Archive | good reads

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

Our 6 Favorite Picture Books about Paris

becca-garber-favorite-picture-books-paris In honor of our trip to Paris one year ago, I decided to share with you a few of our favorite picture books that take place in Paris!

We already love and own two classic picture books about Paris — Madeline and Mirette on the High Wire. These will always be my first loves, and they rise above any others as enduring classics. Do you know and love them as well?

These new favorites pictured above, though, all come from this extensive list that my friend Becca shared with me a few months ago. I found most of them at my local library. Some weren’t that great, in my opinion, like this one — I just can’t love this character, try as I might, and the book was a headache to read aloud.

But these six are our new favorites. They, along with Madeline and Mirette, are the crème de la crème, as they say!



by Leslie Kimmelman

A cheerful book without many words, this is great for teaching children how to say hello in French. A young girl travels throughout Paris — to a patisserie, a soccer game, the Eiffel Tower — and everyone says “bonjour!” wherever she goes. Helpful for teaching children — and adults! — that greeting with a bonjour is essential before any interaction in France. I wish I’d read this before we visited.



Eve Titus

“Anatole is a most honorable mouse.” This beautifully illustrated Caldecott Honor book is the story of a mouse who decides to earn food for his family in an honest way, so he sneaks into a cheese factory, tastes all the cheeses, and leaves little notes on them indicating “good,” “not so good,” “needs orange peel,” and so on. The cheesemakers love his advice, but they cannot imagine who this connoisseur could be…



Angela Dominguez

This is a sweet and simple book, and not super Parisian, but Lena really enjoyed it, so I’m putting it on the list. Hugo is a dapper bird who loves his city, but he only loves it from the ground — because he refuses to fly. Then he meets a lovely little bird named Lulu who convinces him to spread his wings. How long can he keep her on the ground? Will he ever learn to fly?



Jon Agee

Once again, I was not as big a fan, but Lena requested it over and over, so what do I know?! Felix Clousseau is an odd old painter, and no one paid him any mind — until his paintings come alive and volcanoes start erupting and ducks start quacking in them. This is all a nuisance, and his paintings are confiscated. All except one. Will that painting save the crown and make Clousseau a hero? I’ll give you one guess. ;)



Barbara McClintock

Adele and Simon are a brother and sister walking home from school in Paris who see their friends and the sights of Paris along the way. Simon, however, has his hands full of books and crayons and binoculars, and he can’t seem to keep track of them. He loses something on every page! Can you find them for him? The illustrations are beautiful, and both Lena and I loved this book. I also recommend Adele & Simon in America.



Miroslav Sasek

What a wonderful book! If you are planning a trip to Paris, this is essential reading — and it would make a charming gift for an adult, too. The author writes the book to you, the reader, with wonderful pictures of everything you will see and do in Paris. The illustrations are gorgeous, the writing is tongue-in-cheek, and the whole book is fresh and delightful, even though it was written in the 1960s. Check out the rest of Sasek’s travel series as well.


Now, even as I put together this post I came across more picture books set in Paris that I haven’t even heard of yet. We even have one in our house right now — The Tooth Mouse — that takes place in Notre Dame and is just wonderful.

Do you have any favorite picture books that are set in Paris? We’d love to hear!

17 :: in good reads, Paris

On Becca’s Bookshelf // March 2015 Edition

Recently Updated-001 Wow, I read more in March than I thought I did! Probably because Elliott was home so I was watching a lot fewer chick flicks than in February. ;) More books, less sitting around moping about how lonely I felt every evening!

Of the eight books I read in March, I had one definite favorite, and several other good reads as well, including two chapter books I read aloud to Lena:

  • Every Bitter Thing is Sweet by Sara Hagarty — I was so astonished to see this book in our local (small!) public library that I checked it out immediately. Sara graduated a few years ahead of me in college, and Elliott knew both Sara and her husband at UVA. This book is the story of her faith over the past 20 years from the time she made a decision to follow Christ, to her college years of ministry, through the rough first years of marriage, over years of trying to conceive a child, to eventually adopting four children from Africa. Her writing style isn’t for everyone (very meditative and somewhat stream-of-consciousness), but her story is very spiritually encouraging. — 4 stars
  • The Traveling Tea Shop by Belinda Jones — I bought this book from the author herself, a fellow Coronado resident, and I’m excited to go to a book event for it (as a reporter!) later this month. I knew it was chick lit and went in with low expectations, but it left me happy and satisfied. It’s full of friendship and cake and New England and redemption and a little bit of romance — what’s not to love? — 3 stars
  • Pippi Longstocking by Astrid LindgrenWho else read Pippi as a girl? I read all the Pippi books when I was about eight or nine, and she was larger than life to me. Turns out they’re perfect for reading aloud to almost-four-year-old girls! I had to modify some parts because Pippi uses words like “stupid, stupid!” and some parents might not like all her shenanigans, but overall Lena and I have laughed out loud and share an even deeper love for Pippi than ever. — 5 stars
  • The Smartest Kids in the World and How They Got That Way by Amanda RipleyFavorite book of the month! It focuses on three American high schoolers who go to Finland, Korea, and Poland in 2011 as exchange students. Their experiences and the resulting research are totally fascinating; it reads like a novel. I now have a much better understanding of what constitutes a “good school”: not electronics or money or programs or even diversity, but good teachers who believe their students can all be excellent scholars. And, simple as it is, it gave me encouragement for homeschooling, too (if we homeschool one day!), because I realized the thing kids most need to excel academically isn’t other kids or field trips or iPads in 1st Grade. What they need is high standards and excellent instructors who communicate learning well.5 stars
  • Mastering the Art of French Eating by Ann MahAnn lived in Paris for four years, but during the first year she lived in Paris alone while her husband (a U.S. diplomat) unexpectedly spent a year in Iraq. She decided to spend that lonely season exploring several regions of France and their cuisine. Good to read slowly, to appreciate the depth of research and heart that went into this memoir. You must love food and love France to enjoy it, though; she doesn’t mince words. — 3 stars
  • The Undertaking by Audrey MageeA fictional love story set during WWII. Katharina and Peter decide to marry sight unseen so that a) Peter gets honeymoon leave from the front lines and b) Katharina has a husband and benefits during the war. The story kept me riveted, but in the end my main takeaway was that it was so so sad. Both the characters and I felt so much hope, but war and people are astonishingly cruel. Nevertheless, I appreciated the window into German life in Berlin and on the Russian front during WWII. Magee’s spartan, dialogue-heavy writing style is unique, too. — 3 stars
  • We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy FowlerIntriguing first-person (fictionalized) account of a girl who was raised with a chimpanzee as her sister in an otherwise regular home. The story begins at the end, when she is making sense of her usual childhood and the years after the chimpanzee left their family. Interesting premise, but the story was too discombobulated and messy to enjoy in a deep and satisfying way. — 3 stars
  • Pinocchio by Carlo CollodiOne day I told Lena the story of the boy whose nose grew every time he told a lie, and then we decided to read the original story. We chose the full-length version, as translated from the Italian. I disliked the black-and-white morals: if you’re a bad boy, bad things happen, but if you’re good, you get your dreams. Definitely not the Disney version that leaves you with cozy, happy feelings. Three-year-old Lena enjoyed having it read aloud to her, but it wasn’t my favorite.  3 stars

And now I need to hurry up and read A Tree Grows in Brooklyn before Book Club on Tuesday night. Have you ever read it? It’s been on my “want to read” list forever, but clearly I keep procrastinating!

What did you read in March? Any favorites?

18 :: in good reads, On Becca’s Bookshelf

On Becca’s Bookshelf // February Edition

Recently Updated250 Don’t you love how I stuck those wonderful children’s books in there? ;) I thought that might make some of you smile! And since they took more than 10 minutes to read aloud to my daughter, I decided to count them so that I can remember some of the sweetest things I read in 2015.

Here’s the rundown of what I read in February:

  • Burial Rights by Hannah Kent — My Australian friend Clare wrote to me, wondering if I’d heard of this novel. “It is one the best books I have read in a long time.” With a recommendation like that, I put it on hold at the library right away. And Clare was right! It is based on the true story of a young Icelandic woman who is involved in the murder of three men, and she was the last woman to be beheaded in Iceland in the early 1800s. The author first heard the story of Agnes Magnusdottir when she was a high school exchange student in Iceland, and — at the age of 28 — she published this fictionalized account. It is a breathtaking debut and has received critical acclaim around the world. I loved this window into a frozen, unknown land through Kent’s beautiful writing. — 4 stars
  • Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White — I think Lena (who will be four next month) was still too young to appreciate the beauty and complexity of this book. However, she still enjoyed the story, and the book dazzled me. I loved the raw honesty about life and death and growing up, and the last lines brought tears to my eyes. If you need a refreshing dip back into the simpler, black-and-white world of childhood, I would highly recommend reading this book again. And if you have a mature four-year-old or older, drop everything and read this aloud with him or her! — 5 stars
  • We Were Liars by E. Lockhart — I picked up this book and literally couldn’t put it down until I turned the last page at 1am. Gripping and shocking and desperate and sad, but also beautiful and tender. You will enjoy it if you love New England summers, young adult fiction, and reading about the real, raw pain underneath the smooth surface of a person. Gut-wrenching, so be prepared for a hard story and incredible plot twists. — 3 stars
  • Five Days at Memorial by Sheri Fink Dense and intense! It is the story of one hospital during Hurricane Katrina where one doctor and two nurses (and maybe others) euthanized several very sick patients. The story is, of course, much more convoluted than that, and it is fascinating to see media, morals, and medicine collide in the smarmy wake that Katrina left behind. Make sure you’re up for 450 pages of detailed, vibrant reporting about medical ethics, disaster management, and legal quandaries. 4 stars
  • Paris Letters by Janice MacLeod — I already shared part of this book here and gave away a copy of it with the author, so you know I enjoyed it! Paris Letters isn’t for everyone, though. Janice is telling her own story, and some may find her narrative style heavy-handed and her life choices questionable, much like Lunch in Paris. Still, I was inspired that she made her dreams come true (to quit her job and travel the world) and still dreamier things followed (like her very own wedding in Paris). — 4 stars
  • Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder Better than I ever remembered. What beautiful, simple, soothing writing about a sliver of time in American history. Lena and I snuggled under blankets and traveled back in time into the cold Big Woods, where Ma churned butter and Pa played his fiddle and Laura and Mary learned about sugar snow and hog killing and harvest time.  These books are such a gift to subsequent generations, and I can’t wait to read them aloud for years with my children. — 5 stars

Have you read any of these books? Any other suggestions for this little book-loving community on this blog? You have already suggested some wonderful ones… thank you!

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23 :: in good reads, On Becca’s Bookshelf, Uncategorized

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