Thursday, July 19, 2018

On the Bookshelf: The Bookish Summer Continues

I've been requesting bunches of books through inter-library loan as I try to make a dent in my "to read" list, so I figured it'd be a good time to hop on here and mention what I've been reading! 

Legendary Ladies, by Ann Shen. This was a short, interesting book about 50 goddesses from various worldwide mythologies-Greek, Hawaiian, Chinese, and Indian, to name a few. There was 1/2-1 page on each goddess and an accompanying illustration. Mythology and world religions have always intrigued me, and I thought this was a very user friendly and easy-to-read look at mythological figures. The part of this book that I didn't really like was the "find your patron goddess" vibe that seeped its way into the text. Other than that, it was pretty fun to pick up and look through! 

Designs for Living and Learning: Transforming Early Childhood Environments, by Deb Curtis and Margie Carter. I LOVED this book. It was all about creating a beautiful environment and educating young children. The book draws from several different methodologies (Montessori, Waldorf, Reggio Emilia) instead of just adhering to one educational philosophy, which I appreciated-there was no "according to such-and-such method, you need to do this." It was much more along the lines of "here are some great early childhood environments we found all over the country (and internationally), let's take a look at what they involve!" This book seemed to be written primarily for people who own and operate childhood education centers or schools, and there were sections about ratings, requirements, and that kind of thing-but I think a lot of this book is fairly applicable to people who want to homeschool, and it's made me a lot more mindful about the type of environment I help create in our home.

Convenience Store Woman, by Sayaka Murata. This was a dark, somewhat cynical and comical look at society's expectations through the eyes of a 36-year-old single woman, Keiko, who has been working at the same convenience store for 18 years. Quirky, at times semi-philosophical, this book was a fun read. It was hard for me to pin down Keiko's persona, perhaps because I don't live in Japan and don't understand all of the references and themes of the story? It's depressing that she merely sees herself as a cog in the machine of society, as a Convenience Store Worker, instead of a human being. And I'm not thrilled with the social acceptance of cohabitation that's presented in this book (though it's an accurate representation for a lot of secular society). Yet, this book was funny, and really interesting. This book is pretty small and is a very quick read, but it is thought-provoking and really  makes one think about what it means to live up to society's expectations, and what it can look like if you choose to live differently.

Off the Clock, by  Laura VanderkamThis was an awesome time-management book, but more than using hours in an advantageous way, this book was about how to live well. A lot of the content dealt with the importance of savoring the goodness of life and lingering in the enjoyable moments. I particularly loved how the author drew from the lives of different people-successful businessmen and women as well as moms of children-to show that we all have the same amount of hours in a week, and we all have a choice we can make about how to use those hours. I really loved this book, and I highly recommend it-there was a lot of good wisdom and important reminders in here! 

The Joy of Less, by Francine Jay. This was a somewhat underwhelming minimalism book for me-maybe I've just read too much on minimalism? The author does a good job laying out different steps and techniques towards achieving a minimalist life, but while she clarifies that there is no one specific image of minimalism-and that it will look differently for different people-she also seems to place an emphasis on just not having much stuff (she did advocate not owning board games with small pieces, which kind of turned me off haha). However, something I loved that I pretty much never see in other minimalist writings was the importance of involving your kids. One of my huge pet peeves is when people, in their enthusiasm to declutter, advocate sending your kids away to their grandparents' house and then getting rid of a bunch of their toys. Personally, I don't think this teaches the kids any good lessons and isn't respectful of their boundaries-yet so many people do this. So I was very happy to see it addressed :) 

Sisters First, by Jenna Bush Hager and Barbara Pierce Bush. This was an enjoyable memoir about the Bush twins. I was a young kid when their dad became president, so I honestly didn't know that much about the Bush twins (and I'm not very well versed on the controversies of George W Bush's presidency). I thought it was fascinating to get some insights on their life and learn about what it was like for them to spend some very formative years under the shadow of the Secret Service. I particularly liked reading about the diversity in political opinions and lifestyles that have been accepted (and encouraged) in their family, even if I didn't agree with them. I know that some families don't really allow or encourage varying political views within the family, and I always assumed that highly public and political families (like the Bush family) were this way-I thought it was nice to see that this is not necessarily the case. 

Wives and Daughters, by Elizabeth Gaskell. This novel was unfinished at the time of Gaskell's death, so the ending isn't quite as satisfactory as I'd like, but it's a beautiful story about 17 year old Molly Gibson and what happens when her father, a widower, remarries a rather vain and manipulative woman, Hyacinth (who happens to have a daughter, Cynthia, that is Molly's age). The story follows Molly and her family and the people she knows and loves in their area. Gaskell is a superb observer of humanity, and I love how she crafts her characters. I also really enjoyed that Molly was a very strong woman, but also had moments of complete emotional collapse-she has complexity and development and I really appreciated that. I recommend picking this one up! 

The Jane Austen Project, by Kathleen Flynn. Liam and Rachel, an actor and a doctor, are sent from the future back to 1815. Their objective? To steal (and copy) letters from Jane Austen, as well as her manuscript of "The Watsons." I thought the premise of this book was really interesting, and I loved reading about the challenges Liam and Rachel face as they tried to seamlessly assimilate into 19th century life in England. I was disappointed to come across some sex references in the earlier parts of the story, but they seemed fairly isolated from the main storyline so I kept with it. But then, towards the end of the book, I sensed a pretty big sex scene so I started skipping around as the story neared its conclusion. I thought there was some interesting stuff about time-travel and how it affects the present and future, but honestly, I wound up skipping several sections of this book because I didn't want to read explicit stuff, and I was not a fan of the last scene. So I don't really recommend it. 

The Secret Keeper, by Kate Morton. This book begins with teenage Laurel Nicolson daydreaming and enjoying some "me time" while the rest of her family celebrates her baby brother's birthday. From her treehouse perch, she witnesses her mother down below encounter a stranger and do a rather shocking and horrific thing. Haunted by what she witnessed, fifty years later as a famous actress who is visiting her dying mother, Laurel seeks to unravel the web of secrets and mysteries that has surrounded her life. Morton jumps back and forth between different times and places (including wartime England), deftly tying together the lives of various characters in a fascinating way. There was a little bit of sexual content, but it really didn't overwhelm the story. I enjoyed that the characters in this story (as opposed to The Distant Hours) seek to uncover the truth and find healing instead of just falling back into lies and deceit. I really enjoyed this book and also liked the depth of familial love and interactions that it included. 

And that's a wrap! I still have a bunch of books from the library that I still need to get to, so hopefully before the summer ends I'll have another literature round-up on here. As always, if you have any recommendations, please let me know because I love adding to my reading list! 


  1. I LOVED The Secret Keeper! It was definitely my favorite Kate Morton novel.

  2. I love your book reviews and I always get some good ideas from them. I so much enjoy wives and daughters. I reread and watch it frequently. I think the ending in the movie is pretty well done if slightly far-fetched. I love her overall hopeful attitude towards life as a writer. When I was a teacher my students often commented how many authors had said lives and wrote out of that sadness or in defiance of it. But I love that Elizabeth gas go truly live to happy life and yet had much to say and much insight into characters. Also along the lines of minimalism I've been reading the tightwad Gazette which was a newspaper column in the 90s and has now been compiled into books. Some of the suggestions are so funny summer helpful others are just interesting.

    1. Ellen, I'm so glad you enjoy these book reviews! Thanks for letting me know about Wives and Daughters-I've never seen the movie, but I think I'll have to watch that sometime in the next few months. Thanks for mentioning the Tightwad Gazette-that sounds like it could be really fascinating to look at.