Monday, March 30, 2015

Best of the Bunch: March 2015

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

Of the 7 books I read this month, three earned a 5-star review from me:

The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondō.

In another month I might have given Ella Enchanted the nod, but in this case the one I'm naming the best of the bunch is...

I've seen plenty of criticism of this book, but only from people who haven't read it or haven't tried to put her ideas into practice. Kondō has a straightforward, detailed method of decluttering your living space, based on her extensive experience and testing. Despite some aspects that probably seem odd to American culture (like her tendency to personify objects), her advice is incredibly practical and detailed enough to be able to put into practice right away. What makes her method different and more thorough than most decluttering and organizing tips is that she focuses not on "What can you get rid of?" but "What do you truly want to keep?" The result is a closet and dresser full of only clothes I love and want to wear, and a bookshelf full of only books we love and want to read or reread, plus lots more space for our son's clothes and books. If you're willing to give her method a shot, I highly 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!

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Monday, March 23, 2015

Top Ten Books From My Childhood That I Would Love To Revisit

I'm linking up with The Broke and the Bookish for another Top Ten Tuesday.

This week's topic is books from my childhood I want to revisit. A few of the books on my list of books I want to reread are books from childhood, but now that we have a kid the day is just around the corner when it will be time to revisit many of my childhood books. I've picked out some that I look forward to reading again.

1. The Boxcar Children by Gertrude Chandler Warner
I loved the Boxcar Children mysteries growing up, but I always thought the first one (which doesn't have any mystery) was kind of boring. I reread it to my sister when she was little but I don't think we ever finished it. I remember reading something recently by someone who revisited this book with their kid and ended up having a whole conversation about how the children conform to traditional gender roles even when they're on their own. I would be interested to reread this now and see what I think.

2. Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective by Donald J. Sobol
I've loved mysteries for almost as long as I could read, and the Encyclopedia Brown books were some of the chapter books that got me hooked (along with the Boxcar Children mysteries and the Babysitter's Club mysteries). I still remember some of the clues that gave away the culprits, including a few that I thought were pretty flimsy at the time and still think aren't very compelling. I wonder if these would hold up for an adult reader.

3. From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg
This was one of the ones I mentioned wanting to reread because I remember liking it — and I know a lot of people like it — but I remember so little about it.

4. Mr. Popper's Penguins by Richard Atwater
I read this in school — maybe fifth grade? — and don't remember particularly liking it, but it's been popular for a long time and made into a movie by now, so I would reread it with my kids to see what makes it a classic.

5. Muggie Maggie by Beverly Cleary
This was one of my favorite Beverly Cleary books, so I was surprised to find that the reviews of it aren't great. A lot of people say that kids who can't read cursive will miss out on important parts of the story, and by the time they can they'll have outgrown the story. Maybe I liked it because I could read at a younger age than most, so my comprehension and age happened to be in the right spot. Now that a lot of schools are abandoning cursive, I'd be interested to see how the story holds up.

6. Pippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren
This is another book that I'm pretty sure I liked, and I know a lot of people like, but I remember very little of it. I'm sure it's a classic for a reason, so I'd love to reread it.

7. Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar
I adored this series growing up, but when I think back on some of the stories I'm surprised how much I liked it because it doesn't seem like my kind of humor, so I think it was the writing and the wordplay. (I love wordplay... The Phantom Tollbooth is one of my favorite books of all time.) I flipped through this book recently while rereading Catch-22 because I think the tone is similar (one a satire of the bureaucracy of war and the other a satire of the bureaucracy of school) and was reminded of some of the clever stories. I want to reread this series with my kids to see if they like it as much as I did.

8. Summer of My German Soldier by Bette Greene
Another planned reread because of how much I loved this when I was younger.

9. The Trumpet of the Swan by E.B. White
I remember almost nothing about this book except for the part where the swan's webbing gets sliced so that he can operate the keys on his trumpet, which was and remains a horrifying image. I presume the rest of the book is great, but I would have to reread it to remember why.

10. The Twits by Roald Dahl
Roald Dahl's stuff is pretty dark generally, but this one, if I remember correctly, is basically about a husband and wife doing horrible things to each other. I seem to remember liking it as a kid, but I wonder if I would have a different perspective reading it now as a parent and deciding if/when it was appropriate for my kids to read.

What books from your childhood would you like to revisit?

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Monday, March 16, 2015

Top Ten Books On My Spring TBR List

I'm linking up with The Broke and the Bookish for another Top Ten Tuesday.

This week's topic is the top books on my to-read list for spring. I have a very long to-read list (364 books at last count), and I tend to choose what to read next based on library availability and book club picks. However, I do have my to-read list sorted based on my goals for the year, so I can name some books I'm hoping to read in the next few months.

1. Angle of Repose by Wallace Stegner
I greatly enjoyed Crossing to Safety when my book club read it a couple of years ago, and this is Stegner's best-known (and best-rated) book. I'm hoping I like it just as much.

2. Boxers by Gene Luen Yang
This falls under two of my 2015 goals: It's a graphic novel, and it was recommended to me by a friend. I picked it up from the library recently and plan to start on it next, followed by the sequel (eventually).

3. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
This is another one that was recommended to me by a friend, and it was a long time ago so it's been on my to-read list for quite some time. Another friend just recommended Housekeeping (also by Robinson), so clearly I need to read this soon.

4. Me Before You by Jojo Moyes
This is one I put on my to-read list after seeing it recommended multiple times, but I haven't picked it up yet. Mike's cousin asked me for book recommendations a while ago when it was her turn to host her book club, and she ended up eschewing all my suggestions in favor of this book, which she said everyone loved. So it's now on hold at the library.

5. Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan
This is one that a number of people have mentioned to me, although everyone I know who's read it has had pretty middle-of-the-road reviews. Still, they've mostly said it's a "fun" read, and that was a goal for this year, so I'd like to read this one.

6. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion
This is another one that's supposed to be a fun read, and it has great reviews as well. I'm excited to read it!

7. Saving Francesca by Melina Marchetta
This one has been on my to-read list forever, and I keep seeing it and Jellicoe Road (another Marchetta book) recommended as books that people love. It sounds like a great read.

8. Tao Te Ching by Lao Tzu
This is part of my goal to tackle some other religious texts this year, and at under 200 pages, I don't have much of an excuse not to knock this one off the list.

9. We Were Liars by E. Lockhart
This was one of the "it" books of 2014 and I still haven't gotten around to reading it, so now I've got the ebook on hold at the library, where there's still quite a long list. I adored The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks, so I am looking forward to reading another Lockhart book.

10. What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe
I love Munroe's site ( and this book tackles the kinds of bizarre questions that my friends and I discuss over lunch. It seems like the kind of book I can totally geek out over.

What's on your list of books to read this spring?

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Sunday, March 15, 2015

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 reading slowed down the past few weeks when I was sick, but I still got through a decent number of books in the last month. Here's what I've been reading:

The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight by Jennifer E. Smith: This was cute YA fluff, which is great if that's what you're looking for. I had nitpicks about some different parts, but I was still rooting for everything to work out in the end.

All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor: I very much enjoyed this story of a family of five girls set in New York in the early 1900s, and it would be great to read with children for the many discussion topics it provides (e.g., Judaism, getting a new baby sibling, how adults and children sometimes see things differently).

The Book of Chameleons by José Eduardo Agualusa: I didn't particularly enjoy this read, but I liked the ideas the book explores about truth, memory, and family. It's a tribute to Jorge Luis Borges, so you may be better off just reading Borges' work on these topics.

A Letter to My Congregation: An evangelical pastor's path to embracing people who are gay, lesbian and transgender in the company of Jesus by Ken Wilson: His ideas are very similar to those in Generous Spaciousness, but I preferred that book. I found Wilson's focus to be too much on himself ("You don't understand how hard it is to be a pastor!") and wish the book had been more heavily edited before it was published for a wider audience than his own congregation. Also, people need to stop lumping in transgender individuals when talking about sexual orientation if they're not going to address gender identity at all.

The Shadow Cabinet by Maureen Johnson: An upswing in the Shades of London series after the disappointment of the second book, The Madness Underneath. It reminded me what I liked about the first book, and I'm looking forward to the next installment!

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls: This was a reread, but I appreciate Walls' memoir-writing skills so much more now that I've read a lot of memoirs. Her childhood stories are engaging, shocking, and thought-provoking, and she doesn't get in their way with too much commentary or emotion.

The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet by Bernie Su and Kate Rorick: I have no idea how this would stand up for someone who'd never seen The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, but as a huge fan of the web series I loved what they did with this book. It's a great demonstration that each medium has its own strengths and weaknesses for telling a particular story.

Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins: This was sweet and well written. I didn't fall in love with it the way a lot of people have (I was too hung up on the whole "boy I like has a girlfriend and I'm going to steal him away from her" notion), but I liked it a lot and would recommend it if you're looking for a good YA romance.

Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine: I really liked this retelling of Cinderella with awesome feminist themes about consent and rebelling against those who try to control you. I thought it would be uncomfortable to read about Ella being forced to do things against her will, but she's way too strong of a character to let something like an obedience curse stand in her way. Highly recommended.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel: This held up to the many accolades it's received. It's beautifully written, and the post-apocalyptic world it introduces is carefully and realistically constructed. The flashes back and forth in time and switches between characters meant the book was too sprawling for my taste at times, but I still very much enjoyed the read and would recommend it.

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

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Monday, March 9, 2015

Ten Books For Readers Who Like Memoirs

I'm linking up with The Broke and the Bookish for another Top Ten Tuesday.

Sorry I haven't managed to post much other than Top Ten Tuesdays lately — I've been sick for the past two weeks with one thing after another, so I haven't had much energy for putting together my own post ideas. Soon I will get back in the swing of things, I promise!

This week I'm sharing some great memoirs for those who like this genre or are interested in trying it out. The great thing about memoirs is that there are a wide variety to choose from — they might cover a brief period of time, from someone who went through a particularly difficult or memorable experience, or they might cover much of a person's life from someone who has many interesting stories to tell. They can give you the opportunity to get inside the head of people whose life experiences are very different from yours.

Here are ten I recommend:

1. Funny in Farsi: A Memoir of Growing Up Iranian in America by Firoozeh Dumas
I picked this up from my mom's bookshelf over a decade ago — we had Iranian neighbors who became close family friends, which I think is why my mom bought this in the first place. What I remember of it was funny and sweet, the typical ups and downs of being an immigrant combined with the eccentricities of Dumas' particular family. It also provides an outsider's view of America, and the cringeworthy ways in which Americans went from completely ignorant to open hostile toward Iranian immigrants during Dumas' childhood. Good for both the new perspective and the laughs.

2. Gang Leader for a Day: A Rogue Sociologist Takes to the Streets by Sudhir Venkatesh
One of my top nonfiction picks from 2014, this is Venkatesh's experience of spending several years getting to know the inner workings of a city gang, as well as the others in the projects where the gang operated. I found it most valuable for the lessons about poverty and crime, but the Venkatesh's firsthand experiences kept me hooked.

3. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls
I reread this recently and was struck by what a talented memoir writer Walls is. Despite having a very difficult childhood with poverty and parental neglect, she doesn't spend time mulling over her own thoughts and feelings — she lets her stories speak for themselves. Although Walls does not excuse her parents' choices, she invites the reader to have a nuanced view of those who are homeless, poor, or neglectful of their children as people who may be highly intelligent but have a very different set of values and life philosophies than you or I.

4. I Had Brain Surgery, What's Your Excuse? by Suzy Becker
Once upon a time I was a volunteer shelf reader at our local library, meaning I sometimes came across books like this one with interesting cover art and intriguing titles. And sometimes they turned out to be really enjoyable reads as well. Through a combination of humor, illustrations, and honest writing, Becker tells the story of needing and recovering from brain surgery. Heartwrenching at times (if you live by writing and drawing, what happens when you suddenly can't form coherent sentences?), it's also funny and relatable, even if you've never had to have major surgery.

5. The Journal of Best Practices: A Memoir of Marriage, Asperger Syndrome, and One Man's Quest to Be a Better Husband by David Finch
Finch's marriage was close to falling apart when his wife suddenly realized that he had a lot in common with the kids she worked with who had Asperger Syndrome. One diagnosis later, and Finch decided that since he couldn't intuitively figure out how his wife wanted him to act, he would start taking notes. This book is the story of the rules he learned (like "Don't change the radio station when she's singing along" and "Apologies do not count when you shout them") and his journey of trying to implement them, which contains lessons for anyone who's struggled with building a life with someone else, neurotypical or not.

6. Let's Pretend This Never Happened (A Mostly True Memoir) by Jenny Lawson
If you were sorting my books based on Number of Times I Laughed Out Loud While Reading, this would definitely make the top ten. Lawson's ridiculous life experiences and bizarre way of looking at the world are closely related to her struggles with mental illness, which are dealt with honestly and hilariously throughout this book. Whether you read it to better appreciate a different way of experiencing the world or just for the funny stories, you're basically guaranteed at least a few laughs.

7. My Beloved World by Sonia Sotomayor
From living with diabetes to being a Latina woman in America to ending up a Supreme Court Justice, there are a lot of reasons Sotomayor has an interesting and valuable story to tell. Her stories about her career in particular provide guidance for women looking to be taken seriously in male-dominated fields, but I think she could serve as a role model for anyone. She consistently chooses to take on new challenges as opportunities to learn, to serve others, and to reach her goals. Her writing could be stronger, but her story is worth a read.

8. An Ordinary Man by Paul Rusesabagina
Rusesabagina was the inspiration behind Hotel Rwanda, as he allowed his hotel to become a shelter for over a thousand refugees during the horrific Rwandan genocide. He not only tells of his own experiences during this terrible period, but he also provides valuable background for those whose knowledge of the Rwandan genocide and its origins is limited or nonexistent, as mine was. His condemnation of America's ignorance and inaction is painful but not unwarranted, and it made me glad I took the time to read his story and learn a little more.

9. Teacher Man by Frank McCourt
Everyone knows McCourt's first book, Angela's Ashes, but this is my favorite of his books. After his turbulent childhood and before he became a writer, McCourt spent three decades as a teacher. He starts out without much of a clue what he's doing and with plenty of students who have no respect for authority or education. Over time, he learns how to get through to his students, even when it means doing things unconventionally. I don't know if I would hold McCourt up as an example of The Best Teacher Ever, but I enjoyed taking the journey with him as he struggled to figure out how to best serve the ever-changing groups of students that passed through his classroom.

10. Warriors Don't Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock's Central High by Melba Pattillo Beals
I wrote about this previously as my favorite book of December 2014. Melba Pattillo was one of the Little Rock Nine, and her experience at Central High School was far worse than I ever imagined. This is worth a read both for its historical value and for the author's inspirational courage.

What are some of your favorite memoirs?

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Monday, March 2, 2015

Top Ten Favorite Books from the Past Three Years

I'm linking up with The Broke and the Bookish for another Top Ten Tuesday.

For this week, I'm supposed to pick my ten favorite books that I've read in the past three years. But as with my favorite books of 2014, I find it too hard to compare fiction and nonfiction, so I've created a separate list for each.

Most of these books are ones I've talked about previously, so I'll spare you the gushing this time and just share the lists!


American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield

The Invention of Wings by Sue Monk Kidd

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork

Room by Emma Donoghue

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger


What are the best books you've read in the past three years?

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