Sunday, August 30, 2015

Best of the Bunch: August 2015

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

Of the 12 books I read this month, two earned a 5-star review from me:

The Girl with All the Gifts by M. R. Carey

Fortunately, the Milk by Neil Gaiman

And the best of the bunch was...

I never read books classified as "horror," but this came highly recommended from many corners, so I gave it a shot. It was fantastic. Yes, it has zombies, but it doesn't dwell as heavily on the gore as you might expect. (There was only one passage I had to skip wholesale.) The characters are diverse in their backgrounds and how they respond to the situations they're thrown into, which makes for an often-surprising, always-intriguing plot. Although the book necessarily has a lot in common with other post-apocalyptic literature, the ending was unique and thought-provoking. 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!

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Monday, August 24, 2015

Top Ten Books That Would Be on my Syllabus for "Crafting Your Life 101"

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

To be clear, I would never teach a class in which I assigned ten full-length books to be read in a single semester. However, if I was teaching a class like this, I would draw on these ten books to share examples and assign chapters to read. This class would be intended to teach students how to build the life they want regardless of their chosen career, meaning they are happy, financially stable, organized, and equipped with the skills to achieve their goals and spend their time on the things that matter most to them.

If that kind of class sounds good to you, then may I recommend a selection of books...

1. 168 Hours by Laura Vanderkam
If you think you know how you're spending your time, Vanderkam thinks you're probably wrong. First she shows how most people don't really know where their time goes, then she tells you how to figure out where your time is going, and finally she helps you determine what you want to be spending your time on and how to make that a reality.

2. The Checklist Manifesto by Atul Gawande
How do airline pilots make decisions in high-pressure, emergency situations? They pull out the relevant checklist and start going through the steps. If you're going to craft the life you want, you need some tools, and a checklist is a deceptively simple but ultimately powerful one to have in your toolbox.

3. Daring Greatly by Brené Brown
It's hardly worth building a life where you do all the right things if you can't be vulnerable enough to experience the highs and lows that make life worth living. In this fiercely honest book, Brown will show you how to rise above shame and fear to live as a "wholehearted" person.

4. Finding Your Own North Star by Martha N. Beck
Many of these books help you achieve your goals, but what if you don't know what your goals are in the first place? Beck provides specific exercises to guide you step by step through the process of identifying your life's passion, identifying and overcoming the obstacles to achieving it, and dealing with the inevitable fallout of making a significant life change.

5. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
Rubin has reviewed all the theories and research related to happiness and come up with her own approach, one that requires determining what makes you feel good, feel bad, and feel right. Her systematic program involves focusing on one area of your life each month of the year, trying new things and building up habits that generate more happiness in your life.

6. I Will Teach You to Be Rich by Ramit Sethi
Sethi allows zero excuses when it comes to getting your personal finances in order. None. If you're willing to put up with his tough-love approach, then he's got a week-by-week program that will let you define what "rich" means you to and then set you on the road to getting there.

7. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondō
How could I not include this book when talking about getting your life on track? Kondō's approach is intended to help you declutter so thoroughly that you will end up owning nothing but what you love or need, organized in such a way that you can always find what you want, and she guarantees that if you do it right the first time you'll never relapse. So far my own experience has borne out this lofty claim.

8. The Luck Factor by Richard Wiseman
Wiseman blasts apart the idea that some people are just lucky or unlucky. He shows how lucky people tend to share similar traits (which unlucky people are lacking), and he's been able to train people in the necessary skills to improve their "luck." A must-read if you feel like your ideal life is out of reach because bad things just keep happening to you.

9. The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg
Although this isn't the greatest book I've read on behavior change research, Duhigg manages to translate the available research into specific steps that individuals can take to create (or break) habits in their own lives. He explores why habits matter to making change in our lives, how new habits are formed, and what happens when the habits built are destructive.

10. The Willpower Instinct by Kelly McGonigal
McGonigal teaches her own class, The Science of Willpower, which provided much of the material for this book. (And wouldn't you like to take a class with Professor McGonigal?) Although it's better to set up an environment in which doing the "right" thing is easy, there will always be times when you have to "choose the harder thing," and that's what this book tackles. Chapter by chapter, McGonigal presents suggestions for how to strengthen and apply one's willpower, with a variety of interesting exercises to try.

Bonus reading: Mindless Eating by Brian Wansink, which will make all your eating experiences better and more intentional, and Nudge by Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein and Switch by Chip Heath and Dan Heath, for more on behavior change as it relates to organizations and populations.

What books would you add to the syllabus for a class like this?

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Monday, August 17, 2015

My Top Ten Always-Want-to-Read Authors

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

This week's topic is actually which authors' books you'll automatically buy, but I stopped buying books a long time ago except in rare instances (like a book club read that I can't get from the library). So instead, these are the authors, when I hear they have a new book out, I'll add it to my to-read list regardless of the topic or genre and may even put it on hold at the library immediately.

1. Nadia Bolz-Weber
Her first book, Pastrix, was beyond amazing, and I can't wait for Accidental Saints to be released next month. Her brutal honesty and raw faith is sorely needed in the world of Christian publishing.

2. Vanessa Diffenbaugh
The Language of Flowers is my favorite book of all time, and Modern Mrs. Darcy recently clued me in that Diffenbaugh has finally released another book, We Never Asked for Wings, that comes out today. Sign me up!

3. John Green
I became a Nerdfighter way back in 2007, so I'd read Looking for Alaska and An Abundance of Katherines before Paper Towns even came out (which I stayed up late reading the day I got it), and then I preordered The Fault in Our Stars in late 2011. I'm glad he takes his time with each book and has a trusted editor, because the recent media craze around the movies based on his books means stuff will easily sell just because it has his name slapped on it. (Case in point: This Star Won't Go Out, which deserved way more thoughtful editing than it got.)

4. Rachel Held Evans
I've been a longtime reader of her blog, and though I've only read A Year of Biblical Womanhood, I have Faith Unraveled on my shelf and her latest, Searching for Sunday, on my to-read list. I've met her in person a few times and she is as funny and gracious in person as she is in her writing.

5. Khaled Hosseini
After the heartwrenching pair of books that was The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns, I probably wouldn't have picked up And the Mountains Echoed if not for my book club, and I would have hugely missed out. I will definitely give his next book a chance.

6. Barbara Kingsolver
Kingsolver has written some of my very favorite books, including The Poisonwood Bible, The Bean Trees, and her nonfiction/memoir Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which led to my becoming a vegetarian. I was less impressed with Flight Behavior, but I'm more than willing to give her another shot.

7. Marie Kondō
In case I haven't mentioned like 5 million times how much I love The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up — I do. Kondō has a number of other books that haven't yet been translated into English (though there's one forthcoming in December), and now that she's expecting her first child I would imagine she will want to share some firsthand advice on decluttering with children.

8. Liane Moriarty
Moriarty stunned me with how much I loved What Alice Forgot, and she cemented herself as one of my favorite authors with Big Little Lies. I'm a little hesitant to pick up her other books that haven't been rated as highly, but I'm pretty sure I'll end up trying The Husband's Secret, and I'll definitely read whatever comes out next.

9. J.K. Rowling / Robert Galbraith
As I shared last week, I've read basically every book Rowling's written (under either name), and I was very excited to hear how many more books are planned for the Cormoran Strike series.

10. Jenny Wingfield
I loved her debut novel, The Homecoming of Samuel Lake, and I've been waiting for her to write something since! This is another one where her first book was so good that I'm almost afraid to pick up anything else she writes... but I'll do it anyway. Unfortunately I can't find any evidence that she's planning to release another book in the future, and it looks like she's been off social media since 2013.

Who are your absolutely-will-read-their-next-book authors?

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Saturday, August 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.

Lots of good stuff to share this month! Most of my reading has been on audiobook recently because I haven't had a lot of time to sit down and read. Gregory and I got through a fair amount of children's audiobooks during his bottle feedings :)

Clockwork Angel by Cassandra Clare: Glad I gave this a chance, as this was definitely an improvement over City of Bones. The writing still isn't great, but I found the plot well crafted and the twists well done. Be aware that the descriptions are quite gruesome at times, what with violence and blood and other unpleasant things.

The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy: It took me too long to read this slim classic. What makes this book good is a combination of its realistic depictions and its message about the value of life. You may find certain passages embarrassingly relatable, despite its 1886 publication. I wouldn't say it's a favorite, but it's worth a read.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins: This suspenseful thriller didn't quite captivate me to the extent that The Moonstone did, but it was still excellent. Having both the good and bad characters be exceedingly clever meant that the outcome was perpetually in suspense as they foiled each other's plans left and right. Certainly the story requires a healthy amount of suspension of disbelief with the number of coincidences that come into play, but it was enjoyable nonetheless.

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg: This was a fun reread and held up as an adult read. I love the way that the kids, particularly Claudia, strategize every detail of their running away, and how they make a routine for themselves in the museum. I enjoy the mystery aspect of it that brings in a little bit of history, and Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler is a fantastic character and narrator.

The Willpower Instinct: How Self-Control Works, Why It Matters, and What You Can Do to Get More of It by Kelly McGonigal: In general, I found the book useful, even if some of the research wasn't described correctly or brought up at a logical time. She illustrates how willpower comes into play whenever we have to choose "the harder thing" and provides specific exercises to try, but also emphasizes that as long as you try something and pay attention to the results, you'll eventually make progress on your personal "willpower challenge." Worth a read.

The Good Muslim by Tahmima Anam: My book club didn't know this was a sequel when it was chosen, and I've heard the original was much better. This one could have benefited from stronger editing, something that I think happens too often with sequels to a popular or prize-winning book.

Dangerous Girls by Abigail Haas: Lived up to the hype. An incredibly compelling read that strongly reminded me of Gone Girl, particularly in how you don't know whether the narrator is actually reliable. I had a strong suspicion about the ending, but it didn't ruin the book for me — it made it more enjoyable to see the clues that were leading to it along the way.

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson: Didn't click for me the way it clearly has for many. This middle-grade "novel in verse" that is also a memoir sacrificed too many of her life details to the simplified format. And in keeping the reader so focused in the present moment, she chose to forgo her own adult reflections on her childhood, which kept it at a level overly simplistic for my taste.

Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective and Encyclopedia Brown and the Case of the Secret Pitch by Donald J. Sobol: I enjoyed revisiting these childhood favorites in a back-to-back audiobook. Some of the logical leaps are too large for me as an adult, but as a way for kids to learn to "spot the clue," these are fairly well written. Be aware that these were written in the '60s and often the differences between kids are settled via fistfight.

Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan: This is a sweet children's classic about the making of a family, when the narrator's widowed father sends away for a new bride. It's not necessarily the greatest book about creating a stepfamily — it glosses over most things — but it is a good book for discussing homesickness and how you can miss the place you come from while also being happy with the people around you.

Okay for Now by Gary D. Schmidt: This was a great (if overly long) coming-of-age story about a boy adjusting to a new town during the 1968-69 school year. There's a lot of skillful "showing not telling" in the writing, and I liked how the narrator uses Audubon's drawings as a framework for describing and interpreting the world around him.

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

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Monday, August 10, 2015

Top Ten Authors I've Read The Most Books From

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

This week's topic is the authors whose books you're read the most of. I figured this out based on sorting my Goodreads by author, with one large exception...

1. Agatha Christie (60+)
One summer when I was in high school I went on an Agatha Christie reading binge and read (I think) every single Hercule Poirot book, a handful of Tommy and Tuppence books (I think there only are a few), and a few Miss Marple books, which I liked less. I wrote out every book title I'd read, which as I recall totaled more than 60 books, but then at some later time I decided I didn't need the list anymore and got rid of it. Then when I started tracking all the books I read, I shook my fist at my younger self who had tossed the list, but I could not say for certain which books I had read, only that I'd read most of them. One of these days I will reread them all...

2. Dr. Seuss (30)
I did not realize Dr. Seuss had even written this many books until I counted up the ones I'd read. So many! My memory of most of them is pretty fuzzy, so I guess Gregory and I are going to have to revisit all of them!

3. David Eddings (24)
I'm pretty sure I read everything he ever wrote, although it's been a long time since I reread my favorites, the Belgariad and Malloreon series. I liked the Tamuli and Elenium series OK, and the Dreamers series was awful — I guess he was losing his touch at the end of his life. He kind of ruined fantasy for me because he had this stellar world-building and fantastic character relationships (including strong male and female characters), and few fantasy books I've read have been able to live up to that.

4. Beverly Cleary (13)
I haven't read everything she ever wrote, but I read a good chunk of it growing up. Besides the Ramona Quimby / Henry Huggins series, there's Muggie Maggie and Socks, which are fun in their own ways.

5. Tim LaHaye & Jerry B. Jenkins (12)
I feel like I should be embarrassed to admit that I read all but the last book of the Left Behind series, including rereading the first eleven books when Glorious Appearing came out. (By the time Kingdom Come was published, I was in college and didn't care about the series anymore.) Most people seem to get hung up on "But you know the Rapture's not real, right?" or "But you know the Rapture isn't going to happen like that, right?" And I'm like, They were a pretty good fantasy adventure story...

6. J.K. Rowling / Robert Galbraith (11)
Again, series kind of dominate when you're talking about total number of books from one author. Besides the Harry Potter series (7 books), I've read The Tales of Beedle the Bard, The Casual Vacancy, The Cuckoo's Calling, and The Silkworm. And you can bet I'm going to read the next Cormoran Strike book.

7. William Shakespeare (11)
Does Shakespeare count? Do his plays count as books? I'm going to say yes. I have the Norton Shakespeare anthology from when I took a Shakespeare course in college and one of these days I'm going to read all his works, but so far I've mostly just read the most famous: Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, Julius Caesar, The Merchant of Venice, A Midsummer Night's Dream, The Taming of the Shrew, Twelfth Night, The Tempest, and Henry V. (I am cheating on a couple of these and counting having seen the unabridged stage productions, because that's basically just having a bunch of people read the play to you, right?)

8. Roald Dahl (10)
Another childhood author whose works I've started collecting for Gregory's bookshelf. We've got The BFG, The Twits, Matilda, James and the Giant Peach, George's Marvelous Medicine, and The Witches. I don't yet have Fantastic Mr. Fox and I'm debating now as an adult whether The Vicar of Nibbleswicke encourages mocking people with disabilities (it's been a long time since I read it). I also read Dahl's autobiography, Boy, a few years ago.

9. Louis Sachar (8)
More series! I loved the Wayside School series as a kid. I also read a handful of Marvin Redpost books and, of course, Holes.

10. Shel Silverstein (8)
I'm starting to think my parents just picked a couple classic children's authors and bought everything they ever wrote for my childhood bookshelf. (OK, not really.) I still have all my Shel Silverstein books, which have now been moved to Gregory's bookshelf. I particularly loved Lafcadio, the Lion Who Shot Back and the poetry books (Where the Sidewalk Ends, The Light in the Attic, and Falling Up).

Some honorable mentions: Dave Barry (6), Maureen Johnson (6), Jane Austen (5), Malcolm Gladwell (5), John Green (5), Megan McCafferty (5), John Steinbeck (5), and Deborah Tannen (5)

Edited to add: I've seen R.L. Stine on a few lists, and clearly I don't have the Goosebumps books marked as read on my Goodreads or Stine might even beat out Christie for the number of books read. He definitely should be on there!

Which authors have you read the most?

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