September Book Reviews
Bébé Day By Day: 100 Keys to French Parenting by Pamela Druckerman ★★★☆☆
I enjoyed the author's first book on French parenting, Bringing Up Bébé, and had been wanting to review some of the advice she gave in that book, so I figured this would be the easiest way to do that. This slim book is basically all the advice in the latter book without her own experience the first few years as an American mom living in Paris. Also, the journalistic research was incredibly simplified compared to the first book. I didn't realize, until I started reading this guide, how much those two things she took out really mattered to me and enhanced the suggestions she offered in parenting the French way. Since there were so many "keys" to mention in this book, I think the author must have felt the need to severely shrink down the lessons into bite-size bits to fit all one-hundred lessons into this guide. I felt it was a lot more judgmental and focused too much on touchy topics such as returning to pre-baby body weight, which can easily mom-shame a woman who is already struggling on her own without an author reminding her. Without her experiences, the anecdotes of French parents, and research that cushioned the French parenting tips and helped to explain them more gently, some of the lessons seemed cold, materialistic, frivolous, and condescending. That said, there were plenty of lessons I did enjoy that had a lot of common sense and practical application. These were ones that stuck out while I read the original book as well. I journaled about seventeen of the one-hundred that I felt I could implement. These included: preparing children when a rule will be enforced (ex: reminding them as you head to the grocery store that they cannot get any toys or candy), training children to speak well and respect adults by greeting them first before they run to play with friends or cousins, encouraging children to help around the house to give them a sense of responsibility and ownership, and balancing structured (educational) with unstructured (free) play to allow them to discover the world on their own). If you are interested in French parenting (and how it differs widely but also has similarities to the most common American parenting styles), I would suggest reading Bringing Up Bébé since the context is definitely helpful in deciphering the keys or lessons she offers. If you are specifically interested in how French parents avoid picky eating in children, then I would suggest French Kids Eat Everything by Karen Le Billon, which is more helpful than the one or two chapters Druckerman spends on this topic in both books (since she is covering so much).
The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner (audiobook) ★★★★★
One of my new favorite WWII novels, this story follows Elise, a German-American teenager who is sent to an internment camp in Crystal City, Texas during WWII. There she befriends a Japanese-American girl named Mariko. The fathers of both girls were arrested on suspicion of being Nazi and Japanese sympathizers and the only way to be together with their family would be for all to live in these internment camps. Eventually, Elise's family is sent to Germany in exchange for American prisoners behind enemy lines in Germany. There, she experiences first-hand the horror of war, including bombings and meager rations as well as fear that Nazi-supporting Germans will harm her for being American . She survives that last year of the war and ends up back in America once the war is over, but not feeling quite like she belongs anywhere anymore. Meissner interviewed Crystal City internees as well as many other individuals whose stories helped shape this historical novel. Her intricately-woven story sheds light to parts of WWII that are not often written about, including the German-Americans who were sent to internments camps. Her exquisite writing made Elise come alive, with all her complex emotions during such a daunting time in her life.
Reminded me of: Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford
Rating: PG (violence)
7 Steps to Raising a Bilingual Child by Naomi Steiner, M.D. with Susan L. Hayes ★★★★★
An incredibly practical and in-depth guide to raising bilingual children. It gave me a lot to think about as I navigate teaching our son my Romanian language. She included convincing research as well as anecdotal stories of families who are successfully raising bilingual children. Here are her seven steps, each described in detail throughout the book. Step 1: Building the foundation for your child's bilingualism (what does it mean to be bilingual? What are advantages for a child to be bilingual? Debunking myths about bilingualism). Step 2: Making it happen (defining goals and making decisions, such as how proficient you want your child to be and picking a start date). Step 3: Becoming a bilingual coach (deciding who speaks which language and when. The OPOL, One Parent One Language method is recommended). Step 4: Creating a Bilingual Action Plan (organizing when and how the language will be learned at home, extended family/community involvement such as grandparents speaking only in the second language, school resources such as bilingual schools, online programs and TV shows). Step 5: Leaping over predicable obstacles (mixing languages, parental insecurity that they speak that language well enough to teach their child, what to do if a child no longer is interested in learning the language, etc). Step 6: Reading and writing in two language. Step 7: Adapting to School. I felt like a lot of my reservations about starting this journey were addressed, such as wondering if there is a speech delay in bilingual children (short answer: there is not). I also felt like there were enough suggestions that I could formulate my own Bilingual Action Plan to best suit our family, which I was able to put together after reading the book. Learning a second language isn't one-size-fits-all. There are different ways that work for different families, so I appreciated that she wasn't prescriptive and only recommended one way; instead, she gave many examples of how families are making this work for them. This book was written in 2008, so there are many new technological advances (such as YouTube) that obviously were not mentioned, so parents will need to do their own homework and find newer resources than audio cassettes and other older media that was recommended.
Train To Trieste by Domnica Radulescu (audiobook)
In the summer of 1977, Romania was under the dictatorship of communist leader Nicolae Ceauṣescu, and a seventeen-year old named Mona spent her summers in the idyllic Romanian village of Braṣov, surrounded by the Carpathian Mountains, after attending school in the county's capital city, Bucharest. She flirts her way into a passionate relationship with a grieving and mysterious guy named Mihai that she'd been crushing on for years. Life is bleak, especially with her food rationing, daily gas and electricity limits, a pervasive distrust for people because anyone could be working for the secret police, and her father's dangerous anti-government work at the university that lead to near imprisonments. To protect their daughter, her parents devise a plan for her to escape Romania through Italy and eventually head to freedom in America. After some suspicion that Mihai could be working for the secret police, she decides to leave without telling him. More than a decade later, with a doctoral degree in literature and two kids in tow, she decides to return to her homeland to uncover answers about Mihai. I found this novel after searching my library's online catalog for books about Romania. I enjoy historical fiction, but have not read any about life during the communist era in Romania, so I was curious enough to check it out. It was an interesting read. Mona is impulsive, often selfish and cold, all of which can be attributed to the context of living under such terrible conditions, but still, it made her quite unlikable. And it bothered me that there were so much mention of their sex life early in the book. Granted it was not explicit, but it seemed that whenever she would meet up with him, there was mention of them hopping into bed (or the snow, or the woods, etc). I was like, "Do you guys even talk or go out for coffee or something?!" There was also a ton of cussing, which sounded pretty comical with the audiobook narrator's Russian accent, but also seemed excessive. Furthermore, there was a lyrical and ethereal style of writing, which matched Mona's literature degree, but was just too poetic at times for my taste. All in all, despite the above reservations and complaints, I enjoyed reading novel largely set in my homeland as well as Mona's immigrant experience as a refugee in America, struggling to assimilate to this new life while processing the horrors she witnessed under Romania's communist regime.
Rating: PG-13 (sexuality, profanity, violence)
It reminds me of: A memoir, When Songs Are Forbidden: The True Story pf a Children's Choir in Romania by Genevieve Sfatcu Beattie (a Christian perspective during Communism in Romania; a lot cleaner but does mention some violence committed by the secret police).
At Home with Madame Chic: Becoming a Connoisseur of Daily Life by Jennifer Scott (audiobook)★★★☆☆
I am not familiar with the author's previous book, nor her blog, but saw the book reviewed by a fellow book blogger and felt like it could be something I enjoy since I typically enjoy anything relating to French living. As a young adult, Jennifer spent some time in Paris as an exchange student. She was hosted by a woman whom she has come to call Madame Chic, whose effortless style, grace, and fabulously put-together home were an inspiration for the casual Californian. Now as an adult with a husband and children of her own, she aspires to instill the idea of 'chic' and 'je ne sai quoi' into her daily living, specifically in the day-to-day workings in the home. These two French terms are repeatedly used since they define the aesthetic and lifestyle Jennifer is all about, but it got a bit nauseating to hear them over and over again. In Jennifer's version of their translation, they both reflect having that elusive something that sets one apart and causes people to turn their head and think, wow, she's got her life together. It's an inner peace from being confident in who you are and what you are about as well as having a clean and inviting home. After explaining this in a few chapters, she spends the rest of the book going through a typical day with routines, tips, and habits that can help a woman become more chic at home. She divides this portion into chapters on Pleasures of the Morning, Pleasures of the Afternoon, and Pleasures of the Evening. There were a ton of suggestions, some of which seemed unpractical and undesirable for my own life (the idea of a capsule wardrobe is lost on me; I love having variety and spontaneity to my wardrobe. To each their own, but I am sure it saves time for some, but it actually brings joy for me to find something different everyday). Maybe a quarter of her suggestions were ones that I have already implemented into my own life without reading this book (meal planning, weekly cleaning schedule, using scented candles and music to set the tone in the home), and maybe around another quarter of the suggestions were ones I felt I could try out in the coming weeks and months (such as finding new up-do hairstyles to freshen my look, 15-Minute Tidy at the end of the day to clean and declutter, and to be aware of hot spots where things typically accumulate). All in all, I appreciated the practical suggestions, but wasn't keen on the idea that doing all, or even some, of these things will truly bring me inner peace, joy, and contentment. I think too much stock was placed on these circumstances. Coming from a Christian faith, I believe joy, peace, and contentment are derived from a deeper source than having the right outfit and a clean, well-managed-home (though these things have merit and can help out a lot!). And I scoffed at her comments on eagerly looking forward to mundane tasks like unloading the dishwasher and opening the mail. I definitely agree that we shouldn't complain and whine about things that should be done around the house, but I also don't think I will ever be that "chic" that I will be anticipating sorting through junk mail and bills with relish! Her über bubbly personality and outlook were a tad much for me in this stage of life when I am trying to wedge in me-time, housecleaning, organizing, and running errands during short nap windows and late nights after my little guy is asleep. I ignored some of her zen-like mantras and repetitive chic, chic, chic, and instead tried to brainstorm how I could incorporate some of her routines into my life. Nothing life-changing for me, but definitely some practical things that might streamline some aspects of my home routine.
Rating: G (squeaky clean)
From Scratch: A Memoir on Love, Sicily, and Finding Love by Tembe Locke (audiobook) ★★★★☆
This equally heartwarming and heart-wrenching memoir alternates between chapters in the beginning of Tembe's love story with her Sicilian chef named Sara, who she met in Florence while studying abroad in college and a decade later when she is a widow after his long battle with cancer. Since food was a central part of his Sicilian culture, his career, and their marriage (they often had dinner parties), it was the thread that held each chapter connected. Tembe's experience with grief was so descriptive and powerful to read. It was incredibly difficult because it would make me think of my own husband and how utterly distorted my life would feel without him, but while she was raw, vulnerable, and honest of the painful first years without her beloved Saro, she also celebrated him through this memoir. She remembered his larger-than-life personality, steadfast patience, friendliness, and passion for Italian food through these pages soaked in her love for this man. I especially loved how she shared the redemption of the once tenuous relationship between herself, Saro, and his parents, who disapproved of his marriage to not only a non-Sicilian, but an African American woman who eventually would take their son far away to the U.S. This feeling of betrayal to their culture and life in Sicily (they had plans for him to take over their farm) led to them not even attending their Italian wedding and refusing to make amends for years until Tembi and Saro helped change that. After his death, Saro's mom and Tembi developed a sweet relationship as she and her daughter made yearly visits in the summer to spend time with her. Their communal grief brought these very different women together and developed a mother-daughter-in law relationship that was virtually non-existent while Saro was alive.
Rating: PG-13 (language and sexual content)
The Switch by Beth O'Leary (audiobook) ★★★☆☆
When Leena, a London-based successful businesswoman in her mid-twenties blows a huge work presentation because of a severe panic attack, she is given a two-month sabbatical to help her grieve the loss of sister, who passed away a year before to cancer. She exchanges homes for those two months with her grandmother, Eileen, who has an idyllic cottage in Yorkshire but needs her own drastic change after her husband has recently left her for another woman. The switch places each woman out of their element, but it is exactly what they each need. However, it is also more difficult than Leena expected since it means being in much closer proximity to her mother, with whom Leena is very angry. A lot happens between the two women's self-discovery in new surroundings, their relationships between London flatmates and Yorkshire villagers, tense mom-daughter-grandmother moments, and budding romances. I didn't love it, but overall it was entertaining with some funny as well as endearing parts. I appreciated how the author dealt with tough themes, particularly grief and anxiety.
Rating: PG-13 (mild sexual content, but a lot of profanity)
The Secret French Recipes of Sophie Valroux by Samantha Verant (audiobook) ★★★☆☆
After being wrongly accused and publicly humiliated, French-born Sophie's lucrative NYC chef gig is up. Her dream of joining the 1% of women who run a Michelin-starred restaurant seems to have gone up in smoke. She hits rock bottom, utterly depressed at her life in ruins, and experiences panic attacks whenever she steps in a kitchen because of her loss of self-confidence. Then she hears further devastating news: her French grandmother, who lives in a small village near Toulouse, France, has just suffered a stroke and is in dire condition. Though she stopped visiting her grandmother as a teenager, she still feels closely connected to her, so she hops on a plane to visit her. Upon her arrival, she is begged to take her grandmother's place as the chef of the chateaux where she lives and runs a bustling restaurant and hotel. Through the assistance of new and old friends, she gets her cooking mojo back and must decide if she wants to continue her trajectory for her previous dreams or if new dreams are on her horizon in France. This was a sweet story overall. I appreciated how the author approached mental illness in the book, such as her panic attacks in the kitchen, in a realistic and respectful way. I also enjoyed reading about all the appetizing meals she prepares as well as her passion for cooking and how healing it was for her. And, of coarse, I enjoyed the French village atmosphere and the French accent of the narrator on the audiobook. I have been on quite the literary French kick lately! The book cover is gorgeous, so it was a delight to open up my Overdrive app and see the cover overtime I listened to the story.
Rating: PG-13 (language)
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe (audiobook) ★★★☆☆
Reading Stats for September:
Total Books Read: 10
Total Books Read: 10
Physical Book: 2
Books off my bookshelf (Goal= 2/mo): 2 in September; total for 2020 = 18)
Total books read in 2020 so far: 115 (Goal: 120)
Total books read in 2020 so far: 115 (Goal: 120)
Classics Club: 9 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