Monday, October 22, 2018

Top Ten Favorite Literary Villains

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

For this spooky month of October, we're talking about our favorite villains from the books we've read! I picked some who aren't just stereotypical monsters, like Dracula, but who are written with the kind of care and complexity that makes them that much creepier.

1. Amy Dunne (Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn)
It's hard to imagine a character who's more coldly calculating and chillingly brilliant than the woman at the center of this thriller.

2. Dolores Umbridge (the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling)
I think Umbridge is the favorite villain of the series for many because unlike Voldemort, who's clearly evil, Umbridge is on the side of the "good guys" and is given power in the name of protecting Hogwarts students, which she exploits to its full extent. This makes her deeds more insidious because she can argue that everything is done in the name of safety and education.

3. Henry Winter (The Secret History by Donna Tartt)
I hope it isn't too spoiler-y to include him on this list! What's great about his character is that you start out on his side, seeing his point of view, until suddenly you realize that following his train of thought to its logical conclusion means that no one is safe anymore.

4. Iago (Othello by William Shakespeare)
Sometimes the worst person is not necessarily the one who harms another, but the one who sets the whole thing in motion with subtle insinuations and sly suggestions. Agatha Christie explored this at greater length (but less complexity) in Curtain, but Shakespeare did it here first.

5. Ledroptha Curtain (The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart)
There are a lot of clever aspects to Mr. Curtain being the evil twin brother of Mr. Benedict, but he's also just a great villain himself. His machine sends subliminal messages that cause everyone to feel like there's some imminent unknown danger, so they live in perpetual fear without being able to pin down why this time is any more dangerous than the past — sound familiar?

6. Miss Trunchbull (Matilda by Roald Dahl)
Miss Trunchbull is a great character because she exemplifies every kid's experience of that one teacher or administrative who's just completely unfair and mean but whose job is somehow protected — except turned up to an absurd extreme, where she's literally locking kids in a closet full of broken glass and no one (but Matilda) can stop her.

7. Mrs. Danvers (Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier)
Danvers is super creepy because she's outwardly welcoming to the second Mrs. de Winter, but then you come to find out she is actually obsessed with the dead Rebecca and is trying to manipulate Rebecca's husband's second wife into meeting her ruin.

8. Old Nick (Room by Emma Donoghue)
Sometimes the scariest villains are those based on real-life criminals, like the people who have actually kidnapped and imprisoned others for years. Seeing Old Nick through the eyes of a 5-year-old makes him into a one-dimensional, almost mythical character, but it means we don't risk humanizing someone who commits such a heinous crime.

9. Piper Greenmantle (the Raven Cycle series by Maggie Stiefvater)
You think that Piper's husband is the true villain of this series, but then it turns out that he's no match for his vain, self-centered, seemingly lazy wife who steps in to take over destroying the world when it's clear that he's not going to be able to pull it off. She's an awful person and yet an amazingly funny character.

10. Rosalind Devlin (In the Woods by Tana French)
I do not want to spoil anything, but I will just say that she knows how to manipulate not only other people but the entire crime investigation system to her advantage.

Who are your favorite literary villains?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The Secret History and Midwives
Five years ago I was reading: The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and Roots
Ten years ago I was reading: Black Boy

Monday, October 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.

I read a lot of new releases this past month! That's unusual for me, but there were so many that I wanted to read this time around.

The Subtle Knife by Philip Pullman: Like the first book, this is a good story, suspenseful and action-packed, with plot twists and character deaths. Unfortunately it's much more difficult to keep track of all the characters, the different worlds, and who's where when. I liked it overall, but it's quite dark and I wouldn't give it to kids younger than middle school.

Kindred by Octavia E. Butler: This was a reread, which I liked a lot better on audio than in print. This time around I noticed more of the ways the author used Dana and Kevin's relationship to parallel how white people can never really understand what it's like to be the target of racism.

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski: This book was... interesting. Unlike many, I didn't find it that scary, probably because I was too baffled by the characters' actions to relate to them. I'm impressed by the amount of work Danielewski put into this book, but in the end I found it too much work to read with not enough payoff to make it worth it.

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon: This book is written in six parts, and each one has its own plot arc; I found it challenging to stay motivated through the whole 650+ pages, even though the characters are well written. I also found that the bloated vocabulary, predictable plot, and now-obscure 1940s pop culture references made it hard to get through.

Lethal White by Robert Galbraith: I genuinely enjoyed this fourth book in the Cormoran Strike series, everything from the engaging mystery itself to the subplots around mental health, sexual harassment, manipulative exes, and community activism, plus the slowest of slow-burn romances, which I am enjoying despite myself.

An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green: I was very impressed by how well this turned out! It's fast-paced and engaging, but also grapples with questions of fame and power in a way I can't remember seeing in another book. Recommended for fans of YouTube stars or Ready Player One; just be ready for an ending that sets up the sequel.

The Secret Place by Tana French: This was very different from the previous Dublin Murder Squad mysteries. The resolution of the crime itself was more satisfying than usual, but everything else — from the half-hearted attempt to contrast the high schoolers' tight-knit friendship with the detective's lack of friends, to the incorporation of actual supernatural elements that were ultimately irrelevant — I did not like.

The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman: I don't know what happened with this last book, but it was very disappointing. The characters stopped having a strong purpose for what they were doing and the plot seemed randomly thrown together and then interspersed with lectures about why secular humanism is better than religion. The sentence-level writing is still great, but it didn't hang together as a book.

What If It's Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera: This was the delightful YA gay romance I expected, although Silvera's realism definitely tempered what would usually be an Albertalli happily-ever-after. It was a bit too predictable and I wanted to shake Arthur for his inability to shut up, but I still liked it overall.

All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung: This ended up having less than I expected to do with the downsides of transracial adoption (through there are definitely elements highlighting how it can be done poorly) and more to do with the benefits of open adoption in general. Chung's own experience becoming a parent prompted her to seek out her biological family as an adult, and this informed her sense of identity and reshaped how she thought about her adoption.

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok: This was a painfully real look at the experience of some immigrants who are exploited without the capability or resources to advocate for themselves. Kimberly's rescue from this life via education is a bit simplistic but not entirely far-fetched, though the book's double-twist ending seemed unnecessary and left me scratching my head over what the moral was supposed to be.

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

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl and Midwives
Five years ago I was reading: The Big Sleep and Roots
Ten years ago I was reading: The Sound and the Fury

Monday, October 8, 2018

Top Ten Longest Books I've Ever Read

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

In contrast to the shortest books we've read, this week we're talking about the longest! Exact length can be tricky — page counts vary by edition, word counts vary depending on which translation you're talking about — but these are the ten that seem to be the longest of the books I've completed. (I'm not counting The Lord of the Rings, frequently featured on "longest books" lists, because I read it as three separate books.)

1. The Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
As with many long books, I listened to this on audio. It was interesting but unfortunately there were a lot of long philosophical passages that were a slog to get through (even listening).

2. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
I'm kind of amazed that I found the time to read this in middle school, now that I see how long it is. No wonder I broke my teacher's rule that the plot summary should be less than a page of our book report and wrote 2 1/2 pages of plot summary. (I wrote 5 pages of analysis to make up for it.)

3. Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes
I liked this more than I expected, but there were definitely some parts that were just too long, and the book got repetitive in the second half. Longer isn't always better — sometimes you need a good editor to cut it down!

4. Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
This one, amazingly, I read in one or two sittings during some very long summer days. I kind of wonder now if I accidentally read an abridged version. (It was at a library in another state, and it was before I started using Goodreads, so I can't check.) It seemed pretty long, though!

5. Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
I read this on Kindle as part of a buddy read with two friends. I had to check it out from the library several times before I finished it. One friend still hasn't finished it a year later — it's not only long but can be challenging to read for long stretches!

6. Lonesome Dove by Larry McMurtry
This one I started on Kindle but I couldn't get into it until I invested in the audio version, which was worth it. There are so much layers to this story of a single cattle drive from Texas to Montana that it's no surprise McMurtry took over 900 pages to tell it.

7. The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
This was one of the first books I read on Kindle, and I honestly didn't realize how long it was until I saw it in print. I didn't particularly like it, so seeing how long it was just made it feel like it had been even more of a waste of my time.

8. The Stand by Stephen King
This is another one that I turned to audio for. As I said in my review, I'm glad the audiobook is the uncut version, because if you're going to write such detailed world-building and character development, you might as well go all the way.

9. A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
This one I actually read in paperback (~1470 pages), which took checking it out of the library a couple times in order to finish it. I really enjoyed it, but man was it heavy and awkward. You can keep your book smell; I would've killed for a Kindle version of this beast.

10. War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
It took me about six months to get through all 60 hours of audio for this. I had tried once before on Kindle and couldn't get past the first few chapters. On audio I was able to get immersed in the story and understand how the "war" and "peace" sections alternate and eventually blend into one another.

What are the longest books you've read?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: All Things Bright and Beautiful, Bleak House, and Midwives
Five years ago I was reading: Room, The Cuckoo's Calling, and Getting Past No
Ten years ago I was reading: The Sound and the Fury

Monday, October 1, 2018

Top Ten Authors I'd Love to Meet

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

This week's topic is about authors we'd love to meet. There was a similar topic in 2017 when I posted about some authors I'd met and some I'd like to meet. Sadly, I still haven't met any of the four I listed back then (I tried to get tickets for Barbara Kingsolver's book tour but they were sold out!). Here they are again, and six others.

1. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
I haven't actually loved most of Adichie's fiction that I've read, but I've greatly appreciated her excellent nonfiction writing. From the popularity of her TED Talk, you know she's a great public speaker, and it would be awesome to hear her speak in person and get to meet her.

2. Becky Albertalli
I adore everything Albertalli writes, and from what I've seen of her social media presence she seems really fun and down to earth. It would be great to meet her and tell her that even someone like me in my 30s appreciates how she captures the high school experience so well.

3. Anne Bogel
I'm so excited because I am going to get to meet Anne next week! I've known her on the blogosphere since well before she was a published author, and I'm looking forward to meeting her face to face on her book tour.

4. Nadia Bolz-Weber
OK, I only have myself to blame for the fact that I haven't actually met Nadia Bolz-Weber yet. I went to a conference where she was a speaker, and she was there for the entire conference, including being in the same room as me for several hours for a pre-conference retreat. But I was so overwhelmed by her that I couldn't think of a single thing to say to her, so I never went up to introduce myself, which was just dumb. Sigh. She's amazing.

5. Vanessa Diffenbaugh
Diffenbaugh wrote my favorite book ever, The Language of Flowers. Her last book was published in 2015, so fingers crossed she's working on something new and will go on tour near me!

6. Barbara Kingsolver
Still kicking myself for missing the window to get tickets to see her on her latest book tour! She's only 63, so she's got a couple more books in her still, right?? Maybe next time!

7. Marie Kondo
People love to hate on The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, but I found it extremely useful. It would be cool (if very unlikely) to meet her in person!

8. Liane Moriarty
She's going to stop a few hours away from me on her book tour for her latest release. Now I have to decide 1) if I want to take a day off work to go and 2) if I'm going to pay to get a ticket for the signing line...

9. J.K. Rowling
I think she's probably on most people's lists, though in reality I'm sure if I ever got in the same room with her I would be too nervous to talk to her. (I mean, look at how I acted with Nadia Bolz-Weber, who's not nearly as famous.) I think it's enough of a pipe dream even to think about hearing her speak in person!

10. Gretchen Rubin
People seem to love to pile on Rubin for her exacting personality, but I've personally found her books very helpful, and it would be cool to tell her that in person.

Who would you like to meet?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: All Things Bright and Beautiful and After the Funeral
Five years ago I was reading: The Righteous Mind and Room
Ten years ago I was reading: The Sound and the Fury

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Best of the Bunch: September 2018

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

I had one 5-star read in September, which was far and away the best of the bunch.

Small Animals is possibly the best book I've read all year. Brooks captures perfectly what it is like to be a parent in modern-day America, how the majority of your decisions are spurred by fear — fear of what will happen to your child if you don't do everything correctly and/or fear of what others parents will say or do if they believe you aren't parenting correctly. Through the framework of her own personal experience getting charged with "contributing to the delinquency of a minor" for leaving her 4-year-old alone in the car for five minutes (on a cool day, safely strapped in watching a video), she explores why our kids can't have the same independence we or our parents did even though the world is actually safer, and what it's doing to us and to our kids.

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

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: All Things Bright and Beautiful and After the Funeral
Five years ago I was reading: The Righteous Mind and Mrs. Dalloway
Ten years ago I was reading: Billy Budd

Monday, September 24, 2018

Ten of My Favorite Authors' Books I Still Haven’t Read

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

This is a great topic! For many of my favorite authors, I've read everything they've written to date so far, but there are plenty with backlists I haven't gotten to. Here are ten books I haven't read from authors that I love!

1. The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart
I discovered the Mysterious Benedict Society series as an adult and adored it! I got the boxset, which includes this prequel, and I still haven't read it. One of my goals for the year is to read some of the unread books I own, so maybe I'll get to this before the end of the year!

2. The Hypnotist's Love Story by Liane Moriarty
As I said last week, I've loved two of Moriarty's books and found the rest just OK, which seems to be the consensus based on Goodreads ratings. This is the one from her backlist that I've heard mentioned the most often, so if I were going to pick one up it would probably be this.

3. King Lear by William Shakespeare
I somehow managed to read or watch all of Shakespeare's best-known plays while I was in school except for this one. It gets referenced so often and I still haven't read it! I definitely need to sit down and read it one of these days.

4. Let It Snow by John Green, Maureen Johnson, and Lauren Myracle
I've read everything John Green has had published except for this collection of Christmas stories that he co-authored. Maybe this winter I'll finally pick it up?

5. Murder at the Vicarage by Agatha Christie
I recently finished reading through all the Hercule Poirot books, and I've read a number of her standalone books and a few Tommy and Tuppence, but for some reason I never got into Miss Marple. Someday I'll make an effort to read through them.

6. The Outcasts of 19 Schuyler Place by E.L. Konigsburg
I've read Konisburg's three most popular books — From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, The View from Saturday, and Silent to the Bone — but not any of her others. This one is the next-most popular (at least on Goodreads) and I'd be interested to check it out.

7. Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver
If I had to pick, Kingsolver is probably my favorite author, so you'd think I'd have read her whole oeuvre, but I've only read four of her books. I think maybe part of me is afraid that I'm going to be disappointed with her other books? This is the one that I have on my might-want-to-read list.

8. The Scorpio Races by Maggie Stiefvater
I've been hearing about Stiefvater for years but only just picked up the Raven Cycle series this year and loved it. However, the people I follow on Goodreads were not crazy about Shiver, her first book, so if I were going to pick up anything else it would probably be this one.

9. Sea Prayer by Khaled Hosseini
I didn't even know Hosseini had written this short book to raise money for refugees. I've read his three novels and would definitely read anything else he wrote, but in the meantime maybe I'll pick up this work.

10. Very Good Lives by J.K. Rowling
I've read almost everything Rowling has written except for this commencement-address-turned-book, her screenplays, and the "Pottermore Presents" works. This has high ratings and isn't very long, so I'm interested to read it!

What have your favorite authors written that you haven't read yet?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and Bleak House
Five years ago I was reading: Half Broke Horses and Mrs. Dalloway
Ten years ago I was reading: Billy Budd

Monday, September 17, 2018

Top Ten Books on My Fall TBR

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

Guess what? I read all the books on my summer TBR list! Woohoo!

As I've mentioned previously, I'm the kind of person who reads about one new release a year, maybe as many as five if I really push myself. This year I did set a goal to read at least three 2018 releases, but then a ton of my favorite authors released books this year and I heard about several others I wanted to read. I've already read seven 2018 releases this year, and there are six more I plan to read this fall!

1. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green (Release Date: September 25)
As a Nerdfighter since 2007, I obviously put a hold on this book as soon as I heard about it. Having been Hank's proofreader back in the day, I can't help but have some skepticism going in, but a lot of people seem to be raving about the book, so I am looking forward to reading it.

2. All You Can Ever Know by Nicole Chung (Release Date: October 2)
As a white, adoptive parent living in Oregon who made the decision not to adopt transracially, I'm very interested in Chung's memoir about being a Korean-American adoptee growing up in Oregon with a white family. I also just like reading about adoption in general and have heard great things about this book.

3. The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman
I'm looking forward to finally reading the third book in this series after rereading the first two. I always wondered why I'd never read the final book back in middle school, until I realized that was so long ago that the third one hadn't even been published yet!

4. Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese
This book has been recommended to me many times, and it's finally risen to the top of my TBR list. I've gotten the ebook from the library, so I just need to make time to read it now!

5. Lethal White by Robert Galbraith (Release Date: September 18)
Apparently I heard the news too late that this, the fourth Cormoran Strike book, finally had a release date, because I'm 50th in line for it at the library. Thankfully my library just preordered another 39 copies!

6. Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty (Release Date: November 6)
I loved Moriarty's What Alice Forgot and Big Little Lies. I didn't love her most recent one, Truly Madly Guilty, but I'm hoping she's back on her game for this latest release.

7. The Secret Place by Tana French
I'm going on vacation soon and wanted something that would be a fast-paced read to take with me. Even though Tana French always breaks my heart, I can't help myself — I'm going to bring along the fifth book in the Dublin Murder Squad series.

8. Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl
This has been on my TBR list for quite a while, but earlier this year I read Pessl's Night Film on my sister's recommendation and really liked it. Then it was announced that this was one of the picks for Modern Mrs. Darcy's Book Club for fall, so I put it on hold (despite not actually being in that book club).

9. Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver (Release Date: October 16)
Kingsolver may just be my favorite author of all time. I was honestly most excited about her having a new book because it meant she was going on book tour, but it appears the tickets sold out before I even realized they were on sale. Womp womp.

10. What If It's Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera (Release Date: October 9)
Since I adore everything Albertalli has ever written, I am of course going to pick this one up. She's amazing.

What will you be reading this fall? Any new releases?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Leviathan Wakes and Bleak House
Five years ago I was reading: How to Be a Woman
Ten years ago I was reading: Billy Budd