Wednesday, November 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.

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs: This was my favorite book of October. I found it more compelling and readable than some other true accounts of former slaves, though her experience was different enough from many others that you wouldn't want to read this in isolation.

The Fisherman by John Langan: This was supposed to be a horror novel, but it was pretty boring. Most of my book club felt the same way, and everyone wondered why it had such high ratings on Goodreads. I think it would be a terrifying horror movie, but it didn't translate to the page.

Midwives by Chris Bohjalian: This started out promising, but I ended up feeling pretty bored by it. It's the story of a court case, and it's implied that there will be another layer — the defendant's daughter coming of age — but that never materializes, so you're left with just a blow-by-blow of the trial. The complex ethics at the heart of the novel are more interesting than the story itself.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby: It's mind-boggling to think of someone composing an entire book in their head and then dictating it one letter at a time via blinking one eyelid. And yet — I can't escape the fact that this made the book much weaker than if it had been carefully crafted and edited on paper. It's a short enough book, and enough people have resonated with it, that it's probably still worth a read, but don't expect too much from it.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt: I like books that are entrenched in the logistics of complex situations, and that's part of what made this read so enjoyable — you know from the opening pages that one of the characters is going to end up dead and that the narrator had a hand in it, but it's the way things fall apart in the aftermath of the murder that made this such a compelling read.

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks: Faulks is an excellent writer, by which I mean he creates a very real sense of place, with descriptions of sights, sounds, textures, and emotions that bring the trench warfare of WWI alive. Unfortunately, I personally found the book hard to get through and could not connect to any of the characters nor understand their motivations.

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

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Monday, November 13, 2017

Top Ten Books I Want My Children to Read

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

For this week's topic, I conveniently have a shelf on Goodreads called "Books I Want My Kids to Read." I've taken books off the list that our son Gregory has now read, but there are still plenty on the list for when he's older. Here are the ten I most hope he (and our future children) will someday read — books that I already have ready on our bookshelf!

1. All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor
I like this as a book for kids for a lot of reasons: The characters are Jewish, but it's not a Learning About Judaism kind of book; there are lots of opportunities for kids to talk about their feelings about different situations, like having a new baby in the family; and it shows the parents' thought processes as well, which would be interesting to discuss with a child. Plus it's just a sweet and enjoyable read.

2. The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis
This is a solid middle-grade novel that introduces some tough topics (the main character has to dress as a boy to get a job after the Taliban take her father) but it's not a scary, action-driven story; it focuses more on the main character's internal growth as she makes difficult decisions and learns to be more independent.

3. Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink
It's no secret around here that I like this book more than the similar Little House on the Prairie. This would be a book I'd want to read and discuss with my kids, as there are lots of opportunities to ask, "Why do you think so-and-so did that?" or "How do you think so-and-so was feeling?" and I'd want to point out the old-fashioned views on women and American Indians.

4. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
I love this twist on the classic Cinderella story, where Ella is a strong, confident character even when she's cursed to do the bidding of others. There's a strong message about consent as well — Ella actually gets to choose whether she wants to marry the prince!

5. George by Alex Gino
This book does a great job of introducing what it means to be transgender. George is introduced from the beginning with female pronouns, so kids are likely to understand why George is so frustrated when people keep calling her a boy and making her use the boys' bathroom!

6. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
This is a book that I love so much that I'm almost afraid for the day my kids will read it in case they don't love it as well. It's so quirky and fun and introduces mind-bending concepts around language and numbers in the form of an adventure story.

7. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
This book set in the American South in the 1930s not only provides clear illustrations of how people in America were (and are) treated differently because of their race but it also provides opportunities for discussion about how the black family at the center of this novel chooses to navigate those challenges. For the centering of the black experience I like it better than To Kill a Mockingbird.

8. Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar
This series was another favorite of mine as a kid that I hope my kids will like. It's a perfect blend of absurd humor and apt observations about education that any schoolchild can appreciate.

9. Totto-Chan by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi
This is one that I like to compare to the Ramona Quimby books for the writing style and the main character's personality. She isn't fictional, though; the book is based on the true stories of the author's experience at an experimental school in Japan in the 1940s.

10. Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
What childhood is complete without the classic poems of Shel Silverstein?

What books do you most want the kids in your life to read?

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Monday, November 6, 2017

Ten Characters Who Would Make Great Leaders

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

This topic turned out to be more challenging than I expected because well-written characters are often also deeply flawed characters, and we like to think of our leaders as having only the most minor flaws. I eventually found some great characters whose central conflicts (in their books) are mostly external, so there's evidence that they can make good decisions in difficult situations. I'm leaving it open-ended what the leadership role is... but I don't think it's a stretch to say I'd take any of these fictional characters over our current U.S. president.

1. Aminata Diallo (Someone Knows My Name)
Aminata went through some of the most challenging parts of history — being captured and forced into slavery, living through the American Revolution, facing discrimination in Nova Scotia, and helping found Freetown, Sierra Leone. Through it all she was inventive, determined, and confident.

2. Brother William (The Name of the Rose)
Brother William was a voice of rationality in an age steeped in superstition. (The book takes place in 1327.) In the midst of widespread panic over a series of murders, Brother William managed to stay calm and put together clues even while his methods were viewed with suspicion by everyone around him.

3. Clark Thompson (Station Eleven)
Many of the characters in this post-apocalyptic novel showed guts and inventiveness, but Clark was my favorite and the one I'd want leading me if 99% of the earth's population died. He leads by example, both in his care for others and in his attempts to preserve the history of life before the pandemic.

4. Cordelia Naismith (Cordelia's Honor)
In this sci-fi novel, Commander Cordelia Naismith has to contend with a lot of other characters (mostly male) trying to control her, and she is a fierce advocate for herself and, eventually, her child. She also comes from a world with different, and in some cases more advanced, technology, and so she has to convince others to try things that are totally foreign to them. If I were thrown into her world, I would serve under her.

5. Dana (Kindred)
Dana, a modern black woman, is repeatedly transported to the antebellum South, where she has to use her quick wits to protect herself and as many of those around her as she can. She shows an amazing cool-headedness in some terrible situations and great planning and wisdom in preparing herself for her return journeys.

6. Genly Ai (The Left Hand of Darkness)
Genly is given a huge task — to convince those on the planet Winter to join an interplanetary network that they know nothing about and don't believe exists. He can't bring his ships down from orbit until he knows they'll be welcomed safely, but the world leaders won't agree to that without seeing them first. Throughout all this he has to navigate the hugely complex intraworld politics while being perpetually cold and far, far away from home. The fact that he manages everything he does so deftly makes him a solid leader in my book.

7. Love Simpson (Cold Sassy Tree)
This is a woman who is not beholden to public opinion. Amidst the local scandal of her marriage to a newly widowed older man, she preserves her dignity and takes a practical approach to becoming ingrained in the town life. You can imagine her in any emergency immediately taking charge and getting all the necessary operations organized and running.

8. Maddie (Cold Name Verity)
I don't want to spoil anything of this easily-spoiled book for those who haven't read it, but Maddie is a badass WWII pilot who can stay calm under pressure and make really hard decisions when necessary.

9. Marie-Laure LeBlanc (All the Light We Cannot See)
Another World War II novel! Marie-Laure not only doesn't let her blindness hold her back, she uses it to her advantage — who would suspect a blind girl as serving a key role in the French Resistance?

10. Rashad (All American Boys)
Rashad is already on his way to being a leader as a star student and JROTC cadet when he finds himself thrown firsthand into the national controversy over racism and police brutality. As the victim of a police beating and the son of a former police officer, Rashad gets a crash course in the challenges and complexities of having a conversation about policing in the United States. By the end of the book he's found his voice and wants to do his part to fight back against these problems.

Which of these characters would you want as your leader?

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Monday, October 30, 2017

Best of the Bunch: October 2017

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

After a long dry spell, I finally had a 5-star read this month! It was the only one of the nine books I read this month that merited above a 4-star rating, so it's definitely my Best of the Bunch.

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl was an excellent autobiography. It takes a bit to get accustomed to the 19th century language, but otherwise I found it very readable. It was interesting to read Jacobs' account after reading so many stories (fictional and true) of chattel slavery in the American South that try to shock the reader with stories so brutal that, I find, you almost end up becoming desensitized as a coping mechanism. As Jacobs says herself, she was never subjected to brutal beatings or field work or rape, and so you're left with a case where slavery is depicted as wrong not because it's brutal but because it's slavery. I don't think this book should be read as anyone's sole account of the history of American chattel slavery, but in concert with other books about the worst horrors of the institution, this is an important contribution.

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

Ten Horror Novels on My TBR List

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

It's a Halloween freebie! In past years I've done books to read to get in the Halloween spirit, suspenseful novels, and characters I'd be for Halloween. I mined some of last year's links to get other ideas, and decided to look at what's on my to-read list and my might-want-to-read list. I looked through the Best Horror Novels list on Goodreads to see which ones I had on my lists. (So don't blame me if you don't think all of these count as horror — I haven't read them yet!)

1. American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis

2. Coraline by Neil Gaiman

3. The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

4. Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice

5. Jaws by Peter Benchley

6. The Shining by Stephen King

7. The Stand by Stephen King

8. The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

9. We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

10. World War Z by Max Brooks

Which of these do you think I should read first?

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Monday, October 23, 2017

Top Ten Unique Book Titles

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

This topic made me laugh a little because, like, most book titles are unique, right? Isn't that key to titling a book, that you want it to be something unique? Certainly there are books out there with the same title, but if you picked a random assortment of ten books they are likely to all have unique titles.

Anyway, I'm not really trying to poke fun at the topic because I do understand (I think) what they're going for. One of my book clubs had a nomination theme one month of "long or unusual titles," which was inspired by The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, which was also the organizers' only example of what kinds of titles they were looking for, and of course that was the book that ended up being chosen for the month. (They might as well have called it "The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared Month.") But I can come up with nine other titles that are quirky, unusual, or intriguing to round out the top ten list!

1. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

2. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

3. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

4. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

5. How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America by Kiese Laymon

6. The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson

7. If on a winter's night a traveler by Italo Calvino

8. Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson

9. The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob

10. "Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria?" by Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum

What are some unusual or intriguing book titles you've encountered?

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Monday, October 16, 2017

Ten Books That Make Me Hungry

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

This week's topic is about food in books. I know a lot of people are into "food memoirs" and novels with recipes in each chapter, and I've just never gotten into that, probably because I don't cook much. (I laughed at the suggestion, "You could also talk about 10 of your favorite cookbooks if you don't read foody books" because I look at cookbooks even less frequently.) However, I did manage to cobble together a list of ten books that talk about food enough to make me hungry while reading them.

1. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
This book not only got me to stop eating factory farmed meat but also convinced me to give asparagus another try. Good decisions on both counts!

2. Bread and Wine by Shauna Niequist
I may have skimmed the actual recipes in this book, but she talks a lot about the joy of eating and sharing food with others, so obviously that's going to make me want to throw a dinner party immediately.

3. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
I mean, there's an entire room made out of candy, but if you're like me and more about the savory than the sweet, then the part that will get you is Violet talking about the taste of warm tomato soup pouring down her throat (right before she turns into a giant blueberry).

4. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert
I know this is the book everyone loves to hate, but I really liked it, and I definitely want to experience going to a little restaurant in Italy that doesn't even have a name where the food is so good it makes you cry.

5. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
Who doesn't want to sit down and have a huge banquet magically appear in front of you?

6. The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
This is going to sound ridiculous, but while everyone else apparently wanted to try Turkish Delight after reading this book, it just made me crave turkey. Like the lunch meat. (Before I stopped eating meat, obviously.)

7. The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister
This entire book revolves around a cooking class where every month they make a new delicious-sounding recipe, so this is not one to start on an empty stomach.

8. The Storyteller by Jodi Picoult
The protagonist of this book is a baker, and there's a particular plot point around a special kind of chocolate-cinnamon roll, so yeah, good luck reading this one without craving some carbs.

9. Strega Nona by Tomie dePaola
This is how much I love pasta so I would definitely take a magic pot that made an endless supply for me.

10. The Way Life Should Be by Christina Baker Kline
The main character disconnects from her busy city life and finds herself again via her culinary roots in this cute novel about slowing down and taking chances.

OK, now I need to go get a snack...

What books make you hungry?

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