Quick Lit: Reading Wrap-Up // February 2016

Quick Lit: Reading Wrap-Up // February 2016

Welcome to Quick Lit, where I share reviews of the books I’ve been reading (and listening to) lately. I love this monthly opportunity to participate in Modern Mrs. Darcy’s Quick Lit link-up, which gives me a chance to share my own book reviews and read the picks and pans from a community of book-loving bloggers.

My reading life lately has been predictably eclectic, filled with everything from parenting books to romantic comedies, and a whole slew of Louise Penny mysteries. Here’s a look at what I’ve been reading lately.

Nonfiction

Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear, by Elizabeth Gilbert: I remember reading Eat, Pray, Love many years ago and being enamored with both the book and the author; I read little nonfiction at the time, and it was one of the first memoirs I actually enjoyed. I’ve since heard Gilbert interviewed on a number of podcasts and have been increasingly impressed by her insights and perspectives, so I’ve been eager to glean even more inspiration and wisdom from her latest bestseller. Gilbert invites readers into a relentless pursuit of creativity (defined by Gilbert as a life driven more strongly by curiosity than by fear). Aspects of the book are admittedly a bit mystical, but I was encouraged and inspired by Gilbert’s personal experiences and those of others shared in the book. I particularly resonated with her thoughts on conquering fear, overcoming perfectionism, embracing failure, and being willing to take your art a little less seriously. This is an excellent read for anyone seeking permission to embrace a life of curiosity and creativity. My Rating: 4 stars. (I shared more on this book in this post.)


Solve Your Child’s Sleep Problems, by Richard Ferber: When the last book I read on sleep—the one that was supposed to solve ALL of our sleep problems—left me underwhelmed and still very sleep deprived, I lost all hope of finding answers to our sleep issues (at least not within the pages of a book). Luke was more optimistic, though, and after reading many reviews, he settled on Dr. Ferber’s classic tutorial as our next foray into the world of sleep experts. We each agreed to read the book and hoped that it would give us some much-needed answers to our current sleep dilemmas.

Despite my skepticism I found myself very impressed with this book. Dr. Ferber thoroughly explains the mechanics of sleep, providing parents with a strong understanding of sleep in general and going into depth on many common sleep problems. The book follows a user-friendly format and is written in everyday language, offering science-backed explanations in layman’s terms. Dr. Ferber provides case studies from his own practice to illustrate various issues and how they were solved, but the book does not feel weighed down by anecdotes. Most importantly, Dr. Ferber offers step-by-step advice for children of all ages, and for families who practice all manner of parenting styles. I had always assumed that cosleeping and attachment parenting were antithetical to sleep training, but Dr. Ferber does not negate the value of these alternative parenting methods and offers suggestions for making them work while also helping children and their parents to get the best possible sleep. I greatly appreciated this non-judgmental, balanced approach.

We had been planning to begin sleep training Charlie right after his birthday, but to be honest, I totally chickened out. Whether or not we eventually decide to implement Dr. Ferber’s suggestions, I am glad that I read this book and feel that it has given me a much more thorough understanding of how sleep works. My Rating: 4.5 stars.


Babyproofing Your Marriage: How to Laugh More and Argue Less As Your Family Grows, by Stacie Harris Cockrell, Cathy O’Neill, and Julia Stone: A new baby brings undeniable joy and purpose to a family, but the addition of a third family member can also wreak havoc on a marriage. In Babyproofing Your Marriage, three young moms offer suggestions for keeping your marriage afloat during the challenging early years of parenthood. Written for both men and women, the book offers a gender-neutral perspective, with advice and feedback from husbands and wives. Though their suggestions are far from groundbreaking, I appreciated the reminders regarding issues such as the benefits of shared responsibilities and the importance of intimacy and self care. The book’s true usefulness lies in the dozens of testimonials from other couples who are struggling through the baby years. I enjoyed hearing from others who are facing challenges similar to our own, and found their stories validating and also encouraging. In the midst of these tougher years, it is helpful to be reminded that marriage challenges are normal and not insurmountable. My Rating: 4 stars. 


Make it Happen, by Lara Casey: I read this as my “book by someone I’ve heard interviewed” for my 2016 Reading Challenge. I’ll be sharing a thorough review next Thursday! Spoiler alert: I loved it!


Fiction

The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd: Prior to reading this book with my book club, I’d heard nothing but good things about Sue Monk Kidd’s novels, so I was eager to read one for myself. The Invention of Wings is the fictionalized account of abolitionist Sarah Grimké and her personal slave, “Handful.” The sweeping novel begins in 1803 when Sarah receives Handful as a gift for her 11th birthday, and it follows the two women through the next several decades of their eventful lives. This beautiful piece of historical fiction exposed me to some of the more shocking aspects of slavery, and I appreciated the insights into the hearts and minds of those who fought against it. For a character-driven novel, the primary players feel surprisingly sterile, and while the earliest sections are nuanced and richly drawn, the book’s second half feels rushed and a bit too fact-driven. But as a whole, I found this to be a poignant and engaging novel. My Rating: 4 stars.


Eight Hundred Grapes, by Laura Dave: Georgia Ford is a successful lawyer who is one week away from marrying the man of her dreams. But when Georgia discovers that her fiancé has been keeping secrets from her, she makes an impromptu visit to the Sonoma vineyard where she grew up. Though hoping for a renewed sense of security, Georgia comes home to a family in shambles and is forced to face the hidden secrets behind her seemingly idyllic upbringing. This lighthearted romantic comedy is highly readable, but completely implausible and not exactly original. I was drawn to the romantic setting and enjoyed the glimpses into life on a vineyard, but the characters lack depth, as does the writing style. My Rating: 3.5 stars.


Chief Inspector Gamache Novels

I’ve been plowing through the audiobooks* in this series, setting a personal record for “most books read by a single author in a given month.” Prior to this latest run with the series, I’d read three of these books—out of order, which I wouldn’t recommend. Though I’ve enjoyed some books more than others, each novel has increased my appreciation for the series as a whole. The novels all feature Penny’s seductive prose and wry undertones—stylistic elements that are lacking in most of the plot-driven mysteries I’ve read in the past. Penny’s novels are comfortable without being formulaic, and the running storyline between the books adds cohesion to the series without detracting from each individual novel. I’ve fallen in love with the little village of Three Pines and its quirky residents, who have grown to feel like old friends as I’ve ventured deeper into the series.  As for the individual books in the series, here are my thoughts:

The Cruelest Month (Chief Inspector Ganache Novel, Book 3)by Louise Penny: It’s Easter in Three Pines, and a group of villages has decided to celebrate with a seance held in a supposedly haunted house. Not surprisingly, the event ends in murder, and Chief Inspector Gamache is called in to solve the crime. The Cruelest Month is just as beautifully written as its predecessors, but I found the mystery itself to be predictable and much less interesting. However, the parallel storyline involving Gamache’s personal life added an intriguing element to the novel and left me eager to read more about this compelling character. My Rating: 3.5 stars.


The Brutal Telling (Chief Inspector Ganache Novel, Book 5), by Louise Penny: The death of an unidentified hermit outside of Three Pines leads Inspector Gamache and his team to the discovery of a treasure trove of priceless antiquities. As Gamache sorts through the threads of deceit surrounding the dead man and his potential killers, we are carried along on a gripping journey into the complex inner world of Three Pines and its citizens. This is an utterly compelling read and I found myself completely absorbed by the story—easily the best in the series thus fur. . . until the end, which was disappointingly inconclusive. I can accept cliffhangers within overarching storylines, but was not happy to see the primary mystery left unresolved. My Rating: 3.5 stars.


Bury Your Dead (Chief Inspector Ganache Novel, Book 6), by Louise Penny: After the unsatisfactory finish to Book 5, I was especially eager to dive right into this next book. Thankfully, Bury Your Dead picks up the where The Brutal Telling left off, with a reopening of the investigation into the murder of the mysterious hermit. I didn’t care for the break in the storyline but was happy to finally get some resolution. I enjoyed the way Penny wove this previous storyline with two new subplots: the death of a historian in Quebec City, and a third investigation that is described through flashbacks throughout the book. This third story arc gives Penny the opportunity to explore the character of Gamache at a deeper level, giving her readers a more thorough understanding of this fascinating but flawed protagonist. With its change in setting and divided focus, Bury Your Dead is a departure from Penny’s usual style, but she manages to pull it off, while still maintaining the integrity of her series and its characters. My Rating: 4 stars.


A Trick of the Light (Chief Inspector Ganache Novel, Book 7), by Louise Penny: Set against the backdrop of the complex and often cruel art world, A Trick of the Light focuses on the death of a vicious art critic. The quirky residents of Three Pines all make an appearance in this novel, and we get more insights into their lives and into plot lines that have been touched on earlier in the series. I was surprised to see that Alcoholics Anonymous features prominently in this book, and I appreciated Penny’s delicate treatment of the sensitive topic. The book’s conclusion met my desire for resolution while also leaving me wanting more! My Rating: 4 stars.


A Beautiful Mystery (Chief Inspector Ganache Novel, Book 8), by Louise Penny: This was my least favorite book in the series thus far. Set within a monastery situated deep in the wilderness of Quebec, the novel centers around the murder of the monastery’s renowned choir director. Penny’s depiction of monastery life is equal parts intriguing and repellent, and while the monastery provides a unique backdrop, I found myself missing the Three Pines setting and didn’t particularly care for the locked-room structure this alternative setting elicited. The primary storyline felt a bit forced, and while the secondary plot (which focuses on Inspector Gamache’s assistant, Beauvoir) is much more engaging, I was unhappy with the route Penny chose to take with Beauvoir’s character. My Rating: 3 stars.


How the Light Gets In (Chief Inspector Ganache Novel, Book 9), by Louise Penny: Inspector Gamache is back in Three Pines, this time for both personal and professional reasons: he is investigating the death of an elderly woman, whose story is heavily inspired by the real-life Dionne quintuplets. But Gamache is also using the village as a safe headquarters for his personal quest to uncover his personal nemeses. This book is easily the best in the series! In addition to giving her readers an excellent new mystery, the novel satisfactorily wraps up series-long story arcs in an astounding, tear-inducing finale. Had I not known that there were more books in the series, I would have assumed that this was the conclusion to the Inspector Gamache novels and would have been completely satisfied with the way Penny chose to wrap things up. However, I’m glad that there are still more Inspector Gamache novels for me to read, and I look forward to seeing what’s in store for the inspector and the village of Three Pines. My Rating: 4.5 stars.


*These books are excellent in audio format! I enjoyed the interview with the narrator (Ralph Cosham) at the end of Book 9; I was intrigued to hear that Cosham does not read the books prior to recording, choosing instead to discover the story along with his audience!


February 2016 Reading Wrap-Up

Have you read any of these books? If so, did your views align with mine? I love comparing reviews, so leave a comment to share your thoughts!

  • Oh the Louise Penny books sounds so good! I would love to have a new mystery author to read! I have Big Magic but I haven’t started it yet. Your review made me look even more forward to reading it!

    • If you like mysteries you’ll love Louise Penny; and I hope you enjoy Big Magic!

  • Wow you made it through a lot of books! Aren’t audiobooks great for that? 🙂 I agree about Big Magic – it was such an inspiring and freeing book for me. But I have mixed feelings about Inspector Gamache – I liked his quiet, methodical character. But I actually wasn’t a huge fan of the other characters in the book – they just didn’t “grab” me the way I’d have liked.

    • It took me a few books to really connect with the other characters, but now that I know them I find them all so endearing in their own little ways.

  • I love the Gamache series audiobooks! I’ve read up to number 8. And I also love Big Magic. And I’m still feeling for you as you plow through those sleep training books. Solidarity, sister.

    • Haha, thank you Sheri!

  • Lindsay Lea

    I loved Big Magic! Have you listened to her “Magic Lessons” podcast?

    • Yes, I have. I really enjoyed her episode with Brené Brown!