Sunday, February 28, 2021

Best of the Bunch (February 2021)

Best of the Bunch header

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

It was a very good reading month! Of the 14 books I read this month, I had four 5-star reads:

Listen: Five Simple Tools to Meet Your Everyday Parenting Challenges by Patty Wipfler and Tosha Schore

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot

Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

So many good books! Although I absolutely loved The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, I'm going to go with the one that had a tangible impact on my everyday life.


In Listen, Wipfler and Schore have boiled down the best parts of other parenting books I've read into their most practical, directly applicable parts and explained exactly what to do to help your child feel safe, connected, and able to release their emotions in a healthy way without having to psychoanalyze their actions. They also include an entire section of stories from real parents using the tools, which is always the best part of any parenting book, in my opinion. Incorporating the tools in this book meant I wasn't lying awake each night dreading the transitions to and from school each day, and the entire atmosphere in our family changed to one that was more relaxed and connected. I will say that the book is quite heteronormative and also makes assumptions about the reader's physical abilities, but I still think it's well worth the read for any parent.

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: Dreams from My Father and Let's Talk About Love
Five years ago I was reading: Watchmen, Dear Mister Rogers, Does It Ever Rain in Your Neighborhood?, The Book of Mormon, and Tell the Wolves I'm Home
Ten years ago I was reading: Water for Elephants

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Monday, February 22, 2021

Ten Books that Made Me Laugh Out Loud


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

This week's topic is books that made us laugh out loud. I last did this topic about five years ago. This time I chose a lot of books that aren't "humor" books per se but where I mentioned laughing out loud in my review of the book!
1. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green
2. Ballad of the Whiskey Robber by Julian Rubinstein
3. The Flatshare by Beth O'Leary
4. From Twinkle, with Love by Sandhya Menon
5. Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh
6. Let's Pretend This Never Happened by Jenny Lawson
7. Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
8. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
9. The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob
10. Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson

What books made you laugh out loud?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Dreams from My Father and The Boys in the Boat
Five years ago I was reading: The Girl on the Train, Song Yet Sung, Mink River, and Tell the Wolves I'm Home
Ten years ago I was reading: Water for Elephants

Monday, February 15, 2021

Ten Books with Purple, Green, and Yellow Covers


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

In honor of Mardi Gras, this week we're highlighting books with purple, green, and/or yellow covers!
1. Ace by Angela Chen
2. The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman
3. The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
4. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
5. I Will Teach You to Be Rich by Ramit Sethi
6. I'm Still Here by Austin Channing Brown
7. Letters Between a Catholic and an Evangelical by Fr. John R. Waiss and James G. McCarthy
8. The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis
9. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
10. You Should See Me in a Crown by Leah Johnson

Bonus Pick: Purple, Green, and Yellow by Robert Munsch

What other good books share these cover colors?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Dreams from My Father and The Boys in the Boat
Five years ago I was reading: The Girl on the Train, Song Yet Sung, More Happy Than Not, and The Left Hand of Darkness
Ten years ago I was reading: Spousonomics

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.

Maternity leave is treating my reading life well! I still have to take care of the baby, obviously, but he doesn't care if I listen to an audiobook while I'm feeding him, haha. I'm also counting the chapter books I finish with my older son. Here's what I've been reading in the past month.

The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden: This twist on a Russian fairy tale is excellent on audio. The characters came alive through the audiobook narrator's voice, and the plot twisted and turned with tension and high stakes. My main complaint was that the magic was a little hand-wavy and the ending felt rushed, but overall the writing was very good — atmospheric with a good blend of character and plot.

The Mouse and the Motorcycle by Beverly Cleary: This was a hit with my 6-year-old. It has a good mix of adventure, danger, and problem-solving. It feels a bit dated, but not in any ways I found cringeworthy or problematic.

My Father's Dragon by Ruth Stiles Gannett: This was a quick read, and a bit too silly and simplistic for me, though moderately enjoyable for my 6-year-old. The initial real-world setting and tone didn't prepare for me for the nonsensical fairy-tale format.

Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas: Just phenomenal. This book portrays the stark realities of being a teen parent, and it also provides sympathetic insight into why a poor teenager in the city might belong to a gang and sell drugs, but in neither case does it feel like the book was written around an Agenda. This was a fantastic prequel and I hope many readers of the original book will pick it up!

The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher: I absolutely adored this and have added it to my favorites list. The characters felt like real people, and the descriptions are masterful. It left me feeling refreshed and peaceful, and glad that I'd kept it on my to-read list for so long!

A Murder Is Announced by Agatha Christie: This was probably my favorite of the Miss Marple books so far. I figured out the solution almost immediately, but it was enjoyable to see how she put it together from there.

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire: This story works well on many levels — the premise, the characters, the suspenseful plot. It packs a lot into a short book and leaves the reader with a rich understanding of the book's world and the different characters' experiences. I also think this book works as an allegory for the queer experience.

How to Be Ace: A Memoir of Growing Up Asexual by Rebecca Burgess: I'm glad this book exists as a representation of asexuality, and as a memoir of Burgess' own experiences, I appreciated it. I also think they're a good artist. However, the book struggles to find a balance between being a memoir (largely about their experiences with mental illness) and an Ace 101 guide, and I would have preferred one or the other.

Red at the Bone by Jacqueline Woodson: This was an interesting story, circling around two central events in a family's life, but spanning a much broader range of time. I appreciated the rich picture of this family that Woodson was able to paint in such a short book, though I wasn't a big fan of the way it was told out of order.

Listen: Five Simple Tools to Meet Your Everyday Parenting Challenges by Patty Wipfler and Tosha Schore: This book may be the best parenting book I've ever read, and I read a LOT of parenting books. The strategies had an immediate, transformational impact on our family in a way nothing else has! Highly, highly recommended.

Socks by Beverly Cleary: This is a sweet book, and it was fun to revisit it with my 6-year-old, though it didn't hold his attention quite as well as some other books have. However, it also turned out to be a timely read for our family, since we have a new baby.

All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld: This book not only alternates past and present, but the past sections were told in reverse, à la Memento, so each one raises new questions that can only be answered by going further back in time. The writing in this book is sparse yet evocative, and the mystery and constant uncertainty in both time periods kept me turning the pages.

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot: I'm glad my book club chose this for February so I had a chance to reread it. It is an absolute powerhouse of a book, the one that I come back to as a gold standard for telling a complex nonfiction book. Her ability to balance different considerations and different story threads is masterful.

Dinosaurs Before Dark by Mary Pope Osborne: I never read this series as a kid but picked it up for my 6-year-old. It was a flop; he didn't even want to finish it, and I thought the writing wasn't great. Sorry to all those who love this series!

Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker: This was recommended as a comp for The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and it delivered. The book highlights multiple important subject areas: the realities of mental illness, the choices that parents have to make, and the ways that research and medicine affect real people's lives. Definitely recommended!

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Dreams from My Father and The Boys in the Boat
Five years ago I was reading: The Girl on the Train, Song Yet Sung, More Happy Than Not, and The Left Hand of Darkness
Ten years ago I was reading: Spousonomics

Monday, February 8, 2021

Ten Books with "Love" in the Title


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

This week is a Valentine's Day freebie, and since I've done a lot of topics in the past about character romances, I went with something more straightforward this time: books with the word "love" in the title.
1. From Twinkle, with Love by Sandhya Menon
Menon writes such sweet, relatable YA romances!
2. Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix and Helen LaKelly Hunt
This relationship advice book has practical exercises for breaking up common destructive relationship patterns.
3. God Believes in Love by Gene Robinson
The first openly gay Episcopal bishop makes a religious argument in favor of same-sex marriage.
4. Hair Love by Matthew A. Cherry
This adorable picture book is also an Oscar-winning short film.
5. The History of Love by Nicole Krauss
This is a quirky story about losing the chance for the happy ending you wanted and finding a different one instead.
6. I Only Say This Because I Love You by Deborah Tannen
Linguistic researcher Deborah Tannen discusses why communication among family members can be so challenging.
7. Let's Talk About Love by Clare Kann
This cute romance also manages to be a kind of Asexuality 101.
8. Love, Creekwood by Becky Albertalli
This is a novella that will probably only be enjoyable if you've read the other Creekwood books, but I loved revisiting these characters as they navigate being apart post-high school.
9. The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith
Admittedly I had a lot of nitpicks about this book, but on the whole it's a cute, feel-good YA romance.
10. To Sir, With Love by E.R. Braithwaite
This is a fascinating memoir of a Black teacher of poor white children in 1950s Britain.

What are some "Love" books you've read?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Dreams from My Father and Call Down the Hawk
Five years ago I was reading: The Girl on the Train, We Never Asked for Wings, None of the Above, and The Moor's Account
Ten years ago I was reading: Unafraid

Monday, February 1, 2021

Ten Favorite Books Written Before I Was Born


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

This week's topic is about books written before we were born. I went with the books that I'd rated the highest that also made their debut before I made mine in 1985!

1. Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie
All of Christie's book were written before I was born, so this one is just representative of my favorites. In this one, Poirot's usual approach of figuring out who has the psychological profile to be a murderer is challenged by the idea that all the suspects may have already committed murder at least once! It was an interesting change from the prior books.

2. Castle of Wizardry by David Eddings
Again, all of the books in the Belgariad series were published before I was born, and this is my favorite of the series. I feel like Eddings really hits his stride in this book, and then the final book of the series is unfortunately bogged down in a lot of military details. The follow-up series, the Malloreon, which I like a little better, was published after my birth.

3. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
This was published in the 19th century, so definitely well before I was born! This twisty tale of revenge was a favorite of mine in middle school and one I've always hoped to return to someday.

4. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konisburg
This is one I loved as a kid and it held up as an adult. I love the way that the kids strategize every detail of their running away, and how they make a routine for themselves in the museum.

5. The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom
This was published about 30 years after the events ten Boom describes of her experiences during World War II. Her story still resonates strongly today; it made me laugh and left me sobbing.

6. How to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
I am more apt now to recommend the modern version, How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen, but this book from 1980 was the one I read first, and it gave me a good foundation for parenthood. What I love most is that the emphasis is not on creating people who are responsive and obedient, but on molding children to be compassionate, thoughtful, independent human beings.

7. The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. LeGuin
I've read this gender-bending sci-fi novel several times now, and while it always takes me a while to get into it, I never fail to get absorbed in the world she built. This otherworldly setting helps Le Guin's social commentary about gender roles from 1969 feel timeless.

8. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
This is another case where a fantasy world, completely built from scratch in this 1961 publication, can be relevant to any generation. I'm waiting to read this to my older son until he can appreciate the clever wordplay!

9. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
This 1938 gothic novel was just as good when I revisited it recently on audio as when I first read it in middle school. du Maurier places the reader palpably in the scene, whether the refreshing feeling of being out in nature or the suffocating feeling of being in a house that seems to still belong to someone deceased.

10. The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare
I enjoyed this children's classic from 1958 both as a child and as an adult. Set in Puritan New England, it's a sweet story about overcoming prejudices and finding what truly makes you happy.

Which older books are your favorites?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Activist Theology and Call Down the Hawk
Five years ago I was reading: Dancing with God, The Girl on the Train, and Emotional Vampires
Ten years ago I was reading: Boy

Sunday, January 31, 2021

Best of the Bunch (January 2021)

Best of the Bunch header

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

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

Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas

The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher

This was a hard choice because these were both excellent! However, I'm going to go with the one that ended up on my all-time favorites list as the Best of the Bunch...


I absolutely adored The Shell Seekers. The characters felt like real people, and what I loved most was that there are no villains in this book; every person has their own values and priorities, and sometimes those lead to conflicts with one another, but no one is really evil. The pacing was well done, and the descriptions are masterful, so that I could feel myself there, experiencing the sights and sounds of a country garden or the seashore or a hot, stuffy London taxi. I'm glad I saved this one for when I had the time to read it in long stretches, because it's the kind of book you have to take time to inhabit, or else you may get impatient with the detailed descriptions or scenes of people living their everyday lives. Highly 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: Activist Theology and Call Down the Hawk
Five years ago I was reading: Lonesome Dove, Dancing with God, The Girl on the Train, and Emotional Vampires
Ten years ago I was reading: Boy

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