November Book Reviews


The Montessori Toddler: A Parent's Guide to Raising A Curious and Responsible Human Being by Simone Davies 
If you have any curiosity about the Montessori philosophy and application in a home environment with a toddler, this is THE book for you. It was easy-to-follow, jam-packed with helpful resources and ideas, and accompanied by simple yet darling illustrations. There are a lot of things about Montessori that I really like, such as teaching young children independence, agency,  curiosity, analytical thinking, and appreciating nature. I have already started implementing some of the ideas from the book, such as toy and book rotation, including Elliot in some of my chores and cooking to help him learn age-appropriate "practical living" skills, and using fewer words and slower hands when I explain something new to him. I consider our house Montessori-ish since I do not plan on following everything to perfection, but I am definitely inspired and excited to continue using Montessori in our home thanks to this great resource.
Rated: G

Hamnet by Maggie O'Farrell (audiobook)
A fictionalized account of Shakespeare's family, narrated from the perspective of his son and wife. It is unlikely most of the story is true, yet it was intriguing and creative. Although O'Farrell is a prolific author, this is her first historical fiction, which I would never have guessed since she created the Renaissance-era setting so well.  It is intricately woven with powerful writing and style, especially in its exploration of a mother's grief over her child's death. It was interesting to read her take on Shakespeare, who she paints as an absent father, who leaves his family for long periods of time in their small village in search of his literary fame in London. Also interesting is how the play Hamlet is connected to family tragedy of losing Hamnet, his only son. 

Rating: PG-13 (sexual content)

A Study in Scarlet (Sherlock Holmes, #1) by Arthur Conan Doyle (audiobook) 
I have been curious about the Sherlock Holmes novels for quite some time, so I finally read the first and thought it was brilliant. No wonder this series is a beloved classic! The mystery, suspense, and incredible observation and deductive skills of Sherlock Holmes (and more accurately, Arthur Conan Doyle) were a fun experience. The book is separated in two parts. The second seemed way out of left field; I was not even sure I was still reading a Sherlock Holmes book ... it almost sounded more like something John Steinbeck would have written! But it all came together in the most genius way. Looking forward to continuing the series. 

Rating: PG (detailed murders)
(This is my 12th classic for my Classic Club challenge.  See the list of classics HERE.)

The Happiness of Pursuit: Finding the Quest that Will Bring Purpose to Your Life by Chris Guillebeau ☆ (audiobook)
The author's main life goal in his twenties and thirties was to visit all of the countries in the world. He accomplished this and details how he stayed the course and made his dream a possibility. Along the way, he also shares the many fascinating quests of other brave and adventurous people, including a teenager who sailed an entire ocean alone, a woman who lived in a tree in a forest for over a year to protest against logging, a man who took a vow of silence and refused to drive or ride in cars in protest of pollution, a husband who aims to complete his wife's bucket list after she lost her battle to cancer, and many more. As he shares these stories, he also dives into practical questions to ask yourself if you want to embark on your own quest, from the logistics of cost and time, to the social implication on friends and family, and how to stay motivated when things aren't fun or exciting anymore. If you want to be inspired towards achieving some lofty goals, Chris and those he interviewed will surely give you a push in the right direction. This would be a great read for January for those who like making yearly goals! 

Rating: G

Everything Beautiful in Its Time: Seasons of Love and Loss by Jenna Bush Hager (audiobook)
I adored Jenna and Barbara's book, Sisters First, so I was excited to hear Jenna had recently published a new book. This is a tribute to her two sets of grandparents (former President George H.W. Bush and former First Lady Barbara Bush and her maternal grandparents, who lived a quiet life in Midland, Texas as a homebuilder and housewife). Jenna shares the heartbreak and grief she experienced in the year when three of them passed away. She was extremely close to all four grandparents and was shaped by their mentorship and love. She beautifully writes about some of the things she learned from them as she shares heartwarming stories of both childhood and adult memories. I listened to the audiobook (narrated by Jenna!) mostly during walks around our neighborhood park this past week and I was happy the park wasn't too busy because I was bawling during multiple parts. The way she expresses her emotions and her love for her family is relatable and powerful, and yes, tear-jerking. 

Rating: PG to PG-13 (language)

The Things We Cannot Say by Kelly Rimmer ☆ (audiobook)
An intriguing and devastating WWII novel that alternates between Poland in 1942 (where a young girl, newly engaged and full of dreams, is forever changed from the cruel reality of the Nazi Occupation) and current time when a stressed mom of a son on the autism spectrum is sent on a mysterious mission to Poland by her aging grandmother). It was definitely heavy at times, yet was beautifully written and had some surprising twists. I am not typically a fan of the historical fiction that swaps back and forth between current times and the past (specifically the plots for the contemporary setting), but both time settings were equally well done, especially the portrayal of a family with a special needs child and how it affects everyone in different ways. 

Rating: PG to PG-13 (WWII-related violence, mild language)

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead by Brené Brown 
I read (and re-read) Brené's earlier book, The Gifts of Imperfection, and have been wanting to try another of her books for years. Well, it seemed like the perfect time in my life to dig into this engaging book that's all about embracing vulnerability  and fighting against shame, which leads to wholehearted and courageous living in spite of challenges. 2020 has been a rough year, so I listened to this on audiobook earlier in the month and am re-reading the physical copy now while I am journaling thoughts and favorite passages as I process some things. Brown in incredibly relatable, down-to-earth, and readable. She explains her extensive research on these topics and breaks it down to why it matters and how we can dare greatly in our own lives. HERE is a the Ted Talk that catapulted Brené Brown to the huge audience she now has.  It is a great way to get the gist of her research and application. 

Rated: PG (mild language)

Stepping Heavenward: One Woman's Journey to Godliness by Elizabeth Prentiss (audiobook and physical book)
I first read this Christian classic around a decade ago when I was single and I have been wanting to re-read it as a wife and mom. In journal format spanning several decades, Kate matures from a spoiled and annoying sixteen-year old to a loving mother, wife, and admirable Christian woman. She is impulsive, fiery, and leans towards the dramatic (sometimes very humorously so!), so even though this was published in 1869, do not assume it is a dry, boring novel.  It reads very easily and is engaging and entertaining at times, while also filled with encouraging passages about drawing near to God despite our imperfections, weaknesses, and suffering.  This was our book club pick for November and it made for a wonderful discussion. 

Rated: G

(This is my 13th classic for my Classic Club challenge.  See the list of classics HERE.)

Stir: My Broken Brain and the Meals That Brought Me Home by Jessica Fechtor ☆ (audiobook)
A stirring (pun intended) memoir surrounding the year that Jessica suffered an aneurysm burst in her brain, followed by multiple surgeries to attempt to recover her lost sense of smell and sight, as well as a massive removal of her skull that required her to constantly wear a helmet. She nearly died at the young age of twenty-eight, a newlywed and graduate student whose most fond memories revolved around food. Not being able to smell and fully taste her favorite dishes was heartbreaking for her, but her journey to recovery was propelled by a desire to get back into the kitchen. Readers who enjoy foodie memories (such as Kathleen Flinn and Ruth Reichl's many memoirs)  as well as memoirs  about people who survive insane neurological traumas (such as Hope Heals by Katherine and Jay Wolfe), this is for you!

Rated: PG (mild language)

The Hidden Art of Homemaking: Creative Ideas for Enriching Everyday Life by Edith Schaeffer 
I have been wanting to read this book for several years because I have heard wonderful things about Edith and her husband Francis and their Christian community in the Swiss Alps, L'Abri. In this practical book, she points out a plethora of creative ways to brighten ordinary days with beauty, adventure, and ultimately, pointing our creativity back to the Creator God. The chapters are organized by different areas of art, including music, painting/sketching/sculpturing, interior design, gardening, flower arranging, food, writing (prose and poetry), drama, creative recreation, clothing,  and environment. Most of her ideas are incredibly simple, either free or very inexpensive, and easy to try whether you're single, married, a mother, or an empty-nester.  Published in 1971, it reads timelessly; I had to keep reminding myself it is nearly fifty years old because it seemed so applicable and easy-to-follow. I definitely want to read more by Edith in the very near future! 

Rated: G
(This is my 14th classic for my Classic Club challenge.  See the list of classics HERE.)

Anxious People by Fredrik Backman (audiobook)
I have read four of Backman's novels and have enjoyed them all, but this is my new favorite. It is incredibly creative, with a slow peeling away of the many layers of the plot with each chapter. It's about a failed bank robbery that turns into a hostage situation involving an apartment full of prospective buyers, and yet it is about so much more. Multiple perspectives help to uncover motives behind perplexing and aggravating behavior, while occasionally zooming out to a birds-eye view of past events that led many of the pivotal characters to their current state. It was hilarious while also suspenseful and heartbreaking. Sounds like a lot for one book, and yet Backman pulls it off flawlessly!

Rated: PG-13 (sexuality, language); Trigger warning: mentions suicide 

The Read-Aloud Family: Making Meaningful and Lasting Connections with Your Kids by Sarah MacKenzie (audiobook)
Founder of The Read-Aloud Revival podcast and blog, Sarah MacKenzie shares why reading aloud to your children from birth to teenage years can benefit them (and you too!) in a multitude of ways. She shares her own journey to reading aloud as a family rhythm and how parents can encourage this in their homes as well. Lastly, she shares a boat-load of book recommendations, categorized by age of children. This is incredibly easy to read (similar style as her fun podcast). It reminded me of The Enchanted Hour by Mechan Cox Gurdon (which was more research-based but still incredibly fascinating).  I will refer to this book in the years to come, especially since creating a read-aloud culture in our home is a big goal for me as a mom. 

Rating: G

Reading Stats for September:
Total Books Read: 12
Fiction: 5
Nonfiction: 7

Audiobook: 10
Ebook: 0
Physical Book: 3

Books off my bookshelf (Goal= 2/mo): 4 in November;  total for 2020 = 23)
Total books read in 2020 so far:  139 (Goal: 120)
Classics Club: 14 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