Sunday, October 30, 2016

Best of the Bunch: October 2016

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

I read 8 books in October, of which two were 5-star reads:

All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot

Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

I liked them both for different reasons, but the best of the bunch was definitely...

Going in, I thought I already knew most of problems with our criminal justice system and specifically with the process whereby people are put on death row. But there's something about reading actual, specific stories that made all of the facts come to life in painful and shocking ways. I had to keep putting the book down because it was sickening to see just how flimsy the evidence could be that put someone on death row, just how blatant the discrimination, just how willfully ignorant the people in power could be of the mounds of evidence pointing to someone's innocence. This book is challenging to read, but very, very necessary to read. I highly recommend it, especially for those in the United States.

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, October 24, 2016

Top Ten Characters I'd Be for Halloween

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

After I posted my recommendations for suspenseful novels last year, I realized that I'd actually participated in the TTT Halloween Freebie the year before... and recommended several of the same books. So I am not going to make that mistake again! I'm choosing a totally different take on the theme this year.

In looking for ideas for literary Halloween costumes, I determined that there are really only a couple of options if you want anyone to recognize your costume. You can pick a character from an illustrated children's book, you can pick a book that has been turned into a TV show or movie and dress the way a character is portrayed on screen, or in more rare instances you can find a character who is depicted in a memorable way on the book cover and also (usually) described in detail in the book. That's about it.

Given those constraints, here are the characters I would consider being for Halloween, assuming I had the money and/or creativity to buy or create a costume...

1. Anne (from Anne of Green Gables)
I once dressed up as Anne to give an oral book report about this book in 6th grade. My hair is no longer red enough or long enough to look like her, though (nor am I a child anymore), so maybe I could try the more mature look from Anne of Avonlea?

2. Hermione Granger (from the Harry Potter series)
I did dress up as Hermione for a Harry Potter party one time in college — I do have the hair for Hermione — so I could definitely pull this one out again if needed. My master's graduation gown would make an even better Hogwarts robe than I had back then.

3. Kate Wetherall (from The Mysterious Benedict Society)
I was only introduced to this series last year as an adult, or I would have totally been Kate for Halloween years ago. Even with her iconic red bucket, though, I don't know that many people would recognize this character.

4. Mary Poppins (from Mary Poppins)
This is a case where the most recognizable version of the costume definitely comes more from the movie, but that's OK — the character's better in the movie anyway.

5. The Mathemagician (from The Phantom Tollbooth)
As much as I love to read, I also love data, so I could certainly be at home in the King of Digitopolis' numerical robe with his giant magical pencil.

6. Matilda (from Matilda)
I adore both this book and this movie, and her movie look is recognizable enough that this could be a great costume, especially if you pull around a red wagon full of books!

7. Miss Nogard (from Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger)
Here's one that definitely no one would get, but I would still do it because she's probably my favorite character from the goofy Wayside School series. She's identifiable by the third ear on top of her head that lets her read people's minds!

8. Polgara (from the Belgariad series)
One Halloween when I was in middle school my friends and I all dressed up as characters from this series because we were (are) nerds. We all had assigned ourselves various characters that were related to people's personalities and looks and who was going out with whom at the time. I was Velvet, who is one of my favorite characters but does not have anything in the way of a recognizable costume, so if I were going to be a character from the series again, I'd pick Polgara.

9. Sherlock Holmes (from The Complete Sherlock Holmes)
Here's a literary character with a well-known look! You just need the hat, coat, and pipe, and everyone will know who you are.

10. Strega Nona (from Strega Nona)
This is one of my favorite children's books, and I was disappointed after getting a copy for my toddler to realize that it's way too long for his current attention span. For this costume I would channel my Italian roots to dress as this Calabrian "granny" and carry around a pot of never-ending pasta :)

Which characters would you be for Halloween?

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Monday, October 17, 2016

Top Ten Characters I'd Name a Dog After

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

I grew up in a cat family and married into a dog family, and we currently live in a place that doesn't allow pets. When we have our own house someday, my husband has his heart set on getting several large dogs like the kind he grew up with, though he's agreed I can get one "lap-sized" dog for myself. So I combed through some of my favorite books to see if there were any good character names for these future pups. Here's what I came up with.

1. Belgarath (The Belgariad series)
Of all the characters in the series, I had to go with Belgarath, since he's the wolf. It's a little cumbersome as a pet's name, so it might be better to drop the honorific "Bel" prefix and just call him Garath.

2. Bennet (Pride and Prejudice)
This name could represent the whole family central to the book, but I particularly like to think of it as referring to Mr. Bennet, the character that nobody else seems to find as funny as I do.

3. Fern (We Are All Completely Besides Ourselves)
OK, so Fern wasn't a dog, she was <NO SPOILERS>, but given the context it's still a good name for someone you're going to consider part of your family, right?

4. Holmes (A Study in Scarlet)
Although my favorite fictional detective is Hercule Poirot, neither part of his name rolls off my American tongue the way you want a dog's name to. I could definitely name a dog the snappy one-syllable Holmes, though, as a tribute to my love of mysteries.

5. Mango (A Mango-Shaped Space)
I know, I know, Mango is a cat. You could totally have a dog named Mango, though. Just work with me here.

6. Milligan (The Mysterious Benedict Society)
Milligan is the fierce protector who's always there at the right moment to save you from danger but who has a heart full of love. Don't those sound like the qualities of a good dog?

7. Rucker (Cold Sassy Tree)
There are a lot of great names in this Southern family drama, but Grandpa Blakeslee's first name has the sharp consonants that, to me, sound most like a dog's name.

8. Tock (The Phantom Tollbooth)
Look, I found a character who's actually a dog this time! I mean, a dog crossed with a watch. I love this book and would love to pay tribute to one of its main characters.

9. Tonks (The Harry Potter series)
I debated about which of the many colorfully named characters from these series would be best, but I finally settled on Tonks as the one I'd be most likely to actually name a dog after. It's not quite well known enough for non-Harry Potter fans to catch onto, but fellow fans would immediately get the reference.

10. Trunchbull (Matilda)
I tried to stay away from evil characters' names, but this one is just too fun, in classic Dahl style. Wouldn't it be cute to have a bulldog named Trunchbull?

What characters would you recommend for our future dogs?

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Saturday, October 15, 2016

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.

I read some long books this past month, so my total's on the shorter side (for me). Here's what I've read!

The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold: I reread this for book club, and my reaction was the same as the first time I read it. First 90% of the book: What a well-written book! So interesting! So realistic! Last 10%: WHAT THE F DID I JUST READ WHY WOULD YOU RUIN THIS PERFECTLY GOOD BOOK WITH SUCH A BIZARRE AND UNNECESSARY PLOT TWIST GO AWAY

Black Coffee by Charles Osborne (based on the play by Agatha Christie): Osborne took a light touch with novelizing this, so I could still envision it as a play, which was quite fun and a nice change from a typical Christie novel.

Aesop's Fables by Aesop: It was very interesting to read this whole collection. It's instructive to see just how many fables Aesop created in order to produce maybe a dozen long-lasting, recognizable ones, and also how some phrases have survived apart from their original stories.

Peril at End House by Agatha Christie: This may be one of my favorite Christie plot twists. I was convinced I'd figured out the mystery, and then it turned out that what I'd figured out was just a tiny piece of the puzzle — Christie fooled me again, though as usual the clues were all there.

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov: I'm clearly missing the historical and societal context necessary to fully appreciate this book, given the book's long popularity. Even if I had more appreciation for it, though, I don't think it would change the fact that my own reading experience (as an American in 2016) found it, at best, mildly entertaining.

The Guns of August by Barbara W. Tuchman: This was a poor choice on audio, but I'm trying not to let that color my view of the book. I'm still not particularly keen on military history, but much of the book dealt with human psychology and made me think about the unpredictability of the future. If you're at all interested in World War I, this is worth picking up.

All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot: This was a truly enjoyable collection of stories from a country veterinarian in the 1930s. The stories are memorable, the characters are colorful, and the descriptions of the location were beautiful. Although the book was on the longer side, I wanted to pause after each story just to savor the writing.

Everything, Everything by Nicola Yoon: I had very mixed feelings about this one. I liked all the ways it differed from many other YA books, but didn't like the direction the plot took. I could take it or leave it but probably wouldn't recommend it.

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

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Monday, October 10, 2016

Ten Great Books I've Read on Recommendations

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

When you talk about books a lot, like I do, you get asked for recommendations a lot, and you get a lot of recommendations back. Because of my ever-growing to-read list, I filter most recommendations — that is, they go into my mental bank, and if I see them pop up several more times or multiple other people recommend them, I'll decide to add them to my list.

But sometimes books go right on my to-read list, either because they sound like something I'd like or because the recommendation is coming from someone I trust. Here are some books I've read based on a single person's recommendation (limited to one recommendation per person).

1. Cat's Eye by Margaret Atwood (recommended by 'Becca)
'Becca has been my blogging friend since back in the early days of my previous blog, and I trust her on just about everything from parenting advice to book recommendations. I added this book to my list on her recommendation, and after reading it I went back to read her thoughts on it and saw they were almost exactly the same as what I'd said in my review!

2. The Crossover by Kwame Alexander (recommended by Eli)
Eli graciously allows me to co-manage the Nerdfighteria Online Book Club with her, and she's a great book blogger/vlogger in her own right. Although we tend to have different tastes in books, we often have similar views on the books we read for book club, so I like getting recommendations from her that stretch my comfort zone, like this middle grade novel-in-verse.

3. Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino (recommended by Meryl)
I've had Calvino's If on a winter's night a traveler on my to-read list forever, but Meryl (a friend from college and fellow Nerdfighteria Online Book Club member) lauded this as one of her favorite books of all time, so I decided it would be my introduction to Calvino instead. It's probably not a book I would have picked up on my own, but I found it intriguing and imaginative.

4. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh (recommended by Sara)
I didn't even remember that this favorite book of mine had originally come via recommendation from a friend until I was looking through Goodreads, but now I remember! Sara and I have very similar tastes in books and tells me she often looks to my blog and reviews for suggestions. Her recommendations to me are more sparing but always right on target!

5. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins (recommended by Kirsti)
I know that I will never read as many books as Kirsti, who regularly exceeds 300 books a year, but I love reading her detailed and emphatic reviews and have gotten quite a few recommendations from her. This mystery novel from the 1800s is probably my favorite of the bunch.

6. One Hundred Names by Cecelia Ahern (recommended by Molly)
When Molly lived on campus (and before I had a baby) we would occasionally take long walks and talk about family and books. This heartwarming Irish novel is not one I would have found on my own, but on her recommendation I picked up and enjoyed the excellent audiobook.

7. The Other Wes Moore by Wes Moore (recommended by Missy)
Missy's known me for so long that she can usually spot a book I'd like without too much trouble. In this case, I don't think she'd read the book yet when she asked me if I'd heard of it, but she said the author was coming to speak near her and she was planning to read it, so I did too.

8. Stolen by Lucy Christopher (recommended by Chelsea)
I love that my little sister is turning into a bookworm like me, and that she's old enough now for us to swap book recommendations. After she listed this on Goodreads as one of her favorite books, I added it to my to-read list, which prompted her to gift me a copy for Christmas. It ended up being way better than I expected!

9. The Unthinkable by Amanda Ripley (recommended by Fiona)
My friend and former coworker was involved in disaster preparedness planning when she worked on campus here, and after one meeting she came back with this book recommendation. I don't know if she ever got a chance to read it herself, but I was glad she pointed me to it!

10. With Burning Hearts by Henri Nouwen (recommended by Rachel)
Rachel and I have a lot of similar interests, and she's recommended tons of books to me, of which this is my favorite. It was the best book I read in July and possibly one of the best this year.

What are some good books you picked up on a recommendation?

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Monday, October 3, 2016

Book Lovers' Tag

It's been too long since I did one of these question sets! I couldn't figure out any way to fit with this week's Top Ten Tuesday topic on villains, so I thought this would be a good time to answer some reading-related questions. I found these questions at One Too Many Adjectives.

1. Do you have a specific place for reading?
No, I kind of read everywhere. BUT we just moved to a new apartment, and we've been talking about making one little area my reading area, with a comfy chair and a lamp and (hopefully) the prints mentioned at the end of this post that I'm asking for for Christmas.

2. Bookmarks or a random piece of paper?
Bookmarks! I have a collection of favorite bookmarks that I use for hard copy books. Plus bookmarks are sturdy — I feel like pieces of paper inevitably fall out or else flutter to the floor the second you open the book. Or else they contain valuable information that you lose because you forget you stuck the paper in a book.

3. Can you just stop anywhere or do you need to finish a chapter?
If finishing a chapter seems within reason in the amount of time I have, I will definitely read until the end of the chapter. More often than not, though, I'm reading in little snippets when I have time, and I don't have the luxury of picking a stopping point.

4. Do you eat or drink while reading?
So much of my reading is on the go (listening to an audiobook while I run, reading an ebook on my phone while standing in line, etc.), but when I actually have some free time in the evening after the little one's in bed, I will often make myself a cup of tea or bowl of ice cream before I sit down to read.

5. Music or TV while reading?
Never! I can't focus on the words if I'm hearing something else at the same time. The only time I turn on music while reading is when I'm trying to block out something else (like people around me having a conversation), which is when I put in my headphones and crank up an instrumental-only Pandora station.

6. One book at a time or several?
Definitely several. I'm usually in the middle of three books — an audiobook, an ebook, and a hard copy book.

7. Do you prefer to read at home or elsewhere?
I mean, in an ideal world, I would read at home in a perfectly quiet space, but that is a rarity in my real life. So I prefer to read wherever, whenever I can.

8. Read out loud or silently?
For as much as I talk to myself while I work, I almost never read out loud. (For my own books, that is; I read aloud to my toddler constantly from his collection of five favorite books.) The only time I try reading aloud is when I'm majorly struggling through a dense read and my mind keeps wandering because I don't understand what I'm reading.

9. Do you read ahead or skip the pages?
I try not to — for print books, my eyes will sometimes skim ahead involuntarily if I'm trying to figure out if something's going in the direction I think it's going. But I only ever skip pages if something is really gory/gruesome.

10. Breaking the spine or keeping like new?
Hard to say, because I rarely read new books. A large portion of what I read is digital (audiobook/ebook) to begin with, and then most hard copy books I read are from the library. If I own a book, it's probably a used one from PaperBackSwap. But if it's brand new, the spine will probably stay intact since I use bookmarks and don't lay it open face down.

11. Do you write in your books?
No, not since freshman year of college. Once I realized they lost their buyback value, I immediately broke that habit and haven't picked it up again. PaperBackSwap also requires clean pages, and of course most of my hard copy books are from the library anyway. (PSA: Don't write in library books!) I love Kindle books because I can highlight things I like and add notes, mostly where I feel obligated to call out something inaccurate or inconsistent. (Editing habits die hard.)

Share your answers in comments, or post a link to the answers on your own blog!