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

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

Recently Updated8

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 // September + October 2015 Edition

Downloads

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 // June 2015 Edition

Recently Updated4 It must be summertime because all I read in June was fiction, fiction, and more fiction! Approximately 1900 pages of good stories, some of them shocking, some of them historic, some of them glorious, and mostly all of them entertaining. Here’s the scoop:

  • I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe This book had me weeping on an airplane last month, totally oblivious to everything except this drama on the Civil War battlefield and the beautiful love story that seemed more real to me than anything around me. When a young farmer decides to join the Army to earn money for a future farm, his young bride can’t stand to be left behind, so she cuts her hair and joins his regiment in disguise. Jeremiah and Rosetta felt as alive as flesh and blood, and I wanted more of the whole story forever. Vivid and gripping, and yet also a sweet and slow story that blooms bit by bit in your imagination and transports you into another piece of history. Read it!  5 stars
  • First Impressions: A Novel of Old Books, Unexpected Love, and Jane Austen by Charlie Lovett A fun read for Austen lovers, but not great literature by any means. The author switches back and forth between Jane Austen writing Pride and Prejudice in 1797, and then modern-day England in which a young woman is trying to learn if Jane Austen plagiarized Pride and Prejudice. It is a light read, not at all believable, but still fun to learn more about Jane Austen.  3 stars
  • Still Life (A Chief Inspector Gamache Novel) by Louise Penny A murder-mystery of the slow, thoughtful kind with people you come to love and wish you knew. The author has written a whole series about this Canadian chief inspector, and this is the first book; the tenth book in the series was a NYT bestseller in 2014. I liked this murder mystery set in a quiet, idyllic town in Canada, but… well, like I said at the beginning, it overall just felt slow.  3 stars
  • Sharp Objects by Gillian Flynn So so disturbing. The kind of book you pick up and can’t put down until you turn the last page, stunned, and look up at the sunny, quiet day around you and thank God your life is nothing like the one in that book.  It’s the first-person account of a young journalist who is sent back to her backwater Missouri hometown and ultra-wealthy family to investigate the recent murder of two young girls in the town. Shocking, brilliant, but lacks the redemptive “true truth” of Gone Girl, in my opinion. — 2 stars
  • Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng “Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet…” — the best first line of a novel I’ve read in a long time. The book is beautiful, sad, rich, tragic, definitely worth your time. However, there is a subplot of a mother abandoning her family to pursue her own selfish dreams (not a spoiler!), and that subplot almost turned me off to the entire book. Just like in The Lowland, it made me almost too angry to appreciate an otherwise excellent novel. Does such a strong reaction from a reader make such a book good… or bad? 3 stars
  • The House at Riverton by Kate Morton She’s a gifted storyteller, and this is a wonderful piece of historical fiction. It’s the story of a woman in her 90s remembering her youth as a servant in a large English household and the terrible secret that ruined it all. Worth reading if you’re a Downton Abbey fan!  However, I loved The Secret Keeper (one of my all-time favorites) and The Forgotten Garden much better than this one. I’m trying to read The Distant Hours right now and it’s slow going…. Are you a Kate Morton fan?4 stars

——–

What have you been reading this month? If you’d like other reading suggestions, check out my book review archives here!

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