Wednesday, May 15, 2019

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.

My new job has definitely curtailed my reading time, but I've managed to get through a few books anyway thanks to the power of audiobooks. Here's what I've finished in the past month!

We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families: Stories from Rwanda by Philip Gourevitch: I had read a few memoirs previously by survivors of the Rwandan genocide so I thought I knew the basics of the story, but Gourevitch actually spends relatively little time on the months of the genocide itself. He provides the history of Rwanda that set the stage for what happened, but more than that he focuses on the silence of the international community and the huge challenge that was the aftermath of the genocide. If you want to learn more about the Rwandan genocide, I think it's important to read memoirs of actual survivors, but I think this book provides a valuable companion to those stories with a wider view.

N or M? by Agatha Christie: This is the only Tummy and Tuppence book I know I had read before, and I'm not sure if I was actually able to figure out the solution or just remembered it (probably the latter). Nonetheless, I found it quite a delightful read with a clever solution — nothing spectacular, but still good.

Storytelling with Data: A Data Visualization Guide for Business Professionals by Cole Nussbaumer Knaflic: This is an eminently readable and practical guide to designing data visualizations that are most likely to achieve their intended effect. The members of the data team at my work are all reading this book and then working on a pair exercise to practice the process laid out in this book. I'm looking forward to it!

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows: I found this just as delightful the second time, possibly more because of the excellent audiobook production with five different narrators. It's the perfect blend of solemnity and humor, talking honestly about the German occupation of Guernsey while also providing a post-war setting that allows for some lightness. Balanced with the vast unfairness of what the Germans did during the war, there are several gratifying moments in the book where characters get exactly what's coming to them, and it helps to restore a sense of justice in what is clearly not entirely a fair world.

Sadie by Courtney Summers: This was a listening experience unlike any I'd had before! There are two alternating stories: One is a podcast about a young woman who's gone missing after her younger sister dies, narrated in the popular style of true-crime podcasts; the other is the first-person narrative of this young woman, Sadie. I found the book enjoyably suspenseful while also dealing carefully with difficult subjects. I wouldn't call it a favorite, but I found the writing very well done and enjoyed the unusual format.

Harry Potter à L'école des Sorciers by J.K. Rowling: It was an enjoyable challenge to reread this first Harry Potter book in French, and even better was rewarding myself for finishing a chapter by listening to the corresponding episode of Harry Potter and the Sacred Text. Both the different language and the experience of revisiting it as a sacred text gave me a new appreciation for the details of the story.

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

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: A Soldier of the Great War and Half the Sky
Five years ago I was reading: This Star Won't Go Out, Ivanhoe, and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Ten years ago I was reading: The Book of General Ignorance

Monday, May 13, 2019

Ten Movies I Liked as Much as Their Books

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

This week's topic is about book-to-screen adaptations. I've written before about books whose adaptations I liked better than the source material and also adaptations I hadn't seen yet but would consider watching. I don't watch a lot of movies generally, but I'm most likely to watch one if it's an adaptation of a book I like. It's often hard to make a movie that does the book justice, though! I usually like it better in one format or another. Here are ten rare ones that I enjoyed as books and enjoyed again as movies.

1. Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
Not the Johnny Depp version (which I've only seen part of) but the classic 1971 Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory with Gene Wilder. It's one of the few movies I've seen multiple times and it will always be a memorable childhood classic, just like the book.

2. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
I read the book in middle school but finally saw the movie for the first time last year. I'm sure they had to cut out a lot of the plot since it's a giant book and they made it a normal-length movie, but watching it reminded me what I liked about the story in the first place.

3. The Fault in Our Stars by John Green
Although I do not lose my mind over John Green's books like a lot of people, I did genuinely like this book and thought they did a nice job with the adaptation. I liked it better than the adaptation of Paper Towns that came out the next year.

4. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
I just recently reread this book, which was as delightful as the first read-through, and then I got my husband to watch the movie adaptation with me. Although they had to change a lot of the plot to avoid having the movie be mostly people writing letters to each other, I still thought it captured the heart of the story.

5. All the Harry Potter books by J.K. Rowling (except the sixth one)
By and large, I thought the movie adaptations, while simplifying the plots of each book, did a nice job of creating the same sense of magic and adventure that the books do. (I will spare you my rant about how they utterly ruined the adaptation of the sixth book.)

6. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
I was nervous that the movie adaptation wouldn't do this amazing book justice, but it was carefully crafted and stayed true to the story.

7. The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared by Jonas Jonasson
This is another case where they had to rework the plot pretty substantially in order to make it fit into a typical-length movie, but the humorous spirit of the book was still evident in the movie version, and my husband (who had never read the book) enjoyed the movie a lot.

8. Matilda by Roald Dahl
The book and the movie each have a different feel and a different focus, but I love them both for different reasons. This is another one of the few movies I've seen multiple times, and I've reread the book several times as well.

9. Murder on the Orient Express by Agatha Christie
This is one of Christie's most famous works for a reason, and I was glad that the star-studded movie a couple years ago kept the same general rhythm of the book, even if their Poirot was a nearly unrecognizable version (crying over a long-ago love and his inability to solve the crime — what?).

10. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
I went and saw Love, Simon twice when it was in theaters. It was just so good! Becky Albertalli is one of my favorite authors, and I was happy that they'd taken her first book and given it the feel of a classic teen rom-com.

Which good books have been made into good movies?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: A Soldier of the Great War and Half the Sky
Five years ago I was reading: This Star Won't Go Out, Ivanhoe, and The Wonderful Wizard of Oz
Ten years ago I was reading: The Book of General Ignorance

Monday, May 6, 2019

Top Ten Characters Who Reminded Me of Myself

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

This week's topic is characters we've read about in books who have struck some kind of relatable chord with us. All these characters resonated with me at one time or another, even if they don't all remind me of who I am today.

1. Alice Love (from What Alice Forgot)
I read this book — about a woman who has an accident at age 39 and thinks she's still 29, happily married, and expecting her first child — when I was 29 and expecting to become a mother any day. I could relate to her naïve and idealized views of marriage and parenthood even while acknowledging that they were (are) naïve and idealized. (I'm happy to say that 4 1/2 years later I'm still happily married and happily parenting my 4-year-old son.)

2. Emma Woodhouse (from Emma)
Emma reminded me strongly of my high school self. For one thing, she is over-involved in other people's lives, trying to meddle for their own good, and for another, she is clueless about how to figure out if a man is interested in her, reading into signs that aren't there and missing the ones that are. Once my now-husband finally got through to me (a few months into college) that he was interested in me, I stopped having so much time and brainpower to devote to other people's love lives and starting working on my own, just like Emma.

3. Hermione Granger (from the Harry Potter series)
I realize I'm far from alone here in connecting with Hermione, but nonetheless I do relate to her deep love of learning, her unease around rule-breaking, and her unruly mess of hair (something I recently solved finally by having most of it chopped off!). The only difference is that I would have been happy to get sorted into Ravenclaw and miss out on the all the adventures.

4. Leah Burke (from Leah on the Offbeat)
This is another slice of my high school experience, similar to what I related to in Emma Woodhouse. Leah is the sole single person in a friend group of happy couples, and she starts to feel like she should go out with anyone who shows the slightest interest in her, because maybe that's the best she's going to find. I feel you, Leah, but hang in there — it gets better for both of us!

5. Molly Peskin-Suso (from The Upside of Unrequited)
Another Becky Albertalli book — she really does capture my memories of high school in a way that's relatable without being too painful. Molly is also perpetually single and spends some time flailing around trying to figure out how to dress or act to be "dateable" before finally finding the right person for her. She explains how all of the time waiting makes it that much better when you finally find love (thus the title), something I recognized as how I felt when I met my husband — like, oh, thank goodness I didn't waste time in high school dating a bunch of people, since once I found the right person nothing before that mattered!

6. Patty Bergen (from Summer of My German Soldier)
When I reread this as an adult I was a bit squicked out by the relationship between a 12-year-old and a 22-year-old, but I also 100% saw why this was my favorite book as a 5th grader. Patty was me at that age: She's smart and curious and gets herself into trouble asking too many questions, thinking out loud, and stretching the truth to try to win others' approval and affection. The fondness for my younger self softened my opinion of a book that otherwise would have been a little weird and heavy-handed for me as an adult.

7. Reynie Muldoon (from The Mysterious Benedict Society)
I related to Reynie as a former gifted kid who loved learning and found joy in a gifted program that let me work and learn alongside others who shared my same passion. Although all the members of the Society have different kinds of gifts, they each share the experience of feeling alone and then finding family with one another.

8. Rosemary Cooke (from We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves)
I'm not sure if I related to Rosemary specifically or just to the way Fowler describes the experience, through her eyes, of coming to realize that your own memory is fallible and that you are seeing your own past through a specific lens. At different points in the story Rosemary has to revisit her own life story through a different perspective, and the way that was described resonated with my own life experiences.

9. Taylor Greer (from The Bean Trees)
I honestly remember very little about this book, but I know I read it in high school and I remember it being the first time I felt viscerally like someone was taking things from my own brain and putting them on the page in the mind of a character. I very much want to reread this book and see if I can figure out what it was I related to so strongly.

10. Twinkle Mehra (from From Twinkle, with Love)
There's a lot of YA I don't like, but apparently one theme in the books I like is relatability to my teenage self. In this case, I related not just to Twinkle's experiences trying to navigate drama in a friend group (which was high school for me) but also to the way she made mistakes out of a fierce, misguided sense of justice (which was me until probably my early 20s). I'd like to think I wasn't quite as annoying as Twinkle, though.

Which characters have you related to?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Ask a Manager, Half the Sky, and America's Public Schools
Five years ago I was reading: The Prophet and War and Peace
Ten years ago I was reading: Marley and Me

Monday, April 29, 2019

Best of the Bunch (April 2019)

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

Of the 7 books I read this month, I had only one 5-star read, so that's my Best of the Bunch.

In Maybe You Should Talk to Someone, Gottlieb pulls together a lot of different threads: her meandering career path that eventually led her to become a therapist; four different patients' stories (heavily edited composite sketches of real patients she's seen) and how they're changed through therapy with her; her own experience going to therapy and how it helped her; some history of different psychological research and theories; and a behind-the-scenes look at what therapists think about during sessions and what they talk about with their fellow therapists when they need professional advice on how to help their patients. This is both a celebration of the power of therapy and a recognition of its limits — that all of us, therapists included, are just doing our best. But you come away feeling that if we were all willing to be a little more vulnerable and put in a little more effort to look at how our own decisions affect ourselves and others, we'd be much better off as a human race.

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: Magician's Gambit and America's Public Schools
Five years ago I was reading: War and Peace
Ten years ago I was reading: Soul Survivor

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Monday, April 22, 2019

First Ten Books I Reviewed on Goodreads

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

My first online book reviews were on a Facebook profile widget (back when those were a thing) called weRead, which let me show everyone what I was currently reading. When Facebook stopped allowing custom profile widgets, the data moved over to a standalone site, where I continued to post my reviews until the day the site shut down without warning and my reviews were lost forever. At that point I grieved my losses and then switched to Goodreads, which I'd been reluctant to do sooner because all of my books were already logged in weRead (oh, the irony).

Without further ado, here are the first 10 books for which I posted a review on Goodreads.

1. Kisses from Katie by Katie J. Davis with Beth Clark
Sample line: "The individual stories will make the poverty of this Ugandan village become real to you and move you to want to do something. At the same time, the book felt somehow sanitized, dealing with poverty and disease but not with anything that could truly shock a Christian bookstore audience, and definitely not dealing with complicated issues like paternal racism."
4 stars: Read the whole review here.

2. Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan
Sample line: "This is a YA novel to hand to a gay teen who isn't angsting about their orientation, just about normal high school stuff, but to give them a narrator they can relate to."
4 stars: Read the whole review here.

3. The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff
Sample line: "There is clearly a kind of idolatry of the native, holding them up as a model of purity while still referring to them as uncivilized and somewhat odd and mysterious."
3 stars: Read the whole review here.

4. Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall and Denver Moore with Lynn Vincent
Sample line: "This book could have gone really wrong if it had been written only from Ron's perspective, as his view of events came dangerously close to the trope of 'homeless angel in disguise teaches the rich man the meaning of life.'"
4 stars: Read the whole review here.

5. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart
Sample line: "Lockhart beautifully illustrates the dilemmas involved in being an intelligent woman, from her description of the three ways most girls act around groups of guys to her breakdown of Frankie's thought processes as she tries to avoid being seen as too meek, too aggressive, too sexual, too anything that boxes her in."
5 stars: Read the whole review here.

6. 168 Hours by Laura Vanderkam
Sample line: "Although I expected this book to be a rather fuzzy self-help book full of platitudes about the value of each moment and empty encouragement to stop being so distracted, I found instead that the book was chockfull of research, statistics, and practical guidance."
5 stars: Read the whole review here.

7. Daring Greatly by Brené Brown
Sample line: "Brown manages to provide a model of wholehearted living while sharing plenty of stories of times she made mistakes, which makes her trustworthy because she is both practicing what she preaches and imperfect enough not to be written off as insincere."
5 stars: Read the whole review here.

8. Emma by Jane Austen
Sample line: "If you've ever had a crush on someone, you'll resonate with the depictions of how easy it is to read meaning into another person's actions and words, imagining reciprocated affection where there is none."
4 stars: Read the whole review here.

9. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
Sample line: "In addition to powerfully portraying the damage that rape can create into someone's life, Anderson also works in elements of what some call 'rape culture': the fact that Melinda is constantly told what to do (by parents, teachers, etc.) without her own wishes being taken into account, that her silence is continually interpreted by others as consenting to do the things they've asked or told her to do, and that when she is able to say "no" to a friend, she gets steamrolled with 'You have to! You have to!'"
5 stars: Read the whole review here.

10. My Man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse
Sample line: "I didn't find out until partway through that half of the book is Reggie Pepper stories, some of which are more or less rough drafts for stories later developed as Wooster and Jeeves stories. It definitely works better to have two separate characters (Wooster and Jeeves) than to have Reggie Pepper going on about how stupid he is except for when he randomly has brilliant ideas."
2 stars: Read the whole review here.

Do you review books on Goodreads?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Magician's Gambit, A View from the Bridge, The Shallows, and America's Public Schools
Five years ago I was reading: Americanah and War and Peace
Ten years ago I was reading: Cod

Monday, April 15, 2019

Ten Rainy Day Reads

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

This week's topic is "Rainy Day Reads." I'm not the kind of person who typically reads in accordance with the weather or the seasons (nor am I a person who has the time to spend a whole day reading!), but I gather that for those who have the leisure to do so, rainy days lend themselves to dark, Gothic novels with mystery and suspense. Accordingly, here are ten books that you might like to read on a rainy day.

1. Dracula by Bram Stoker
Let's go vampire hunting! From the creepiness of Dracula's castle to the horror of watching your best friend get turned into a vampire, this book will make you glad that you're safe and warm inside your house while you cheer on the characters to kick some vampire butt.

2. Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
If you're the kind of person who likes to take advantage of being holed up inside to crack open a large classic you've been meaning to read, here's one to try. And if a rainy day makes you want something a little creepy without being an actual horror novel, let me introduce you to Miss Havisham, whose mansion is decaying just like the wedding dress she still wears from when she was left at the altar.

3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Here's another large classic for a long day of reading, which also has a Gothic feel to it but is (IMO) a much better story than almost anything by Dickens. You get mystery, suspense, romance, and also a kick-ass heroine who won't sacrifice her independence for anyone.

4. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
Collins' The Woman in White probably has more of the creepy claustrophobic feeling you might be looking for, but I like this one better so I'm going to recommend it instead. It's a mystery told through the perspective of multiple narrators, so you never quite know who's telling the truth and what's really going on. And it's long enough that it should make that whole rainy day go by before you know it.

5. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
This is yet another classic on the longer side that is both atmospheric and mysterious. This time, instead of being confined to an old mansion, we're in a 14th century Italian abbey with a labyrinthine library. Who is murdering the brothers? Can this new brother who uses logic and science do anything to stop the tide of death?

6. Night Film by Marisha Pessl
If you're looking for something more modern than the classics above, let me recommend this one. It's definitely dark and creepy without veering into what I would consider horror, with the mystery of a young woman's death at its heart. Is something going on that's as sinister as her father's famous horror films, or is the explanation more innocuous? This thick novel will definitely keep you enthralled through a long rainy day.

7. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Let's go back to a classic with a creepy old mansion again! It's totally normal for your new husband's housekeeper to be obsessed with his dead first wife, right?

8. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
This novel has a slightly different feel than the classics above, but I think it makes a good rainy day read for the same kinds of reasons. Our protagonist joins a group of elite scholars and finds himself more and more isolated from other people, and then he's suddenly caught up in having to keep dangerous secrets...

9. The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield
And back a creepy old mansion again! Or in this case, there are actually two: the house where Margaret goes to interview reclusive writer Vida Winter and the house where Miss Winter grew up, which it now falling apart. There's an interesting juxtaposition of weather in this book, where the memories that take place in bright sunshine are laced through with the presence of evil, while in the midst of the beating rain Margaret meets a true friend.

10. Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
You can't talk about classic Gothic novels without including this one! I haven't read this since I was a teenager, when it spoke to my overly dramatic soul, and the consensus among people I follow seems to be that it has not held up for today's readers, but still! If it's a classic you've been meaning to tackle, a rainy day curled up on the couch would be a great time to read this one.

What books do you recommend for a rainy day?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: A Soldier of the Great WarBird by Bird, and America's Public Schools
Five years ago I was reading: Bring Up the Bodies, A Personal Matter, and War and Peace
Ten years ago I was reading: Cod

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.

Indian Horse by Richard Wagamese: Although this is a novel, it was clear from reading it that I fundamentally misunderstood that those who sequestered indigenous children in boarding schools were not just misguided but horrifically abusive. Given that background as source material, this book could have been very dark and brutal, but Wagamese's prose is so spare that you are able to absorb the experiences of each stage of Saul Indian Horse's life without gratuitous descriptions of suffering.

Becoming by Michelle Obama: This was my favorite March read. I knew very little about Michelle Obama's life going into this book, so I appreciated getting a greater understanding of her family of origin, her school experiences, and her career prior to becoming First Lady. In clear, engaging prose, she helps the reader understand both why she was often made to feel "not enough" and how she had the support of many others who lifted her up and kept her going.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis: This third book in the Chronicles series was enjoyable enough as an adventure story, but it did start to feel a bit formulaic, like Lewis wasn't trying quite as hard anymore. I think a child would enjoy this as a continuation of the Narnia fantasy adventure stories; as an adult, I thought it was good but not great.

Mankiller: A Chief and Her People by Wilma Mankiller: Expected to become a docile housewife in the 1960s, Wilma Mankiller instead pursued her passions and ended up involved with a lot of the activism happening in the late 1960s while also working for the Cherokee Nation. She then dealt with a serious accident and two major health crises before becoming deputy chief of the Cherokee Nation and eventually the first female principal chief. This book starts with a heavy focus on the history of the Cherokee people and includes more and more of Mankiller's own life as it goes on. The content was well worth reading, but I wish the writing had been a bit stronger.

A Fighting Chance by Elizabeth Warren: This is the story of Warren's life from her childhood through her successful election to the U.S. Senate in 2012, but the primary focus is on her advocacy work. I honestly didn't know anything about her work prior to her election to the Senate, so it was fascinating, heartbreaking, and inspiring to hear about her fight to give everyday people a voice among the banking lobbyists who were (and are) in the pockets of many members of Congress.

Redwall by Brian Jacques: This was an action-packed children's fantasy story; I can see why a lot of people have fond memories of reading this as a child, but as an adult I got tripped up on a lot of details throughout, from world-building inconsistencies to the use of ethnic slurs and stereotypes. There are enough other options in this genre by now that I wouldn't go out of my way to recommend this one to a kid — or adult.

Daughter of Smoke & Bone by Laini Taylor: I loved almost everything about this book — the world-building, the characters, the descriptions, the emotions — but then there was some strong foreshadowing that pointed me in the wrong direction and made the plot twist feel more creepy than sweet. I seem to be in the minority on this, though, so go for it I guess?

Ugly by Robert Hoge: I read the middle grade version of this (supposedly there's an adult version but I haven't been able to find it) and was impressed not just that Hoge chose to tell the story of his life with brutal honesty but that the book is clearly written without being condescending to younger readers. He talks in a matter-of-fact way about both his facial differences and his physical disabilities due to his deformed legs, but he also talks about learning to do handstands with the neighbor girls, playing pranks on his schoolmates, and finding — after many attempts! — a physical activity that he could excel at. It's a good read for both kids and adults.

Search Inside Yourself: The Unexpected Path to Achieving Success, Happiness (and World Peace) by Chade-Meng Tan: I liked this better than other mindfulness books I've read. Meng spearheaded the creation of a course for Google employees on mindfulness meditation and then adapted the curriculum into this book. Even if you find his humor too cheesy, the content is solid and practical and the exercises can be adopted almost immediately. (I don't recommend the audiobook, though — the narrator is terrible!)

Maybe You Should Talk to Someone: A Therapist, Her Therapist, and Our Lives Revealed by Lori Gottlieb: Through Gottlieb's stories of being a therapist and being in therapy herself, this is both a celebration of the power of therapy and a recognition of its limits — that all of us, therapists included, are just doing our best. But you come away feeling that if we were all willing to be a little more vulnerable and put in a little more effort to look at how our own decisions affect ourselves and others, we'd be much better off as a human race.

The Samurai's Garden by Gail Tsukiyama: Overall, I liked the story of a Chinese man recuperating from tuberculosis at his grandfather's beach house in Japan and befriending its caretaker — the characters were strong and the descriptions of nature vivid. However, the author tried to fit in too many plot threads and ultimately couldn't give enough weight to most of them, making it a weaker book than it needed to be.

When Broken Glass Floats: Growing Up Under the Khmer Rouge by Chanrithy Him: This was the first memoir I'd read of a survivor of the Khmer Rouge, but it was sadly familiar of other stories I'd read of surviving persecution or dictatorships. Her writing isn't the strongest (English isn't her first language), but nonetheless, what she shares is captivating because of the constant life-or-death peril she was under for four solid years.

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

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: A Soldier of the Great WarBird by Bird, and America's Public Schools
Five years ago I was reading: Bring Up the Bodies, A Personal Matter, and War and Peace
Ten years ago I was reading: Cod