Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Best of the Bunch: November 2017

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

Of the six books I read this month, I had no 5-star ratings and one 4.5-star rating, so that one is my best of the bunch.

I started out irritated with the narrator of The Secret History for his seemingly pointless lies to everyone, and for a while the book seemed rather dull and meandering, but after the characters returned from winter break everything suddenly picked up very quickly and I was sucked in by the suspense. I like books that are entrenched in the logistics of complex situations, and that's part of what made this read so enjoyable — you know from the opening pages that one of the characters is going to end up dead and that the narrator had a hand in it, but it's the way things fall apart in the aftermath of the murder that made this such a compelling read. A bit of suspension of disbelief is necessary but not so much as to detract from the book. I found this a fascinating read and I can see why it's so often recommended.

What is the best book you read this month? Let me know in comments, or write your own post and link up below!

Monday, November 27, 2017

Top Ten Books on My Winter TBR List

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

Let's pretend there isn't a bunch of overlap with my fall TBR list, shall we?

1. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott

2. Cat Among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie

3. Dead Man's Folly by Agatha Christie

4. Disunity in Christ by Christena Cleveland

5. I'll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios

6. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

7. A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah

8. Sophie's Choice by William Styron

9. The Stand by Stephen King

10. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

What will you be reading this winter?

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Monday, November 20, 2017

Top Ten Books I'm Thankful For

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

Happy almost Thanksgiving, everyone! I enjoyed this topic, as the books I'm grateful to have read are a little different than those I would call my all-time favorites.

1. 168 Hours by Laura Vanderkam
This book prompted me to actually do a time log for a full week (which I've done twice now). I've also started recommending it to my mentees as a great way to think holistically about the role that work plays in your life. I'm grateful that it takes a tone that is both motivating and non-judgmental.

2. The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman
The great thing about this book is that so many people, even if they haven't read it, are familiar enough with the love languages that you can refer to them in conversation and be understood. It provides a clear framework to help people talk about their needs and their behaviors in a way that doesn't make one person's approach to relationships seem better than another's.

3. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
If I hadn't read this book, I probably wouldn't have become a pescatarian, so I'm glad I did!

4. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
Because of this book, I did my own happiness project in 2011, which included things like getting our powers of attorney in order and actually starting to floss every day. The positive effects of that year have continued through the present day.

5. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
I'm grateful these books exist not just because they're awesome as books, but also because of the fandom that has formed around them. And, if not for Harry Potter, I would not have clicked on that vlogbrothers video back in 2007 and found the Nerdfighteria community that has been a big part of my life for the past decade.

6. I Will Teach You to Be Rich by Ramit Sethi
I read this book right before I started a new job where it turned out they'd misled me about getting a 401(k) and I had to set up an IRA myself. Because of Ramit's no-nonsense advice, I just picked a company and got it set up without spending forever worrying about picking the right one. This is another book I recommend a lot, and I'm glad it exists.

7. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondō
After years of reading organizing advice, this book provided me with what I needed: an evidence-based, step-by-step system for getting the entirety of my possessions in order. Although our apartment isn't always picked up, it's usually possible to get everything back in its place within about 10 minutes if needed, and we own very little that we don't use or enjoy.

8. Room for One More by Anna Rose Wright
This was the book that first made me think seriously about adoption. I'm thankful that when other factors arose that made adoption a good option for our family, it was already on my mind because of this book!

9. Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Tori Weschler
I'm incredibly grateful that this book exists because it provides me a non-Catholic source to explain our family planning method. Even though I still struggle to find supportive medical professionals, I know I can at least raise fewer eyebrows by talking about the "Fertility Awareness Method" rather than "Natural Family Planning."

10. Torn by Justin Lee
I didn't need Justin's book to convince me that a person could be gay and Christian, but I'm still thankful this book exists. I know of multiple people who found this book a lifesaver when they or their kid came out to their conservative Christian family. There are many books out there that talk about faith and sexual orientation (and I've read many of them), but this to me is the gold standard for having an unfailingly gracious tone with clear, conversational writing.

What books are you thankful for?

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

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.

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs: This was my favorite book of October. I found it more compelling and readable than some other true accounts of former slaves, though her experience was different enough from many others that you wouldn't want to read this in isolation.

The Fisherman by John Langan: This was supposed to be a horror novel, but it was pretty boring. Most of my book club felt the same way, and everyone wondered why it had such high ratings on Goodreads. I think it would be a terrifying horror movie, but it didn't translate to the page.

Midwives by Chris Bohjalian: This started out promising, but I ended up feeling pretty bored by it. It's the story of a court case, and it's implied that there will be another layer — the defendant's daughter coming of age — but that never materializes, so you're left with just a blow-by-blow of the trial. The complex ethics at the heart of the novel are more interesting than the story itself.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby: It's mind-boggling to think of someone composing an entire book in their head and then dictating it one letter at a time via blinking one eyelid. And yet — I can't escape the fact that this made the book much weaker than if it had been carefully crafted and edited on paper. It's a short enough book, and enough people have resonated with it, that it's probably still worth a read, but don't expect too much from it.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt: I like books that are entrenched in the logistics of complex situations, and that's part of what made this read so enjoyable — you know from the opening pages that one of the characters is going to end up dead and that the narrator had a hand in it, but it's the way things fall apart in the aftermath of the murder that made this such a compelling read.

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks: Faulks is an excellent writer, by which I mean he creates a very real sense of place, with descriptions of sights, sounds, textures, and emotions that bring the trench warfare of WWI alive. Unfortunately, I personally found the book hard to get through and could not connect to any of the characters nor understand their motivations.

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

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Monday, November 13, 2017

Top Ten Books I Want My Children to Read

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

For this week's topic, I conveniently have a shelf on Goodreads called "Books I Want My Kids to Read." I've taken books off the list that our son Gregory has now read, but there are still plenty on the list for when he's older. Here are the ten I most hope he (and our future children) will someday read — books that I already have ready on our bookshelf!

1. All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor
I like this as a book for kids for a lot of reasons: The characters are Jewish, but it's not a Learning About Judaism kind of book; there are lots of opportunities for kids to talk about their feelings about different situations, like having a new baby in the family; and it shows the parents' thought processes as well, which would be interesting to discuss with a child. Plus it's just a sweet and enjoyable read.

2. The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis
This is a solid middle-grade novel that introduces some tough topics (the main character has to dress as a boy to get a job after the Taliban take her father) but it's not a scary, action-driven story; it focuses more on the main character's internal growth as she makes difficult decisions and learns to be more independent.

3. Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink
It's no secret around here that I like this book more than the similar Little House on the Prairie. This would be a book I'd want to read and discuss with my kids, as there are lots of opportunities to ask, "Why do you think so-and-so did that?" or "How do you think so-and-so was feeling?" and I'd want to point out the old-fashioned views on women and American Indians.

4. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
I love this twist on the classic Cinderella story, where Ella is a strong, confident character even when she's cursed to do the bidding of others. There's a strong message about consent as well — Ella actually gets to choose whether she wants to marry the prince!

5. George by Alex Gino
This book does a great job of introducing what it means to be transgender. George is introduced from the beginning with female pronouns, so kids are likely to understand why George is so frustrated when people keep calling her a boy and making her use the boys' bathroom!

6. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
This is a book that I love so much that I'm almost afraid for the day my kids will read it in case they don't love it as well. It's so quirky and fun and introduces mind-bending concepts around language and numbers in the form of an adventure story.

7. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
This book set in the American South in the 1930s not only provides clear illustrations of how people in America were (and are) treated differently because of their race but it also provides opportunities for discussion about how the black family at the center of this novel chooses to navigate those challenges. For the centering of the black experience I like it better than To Kill a Mockingbird.

8. Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar
This series was another favorite of mine as a kid that I hope my kids will like. It's a perfect blend of absurd humor and apt observations about education that any schoolchild can appreciate.

9. Totto-Chan by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi
This is one that I like to compare to the Ramona Quimby books for the writing style and the main character's personality. She isn't fictional, though; the book is based on the true stories of the author's experience at an experimental school in Japan in the 1940s.

10. Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
What childhood is complete without the classic poems of Shel Silverstein?

What books do you most want the kids in your life to read?

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Monday, November 6, 2017

Ten Characters Who Would Make Great Leaders

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

This topic turned out to be more challenging than I expected because well-written characters are often also deeply flawed characters, and we like to think of our leaders as having only the most minor flaws. I eventually found some great characters whose central conflicts (in their books) are mostly external, so there's evidence that they can make good decisions in difficult situations. I'm leaving it open-ended what the leadership role is... but I don't think it's a stretch to say I'd take any of these fictional characters over our current U.S. president.

1. Aminata Diallo (Someone Knows My Name)
Aminata went through some of the most challenging parts of history — being captured and forced into slavery, living through the American Revolution, facing discrimination in Nova Scotia, and helping found Freetown, Sierra Leone. Through it all she was inventive, determined, and confident.

2. Brother William (The Name of the Rose)
Brother William was a voice of rationality in an age steeped in superstition. (The book takes place in 1327.) In the midst of widespread panic over a series of murders, Brother William managed to stay calm and put together clues even while his methods were viewed with suspicion by everyone around him.

3. Clark Thompson (Station Eleven)
Many of the characters in this post-apocalyptic novel showed guts and inventiveness, but Clark was my favorite and the one I'd want leading me if 99% of the earth's population died. He leads by example, both in his care for others and in his attempts to preserve the history of life before the pandemic.

4. Cordelia Naismith (Cordelia's Honor)
In this sci-fi novel, Commander Cordelia Naismith has to contend with a lot of other characters (mostly male) trying to control her, and she is a fierce advocate for herself and, eventually, her child. She also comes from a world with different, and in some cases more advanced, technology, and so she has to convince others to try things that are totally foreign to them. If I were thrown into her world, I would serve under her.

5. Dana (Kindred)
Dana, a modern black woman, is repeatedly transported to the antebellum South, where she has to use her quick wits to protect herself and as many of those around her as she can. She shows an amazing cool-headedness in some terrible situations and great planning and wisdom in preparing herself for her return journeys.

6. Genly Ai (The Left Hand of Darkness)
Genly is given a huge task — to convince those on the planet Winter to join an interplanetary network that they know nothing about and don't believe exists. He can't bring his ships down from orbit until he knows they'll be welcomed safely, but the world leaders won't agree to that without seeing them first. Throughout all this he has to navigate the hugely complex intraworld politics while being perpetually cold and far, far away from home. The fact that he manages everything he does so deftly makes him a solid leader in my book.

7. Love Simpson (Cold Sassy Tree)
This is a woman who is not beholden to public opinion. Amidst the local scandal of her marriage to a newly widowed older man, she preserves her dignity and takes a practical approach to becoming ingrained in the town life. You can imagine her in any emergency immediately taking charge and getting all the necessary operations organized and running.

8. Maddie (Cold Name Verity)
I don't want to spoil anything of this easily-spoiled book for those who haven't read it, but Maddie is a badass WWII pilot who can stay calm under pressure and make really hard decisions when necessary.

9. Marie-Laure LeBlanc (All the Light We Cannot See)
Another World War II novel! Marie-Laure not only doesn't let her blindness hold her back, she uses it to her advantage — who would suspect a blind girl as serving a key role in the French Resistance?

10. Rashad (All American Boys)
Rashad is already on his way to being a leader as a star student and JROTC cadet when he finds himself thrown firsthand into the national controversy over racism and police brutality. As the victim of a police beating and the son of a former police officer, Rashad gets a crash course in the challenges and complexities of having a conversation about policing in the United States. By the end of the book he's found his voice and wants to do his part to fight back against these problems.

Which of these characters would you want as your leader?

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