Monday, July 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.

Educated by Tara Westover: This was good but didn't live up to the hype for me. The story didn't really grip me until more than a third of the way in, when we learn about the emotional and physical abuse Tara experiences at the hands of her brother. That, ultimately, is what makes this an emotionally powerful story — not the wild and crazy stories of her doctor-scorning, paranoid survivalist father and how she went on to learn better by going to school, but how insidious the combination of abuse, silence, and patriarchal control can be.

The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America's Great Migration by Isabel Wilkerson: The writing was a bit clunkier than I expected, but ultimately I walked away with what I hoped for: a much deeper understanding of the Great Migration, what prompted it, how it came about, and what the consequences were, illustrated by some memorable stories.

Jellicoe Road by Melina Marchetta: I liked the idea behind the book and I think I would have genuinely liked the book a lot had it been executed better, but the poor writing made this a challenging read for me. There's a sweet message about found family and laying aside differences and how we can come to terms with the past and move forward, but it's buried underneath intentional confusion, nonsensical plot elements, and a lot of telling rather than showing.

Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by Dr. John Gottman with Joan DeClaire: This book reiterates a lot of what is in Faber & Mazlish's classic works but backed by Gottman's research studies. However, it was published over 20 years ago, and many of the examples feel dated, plus it's extremely heteronormative and relatively conservative in the understanding of "good" and "bad" family structures. You'd get much of the same information — with more helpful examples — from How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen.

Partners in Crime by Agatha Christie: I'm never much of a fan of Christie's short story collections — it's necessary to wrap up the mystery too quickly — but this wasn't bad. I have a soft spot for Tommy and Tuppence's husband-and-wife banter and enjoyed the listen.

Tyrell by Coe Booth: Tyrell is the definition of a complex character, dealing with a multitude of pressures and having to decide what he is and is not willing to do to take care of himself and his little brother. There's no straightforward redemption arc or moral to this story, and personally I would have liked less glorification of violence, but on the whole I found this very readable and a good reminder that no one's life is straightforward when you get past the surface.

El Deafo by Cece Bell: This is a graphic memoir of Bell's experience becoming hard of hearing after contacting meningitis at age four. Through her memories, you get some best practices for interacting with people who are d/Deaf or hard of hearing, and you also see her dealing with the relatable stresses of growing up, navigating school, friendships, and crushes. She grew up in the 70s and was anti-sign language, so I would suggest reading modern-day experiences of people who are Deaf for a more well-rounded view, but otherwise I think it's a good intro to difference and disability for kids.

Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day by Nikki Giovanni: Poetry is hit or miss for me, and I found this collection challenging because Giovanni is speaking to those who will resonate with the experiences and feelings she's had, which I don't share. There were a handful of poems I liked, which dealt with the most universal themes, like aging and navigating human interaction. I can imagine how many of her other poems feel the same to people who can relate to her experiences. I just wasn't one of them.

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The Raven King, The Yiddish Policemen's Union, and Sarah's Key
Five years ago I was reading: Love in the Time of Cholera, The Virgin Suicides, and A Suitable Boy
Ten years ago I was reading: The Alchemist

Monday, July 8, 2019

Top Ten Favorite Older Male Characters


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

It's a character freebie this week! I've always had a soft spot for the wise and/or ornery old man as a character. Here are ten older male characters I've enjoyed reading about.


1. Albus Dumbledore (from the Harry Potter series)
Does this one need explanation?


2. Allan Karlsson (from The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared)
Allan climbs out the window rather than attend his 100th birthday party and decides to just go where life takes him, which it turns out is what he's been doing most of his life, with surprising consequences for world events.


3. Belgarath the Sorcerer (from the Belgariad and Malloreon series)
Belgarath is cranky but wise, mischievous but protective of those he loves. Hearing him banter with his daughter Polgara, who's also hundreds of years old, is delightful.


4. Hercule Poirot (from the Hercule Poirot series)
Poirot attempts to retire several times throughout the books that follows his crime-solving but can't ever stay away from the thrill of using his "little grey cells."


5. Harold Fry (from The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry)
Harold becomes an unlikely inspiration when he walks to the post office box one day and then just keeps on going up the length of England. He's a rather sad character, but you're cheering him on as he takes back some ownership of his life.


6. Leo Gursky (from The History of Love)
Leo has lost basically everyone who's ever mattered in his 80 years, but he's still going, seeking out new meaning and new connections and still trying to make sense of what has come before.


7. Matsu (from The Samurai's Garden)
Matsu stays for decades as the caretaker for the main character's family's house because of his devotion to a woman who was forced to quarantine herself up in the mountains. Through his quiet steadiness he teaches the main character a lot about what's important in life.


8. Nicholas Benedict (from the Mysterious Benedict Society series)
Mr. Benedict is the kind genius who brings together an assortment of gifted children to save the world. He's trustworthy and humble and loves to laugh — just the kind of mentor the children need.


9. Prof. Roger Malory (from the Raven Cycle series)
Malory is the only adult who takes Gansey's supernatural quest seriously and supports him via regular international calls. Although he shows up in the U.S. with a hilariously large amount of luggage and a dog and complains about everything, he provides the validation and encouragement the characters need when their search stalls.


10. Rucker Blakeslee (from Cold Sassy Tree)
Grandpa Blakeslee doesn't give two hoots what anyone else thinks about what he chooses to do with his life, despite living in a small Southern town at the turn of the 20th century. But he cares fiercely about those he loves — my favorite scene involves him working all morning on something to show his devotion to his late wife.

Who did I miss?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Blue Lily, Lily Blue
Five years ago I was reading: Love in the Time of Cholera, Catch-22, and A Suitable Boy
Ten years ago I was reading: The Appeal

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Best of the Bunch (June 2019)


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

Of the 7 books I read this month, I had two 5-star reads:

The Trespasser by Tana French

The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart

Each of these books is loosely connected to a series but could be read as a standalone. Still, I think The Extraordinary Education... is best enjoyed by those who have already read the Mysterious Benedict Society series, whereas the other is the only one of the Dublin Murder Squad series I would strongly recommend to something — so that will be my best of the bunch!


As with the previous books in the series, I did not want to put this one down. Her writing is just so good. I knew I was not going to be able to figure out the killer, and I was happy to go along for the ride. The characters feel real, so even when they're doing things that are a bit out there, it's believable. Each of the Dublin Murder Squad books focuses on a different detective, and while they do reference events from earlier books, it's not necessary to read them in order. If you don't mind having an ending that's unresolved or where justice isn't fully served or the main character isn't someone you can root for, then by all means, start with the first book, In the Woods. But if you like your mysteries wrapped up at the end, with a narrator who isn't a horrible person, then your best bet is to read this one.

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: The Orphan Master's Son and Eragon
Five years ago I was reading: The Namesake, Love in the Time of Cholera, and A Suitable Boy
Ten years ago I was reading: Beloved


You are invited to the Inlinkz link party!
Click here to enter

Monday, June 24, 2019

Top Ten Books on my Summer TBR


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

It's time to share our reading plans for the next few months! I read everything on my spring TBR list except The Warmth of Other Suns, which I'm almost done with. Here's what's on my list for summer!


1. Cotton Candy on a Rainy Day by Nikki Giovanni
One of my book clubs chose "poetry" as the theme for July, and this is the poetry book that received the most votes of those that were nominated. I don't think I've read any poetry by Nikki Giovanni before, and definitely not a whole book, so I'm looking forward to it!


2. Culturally Responsive Teaching & the Brain by Zaretta Hammond
My work has been doing a series of professional development sessions around this book, so I want to read the source material to get a greater context for it.


3. Guardians of the West by David Eddings
It's finally time to start tackling the Malloreon series on audio! That was one of my goals for the year, so I'd better start now.


4. The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis
My friend and I are making steady progress through The Chronicles of Narnia; this one's up next.


5. How to Be a Perfect Stranger ed. by Stuart M. Matlins and Arthur J. Magida
This book has been on my to-read list for a long time! I want to finally read it this summer.


6. Partners in Crime by Agatha Christie
I've been reading my way through the Tommy and Tuppence books in chronological order, but I accidentally skipped this one, which isn't a novel but a collection of short stories about the married detectives.


7. Postern of Fate by Agatha Christie
Here's the final Tommy and Tuppence book, which will round out the series.


8. Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by Dr. John Gottman with Joan DeClaire
This is another book that's been on my to-read list for a long time. Now that my son is finally at a stage where he's starting to have some control over his emotions, it seems like the best time to read this.


9. There Are No Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz
This is another one off my to-read list that I'm interested to pick up!


10. White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo
A lot of people at my work are reading this, and they've started several different book groups to discuss it. I'm late to the party but want to eventually get caught up!

What do you plan to read this summer?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The Orphan Master's Son
Five years ago I was reading: The Elegance of the Hedgehog, The Breadwinner, and A Suitable Boy
Ten years ago I was reading: Beloved

Monday, June 17, 2019

Top Ten Reads of 2019 So Far


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

This week's topic is "Most Anticipated Releases of the Second Half of 2019" but as usual I have no idea what's going to be published in the future. We're not quite halfway through the year, but I saw there was no mid-year check-in topic scheduled for July, so why not do it now? I've had exactly ten 5-star reads so far in 2019, not counting rereads of old favorites. Here are those ten!


1. 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
I could not understand exactly how two decades of correspondence between a woman in New York and a bookshop in London could make for a compelling read, but now I understand. Hanff is a hoot! The book is under 100 pages and made up entirely of letters and postcards that often don't fill a page, so you can get through it quickly. It's worth the read.


2. Becoming by Michelle Obama
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.


3. Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
This book is great at both a plot level (action-packed, unpredictable, with a satisfying plot arc) and a metaphorical level, about the pointlessness of long-standing enmities, the challenges of being an outsider, and the difficulties of doing something without a role model to lead the way. I was left satisfied but still with enough questions to want to continue the trilogy!


4. The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart
Although this prequel tells the story of The Mysterious Benedict Society's founder, it is essentially a standalone story, but either way it gave me the same enjoyment as the original series. Nicholas Benedict, 9-year-old orphan, must outsmart bullies and incompetent adults while following the clues of a treasure hunt.


5. Home by Nnedi Okorafor
I enjoyed this as much as Binti, although it ends with a cliffhanger. I love the way Okorafor took a real-life people (the Himba) and layered in futuristic elements like mathematical meditation and space travel.


6. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone 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.


7. On the Come Up by Angie Thomas
It's hard to follow up something as stellar as The Hate U Give, but Thomas managed to pull it off. Set in the same neighborhood, this book follows a new character, Bri, as she tries to make it as a rapper. When it seems like she's finally getting a chance to have her voice heard, she has to decide what she's willing to do, and who she's willing to lose, to make that happen.


8. Shameless by Nadia Bolz-Weber
I have loved all of Nadia Bolz-Weber's books to date, and this one is no exception. What I love most about this "sexual reformation" is that, while she illustrates how many destructive ideas about sex originate in the church, she advocates for a sexual ethic that is not separate from the Christian faith but rather deeply informed by it.


9. The Trespasser by Tana French
Tana French has finally done it — written a Dublin Murder Squad mystery that didn't make me want to throw the book across the room when I was done. Her writing is just so good and I did not want to put the book down, and this time the main narrator isn't a horrible person and justice is, more or less, served. Hooray!


10. Weird Parenting Wins by Hillary Frank
The whole first half of the book had me laugh-crying over some of the ridiculous things people (myself included) do out of desperation to get babies to sleep, toddlers to eat, and preschoolers to get out the door fully clothed. The second half of the book I did a lot of highlighting of the excellent tips for life with siblings and older kids. I definitely recommend it for all parents of young kids — if only for the laughs!

What have been your favorite reads so far this year?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Garlic and Sapphires, Inspired, and Feeling Good
Five years ago I was reading: Island Beneath the Sea and A Suitable Boy
Ten years ago I was reading: Metaphors We Live By

Saturday, June 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.

This month I got away for a week of vacation, so my book count is much higher than it has been since I started my new job!

The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis: By now I can see Lewis' pattern of writing a children's adventure story and then haphazardly weaving in both Christian elements and societal commentary. It helps me understand why people seem to most love these books who read them as children, whereas I find these latter books to be fine but not great.

There's Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon: As with Menon's other books, this was a sweet YA romance with secondary friend drama thrown in to add more plot. I enjoyed Sweetie and Ashish's relationship, but felt like the writing was weaker in this book, like Menon just had an anti-fat-shaming message she wanted to get across and filled in the plot around it.

Silent Spring by Rachel Carson: Because this book is over 50 years old, reading it is a different experience than reading most nonfiction today that's aimed at raising awareness about modern-day situations. What struck me in the early chapters was just how much Carson sounded like today's conspiracy theorists and pseudo-science peddlers, like the people who believe vaccines cause autism. In the end, though, Carson really does make an irrefutable case about the dangers of mass applications of chemical pesticides.

By the Pricking of My Thumbs by Agatha Christie: Not one of Christie's best, but I do so love Tommy and Tuppence. I'd recommend reading the other Tommy and Tuppence books first and continuing with this one if you like them.

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff: I could not understand exactly how two decades of correspondence between a woman in New York and a bookshop in London could make for a compelling read, but now I understand. Hanff is a hoot! The book is under 100 pages and made up entirely of letters and postcards that often don't fill a page, so you can get through it quickly. It's worth the read.

The Trespasser by Tana French: Tana French has finally done it — written a Dublin Murder Squad mystery that didn't make me want to throw the book across the room when I was done. Her writing is just so good and I did not want to put the book down, and this time the main narrator isn't a horrible person and justice is, more or less, served. Hooray!

The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery: What a sweet little book! I'm glad this lesser-known work of Montgomery's was recommended to me. I found the plot extremely predictable, but if you don't mind predictability and a neat and tidy happy ending, then it's worth the read.

The Grail: A Year Ambling & Shambling Through an Oregon Vineyard in Pursuit of the Best Pinot Noir Wine in the Whole Wild World by Brian Doyle: I'm not a person who enjoys wine and I might have liked the book more if I was, but also Doyle's style (with long sentences and tangents, and uncomfortable references to sex and women, and lots and lots and lots of lists) is not my favorite. That said, by the end of the book I did know substantially more than I did before about pinot noir and winemaking, which I suppose is what this book was intended to accomplish.

The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart: Although this prequel tells the story of The Mysterious Benedict Society's founder, it is essentially a standalone story, but either way it gave me the same enjoyment as the original series. Nicholas Benedict, 9-year-old orphan, must outsmart bullies and incompetent adults while following the clues of a treasure hunt.

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

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Garlic and Sapphires, Inspired, and Feeling Good
Five years ago I was reading: Island Beneath the Sea and A Suitable Boy
Ten years ago I was reading: Metaphors We Live By

Monday, June 10, 2019

Ten Books I Hated that Goodreads Loved


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

This week's topic is "unpopular book opinions." I decided to find the ten books where my rating on Goodreads differed the most from the average rating for that book. These all ended up being books I had given 1 star where the average rating was 3.8 or above. Here are my top ten!


1. Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne (Average Rating: 3.85)
This was mind-numbingly boring. They do a lot of walking. There are a lot of outdated scientific discussions. And then they don't even make it to the center of the earth. I'm sure in 1864 it was thrilling, but I can't understand why so many modern readers love it.


2. Me Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris (Average Rating: 3.98)
I did give David Sedaris another chance later on and enjoyed one of his other books, but I spent most of this one cringing. He awkwardly makes fun of himself, he unkindly makes fun of other people, and he describes certain things that are disgusting or disturbing. Not the kind of humor I enjoy.


3. I Am an Emotional Creature by Eve Ensler (Average Rating: 4.01)
I thought this book was frankly terrible. It read like a checklist of issues (eating disorders, abusive relationships, human trafficking, FGM, etc.), for each of which Ensler tried to put herself inside the head of, say, a child factory worker in China with minimal research. The writing wandered and the audience was unclear, unless it is "middle-aged women who think this book would be really great for teens," which seem to be the people rating it highly on Goodreads.


4. The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler (Average Rating: 4.01)
I do not understand the appeal of noir fiction or film, full stop. Philip Marlowe is devoid of emotion, and he and the other characters talk in so much slang, sarcasm, and hints I didn't know what they were talking about a good part of the time. Add that together with a lot of murders no one seems to care much about and a bunch of ridiculous female characters, and yeah, not my cup of tea.


5. The World According to Garp by John Irving (Average Rating: 4.08)
This book was so radically different from A Prayer for Owen Meany that I couldn't believe they were by the same author, though evidently plenty of people love both books equally. It's a mess of gratuitous sex and gore and offensive stereotypes mixed in with some attempted commentary on feminism and fame that was too convoluted to follow.


6. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas by Hunter S. Thompson (Average Rating: 4.08)
Reading about two grown men taking lots of drugs and then causing immense property damage, running up bills they don't pay for, and terrorizing innocent people, told amid a massive amount of racism, sexism, ableism, and homophobia, is not my idea of a good read. Most of the positive reviews I read reference how groundbreaking his particularly style of writing was for the time, which is fine, but what exactly makes it such a must-read for today's readers?


7. A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon (Average Rating: 4.11)
I am genuinely baffled how this book has such high ratings. The writing was overly complex, the authors made constant unfounded generalizations, and the "theory" seemed to be that children need to be with their mothers 24/7 or they will be doomed for life. Maybe people are only reading this if it supports beliefs they already hold about parenting?


8. A Walk to Remember by Nicholas Sparks (Average Rating: 4.16)
Perhaps I'm biased because I saw the movie first, but I thought it was infinitely better than the book. So many of the things I enjoyed about the movie were absent in the book, in which the writing felt flat and the characters unrealistic. But then I don't usually read these kinds of fluffy romantic books anyway, so maybe it's good for people who like the genre.


9. This Star Won't Go Out by Esther Earl (Average Rating: 4.17)
My negative review of this book has more "likes" than any other review I've written on Goodreads, so clearly I'm not alone in my opinion, though I'm outnumbered by all the people rating it highly. My only guess why the ratings are so high is that people primarily picked this up right after it came out if they were Nerdfighters and/or fans of John Green, and so they were predisposed to feel positively about it. I should have been, too, but I was disappointed by the fact that it was just a poorly edited document dump of what could have been the source material for a good book.


10. Love Does by Bob Goff (Average Rating: 4.29)
This is my second-most "liked" review on Goodreads. Many of the things Goff "does" in the book are not so much evidence of his love as evidence of his lawyerly wealth and he seems oblivious to how much of what he "gets away with" is evidence of his privilege, not just a cute metaphor for being a Jesus freak. There were good lines throughout, but the book just encapsulated everything I hate about American Christian Culture as a commercial entity.

Which beloved books did you dislike?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The Alienist, Haroun and the Sea of Stories, and Feeling Good
Five years ago I was reading: Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, A Fine Balance, and A Suitable Boy
Ten years ago I was reading: Metaphors We Live By