Monday, September 25, 2017

Ten Great Novels Featuring Women of Color

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

This week's theme is the open-ended "Ten Books That Feature Characters _________." I don't know about you, but I know that my reading skews way too heavily white and male (especially in a year like this, when I'm trying to read more of the "classics"). I thought I'd take this opportunity to highlight some of my favorite works of fiction told from the viewpoint of a woman (or women) of color. Most of the authors are also women of color. (LaCour, Talley, and Hosseini are not.)

1. American Street by Ibi Zoboi
Through the story of a Haitian immigrant coming to live with her cousins in inner-city Detroit, we get the perspectives of multiple complex female characters who are trying to survive with bad options on all sides.

2. The Bonesetter's Daughter by Amy Tan
This story is told from two perspectives: Ruth, a first-generation Chinese-American woman, and LuLing, her mother. As an old woman, LuLing is difficult to live with and presents constant struggles for Ruth, but through LuLing's journal of her childhood in China we (and Ruth) gain a richer understanding of her life and personality.

3. Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour
This is one of my favorite books I've read this year. Emi's identity as a biracial lesbian isn't central to the plot, but neither is her character like a straight white YA protagonist with some adjectives and pronouns changed.

4. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
Obviously this list would not be complete without this powerhouse of a contemporary classic. If you haven't picked it up yet, it's time.

5. In the Time of the Butterflies by Julia Alvarez
This novel is based on the true story of the Mirabal sisters, who took on the Trujillo dictatorship in the Dominican Republic in 1960. It's told from the perspective of the fourth sister, the only one not assassinated by the government.

6. Inside Out & Back Again by Thanhha Lai
Told as a series of short poems aimed at the middle grade level, this is the story of a Vietnamese girl whose family emigrates to the United States right before the fall of Saigon in 1975.

7. Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley
Sarah Dunbar is one of a few black students chosen to integrate an all-white Virginia high school in 1959. Her experience of brutal harassment closely matches what Melba Pattillo Beals describes in the memoir Warriors Don't Cry... except for the part where Sarah falls in love with a white girl.

8. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
I still maintain that this should be the definitive book read in schools about racism in the 1930s American South, as it's just as good or better than To Kill a Mockingbird but it's told from a black girl's perspective instead of a white one's (and her black father is the hero).

9. Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See
This is a beautiful and painful story of female friendship set in rural 19th-century China. It's also powerful for its insights into the lives of women at that time and place.

10. A Thousand Splendid Suns Khaled Hosseini
This book is really, really dark and depressing, but its unflinching portrayal of women in Afghanistan is ultimately rewarding. Mariam and Laila are both excellent characters who will take hold of your heart.

Which are your favorite novels featuring women of color?

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Monday, September 18, 2017

Top Ten Books On My Fall TBR List

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

I've been doing very well this year with my goal of not reading too many books off my TBR list; so much so that I think I could read books only off that list for the rest of the year and not break my limit of 50. I decided for the remainder of the year I'm going to focus on reading the books on my TBR list that feel like the biggest holes in my reading history, the ones I hear about over and over again and still haven't read.

1. Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein

2. The Stand by Stephen King

3. The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby

4. Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks

5. Sophie's Choice by William Styron

6. The World According to Garp by John Irving

7. The Secret History by Donna Tartt

8. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

9. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson

10. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

**Edited to add: I forgot about Turtles All the Way Down by John Green. I'm #3 on the holds list at my library for the ebook once it's released next month, and you can bet I'm going to drop everything to read it!

What will you be reading this fall?

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Thursday, September 14, 2017

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 again spent almost all this month reading Infinite Jest on Kindle (which I finally finished!), so almost everything else this month was on audio. I picked up a ton of short reads because I needed to feel the accomplishment of finishing some books after two months of dragging through one long one!

Murder in Green Meadows by Douglas Post: At first I didn't think I would like this once I realized it wasn't a typical murder mystery, but it ended up being quite twisty and clever. Each character has a distinct personality, and they're not always exactly what you think. The ending was excellent.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett: This was a beautifully written book about a group of diplomats and one famous opera singer being held hostage by a group of ragtag terrorists. I wish we weren't told upfront how the standoff would end, as it made that ending unsurprising and simply sad.

Runaway Alice by Frances Salomon Murphy: This was a sweet if simplistic book from the 1950s about a young girl finding a permanent foster home. It's idealistic in the way that The Boxcar Children and The Famous Five are idealistic about childhood, and I don't think I'd hand it to a foster child today, but otherwise it's your pretty basic coming-of-age story.

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass: This short book provides a good introduction to what life was like for American slaves in the 1800s, and it should be a necessary read for all Americans. I found it a much better firsthand account than Twelve Years a Slave.

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie: Adichie manages to provide a compelling and surprisingly comprehensive introduction to feminism in this essay, from why feminism is still relevant today to why we need to talk about women's rights specifically and not just human rights.

Giovanni's Room by James Baldwin: This reminded me strongly of Hemingway's work, what with the ex-pats in Paris getting drunk and having sex and generally being disillusioned with life and themselves. I understand that this book had historical significance as a gay novel, but in a modern context it just seems sad.

The Labors of Hercules by Agatha Christie: I found it fun to see how Christie adapted and modernized each of the different Labors to match some modern-day crime. None of the stories are, in and of themselves, masterpieces, but as a collection this was a nice departure from the usual Poirot mysteries.

Taken at the Flood by Agatha Christie: This was a decent Poirot mystery, but it ultimately suffers due to Lynn Marchmont and her awful "if you abuse me out of jealousy I will love you for it" attitude.

Mrs. McGinty's Dead by Agatha Christie: This is a good, solid, typical Hercule Poirot mystery. You've got a cast of characters on whom suspicion is thrown pretty much equally, you've got a host of clues that don't all arrange themselves into sense until Poirot fits the pieces together for you, and you've got enough of a twist to be satisfying without feeling like it's too far-fetched to be realistic.

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace: It's difficult to offer a succinct summary of this behemoth. Let's just say my good and bad lists were balanced, and you are going to be very disappointed if you're looking for any of the many plot lines to resolve in the end.

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

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Monday, September 11, 2017

Ten Childhood Favorites Still Worth a Read

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

I so rarely reread books, but for the first six months or so after my son was born I used his bottle feeding time to listen to audiobooks of children's literature with him, so I revisited a bunch of old favorites. I've also picked up some other childhood favorites in the past few years for book club or just to skim through. These are the ones I'm happy to keep on my shelf.

1. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
As both a kid and an adult, I enjoyed seeing how the kids in this book strategize running away, set up a routine for themselves in the museum, and go about trying to solve a mystery.

2. The Giver by Lois Lowry
I actually didn't fall in love with this book when I read it as a kid, but on rereading it as an adult I understood why it's a classic — there's so much to think about regarding the trade-offs we make as humans and as societies.

3. Matilda by Roald Dahl
As a lifelong bookworm who thrived in gifted classes, I appreciate the character of Matilda each time I read this, and I appreciate Dahl's humor even more each time.

4. Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard & Florence Atwater
This book strikes the perfect balance of silly and practical, which allows it to hold up for audiences of all ages.

5. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
I adored this book the first time I read it, and I have not yet stopped enjoying the clever wordplay on every page.

6. Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan
This is another one I don't think I had strong feelings about as a kid, but on rereading it as an adult I see how nicely it brings up topics of homesickness and the different ways to create a family.

7. Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar
I picked this up again after rereading Catch-22, as it takes much the same absurdist approach that Heller used to satirize war and business and applies it to a satire of education that both kids and adults can recognize and appreciate.

8. Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene
I related strongly to the main character as a child, and when I reread this as an adult, I appreciated it mostly for the nostalgia it created for my younger self.

9. Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
I have a collection of many of Silverstein's books, of which this is just one. Many of his poems are so memorable that they've stayed with me even until today.

10. The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
I knew I loved this book as a child, but I wasn't expecting to love it so much when returning to it as an adult. It's a sweet story about overcoming prejudices and finding what truly makes you happy.

Which childhood favorites do you still enjoy as an adult?

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Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Best of the Bunch: August 2017

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

This was another month where I had no 5-star or 4.5-star books, but I had a ton of 4-star books — almost everything I read:

Faithful Place by Tana French

Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Doestoyevsky

The Hollow by Agatha Christie

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Runaway Alice by Frances Salomon Murphy

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass

We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The Labors of Hercules by Agatha Christie

The books are all so different that it's difficult to pick just one best one. Maybe it's just that it's freshest in my memory, but I think the one I enjoyed reading the most was...

You have to be prepared for a large suspension of disbelief that Poirot would, after deciding to replicate the Labors of Hercules for his last twelve cases, run across (in order) twelve cases that so perfectly matched the Twelve Labors. But I found it fun to see how Christie adapted and modernized each of the different Labors to match some modern-day crime. None of the stories are, in and of themselves, masterpieces, but as a collection this was a nice departure from the usual Poirot mysteries.

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

Monday, August 28, 2017

Top Ten Hidden Nonfiction Gems

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

This week is all about hidden gems! I decided to focus on nonfiction because I feel like there's so much good nonfiction out there, and it only rarely reaches blockbuster status where everyone's talking about it. This isn't counting memoir or self-help or other niches like that, but books that are there to teach you in depth about one specific topic, which is something I love!

1. American Hookup by Lisa Wade
All about the culture of sex on college campuses — who's having it, and why, and how it's different from past generations, and what the impact is on students.

2. The Hidden Brain by Shankar Vendantam
Now a fantastic podcast by the same name hosted by the book's author, this dives into a bunch of different areas where your brain functions differently than you might expect.

3. The Inconvenient Indian by Thomas King
Native Americans have been robbed and betrayed by the U.S. Government and depicted in damaging and stereotypical ways in the media — but that's all the past, right? Not so much.

4. Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink
Why do you eat what you eat when you eat it? Probably for many more reasons than you realize.

5. Marriage, a History by Stephanie Coontz
Coontz provides a detailed overview of what marriage has meant to people and how it has functioned over the past centuries.

6. Sister Citizen by Melissa V. Harris-Perry
There are certain distinct ways that black women are portrayed and discussed in popular culture, and these have definite consequences for black women see themselves and how others see them.

7. Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat by Hal Herzog
The way we think about our relationship with animals is actually quite odd and contradictory. I read this over five years ago and I still think about some of the things I learned in this book.

8. Traffic by Tom Vanderbilt
If drivers who feel safer drive more dangerously, how do we make our roads and cars safer without leading to more accidents? Vanderbilt looks at the fascinating intersection of driving and science.

9. The Unthinkable by Amanda Ripley
Are we doing disaster preparation all wrong? Ripley looks out how we expect people to behave during disasters vs. how they actually behave, and what this means for how we should change our preparation infrastructure.

10. The Working Poor by David K. Shipler
Shipler shows just how complex the issue of poverty is, and how badly some policymakers (on both sides of the aisle) misunderstand what actually goes on in the life of a person trying to raise a family on a low-paying job.

What are some of your favorite unknown nonfiction reads?

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Monday, August 21, 2017

Ten Book Recommendations for New Parents

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

I missed the great revival of Top Ten Tuesday last week because I was linking up with Quick Lit, but I didn't want to pass up this first topic, so I'm getting to it a week late. I've been wanting to compile my recommendations for new parents in one place, and it seemed especially appropriate since many of the TTT hosts took a break due to new babies!

These ten books are divided up into sections based on when I think they're most helpful to read. Even if you've missed the window, I think they're still worth a read!

Before Birth

1. Baby Meets World by Nicholas Day
This overview of the history and science of child-rearing will show you that there are very few "wrong" ways to raise a child, so you don't need to panic about fundamentally damaging your child as long as you're doing your best.

2. The Science of Mom by Alice Callahan
This is a readable, scientifically grounded overview of the most controversial areas of parenting, from vaccinations to breastfeeding to co-sleeping. It'll make you feel more confident about sifting through the wide range of unsolicited advice you're inevitably going to receive.

The First 6 Months

3. Baby-Led Weaning by Gill Rapley and Tracey Murkett
I'm glad my best friend pointed me to this method for introducing solids. It's cheaper, easier, and more developmentally appropriate than feeding your kid sugary purees.

4. The Happy Sleeper by Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright
I wish I'd read this book in my son's first six months, but unfortunately I was lulled into thinking he was an easy sleeper when he didn't have any problems his first two years. Then suddenly he developed a knack for pulling out every stalling technique in the book and pushing all our buttons, and we had no toolbox for dealing with it. Learn from my mistake and start developing your toolbox early!

Around 18 Months

5. Einstein Never Used Flashcards by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff
Right around the time you might start feeling the pressure to break out the flashcards, this book provides a nice reminder of all the ways in which kids learn through play, and gives you fun milestones to look for that you might not otherwise notice.

6. Oh Crap! Potty Training by Jamie Glowacki
This potty training method came highly recommended and worked wonders for us. You have to be committed to the process, but it's so worth it. Read it when your kid's around 18 months and you can start looking for the first signs of readiness to start training.

2 Years and Up

7. Dear Mister Rogers, Does It Ever Rain in Your Neighborhood? by Fred Rogers
This isn't a parenting book per se, but I learned a lot in seeing how Mister Rogers responded to the wide variety of letters he received over the years and reading some of his commentary on those responses. He provides a nice model of how to answer your kids' questions with honesty and empathy.

8. Liberated Parents, Liberated Children by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
This is a classic parenting book that led to the even-more-classic follow-up, How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk. It provides a way to approach parenting that's both constructive and kind.

9. How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen by Joanna Faber and Julie King
This recent publication co-authored by Adele Faber's daughter takes the techniques from Faber and Mazlish's classic books and focuses them on kids ages 2-7. Through example scenarios and concrete suggestions, they provide a toolbox of ways to deal with the challenges of parenting.

10. Parent Effectiveness Training by Thomas Gordon
I need to reread this book, which provides a framework for identifying which communication methods are most appropriate for different situations with children. Along with the How to Talk... books, this gives parents a wide range of effective tools for parenting.

What parenting books would you recommend?

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