Archive | 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

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!

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

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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