Monday, January 15, 2018

On the Bookshelf: Winter Reads

Y'all, it's cold outside. I was spoiled last year with a very mild winter (flip flops outside in January!), so this year having days on end of single digits or 20-degree days is a bit sad for me. I'd be okay if there was snow, but if there's no snow, there's no need for cold weather in my opinion. So I've been curling up with blankets in bed and on the couch a lot, and I've been moving through fiction and non-fiction books. Let's take a look at what I've been reading lately!

Reset your child's brain : a four-week plan to end meltdowns, raise grades, and boost social skills, by Victoria Dunckley. In this book, Dunckley draws from her experiences as a psychiatrist to talk about what she calls Electronic Screen Syndrome, which occurs when kids are overstimulated and pushed into hyper-arousal from being exposed to electronic screens. Much of this book was very technical, making it slow-ish to read, but it was very interesting and quite convicting. After going through all of the negative effects that electronic screens can have on people, Dunckley provides a Reset Plan to help your child recover. One of the things I loved about this was how individualized it was. Instead of stating that each and every child should or shouldn't have _____ amount of exposure, Dunckley stresses that it's important to address the problems and needs of your particular child. I honestly think everyone should read this book, because even if you're not a parent, it can make you more aware of the impact of screens on the human person. I've gotten a lot more intentional about my screen time since reading this, which has been really good for me. Though as much as I like this book, I want to point out one thing: Since the author spends her professional life helping families who have been negatively effected by screens, she doesn't really look on video games favorably-or on gamers. As the wife of a competitive gamer, I have seen some amazing community and fellowship that springs up among gamers, and I've met some pretty fabulous people who are gamers. All that being said, this is a great book and I highly recommend reading it or at least checking out her website. 

Serving Victoria: Life in the royal household, by Kate Hubbard. I picked up this book when my library-probably in an effort to help people fill the time until Season 2 of Victoria premiered-had a big ol' display of books all about Queen Victoria. This book followed different men and women who served Victoria, and it was really interesting to learn about the queen through the lens of her companions and to learn about the time period. I learned about "mourning warehouses," the queen's rather quirky way of dealing with conflict while dining, and the difficulties that came with being the minister who preached sermons to the queen. This book is rather large, as it covers the entirety of Victoria's life as queen, and parts of it drug on for me a little bit with the historical details about English politics, but I'm glad that I read it. Even though it took me a while to push through some of the drier bits, I still enjoyed this book overall. 

Last Christmas in Paris, by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb. When I saw how highly Michelle recommended this book, I knew that I NEEDED to read it-and I was not disappointed. This is an epistolary novel set in WWI as friends and relatives cope with the changes in life that the Great War brings to them. I loved it. It's so utterly charming, heartbreaking, and beautiful. There's beautiful themes of love and forgiveness, and I particularly enjoyed the story line revolving around reporting the war and propaganda in the newspapers. The characters came alive, I really appreciated that it focused on WWI-which doesn't seem to get as much popular literary attention as WWII-and it was just awesome. Read this book. 

Lagom: The Swedish Art of Living a Balanced, Happy Life, by Niki Brantmark. This book had a cover similar to The Little Book of Hygge, so naturally I picked it up ;) In small sections of a few pages each, and with cute illustrations and photographs, the author showed different ways that Swedish people try to have a healthy lifestyle, through biking, enjoying the outdoors, taking a morning dip in chilly water (brr!), or having regular coffee/treat breaks. It wasn't a hugely monumental book for me to read, since I've already picked upon some of the stuff it mentioned from other books, but it was still a fun read on a cold day :) 

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Who Run the World? Squirrels, by North & Henderson. I just love Squirrel Girl. She's one of my favorite superheroes, and I would love it if there was a movie made for her someday so that the rest of the world could fall in love with her (are you listening, Marvel?). This is another fun installment in the saga of SG, and it includes her adventure of getting a rich mentor and that one time she and Nancy went on a trip, leaving Koi Boi, Chipmunk Hunk, and Brain Drain in charge of protecting NYC. This volume in particular wasn't my top-favorite, but I still really enjoyed it. To read why you should consider reading the Squirrel Girl comic books, check out this post. 

Never Let Me Go, by Kazuo Ishiguro. Oh my, it's hard to say much about this book without giving away spoilers. I'll try anyway: This story is given through the eyes and voice of Kathy, a woman who is looking back on her childhood at Hailsham, a boarding school in England. She rambles about her life with her friends Ruth and Tommy in this reclusive school that is surrounded by secrets and a mysterious atmosphere. These friends part ways, only to come into each other's lives later on in life. Because this book is the ramblings of a woman looking back on her life, it moves slowly, and information is divulged in very small doses, so the puzzle of life at Hailsham comes together bit by bit but isn't really fully revealed until the end. This is a book about friendship, about forgiveness, and about some really disturbing views held in Kathy's England (which aren't too far off our world's views). There's some really interesting food for thought here about cloning, the dignity of human persons who are created in laboratories, and the importance of art. I also will mention that a good chunk of the ramblings in this book are about sex, since Kathy & friends were given very little education about this and were trying to figure things out. Also, since the world in this book has very little regard for the meaning of sex or the dignity of the person. I skipped a couple of the sections that I felt were a bit more graphic than I needed to read, but there was lots of really interesting discussion-starters here for mature adults. I liked reading this book and thinking through the various struggles and dilemmas that the characters face, and I honestly thought it was a very well-written story. 

Rise: How a House Built a Family, by Cara Brookins. This is a memoir in which Brookins shares about how she and her family rebuilt their lives by building their own house. Brookins relates-in uncomfortable and horrifying detail-abusive marriages she was in, and how those relationships affected her and her children. She shows how building this house, with her children as a building crew and Youtube as their guide, brought them together as a family and helped them heal. I really liked seeing the individual family members grow and pull together, and it was kind of mind-boggling to read about them building a house when they had never done that kind of thing before! The part of this book that I didn't like was the scattered sections in which the author discussed her meditation time pretty in-depth. I skipped over those parts, they were a little too New Agey/weird for me. Interesting book, but not one I'd probably re-read. 

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Similar to Last Christmas in Paris in its feeling and tone, this book is an epistolary novel set after WWII. Juliet is a celebrated author who is experiencing a bit of writer's block. One day, she receives a letter from a man who lives on the island of Guernsey and owns a book by Charles Lamb which has her name written inside. He wants to read more by and about Lamb, so he reaches out to Juliet for guidance...and so her life is forever changed. Through a series of letters between Juliet and the inhabitants of Guernsey, she learns about the fate the people there suffered during the war. She gets to know a variety of personalities who are quite unique, quirky, and endearing. My only disappointment with this book? That there was no recipe for Potato Peel Pie in the back. Just kidding, I'm not sure if I'd be into that kind of pie or not...I loved this book, and I found it utterly charming and delightful. I highly recommend it. 

At Home in Mitford, by Jan Karon. Question: how have I been completely ignorant of this book until the past few months? Karon's book is exactly my cup of tea: a quaint town in America, filled with vibrant (and lovable!) characters who go about their daily lives and show us that just because a small town may seem boring, tons of adventures and excitement are in store. Father Tim, the local Episcopalian rector, finds his life turned upside-down every day, beginning with a massive dog that pretty much adopts him. He mentors a troubled youth, deals with a jewel thief, tries to peaceably resolve a variety of crises that the town members face, and naturally, finds himself spinning when an attractive woman moves next door. I just loved this book, and it's the perfect "cozy up under blankets in winter" type of story. Even though it's about 400 or so pages long, I think I read through it in two days because I loved it that much. And apparently there's more books in the series! If y'all need me, I'll be over here reading the Mitford books ;) 

I hope you enjoyed taking a look at what's been keeping me occupied lately! I have a shocking amount of book titles saved on my library account that I need to read eventually, but that list can (and should) grow, so if you have any recommendations, please send them my way :) 


  1. Ah, another interesting look at your bookshelf! Added to my own to-read list, and always enjoy seeing the variety in what you read.

  2. I loved The Guernsey Literary Society! Odd to say, but it was the most humorous and enjoyable book about WWII that I've ever read.