Archive | book reviews

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!

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

On Becca’s Bookshelf // May Edition

Recently Updated3 Well hi! It’s been a while. How’s your summer so far?

You know how when you slack off on something — writing in journal, vacuuming your floor, updating your photo album — it becomes absolutely intimidating to think of getting back to it? And catching up so it’s fresh and clean and up to date again?

But I’m back again… as I always am eventually! I love this little record of our lives in this little corner of the internet, and I love connecting with you all here. I know a lot of you see our everyday updates on Instagram and Facebook, but some of you don’t (I’m thinking of you, Nicole!). So here we go with a little update…

… and let’s start with books!

May was not a great month for reading, I guess. Elliott was gone for three weeks of May for Airborne School in Fort Benning, Georgia, and my parents were here for two weeks of that time, so the month felt more busy than usual. Here’s what I thought of these four books:

  • Love Walked In by Marisa de los Santos I chose this because it was on Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Minimalist Summer Reading Guide, but I was underwhelmed. It’s the story of Cornelia, lover of silver screen movies and classic literature, whose ho-hum life as a coffee shop manager turns on its head the day she meets a Cary Grant-lookalike and his young daughter. Sweet, literary, and romantic, but fell short of being enchanting. All the characters felt superlative, rather than truly human. — 3 stars
  • Sparkly Green Earrings by Melanie ShankleSo many fun quotes about motherhood in this book, such as: “There is really no better indicator you’re a mother than acquiring the ability to catch throw-up in a plastic bag, disinfect your hands, and immediately ask your friend to pass the beef jerky as you put on another Taylor Swift song and act as if nothing has happened.” But overall my takeaway was… meh. It was ok. I like the Big Mama blog (her Fashion Friday posts are a guilty pleasure), but I guess I was hoping for more substance here. I haven’t chosen to do a lot of the things she did in parenting, which maybe made it harder to relate to.  3 stars
  • The Accident by Chris Pavone Another one recommended by Modern Mrs. Darcy, this time in her 2015 Summer Reading Guide. I was excited because I loved Pavone’s first novel, The Expats, which I read in about 24 hours last September. This second novel includes some of the same characters as his first dark-side-of-the-CIA thriller; it’s page-turner about publishing a book of incriminating secrets. A little wordy, and not the tightest plot, but still hard to put down and seriously entertaining.  3 stars
  • The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande Being Mortal blew my mind in April, so I had to read the fourth Atul Gawande book, the only one I hadn’t read. This book touched on a subject near and dear to Gawande’s research and life goals: getting surgeons to use a simple procedural checklist before each surgery… all over the world. He used many engaging stories to make his point. In the end, I thought it was good, but probably the least gripping of his four books. The stories and the theme are just not as engaging. That said, however, it is a crucial topic, and I want to use more checklists in my life after reading this.  3 stars

Four books and all of them got a so-so rating of three stars! Yikes. Thankfully my June reads were much better. I’ll be posting soon with a summary of those… maybe this week if I’m lucky. ;)

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

On Becca’s Bookshelf // April 2015 Edition

Recently Updated1 April was a month of wonderful reads! I’m excited to share these with you all. Which ones have you already read?

  • Being Moral by Atul Gawande — The author is a general surgeon in Boston and the author of several bestsellers that I have devoured over the years. He has such an eloquent way of explaining the medical world to the common man, which I hugely admire as an RN. In this book, he tackles the concept of dying in modern American medicine, exploring both old age and illness. My biggest takeaway: hospice at home is a great gift to families and the dying. I would love my parents to read this book, and I think everyone should. — 5 stars
  • Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins — Critics compare this book to Gone Girl, but I don’t like that comparison. Yes, it’s a female thriller, but where Gone Girl had depth and insight into human nature, Girl on the Train has shock factor and not one relatable character. I have to give it a few stars because I couldn’t put it down and I was totally surprised by the ending, but beyond that… I’m not a fan. Very dark, sad story of some very desperate, twisted people. Reader discretion advised. — 3 stars
  • The Art of Arranging Flowers by Lynne Branard — Never judge a book by its cover. This one gave me such high hopes! But instead it was a wordy novel with flat, stereotypical characters and a slow, tepid plot line. Also, the author avoided writing about some of the most interesting parts by just skipping ahead in the story and referring to those events in past tense. Disappointing. Now this means, of course, that someone else needs to write a good novel about the owner of a flower shop… hmm… — 2 stars
  • The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo — This little book has swept the world with its revolutionary advice. Kondo’s style and advice is truly unique as she guides you, step by step, through cleaning out your whole house of “everything that does not bring you joy” and then reorganizing it in the space you already have. She promises that her clients never backslide and that tidying up so thoroughly in this way will transform your life. The book is totally materialistic, assuming that possessions and the arrangement of them will give you the greatest joy in life, but it is still enormously helpful in allowing you to assess what you have, what you need, and get rid of excess. — 4 stars
  • The Big Milly-Molly-Mandy Storybook by Joyce Brisley — I read this aloud to Lena after finding it at a used book sale at our library. The illustrations are beautiful, but the story is very simplistic. Very U.K. in the 1920s. Might be more fun for a young girl to read to herself at age eight or so than for a mother to read aloud to her daughter. — 3 stars
  • An Assembly Such As This by Pamela Aiden This book is Part I of a trilogy re-telling “Pride & Prejudice” from Darcy’s perspective. Initially I was not that interested because the book is very true to Austen’s writing style, and I find Austen difficult to read. (Is that sacrilegious to Austen fans out there?!) However, once I got into the story, I found myself thinking about it all the time, eager to read a few more pages about Darcy falling in love with Elizabeth. I’m planning to read the other two books in the trilogy… just because I want to know how it ends all over again! — 3 stars
  • Pippi Goes on Board by Astrid Lindgren — Another rollicking Pippi classic! Lena and I enjoyed this book so much that I read it aloud to her twice before returning it to the library. Lena named her favorite kitten Pippi, and so far our little Pippi is living up to her namesake. — 5 stars
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith — I have been meaning to read this book for ages, but finally my book club chose it as our April read and I had the kick in the pants that I needed. It took a few chapters to get into the story, but once I was I found myself sighing and laughing and reading multiple passages aloud to Elliott. Such a “true truth” story with such magnificent characters, set in a slice of time in American history that we will never get back. The most beautiful thing I’ve read in a long while.  6 stars (because this is my blog and it deserves it!)


What did you read in April? Have you read any of these books? Readers and I would love any recommendations if you have them!

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

Personalize Your Own Handmade Doll & Book GIVEAWAY with BB&J!

abby11 w princess closeup b barnyard closeup w someday closeup This giveaway has been in the works for a long time, and I am so so excited for this day! One of my dearest friends in Sicily, Anna Harris, has been hard at work launching her own handmade business.

A year and a half ago, Anna and I shared a space at a craft fair, which I blogged about here. This was the first time I’d seen Anna’s dolls, and they were selling like hotcakes! Since then she has further developed her vision and work, and now she sells handmade dolls that are inspired by classic children’s books.

I love love love Anna’s philosophy: “Books and dolls come together here to create play, inspire imagination, and make memories. bb&j dolls are for those who seek a slow-paced play and imagination-based lifestyle in the midst of this fast-paced technological world. When our lives can be excessively stimulated, bb&j toys bring you “back to basics.”

meandolivia w blue secret closeup w maple closeup Anna’s shop opens on Sunday, May 3! All her beautiful dolls are handmade by Anna in her home in Sicily, Italy. Bonus: U.S. shipping rates will apply to all orders!

Today Anna and I are giving away one customized doll of your choice and a children’s book to go with it!

Which doll and book combination would you choose for a little person you know? becca-garber-bbj-giveaway-doll-book.jpg bmagnificentcloseup w places closeup You have SIX different ways to enter which gives you six chances to win!

Giveaway ends next Friday, May 8, at midnight. May the odds be ever in your favor. :)

abby3 ——–

And we have a winner! #44, Heidi P. Congrats, Heidi, and thank you again, Anna!!!

57 :: in book reviews, giveaway, good reads

On Becca’s Bookshelf // January Edition

Recently Updated259-001 January was a wonderful, wonderful month. I am so thankful for January. It started off at home in Virginia with family, and then we came back to Coronado and really plunged into life here in a new way. I felt like a lot of friendships bloomed in January, and we celebrated Gil’s birthday and our 5th anniversary, and I made some new friends through this and this, and I did a couple cool things on the blog, and Coronado felt like home. Elliott’s schedule was also fairly light, and so we were together a lot as a family, which was especially sweet.

Why am I saying all this? Isn’t this post about books? Is it almost 10pm at night? Am I tired? Is there a glass of wine beside me?


So anyway, January came with some good reads. Well, ok, really just one, but all five were sweet and satisfying at the same time. Also… all fiction! (I’m remedying that in February by reading a massive tome on Hurricane Katrina and getting a seeeerious non-fiction fix.)

Here’s what went down in the reading department in January:

  • Delicious! by Ruth Riechl After Garlic & Sapphires, I became a fan of Ruth Riechl, the former New York Times food critic. Delicious! is her work of fiction and seemed promising, even if I felt very confused by the first chapter… twice. (I couldn’t get into it, returned it to the library, checked it out again a month later, was still confused, pressed forward, eventually finished it.) The story revolves around the closure of a cooking magazine in NYC, and I enjoyed the emphasis on food and writing. There’s an Anne Shirley-ish heroine, a bit of romance, eccentric friendships, hidden libraries, and delicious cheese shops. However, too many aspects of the story felt unbelievable or saccharine. Overall, sweet and relaxing, but maybe too much so? — 3 stars 
  • The Rosie Effect by Graeme Simsion I loved The Rosie Project, a hilarious first-person account of a socially awkward genetics professor on a quest for true love. The Rosie Effect is its sequel, and I put it on hold the instant it became available at our library. But oh… the disappointment of a reader’s unrequited love. The book was scattered, painfully awkward, and much too long. Better to have left The Rosie Project without a sequel. 2 stars
  • The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin — I heard that this book was good for book lovers, so I picked it up at the library without knowing its premise. The story moves from believable to fantastical and back again, but it’s fun. A.J. Fikry is grumpy bookseller in a small, fictitious town off the coast of Cape Cod, but his dreary life changes abruptly one night when he finds an abandoned baby in his bookstore. Thus begins a journey of hope and restoration that is laced with good book references and nicely intertwined plot development. It’s well-crafted and ultimately satisfying. — 3.5 stars
  • Silver Bay by Jojo Moyes — Another Jojo book! (See my review of one of her previous novels here.) This is another of her earlier works, written before she exploded onto the international book scene with Me Before You and One Plus One. Just like The Ship of Brides, I found this book was too long, but this one is better crafted. The characters are easy to love, and the setting of a fading whale-watching town Australia has nostalgic appeal. The main character, Mike Dormer, is a flashy London developer who is commissioned to set up a beach resort in Silver Bay, but when he actually comes to know the inhabitants of the small town — and especially the salt-crusted Silver Bay Hotel — he begins to realize his work will destroy something fragile and precious in more ways than one. — 3 stars
  • Gilead by Marilynne Robinson — I’ve been meaning and wanting and trying to read this book for years now. Finally I ran out of books to read over Christmas and found this one in my parents’ house. It took me the whole month to read it — slowly, in spoonfuls, savoring and digesting — and I am so glad I stuck with it. People told me, “Nothing happens,” and they were right in some ways, but I found myself more fascinated with the innerworkings of minister John Ames’ struggle to forgive and to say goodbye than I expected. I also found out that Home and Lila, her more recent works, are written from the perspectives of the other two main characters in this story. What a fascinating idea! Have any of you read this or her others? — 4 stars

Of all these books, I’m most interested in what you all thought of Gilead. Have you read it? Do you want to? Did you ever try and set it aside, bored or disillusioned? Or was it the most perfect thing you’ve ever read? Spill the beans, por favor!

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

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