In My Library Tote: April Book Reviews and Recommendations

I took an unintentional blog break this week thanks to strep throat, which for some reason has been my nemesis lately. I got it for the first time since childhood at the end of last year, and then again this week. Luckily this time I recognized it right away and went to the doctor, who told me that my tonsils may have to go if I get it again this year. Yikes!

Anyway, I couldn't stay away for long, I had to share my reading round-up for the month of April. Here are my April books--quite a few good ones, I might add.

{On the Come Up by Angie Thomas} The Hate U Give was one of my favorite books I read in 2017, so I wanted to read Angie Thomas’s follow-up novel as soon as I heard of its existence. On the Come Up is about a teenage girl named Bri who is trying to make her dreams of becoming a rapper come true. I adored Bri, and I would have loved to listen to this one on audio to hear her words come off the page. Like The Hate U Give, it made me take a step back and think about the hard things that Bri experiences, but it never felt like Thomas was trying to beat me over the head with her message. Bri felt genuine and flawed, yet still extremely likable. Count me in to read anything else you write, Angie Thomas! My rating: 4/5 stars. 

{There There by Tommy Orange} This is one that kept showing up on my book radar, and after hearing so many good things I knew I had to pick it up. It’s told from the perspective of several characters (so many that I struggled to keep track) and centers around a powwow in Oakland, California. While I did get lost sometimes in the different perspectives, and how they connect (I would have loved a diagram! #nerdalert), that did not take away from the impact of the story. I’m not positive, but I think this is the first book I’ve read by a Native American author, and that in itself is sad. I think he is making a statement by filling his story with so many viewpoints, as if to say that there is not one Native American story. The language is beautiful, and I did get sucked into the character’s lives despite only experiencing them in short snippets. I also loved the section breaks that didn’t come from specific characters, to me they revealed so many thought-provoking insights about the Native American experience from the author. My rating: 4/5 stars. 

{How to be a Happier Parent: Raising a Family, Having a Life, and Loving (Almost) Every Minute by K. J. Dell'Antonia} My goals were parenting-focused last month, so reading a parenting book or two seemed like a no-brainer. I listened on audio, and Dell’Antonia reads it herself which made it even more enjoyable. My only regret is (as always) not having a physical copy in front of me so I could highlight and bookmark all her excellent suggestions. What I liked about this book is the focus on the parents and the common parenting challenges they encounter, such as chores, screen time, homework, and food. Rather than thinking about how to change the child’s behavior around the struggle, she suggests how the parent may be able to approach the situation differently in order to get different results. Realistically, the only behavior we have true power to change is our own, so I appreciated this perspective. Additionally, she provided numerous practical ideas I wanted to implement right away in my own parenting, such as not overcommitting our time when it comes to extracurricular activities, creating a rule about not saying mean things about the food served, and separating chores from allowance. I recommend this parenting book if you’re looking for one. My rating: 4/5 stars.

{Heroine by Mindy McGinnis} In Mickey’s small town, she and the other young women on her winning softball team are treated like minor celebrities. When she, the team’s catcher, and her best friend, the pitcher, are in a car accident, both girls are focused on recovery so that they don’t miss a game. Yet Mickey finds more than just recovery in her pain pill prescription for Oxycontin, and she soon faces a debilitating addiction that she will do anything to cover up. This was extremely hard to read--McGinnis did not spare the details of Mickey’s addition and its aftermath--but at the same time I couldn’t put it down. In this age of the opioid crisis, a book like this is an important way to see just how easily an addiction can begin, even--and especially--in a teen. My rating: 4/5 stars.

{The Miracle Morning: The Not-So-Obvious Secret Guaranteed to Transform Your Life by Hal Elrod} Let me preface this review by saying the writing in this book is pretty terrible. Yet if you’re willing to look past that to get to the meat of the short content, the premise of starting your day with a routine to help better your life really appealed to me. Elrod suggests starting every day by waking up early to go through a set of steps, which he abbreviates SAVERS: silence, affirmations, visualization, exercise, reading, and scribing (writing). I did start doing this and while my life hasn’t changed dramatically, I do enjoy my morning routine even more now. I changed it up a little and I don’t devote equal time to each step, but for me--someone who is already a morning person--it really works. I don’t think it’s for everyone, and I don’t think it’s the kind of life-changer that he proclaims, but I do think anyone would benefit from starting the day in a more intentional, purpose-driven way. My rating (for the system more than the book itself): 3.5/5 stars.

{The Ministry of Ordinary Places: Waking Up to God's Goodness Around You by Shannan Martin} I listened to this on audio and I really did like the premise of this spiritual memoir meets personal growth book. Martin shares her story of learning how to serve God by taking whatever small steps she could to serve the people around her. She is honest and admits the ways in which she failed and the ways that her own privilege played a role in her perceptions of the world. I appreciated her openness, because it didn’t feel like she was trying to tell us to do what she did because it was so great. Instead, she shares her experience: what she learned, her successes and failures, and encourages the reader to get out there and serve the people around her too, any way she can. It felt loving and genuine, not preachy. My rating: 3.5/5 stars

{The Atlas of Reds and Blues by Devi S. Laskar} This was unlike anything else I read last month. Narrated by a woman known only as “The Mother,” an American-born daughter of Bengali immigrants, the book opens with a police raid that results in her being shot right outside her home. (No spoilers there, this happens right away.) In a way that felt very dreamlike and slightly stream-of-consciousness, we go back and forth in time between her current suffering and her memories of her life. We witness the cruel racism to which she was subjected, the challenges of her family’s move from Atlanta to one of its wealthy suburbs, and her life as the mother of three daughters whose father is away on business more often than he’s home. What stood out about this book for me was how the writing style--the short chapters, the sometimes random jumps in time--echoed the narrator’s suffering and made me feel like I was right there on the driveway with her. It was different, yet well-done. My rating: 3.5/5 stars. 

{The Sound of Gravel: A Memoir by Ruth Wariner} Ruth grew up in a polygamist cult--one of her father’s forty-odd children born to numerous wives. She lived on a farm in rural Mexico, in a house without indoor plumbing or electricity. Her father dies when Ruth is just a child, and her mother remarries another church-member who also practices polygamy. This memoir was heartbreaking in so many ways: the level of poverty that Ruth and her siblings were forced to live with as a result of their parents' lifestyle, repeated abuse that was ignored by the very person who was supposed to protect her, and traumatic deaths caused by carelessness and pride. Ruth endured so much as a child that it feels like a miracle that she grew up to tell her story at all. My rating: 3.5/5 stars

{Ignore It!: How Selectively Looking the Other Way Can Decrease Behavioral Problems and Increase Parenting Satisfaction by Catherine Pearlman} I actually finished this book just before the month of April started, but after I had written my post for March. This parenting book is all about children's behavior, and why you should ignore behavior you don't want to see and encourage what you do want to see. It sounds pretty straightforward, but the reality is a lot more challenging! While I did like the idea of ignoring unwanted behavior like tantrums, whining, and others, then re-engaging as soon as the behavior stops, the strictly behaviorist approach didn't feel quite right to me. I really like parenting experts like Janet Lansbury (who has the Unruffled podcast) who tout respectful parenting, and others who focus on the whole child. I don't want to just address a behavior, I want to treat my children as human beings whose feelings I accept fully. For me, I did think this book could be helpful in some situations, but not necessarily as an overall parenting strategy. My rating: 3/5 stars. 

Ignore It!: How Selectively Looking the Other Way Can Decrease Behavioral Problems and Increase Parenting Satisfaction

Have you read anything good lately?

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