October Book Reviews

Hope Heals by Katherine and Jay Wolfe  
After suffering a massive brain stroke while in her early twenties, Katherine endured a grueling journey of rehab, multiple surgeries, and grieving the losses accompanying her new and challenging difficulties. These included, but were not limited to: a decreased ability to care for her son (who was only six months when she had her stroke), learning to walk again after being told she might never be able to walk again, and having double vision without a cure in sight. Her husband, Jay, was a steadfast rock, encouraging and supporting her through it all. Ten years later, they wrote this memoir of the first three years after the stroke. It was heartbreaking (the thought of not being able to nurse her son anymore even though she wanted to so much), scary (the reality that we are not promised an easy or illness/disability-free life and everything can change within seconds), yet also inspiring and encouraging. Throughout their re-telling (which alternates from each of their perspectives in a fluid narrative), they are constantly pointing to God as their strength and hope. Their willingness to trust in Him despite the most challenging of circumstances was applicable to any reader because we all will have seasons of suffering in some way, either physical, emotional, relational, etc. I highly and wholeheartedly recommend this powerful book!

Rating: G

Connoisseur Kids: Etiquette, Manners, and Living Well for Parents and Their Little Ones by Jennifer L. Scott (ebook) 
I enjoyed Scott's At Home With Madam Chic (which I read in August), but I absolutely adored this latest book of hers. It is an excellent resource for parents to read with children (kinder and older) as a primer to manners, etiquette, and respecting others. It was exceptionally practical and written in easy-to-understand language for children, yet didn't skimp on the information or depth. I learned a few things and definitely want to put into practice a lot of what I read as Elliot grows up. This will be a book I will definitely revisit. Topics include table manners (including how to set the table), general hygiene tips, various ways to be kind and helpful to those around you, communication (including the importance of eye contact), tidiness and chores. There are a ton of fun activities to help learn these lessons, such as silly rhymes, recipes, games, and prompts for writing. 

Rating: G 

No-Drama Discipline: The Whole-Brain Way to Calm the Chaos and Nurture Your Child's Developing Mind by Daniel Siegel and Tina Payne Bryson 
A fascinating, practical, and easy-to-understand guide to positive discipline, which the authors define as teaching and skill building rather than punishment. Their method focuses on first connecting with the child before correcting/redirecting their behavior. They link a child's neurological development, namely the high brain (rational, analytical, empathetic) and low brain (reactionary, "reptilian", flight/fight/flee) with discipline. For example, when a toddler has a tantrum, they're acting from their lower brain (confused/overwhelmed with emotions, angry at not being able to get what they want, etc). If a parent responds in frustration and attempts to correct the behavior in the middle of the tantrum, it will often escalate and both parent and child will be working from their lower brain: rigid, angry, and escalating. But if the parent can calmly choose to first connect with the child by assuring them they are safe and loved (a hug, a reassurance that you'll stay with them while they calm down, validation of their difficult emotions, etc), the child can move from functioning from the reactionary low brain to the receptive high brain. The authors go into the exact parts of the brain that are strengthened when we repeatedly learn to work from the higher brain, which over time allows kids to make more positive, respectful, and thoughtful choices even when upset, rather than immediately freaking out. I also appreciated that Siegel and Bryson mentioned that parents/caregivers need to be in tune with their own emotional state during tantrums, disagreements, and misbehavior from children. Taking a few minutes (or even longer) to calm down and discipline from an engaging, calm demeanor entails being reflective of their own triggers and tendencies that can hinder effective resolution and restore calm. They give a lot of examples to clarify their methods and even include illustrations to help drive the point home. This book completely revolutionized how I think about discipline and gave me a lot to think about as my son enters toddlerhood. I feel more equipped at tackling tantrums, though they definitely still seem daunting! I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone looking for different discipline options than spanking and time-outs.

Rating: G 

Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi (audiobook) 
 Gifty is studying neuroscience as  PhD candidate at Stanford, experimenting on mice to study addictive behaviors. This focus of study was stemmed from her brother's own addiction to prescription medications and her mother, who is a Ghanian immigrant barely scraping by and suffering from depression and suicidal ideation. Gifty grew up in a charismatic  church, but has since neglected the Christian faith after family tragedies led to doubting God. Now as an adult, she is grieving loss while trying to make sense of it through neuroscience. Gyasi's portrayal of this immigrant family is poignant and tough to read at times, but worth the read. I was blown away by Homegoing, Gyasi's previous novel, so I was curious about this one when I heard of it. I didn't enjoy it quite as much, but I still appreciated it for its vulnerability and intricately crafted perspective of an immigrant experience.

Rating: PG-13 (sexual content, language)

 The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead (audiobook) 
Cora is a slave on a Georgia plantation who escapes along the Underground Railroad, which in this creative spin, is an actual, physical railroad with engineers, conductors, and a whole network of tunnels and tracks to transport slaves from the South to freedom in northern states. But as she finally starts to imagine a new, free life, her past catches up with her. As expected, this is hard to read at times because of the atrocities of slavery, yet it held a glimmer of hope as well. The writing was incredible and I could see why so many have raved about it.

Rating: PG-13 (violence)

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne du Maurier (audiobook) 
After reading Rebecca (and watching the recently released film), I have had my eyes on this classic. I finally read it and I can say it was definitely as creepy and suspenseful as Rebecca. I thought I knew what was going on, but by the end, I was dumbfounded and second-guessing myself, which was a fun reading experience since I don't often read thrillers. Phillip Ashley is nearing his twenty-fifth birthday when he'd inherit his family estate. He receives devastating news that his uncle, who took him in as a child and treated him like a son, has died in Italy. The uncle had wed a distant cousin named Rachel who may have been implicated in his death. Phillip is dead-set on making her pay, but when he finally meets her, he is spell-bound by her mystique and charm, quickly taking a sharp one-eighty on his intentions for his cousin Rachel. Is she who she says she is, or is she devious and more evil than he could imagine? 

Rated: PG
(This is my 10th classic for my Classic Club challenge.  See the list of classics HERE.)

She Come By It Natural: Dolly Parton and the Women Who Lived Her Songs by Sarah Smarsh (audiobook) 
I have recently been very curious about the rags-to-riches story of the sky-high  platinum blonde, rhinestone-bedecked country music star, Dolly Parton. This is a quick read, combining biography of Parton, the stories behind some of her biggest hits (like "9 to 5" and "Jolene"), and the effect of this larger-than-life personality on other Appalachian women (namely the author herself as well as her grandmother, who had a similar upbringing to Parton). I am intrigued by Parton's keen  business sense, her witty humor, her amusement park named Dollywood that employs many Appalachian men and women, and most of all, her literacy organization, Imagination Library (that provides free books to children from birth to five years old). She is much more than meets the eye and cannot be boxed into a music genre or any box at all, for that matter. I enjoyed hearing this story about Dolly and how she changed the male-dominant world of country music by being true to herself and her influence on countless future female music artists.  I have been listening and loving her music as I read through this and am definitely a new fan!

Rating: PG

The Exiles by Christina Baker Kline (audiobook) 
I enjoyed two previous books by Kline (Orphan Train and A Piece of the World), so I was looking forward to this new release. It is historical fiction about a small island off the mainland of Australia that is mainly populated by prisoners from England. I had never heard of this island, nor the tragedies that occurred to prisoners in the four-month excursion by sea from England to the island, nor the Aboriginal children that were taken from their communities to be paraded like pets by the wealthy English settlers. The all-female cast of main characters have grit, strength, and courage through horrid circumstances. Just like her other novels, Kline does not shy away from very difficult, heart-breaking themes and plots. It was hard to read at times, and some of the plot devises (I cannot explain because it would spoil it) was incredibly unique and a bit jarring. There was something that happened that shocked me and made me repeatedly tell people, "I have never seen this done before in a novel!"  

Rating: PG 

In Five Years by Rebecca Serle (audiobook) 
Dannie, a Type-A NYC lawyer determined on getting her dream job and a proposal from her boyfriend, has a jarring dream placing her five years in the future. There's a different guy in her life and she's in a different apartment. She wakes up confused, especially when she meets that guy in her dreams in her real life. Was it a premonition or a coincidence? Only time (and five years) will tell. I picked up this book because the premise reminded me of What Alice Forgot by Liane Moriarty, but I didn't enjoy it even half as much. It was hard to connect with Dannie, who seems cold and indifferent to those who love her because of her razed-sharp focus to succeed. However, I did appreciate her character development, especially the therapy sessions that helped her figure out why she is the way she is, which made her seem more relatable after all.

Rating: PG-13 (language, sexual content)

Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen (audiobook) 
Austen's first novel,  satirical as it pokes fun at gothic novels with its brooding tone and mystery mixed in with the Victorian grandeur of balls, fashion, and horse-drawn carriage rides in Bath. It may have been the wrong time in my life to read it, or I have have had the same reaction had it been a different season, but I just didn't really care for it. The love story is dull, the protagonist's imagination runs wild and was annoying at times, and the supporting characters are one-dimensional and flat. Also, the title is misleading since the Abbey only takes up about one quarter of the book.  This is my least favorite of Austen's novels so far, but it still has its charm, especially with it's witty satire. 

Rating: G
(This is my 11th classic for my Classic Club challenge.  See the list of classics HERE.)

Jack by Marilynne Robinson 
I had high hopes for Jack, but it (or he) fell flat for me. I adore Robinson's Gilead  trilogy, so I was intrigued to heard that it was becoming a quartet. But this latest addition felt very different, almost like a stand-alone rather than a continuation of the story. Jack is the black sheep of his family. His preacher father has never given up hope that he'll return home from his wayward living, yet Jack distances himself from all who love and want to help him, and its very hard to understand why. He self-sabatages himself and repeatedly makes the same mistakes. His meandering thoughts and philosophical prose went on for pages. I like literary fiction, but this was even too much for my taste. He continually claimed to be harmless, but his reckless and selfish choices affected, and in fact hurt, many people in his life, so it was hard to feel sorry for his apparent bad luck in life. There was very few mention of his life back in Gilead, which is why it seemed like a standalone novel. I missed all the lovable characters that I grew to love in the previous books, and was annoyed when he'd speak sarcastically of them. I liked Della, his love interest, but felt she was reckless, impulsive, and unwise to get connected with Jack when he was practically homeless and had no aim in life, nor plan for their future other than reading poetry and spouting philosophy and poking fun at the Christian faith. I appreciated the historical aspect of the novel, but I was eager to just finish it.  Jack was mentioned in all three of the previous Gilead books from the perspectives of the three protagonists of each of those novels, so I was curious about his story since he had so much mystery and led such a vagabond life despite his family begging him to return home. But after reading this novel, which is entirely from his own perspective, I was just very annoyed by him.

Rating: PG

Reading Stats for September:
Total Books Read: 11
Fiction: 7
Nonfiction: 4

Audiobook: 7
Ebook: 1
Physical Book: 3

Books off my bookshelf (Goal= 2/mo): 1 in October;  total for 2020 = 19)
Total books read in 2020 so far:  124 (Goal: 120)
Classics Club: 11 of 75 books read so far 

My Star Ratings
★ =  I LOVED it! 
☆ = I enjoyed it 
☆ = It was good overall 
☆ = Wasn't a fan
☆ = Disliked it a lot