What We've Been Reading Lately - February 2019


This month's book stack includes one new(ish) novel, two memoirs (one light and one heavy), two works of narrative non-fiction (one dense and scientific, one upbeat and full of personal stories), and two chapter book read-alouds that were both winners with our family. Join us over at Modern Mrs. Darcy to let us know what you've been reading lately!

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

From the epigraph:
You suppose you are the trouble,
But you are the cure.
You suppose that you are the lock on the door,
But you are the key that opens it.
 My feelings for this book were reminiscent of my response to Anne Patchett's Bel Canto: extremely mixed. First, I liked it. Then I loved it. Then I hated it. Then I really hated it. And by the end I felt just okay about it.
When nine people gather at an Australian health resort seeking personal transformation, they find an unorthodox approach to healing that leaves them wondering whether they should surrender to the journey or run very, very far away. Liane Moriarty's gripping writing kept me turning the pages even after my distaste for the characters reached a fever pitch. This was my first Liane Moriarty read, and it probably won't be my last.

3 out of 5 stars

How To Change Your Mind: What the New Science of Psychedelics Teaches Us About Consciousness, Dying, Addiction, Depression and Transcendence by Michael Pollan

 The psychedelic experience may facilitate "neuroplasticity": it opens a window in which patterns of thought and behavior become more plastic and so easier to change. Even a temporary rewiring of the brain is potentially valuable, especially for people suffering from disorders characterized by mental rigidity. A high-dose psychedelic experience has the power to "shake the snow globe", disrupting unhealthy patterns of thought and creating a space of flexibility - entropy - in which more salubrious patterns and narratives have an opportunity to coalesce as the snow slowly resettles.
I first learned of this book from Kendra. Like her I'm not the most likely person to embrace psychedelics. I've never smoked a cigarette or used illegal drugs of any kind. I much prefer a glass of chocolate milk to a glass of wine. I'm really not one to embrace risky behaviors! But as one who has suffered from depression and loved those affected by mental illness, the potential of psychedelics to improve outcomes for many types of mental illness and addiction makes me sit up and take notice.

This book was longer than it needed to be, but it did persuade me that psychedelics are not to be feared, and in the right setting under the supervision of trained guides, they have the power to promote physical, emotional and spiritual healing.

Very interesting to read alongside Liane Moriarty's Nine Perfect Strangers if you're looking for a book pairing!

4 out of 5 stars 

I Think You're Wrong, But I'm Listening by Sarah Stewart Holland & Beth Silvers

Whether you believe our country's problem is generational, geographical, or partisan, the most important thing to know about the polarization in American politics today is that we are choosing it. We are choosing division. We are choosing conflict. We are choosing to turn our civic sphere into a circus. We are choosing all of this, and we can choose otherwise.
Politics does not have to be driven by conflict and anger. We dont have to double down on our limited perceptions. We aren't destined to fall for the siren songs of righteousness ringing in our own ears. We can eschew cynicism and engage in thoughtful debate. We can put away extreme arguments and nasty rebuttals and bring the same care and respect to policy discussions that we bring tot he rest of our lives.
Simply stated, there is a better way. 
There is a way to engage with respect and empathy. There is a way to give grace and be vulnerable when discussing the issues that affect your family, your church, and your country. There is a way to stop treating politics like a team sport and to get to work solving the real problems that plague our world. There is a way to talk about politics that leaves you inspired instead of depleted. There is a way to engage with each other that could (as it has in the distant past) lead to consensus and solutions, innovation and improvement.
I recently discovered the Pantsuit Politics podcast where Sarah from the left and Beth from the right show how people from opposing political perspectives can engage in healthy dialogue in a way that elevates the political conversation and focuses on moving toward solutions we can all agree on. In this book, Sarah and Beth explain the tools they use to achieve these rare and refreshing grace-filled political discussions. Highly recommended.

5 out of 5 stars

 Garlic & Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise by Ruth Reichl 

We all become actors, to some extent, when we go out to eat. Every restaurant is a theater, and the truly great ones allow us to indulge in the fantasy that we are rich and powerful. When restaurants hold up their end of the bargain, they give us the illusion of being surrounded by servants intent on ensuring our happiness and offering extraordinary food. But even modest restaurants offer the opportunity to become someone else, at least for a little while.
This fascinating foodie memoir by the former food critic of the New York Times chronicles how Ruth concealed her identity from restaurant staffs through an elaborate series of costumes. She found that with each new costume she took on a new persona, transforming not just her outward appearance but her inner character as well. The food descriptions left my mouth watering, but Ruth's insights into life, work and personal identity were equally worthwhile.

4.5 out of 5 stars

A Mother's Reckoning: Living in the Aftermath of the Columbine Tragedy by Sue Klebold

On April 20, 1999 I woke up an ordinary wife and mother, happy to be shepherding my family through the daily business of work, chores, and school. Fast forward twenty-four hours, and I was the mother of a hate-crazed gunman responsible for the worst school shooting in history. And Dylan, my golden boy, was not only dead, but a mass murderer.
In this book Sue Klebold's wrestling with how her beloved son, Dylan, could have concealed from her the pain that drove him to murder and suicide. With glaring honesty she traces her relationship with Dylan in detail, drawing from the clues Dylan left behind, her own personal journals, and the insight of mental health professionals to identify the warning signs she missed in the hopes that greater awareness of these issues might help prevent future tragedy. Raw in its vulnerability and hard to read, but nevertheless an important contribution to a conversation our society can't afford to turn away from.

4 out of 5 stars

The Five Little Peppers and How They Grew by Margaret Sidney

Times are tough around the little brown house! The widowed Mrs. Pepper has to sew all day long just to earn enough to pay the rent and to feed the five growing Peppers. But she faces poverty and trouble with a stout heart, a smiling face, and the help of her jolly brood: blue-eyed Ben, the eldest and the man of the house at the age of 11; pretty Polly, so eager to cook for the family and make everyone happy and comfortable; and the three littlest Peppers, Joel, Davie, and baby Phronsie.
I remember cozying up with this book as a child and my kiddos, ages 5 and 7, found it absolutely delightful. I'm glad we enjoyed this one as an audio book because the professional narrator made it easier to distinguish all the children's different voices. Such endearing characters and a happy ending for the hard-working Pepper family! 

5 out of 5 stars

Viking Adventure by Clyde Robert Bulla

Sigurd, a Viking boy, cannot see the value of learning to read and write. All he can think of is adventure. But then he has an adventure that he cannot help but tell. And to do that, he decides, he must learn to write.
We are diving deep into the world of the Vikings over here, inspired by our current history curriculum. This chapter book read-aloud has been the perfect addition to our Viking explorations, following the story of the intrepid young Sigurd who seeks to follow in the footsteps of Leif Erickson by voyaging across the sea to unknown lands. My kids rooted for him all the way, and rarely let me get away with reading just one chapter.

4 out of 5 stars

We've also been reading lots of cozy winter picture books these days. Here are a few of our favorites! You're never too old for a great picture book, right?


  1. The Five Little Peppers was a favorite of mine in fifth grade! I just listened to Nine Perfect Strangers. Not my favorite of Liane Moriarty's books, but I still really enjoyed it. She can take me on any sort of journey and I'll be absorbed (and this certainly was a weird one!). As an author, I found Frances's storyline pretty amusing, and having returned from a spa a few weeks ago, I couldn't help but laugh at the over-the-topness of it all.

    1. Nine Perfect Strangers was my first Liane Moriarty, and it definitely was a trip! I think I'll try a few more of hers before I decide if she's for me or not. Her writing certainly grabs you.

  2. Wow! What a stack ... and this is the best time of year to curl up with one book after another.


  3. What a diverse stack of books. I haven't read any of them. Honestly, I haven't even heard of one of them. Lol! It looks like you are expanding my book borders. Thanks for sharing with us at #LiveLifeWell.

  4. It has been so long since I have written a bookish wrap up post. We've been reading, but it just hasn't found its way into summary form. I miss it. I should write more posts like this one of yours.


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