Book ReviewBooks

Book Love

By February 20, 2014 14 Comments

I cannot believe it has been since last May that I blabbed about books. For shame. Books make the world go round, and I love to report. Here’s what I can remember (which is slightly suspect)…

Children’s/Middle Grade:

51FMj6uCzLL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_ A book all of my children love and a children’s book I can stand to read aloud 🙂 A review said something like, “Somewhere, families like this exist. Lucky them. Somewhere, there are people who just get to read about them. Lucky us.” I thought that summed it up well. At this moment, the third Penderwick book is on my bedside table and my two youngest are listening to the first by CD again and again…


I already wrote about this book, but if you missed it…this is a gem that all parents and children must read RIGHT NOW. You know Ferdinand the Bull, right? This is the same author. This is so funny, so wonderful, so NEEDED.


I may have already written about this one too, but brain does not recall exactly. Everyone said it was good…and it was! It will make you laugh, cry, want to be a better human being, want to parent better, want to stand up for every child who’s ever been hurt by someone else. Fantastic.

Young Adult:


I read this last year and I liked it so much I reread again this fall. My bigger review is back here, and yes, yes, yes. It’s great. I have John Green’s other three books stacked on my bedside table waiting to be read. My husband read them all and liked them all, but especially this one. This gives me great hope as a writer: we keep writing, we get better. Don’t ever give up.

Adult Fiction:


I truly adored this book. It made me want to read Hemingway and so I did…and liked this much better 🙂 Ernest always said Hadley was the love of his life and that he should have never let her go. Plagued by ambition, drinking, and writing discontent, there’s was a marriage Ernest couldn’t sustain or support. It’s good, it’s sad, it’s a great look at an era with so many interesting writing characters: Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Gertrude Stein, Ezra Pound, and Henry James. What a dance it is to write historical fiction. I so admire the skill.

51RjBm6BlYL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU01_I’m a big fan of Turow. He’s a brilliant writer, but I couldn’t get into this one. I’m sorry, Scott!!! As a side note, I once wrote an email to Mr. Turow and told him how much I loved his books, Innocent and Presumed Innocent, and he wrote back a personal email thanking me for taking the time to write. Twizzles! If you’ve been watching Ice Dancing, then you’ll know what that is. I’m very fond of the word and can’t stop saying it around my teenage daughter who just thinks I’m annoying which of course makes me say it more. Twizzles!


“The Victorian language of flowers was used to convey romantic expressions: honeysuckle for devotion, asters for patience, and red roses for love. But for Victoria Jones, it’s been more useful in communicating mistrust and solitude.” This is the story of Victoria Jones, a child who has survived the foster care system. Unable to trust or become close to anyone, her connection to the world is flowers and their meanings.  Victoria has a gift for choosing flowers for others…and  through flowers, she just might be able to find the love she’s always so greatly needed. There’s even a Victorian flower book companion that I’m drooling over. My eyes were opened – there’s a whole world of flowers out there that I know so little of! Great read, great writing.


This is an old one, but I’ve wanted to read it for years. It was good – I couldn’t stop turning the pages into the wee hours of the night even though I’ve seen the movie (love that Robert Redford.) It’s hard for me to love a book that justifies infidelity (follow your heart and all that crap), but the writing was great, and made me think of how much I enjoyed the movie, Buck, the original Horse Whisperer and who actually assisted on the movie set. Buck taught me a lot about parenting. Whisper is more effect than yelling…


Love, love Amy Tan! One of my very favorite authors, Tan is a superb communicator, especially when it comes to the relationship between a mother and daughter. This book is loooong, almost 600 pages, and for the most part I enjoyed (and was horrified) by the life of a Chinese cortesan in the early 1900s (with the charming names Magic Gourd, Golden Dove, Billowy Cloud), but I did begin to wish to not read the word “deflowered” one more time, and the intimacy details were WAY TOO MUCH, but I plowed through because Tan writes a story so well and I wanted to know what happened to our heroine, Violet. It made me cry, especially at the end, and thankful I have choices so many women in history have never had.


I always feel like I’m going to get in trouble when I talk about women. But I shall try not to offend you. I loved this book. This surprised me since it’s not a book that champions motherhood, rather, outside careers. But Sandberg (the CEO of Facebook) is so real and likable that I couldn’t help but like it (and her) immensely. It made me think about choices we make, why we don’t like women who are successful, why we call an assertive man a leader and an assertive woman bossy, why we are always self-depricating…Sandberg’s TED talk is one of my favorites. Interestingly, I found myself wanting to Lean In to my own job more – my motherhood job – to own it, to love it, to speak up and be heard.

Alice Walker: “The most common way people give up their power is by thinking they don’t have any.”

And now for my controversial opinion (well, we must speak up, right?) Sandberg says: “For decades, we have focused on giving women the choice to work inside or outside the home. We have celebrated the fact that women have the right to make this decision, and rightly so. But we have to ask ourselves if we have become so focused on supporting personal choices that we’re failing to encourage women to aspire to leadership.”

I don’t quite agree with Sandberg here. We have focused so much on personal choice and “follow your dreams” that I think we need to ask if we’re failing to encourage women to aspire to motherhood. Motherhood needs to be ENOUGH. It needs to be valued as much as any job outside the home or women are going to continue to leave it. And I worry. I worry about our little ones. Nurture is such an innate gift in women (of course men nurture too!), that we must not make a woman feel it’s not ENOUGH to do so, to devalue a God-given characteristics that is essential for children to thrive, especially during the formative baby/toddler/child years. We need good moms and dads to raise the children and run the volunteer bake sales, organize food drives and voting booths and youth groups…I’ve heard it said and I completely agree, the hand that rocks the cradle rocks the whole world.

Will my children get an education. OH YES. Do I applaud my women friends who are doctors? Full-time teachers? Amelia Earhardt? Toni Morrison? Oprah? Goodness, yes! (which, interestingly, is why Oprah said she would never have children, because she couldn’t give them the attention they deserved. But hey, Oprah has done wonders for women. Perhaps that was her calling in life?) Oh, I get fired up about this stuff and I could go on and on, but I’ll stop with one more quote:

“Feminism wasn’t supposed to make us feel guilty, or prod us into constant competitions over who is raising children better, organizing more cooperative marriages, or getting less sleep. It was supposed to make us free – to give us not only choices but the ability to make these choices without constantly feeling that we’d somehow gotten it wrong.” –Debora Spar

Overall, a well researched and well-written (and controversial) book. Even with all my personal dreams and outside jobs and commitments, I’m determined to Lean In to my motherhood job. After so many years of inwardly fighting to feel like I was enough “just to be a mom” I’m finally at a more peaceful place. Not complete peace, I admit, but I’m closer. Yes. It is enough.

Want more great book lists?  Julia, Nina, Bermudaonion, and Dana might be able to help!

That’s it for now. I literally have stacks of fiction, nonfiction, children’s books in my room to read. Never enough time…though this snow makes it awfully tempting to hibernate. What are you reading? I’d love to hear!




  • Carrie Rubin says:

    I enjoyed The Valley of Amazement, too, but the word that I could have seen used less was ‘pudendum.’ 😉 But I found the subject matter fascinating as well as heartbreaking.

  • I had the pleasure of meeting Amy Tan at a speaking engagement/fundraiser a couple of years ago.
    She was LOVELY in every way and I just wanted to BE her. For a minute or two. Then I remembered my own life is pretty good stuff.

    Anyway, I will now add The Valley of Amazement to my (daunting-but-hooray-for-books) stack on my nightstand along with the others you enjoyed that I haven’t yet read.

    Thanks for the recommendations – because there is no such thing as TOO MANY GOOD BOOKS!

  • Dana says:

    Thank you so much for the mention! The Fault in Our Stars is my daugther’s favorite, and she started Looking for Alaska. I really need to raid her bookshelf. I’ve read a few of the ones you mentioned, but never any Amy Tan. You are the second person to recommend her books this week – I need to add her to my ever growing list!

  • Heather says:

    Thank you for your book recommendations! I read Amy Tan’s Snowflower and the Secret Fan and enjoyed learning more about ancient Chinese culture. We own Manners Can be Fun and I find it wildly entertaining as well as brilliant. Recently I’ve read The Book Thief (very creatively written from the point of view of Death). I now want to read the Penderwick’s, The Fault in Our Stars, and Wonder.

    I’ve also recently re-read Mitten Strings for God by Katrina Kenison. I loved her wisdom and writing talent even more the second time around! So much, in fact, that I’ve started reading Handling the Truth by Beth Kephart to learn more about writing memoir. I’d love to learn more about writing in general and would love to write more often. I truly enjoy it, I am just slow and feel like I don’t know much about it besides what I learned in my basic high school classes. I marvel at the way talented writers express themselves. When do you take the time to write? Any good books or online courses you would recommend?

    And, I love, love, loved your recent Power of Moms article! Thank you for continuing to inspire me!

    • Amy Mak says:

      Heather, thank you so much. I really appreciate your kind words. I’m fairly insecure about my writing if that makes you feel better 🙂 I have so many rejections I could wallpaper the house. Sometimes I can shrug them off and other times I wallow and know I’m just so terrible at writing. My advice: START. Don’t wait until you think you need to know something about how to do it. Write, write, write and then read, read, read. Start noticing how authors start books, how they “hook” you, how they create tension on the page, how they hold your interest. I think I’ve written a little bit about my favorite writing books, but I should do it again; there are so many good ones. I really love Stephen King’s “On Writing” (which might sound funny considering his genre), Anne Lamott “Bird by Bird,” Donald Maas “The Breakout Novel,” and “Story Fix” by Larry Brooks. Also, it depends on what kind of writing your want to write – memoir? magazine features? fiction? short story? I’m still figuring this out myself and I’ve been doing this seriously for almost seven years! But that’s the beauty of writing; there are so many genres and forms. Sites like “Power of Moms” is great because they accept guest posts on real-life motherhood experiences and it’s a HUGE shot of validation when something actually gets published! But don’t worry about publication yet, just start. Keep learning. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that writing is a craft. It takes time to get good. No one is born being a master. Check out the websites and thememoirproject – I love them both!

      When do I write? Whenever I can – and it comes way before cleaning the bathroom 🙂 But don’t wait until the kids are gone all day. Do it now. Make it a habit.

      Sorry for the book length response but good luck! Can’t wait to hear what you start writing.

  • I loved The Joy Luck Club, but I don’t know if I’m up for 600 pages of deflowering! Wonder was fabulous, and I LOVE LOVE LOVE John Green. Bawled my eyes out reading The Fault in Our Stars and made my husband read Looking for Alaska. I read ‘Lean In’ and had mixed feelings about it, even though I’m a full-time working mom.

  • Julia Tomiak says:

    Amy, you know I love at least three books on this list. So glad you included them! I will have to check out The Paris Wife and The Valley of Amazement. Thanks also for mentioning my blog. 😉
    And good for you for venturing into the world of the controversial. (Jeff Goins says we shouldn’t be afraid to say stuff that matters, right?) As a SAHM, I agree with your points- especially that our society is devaluing the importance of motherhood. Often I feel very insignificant and unimportant because I don’t bring home a check or have a resume attached to my name. Yet I know I couldn’t parent my children they way I want to if I worked outside the home. I need to accept my choice and be happy with it. My favorite quote of all the ones you mentioned was this one on feminism by Debora Spar: “[Feminism] was supposed to make us free – to give us not only choices but the ability to make these choices without constantly feeling that we’d somehow gotten it wrong.” Working moms feel guilty; SAHM moms feel guilty; part time working moms feel stressed. We need to be more supportive of each other as women.
    Thanks for bringing up an interesting topic!
    Have a wonderful weekend.

  • thewalshies says:

    That just made me feel so much better – I am trying to read Identical right now and I just can’t get into it. I was trying to stay with it since I usually love Scott Turow’s books, but I think I have to let it go – too many good books out there! Happy Birthday! :o)

  • Erin says:

    I’m into Gabby Bernstein right now. Start my own path for now. I love these recommendations. I’ve been thinking I should read a bit of fiction again. I recently decided to stop part of my on the side business to do more with myself and family on the weekends. Grabbing a good book in on my list of wants. And catching up on blogs at work! lol shhh don’t tell my boss! XOXO Thanks for your list!

  • Patrick says:

    I recently read Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg (… btw, she is COO of Facebook) and really enjoyed it. I would recommend the book to anyone as her philosophy of “leaning in” can apply to anyone. My favorite idea that Sandberg presents is her question: “what would you do if you weren’t afraid?”
    The book has also made me rethink how I’m going to communicate with my 2 daughters. For example, I am never going to call them “bossy”, rather I’ll tell them the have “leadership potential”!

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