Monday, June 18, 2018

Top Ten Books on My Summer TBR


I'm linking up with That Artsy Reader Girl for another Top Ten Tuesday.

It's time to plan my reading for the next quarter! I'm happy to say that I got through everything on my Spring TBR list. That might be a first for me. Here's what I'm hoping to read this summer!


1. Enchanter's End Game by David Eddings
I'm almost done with my reread of the Belgariad! This is the fifth and final book in the series. I'm going to take a break before I start on the Malloreon series and tackle one of the other series on my 2018 goals instead.


2. The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson
I tried this on Kindle and was too bored to stay engaged with the story. I'm going to give it another go on audio and see if I like it better.


3. Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurchinka
This book has been on my radar for a while, but now I think it's time I actually read it as a parent.


4. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
I've seen people recommending this series for forever, and I told a friend who was looking to use up Audible credits that people seemed to like it, so he just started listening to it. I figure it's as good a time as any to read it myself.


5. Redefining Realness by Janet Mock
Mock now has a second well-rated book out, so it's high time I got around to reading her first one!


6. Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
This is on my TBR list and will be the July read for one of my book clubs.


7. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman
This is one that's been on my TBR list for a while and I see it recommended on a regular basis. I had the opportunity to hear Anne Fadiman speak a few years ago and am looking forward to finally reading this book.


8. Talking Across the Divide by Justin Lee
I frequently recommend Lee's first book, Torn, and he's finally releasing a second one later this summer!


9. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
Another of my book clubs just chose this as our next read on my nomination. It's one of my favorites, but it's been long enough that I need to reread it. I'm going to try it on audio this time.


10. The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon
This is another book that I hear recommended frequently and it's been on my TBR list for quite a while. It's time!

What will you be reading this summer?

This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. Thanks for supporting A Cocoon of Books!

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Stiff and Vanity Fair
Five years ago I was reading: The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow and The Red Tent
Ten years ago I was reading: Gone with the Wind

Friday, June 15, 2018

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.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDinn: I had mixed feelings about this book. It's a comprehensive and remarkably concise overview of some of the worst problems facing women internationally today, but I was put off by the book's tone for most of the time I was reading it. I think it's a good introduction to international women's issues, but it could have been written in a less Western-dominated way.

A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin: I really considered abandoning this one, but I thought if I kept reading I'd figure out why the book had such high ratings. Unfortunately, I never could figure it out. I suppose if you enjoy near-death experiences, objectification of women, philosophy, mountain climbing, and hearing about the worst a human body can endure while still surviving, then you'll love this book, since that sums up about 90% of it.

The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich: I was disappointed that this wasn't more about the death penalty, and it also wasn't a true crime mystery. But once I adjusted my expectations, I appreciated what the author was able to do with the book. The two halves of the book never quite fit together as seamlessly as I would have liked, but when you sit with them together you start to realize the power in telling both stories.

Poirot's Early Cases by Agatha Christie: This is a 1974 compilation of short stories that were published previously in the 1920s and 1930s, which means you get the hallmarks of her earliest mysteries, including Captain Hastings and casual racism. It's a bit formulaic, but I'm a sucker for plot twists, and that's basically what this whole collection was, so on the whole I enjoyed it even if it wasn't particularly memorable or unique.

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman: This book was both heartbreaking and infuriating. It was extremely well written, but practically all the characters' choices exasperated me. I'd only recommend it if you're going to discuss it with a book club so you can talk about all the ways that this one child's upbringing was handled poorly (and if you aren't going to pull your hair out at the constant switching from past to present tense).

Kingbird Highway: The Biggest Year in the Life of an Extreme Birder by Kenn Kaufman: I enjoyed this far more than I expected to. Although the subject matter wasn't inherently interesting to me, the book was very readable and set up an easy-to-follow plot arc: After spending a couple years hitchhiking around the country to see different bird species, Kaufman decided to undertake a Big Year, trying to see more bird species in a single year than any other birder had before. I appreciated Kaufman's reflections about using a structure in order to have the experiences you want to have in your life while running the risk of being too beholden to the structure itself.

Curtain: Poirot's Last Case by Agatha Christie: For the final book, we're back at Styles and back in the first-person narration of Captain Hastings after a long absence. It's a nice touch to bring everything full circle after 50+ years. And after all that time, Christie manages to tell a new kind of story. It wasn't a favorite, but I think this was an excellent ending to the series and a fitting farewell to the great detective.

Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart by Christena Cleveland: Cleveland takes a broad range of research and theory in social psychology and applies it to the Christian church. She shows why our identity feels so closely tied to our specific denomination, why we shy away from the notion of being a universal church with those who seem different from us (theologically or culturally), and why attempts at crosscultural collaboration (e.g., a predominantly white church and a predominantly black church joining forces) so often go badly. I particularly liked how she explicitly talked about the realities of power dynamics and histories of oppression when talking about crosscultural collaboration.

Castle of Wizardry by David Eddings: This was a very enjoyable reread. If Eddings finally hit his stride in the last book, this is where his writing truly shines. There were multiple moments where I laughed out loud throughout the book. I'm glad that this series has stood up to rereading.

The Alienist by Caleb Carr: I can see why this action-packed book was made into miniseries. It's a bit less compelling in book format, though. I kept expecting some kind of plot twist, though, and there never was one. The main drama, besides the killings, came from political tensions, which I found difficult to follow or care too much about. It certainly kept me reading, but in the end there wasn't anything I found particularly notable about the book.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie: I may be getting old and cynical, but I felt like, other than using Hindustani inspirations for the names of people and places, this hewed very closely to every other children's story of a child getting whisked off to a magical land with quirky characters where they have to save the day. It wasn't bad — it was well written and a fun adventure story — it was just highly predictable. For kids of a certain age who can't get enough of this kind of story, however, I think it's great to add into the rotation a story that's not about white British or American kids.

From Twinkle, with Love by Sandhya Menon: Sandhya Menon's books are such heartwarming YA stories. Even if everything ties up in a predictable, happily-ever-after bow, the journey there and the characters involved feel real. I kind of love that in her books there isn't really a mystery about who the love interest will be or whether they'll end up together, which leaves the narrative free to explore bigger issues about friendship or family. I laughed out loud many times and nearly cried at the end.

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

This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. Thanks for supporting A Cocoon of Books!

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The Storyteller and Vanity Fair
Five years ago I was reading: MWF Seeking BFF and The Red Tent
Ten years ago I was reading: Gone with the Wind

Monday, June 4, 2018

Ten Abandoned Books I Wish I'd Finished


I'm linking up with That Artsy Reader Girl for another Top Ten Tuesday.

This week's topic is about books we abandoned too soon. I'm not sure how you can really know whether you abandoned a book too soon, though with some of the books I've abandoned, I'm pretty sure they weren't going to get any better. But for some of the books I haven't finished, I wish that I'd been able to make it through the whole thing, if only for superficial reasons. Here are ten I wish I'd finished.


1. Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis
This one I abandoned a quarter of the way through because I just didn't find it funny. I still see it crop up from time to time and I kind of wish I'd made it farther in the book so I could at least have the context of knowing the whole storyline.


2. The Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Souljah
I see this listed all the time as a beloved book of many black women, and I really want to understand why! But I found the narrator's tone so grating and the reviews I skimmed basically said, "Yeah, it doesn't get any better for 90% of the book" and so I couldn't bring myself to devote any more time to this one. Maybe someday.


3. The Issa Valley by Czesław Miłosz
Except for the truly awful Etiquette for an Apocalypse, this is the only book for my local book club that I haven't read all the way through. In my defense, almost no one in the club made it all the way through because it was so incredibly boring. But maybe, having been to Poland now, I should give it another go?


4. The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel with Bret Witter
I made it halfway through this book before giving up because it was so depressing and not at all what I was expecting based on how it was advertised. I know so many people really loved it when it first came out, though! I wish I'd read all the way to the end so I could at least see if the second half redeemed it for me.


5. Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson
I generally like Bryson's writing, but it felt like you had to have lived in Britain in the '90s to understand even a quarter of the references he makes. The only other kind of humor seemed to be making fun of people, which is my least favorite part of Bryson's style. Still, I see this on so many must-read lists that I wish I'd made it at least a little farther.


6. Real Boys by William S. Pollack
This is one that I pulled from my mom's bookshelf when I was maybe high-school age? Some age that was definitely not the target audience for this book. I found it interesting but I was a much more scattered reader back then and I just never got around to finishing it. I have no idea if it would still jive with my worldview as a 32-year-old, but now that I have a son it could be interesting to read through.


7. Rediscover Catholicism by Matthew Kelly
Our former church gave out free copies of this book to the congregation and our priest made us promise that if we took a copy we'd read the whole thing and then pass it on to someone else. I tried, but I found it poorly written and edited and I just couldn't get past that. I wonder if I tried it on audio if I'd have the same experience or if I'd get more out of it that way.


8. "Shakespeare" by Another Name by Mark Anderson
So when I was in middle school we watched a video exploring the authorship question and laying out the evidence that Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, may have written some of the plays attributed to Shakespeare. I picked up this book thinking it was going to be an exploration of the authorship question, but instead the author takes it as a given that de Vere wrote the plays and provides a biography of de Vere's life with the framework of explaining how he got the idea for each of the plays. I don't share the author's confidence in that premise, but it could be interesting to read again, knowing what I'm signing up for this time.


9. To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
My dislike of voluntary time travel plots and deception-based plots is well-established, and so I felt justified in abandoning this one early on, but I see so many people recommending it as a favorite that I can't help but wonder if I chucked it too early.


10. Wizard by Marc Seifer
I'm honestly not 100% sure if I finished this book, but I'm pretty sure I would have recorded it in my book journal if I had. My husband and I listened to this audiobook on our 5-day move across the country, and it was super interesting, but I don't think we quite finished it. I would be open to rereading it / finishing it someday!

Which books did you DNF too early?

This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. Thanks for supporting A Cocoon of Books!

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The Golem and the Jinni and The Millionaire Next Door
Five years ago I was reading: Eleanor & Park and At Home
Ten years ago I was reading: Groupthink

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Best of the Bunch: May 2018


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

Of the 10 books I read this month, I had two 5-star reads:

Magician's Gambit by David Eddings

Ask a Manager: How to Navigate Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work by Alison Green

The first rating is pure personal nostalgia. I have to give the best of the bunch to...


I've been reading the Ask a Manager blog for a number of years now and recommend it to just about everyone who works. While the blog is in a Q&A advice column format, this book summarizes the most common types of questions through four categories: conversations with your boss, conversations with your coworkers, conversations when you're the boss, and conversations with your job interviewer. If you're a long-time blog reader there probably won't be much here that's new or surprising, but I still found it useful; while Green's responses to letter writers often provide scripts specific to their situations, this book is a compilation of more general scripts you can use for most difficult situations you might encounter at work. I honestly wish there was a non-offensive way I could suggest that everyone I work with read this book, but alas, I don't think that's possible. I will recommend it to everyone else, though!

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

This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. Thanks for supporting A Cocoon of Books!


Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Where Am I Now? and Dune
Five years ago I was reading: Marcelo in the Real World
Ten years ago I was reading: Black Like Me




Monday, May 28, 2018

Ten Bookish Worlds I’d Never Want to Live In


I'm linking up with That Artsy Reader Girl for another Top Ten Tuesday.

This week we're talking about bookish worlds you'd want to live in or never want to live in. Since I previously wrote about bookish settings I'd like to visit, I decided to go in the opposite direction for this one! Here are worlds envisioned differently from our own where I personally wouldn't want to live.


1. Any dystopia (1984, Brave New World, The Giver, Never Let Me Go...)
This seems pretty obvious... the definition of a dystopia is a place or society where things are not good, for one reason or another. There are plenty of books that fall into this category, and I wouldn't like to live in any of them.


2. Any post-apocalyptic world (Station Eleven, The Stand, The Road...)
There's some overlap with dystopian fiction here, but you can have a dystopia that's not proceeded by a catastrophe and a catastrophe after which people manage to rebuild something stable and not totalitarian. Even so, I hope I never have to live through a global catastrophe that wipes out most of the world population (assuming I lived through it, which I probably wouldn't)!


3. Most other futuristic worlds (Leviathan Wakes, Stranger in a Strange Land...)
Even if you look forward and don't foresee total destruction or the dominance of a totalitarian government, I don't necessarily like the predictions. Living in space and being dependent on the galactic economy for affordable air to breathe, or only encountering grass if you're rich enough to grow some inside your apartment? No thanks!


4. Chewandshallow (Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs)
A world where food comes down from the sky depending on the weather is something that's fun in theory and would be terrible to actually exist in.


5. Dune (Dune)
This is a sand world that's so dry that you have to recapture and filter your own bodily fluids to stay hydrated. Blergh.


6. The world of His Dark Materials
I admittedly remember very little of this series (one reason I hope to reread them this year), but I remember it seeming very dark and like you were always in danger of getting kidnapped or being the victim of a politically or religiously motivated murder.


7. The Hundred-Acre Wood (Winnie-the-Pooh)
I didn't realize until listening to this series with my son that most of these beloved characters are kind of terrible. Rabbit is mean to everyone, Eeyore is passive-aggressive, Winnie-the-Pooh only visits people as an excuse to eat their food, Tigger lies constantly, and Christopher Robin gets bored easily and acts like he doesn't care about anything. There'd be way too much everyday drama for my taste.


8. Inkworld (Inkheart)
Not only is Inkworld basically like going back in time to when everything was controlled by the feudal system and there was no plumbing, but there's also the matter of people constantly popping in from the "real world" or disappearing forever. It's a fascinating idea to read about, but I wouldn't want to live there.


9. Narnia during the Age of Winter (Chronicles of Narnia)
I understand that Narnia is not always the way it is in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (which is why I also hope to read the whole series this year) but that's always how I picture it when people talk about going to Narnia. I don't enjoy being cold. I don't want to go to a place where it's always winter!


10. Oz (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz or Wicked)
Whichever version of Oz you're talking about, it sounds way too terrifying and unpredictable for me to ever want to live there.

Which bookish worlds would you never want to live in?

This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. Thanks for supporting A Cocoon of Books!

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing and Dune
Five years ago I was reading: Gone Girl
Ten years ago I was reading: The Drama of the Gifted Child

Monday, May 21, 2018

Ten Character Names That Are Fun to Say


I'm linking up with That Artsy Reader Girl for another Top Ten Tuesday.

I've done characters I'd name a dog after before, but never just shared some overall great character names. That's what this week's topic is about! It's hard to narrow it down to a list of favorites (names I would actually want for my children? names that capture the character's personality well?) so I went with ones that are fun to say.


1. Albus Dumbledore (the Harry Potter series)


2. Faintly Macabre (The Phantom Tollbooth)


3. Huckleberry Finn (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn)


4. Inigo Montoya (The Princess Bride)


5. Jean Valjean (Les Misérables)


6. Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games)


7. Pippi Longstocking (Pippi Longstocking)


8. Queequeg (Moby-Dick)


9. Ramona Quimby (the Ramona Quimby series)


10. S.Q. Pedalian (The Mysterious Benedict Society)

What other characters have great names to say aloud?

This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. Thanks for supporting A Cocoon of Books!

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The Open Adoption Book, The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing, and Dune
Five years ago I was reading: The Homecoming of Samuel Lake, The Lightning Thief, and Does Jesus Really Love Me?
Ten years ago I was reading: For Whom the Bell Tolls

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

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.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott: Although I have no personal desire to write a novel, this book does make me feel that, if I were to want to, that dream is within reach. That whether or not the book is ever published, the act of putting one's story down on paper is worthwhile. I can see why this book is so often recommended, and I would certainly be quick to hand it to anyone I knew who was trying to write their own book, particularly a work of fiction. I'm not sure how much practical wisdom it contained for me personally, but I'm glad to have read it.

When We Were Very Young and Now We Are Six by A.A. Milne: In case I'm not the only one who didn't realize this, these books are not Winnie-the-Pooh sequels in the way that The House at Pooh Corner was a sequel to Winnie-the-Pooh, even though they're listed as "Winnie-the-Pooh #3 and #4." I personally found the poems in this collection to be weak in form and mostly forgettable in content, but my son enjoyed them so much that I was able to set aside my critical hat enough to enjoy them more or less. I doubt that I will want to read them again in the future, though.

A View from the Bridge by Arthur Miller: I ended up liking this more than I expected. Eddie is a modern-day Greek tragic hero, with a fatal flaw that leads him to his doom. And while that flaw is usually seen as his love for his wife's 17-year-old niece, I think there's an argument to be made that this play is really talking about the problems of toxic masculinity. I can't say that this is a play I'll be thinking much about into the future, but I think Miller did a nice job with it and I enjoyed my book club's discussion.

The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr: Taking the reader through the history of technological changes, the science of neuroplasticity, and the research on how the brain is affected by new technologies, Carr builds a case that the way we use the Internet is making us better at certain, specific actions and worse at a lot of other things, like deep reflection and complex analysis of ideas. All of the information that Carr presented was fascinating and compelling in its own right; unfortunately, Carr kept making these overgeneralizations that did not account for human diversity, and the book (published in 2010) made predictions that seem laughable even eight years later.

Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli: I don't understand how Albertalli hit it out of the park for the third time in a row, but she has. I laughed, I cried, I devoured the book. (Read Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens first, though! No spoilers!) I'm bummed that so many people are hating on her plot choices; maybe because I didn't go into it knowing that the ship was fan driven, it didn't bother me as much?

Magician's Gambit by David Eddings: Finally this series has found its groove! I definitely understand the decision to republish this series with the first three books in one volume, because together they create a single story arc. This book has many of the scenes I remember most vividly from this series, particularly around Garion finally getting some training and learning how to do sorcery properly. Although I'm a more critical reader as an adult, I can't help but enjoy revisiting these characters.

Ask a Manager: How to Navigate Clueless Colleagues, Lunch-Stealing Bosses, and the Rest of Your Life at Work by Alison Green: I've been reading the Ask a Manager blog for a number of years now and recommend it to just about everyone who works. While the blog is in a Q&A advice column format, this book summarizes the most common types of questions through four categories: conversations with your boss, conversations with your coworkers, conversations when you're the boss, and conversations with your job interviewer. I honestly wish there was a non-offensive way I could suggest that everyone I work with read this book, but alas, I don't think that's possible. I will recommend it to everyone else, though!

America's Public Schools: From the Common Schools to "No Child Left Behind" by William J. Reese: This was, as expected, a pretty dense read, and I had to break it down into 10 pages a day to get through it, but it was ultimately an excellent, comprehensive history of the public school system in the United States, from the 18th century through 2005 when the book was published. It was fascinating to see how some of the tensions that exist within our current discussions of education have been around for decades, sometimes more than a century. I think this is probably too dense for anyone who's not a history buff or interested in education reform, but for those who are, this provides really valuable insights into this particular thread in American history.

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

This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. Thanks for supporting A Cocoon of Books!

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: American Street and Hidden Figures
Five years ago I was reading: The Homecoming of Samuel Lake, The Hidden Brain, and Does Jesus Really Love Me?
Ten years ago I was reading: For Whom the Bell Tolls