March Book Reviews

The End of Your Life Book Club by Will Schwalbe (audiobook) 
This beautiful real-life story of the two-person book club comprised of the author and his mother (who has late-stage cancer) is heartwarming as well as heartbreaking for obvious reasons. As Will sat next to his mom while she was receiving chemotherapy treatments at the hospital, they'd discuss a book they recommended to one another and apply it to their own lives as well as the current culture. His mother, Mary Anne, was a force to behold. She worked in various careers throughout her life and in the last season of her life, supported refugees and was working hard to help fund a library in a city in Afghanistan. Her love and support for her children, her tireless service towards those less fortunate than herself, and her devotion and hope in her faith in God were all pretty inspiring, not to mention she was a lover of good books! Their book club picks each helped them cope with such a difficult season and brought them closer to one another in a time of Will's life when he wanted his mom to know exactly how much she meant to him.

Reminds me of: The Color of Water: A Black Man's Tribute to His White Mother by James McBride
Rating: PG ( very few cuss words from what I remember)

The Body in the Library by Agatha Christie (audiobook) 
Agatha Christie was known as The Queen of Crime because of her intricately woven mystery novels and this one is another great one to add to the two I have thoroughly enjoyed thus far (Murder on the Orient Express,  And Then There Was None). If you are looking for suspense without the gore, go with Agatha Christie.  I don't read any of the contemporary mysteries but have loved trying to figure out each of her mysteries. In The Body in the Library, unconventional Miss Marple comes alongside local detectives to uncover the truth behind the dead blonde woman in the library of an old, retired couple's country estate. How she got there, why she's dead, and who is to blame are the questions that keep you guessing until the very end.

Rating: PG (nothing gruesome but a few details of the body and two cuss words)

When Survivors Give Birth: Understanding and Healing the Effects of Early Sexual Abuse on Childbearing Women by Penny Simkin and Phyllis Klaus 
This book is an indispensable resource for anyone who has experienced sexual abuse and worries about the effects on their childbirth, any medical professional (including nurse practitioners, family physicians, but especially midwives and OB/GYN), and those who plan on supporting women during childbirth (like doulas or friends of a pregnant woman with sexual abuse history). Childbirth can be a daunting experience for any woman, but for woman with a history of sexual abuse, it can be re-traumatizing and can cause the woman to feel victimized by invasive procedures or providers who seem impatient with the anxiety, fears, or PTSD symptoms that can arise for the woman. The authors share ways that can promote a positive, healing, and empowering pregnancy, labor and delivery, and postpartum experience. Tools such as birth plans and self-help methods (such as progressive muscle relaxation, deep breathing, visualization) are discussed in detail. There is also great information for women to understand how counseling and psychotherapy can also help them process some of the triggers and responses of their past abuse through the help of mental health professionals. There are a plethora of ideas that the pregnant woman, her partner, doula, midwife or OB/GYN, and any other person in her team can come together to add in her birth plan to help promote a positive labor and delivery, such as requesting only female medical personnel; limiting vaginal exams until medically necessary; using non-pharmacological pain control methods such as laboring in a tub, using a squat bar, and perineal massage to help avoid tears. This is a phenomenal resource whether you are a woman who has experienced sexual abuse or you care (either professionally or personally) for a woman who has experienced abuse and want to come alongside them as they prepare for childbirth.

** This is the 11th book I read in 2019 from my Unread Bookshelf (Goal = Read 40 books I already own in 2019)

Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl (audiobook) 
When Ruth was hired to be the new food critic for the New York Times, photos of her face were plastered on walls of every prestigious restaurant in NYC to ready themselves for a visit from the world-renown critic. This obviously ended in above-average service that many normal patrons of these restaurants might not receive unless they were elite stars or politicians. But with their reputation on the line, they wanted everything to be worthy of the illustrious four start designation. Ruth soon picked up on this and she often disguised herself in different personalities (an old, dowdy, soft-spoken woman and a hyper-critical snob were two polar opposites that each included wigs, specific makeup and outfits) to see what kind of service these types of people would receive. Her editorials would include her experiences  as Ruth Reichl, the food critic, as well as her experience as a random person. The differences were stark in the attitudes of the wait staff, where she was seated in the restaurant (front and center vs in a corner by the kitchen),  and even the quality of the food. This humorous memoir made me think about all that goes into making a restaurant work and the factors that cause me to like or dislike a certain restaurant. It also was frustrating at times to see how preferential the treatment can be for the elite and how a seemingly posh restaurant can treat people like they don't belong there.

Rating: PG  (I think I remember a few cuss words, but nothing extensive)

A Year in Provence by Peter Mayle (audiobook) 
I am definitely a francophile; gimme all things French, si vous plait! So, I am surprised it has taken me this long to finally read this iconic travel memoir that put Provence on the map for American and British tourism back in the 1980s. A prolific author with a myriad of books on the Provence region of France (including crime mystery novels), this was his first and arguably his most well-known book. In it he chronicles his first year living in a two-hundred year old farmhouse in the remote Provencal town of Luberon with his wife and large dogs. His witty and humorous accounts are endearing and engaging, from slightly off-the-rocker neighbors to the workmen that take foreeeever to complete all his construction projects to learning the art of wine making and mushroom picking. The audiobook was fun because it was read by Mayle, but be aware, there is an abridged version and that is the one I happened to borrow from Overdrive. I didn't figure it out (especially since the descriptions said unabridged) until I looked for a particular dialogue in my paperback copy of the book and found whole sections that were wholly unfamiliar. I listened to the audiobook and then skimmed the whole book to read the missing passages, which was a bit annoying. But the memoir itself was highly entertaining and a great way to travel from the comfort of your armchair (and maybe daydream or Pinterest plan your next vacation).

Reminded me of: Picnic in Provence by Elizabeth Bard
Rating: PG (if you could the French cuss word that made an appearance a few times). Otherwise, a clean book

** This is the 12th book I read in 2019 from my Unread Bookshelf (Goal = Read 40 books I already own in 2019)

The Power of a Praying Wife: Book of Prayers by Stormie Omartian 
This pocket-size book is great for carrying around with you and finding pockets (pun intended) of time in the day to pray for your husband. Stormie's book by the same title is a great resource for encouraging wives to pray intentionally and specifically for their husbands and each chapter ends with a prayer focusing on that particular topic in the chapter (finances, direction in life decisions, health, etc). In this smaller version, you have those prayers (and new ones) to help you pray for you husband, coupled with a Bible verse. I kept this book on my nightstand and as I said my nightly prayers, I would grab it and pray through two or three prayers for Greg. A few times when the prayers for the day matched with what was going on in life (a job interview on the day I was praying for work, his health on a day he was sick), I prayed out loud over him, but usually I used it for my own personal prayer time for him. If you are looking for ways to grow in your prayer life specifically regarding your husband, the full-length book as well as this petite prayer book are great tools.

** This is the 13th book I read in 2019 from my Unread Bookshelf (Goal = Read 40 books I already own in 2019)

Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing 
This real-life account of Ernest Shackleton and his crew, who were shipwrecked in October of 1915 en route to South Atlantic. The harrowing account of nearly two years of being trapped in the frigid temperatures of unchartered land, including months drifting on ice caps, subsisting on seal meat for nearly every meal, and a one-thousand mile voyage in a small open boat in stormy seas to reach habited land and attempt rescue. This intense story is perfect for the adventure-seeking reader. I enjoyed it overall, but what I missed was more of the emotional aspect of the story. I love reading harrowing memoirs and biographies, but what I feel like I enjoy most about them is learning not just about the facts but about how they endured and what was going on through their minds during and then the processing afterwards about their survival. This was more of an objective account that relied heavily on journal entries that noted fact after fact and didn't mention much about the fears about whether they'd survive. I wish there was mention about what their families were experiencing back in England, not knowing if their spouses were dead or alive.  It seemed like a play-by-play that was a bit redundant until the last quarter of the book when things sped up and became fascinating.