Monday, January 16, 2017

Ten Underrated Books I've Read In The Past Year

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

I've shared some of my favorite underrated books before — literally "underrated," with fewer than 1,000 ratings or 2,000 ratings on Goodreads. Here are ten books I read in the past year who have also been discovered by relatively few readers! It looks like they're mostly religious books, with a couple of parenting ones thrown in as well. I've included the number of Goodreads ratings each book has as of this writing.

1. The Church of Mercy by Pope Francis (638 ratings)
I'm kind of surprised this book has so few ratings. Either other Catholics aren't that interested in reading a compilation of the Pope's speeches/writings, or they don't use Goodreads! The selections are pretty short so they don't go too deep into any one topic, but they cover a wide range about how we live day to day, how we pray, and how we care for those most in need.

2. Dear Mister Rogers, Does It Ever Rain in Your Neighborhood? by Fred Rogers (174 ratings)
This was one of my top nonfiction reads of the year. My son has just gotten interested in watching Mister Roger's Neighborhood, and it would be fun to go back and reread this book after rewatching more episodes.

3. Friendship at the Margins by Christopher L. Heuertz and Christine D. Pohl (213 ratings)
I heard about this book through word-of-mouth recommendations from a couple different sources and finally picked it up this past year. This book is both a gentle indictment of typical mission work and an exploration of the benefits and challenges of becoming friends with people whose life circumstances are vastly different than your own.

4. Girl at the End of the World by Elizabeth Esther (1,087 ratings)
This has the most ratings on this list, but still not many. In this book, Elizabeth Esther shares her story of growing up in a fundamentalist cult, finding a way out, and learning how to heal. It definitely deserves to reach a wider audience, and I'm surprised it hasn't gained traction after the popularity of The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt.

5. Oh Crap! Potty Training by Jamie Glowacki (822 ratings)
Another one of my top nonfiction reads of the year. This method worked well to quickly train our toddler to use the toilet. It's the #1 method I hear recommended, so I'm kind of surprised more people haven't rated it.

6. Philippine Duchesne by Catherine M. Mooney (4 ratings)
I picked up this book because I wanted to know more about the saint I'd chosen as my confirmation saint in high school. It's actually quite an interesting biography and has a great introductory chapter about saints in general. I guess, as she's not one of the more well-known saints, most people aren't seeking out a bio of her.

7. Prototype by Jonathan Martin (437 ratings)
I originally heard about this book from Rachel Held Evans, and I thought it was a great reflection on Christian identity and community blended with Martin's own memoir. Martin's thesis is that Jesus was a prototype for a new kind of human who acted out of knowledge that he was loved by God, not as a way to earn God's love.

8. The Rise and Fall of the Bible by Timothy Beal (430 ratings)
I listed Beal as one of the best new-to-me authors I read in 2016, specifically for this book. It's a nice exploration of the history of the Bible, as well as the current state of Bible publishing (which preys on people's desire for the Bible to be a straightforward answer book).

9. The Whole Life Adoption Book by Jayne E. Schooler (125 ratings)
Unlike some other adoption books I've read, this book is fairly comprehensive in its information on choosing between the different adoption processes, talking about adoption with your child at different stages of their life, and dealing with potential issues unique to (or more common with) adoptive children, such as attachment issues and birth parent searches. I'm glad our social worker recommended it.

10. With Burning Hearts by Henri Nouwen (204 ratings)
Yet another top nonfiction read of the year. (Funny how many of them were lesser-known books!) It's a beautiful reflection on the different parts of the Mass and how we are invited to participate at each stage, using as a scaffolding the story of the travelers on the road to Emmaus.

Which underrated books did you read in the past year?

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Sunday, January 15, 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.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them by J.K. Rowling (as Newt Scamander): This is supposed to be funny, but it fell flat for me. The "margin notes" from Harry and Ron were sparse and repetitive. Not worth reading unless you somehow feel an obligation to read every book in the Harry Potter universe.

Three Act Tragedy by Agatha Christie: I must be starting to recognize Christie's style, because I figured this one out quite early in the book. Still, it's a testament to Christie's writing that even when I identify the murderer early on I still enjoy the read and fitting all the pieces together.

Five on a Treasure Island by Enid Blyton: This was very sweet; it has the same feel as The Boxcar Children but less boring. It was an enjoyable and fairly uncomplicated adventure story, and I would happily share this with my kids, as well as read the sequels.

One for the Murphys by Linda Mullaly Hunt: I had very mixed feelings about this book. I liked the character relationships and the way the ending was written. I disliked the haphazard way the foster care system was portrayed. I also thought it conflated poverty and abuse in an alarming way.

Ficciones by Jorge Luis Borges: I liked this short story collection more than most. Many of his stories are some kind of philosophical argument in story form, which you really have to be in the right frame of mind to appreciate, but which offer opportunities for reflection and reference long after closing the book.

Winter of Fire by Sherryl Jordan: This was so great! It's a bit of a predictable "chosen one" story, but I enjoyed the read and finished it in one day. It reminded me in part of the story of Esther, and it also has clear parallels to the history of slavery in the United States.

The Wonder by Emma Donoghue: This dragged so much that I found it hard to care too much about the "mystery" element. It's hard to make a book exciting when a lot of it consists of the main character sitting in a room watching a girl read and say prayers for 8 hours at a time. I also didn't appreciate the continued refrain of "These Irish Catholics are so ridiculous and ignorant."

Death in the Clouds by Agatha Christie: Reading these books back to back you really do see how Christie writes along the same grooves time and again, but it doesn't make the solution any easier to piece together or the book any less enjoyable to read. Overall, this was typical of a Hercule Poirot book — no better and no worse.

Dracula by Bram Stoker: It's hard to believe it took me so long to get around to reading this classic! As you might imagine, it suffers from some of the hallmarks of its time — namely, long stretches of inaction and an old-fashioned view of women's purity — but for all that it's quite good and still enjoyable for a modern-day reader.

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

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Monday, January 9, 2017

Top Ten 2016 Releases I Still Want to Read

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

This week's topic is books published in 2016 that we intended to read but didn't get around to. Although I did make an effort to read more 2016 releases in 2016, there are plenty still sitting on my "might want to read" list. Here are the ten I'm probably most interested in reading.

1. The Book of Joy by the Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abrams

2. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah

3. The Gene by Siddharta Mukherjee

4. Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly

5. Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

6. It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover

7. The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork

8. The Sun Is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon

9. Symptoms of Being Human by Jeff Garvin

10. Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson

Which 2016 books are still on your to-read list?

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Monday, January 2, 2017

Top Ten 2017 Bookish Goals

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

For the past two years, Top Ten Tuesday has started out the year asking for our book-related goals for the year, but they didn't do that this year! I decided to do my own thing and still use this week to plan out my goals for 2017. Here are my 2016 goals and how I did with achieving them. Now, here are my goals for the new year.

1. Read fewer than 50 books from my to-read list.
Normally I'm trying to tackle more and more of my to-read list, but combining that with an ambitious goal of number-of-books for the year means I tend to skip over the books that will take me longer than usual to finish. I also pass up series and sequels in trying to knock out more of my existing list. This year I decided to cap the number of books I can read off my existing to-read list to give myself freedom to reread books (including more Agatha Christie), pick up new publications, and read series if I want to.

2. Read some books over a thousand pages.
I don't think I've tackled a thousand-pager since I read A Suitable Boy and War and Peace in 2014. Some of the ones on my to-read list I've been passing over (see #1) are The Stand, Shōgun, The Way of Kings, Bleak House, and Infinite Jest.

3. Catch up on some classics.
There are some books that keep coming up on "books everyone should read" lists that I still haven't gotten to, including The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Brothers Karamazov, The Sun Also Rises, and Stranger in a Strange Land. This will be the year to finally read them!

4. Read something my sister recommends.
I love that my little sister is now a bookworm like me. We don't have a lot of crossover in the books we read, but I like what she's recommended before and I keep throwing recommendations her way, so I want to read another favorite of hers this year.

5. Make use of my personal reading area.
After we moved into our new apartment this past year, I started thinking about how I would ideally like to use the extra space we have with our new apartment's layout. Now I have a comfy chair with an ottoman, and I got an armchair organizer this Christmas where I can keep my Kindle and set my tea on top. I have a little shelf with the Harry Potter books, and I have an Ideal Bookshelf print and this Dillard quote poster to hang above my chair. So many of my reading nowadays is in snatches on my phone and listening to audiobooks before bed; I want to try to sit down in my special chair and read at least once a week.

6. Read books on my new Kindle Voyage.
I got out of the habit of using my Kindle except for traveling because it was so buggy and unresponsive when it came to turning pages, so I would just keep reading on my phone. For my birthday I got a new Kindle Voyage, which has the same touch screen as my old Kindle but has page-turn buttons that take care of that source of frustration. I want to keep my Kindle synced up on the wi-fi so I can easily switch from my phone Kindle app to my actual Kindle once I'm home (especially since my phone battery has been terrible lately).

7. Read book club picks more than a week in advance.
I have this bad habit of not checking out book club books (or putting holds on them) right when the next meeting's choice is announced; I hate when the meeting arrives and it's been several weeks since I read the book (and I've read five others in the meantime), so my memory is fuzzy. I have to remind myself that I hate even more when my hold doesn't come through in time and I'm sweating about whether or not to buy the book and whether I'll have time to finish it before the meeting. This year I want to trust myself to write detailed reviews, and read the books well in advance.

8. Host a book club meeting in the first half of the year.
One of my book clubs meets online, and one meets at the same location every month, but my newest one rotates as a different woman hosts each month. I've been waiting until our apartment was completed to volunteer to host, but now there are only minor things left that may or may not get done anytime soon. I need to just bite the bullet and host before I'm the last one left who hasn't!

9. Comment on other book blogs more often.
I've managed to keep up with linking up (with The Broke and the Bookish and Quick Lit), but I don't always take time to visit the other blogs in the linkup, or if I do, I don't make the effort to leave comments. This year I want to make more of an effort to leave comments on other book blogs — I know how much I love getting comments here!

10. Promote the Best of the Bunch linkup more.
Since I took over hosting the Best of the Bunch, I haven't done a great job of putting it out there so more people know about it and can participate. This year I want to find more ways to get the word out about this monthly linkup. If you have any suggestions, let me know!

What are your bookish goals for 2017?

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Sunday, January 1, 2017

Review of 2016 Reading Resolutions

Happy New Year! I've put together some reading plans for 2017, but before I share those, I want to look back on how I did in 2016 with sticking to my New Year's resolutions for reading.

First, some hold-overs from 2015: As part of my goal to read other religious texts, I finally finished The Qur'an, the Book of Mormon, and the Bhagavad Gita in early 2016. For my goal of reading friends' recommendations, I didn't get to Dancing with God, Winter of Fire, A People's History of the United States, or Woman at Point Zero until this year.

Now, here are the goals I set for 2016, and how I did.

1. Read all the unread books on our bookshelves.
I read almost all the books from my to-read list that were still sitting on our bookshelves. I abandoned (and got rid of) Letters from a Martyred Christian, and I haven't gotten to The Discoverers yet. I ended up keeping George, Faith Unraveled, Dear Mister Rogers, Does It Ever Rain in Your Neighborhood?, A Prayer for Owen Meany, and Adoption Parenting and passed the rest on through PaperBackSwap. However, I realized that there are a handful of other books I've gotten in hard copy that were so low priority they weren't even on my to-read list, so I still have to get to those at some point.

2. Read all the Catholic books on my to-read list.
I did end up going to World Youth Day this year (yay!) and I successfully tackled all these books before I went. I read The Church of Mercy (as well as the follow-up, The Name of God Is Mercy), Philippine Duchesne, and With Burning Hearts. I was very glad to have read them all.

3. Read a novel in French.
I did it! I read Translation Is a Love Affair in French. I kept Google Translate open on my phone the entire time, but other than not knowing a lot of the vocabulary I was able to read pretty fluently and understand (I think) everything that was happening. I'd like to try to read another book in French in the future.

4. Read some highly rated books I'd never heard of.
There are still tons of books with a 4.2 rating or above on Goodreads that I haven't read, but I got through some that were new to me. These were Ficciones, All Creatures Great and Small, and Hunger. There are still some others from the list I'd like to read, but it was nice to at least start to branch out.

5. Read some classic psychology books.
I read Will I Ever Be Good Enough? and Emotional Vampires, both of which were just OK. I still have Feeling Good on my to-read list.

6. Reread some Agatha Christie books.
I decided to start with the Hercule Poirot books and read them in order, and I've read almost a third of them at this point. It's been fun to revisit them, and I've remembered almost nothing from the first time I read them except for Murder on the Orient Express. I found that Hugh Fraser narrates a lot of the Poirot audiobooks and is very talented at doing accents, so I've listened to several that he narrated.

7. Read some World War I books.
I did listen to The Guns of August, but only just started on Good-Bye to All That. I haven't yet decided whether to take up the torch again for the publication of my great-grandfather's WWI memoir, or just let it be a story to share within my family.

8. Read more books that require waiting for hard copies.
I did OK with this. Via requests, I read Friendship at the Margins, Five on a Treasure Island, and Winter of Fire. I also got a handful of the books mentioned above (the French book and one of the Catholic books) through ILL, as well as some book club books. With so many books available on Kindle and audio from the library, it's easy to pass over the ones that require a wait.

9. Read multiple books published in 2016.
When Goodreads' 2015 awards rolled around, I'd read a measly one book in the pool, though plenty of them were on my to-read list. This year, I succeeded in reading a number of books published in 2016, including When Breath Becomes Air, Grit, Before the Fall, The Girls, Truly Madly Guilty, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, and The Wonder. The bad news: When Breath Becomes Air is the only one I liked enough to vote for it, so I only ended up casting one vote again this year! At least I tried...

10. Read books published in 2014 and 2015.
I caught up on 22 different books from 2014 and 2015. I won't list them all here, but some of the ones I'd felt most behind on were Everything, Everything, More Happy Than Not, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, None of the Above, The Girl on the Train, All the Bright Places, and Lies We Tell Ourselves.

Overall, I'm happy with how I did with sticking to my reading resolutions this past year! I tackled some different parts of my to-read list thematically, which was a cool way to do it. My 2017 goals will be posted soon!

How did you do with your book-related resolutions in 2016?

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Friday, December 30, 2016

Best of the Bunch: December 2016

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

This feels like a repeat of last month, but once again I had no 5-star reads this month, and my only 4.5-star read was a reread for book club. That makes it the best of the bunch for December!

Middlesex has been a favorite since I first read it, and it still is, though I went into rereading it this time with a more critical eye this time regarding gender and intersex identity. Eugenides provides it all: complex, memorable characters; unpredictable, intriguing plot lines; and subtle lessons in history and science. My book club had a fantastic discussion about the extent to which you can define your own identity vs. how much is limited or controlled by your environment, themes I hadn't picked up on by myself even after reading this twice. Whether because it's a Pulitzer Prize winner or an Oprah Book Club book, or just on my recommendation, you should pick this one up.

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, December 26, 2016

Top Ten Favorite Fiction Reads of 2016

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

This week I'm sharing my favorite fiction reads from 2016. See last week's post for my favorite nonfiction reads of the year. These are listed alphabetically.

1. 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!

2. George by Alex Gino
I found this story of a transgender girl in elementary school heartwarming and very well done. The conflicts are realistic without being too heavy, and the ending is optimistic without being naïvely so. I enjoyed the read and would happily share the book with my kids.

3. The Giver by Lois Lowry
I read this book a long time ago, maybe in middle school, and it didn't make the impression on me that it clearly had on so many people. Rereading as an adult and a mother whose son was around Gabe's age at the end of the book, it hit me much harder. It's a deceptively quick read that contains so many lessons about history, society, and what makes life worth living, and I appreciated it so much more this time around.

4. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin
I'm not a big fan of sci-fi generally, and my first impression was that there was too much to keep track of, but once I got my head around everything the story started to come together and I really enjoyed it. There's great world-building and a good balance between expository detail and narrative action, and the characters' dilemmas felt real to me.

5. Middlesex by Jeffrey Eugenides
This has been a favorite since I first read it, and it still is, though I went into rereading it this time with a more critical eye this time regarding gender and intersex identity. Eugenides provides it all: complex, memorable characters; unpredictable, intriguing plot lines; and subtle lessons in history and science. The Pulitzer is well deserved.

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

7. Peril at End House by Agatha Christie
This may be one of my favorite Christie plot twists. I was convinced I'd figured out the mystery, and then it turned out that what I'd figured out was just a tiny piece of the puzzle — Christie fooled me again, though as usual the clues were all there.

8. A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
This was the first time I'd read Irving, and 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!

9. Simon vs the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
This was sweet, hilarious, and a pitch-perfect depiction of life in high school. Although I figured out the identity of Simon's anonymous e-mail penpal pretty early on, which took away some of the mystery driving the plot, I still enjoyed the read. I especially love Simon's family.

10. Stolen by Lucy Christopher
I spent most of this book worrying about how Christopher was going to end it, but she nailed the ending, so I can recommend the book. It's told by a girl who's kidnapped at the airport and taken to the middle of an Australian desert. The attention to detail and the descriptions of nature were fantastic.

What were your favorite fiction reads of the year?

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