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?

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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

Monday, May 14, 2018

Ten Books I Disliked but Am Glad I Read


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

This week's topic is pretty self-explanatory. I did not enjoy reading these books and would not recommend them, but I'm still glad to have read them for one reason or another.


1. The 4-Hour Workweek by Timothy Ferriss
Most of this book is either impractical or assumes you have no morals, and it's written in a condescending, smug tone. But as one of the books I read in my first year of work out of college, I appreciated how it encouraged me to challenge the societal assumptions about work. I think it may have introduced me to the concept of a results-oriented work environment, which has been a goal of mine for a long time and is now the lens through which I'm looking for my next job.


2. The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
There were long stretches of this that were just painful to get through, but this was one of the few books I had left on a list of classics I had been working on since middle school, and it was satisfying to finish that list. And now I know what everyone's talking about when they reference this book!


3. The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold
Even though I hate the last 10% of this book with the fire of a thousand suns, this book was so unbelievably popular that I think I'd feel a gaping hole in my reading history if I hadn't read this one. I actually read it twice (thanks, book club) and now feel even more confident in my opinion of what a terrible book it is, which I feel the need to defend against all the people who like it.


4. The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas J. Stanley and William D. Danko
The fact that I was able to construct a detailed, point-by-point criticism of this book's content was a satisfying reflection of the fact that I've spent the last decade putting considerable thought into our goals and lifestyle and how to achieve them financially, without having some arbitrary number in mind of how much we'd have to save to "feel rich." (Read I Will Teach You to Be Rich by Ramit Sethi instead.)


5. Moby-Dick by Herman Melville
This one is definitely just for the bragging rights. Way, way, way too much about the history and (very outdated) science of whaling for me to actually enjoy the story.


6. Rabbit, Run by John Updike
I feel like this book is so perfectly representative of a certain genre of fiction; as I said in my review, "Hey, it's a sexist, racist mess focused on one selfish straight white man, but that was just the time it was written, and there are THEMES! And SYMBOLS!" It's not just white men, though; the plot of A Personal Matter by Kenzaburō Ōe is extremely similar and just as bad. But hey, I would not have been able to make such an apt comparison if I hadn't read this "classic" first!


7. This Star Won't Go Out by Esther Earl
My 1-star Goodreads review of this book has received far more likes than any other review I've written. I couldn't call myself a Nerdfighter if I hadn't read this one, but wow — what a perfect example of what happens when someone takes the source material for a book and, instead of turning it into a compelling, well-edited story, just outright publishes the whole stack and lets it ride the coattails of a famous author.


8. Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
This is another one where I'm glad to understand the cultural references (another book I read right after this one called someone a "Dobbin" and I was like, "I know what that means!") but what a slog — all the characters are awful people, and it wants to be a satire but is too cruel and dark to be funny.


9. Washed and Waiting by Wesley Hill
I had heard about this book for years because in gay Christian circles it's held up as the "Side B" book (i.e., gay people are called to celibacy). I consider Torn by Justin Lee the ultimate "Side A" book (i.e., God blesses loving relationships between people of any gender), and I'm glad I've now read what's held up as the best of the other side because it's a depressing and terrifying mess. I know people who identify as Side B who do a much better job of explaining what it means to them, so I can actively steer people away from this book who are looking for a good example of Side B.


10. Wicked by Gregory Maguire
I hate this book and love the musical on which it's based, and having it read it I can now appreciate even better Stephen Schwartz's genius, knowing that much of what I love about the musical was not in the original source material.

What disliked books are you glad to have read?

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


Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: American Street and Hercule Poirot's Christmas
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

Monday, May 7, 2018

Ten Books with My Favorite Color in the Title


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

This is a fun and different theme for today! My favorite color is blue, and these are all the books I've read with the color "blue" in the title.


1. 13 Little Blue Envelopes by Maureen Johnson
This is a YA novel about a girl who gets a series of envelopes after her aunt's death that lead her on an adventure through Europe.


2. Blue Bay Mystery by Gertrude Chandler Warner
This is the sixth book in the Boxcar Children series. (I read all of them as a kid.)


3. Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller
This is one of the first Christian books I read that spoke honestly about the complexities of life.


4. The Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight
This is an honest look at the Bible and the many false paradigms we try to impose on it, like trying to make it an instructional manual or a puzzle to solve.


5. Blueberries for Sal by Robert McCloskey
This is a classic picture book that my son so far has no interest in.


6. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
This is a classic work of literature about a black girl from an abusive family who thinks her problems would be solved if she could be white.


7. Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O'Dell
This is a work of historical fiction for children that I appreciated way more as an adult than the first time I read it in fourth grade.


8. Little Blue Truck by Alice Schertle
This is a picture book that my son loves. At one point he and I both had it memorized.


9. The Mystery of the Blue Train by Agatha Christie
This is a middle-of-the-road Hercule Poirot mystery.


10. One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish by Dr. Seuss
And finally, one of the most classic of all classic children's books!

What are some other great "blue" books?

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Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The Name of the Rose and Hidden Figures
Five years ago I was reading: The Power of Habit and The School of Essential Ingredients
Ten years ago I was reading: The Devil Wears Prada

Monday, April 30, 2018

Ten Books I'm Eagerly Awaiting


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

This week's topic is "Books I'd Slay a Lion to Get Early." In past years I haven't really kept up with upcoming releases very much, but this year I have holds on a bunch of yet-to-be-released books, mostly from previously loved authors. I'm not necessarily anxious to get my hands on all of them now — I already have too many books I'm trying to get through at one time — but I am excited for when they come out.


1. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green (Release Date: September 25, 2018)
I have no idea if Hank's book is going to be anywhere as good as his brother's books, but he certainly has the resources and connections to make sure it's polished. As a longtime Nerdfighter, of course I'm going to read this.


2. Ask a Manager by Alison Green (Release Date: May 1, 2018)
I am a huge fan of the Ask a Manager blog and new podcast, and I'm looking forward to reading her book as well. She promises it will have new content and stories that aren't on the blog. If you aren't already reading her, you should be!


3. From Twinkle, with Love by Sandhya Menon (Release Date: May 22, 2018)
I loved When Dimple Met Rishi, and I can't wait for Menon's next book!


4. Inspired by Rachel Held Evans (Release Date: June 12, 2018)
I really appreciate Rachel Held Evans' perspectives on faith, and I've been a longtime reader of her blog, which has mostly gone quiet since her son was born. Her books have been hit or miss for me, but I know she's continued to learn and grow as a writer, and I'm especially interested in what she has to say about learning to appreciate the Bible again.

5. Lethal White by Robert Galbraith (Release Date: Unknown)
Supposedly the fourth book in the Cormoran Strike series is done, but there's no concrete publication date yet. I hope it doesn't take too long!

6. The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel (Release Date: 2019)
This one's been a long time coming, and supposedly it will finally be out next year. I think I'll probably have to reread the first two books, or at least the second one, before picking this up.


7. On the Come Up by Angie Thomas (Release Date: February 5, 2019)
It's going to be hard for Thomas to top the blockbuster The Hate U Give, but she certainly has the talent! It's a bummer the pub date got pushed back for this, but I'll read it whenever it comes out.

8. The final Shades of London book by Maureen Johnson (Release Date: Unknown)
The second book in the series was a disappointment, but the third one was much better. The next one is supposed to wrap up the series, and I hope it ends strong!

9. A Suitable Girl by Vikram Seth (Release Date: Unknown)
I really enjoyed A Suitable Boy (despite its size and lack of digital formats), and a sequel set in present day has been in the works for a long time. Apparently Seth was supposed to have it done in 2016 but separated from his partner of 11 years and missed his deadline with his publisher. If it ever gets finished, I will read it!


10. What If It's Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera (Release Date: October 9, 2018)
I adore Becky Albertalli's writing and want to read everything she writes! Of Adam Silvera's work I've only read More Happy Than Not, which I had mixed feelings about, but I'm just guessing that their joint effort is going to be amazing.

Which books are you looking forward to?

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


Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Husband's Secret, and The Church of Mercy
Five years ago I was reading: American Gods and Basic Black
Ten years ago I was reading: The Devil Wears Prada

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Best of the Bunch: April 2018


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

Of the 11 books I read this month, I had one 5-star read. And it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that it was going to be my best of the bunch.


I don't understand how Becky Albertalli has hit it out of the park three times in a row, but she's done it again with Leah on the Offbeat. Once again she's brought me back to high school in a way that feels deeply true but not painful, and also manages to be true to my experience in high school then and what teen culture is like now. I laughed out loud many times, and I cried once or twice as well. Albertalli writes beautifully diverse casts of characters, and the book contains call-outs of white liberal racism and bi erasure that are needed but don't bog down the book in Issues. I related to Leah's perfectionism and her difficulty getting out of her own head, and I loved revisiting favorite characters from Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (with a few references to the Upside of Unrequited characters as well). Don't read this without reading Simon first, but then enjoy coming back to Creekwood!

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: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Husband's Secret, and The Church of Mercy
Five years ago I was reading: American Gods and Basic Black
Ten years ago I was reading: The Devil Wears Prada




Monday, April 23, 2018

Ten Past Reads with Common Title Words


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

This week's topic is "Frequently Used Words In [Insert Genre/Age Group] Title." Being a data-minded person, I figured someone else had probably already done the work to figure out which words are most commonly used in book titles, and I didn't want to reinvent the wheel. It turns out that the most common words in titles on WorldCat are pretty boring, so instead I found this analysis of the most common title words by genre. Here are ten genres for which I had read a book whose title had the most common word for that genre.*


1. Bio & Memoirs: "Life" — Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs


2. Children's: "Day" — Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Juliet Viorst


3. Fantasy: "Dragon" — How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell


4. History: "History" — Marriage, a History by Stephanie Coontz


5. Literary Fiction: "Sea" — Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende


6. Middle Grade: "Mystery" — The Mystery of the Stolen Diamonds by David A. Adler


7. Mystery: "Death" — Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie


8. Nonfiction: "War" — Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand


9. Religious & Inspirational: "God" — The God We Never Knew by Marcus J. Borg


10. True Crime: "Murder" — The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson

*This is based on my best guess of which word in each Wordle is largest; in some cases, it seemed like more than one word was the largest size, in which case I just used the word for which I had an example.

I also used Wordle to analyze the titles (excluding subtitles) of all the books I've read to date, and these are the ten most common words: Life, Love, Girl, Little, Guide, Book, World, God, Secret, and Black!

What books have you read for these categories/words?

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


Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The Intuitionist and Howl's Moving Castle
Five years ago I was reading: Moby-Dick, Quiet, and American Voices of World War I
Ten years ago I was reading: The Devil Wears Prada