Monday, December 5, 2016

Top Ten New-To-Me Authors I Read For The First Time In 2016

I'm linking up with The Broke and the Bookish for another Top Ten Tuesday.

Looking back over my top-rated reads of the year, I was surprised at how many rereads were on my list! I'm notoriously bad at rereading, but this year my book clubs picked a lot of books I'd already read, plus I'm rereading Agatha Christie's complete works.

In any case, here are some of the best authors I read for the very first time in 2016.

1. Alex Gino (George)
I was impressed by Gino's ability to write a book aimed at young children that captured the experience of being transgender in grade school. The conflicts are realistic without being too heavy, and the ending is optimistic without being naïvely so. I'm glad this book exists, and I would definitely pick up another book by Gino in the future.

2. Becky Albertalli (Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda)
Although I'm thankfully more than a decade out of high school now, Albertalli's high school world felt true to me. And as someone who met one of my best friends over the Internet, I loved the way she depicted that weirdly intimate relationship, where you know someone's deepest fears and their childhood fantasies but you don't know their full name or what they look like. Glad to see Albertalli has another book coming out next year!

3. Bryan Stevenson (Just Mercy)
It took me a couple of years to pick up Stevenson's bestseller, but now I'm obsessed. The work his organization is doing is incredibly important, and the stories he tells in his book are heartbreaking and vital for Americans to hear about. He writes with a perfect mix of realism and passion. I don't know if he'll write another book, but he makes it into my top ten of the year either way.

4. Claudia Rankine (Citizen)
I hadn't read much in the "prose poetry" format before, but this book was pretty amazing. Rankine's careful choices, such as telling most stories in the second person "you," made me feel like I was immersed in the lived experience of American black women. I'm now interested in picking up her Don't Let Me Be Lonely from a decade earlier.

5. James Herriot (All Creatures Great and Small)
I'd seen Herriot's name pop up many times on lists of top-rated books, but I hadn't read one of his works until this year. Then I had to stop myself from picking up every one of the sequels immediately. Despite the many (real or fabricated) challenges he encountered as a country veterinarian, he manages to maintain a warm and humorous tone throughout his writing.

6. Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely (All American Boys)
I hadn't heard of either of these authors before this book was chosen for one of my book clubs, but I've seen several other recommendations for Reynolds' books pop up since then. I thought they did a masterful job of showing a lot of perspectives on race and police brutality in a relatively short novel.

7. John Irving (A Prayer for Owen Meany)
Both this book and The World According to Garp have been on my to-read list for years, and I finally picked up one of them. I loved the writing so much that it made me want to read all the Irving.

8. Jon Krakauer (Under the Banner of Heaven)
I learned a lot from this exploration of Mormon Fundamentalism, and I understand now why I see Krakauer's name pop up so often. It takes a good storyteller to make me interested in history, and he reminded me of Rebecca Skloot in the way he approached it. I'm definitely interested in reading Into the Wild and Into Thin Air now.

9. Shauna Niequist (Bread & Wine)
This book had been on my to-read list since I joined Goodreads almost four years ago! Although it wasn't a favorite book, I loved Niequist's beautiful writing and her relatable and honest style. I would certainly read another one of her books.

10. Timothy Beal (The Rise and Fall of the Bible)
I found this look at the history and modern-day views of the Bible compelling and well-organized, even if I didn't love Beal's writing style itself. He is an excellent researcher and took a careful approach to this important topic. I'm not rushing to pick up another of his book's, but he did write one of the better books I read all year.

Which great authors did you read for the first time this year?

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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Best of the Bunch: November 2016

Today I'm sharing the best book I read in November.

I didn't have any 5-star books this month, and my only 4.5-star read was a Best of the Bunch from two years ago. Oh well! Here it is again:

I wondered if it was a fluke that I loved this absurd book so much the first time around, but on rereading it I enjoyed it almost as much the second time around. I'm interested to see what my book club thought!

What is the best book you read this month? Let me know in comments, or write your own post and link up below!

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Monday, November 21, 2016

Ten Books (or Series) That Helped Make Me a Bookworm

I'm linking up with The Broke and the Bookish for another Top Ten Tuesday.

This week is a Thanksgiving freebie, so I'm going to share books I'm thankful for because they contributed to my early and lifelong love of reading.

1. The Belgariad and Mallorean series by David and Leigh Eddings
My middle school English teacher introduced me to this series, before which I hadn't really read any fantasy. I read the whole series, the prequels, and even The Rivan Codex, which details the history and culture of all of the peoples in the fantasy world. The downside was that it set my expectations very high for fantasy, so when I tried Tolkien next I found it too boring and male-centric.

2. Daphne's Book by Mary Downing Hahn
I got this book from the library in fifth grade and loved it. I think I probably picked it up because the main character's name is Jessica, but then it ended up being this heavy story about child neglect and deciding whether to betray a friend's trust to save her life. I remember thinking it was such an adult book I had read, and I was disappointed when my middle school teacher's binder of the reading level of various books showed it was only at a fourth grade reading level!

3. Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie
I don't think this was the first Christie book I ever read, but it was definitely one of the most memorable. I read this one for a book report in middle school and found the plot twists thrilling. By the end of high school I'd read 60+ Christie mysteries.

4. Heckedy Peg by Audrey Wood
This may be my favorite picture book of all time. I loved that the kids were named after the days of the week, the rhythm of it, and the riddle at the center of it all, in which the mother shows how well she knows each of her children.

5. Matilda by Roald Dahl
I loved Dahl's books growing up, and this one most of all. As a precocious child who was pulled out for gifted classes starting in grade school, I resonated with Matilda's feeling of being out of place and the importance of having a teacher willing to make time to challenge her.

6. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
This was another middle school read, and one of the first books where I simply LOVED every page. The wordplay completely tickled me. I don't know if I found another book I loved in this same goofy way until I read The Mysterious Benedict Society as an adult.

7. The Ramona Quimby series by Beverly Cleary
My mom started reading these books to me when I was pretty young (I want to say 3 or 4, about the same age Ramona is at the beginning), and that must have been the first time I followed the same character's story across chapters and multiple books. For some reason I found it scandalous when they showed Ramona's mom pregnant with another baby near the end of the series!

8. Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sacher
This book and its sequels amused me as a grade schooler with their satire of school and their jokes related to words and logic. While I am generally not a fan of absurdism, some books, like the Wayside School books and The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, just hit the sweet spot for me.

9. Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene
This was my favorite book for a while in grade school, and I finally reread it as an adult not too long ago. Apparently the weirdness of a romance between a 12-year-old and a 22-year-old was lost on my 9-year-old self, but I can definitely understand why I related to the narrator, whose curiosity and constant questions get her into trouble.

10. The Usborne Puzzle Adventure books
There are a lot of books that fall into this category, but I would be amiss if I didn't mention them as a contributor to my love of reading from a young age. I think it was a precursor to my love of mysteries that I liked these books where you had to contribute to the story by cracking codes and solving logic teasers.

Which books helped you become a bookworm?

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Tuesday, November 15, 2016

What I've Been Reading Lately (Quick Lit)

Today I'm linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy's Quick Lit to bring you some short and sweet reviews of what I've read in the past month. For longer reviews, you can always find me on Goodreads.

Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH by Robert C. O'Brien: This ended up being quite an engaging children's book. I loved the idea of extra-intelligent rats who wanted to build their own civilization and had moral qualms about stealing. At times my suspension of disbelief was stretched a bit far, but overall I thought it was a fun and interesting book, and I would share it with my kids.

La traduction est une histoire d'amour by Jacques Poulin: I succeeded in my goal to read a book entirely in French this year. I thought the book was very sweet and I liked a lot about it (the narrator, the element of mystery), but ultimately there was too much left unexplained for me to want to recommend it.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara: This book is very well written but also extremely dark and depressing. A reviewer on the Slate Audio Book Club said something like, "When I wasn't reading it I wanted to be reading it, even though the actual experience of reading it was unpleasant." That is a very apt description of my experience with this book.

On the Road by Jack Kerouac: I enjoyed this more than I expected. There are the obvious flaws — the characters have problematic views about women and minorities, and their life of drugs and sex eventually gets boring to read about — but their escapades are so bizarre and ridiculous that I found them quite amusing most of the time.

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson: This book is challenging but very, very necessary to read. It takes the statistics I already knew about the problems with our criminal justice system and illustrates them with personal stories of blatant discrimination and injustice. This should be required reading for every American.

Writing My Wrongs: Life, Death, and Redemption in an American Prison by Shaka Senghor: This was the first memoir I'd read by a convicted criminal who admitted to his crime and did the time for it. While Just Mercy showed me the worst of the prison system, this showed me more of the day-in, day-out experience of someone in prison (which isn't that great either). I learned a lot from this book and would recommend it.

The Story of My Life by Helen Keller: I didn't realize how little I knew of Helen Keller's life until reading this autobiography. It's mind-boggling to think of what she accomplished, even given the obvious privilege she enjoyed through her family's wealth and connections. Besides impressing me with the facts of her biography, this book was simply enjoyable to read — the writing is beautiful.

Adoption Parenting: Creating a Toolbox, Building Connections by Jean MacLeod and Sheena Macrae: This was a mixed bag, as you might expect from a collective of adoptive parents trying to single-handedly fill the gaps in adoption information. It's very comprehensive (within the specific realm of international adoption — something you might not realize going in) and there's a good deal of helpful information, but it also could have used a LOT of editing help.

A Streetcar Named Desire by Tennessee Williams: About the only good thing I can say about this play is that it's well written. Essentially it concludes that there are two approaches to getting a bad hand in life — fantasy or reality — and either way ends badly. That's way too dark for my taste.

Families Where Grace Is in Place by Jeff VanVonderen: While I appreciated what this author had to say, this book fell short of what I was looking for. He accurately describes the problems in many marriages but then fails to provide the kind of concrete suggestions he has for parenting. And his parenting advice is very Christian-ized but is actually quite similar to other secular books, like Parent Effectiveness Training. I'd recommend this if you're coming from a very conservative Christian background looking for a new understanding of marriage and parenting.

Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh: I enjoyed the audio narration by Jeremy Irons, but the book itself fell flat for me — too dry and melancholy, and the story meandered too much. The writing was beautiful, the dialogue was funny, but the book ultimately disappointed me.

What have you been reading this month? Share over at Modern Mrs. Darcy!

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Monday, November 7, 2016

Ten Books Most Recently Added to My TBR List

I'm linking up with The Broke and the Bookish for another Top Ten Tuesday.

It's time for another round of "what I recently add to my TBR list." At some point this year I decided to freeze my "to-read" shelf on Goodreads (which I was getting very picky about adding to) and instead start throwing everything onto a "might-want-to-read" list. Once I finally work my way through the books I've wanted to read for years, I'll start pulling stuff from my "might-want-to-read" shelf. For me, a "to-read" list feels too much like a "to-do" list, so I wanted to mentally shift into a list of options I may or may not ever want to read.

With that said, here are the latest adds to my "might-want-to-read" shelf, starting with the most recent.

1. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
I saw this emphatically recommended two days in a row, first by Eli as a recommendation if you liked All American Boys (which our book club just read), and then on The Broke and the Bookish.

2. News of the World by Paulette Jiles
This popped up on my Goodreads feed with a strong recommendation from a book reviewer I trust. I clicked through and saw that it was highly rated and also nominated for Best Historical Fiction in the Goodreads Awards, so it seemed worth adding to my list.

3. Crack by Shaka Senghor
I recently finished Writing My Wrongs, Senghor's memoir, in which he talks about writing and publishing several works of fiction while in prison. I'm interested to see how his fiction writing compares to his memoir.

4. Love Warrior by Glennon Doyle Melton
I keep running across this title, and after seeing it nominated in the Memoir and Autobiography category in the Goodreads Awards, I noticed it had an astounding 4.30 rating on Goodreads with 8,000+ ratings. It went on the list.

5. Sông I Sing by Bao Phi
This was highly recommended by a friend who said it fit with her own experience as a Viet-American. I don't read enough poetry and thought I should consider reading this collection from a National Poetry Slam finalist.

6. Hidden Figures: The Untold Story of the African American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
This was another one that came across my Goodreads feed with a very strong recommendation from someone I trust. I'm always interested in diversifying my understanding of history, and this one sounds super cool.

7. Me and Earl and the Dying Girl by Jesse Andrews
I've heard very mixed reviews of this book, so I wasn't eager to read it, but it keeps coming up again and again. I saw it mentioned positively on Disability in Kid Lit from someone who had experienced cancer herself, so I decided it was time to add it.

8. The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork
I've enjoyed Stork's previous books, so when I saw that he'd written another one, I immediately added it to the list.

9. Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby
This book kept coming up in an ad on Goodreads, and I saw it had a high rating, but I didn't look much into it. Then I saw it mentioned positively on Disability in Kid Lit and decided I should put it on my list.

10. Soul of a Citizen: Living With Conviction in a Cynical Time by Paul Rogat Loeb
At our book club discussion of Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson, someone had brought a copy of this other book because the book club had read it many years ago and she was reminded of it when reading Stevenson's words on hope and perseverance. I thought there might be a time (hopefully not because of this week's election...) that I would need help overcoming cynicism about the world.

Which books have you recently added to your list?

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Sunday, October 30, 2016

Best of the Bunch: October 2016

Today I'm sharing the best book I read in October.

I read 8 books in October, of which two were 5-star reads:

All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

I liked them both for different reasons, but the best of the bunch was definitely...

Going in, I thought I already knew most of problems with our criminal justice system and specifically with the process whereby people are put on death row. But there's something about reading actual, specific stories that made all of the facts come to life in painful and shocking ways. I had to keep putting the book down because it was sickening to see just how flimsy the evidence could be that put someone on death row, just how blatant the discrimination, just how willfully ignorant the people in power could be of the mounds of evidence pointing to someone's innocence. This book is challenging to read, but very, very necessary to read. I highly recommend it, especially for those in the United States.

What is the best book you read this month? Let me know in comments, or write your own post and link up below!

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Monday, October 24, 2016

Top Ten Characters I'd Be for Halloween

I'm linking up with The Broke and the Bookish for another Top Ten Tuesday.

After I posted my recommendations for suspenseful novels last year, I realized that I'd actually participated in the TTT Halloween Freebie the year before... and recommended several of the same books. So I am not going to make that mistake again! I'm choosing a totally different take on the theme this year.

In looking for ideas for literary Halloween costumes, I determined that there are really only a couple of options if you want anyone to recognize your costume. You can pick a character from an illustrated children's book, you can pick a book that has been turned into a TV show or movie and dress the way a character is portrayed on screen, or in more rare instances you can find a character who is depicted in a memorable way on the book cover and also (usually) described in detail in the book. That's about it.

Given those constraints, here are the characters I would consider being for Halloween, assuming I had the money and/or creativity to buy or create a costume...

1. Anne (from Anne of Green Gables)
I once dressed up as Anne to give an oral book report about this book in 6th grade. My hair is no longer red enough or long enough to look like her, though (nor am I a child anymore), so maybe I could try the more mature look from Anne of Avonlea?

2. Hermione Granger (from the Harry Potter series)
I did dress up as Hermione for a Harry Potter party one time in college — I do have the hair for Hermione — so I could definitely pull this one out again if needed. My master's graduation gown would make an even better Hogwarts robe than I had back then.

3. Kate Wetherall (from The Mysterious Benedict Society)
I was only introduced to this series last year as an adult, or I would have totally been Kate for Halloween years ago. Even with her iconic red bucket, though, I don't know that many people would recognize this character.

4. Mary Poppins (from Mary Poppins)
This is a case where the most recognizable version of the costume definitely comes more from the movie, but that's OK — the character's better in the movie anyway.

5. The Mathemagician (from The Phantom Tollbooth)
As much as I love to read, I also love data, so I could certainly be at home in the King of Digitopolis' numerical robe with his giant magical pencil.

6. Matilda (from Matilda)
I adore both this book and this movie, and her movie look is recognizable enough that this could be a great costume, especially if you pull around a red wagon full of books!

7. Miss Nogard (from Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger)
Here's one that definitely no one would get, but I would still do it because she's probably my favorite character from the goofy Wayside School series. She's identifiable by the third ear on top of her head that lets her read people's minds!

8. Polgara (from the Belgariad series)
One Halloween when I was in middle school my friends and I all dressed up as characters from this series because we were (are) nerds. We all had assigned ourselves various characters that were related to people's personalities and looks and who was going out with whom at the time. I was Velvet, who is one of my favorite characters but does not have anything in the way of a recognizable costume, so if I were going to be a character from the series again, I'd pick Polgara.

9. Sherlock Holmes (from The Complete Sherlock Holmes)
Here's a literary character with a well-known look! You just need the hat, coat, and pipe, and everyone will know who you are.

10. Strega Nona (from Strega Nona)
This is one of my favorite children's books, and I was disappointed after getting a copy for my toddler to realize that it's way too long for his current attention span. For this costume I would channel my Italian roots to dress as this Calabrian "granny" and carry around a pot of never-ending pasta :)

Which characters would you be for Halloween?

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