2019 Upper Shelf Reviews (in alphabetical order) Part 2

The Overdue Life of Amy Byler

Author: Kelly Harms

Category: Adult 

Genre: Women’s Fiction 

Pages: 315 Pages 

Format: Paperback 

Published: May 1, 2019 

Book rating: 8/10 

Mommy readability rating: 8/10   

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Summary: Amy Byler is a single mother of two who works as the librarian at her children’s school. She is completely devoted to her kids and her work. But when her husband, who ran out on the family three years ago, returns, wanting to spend time with the kids, her life gets thrown into a spin. Add in the opportunity to attend a librarian’s convention in New York and Amy is suddenly given the chance for a break from her past and a glimpse at what her future could really be.  

Review: The Overdue Life of Amy Byler is a fun, light read to round out the summer. With both her books and children, I could totally relate to this character and immediately connected with her. Harms does a great job with the voice of a tired, overworked mom who is so focused on the life she has built, she ignores all that she is missing out on. She’s so dedicated and determined. You feel compassion for this woman while also agreeing with the change that her friends so desperately want to see happen. And as a tired mom, I would definitely love a “momspringa” (the author’s invented mom version of the Amish Rumspringa). The father in the story is a bit frustrating and I’m still trying to figure out how I feel about him, but Harms does a great job at portraying these complicated relationships. I also really enjoyed the way she incorporated the daughter’s voice into the story with the journal entries, which, in turn, made the twist near the end, all the more heart-breaking. Well done Kelly Harms.   

Mommy Readability Rating: The idea of a “momspringa” is quite exciting and the need for one is very relatable for most moms, making this a fun, escapism story for us. The book is a rather easy read with short chapters that allow for quick reading sessions. There is, however, a twist, that I was not prepared for, that will gut you as a mom. Be prepared for some tears. 

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Silence in the Age of Noise

Author: Erling Kagge 

Category: Adult 

Genre: Non-Fiction 

Pages: 160 

Format: Paperback 

Published: September 2017 

Book rating: 9/10 

Mommy Readability Rating: 9/10 

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Summary: What is silence? Where can it be found? And why is it more important now than ever? Erling Kagge, the Norwegian adventurer and polymath, once spent fifty days walking solo across Antarctica. He knows what silence is. In this book, he explores how silence and stillness can be found in even the most hectic of lives and how absolutely critical it is to our health and wellbeing in our modern world. Kagge uses his own writing, combined with the poetry, art, and photography of others to establish the what, why, and hows of silence.  

Review: Silence in the Age of Noise is a fantastic read. The notion of silence is a rare one in the life of a parent, so it’s good to be reminded of how important it is to our lives. Especially in our modern world, where we spend so much time filling the voids in the day with anything but silence. As Kagge states, many of us do this because we are afraid of the silence, or the thoughts that come with it. But to live a full and healthy life, we must embrace this discomfort. Kagge’s thoughts are intriguing and inspirational, humorous and necessary. Through his stories and musings, he shows how we can all find stillness and quiet in ways that are completely achievable. I found myself taking lines from this book and using them as meditation points throughout my day. His writing is relatable, making it easy to access the high-level concepts he is discussing. I loved this book on a first read and got a lot out of it that I can apply to my everyday life. I will definitely return to this read in future stages of my life to reassess how I am working towards stillness and explore new ways to find needed silence.  

Mommy Readability Rating: This is a very short book and while the sections are dense, you can read them quickly and then ponder them outside of your reading time. It is one that I, ironically, read with a lot of child-produced noise in the background and was still able to absorb and complete in a relatively short number of reading sessions.   

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Things My Son Needs to Know about the World

Author: Fredrik Backman
Category: Adult
Genre: Autobiography/Humor
Pages: 208
Format: Hardcover
Published: May 2019  
Book rating: 9/10
Mommy Daddy Readability Rating: 10/10   

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Summary: Things My Son Needs to Know about the World is a collection of thoughts that Backman wrote in response to becoming a father. He covers everything from his child’s birth to sports to love to video games and starting a band. It is a humorous, poignant look at life and fatherhood.  

Review: I love everything I have read by Backman in the past (A Man Called Ove is one of my favorite books) and so I was very eager to read some of his non-fiction, hoping his writing style would translate. And it definitely did. I can’t remember the last time I literally laughed out loud so much while reading a book. Backman’s writing here is hilarious, so true and relatable for any parent (especially fathers). And while he had me laughing on one page, the very next would have me in emotional, my-child-is-growing-up-too-fast, tears. This is the perfect gift for any father of a boy (Moms can definitely relate to most of the material as well and, even though it’s really geared towards fathers of boys, there is much about parenthood in here that can resonate with any parent regardless of the child’s gender). This is definitely one you can read again and again, getting new things from it as your own parenthood journey progresses.  

Mommy Daddy Readability Rating: This book is so fun and relatable. The sections are quick and easy to get through. The problem is you won’t want to put it down.  

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Things You Save in a Fire

Author: Katherine Center
Category: Adult
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Pages: 308
Format: ARC Paperback
Published: August 2019  
Book rating: 9/10
Mommy Readability Rating: 9/10   

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Summary: Cassie Hanwell was born to be a firefighter. She was made for it. When emergencies happen, that is when she is at her most steady. But when her whole life is turned upside-down, on the night that was supposed to be the apex of her career, she finds herself struggling to find that steady again. She’s forced to move to Boston to take care of her ailing mother and start over at an old-school Boston firehouse, with a bunch of guys who aren’t exactly happy to have a woman on the squad. And then there is the rookie in the group who Cassie, who has always claimed love is “not her thing”, suddenly finds herself falling for. She has always been one for order, precision, and toughness. But just when she’s trying to get her life back together, everything seems to be falling apart. Will she risk everything she’s worked for, and forgive the past she keeps trying to hide, in order to achieve the future she suddenly realizes she wants?  

Review: Things You Save in a Fireis a beautiful story about love and forgiveness. It’s not every day you get a story about a female firefighter (or police officer, or marine, or any other traditionally male-dominated occupation) so I was excited to read this. However, I was worried that this woman would be a stereotype, so set on proving her un-girliness that she becomes a flat character. But that’s not what happened at all. Center has created such a real character in Cassie. She’s strong and determined, but hurt and searching for peace. This story is honest in ways that I didn’t expect it to be. I could totally relate to Cassie, a tomboy who turns her nose at anything “girly”, and so I was immediately pulled into the book. In addition, the men in the book are similarly complex. Each one feels so real with their own quirks and flaws. Center’s writing is not overly flowery or poetic, but that makes it all the more true to this story. What the author does is so skilled, and the voice is so authentic, that you just feel like a friend is telling you a story. A story you truly care about and have to know how it ends. It’s about struggle and growth, it’s about becoming someone you never thought you could. A simple story at the beginning, but one that opens into a world of self-exploration and what it means to be human. The perfect combination of funny and gut-wrenchingly sad. And please, don’t skip the epilogue. This is definitely one you will want to get when it is released in August. As Jodi Picoult said about this book, “Just read it, and thank me later.”  

Mommy Readability Rating: This is an easy read and for the most part the chapters are all pretty short. This book is one to get lost in, but also straight-forward enough to read while slightly distracted. Chapters are easy to jump back into and the story is so good that you won’t need much of a refresher to get back to it after taking a break. Great for a quick naptime escape or even to get a few pages in while the little ones are eating (or otherwise distracted).

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This Tender Land

Author: William Kent Krueger
Category: Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction
Pages: 444 Pages
Format: ARC Paperback
Published: September 3, 2019
Book rating: 8/10
Mommy readability rating: 9/10

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Summary: Four orphans are forced to flee an abusive boarding school in 1932 Minnesota. The story, told by one of the boys years later, follows the children as they escape the wrath of the school’s superintendent and spend the summer journeying along midwest rivers, encountering others who are adrift, from struggling farmers and traveling faith healers to displaced families and lost souls of all kinds. Set on the backdrop of the Great Depression, it is a story of hope, faith, and family.

Review: This Tender Land is an enthralling story told by an entertaining narrator. It has a very Huck Finn, Mark Twain feel about it, but with easier to follow dialect. Krueger does a great job portraying a character looking back on his childhood with tenderness and honesty. The four main characters (three boys and one young girl) all feel so real and, although they all have faults, you sympathize greatly with each of them and feel invested in their story. Also, the author clearly did a lot of research for this story, with each scene and plot point well-detailed and authentic, yet it never felt like an information dump. The world he was depicting just felt natural. This was definitely a page-turner for me. Krueger did an excellent job with pacing and the end of each chapter definitely drives the reader to want to know what would happen next. I found his style easy and enjoyable to read and I look forward to reading more of his novels in the future.

Mommy Readability Rating: Most chapters were relatively short and therefore easy to consume during brief reading periods. However, the story itself is quite gripping and I found it difficult to stop after reading just one chapter. You become emotionally invested in the kids you are reading about and care about the outcome. Easy to read, easy to get sucked into the story.

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Trust Exercise

Author: Susan Choi

Category: Adult

Genre: Contemporary/Literary Fiction

Pages: 257 Pages

Format: Hardcover

Published: April 9, 2019

Book rating: 5/10

Mommy readability rating: 6/10 

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Summary: A group of students go through their high school years during the 1980s at an elite performing arts school. It is a time filled with intense classes, booze, and sex. Add a group of visiting students from the UK and the drama escalates. Years later, one of these teens writes a book about her experiences during that time. But is she telling the whole truth, or any of it at all. Only one other student from that class truly knows, and she might not even be telling you the truth either.

Review: I read Trust Exercise as it was the selected book for my book group and honestly, if I hadn’t needed to finish it for the discussion, I wouldn’t have finished it at all. The book had been highly reviewed and seemed like a very interesting premise. However, while I found the writing quite good in places, and the whole of part two was very interesting from a writer’s point of view (exploring the ways in which Choi approached fiction and what she did with the story), the story itself was not good. The characters were unlikable and the situations they were put in often seemed absurd. Over half the book takes place in a performing arts high school where sexual encounters and assault not only seem condoned by the teachers and other adults but encouraged. It was all a little too much for me as the setting of a story that was often unclear and confusing. Multiple times in the story I found myself having to go back to previous pages to clarify occurrences that I didn’t remember happening. I really like Choi’s writing and style, but this story just didn’t work for me.

Mommy Readability Rating: This story is told in three sections, the first two quite long, and those are the only breaks. There are no chapters to mark a definitely stopping point. It is often hard to follow at points and the graphic nature of the story just gets to be too much at times, making it a slow read. Not really worth the time it takes to read it (This was the general feeling of the rest of the book group as well).

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The Unhoneymooners

Author: Christina Lauren

Category: Adult 

Genre: Romance 

Pages: 395

Format: Paperback 

Published: May 2019

Book rating: 7/10 

Mommy readability rating: 9/10  

(Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links)  

Summary: Olive Torres is the unlucky sister. In contrast, her twin Ami is forever lucky, winning in all aspects of life. She even won enough contests that her entire wedding and honeymoon were free. Meanwhile, on the wedding day, Olive is stuck with the person she hates most in the world, the best man, Ethan. But when everyone at the wedding is struck with food poisoning except Olive and Ethan, they end up together on the free honeymoon. Somehow, in paradise, Olive’s luck seems to be changing and her view of Ethan follows suit.  

Review: The first half of The Unhoneymooners was quite difficult for me to get through, or even want to read, for one very specific reason. The narrator was just so negative. I found it hard to like her very much. I think the author was trying to make her a unique character in this vein, but it wasn’t a uniqueness that I cared for very much. Plus, not a single interaction or line of dialogue passed between her and the main male character without her reminding the reader that she hated him. It got to be too much. It was as if the author felt they needed to constantly remind the reader that Olive did not like Ethan. It became less of a tension builder and more of an annoyance to skim over. But, the story had an interesting premise and I had strong enough hopes that this woman would knock it off with all the pessimism that I carried on reading. In the end, it was a fun, easy read. The character arc seemed a bit contrived and cliché, with no real twists or surprises. It’s the typical “will they/won’t they” and you pretty much know the answer very early on. But it was a decent enough story and the writing was solid with some good humorous lines. It’s a nice summer read for a vacation or some lounge time by the pool.  

Mommy Readability Rating: This is a quick, fun, easy read. The storyline is simple and straightforward, making it easy to jump in and out of the book. If you’re looking for some light reading to escape into during the summer break, this is a good one. 

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Author: Barbara Kingsolver

Category: Adult 

Genre: Saga/Historical Fiction 


Format: Hardcover 

Published: October 2018 

Book rating: 8/10 

Mommy Readability Rating: 6/10  

(Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links)  

Summary: Willa Knox, a middle-aged woman finds herself in a situation she never thought she would have to deal with. An unsteady marriage, an ailing father-in-law, and two grown children living at home, one returning with his newborn son after the death of his wife. And they are all living in a house that is falling apart. Willa desperately begins researching the history of her home in hopes that it’s age or historical significance could provide the family with a grant to keep the roof over their heads. In her research, she comes across a kindred spirit in an 1880s resident of the home, Thatcher Greenwood. In his own time, Thatcher is a science teacher dealing with the struggles of a miserable home life and working in a school where he is forbidden to discuss the new theories of Darwin with his students. But then, a friendship with a neighboring female scientist, one who is in direct communication with Darwin himself, provides a new spark in his life. It is the story of two families in two very different ages searching for shelter in very uncertain times.  

Review: Unshletered is a beautiful story written by one of the more superior writers of our time. But there is so much going on in this book. Kingsolver’s writing is gorgeous, as always and she excels here at creating two very vivid worlds. I immediately sympathized with Willa and understood her struggles. It did, however, take a little longer into the 1880s portion of the story to truly understand how I was supposed to relate to the different characters. And even after it was established that Thatcher is the character of focus in that timeline, I was conflicted over my feelings toward him. He does have several faults and does not always behave in a completely immaculate manner. Whereas Willa, while not flawless (although this would not be desired and would be a bit unrelatable), does seem to be the moral center of her family and the clear character to root for. Very early on, the reader is shown how these two worlds connect, through the house that serves as the residence of the two main characters, but it takes much longer for the deeper comparisons and message to come to light. This is a story that I’m sure I could read multiple times and get a little something different out of each reading. Through these characters, Kingsolver seems to offer hope in troubling times, both past and present.  

Mommy Readability Rating: While I love Kingsolver’s writing (The Poisonwood Bible is one of my favorite books) her very dense, descriptive writing can be tough to get through as a distracted reader. The sections are long and the chapters go back and forth between present and past, sometimes making it difficult to remember what exactly happened last in each particular storyline. This is definitely a book for after the little ones have gone to bed, or during naptime, so that you can give it your full attention.  

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