all this stuff.

The first is thrift. If I go through my closet and really, truly only keep items that “bring me joy,” there are going to be a lot of perfectly good jeans and dresses and shoes that go into trash bags. And the idea of throwing them into the dumpster isn’t just wasteful, it’s also sad. I bought all of these things in the past five years or so, and some of them brand new and for full price. Am I really going to throw them all away? Or take them to Goodwill and never recoup any of my financial investment?

So I don’t. I put them in the garage, and when I have a few minutes I photograph them and try to sell them on a local online yard sale site, or on eBay, or on Craigslist. I try and I am successful about 25% of the time. I make a few dollars. Is it worth the trouble?

A penny saved is a penny earned… right?

The other reason I can’t throw things out is that I value reusing and recycling things. Almost all of my children’s clothes were already used when I acquired them. Some of them have a lot of life left, and I’d rather encourage reusing and recycling in our culture and help people who also don’t want to buy new.

But then I stop and look at a lot of the secondhand things I am attempting to resell, and I wonder if it is worth selling some of these clothes. By the time my children have worn their secondhand clothing, even the nice brands are very worn. Is it fair to sell these things and not donate them? Is it worth the time and effort?

What do you think? What do you do? How do you recoup your initial investment, and how do you just let go of things?

I would love to live in a home where we use what we own and where we love everything in our house. I enjoy living simply and thoughtfully and thriftily. But besides the really obvious point of only buying what I absolutely love and absolutely need from here on out, how do I get there?


P.S. Don’t forget to enter our beautiful giveaway before it closes on Friday at midnight!

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