Saturday, July 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.

This has been a rough month for reading! One really stellar book, and the rest have been a mixed bag.

The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult: I have mixed feelings about this book. I admire the research Picoult put into it and the difficult ethical questions she raises, but I had some issues with the way it was executed and the attention to detail in the writing.

Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers by Mary Roach: I've loved Roach's other books, and in this one her research was just as thorough and well-written. As her first book, she kind of got too much in the way of her own writing — the humor was cringeworthy at times — so I'm glad she toned that down in future books.

Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour: I absolutely loved this unconventional YA romance. There's a mystery, and a huge undertaking, and messages about family and loss and independence. I had tears rolling down my face at the end.

In the Woods by Tana French: French's writing is amazing, and I couldn't put this book down. I was disappointed at the ending (but not for the reason it seems most people are) and I hated the main character, so that put a damper on what was otherwise an excellent psychological thriller and mystery.

The Likeness by Tana French: Like with the first book, I loved French's writing and the world she created, and I got utterly frustrated with the main character's decisions. If the third book is more of the same, I'm probably done with this series.

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray: This was such a slog to get through. I get that it's a satire, but there's a LOT of awful characters to sit with through 800+ pages. I can't grasp what has resonated with so many people.

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng: I can't quite figure out how this book got so popular. It's a decent exploration of some heavy topics, and I felt for the characters, but they were all one-dimensional. It also stretched credulity that people could live together for so long without ever talking about anything they were feeling.

Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie: This one is middle-of-the-pack for me. It has all the hallmarks of a classic Poirot novel, but the solution is so convoluted and far-fetched that it was less than satisfying.

I Am an Emotional Creature: The Secret Life of Girls Around the World by Eve Ensler: I would have infinitely preferred reading a collection of interviews with girls around the world than reading Ensler's guesses about what girls around the world think about. There was no nuance to the portrayals, and the writing was just not great.

A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson: I like Bryson's nonfiction more than his memoir, in part because his humor tends to come at the expense of others, and it seems less offensive to mock a governmental organization than an individual person's laziness or obesity. This was a mix of history of the Appalachian Trail and his experience walking it, so my enjoyment of it was also mixed.

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

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Thursday, June 29, 2017

Best of the Bunch: June 2017


Today I'm sharing the best book I read in June. (I'm also counting two books I finished on May 31 because last month's BotB posted on May 30.)

Of the 13 books I read in the past month, I had three 5-star books:

Where Am I Now?: True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame by Mara Wilson

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour

Being Mortal was a reread and a previous Best of the Bunch. This month I'm giving it to...


Even though it reads like a YA book, it doesn't feel like most YA books. The main characters live in LA, work on movie sets, and are just finishing high school when the book opens. Because the premise wasn't typical, the book felt unpredictable in a welcome way. It's a YA romance, but it's about so much more. There's a mystery, and a huge undertaking, and messages about family and loss and independence. The characters are diverse in race and sexual orientation in a way that felt authentic. The book was truly fantastic and I had tears rolling down my face at the end. Highly recommended.

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





Monday, June 26, 2017

Ten Best Books I've Read In 2017 So Far


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

We're almost halfway through 2017 already! This week, it's time to pause and reflect on what have been the best ten books we've read so far this year. If you've been keeping up with my Best of the Bunch posts, you've already seen many of these. (And if you aren't linking up every month with Best of the Bunch, what are you waiting for?)

Looking back over what I've read, many of my 5-star reads were rereads, so I'm listing here only new-to-me books I've read this year. I'm not going to write descriptions for them because I've written about all of them previously on my Quick Lit or Best of the Bunch posts!

Fiction



Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour


The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas


The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand


The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob


The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli


Nonfiction


American Hookup by Lisa Wade


The Happy Sleeper by Heather Turgeon and Julie Wright


Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly


How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen by Joanna Faber and Julie King


Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson


What are the best books you've read so far this year?

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Monday, June 19, 2017

Top Ten Series I Haven't Read Yet


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

This week is series we've been meaning to start but haven't yet. I last did this topic in October 2014 and talked about how rarely I read book series anymore. And surprise, surprise, I still haven't read half of the series from that list! It just seems like such a commitment to start a whole series when there are so many standalone books I want to read, you know?

Here's a quick review of what I have read since last time:

Famous Five: I read the very first book in the series, and it was cute! I don't have much motivation to pick up any others right now, but I think they'd be fun to read with my kids down the road.

The Infernal Devices: I read Clockwork Angel and actually quite liked it. I got Clockwork Prince on audio and the narrator was so awful I had to stop it, and I never got around to picking it up in print. Oh well.

The Lord of the Rings: I finally read this whole series last summer! Hooray!

The Mortal Instruments: I read the first book. Didn't like it. Didn't read any more.

Persepolis: This is packaged in two volumes in the U.S., and I read both of them and enjoyed them.


Here are the series I'm still interested in reading:


1. Discworld by Terry Pratchett
I have actually read two books in this series, first Going Postal (which I remember fairly well) and then The Color of Magic (about which I remember nothing). So many of the different books in this series have been recommended to me at one time or another that I figure I might as well read them all through in order eventually.


2. Dublin Murder Squad by Tana French
I mentioned that I had hoped to take the first two books on my recent vacation, but the holds still haven't come through from the library! I don't read enough crime fiction for how much I love it.


3. The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini
I'm not much of a fan of epic fantasy, but Eragon has had staying power and the whole series has good ratings, so I want to give it a try.


4. The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer
All the books in this series have crazy high ratings! I'm not sure how I'm going to feel about the books' world (I'm a reluctant SF/F reader in general), but if I like Cinder I'd be willing to read the others.


5. March by John Lewis, Nate Powell, and Andrew Aydin
This three-volume graphic novel series has been on my radar for a while, but John Lewis has been more in the spotlight in the past year, and I'm especially interested to read these now that more people are picking them up.


6. Mark of the Lion by Francine Rivers
Rivers' Redeeming Love is one of my favorite books, so when I saw that this series had incredibly high ratings on Goodreads, I decided to put it on my to-read list.


7. Outlander by Diane Gabaldon
With the TV series still going strong, I feel like I need to get caught up on these books I keep hearing about. It's been recommended I read it as an audiobook to experience the Scottish brogue, so that's probably what I'll do.


8. The Sandman by Neil Gaiman
I'm a little hesitant to pick these up because they're supposed to be dark, scary, and violent (three things I'm not a big fan of!) but I got through Watchmen OK and really liked it, so I think I could tackle these. The series contains some of the highest-rated books on Goodreads, so there has to be something there worth checking out.


9. A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin
Nothing I've heard about this series (e.g., high fantasy, violence) makes it sound like my kind of books, but so many people have read it that I might as well tackle it eventually. I think I'll wait until Martin's finished writing it, though.


10. Starbridge by Susan Howatch
Several of the people I follow on Goodreads have highly recommended Glittering Images, and it looks like the other books in the series are well-liked as well. Suspense, scandal, and church history? It sounds like something I would like.

Which series are you hoping to start?

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Thursday, June 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.

I got through a lot of books on vacation this past month! Here are all the books I've finished since mid-May.

Hercule Poirot's Christmas by Agatha Christie: This has a lot of the same elements as Appointment with Death, but paced a bit better. I guessed many of the pieces, but as usual could not put them all together and definitely did not guess who the killer was.

American Street by Ibi Zoboi: Zoboi has managed to pack a lot of good stuff into one book, from the challenges of being a Haitian immigrant to America to the complications of life in inner-city Detroit. It's a story brimming with complex characters who have to choose between bad options on every side. If you're already not a fan of YA, I don't think this book is going to change your mind, but if you do enjoy YA or you're open to it, I think this is a great book to read.

Hidden Figures: The Untold Story of the African American Women Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly: This book was interesting not just because it brought to light something many Americans don't know — the role of black women in the history of what is now NASA — but also because it was a fascinating overview of NASA's history in general. Once you quickly get over the "gee, I never knew there were black women at NASA" that serves as the book's selling point, it's still worth a read for the fascinating history of NASA and of race relations in America.

The Open Adoption Book: A Guide to Making Adoption Work for You by Bruce M. Rappaport: I think this was probably an excellent and timely book when it was published 25 years ago. Today, it's still a decent book, and I primarily found it interesting for the historical perspective it provided. If you know nothing about the way adoption works today, how adoptive families and birthparents maintain relationships with one another, then I think you'd learn a lot from the book. Just keep in mind that it's 25 years out of date.

The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob: Jacob manages to weave together fantastic writing, a number of important themes, and a cast of complex, believable characters in this novel that took her a decade to complete. I laughed out loud more than once, and I cried near the end. It wasn't perfect, but I genuinely enjoyed the read and missed the characters when I was done.

I'll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson: I hated the first third of this book, and I loved the last third so much I was nearly in tears. Ultimately the story wraps up in a way that feels maybe a little too neat but wonderfully sweet amidst the honest messiness of life. I think if it had been executed differently I might have really loved this book.

The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin: This is a sweet, quick read about a bookseller's journey from lonely, cranky widow to happy family man whose bookstore is a pillar of the community. It's a heartwarming if somewhat predictable story of character growth, but if you're a bookworm, you'll enjoy it that much more.

Dune by Frank Herbert: This was a mixed bag for me, not terrible, but it became a struggle to get through near the end. I can certainly see why it's appealing to people who love science fiction or fantasy (it has elements of both), but for myself, I can't enthusiastically recommend it, nor do I plan to read any of the sequels.

Where Am I Now?: True Stories of Girlhood and Accidental Fame by Mara Wilson: Wilson is a talented storyteller, and I was surprised at how relatable I found most of her childhood stories. I'm glad I took the chance of picking up this book based on nothing more than my love for Matilda.

10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help that Actually Works by Dan Harris: This memoir was a nice review of the approaches to and benefits of meditation, as well as some related ways to reframe events in order to be calmer and happier. I wouldn't suggest reading this as your sole introduction to meditation and mindfulness, but it's a good companion book for those topics as Harris relentlessly chases the gurus for ways to apply their advice in real life, in practical situations.

One, Two, Buckle My Shoe by Agatha Christie: This was a decent Poirot novel, with the usual cast of suspicious characters, red herrings, and seemingly unrelated clues. I got a little bit confused with the various false identities, stolen identities, and double bluffs, so that I'm still not entirely sure I followed the whole solution to the case, but they may be partially a result of listening to it on audio.

Sad Cypress by Agatha Christie: The identity of the murderer, and the method of the murder, seemed pretty obvious to me in this one, but I still had no idea of the motive until the reveal near the end. It was very cleverly woven all together.

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker: Although I don't tend to enjoy fantasy books, in this book Wecker has hit upon a fantastic way to illustrate the experience of new immigrants to the United States at the beginning of the 20th century. It's well done as both an allegory of immigration and just as a story. I don't think fantasy will ever be a favorite genre for me, but this is definitely one of the better ones I've read.

Rx by Kate Fodor: This was bizarre, but also quite funny. It's a send-up of both the pharmaceutical industry and corporate America. I think you'd have to have the right actors to get some of the chemistry that's missing on the page, but I can see how it's definitely possible.

The Millionaire Next Door: The Surprising Secrets Of America's Wealthy by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko: The statistics presented were interesting, but I hated much about this book, from their focus on acquiring money over creating quality of life, to their constant contradictions of their own ideas. I don't hold it against the authors that this book is now more than 20 years ago and much of it is laughably outdated, but that's the cherry on top of this large pile of reasons not to bother with this book.

The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway: On the good side, you have excellent, sparse yet evocative writing. On the bad side, you have poor decision making, drunkenness, fighting, casual sex, anti-Semitism, and the occasional n-word. Hemingway may have captured the malaise of a generation, but it's not one I'd recommend revisiting.

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande: This was a reread, and I loved it just as much the second time. I still think it should be required reading for everyone, and I can't wait for my book club discussion later this month.

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

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Monday, June 12, 2017

Top Ten Fictional Fathers


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

In honor of the upcoming Father's Day, this week's topic is all about fathers. I looked through my past reads to find some of my favorite fictional fathers — I'm sure this isn't all of them, though!


1. Hans Hubermann / Papa (from The Book Thief)
Hans doesn't care if he draws attention to himself for refusing to join the Nazi Party. He sticks to his values, his paint, and his accordion. He helps Lisel feel comfortable in her new home and teaches her to read. He's a stand-up guy and an awesome father.


2. Father (from Fortunately, the Milk)
It's Father's creative and hilarious tale that makes up most of this kids' book. No, he says, he didn't get distracted talking to friends on his way home from the store, he was abducted by aliens! And then you'll never believe what happened next...


3. Big Mav (from The Hate U Give)
Starr's dad is one smart, brave dude. He found a way to get out of gang life, even though it meant a stint in jail, and then he tried to make sure DeVante could also have another chance. He's devoted to making their neighborhood a better place. He can be stubborn and prejudiced but he has a big heart and is willing to change his mind.


4. Mo (from Inkheart)
Meggie's father has a deep love of books, which would be reason enough to rank him in the top ten, but he's also caring and protective of his family. He has a commitment to justice and tries to correct some of the imbalances of power and wealth that exist in Inkworld.


5. Harold (from A Little Life)
Being Jude's father is no walk in the park, and it's something Harold voluntarily took on after knowing Jude as an adult. He may not always know the best way to help Jude fight his demons, but he never stops trying.


6. Dan (from A Prayer for Owen Meany)
Dan charms John from the first time he meets him while dating John's mother, and then he soon becomes John's sole parent. Throughout John's childhood, he's a consistent source of wisdom and comfort and a solid role model for John and Owen.


7. Mr. Bennet (from Pride and Prejudice)
While Mrs. Bennet is constantly freaking out about their social status and her daughters being unmarried, Mr. Bennet takes it all in stride. Sometimes he may be a little too laid-back, but he at least recognizes that Elizabeth's brains are worth valuing and that it's not a tragedy if she doesn't take the first marriage offer she gets.


8. Robert Quimby (from the Ramona series)
Ramona's parents have a lot of patience with their second child's energy and imagination. Her father is caring, kind, and creative, and gives Ramona valuable advice about life.


9. David Logan / Papa (from Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry)
Papa has to make difficult choices between supporting his family and protecting them. He also has to teach his daughter some hard lessons about life. And ultimately, he's willing to sacrifice something valuable to him and his family for the good of the community.


10. Jack Spier (from Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda)
Simon's dad may be a little behind the times on political correctness, but that doesn't mean he's unsupportive when Simon comes out. Together with Simon's mom, they've created a family environment that is safe, fun, and sometimes pretty hilarious.

What books like this have caught your eye recently?

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Monday, June 5, 2017

Ten Nonfiction Books I've Recently Added to My TBR List


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

This week's topic is books in a specific genre that we've recently added to our to-read list (in my case, my lower pressure "might want to read" list). A number of books have caught my attention recently for their deep dives into a particular topic, either through statistics or through history. I adore these kinds of books! Here are ten I've recently made a note of.


1. Black Stats: African Americans by the Numbers in the Twenty-first Century by Monique W. Morris
I ran across this on a list of suggested reading somewhere. I've read a lot of books by and about black Americans in recent years, but it can be helpful to place individual stories in a larger context of trends and statistics. I just realized there's a Latino Stats book as well.


2. Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are by Seth Stephens-Davidowitz
I heard the author interviewed on the Hidden Brain podcast, which is where I get a lot of great social science book recommendations, like American Hookup. Google has access to such an immense amount of data that I'm fascinated to learn more about what data scientists there have been able to uncover.


3. Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City by Matthew Desmond
I've seen this book receive praise everywhere, and while I know it will probably be depressing and not that surprising, I feel obligated as an American citizen to keep learning more about the systems in our country that keep people in poverty, and — hopefully — what I can do to help.


4. Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright
I've never read this classic book, and one of my good friends (who is also a fan of taking deep dives into topics) at one point read a bunch of books about Scientology, so I'd love to read this and discuss with her.


5. Hit Makers: The Science of Popularity in an Age of Distraction by Derek Thompson
This popped up with a high rating from someone I follow on Goodreads, and I knew I'd enjoy it as well. Statistics and human behavior? I'm there.


6. The Lost City of Z: A Tale of Deadly Obsession in the Amazon by David Grann
I keep hearing about this book, especially after the recent release of Grann's new book, Killers of the Flower Moon, and even though the topic isn't inherently interesting to me, it sounds like Grann makes it interesting. I think it would be worth a read.


7. Nabokov's Favorite Word Is Mauve: What the Numbers Reveal About the Classics, Bestsellers, and Our Own Writing by Ben Blatt
I swear I heard about this book on a podcast, but now I can't figure out which one. This book combines statistics and books, so obviously it was going on my list. [Edited to add: I figured out where I heard about it! Modern Mrs. Darcy linked to an interview with the author.]


8. So You've Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson
I keep hearing about this book, and it sounds like the kind of thing I'd find interesting — an investigation of what happens during and after someone is metaphorically flogged by the media and/or Internet.


9. They Can't Kill Us All: Ferguson, Baltimore, and a New Era in America's Racial Justice Movement by Wesley Lowery
This is an in-depth look at a part of history that's happening right now — the awakening of white America to unjustified police violence, the advent of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the quest to find a way to make all Americans feel safe on their own streets.


10. The Unwinding: An Inner History of the New America by George Packer
I've seen a couple people mention this as more of what they thought Hillbilly Elegy would be. Rather than being based in personal experience and memoir, this book is a more straightforward history and analysis of the ways in which different parts of our country have developed radically different lifestyles and viewpoints. It couldn't be more timely.

What books like this have caught your eye recently?

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