Monday, August 22, 2016

Ten Books That Have Been on my TBR List the Longest

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

This week's topic is "Ten Books That Have Been On Your Shelf (Or TBR) From Before You Started Blogging That You STILL Haven't Read Yet." Looking over my Goodreads, it appears that around 200 of my 266 "to read" books were added before I started blogging in September 2014. Some are even there from when I first joined Goodreads in February 2013! Here are the ten that have been sitting around the longest.

1. Bel Canto by Ann Patchett
This one gets mentioned/recommended frequently by Modern Mrs. Darcy and her readers. I still haven't picked it up!

2. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
This is one of those classics I just haven't gotten around to reading.

3. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky
One of my goals for next year is to tackle some of the longer (500+ pages) books on my to-read list. This will be one of them.

4. Dune by Frank Herbert
Another classic that I really should have read by now.

5. Friendship at the Margins by Christine Pohl and Christopher Heuertz
This was recommended by a woman I greatly respect, the director of LOVEboldly, and I actually heard it recommended by someone else in a different context not too long ago. It sounds like a valuable read.

6. How to Be an Explorer of the World by Keri Smith
I think I heard about this book on a blog a long time ago, and it's one that you have to experience in hard copy, which may be why I haven't gotten around to it.

7. The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley
The premise of this book sounded like one I would like — those who appear wealthy and those who have a lot of wealth are not necessarily the same people.

8. Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson
I actually got the audio CDs for this book from the library maybe five years ago, but they skipped badly and I couldn't get through the book. I still need to read this!

9. The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose
I can't remember for sure, but I think this was recommended to me by my friend Rachel, whose recommendations tend to be spot-on, so I should definitely get around to picking this one up.

10. The World According to Mister Rogers by Fred Rogers
I think I added this to my to-read list around the same time as Dear Mister Rogers, which I read recently and loved. I need to get my hands on this other book of his.

Which books have lingered on your to-read list the longest?

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Monday, August 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.

I did a ton of reading on my recent trip to Poland for World Youth Day — there wasn't much time to read while we were there, but the travel to and from (and the many layovers and delays) afforded me the opportunity to finish a bunch of books. I may have even set a record for myself! Here's all that I've read in the last month.

Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans: The book is a mix of memoir, personal reflections on faith, and Christian history, all grouped into sections loosely based around the seven traditional sacraments. I didn't expect this book to hit such a chord with me (I'm a fairly content cradle Catholic), but I kept finding myself tearing up as Evans spoke to my heart about the beauty and the pain of being part of a church and a faith tradition.

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie: How to review this classic without spoiling anything? Let's just say that I guessed the reveal and still greatly enjoyed the read.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro: I love Ishiguro's writing and enjoyed this book not so much because of the suspense of the alternate history he created as because of the relatability of the interactions between the characters. The last quarter of the book fell a bit flat for me plot-wise, but I'm still glad I read it.

Grit: Passion, Perseverance, and the Science of Success by Angela Duckworth: This book details Duckworth's research on "grit," defined as the combination of an individual's passion and their perseverance. While the studies and stories she shares are interesting, I felt that they ultimately failed to gel together into a coherent narrative; I would have liked a lot more out of this book.

Philippine Duchesne: A Woman with the Poor by Sr. Catherine M. Mooney: I knew little about Duchesne when I chose her as my confirmation saint, and this biography filled in a lot of gaps for me. I especially liked Mooney's opening chapter about how saints are chosen.

Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis by Lauren F. Winner: This is not so much the kind of book that you take a lot away from as much as it is a book to sit with you in empathy at time that you feel God's absence. Winner shares small insights that didn't necessarily re-cement her faith, but offered up sparks of light in a time of darkness.

Jesus Feminist: An Invitation to Revisit the Bible's View of Women by Sarah Bessey: I wanted this book to be so much more than it was. I think it could be a good starting point for some (like those who haven't read Rachel Held Evans' complete works), but for me she played it too safe and made too many assumptions about her reader.

Prototype: What Happens When You Discover You're More Like Jesus Than You Think? by Jonathan Martin: I enjoyed this reflection on Christian identity and community. It explores both how to try to grasp that you are fully loved by God without having to earn it, and what it looks like to live that out in relationship to others.

The Ragamuffin Gospel: Good News for the Bedraggled, Beat-Up, and Burnt Out by Brennan Manning: I thought this was going to be similar to Prototype, but I quickly got frustrated with the writing/organization of the book (e.g., strung-together block quotes with attributions only in the footnotes, examples that might be real or made-up) and his muddy conflation of being loved and being saved.

Girl at the End of the World: My Escape from Fundamentalism in Search of Faith with a Future by Elizabeth Esther: Esther shares her story of growing up in a fundamentalist cult, finding a way out, and learning how to heal. This is worth a read, whether you know nothing about spiritual abuse and "child training" or you're way too familiar.

When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over by Addie Zierman: This is a beautifully written memoir of having a teen's evangelical fervor, traversing the valley of disillusionment and cynicism as an adult, and coming out on the other side with a less confident but more real faith.

Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion by Sara Miles: Miles shares about her journalistic 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. It's definitely worth a read.

A Year in the Life of William Shakespeare: 1599 by James Shapiro: I liked the sections on Shakespeare's inspirations and revision process, and I found the background on England's political climate of the time mildly interesting if dry. Pick this up if you're a big fan of Shakespeare or Elizabethan England.

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley: This wasn't a bad read, but I never got very invested in either the mystery of the crash or what would happen to the main character afterwards. It felt very much like a businessman's airport read.

Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty: This wasn't quite on the level with my favorite Moriarty books, but it was still enjoyable. She's risking becoming a bit too formulaic in her books, but her insights into married life, friendship, parenting, and so on continue to make her books worth reading.

The Big Four by Agatha Christie: This was a very odd addition to the Poirot library. Rather than focusing on a small-town mystery, Poirot is trying to foil a plot for worldwide domination. It felt hurried and lacked most of what I enjoy about Christie's mysteries.

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

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Saturday, July 30, 2016

Best of the Bunch: July 2016

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

I am writing this early because I'm headed out of the country where I will not have reliable Internet access, so I'm not sure how many more books I'll end up reading before the end of the month! With a little over a week left, I've read 14 books this month, and I had three 5-star reads:

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion
With Burning Hearts: A Meditation on the Eucharistic Life by Henri Nouwen
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

These were all good for different reasons! The best of the bunch for me was...

I'd read a couple of Nouwen books before, but nothing that struck me as powerfully as this little volume, which was recommended by a friend. I expected a book about the Eucharist to be somewhat dry and theoretical. This, however, was straightforward, honest, relatable, and invigorating. Nouwen uses the story of the travelers on the road to Emmaus to walk through the parts of the Mass and how we are invited to participate at each stage. I already want to re-read this because I know I will gain additional insights, and I could use the reminders of some of his more challenging points. Definitely recommended for fellow Catholics and anyone who wants insights into what Catholics (can) get out of the Mass.

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, July 18, 2016

Ten Books Set Outside the United States

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

I try to read a mix of books set in the United States and elsewhere, sometimes more intentionally than not. Here are ten books I've enjoyed that are set outside the U.S.

1. The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson (Sweden and elsewhere)
The protagonist of this ridiculous and hilarious story starts off in Sweden, but the book ranges around the world as we learn about his life of getting unintentionally embroiled in major political events of the 20th century. At 100, his adventures aren't over — nor are they any less ridiculous or far-flung.

2. And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini (Afghanistan, France, and Greece)
Some sections of this book are set in the U.S., but most of it takes place elsewhere in the world. It's a collection of fictional, interconnected stories that together tell a sprawling story of family and opportunity across multiple decades and countries.

3. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo (India)
Boo spent about four years living among the people in a Mumbai slum and recording their lives, and the resulting book is a heartbreaking but important read. It won't provide you with easy answers, but it will give you a thorough understanding of why the climb out of poverty isn't a simple (or sometimes even a possible) one.

4. Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty (Australia)
I love Moriarty's writing, and this is my favorite of her books to date (though I have a hold on Truly Madly Guilty, which comes out later this month!). School politics, bullying, and domestic violence are by no means limited to the United States, as we see in this cleverly crafted and ultimately relatable mystery.

5. The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis (Afghanistan)
This is a well-written middle grade novel about an Afghani girl who dresses as a boy in order to support her family after her father is taken by the Taliban. Although the external threats she faces are very real, the plot is driven not by action-packed reactions to external conflict but primarily through her own internal struggles as she learns to have courage to do what she needs to do to get by and help her family.

6. The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom (Netherlands and Germany)
This memoir of a Dutch woman during World War II was incredibly moving and inspiring. Her faith, and that of her sister, led them to risk everything while trusting that God would be with them, even in the midst of a concentration camp.

7. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver (Democratic Republic of the Congo)
The characters in this book are from the United States, but the book is set largely in what was then Belgian Congo. This missionary family thinks they're bringing everything they need with them, but they soon find out that neither their garden nor their Gospel can be wholly transported to another continent and left intact.

8. The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (England)
I'm currently reading Never Let Me Go, which reminded me of this other book by Ishiguro that I enjoyed so much. It's an incredibly sweet book told from the perspective of an English butler reflecting over his career and specifically his "strictly professional" (as he keeps insisting) relationship with the housekeeper he worked with for so long.

9. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See (China)
This beautiful and painful story of friendship is set in rural 19th-century China. This book is powerful not just for its depictions of friendship, but for its insights into the lives of women at this time and place, something I only knew a little bit about going in.

10. Totto-Chan: The Little Girl at the Window by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi (Japan)
This memoir (written as a novel) tells of the author's experiences at a unique school in Japan in the 1940s where children were encouraged to explore their natural interests and were taught many lessons from everyday experiences. It reminded me a lot of the Ramona Quimby books I loved as a child.

What are some of your favorite books set outside the United States?

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Friday, July 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.

Since my husband gets two months off work each year (and I don't), he gets to take our toddler on long vacations in the summer to visit family, while I go to work and then relish in the quiet evenings and read books. They're now home for a few days before taking off again, and I'm very happy to have them home, but I'd be lying if I didn't say that having some uninterrupted reading time has been awesome. Here's all the reading I've gotten in during the last month.

Good-Bye, Mr. Chips by James Hilton: This was a sweet little book about one (fictional) schoolmaster's career at a boys' school in England. From a fearful young teacher trying to learn the art of discipline, to a doddering but wise old retiree still living across the street from the school grounds, we see how his life and the life of the school are intertwined.

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven: I have a hard time understanding how this book is so popular because the characters seemed to be missing personalities. I also think there's a problem if you're trying to convey the message, "Your friend's suicide is not your fault" and you do so in a way that implies, "If you're suicidal, there's literally nothing that can help you."

Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley: I reread this after recommending it for my book club's LGBTQ month theme, and I enjoyed it even more the second time around. (Almost everyone at book club liked it as well.) After learning about the "bury the gays" trope common in storytelling, I'm even more impressed with how Talley managed to end this story of an interracial lesbian relationship set during school integration.

East of Eden by John Steinbeck: I liked what Steinbeck was going for here, and I imagine this book is an English major's dream, but it was a little too sprawling and heavy-handed for my taste. I also wish Steinbeck could write female characters that didn't slot neatly into existing stereotypes.

The Whole Life Adoption Book: Realistic Advice for Building a Healthy Adoptive Family by Jayne E. Schooler and Thomas C. Atwood: This is one of the more comprehensive adoption books I've read; as the title suggests, it's not just about the process to adopt a child, but the lifelong process of raising an adopted child. It's geared more toward parents adopting older children with histories of abuse and neglect, but it has valuable tips for any adoptive parent.

Poirot Investigates by Agatha Christie: This is a collection of Hercule Poirot short stories, and while it was enjoyable, I do prefer the longer format. However, I liked that there was a wide variety in the types of cases (murder, theft, blackmail) and the ways in which they unfold. Be aware that there are a number of ethnic slurs used casually by the main characters.

The Return of the King by J.R.R. Tolkien: After feeling meh about The Two Towers, I expected the trilogy to pick up again in the final book, but I had an even harder time getting into it. Between the long, boring descriptions and the weird pacing, I'm glad to finally be done with this series.

Ruby by Cynthia Bond: I had mixed feelings about this book, as the storytelling and the writing are very good, but I was continually tripped up by what felt like unnecessary supernatural elements and excessive, sometimes gratuitous abuse and violence, mostly sexual. Whether you can enjoy this book will probably depend on how much those things bother you.

Buck: A Memoir by M.K. Asante: Asante is a talented writer, and though his story (inner-city black kid with the deck stacked against him eventually finds a way out from the life of gangs and drugs) was not the first of its kind I had read, his engaging prose interspersed with his mother's diary entries made this an excellent read. I recommend the audiobook, narrated by the author.

Beauty of the Broken by Tawni Waters: Waters' writing isn't bad, but she could have done a lot more research to avoid the stereotypes and cringeworthy messages that made up this book. It's not enough for her Christian characters to be hypocritical, they have to be literally abusive, while the "accepting" characters are a family who collects goddesses and a Native American boy from an unspecified tribe who has a magical spiritual connection to nature and possible psychic powers. I was not impressed.

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion: Although I've never been in Didion's shoes (with a suddenly deceased husband and a daughter in intensive care), I found her story somehow utterly relatable. Her process of grief was a combination of logical and illogical thoughts, a search for answers among literature and research, and a constantly failed attempt to stay out of the "vortex" of memory. It was compelling and well-written.

Furiously Happy by Jenny Lawson: Not quite as funny as Let's Pretend This Never Happened, but still excellent. Lawson goes into a lot more detail about her mental illness, which I appreciated, while still being hilarious and having unbelievable adventures.

Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art by Madeleine L'Engle: This was a mixed bag of fantastic insights and overreaching generalizations. If you're willing to mine it for seeds of truth, go for it; if unsourced references to studies and events drive you up the wall, skip this one.

Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans: This is my favorite of Evans' books to date. A blend of memoir, reflection, and church history, it uses the seven sacraments as touchstones to take the reader on a journey through what makes church wonderful and infuriating. I haven't had the ups and downs of Evans' church experience, but I still teared up with recognition more than once while listening to this one.

With Burning Hearts: A Meditation on the Eucharistic Life by Henri Nouwen: This deceptively slim book was infinitely better than I expected. Nouwen invites the reader to revisit the parts of Mass with fresh eyes, and his straightforward and relatable writing helped me reap tons from this tiny volume.

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

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Monday, July 4, 2016

Top Ten Books I've Enjoyed That Have Under 2,000 Ratings On Goodreads

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

I did a version of this week's topic last year for a freebie week, when I shared books I like that had under 1,000 ratings on Goodreads. The link-up topic this week specifies 2,000 ratings, so let's see which books I can add to the list that have between 1,000 and 2,000 ratings!

1. The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight
I love the accessible way that McKnight walks the reader through the process of reading the Bible, specifically the preconceptions we have about it (it's a puzzle to solve or a to-do list) and our discomfort with things that aren't clear-cut. He shows that ultimately, it's not unreasonable for two different people to walk away from reading the Bible with two different convictions about the right course of action.

2. Einstein Never Used Flashcards by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, and Diane Eyer
I need to reread this now that I have a child! The authors show how we have a tendency to focus on big development milestones (first step, first word), when there are so many smaller, fascinating ways that young kids learn and grow. They encourage imaginative play rather than pushing kids to be able to memorize information (even if that's what will impress the relatives).

3. It's Not You, It's the Dishes by Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson
This might not be the most accurate crash course in economics you can find, but it doesn't really matter — it's all about rethinking the conflict-prone areas of marriage from a less feelings-heavy point of view. By relating economic principles to things like chores, parenting, and sex, they encourage the reader to shake up their views about what's "fair" to figure out what actually works.

4. The Last Summer of the Death Warriors by Francisco X. Stork
Although not as popular as Stork's wonderful Marcelo in the Real World, this is a solid, enjoyable story that delves into the themes of death, life, race, revenge, and family. Be aware that it does fall somewhat into the trope of "sick person teaches healthy person about life."

5. Marriage, a History by Stephanie Coontz
If you start doing any research into the history of marriage, you're going to run into Stephanie Coontz's name rather quickly. This book is an overview of marriage throughout the centuries, from ancient times to the Middle Ages to the 1950s family unit so often called "traditional" today. I found it very interesting and accessible despite being heavily researched.

6. Please, Baby, Please by Spike Lee and Tonya Lewis Lee
I had to include this on here! This is my toddler's favorite book and one that deserves to be considered a classic picture book. As a parent I appreciate the relatability of the parent's pleas that make up the book's rhymes ("Don't eat the sand, baby, please, baby, please!" / "Now hold my hand, baby baby baby, please.") "Baby" was one of my son's first words as a way to request this book.

7. Positive by Paige Rawl
I've recommended this book several times, as a 5-star read and a book I should recommend more often. I'm surprised it has so few ratings. It's an amazing and inspiring memoir from a teenage girl who contracted HIV at birth about the bullying and discrimination she experienced and what helped her heal from those experiences.

8. Sister Citizen by Melissa V. Harris-Perry
This is an incisive exploration of the stereotypes that affect African American women's identity, both in how others perceive them and how they perceive themselves. I was relatively unfamiliar with a lot of historical context Harris-Perry shares and felt that I gained a valuable lens for viewing media representations of black women. If that's unfamiliar to you as well, this is definitely worth picking up.

9. Telling Lies by Paul Ekman
I love research like Ekman's, which turns popular beliefs on their head through research. 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. If you enjoy social science research, this will be up your alley.

10. Torn by Justin Lee
Another book I don't talk about enough, this is a good introduction to the intersection of faith and sexual orientation and the related "culture wars" from someone who's lived through them. It's compassionate and not preachy, which makes it stand out among most of the discussion in this arena. If you've ever wondered how someone can be gay and Christian, Lee's story is a great one to start with.

What are some of your favorite underrated books?

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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Best of the Bunch: June 2016

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

Of the 9 books I read this month, I again had just one 5-star read, which was surprisingly similar to last month's pick.

When Breath Becomes Air has gotten a lot of positive press since it came out this year, but I think it's deserved. In this memoir of a doctor turned patient, Kalanithi's writing conveyed well that his love of literature was equal to his love of neuroscience and neurosurgery. Working in literary allusions and quotes as appropriate without relying too heavily on them, he writes eloquently about his decisions at each stage of his diagnosis, and how knowing that his time was limited didn't really change the fact that he didn't know how much longer he had. You'll want to break out the tissues for his wife's epilogue.

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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