Thursday, September 29, 2016

Best of the Bunch: September 2016


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

I read 9 books in September, and the best ones were at the beginning of the month. I had two 5-star reads:

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely

Both are excellent reads and highly recommended. For its proven staying power, I'm going to give the Best of the Bunch to...



I did not expect to enjoy this book as deeply as I did, but between its length and the fantastic presentation on audio, I became entrenched in the world of the story. It bounces between past and present, and even among different points in the past at the beginning, but I never found it confusing, and each viewpoint gave context to the other. Irving is sneaky in the way he doles out information, so that even when you think you know everything there are still more surprises. Although the book is rich in symbolism, I didn't find it heavy-handed. This is the kind of book that you can enjoy as a story or pull apart in discussion and analysis — it's not an either/or. I definitely recommend this, on audio if you can. The narrator is superb, and I'm not sure how you can get the full effect of Owen's voice (a key part of the story) without hearing it.

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, September 26, 2016

Top Ten Books on my Fall TBR List


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

As I look toward the last quarter of the year, I'm thinking about how to finish strong on my reading goals for the year. Here are ten books I hope to get to before 2017.


1. Adoption Parenting ed. by Sheena Macrae and Jean MacLeod
This is one of the books that I got via PaperBackSwap and haven't cleared off my physical to-read shelf yet. We're looking at starting the adoption process again going into the new year, so it's a good time to brush up on the process as well as think about the related parenting areas with our son.


2. All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
This is a book I hadn't even heard of before looking through the highest rated / most voted books on Goodreads. I've checked it out for Kindle already so I should start reading it soon.


3. Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon
One of my goals was to catch up on the 2014 and 2015 releases that keep showing up on book blogs, and I still haven't gotten to this one. I heard the audiobook was good, so I'm planning to read it that way.


4. Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges
This is another highly rated book I wasn't previously aware of, but it's not too long (174 pages) so I should definitely be able to get to it by the end of the year.


5. Friendship at the Margins by Christopher Heuertz and Christine D. Pohl
This is a book that requires putting in an ILL request to get a copy, and one of my goals for the year was to read more books that require waiting for hard copies (rather than just downloading the ebook on OverDrive). This is also, not coincidentally, one of the books that's been on my TBR list the longest.


6. Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves
I'm working my way through The Guns of August now, and this was the other WWI book I wanted to read this year.


7. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara
This is another book published in 2015, and a good friend gave me an emphatic recommendation for it, so I bumped it to the top of my list!


8. Lord Edgware Dies by Agatha Christie
I've been reading my way through all the Hercule Poirot books in publication order, and this one is up next, followed by Murder on the Orient Express.


9. Translation is a Love Affair (La traduction est une histoire d'amour) by Jacques Poulin
One of my goals was to read this book in the original French, and time is ticking, so I've put in the ILL request to get a copy in French. Wish me bonne chance!


10. Winter of Fire by Sherryl Jordan
This is a carryover from last year's goal to read books recommended by friends; this recommendation is out of print now (according to Wikipedia), so it falls under this year's goal of having to wait for a hard copy. I don't want another year to go by without reading it!

Which books do you plan to read this fall?

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Monday, September 19, 2016

Ten Books Best Experienced on Audio


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

This week's topic is all about audiobooks! I have become a frequent consumer of audiobooks since learning how to download them from the library, and previously I shared my thoughts on what makes a book good or bad for audio. Here are ten books that I highly recommend experiencing as audiobooks if you're going to read them.


1. Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner, narrated by Mark Bramhall
This story of a couple in the western United States in the late 1800s is narrated (in-story) by the couple's grandson, and due to his physical limitations he is dictating the story into some recording device, along with his present-day, stream-of-consciousness thoughts. This makes it a perfect fit for audio, and Bramhall perfectly captures the tone of a crotchety old man piecing together this family story while muttering comments about his meddling son and his weird caretaker.


2. The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan, narrated by the author and Joan Chen
This story is told from alternate viewpoints, those of a mother and daughter, and the two narrators allow these two characters to speak with unique voices. The fact that they are separated generationally and culturally, a key part of the story, is emphasized on audio by the mother's Chinese accent (Chen) and the daughter's American one (Tan).


3. David Copperfield by Charles Dickens, narrated by Martin Jarvis
I struggled to read this in print and finally switched over to the audio version, and I'm extremely glad I did. The characters all came to life with Jarvis' masterful narration, which provided distinct and recognizable voices for at least 30 different characters. That is especially helpful in a fairly long book where characters pop in and out of the story with long breaks between appearances.


4. Family Matters by Rohinton Mistry, narrated by Martin Jarvis
After picking up David Copperfield on audio, I realized the narrator was the same as another audiobook I'd enjoyed previously, Family Matters. This novel about a family in Mumbai shows how people are at their best and their worst with their family members, and Jarvis again brings the characters of all ages to life with his narration.


5. The Help by Kathryn Stockett, narrated by Jenna Lamia, Bahni Turpin, Octavia Spencer, and Cassandra Campbell
I was surprised to learn after reading this about the controversy of how Stockett wrote out the characters' voices (briefly: the black characters were written using heavy dialect while the white characters' Southern accents were not indicated typographically in any way). On audio, the characters' voices were all distinct in their own way, and the three primary audio narrators distinguished the three primary first-person narrators in the story. And how cool that Octavia Spencer also played Minny in the movie and won an Oscar for it!


6. Middlemarch by George Eliot, narrated by Juliet Stevenson
This is another case where I was able to keep many characters straight throughout a long story due to the excellent narration on the audiobook. This is especially important in a book where the first half is just about getting to know all the various inhabitants of the town of Middlemarch before we really get to dive into the drama of their families, relationships, and mistakes.


7. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving, narrated by Joe Barrett
I picked this up on audio after seeing the Irving had handpicked Barrett to narrate this book. I honestly can't imagine getting the full impact of this book if it wasn't on audio, as a key component of the story is Owen Meany's voice. This is also another one that's quite long with a large cast of characters, and having those distinct voices is helpful for me.


8. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, narrated by Simon Prebble
This story is told by a 1950s English butler reflecting over his career, which sounds kind of boring but is actually funny, sweet, and sad as we're forced to read between the lines of his very proper and professional narrative. I don't think I would have enjoyed this nearly as much if it hadn't been read to me in the butler's posh English accent by the talented Simon Prebble.


9. Room by Emma Donoghue, narrated by Michal Friedman, Ellen Archer, Robert Petkoff, and Suzanne Toren
People seem to have very strong feelings about whether hearing Jack's 5-year-old narration in a "child's" voice was better or worse than reading it, but I personally loved it. I'm glad that they chose to have other narrators for the adults in the story — it's rare to have multiple audio narrators just to break in briefly for character dialogue when there's a single first-person narrator, but I thought it worked well for this book. Some people have said that the way Jack's voice was written didn't always sound like a kid, but the woman who voiced him made everything sound natural and child-like.


10. Yes Please by Amy Poehler, narrated by the author (with cameos from others)
It's not common for audiobooks to go off-script from the written text, but Poehler made the most of the medium to include jokes, songs, and guest voices just because she could. Although the book itself didn't blow me away, it was delightful to hear it narrated by her along with as many celebrities and family members as she could drag into the recording booth.

Which books have you found particularly suited to audio?

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Thursday, September 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.

My reading has definitely slowed down compared to all the reading I did during my travels and downtime this summer, but I'm still keeping up a good pace! Here's what I've read in the past month.

Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes by Shauna Niequist: I'm not the kind of reader who's into "food memoirs" as a genre, and I definitely don't read cookbooks for fun, but I understand why I see this book pop up over and over again. Niequist convinced me that I could learn to cook, if I wanted to; that I could run a marathon, if I tried; and that if I really just need a nap right now, that's OK too.

Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control: A Love-Based Approach to Helping Attachment-Challenged Children With Severe Behaviors, Volume 1 by Heather T. Forbes and B. Bryan Post: The authors present suggestions for dealing with children who act out due to past trauma, though they unfortunately underpin them with pseudoscience and oversimplifications of how the brain works. If the testimonies are real, their method sounds like it's very helpful, but I recommend skipping the whole first chapter.

The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie: This was an enjoyable if decidedly average Hercule Poirot mystery. It had a slow start — Poirot doesn't even appear until maybe a quarter of the way in — and I picked out the killer pretty early, but I still didn't piece it all together before Poirot explained it.

Oh Crap! Potty Training: Everything Modern Parents Need to Know to Do It Once and Do It Right by Jamie Glowacki: I don't yet have a personal testimony to this method's success or failure, but this was the method overwhelmingly recommended for potty training on a mothers' Facebook group I'm part of, so I decided to give it a shot. The author rambles and goes on tangents a bit, but her explanation of the actual potty training method is solid and I feel pretty comfortable giving it a try.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by Jack Thorne: This was a pretty meh contribution to the Harry Potter world. Where the original books each introduced new magical elements, this stays within the bounds of the world we already know, which makes it read more like decent fanfiction than anything. The play format also leaves out a lot of the details that made the books so enjoyable.

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving: I ended up really enjoying this novel, as I became entrenched in the world of the story and its colorful characters. It's rich in symbolism without being heavy-handed, making it a good choice to read, discuss, or analyze. I highly recommend the audiobook!

All American Boys by Jason Reynolds and Brendan Kiely: This is an outstanding contribution to the national conversation about racism and police brutality. The authors manage to cover a lot of ground in a relatively short young adult novel, and I found it to be well done. Definitely recommended for everyone!

The Martian by Andy Weir: I was on the struggle bus for a good chunk of this novel. I liked the character interactions, but the very well-researched problem-solving that makes up most of the novel was too technical for my liking. Maybe I'd like the movie better.

How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America by Kiese Laymon: I don't feel I can provide any sort of definitive judgment of this collection because I'm not the target audience, but for me personally, I liked many parts of it while feeling like the whole was searching in vain for some cohesion or conclusion.

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

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Monday, September 12, 2016

Top Ten All-Time Favorite Social Science Research Books


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

It was hard to choose a genre to focus on for this week's "top ten all-time favorite" topic, but I decided to go with a subgenre where I've probably read more broadly than a lot of people. I love learning about the often unexpected and contradictory ways that humans behave, and how we think about how we behave. It's simultaneously interesting, entertaining, and useful. Here are my top ten recommendations from the plethora of research books I've read.


1. Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink
Forget carrots and sticks; if you want to motivate someone (like an employee you manage) to do something, it's better to build up their internal motivation so they want to do it. Pink describes how to facilitate autonomy, mastery, and purpose so people will love what they do and stick it out for the long term.


2. The Hidden Brain: How Our Unconscious Minds Elect Presidents, Control Markets, Wage Wars, and Save Our Lives by Shankar Vedantam
This whole book is a fascinating exploration of what we don't understand about why we do the things we do, and why other people do things that may seem strange or terrible from our perspective but make sense to them. I was excited when I learned that Vedantam was launching a whole Hidden Brain podcast where he shares social science research on a particular topic, often aided by the above-mentioned Daniel Pink.


3. Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think by Brian Wansink
This is not a book that will tell you what to eat, but it should be a required companion book to any such book. Wansink presents study after study to explain our daily experiences with food — why we eat food we don't mean to eat and may not even like, how we end up eating more than we think we're eating, and how the cues of our environment can influence when we eat, what we eat, how much we eat, and how much we enjoy what we're eating.


4. Nudge: Improving Decisions About Health, Wealth, and Happiness by Richard H. Thaler and Cass R. Sunstein
What if you could be subtly guided into saving more money, eating healthier, and making better life decisions, without losing any of your free will? The authors of this book show how well-designed "choice architecture" (like setting default selections on forms) can nudge customers, employees, and citizens toward better decisions without ultimately taking away their ability to choose.


5. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
This probably falls least squarely within the scope of this subgenre of all the books on this list, but it's also worth a read if you like research about how people interact and view one another. Cain explains how extroversion (in the colloquial sense) came to be valued in education and business in the United States, the value introverts bring to organizations, relationships, and life in general, and how managers, teachers, and parents can nurture introverts and help them thrive.


6. Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert
This book reveals how people (including you!) are generally terrible at predicting what will make them happy, and they therefore behave in ways that are counterproductive to their own happiness. Rather than being depressing, the book is readable, funny, and even possibly helpful.


7. Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard by Chip Heath and Dan Heath
As soon as I finished this book, I immediately set to work figuring out how to apply the concepts to my work and to the particular problem of getting students to complete their course evaluations. Since then, I've referred back to the authors' suggestions on multiple occasions when trying to guide others into completing tasks. Where Nudge provides a broad framework for setting up systems that encourage others to make better decisions, the Heaths map out the small ways to tweak existing processes to get better results.


8. Telling Lies: Clues to Deceit in the Marketplace, Politics, and Marriage by Paul Ekman
Ekman was the model for the main character on the TV show Lie to Me, about an expert in the science of lie detection. In this book, Ekman walks the reader through the different kinds of lies people tell and what nonverbal signals really do betray lies and which are myths.


9. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
So many of these books are about mistakes we humans make, and this is no exception! Kahneman points out the flaws in both our intuition and our logic, and how these flaws have wide-ranging consequences for a multitude of everyday situations. Although he's not optimistic about our ability to overcome our brain's faults, the information in this book can make it easier to recognize situations where we're likely to make mistakes and to make adjustments accordingly.


10. The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It by Kelly McGonigal
Much of the research in the books above will tell you that relying on willpower is not a good way to achieve your goals — you have to do more work on shaping the environment to make it easier to do the right thing. McGonigal focuses on the moments that do require willpower — even if you've found a workout buddy and set out your workout clothes the night before, you still have to physically get yourself out of bed in the morning. The book presents suggestions for how to strengthen and apply one's willpower, backed by a variety of research studies.

Which books of this type would you recommend?

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Monday, September 5, 2016

Ten Characters Who Should Have Their Own Talk Shows


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

This week's topic is all about television. I rarely watch television, so I decided to stick with books. There are plenty of larger-than-life characters who would fit right in on TV as a talk show host! Here are some that I thought of.


1. Allan Karlsson (from The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared)
This guy clearly has a way with people, given the multitude of world leaders (of all stripes) he got to trust him in the first 100 years of his life. And he's had so many experiences in his life that he could find commonality with just about anyone. The only problem is that he doesn't like being the center of attention...


2. Emma Woodhouse (from Emma)
Here I am clearly picturing the star of Emma Approved, but even the original Emma liked to meddle in other people's lives (for their own good, of course). She would be like today's Dr. Phil, telling people how to fix their lives — while possibly doing more harm than good.


3. Frankie Landau-Banks (from The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks)
Frankie isn't afraid to make things happen behind the scenes, so think how much more she could do with her own platform! I can imagine her interviewing feminist leaders about how they're breaking down barriers in their own arenas.


4. Harlow Fielding (from We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves)
Harlow's a total wildcard who is probably better suited to a reality show. I imagine her as more of a Jerry Springer — people would tune in just to see the train wreck.


5. Hercule Poirot
The private detective has decades of experience getting people to reveal things about themselves that they never planned to share. He would also be able to screen people beforehand to know if their story was completely true before they went on the air.


6. Ifemelu (from Americanah)
Ifemelu has a lot of opinions about America and isn't afraid to share them (albeit from behind a computer screen). She would have the kind of show that always started with an opening monologue before diving into current events with interesting guests.


7. Lydia Bennet (from The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet)
I'm going with this book over Pride and Prejudice because here I really do mean the version of Lydia that appears on The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (yes, that's probably cheating). She's comfortable in front of a camera and has a big personality, but she also cares a lot about others and is willing to share the spotlight with them if it will get them out of their shell.


8. Owen Meany (from A Prayer for Owen Meany)
Owen has a commanding presence and strong opinions, and he's watched enough bad TV that he probably knows exactly how he would do it differently. Plus, everyone would keep tuning back in to hear The Voice.


9. Robin Ellacott (from the Cormoran Strike series)
Robin, like Poirot, is good at getting people to talk when on a case, but with less pomposity and more natural acting ability. She's incredibly smart and already experienced in dealing with difficult people — like her boss.


10. Tiny Cooper (from Will Grayson, Will Grayson)
Tiny has a huge presence (in every way) that would work as well on television as it does on the stage. And his natural positivity would be nice to tune in to on a morning show when you're feeling grouchy about another workday.

Which characters would you watch on TV?

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Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Best of the Bunch: August 2016


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

I read 12 books in August, and looking back it was a decidedly mediocre month for reading. I had no 5-star reads, but two 4.5-star reads:

Girl at the End of the World: My Escape from Fundamentalism in Search of Faith with a Future by Elizabeth Esther

Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion by Sara Miles

Between those two, the one I'd recommend more broadly is...



This is a beautiful memoir about faith and food, about living out what you believe and breaking down the walls class and religion build. Miles shares about her background, her unexpected conversion to Christianity, and her journey to set up and grow a food pantry out of her new church. In between, she meditates on the mystery of the Eucharist, the way food brings people together, and the challenge of actually being as radically welcoming as Jesus. She challenged me with her assertion that it hardly matters if you're right about doctrinal matters if you're not out there doing something about it.

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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