Monday, December 6, 2021

Ten Things People Do More Often in Books Than in Real Life

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

It's a freebie week! I've compiled a top ten list of things that book people seem to do way more than actual people do.

1. Not know they're holding their breath
"I let out the breath I didn't know I was holding." Really? You weren't breathing through that entire page and your body wasn't like, "Hello, give me some air!"?

2. Bite their lip until they taste blood
These book characters all seem to be walking around with split lips! You were so nervous/scared/whatever that you literally bit so hard you drew blood? And then the "metallic/salty/bitter taste of blood" just filled your whole mouth? Yuck.

3. Bite the inside of their cheek
Usually when I hear people talk about biting their cheeks, it's something they do accidentally while eating, but people in books do it constantly, either as a nervous tic or to keep from laughing or for some other reason.

4. Smile with half their mouth
The pages of YA romances are filled with hot guys who are apparently experiencing an epidemic of Bell's palsy or else only know how to smirk at people, because they all have the same tendency to smile with half their mouths or are described as having a "lopsided smile." Seriously, where are the guys who just have a nice, typical smile? The kind that uses both sides of their mouth??

5. Not realize that the person screaming is them
I get that our beloved book characters go through some traumatic stuff, and so maybe that explains this phenomenon, but I feel like most of the time people know if they're screaming. And yet book characters are constantly experiencing something terrifying/shocking and then hearing a scream and only belatedly realizing it's coming from their own mouth.

6. Not realize they've been speaking their thoughts aloud
Look, I talk to myself out loud all day, but trust me, I'm very aware that I'm doing it. When I worked in an office and they put the summer intern desk in my office, I would warn the intern each summer that I may think out loud while they're in there. I have yet to have an experience where I thought I was having a conversation in my head and then suddenly realized that all of those thoughts had come out of my mouth without me noticing that I was speaking. But apparently many book characters have a hard time distinguishing between silent thinking and out-loud thinking and are shocked when they realize they've been talking!

7. Respond to someone as if in answer to that person's exact thoughts
On the flip side to #6, many times someone is actually thinking their thoughts silently to themselves in their head, and then some other character responds as if they heard those thoughts out loud. I have definitely had people guess my feelings from my facial expression, and sometimes people may anticipate what I want to say in response to them, but I haven't had the experience of, say, sitting silently in a car with someone and thinking a thought and then getting a coherent, out-loud response from the other person as if they'd heard an exact sentence in my brain. In books, though? Happens all the time.

8. Zone out so long that they don't realize someone's talking to them
This is a favorite technique of amateur memoirists who don't realize that you can just give the reader backstory without having to build a whole scene where you stand there staring off into space and remembering how you got to that moment until someone waves their hand in front of your face and asks if you're listening and you "snap back to the present." I certainly get lost in my thoughts at times, but it's usually because I'm worrying about something, not reflecting in narrative detail on all of my life choices up to that point.

9. Get pregnant the first time they have sex with someone
Except for romances — where you're most likely to get sex scenes for the sake of sex scenes — if a character with a uterus has sex with someone, then I'm going to estimate 80% of the time they end up pregnant. Especially if their lover dies or leaves forever afterwards. If first-time sex resulted in pregnancy in real life as often as it does in books, there would be a lot more pregnancies!

10. Have a best friend of a different gender (and both be straight)
With almost all of the people I know in real life who have an actual platonic best friend of another gender, at least one of the people in the friendship is not attracted to their friend's gender. But with all these friends-to-lovers YA romances, you'd think it was extremely common for straight people's very best friend to be someone of another gender. Oftentimes this is explained by them being neighbors or their moms being best friends or their friendship going back to elementary school, but when I was in high school, my best friend was not someone I'd known my whole life and it definitely wasn't a guy. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, I'm just saying it happens all the time in books!

What else would you put on this list?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: A Promised Land and Strangers from a Different Shore
Five years ago I was reading: Lolita, Middlesex, and Murder on the Orient Express
Ten years ago I was reading: I Am the Messenger

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Best of the Bunch (November 2021)

Best of the Bunch header

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

Of the 12 books I read this month, I had two 5-star reads:

Still Stace: My Gay Christian Coming-Of-Age Story: An Illustrated Memoir by Stacey Chomiak

Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe

How the heck am I supposed to pick between these? I loved them both and read each in about two sittings. I guess I'll give some extra weight to the one written by a friend of mine, because it was very cool to get to hear more of her story (and her book is new so not as well known!).
Still Stace was originally going to be a much shorter children's book, but I'm glad that it evolved into this more detailed memoir for a young adult audience. I think it's so valuable for LGBTQ+ Christian teens to have this honest story of how Stace moved from a place of shame and numbness to a feeling of peace and wholeness after she started seeking God's voice instead of just the interpretations and beliefs of those around her. I read this book in two sittings; the writing was accessible and the story was compelling. Her voice throughout this book is honest and open as she shares the painful experiences of her past. And her illustrations add such a unique flavor to the story! Although I don't believe that there's a single book you can hand to a Christian loved one who has strong negative beliefs about LGBTQ+ identities that will change their minds overnight, I do believe that stories are far more powerful than proof-texting or logical arguments in opening people's hearts. And for anyone from any background who doesn't understand what it's like to struggle with reconciling faith and sexuality, I'd definitely recommend this book.

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: A Promised Land and Strangers from a Different Shore
Five years ago I was reading: Interpreter of Maladies, Middlesex, and Murder on the Orient Express
Ten years ago I was reading: Reviving Ophelia

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Monday, November 22, 2021

Ten Characters I'd Love An Update On

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

This was a fun thought exercise. I'm not generally a fan of writers adding sequels for books that don't need them (especially since it often requires creating conflict where there was previously resolution and hope), but here we can just imagine all of these characters as real people and wonder what they'd be up to since the story ended!

1. Alba DeTamble (from The Time Traveler's Wife)
We only get a brief glimpse of Alba in this book, where she seems to be a pretty well-adjusted kid for having a time-traveling disorder. How does that affect her as she grows up and attempts to navigate long-term relationships?
2. Alex Claremont-Diaz (from Red, White & Royal Blue)
We leave Alex on a happy ending (it's a romance, after all), but he still has most of adulthood ahead of him and a whole international situation to navigate in the public eye. What is that like for him?
3. Alice Love (from What Alice Forgot)
Is Alice able to take the lessons from her period of amnesia and prevent any distance from creeping into her marriage again? How does this experience affect her parenting?
4. Blue Sargent (from The Raven Cycle series)
This universe has continued with the Dreamer Trilogy, but Blue gets barely a mention now that we're following Ronan. How is she navigating adulthood, and what do her family relationships look like now? How much is the supernatural still part of her day-to-day?
5. Claudia Kincaid (from The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler)
Claudia is a precocious, clever kid when she concocts a plan to live in a museum and solve a mystery in this book. How have those skills served her as she's grown up?
6 & 7. Crowley and Aziraphale (from Good Omens)
The TV series kindled in me a new love for these characters from a book I read over a decade ago. Given all they've been through together, what happens next for these two?
8. Dimple Shah (from When Dimple Met Rishi)
I'll admit, I know there's a short story about Dimple and Rishi that has come out since the original book, but I haven't read it, so this is on me! However, I think the story mostly focuses on their relationship, and I'm interested to know about Dimple's continued experience in programming. How does she navigate being a woman of color in web development at Stanford? What is her career after college?
9. Matilda Wormwood (from Matilda)
This is one where I'm glad there was never an actual sequel (because that poor girl went through enough already!), but I'd love just a glimpse of her adult life, where I imagine her having strong boundaries and a loving community and basically building the life she wants for herself.
10. Starr Carter (from The Hate U Give)
Starr has to make some difficult and brave decisions in this book, and we see some of the immediate consequences of that, but what does her life look like five or ten years out? Which relationships has she maintained? Has she continued to be an outspoken activist, or has that part of her life taken a backseat to all of her other ambitions for now?

Which characters would you like an update on?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The House of the Spirits and The Body in the Library
Five years ago I was reading: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, Middlesex, and The Girls
Ten years ago I was reading: Sundays in America

Monday, November 15, 2021

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.

Here's what I read this past month, including what I've been reading to my son!

Stars and Sparks on Stage by Sharon M. Draper: The Black Dinosaurs want to win the talent show, but they're forced to think about more serious things after meeting a new student who was made homeless by Hurricane Katrina. I thought it was handled in an age-appropriate way. My 6-year-old got bored with this one partway through, but I enjoyed it!

Girl Sex 101 by Allison Moon: This was billed as a fully inclusive sex-ed book, and it definitely delivered! Although addressed primarily to queer women, it covers all genders and genitals; the only people who aren't a focus are cis men, and it's not like there's a shortage of information out there about having sex with cis men. In addition to extensively covering trans bodies, it's inclusive of disabled bodies and fat bodies as well. The world would be a better place if everyone read this book before they had sex!

The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side by Agatha Christie: I actually figured one out! I'm so proud of myself, haha. It was fun seeing how all the pieces fit together once I had an idea of what the solution was going to be.

Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers: This book had potential, but it never really coalesced for me. Rogers did a lot of telling not showing, and we didn't get to see a lot of the relationship building between characters. Everyone in this book talked to each other very dramatically about pain and monsters and the universe, but that's not a substitute for the real ways that people care for each other.

Dragons and Marshmallows by Asia Citro: This was fun! My son wasn't quite as invested as he's been with some other books, but he enjoyed it and so did I. It's a basic introduction to the scientific method wrapped in a story about magical creatures. This was recommended to me by a lot of different people, and I'm glad it delivered!

Saga, Vol. 2 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples: This was an enjoyable continuation of the story from Volume 1. It's still a little heavy on the gore for my taste, but there are a lot of funny lines and the art makes it feel like you're watching a movie.

Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh: This one was a mixed bag for me. Some chapters were as laugh-out-loud funny as her first book, but the overall question the book kept coming back to was "What do you do when you find out that nothing matters?" and she was still clearly in the middle of that nihilism and depression while trying to mine it for stories worth telling. I'm grateful for what her art has given to the world, and I hope that she can find her way to some more peace and meaning in her life.

Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself by Nedra Glover Tawwab: This was a good, if pretty basic, overview of why it's important to have boundaries and how you can implement them in your life. I think that for anyone who struggles with setting boundaries at all or who has a lot of unhealthy relationships or a toxic work environment, this would be an excellent first step.

Monsters and Mold by Asia Citro: This was a cute continuation of the series. I liked seeing how Zoey again used the scientific method to solve a magical creature's problem, and in this one there is some exploration of how what works in a laboratory may not be practical when applied outside of it! I was possibly more eager than my son to find out what the solution was going to be, haha.

Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor: This was a satisfying conclusion to the story started in Strange the Dreamer. Taylor is an incredibly skilled writer, both on a sentence level and in terms of plotting and character development. What I appreciate most about this story is how Taylor has given us a multitude of morally gray characters, all of whom have done terrible things, but their reasons for doing so are deeply understandable and sympathetic.

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The House of the Spirits and Truth & Beauty
Five years ago I was reading: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, Friendship at the Margins, and The Girls
Ten years ago I was reading: Sundays in America

Monday, November 1, 2021

Ten Books I Would Hand to Someone Who Claims to Not Like Reading

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

I went with kind of a wide range for this topic because there are a variety of reasons someone might be turned off from reading and so different books will work to inspire different people!

1. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green
This book works on multiple levels: It's extremely action-packed, it includes puzzles that the characters have to solve, and it's also a meditation on fame in the Internet era. And it's excellent on audio, so it's a good one to introduce reluctant audiobook listeners to that format as well.
2. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
This book is also best experienced as an audiobook, narrated by the author. For anyone who thinks memoirs are too heavy or boring or who thinks "celebrity memoirs" are trashy, this is a laugh-out-loud account of a serious topic — Noah's experience growing up as the illegal child of an interracial couple during apartheid South Africa. It's well loved by hundreds of thousands of readers.
3. The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart
I find the entire Mysterious Benedict Society series delightful, but the first book in the series might be a little too quirky for some people. This standalone prequel is a great example of how middle grade can be fun for adults to read too, as the writing is excellent and it's fun to read about the main character outsmarting those around him and trying to piece together clues to find a treasure.
4. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
I'd encourage fans of the miniseries (or really anyone) to pick up the book that inspired it, as it's hilarious, fast-paced, and entertaining, and you can see how the print format allows for a different type of humor than the screen (though I loved both versions).
5. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
This absolutely compelling look at the U.S. criminal justice system — part memoir, part journalistic nonfiction — is important for everyone in the United States to read, and for anyone who associates nonfiction with dry history books, this will be a heartbreaking wake-up call about just how important it is to learn the realities of what's happening today.
6. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
Anyone who's been turned off from science fiction by reading too many "classics" by white men needs to give this book a try. The world-building is fascinating and inclusive, the characters jump off the page with their big personalities, and the plot includes a lot of high stakes for people just trying to do their best. It'll be an even easier sell for fans of Firefly, a frequent comp for this book.
7. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
This book is so action-packed that it's hard to put it down once you start. The references to video games and '80s pop culture also provide nostalgic hooks for certain reluctant readers as well. And so many people have read this (plus there's a movie) that they'll definitely have people to discuss it with.
8. Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
This is a frequent recommendation for reluctant romance readers. For anyone who thinks romance is either staring longingly from wind-swept cliffs or erotica with a thinly strung-together plot, here is a hilarious, heartbreaking, inspiring, satisfying tale of love between the U.S. President's son and the Prince of Wales that also imagines a slightly more inclusive America where a divorced woman with a gay, Latino son can be president.
9. Saga, Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Graphic novels are a frequent recommendation for reluctant readers, and I think the best option will depend on the reader. Some are much more like comic strips, while some, like this series, are extremely cinematic, with lots of dialogue, sweeping shots, and text meant to convey a voiceover only at key moments. This is one I'd hand to movie buffs, especially those comfortable with a little bit of gore.
10. The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay
Young adult is another genre that gets a bad rap, and it's partially deserved, as many YA novels focus more on capturing a certain tone or message over polishing the writing, and sometimes the characters feel more like sketches or caricatures. This one, though, has the readability of a young adult novel, and does feature teenagers at its center, but it has a gravity to it that you don't always find in this type of book, as the main character seeks her own stunted methods of coping with the traumatic event she endured (and you don't know what that event is at the beginning). It's a compelling story for teens and adults alike.

What books would you hand to someone in this situation?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Amazing Grace and To Kill a Mockingbird
Five years ago I was reading: Brideshead Revisited, Adoption Parenting, and Writing My Wrongs
Ten years ago I was reading: The Great Gatsby

Sunday, October 31, 2021

Best of the Bunch (October 2021)

Best of the Bunch header

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

Of the 8 books I read this month, I had two 5-star reads:

Girl Sex 101 by Allison Moon

Know My Name by Chanel Miller

Now that I see these side by side, they seem to be strangely related — the first one an inclusive guide to consensual, pleasurable sex that respects yourself and your partner, and the second one the aftermath of sex being weaponized. Both are important to understand. For my Best of the Bunch, I'm going to go with the one that has an astounding 4.71 rating on Goodreads.
Miller is an incredibly talented writer, and she did an admirable job narrating the audiobook of Know My Name. Through a minutely detailed account of the aftermath of her assault by Brock Turner in 2015 — all the way through the recall vote for the judge who gave Turner only six months in jail — she gives the reader a visceral sense of what it's like not just being a survivor of assault but surviving the court process that is involved in trying to get justice. She points out with stunning clarity the problems with both the structural and the cultural responses to sexual assault and why victims so rarely report or report years after the fact. Her story is important as both an indictment of the way sexual assault survivors are treated and as an empathetic mirror for those who have experienced assault themselves. Really powerful and definitely recommended.

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: Amazing Grace and To Kill a Mockingbird
Five years ago I was reading: Brideshead Revisited, Adoption Parenting, and Writing My Wrongs
Ten years ago I was reading: The Great Gatsby

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Monday, October 18, 2021

Ten Online Resources for Book Lovers

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

This week's topic ought to be useful for all of us! We're sharing websites, podcasts, apps, and other online resources that our fellow book lovers may find useful. Most of these are ones I've talked about before, but here they all are together!

1. Book Series in Order
This site has been super helpful in my quest to read all of Agatha's Christie's books, since I like to read each sleuth's books in order of publication. It's also come in handy for series I read with my son, so I know the next book to request from the library!

2. For Real podcast
This is a biweekly podcast focused on nonfiction reads. Each week the hosts profile some of the most interesting new releases, then dive into a specific topic with related recommendations. My TBR gets longer every single time I listen to this one!

3. Get Booked podcast
I love the broad range of books that get discussed on this show! Listeners write in with requests for specific recommendations (e.g., books set in a specific small country, books that will teach them more about a specific historical event, books that are readalikes for their favorites) and then the two hosts each recommend a book they think would fit the request. If they're stumped, they'll ask their colleagues at Book Riot for suggestions, so it's not always limited to just what the hosts have personally had the chance to read.

4. Goodreads
Obviously I love Goodreads for tracking my own reading and sharing my ratings and reviews, but it's also a great source of book recommendations. I like finding new people to follow who have similar literary tastes, and I've filtered my home feed to only show updates that include reviews, so I don't have the frustration of wondering, "But why did you give it 3 stars?" I also like looking through the lists to find books that are highly rated or very popular that I haven't read or books that fit a particular category I want to know more about.

5. Kindle app
I like reading on my Kindle Voyage, but it stays on my nightstand unless I'm going on vacation. With the app, I can read my current book wherever I am, and it syncs to the spot where I left off on another device. I am definitely one of those people who will get five minutes of reading in while waiting in line at the grocery store.

6. My TBR
I got a Recommendations subscription for Christmas last year, and it's been so fun to have a "bibliologist" picking out three books specifically for me and my reading preferences once a quarter. I can provide feedback on the recommendations and choose how far outside my comfort zone I want to go. For the most part, they've found ones I hadn't heard of but enjoyed reading!

7. OverDrive
OverDrive is the primary reason I'm able to read so many books in a year. Anytime I finish a book, I can immediately send a new one to my Kindle or download a new audiobook for my phone. No waiting! And the wish list feature keeps track of the books I want to read, so I can filter by books on my wish list that are available immediately for download. It's amazing.

8. Overdue podcast
This isn't one I subscribe to, but when I finish a book I enjoy listening to an episode about it if there is one in the extensive archives. One host will read the book and then attempt to summarize the plot to the other one, who will ask clarifying questions that generally make the book's plot sound nonsensical and hilarious when it's picked apart like that. The one who didn't read the book will do background research on the author, which can be quite interesting to hear.

9. PaperBackSwap
When I can't find a book at the library, or when I love a book and decide I want to own a hard copy, it goes on my PaperBackSwap wish list. When I'm next in line and someone posts a used copy, then I can use one of my credits to have it shipped to me! The books are almost always in good condition, and all I have to do to get another credit is pay Media Mail rates to have one of my old books sent to someone. It's only like $20 a year for a membership, which is totally worth it!

10. What Should I Read Next? podcast
Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs. Darcy (a great resource unto itself!) uses the clear structure of "Tell me three books you love, one book you don't, and what you're reading now" to recommend to her guest three (or more) books she thinks they'd like. The format is helpful for letting me know whether I'd also like the books she's recommending or if the guest has different taste than me. She's also great at interviewing the guests to draw out the interesting details of their lives or work.

What resources do you recommend?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The Vanishing Half and Sabriel
Five years ago I was reading: A Little Life, Adoption Parenting, La traduction est une histoire d'amour, and On the Road
Ten years ago I was reading: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows