It’s hard to believe that we’re already well into January. It might be a new year, but some things never change. . . including my pursuit of excellent books! I’ve done a fair amount of reading in the past few weeks: I read a handful of mysteries (some better than others), did a bit of rereading (an uncommon occurrence), discovered some excellent nonfiction books, and wrapped up a couple of baby books that I wanted to finish before my baby turns one. Here’s an in-depth look at the books that have been on my nightstand lately.
Why Not Me?, by Mindy Kaling: In this bestselling comic memoir, Mindy Kaling candidly shares her thoughts on life as an unlikely Hollywood starlet. While not laugh-out-loud funny, this collection off essays is thoroughly entertaining and reinforced everything I love about Mindy: she is charmingly relatable, remarkably self aware, and open about her insecurities without reverting to self deprecation. I enjoy her smart sense of humor and admire her as an actress, a writer, and a human being. As with all celebrity memoirs, I highly recommend listening to the audio version. My Rating: 4 stars.
Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child, by Marc Weissbluth: After hearing from many trusted sources that this was THE definitive book on sleep, I eagerly purchased it and began reading it even before Charlie was born. Much of the book is categorized according to the child’s development, so over the year I’ve been reading the sections that have corresponded with Charlie’s age. (Because I was ready to finish up the book before the end of Charlie’s first year, I skimmed the sections related to older children and can FINALLY check this one off my list.) Dr. Weissbluth is a pediatrician and established sleep researcher, and he spends much of the book discussing the importance of sleep and the value of establishing a schedule. His information is supported by research and elucidated through case studies shared throughout the book. I found these explanations valuable and interesting. However, I did not care for the format of the book, which was repetitive and very difficult to follow; Dr. Weissbluth acknowledges that his readers are likely sleep deprived (i.e., have short attention spans!) and I believe a more streamlined tutorial, with more lists of PRACTICAL strategies (beyond just theories), would have been much more beneficial. I also felt like all of Weissbluth’s research and suggestions came down to the strategy of letting a baby cry it out. Since that hasn’t been something we’ve been willing to do with Charlie, I gleaned little of practical value from the book. My Rating: 3 stars.
What to Expect the First Year, by Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel: This was another book I picked up before Charlie was born and have been reading throughout the year, studying up on the monthly advice and age-related information as Charlie approached each new month. I finished up the book a few weeks ago when Charlie passed the 11-month mark. I appreciated the book’s information and suggestions and found the advice to be balanced and helpful. The downside to reading a book like this is that it fueled my anxieties about Charlie’s development. I know that every mother is constantly comparing her child(ren) to his/her peers, and reading a book like this took such comparisons to a new level. While the book is quick to reassure parents that all children develop at their own pace, it was hard not to feel a jolt of apprehension each time I read that I “should” be expecting some milestone or behavior that Charlie wasn’t meeting or exhibiting. I was happy to have this resource on hand throughout the year but I’m still on the fence about whether I’ll invest in What to Expect in the Second Year: will the guide’s usefulness outweigh its tendency to trigger my parenting anxieties? I’m just not sure. My Rating: 4 stars.
Pray, Write, Grow: Cultivating Prayer and Writing Together, by Ed Cyzewski: This short but insightful book explores the practices of writing and prayer, and how the cultivation of each discipline can enhance the other. Sharing from his own experiences, Cyzewski offers advice on how to create space for writing and prayer, and how doing so can promote emotional wellness, enhanced relationships, and greater personal fulfillment. The message of this book resonated deeply with my current writing and spiritual ambitions, and I found Czyewski’s suggestions inspiring and useful. Czyewski’s writing is simple but sincere and I look forward to reading more from him in the future. My Rating: 4.5 stars. (This book made it onto my list of top books from 2015.)
What to Cook for Dinner with Kids: How to Simplify, Strategize and Stop Agonizing Over Family Dinners by Maryann Jacobsen: This book from a family nutrition expert (and one of my favorite bloggers!) is more than just another cookbook. Jacobsen recognizes the value in meal planning and family dinners, but she also understands the challenges that parents face in establishing a dinner system that “works.” Jacobsen advocates a less-is-more approach to meal planning and walks readers through the process of establishing a core rotation of tried-and-true recipes. In the book’s second section, she describes the specific rotation that has worked for her family and shares the family-approved recipes that she regularly serves in her home. While I don’t currently meal plan, it’s something that I would like to begin doing and I love Jacobsen’s approach. Her tutorial will serve as a useful guide as I establish a dinnertime system that works for our own family. My Rating: 4 stars.
All is Calm, All is Bright: a Colleen Coble Christmas Collection, by Colleen Coble: A few years ago I went on a Colleen Coble binge, reading nearly all of this Christian author’s romantic mysteries. I hadn’t read many of her more recent books, but midway through December, I was in the mood for some holiday reading, and this pair of Christmas themed novellas fit the bill. Though the settings and characters differ, each novella features a light mystery, a spunky young damsel in distress, and a noble hero eager to come to her rescue. The quality of the writing is nothing to write home about, and these can hardly be categorized as Christmas stories (there’s little more than a brief mention of the season), but the novellas are lighthearted and fun, and a good reintroduction to Coble’s work. My Rating: 3 stars.
Fatal Grace, by Louise Penny: In this second book in the Three Pines mystery series, Chief Inspector Gamache investigates the murder of a narcissistic socialite. The complex mystery, with its red herrings and layers of intrigue, rivals the genius of an Agatha Christie novel, and Penny’s insightful exploration of her characters’ motives and personal hangups adds a wonderful dimension to this better-than-typical cozy mystery. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that this novel had a holiday setting—what a happy coincidence that I was reading it the week of Christmas! (Side Note: I previously tried reading the books in this series out of order, but I wouldn’t recommend it; I’ll be heading for Book 3 in the series next, rather than trying to jump ahead.) My Rating: 4 stars.
Career of Evil, by Robert Galbraith: In this third novel from Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling), Detective Comoran Strike and his assistant Robin seek out a serial killer who has been sending them packages containing the dismembered limbs of his victims. Though I had been warming up to this series, I did not particularly care for this book: I have a fairly high “yuck” threshold when it comes to novels, but the disturbing crimes described in Career of Evil were too much for me, and while I’m sure that the language wasn’t any worse than the previous books in the series, it bothered me more this time. The novel’s mystery is certainly fast-paced, but I had a hard time feeling invested in the primary plot. Beyond the main story line, Career of Evil delves deeper into the personal lives of Robin and Strike—something I’d desired after the conclusion of the last book, but the series’ romantic tension is starting to feel too forced. Overall, a disappointing read. My Rating: 2.5 stars.
The Nightingale, by Kristin Hannah: I was disappointed when this book was selected for my book club’s December book, because I had already read it just a few months prior and remember being rather unimpressed: I had read several wonderful reviews, but at the time, the story of two sisters demonstrating heroism in WWII France simply didn’t capture my attention. Nevertheless, I decided to re-listen to the audiobook to prepare for our book discussion. Though my rereading didn’t change my opinion of the story itself (I am still baffled by the praise this book has received for its originality), my familiarity with the novel allowed me to focus more on the actual writing, which is superb. Hannah is a talented wordsmith with an uncanny ability to explore moral ambiguities and the depths of human emotion through her characters. My (NEW) Rating: 4 stars.
((My rarely-precedented rereading experience with The Nightingale was an enlightening one, and it has me thinking differently about my reluctance to revisit old books. In fact, it even even inspired me to incorporate a few reread categories into my 2016 reading challenge!))
Next Tuesday I’ll be discussing Month 1 of my 2016 Reading Challenge. (I read Robert Fulghum’s All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten; care to guess which category it fits?!) Until then, have a great weekend! And as always, head on over to Modern Mrs. Darcy’s monthly Quick Lit linkup to see what others have been reading lately.