Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Best of the Bunch: January 2018

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

Of the 11 books I read, I had one 5-star read, which was my best of the bunch.

The World According to Mister Rogers does a nice job of demonstrating the unique person that Fred Rogers was and the breadth of wisdom that he shared. After I started the book, I went online to find a daily calendar of Mister Rogers quotations, as each one has so much to unpack that you really need a full day to reflect on it. There are few people I can think of who so reliably showed an unconditional love for the world and also spoke with openness and vulnerability about their feelings as a way of inviting others to be their authentic selves. We could all benefit from these reminders about how to be the best kind of human, especially coming from someone who modeled everything he taught.

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

Monday, January 29, 2018

Books I Can't Believe I Read

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

It seems you could interpret this week's topic two ways: Either "Wow, I can't believe I succeeded in reading that difficult/long book!" (War and Peace, Infinite Jest...) or the way I interpreted it, which was "Wow, I can't believe I wasted precious reading time on this stupid book. I probably should have abandoned it."

1. Adoption: Choosing It, Living It, Loving It by Ray Guarendi
I've read quite a lot of adoption books by now, and this is probably the worst one that I didn't outright abandon. It was like a compilation of bad jokes (mostly of the "stupid husband" variety) that also glossed over the potential issues related to adopting a child who's older, has special needs, is of another race, etc. with a glib "All kids are the same" attitude. It was a waste of time.

2. Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk by Peter L. Bernstein
I read this as part of a "book swap" at book club and felt obligated to finish it on behalf of the guy who recommended it. This was billed as a history of risk but was actually a history of probability and forecasting with references to risk awkwardly shoehorned it. It also could have benefited from a stronger editor, as there were glaring inconsistencies in some places (e.g., names, ages). I don't think I got anything out of it.

3. Beauty of the Broken by Tawni Waters
This was a book club read. My review began, "There are so many problems with this book that I don't even know where to start." In a book that attempts to combat homophobia, it manages to be offensive to Native Americans, other people of color, mentally disabled people, Christians, and survivors of sexual assault, on top of just being poorly plotted.

4. Blackout by Sam Mills
Another choice for online book club before we started locking down who was allowed to nominate books. It tries to be an updated 1984, but the writing is just terrible. It was certainly action-packed, but the plot was too convoluted and the characters were so "complex" as to have no consistency in their actions. Our club would have been better off just reading 1984.

5. Bo's Café by Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol, and John S. Lynch
I read this book because it was repeatedly recommended by one of the hosts of the ONE Extraordinary Marriage podcast as a powerful book on dealing with an anger problem. I should have realized that it was going to be a heavy-handed piece of Christian media. The book is pretty anti-counseling (apparently all you need to combat an anger problem is a Christian mentor) and seems to be an attempt to write a "guy book" about sports and cars and boats that will lead people to Jesus. I consider myself a Christian but I could barely stomach this book.

6. Confessions of a Counterfeit Farmer Girl by Susan McCorkindale
This was recommended to me years ago when I was looking for something funny to read, and I wish I'd had Goodreads then because the ratings are bad. Apparently I'm not the only one who got tired of the rinse-and-repeat "I live on a farm but I like high heels and Starbucks and might break a nail if I did any work, haha" jokes that made up the entire book. If only I'd been in the habit of giving myself permission to abandon books back then.

7. The Fisherman by John Langan
I don't read a lot of horror because it freaks me out, but this (another book club selection) was just boring. Rather than using the medium to its fullest, Langan tried to write a book that would be scary as a horror movie, but it's hard to translate jump scares and creepy visuals to the page. I got to the point where I was like, "Lemme guess, it's another dead white person who's naked and has eyes like a fish." I don't understand how this book has such good ratings.

8. A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon
I finished this book only because a coworker lent it to me, and then after I forced myself through it it turned out she hadn't even read it yet. The writing was overly complex, they 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. Again, I do not understand how this book has such high ratings, and I would recommend it to no one.

9. The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
I loved Angels and Demons, thought The Da Vinci Code was OK, and should have stopped there. The ending to this one was dumb. I can't believe I wasted time listening to this one.

10. Son of a Witch by Gregory Maguire
I only read this book because Wicked was so disappointing that I was hoping this one would have some answers to all the loose threads, but I should have just recognized that it wasn't going to get any better. I can forgive myself for reading the first book because of the hype and my love for the musical, but I definitely should have stopped there.

Which books do you wish you hadn't wasted reading time on?

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Monday, January 22, 2018

Books I Really Liked but Can’t Remember Much About

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

Ah, those dark days before Goodreads... Now I have the ability to call up a detailed review to remind me what I thought of a book, but for my pre-2013 reads that's not the case. Still, this category was challenging because if I really liked a book, I generally remember quite a bit about it, and if I don't remember anything about it, I don't remember if I liked it! These are the ones I came up with that I know I liked but that I read so long ago that I'm super fuzzy on the details.

1. The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama
I read this before he was president, so all his ideas seemed fresh and exciting, but I can't really remember what any of them were. I remember a story about him taking a red-eye flight to vote on a bill and then no one understanding the nuances of his vote... but that's about it.

2. The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman by Ernest J. Gaines
I remember the premise of this book — a girl born into slavery at the end of the Civil War lives long enough to see the civil rights movement in America — but I couldn't tell you any of the details.

3. Black Boy by Richard Wright
I always get mixed up whether this or Native Son is Wright's autobiography (it's this one), but while I remember the plot of Native Son vividly, I can't remember a single detail of Wright's own life.

4. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
I loved this book in middle school, and I remember one scene near the end, but the book is, what? Like 900 pages? I really don't remember anything else from it. I think I still have my 10-page book report on it, though...

5. Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
I picked up this book in high school when I was sort-of dating a guy from South Africa, which may have influenced why I liked the book, but I remember absolutely nothing about it now except the setting.

6. The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy
This is another book from middle school that I really loved, and I remember the basic contours of the plot, including the big reveal of who the Scarlet Pimpernel was. I couldn't tell you exactly what the Scarlet Pimpernel did, though, except that it had something to do with the French Revolution (I think), or what anyone else in the book did for that matter.

7. The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
I remember listening to this on audio while running on the track in my college gym. I know the premise — one demon writes letters to another demon on how to best influence human beings to sin — but I don't think I could tell you a single one of his "tips." At the time, though, I know I was like, "Oh, that's so true!"

8. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
I praised this book a lot after reading it, and I know that it manages to be comprehensive (as the title suggests), accessible, and concise, but have I remembered any of the actual lessons from the book? If I have, I couldn't tell you that they came from this book.

9. Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert
This is another nonfiction read that I referenced a lot after reading it, but now I've read so many similar nonfiction books that I couldn't say definitively that any one study or story came from this book.

10. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
I know that this book involves talking animals... and that it's a well-loved classic... but I don't remember a single aspect of the plot now.

Which good books have escaped your memory?

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Monday, January 15, 2018

Top Ten Bookish Goals for 2018

I'm linking up with That Artsy Reader Girl, who is now hosting Top Ten Tuesday!

In case you missed it, here's how I did with my 2017 bookish goals! I've decided over the years that making ten big goals is a little overwhelming, so I'm trying to make more of my goals smaller and more achievable this year.

1. Read the His Dark Materials series.
I read the first two books in the series in middle school and never read the third one, which means every time there's a list that's like, "Have you read His Dark Materials?" I can't check it off because I've only read 2/3 of it. And I like checking things off!

2. Read the whole Chronicles of Narnia series.
This is another one where I read the first two books (I think in college) and then moved on to other things. I might ask a friend to do this read/reread with me.

3. Finish the Hercule Poirot books.
I've read 31 of 37, and it feels definitely doable to read the last six this year. Then I have to decide whether to tackle her standalones next or one of her other detective series.

4. Reread the Belgariad and Malloreon series on audiobook.
These were some of my favorite books in middle school and high school, and I got my now-husband hooked on them in college. But I haven't reread them in over a decade! Since I recently recommended these to a friend looking for audiobooks, I thought it might be fun to reread them on audio.

5. Read something my sister recommends.
I like this goal from last year, so I'm going to do it again this year!

6. Read some of the unread books on my bookshelf.
I had this goal a few years ago, when I successfully read almost everything on my shelf that was on my TBR list, but then I realized I had some other books — like data visualization manuals I had put on my PaperBackSwap list a long time ago and just received recently — that weren't even on my TBR list. It's increasingly difficult for me to find time to read hard copy books, so I'm not going to attempt to read everything, but at least a few.

7. Get roughly 50% of my 2018 reads from my TBR list and 50% from elsewhere.
I continue to struggle with balancing getting through the books I've been wanting to read (or feel like I should read) and having the flexibility to pick up books when I first hear about them. This year I'm going to continue tracking what I read off my TBR, so I'll have a total count to see how I do with this goal.

8. Read at least three books published in 2018.
I am terrible about not reading new releases until years after everyone's stopped talking about them. The one year I pushed myself to read a bunch of new releases so I could vote in the Goodreads Awards, the books I read were either 1) terrible and I didn't want to vote for them or 2) weren't even on the list. So that's no longer my goal, but I do still want to keep up a bit more than I usually do. I think three seems like a manageable number to shoot for this year.

9. Read some 2017 releases.
In the spirit of the above goal of not letting too much time pass, I plan to read some of these 2017 releases I wish I'd read by now.

10. Promote the Best of the Bunch linkup more.
I'm keeping this goal from last year because I didn't really do anything with it. Maybe this year I will!

What are your bookish goals for 2018?

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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.

Dead Man's Folly by Agatha Christie: I liked this one, even if the solution had some of Christie's excessive complexity. It's not a favorite, but it was a solid addition to the series.

Moloka'i by Alan Brennert: This is the story of Rachel Kalama, separated from her family at age seven and exiled to the island of Moloka'i after a diagnosis of Hansen's disease (leprosy). This isn't a book I'd go out of my way to evangelize, but it was an enjoyable read. If you like happy endings, particularly improbably, sickly sweet ones, you'll probably like this one as well.

Sophie's Choice by William Styron: I can understand why this book is a classic, but I disliked all the main characters, and the titular choice had been spoiled for me years ago so it felt anticlimactic. I can see and appreciate the good in this book, but I don't think it's aged well. It's an interesting ethical dilemma wrapped in a lot of unnecessary dross and writing that teeters between beautiful and pretentious.

I'll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios: Although this is in many ways a predictable YA romance, it's also something new: It's set in a rural town (not the suburbs or city) and deals with a teenager who's come back wounded from Aghanistan. If angsty teenage romance makes you run the other way, I would not recommend this book, but for those who don't mind revisiting the drama of high school love, this is a good read.

Americanah by Chimananda Ngozi Adichie: This was a reread for me, and while I continue to appreciate the sharp observations on race in America, the characters irritated me this time around. I prefer Adichie's nonfiction to her fiction.

Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie: I would not give this book to a child, not only because it's racist AF, but because it's pretty dark, with people casually murdering people left and right. I did enjoy seeing how the book compared and contrasted with the Disney movie and the stage version. If I weren't familiar with those versions I think I would have enjoyed the book much less and just found it a bizarre, dark little classic.

After Dark by Haruki Murakami: This was a book club pick I wouldn't have picked up on my own, knowing what I know about my dislike of magical realism and Murakami's writing, but it ended up being OK. It's written very cinematically and gives you a feel for what the wee hours of the morning in Tokyo are like — I just could have done without the seeming pointless side plot where a character gets sucked into a parallel reality via her TV.

Cat Among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie: On the whole, I'd say this is one of the better Poirot mysteries, if you don't mind that Poirot doesn't appear until 2/3 of the way through the book, and if you can overlook the racist elements that pervade most of Christie's work. Aside from that, there are enjoyable characters, red herrings, all the things I like about Christie's mysteries.

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

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Thursday, January 11, 2018

Review of 2017 Reading Resolutions

It's that time again! My 2018 reading goals will be going up soon, but first I need to take a look back at my 2017 goals. Here's what I wanted to do, and how I did.

1. Read fewer than 50 books from my to-read list.
Success! I only read 43 from my to-read list. I actually started to wonder how many of my books really came off my to-read list in previous years, as it might not be as many as I thought. I decided to keep tracking the books I read off my main to-read list again this year, as my list can sometimes feel like a bottomless pit and it's good to see the progress I've made.

2. Read some books over a thousand pages.
I read Don Quixote, Bleak House, and Infinite Jest, and I'm partway through The Stand. I also read some books on the longer end that weren't over the 1000-page mark, including Vanity Fair, The Three Musketeers, and The Brothers Karamazov.

3. Catch up on some classics.
I got through a ton of these, including The Picture of Dorian Gray, Crime and Punishment, Sophie's Choice, The Sun Also Rises, and Stranger in a Strange Land, plus the extra-long ones listed above.

4. Read something my sister recommends.
This year my sister picked You by Caroline Kepnes, which was a weird book that I can't say I really liked, but I appreciate that she got me out of my comfort zone a bit. I'd take another recommendation from her this year!

5. Make use of my personal reading area.
I did a pretty good job of this in the first half of the year, but I've gotten away from it. Mainly that's because I've been trying to get to sleep earlier, which means as soon as my son's asleep I get ready for bed, so that's cut out most of my evening reading time. My reading area is also right next to the bedroom door, so even if it's my husband's turn to do bedtime I can't read because I can hear them talking. Weekend naptime is my other downtime to read and I was taking a class on Saturday afternoons the last few months. We'll see if I can get back to reading in my special reading chair more regularly this year.

6. Read books on my new Kindle Voyage.
I've definitely used my Kindle a lot more this year since getting the Voyage for Christmas in 2016. We took a week-long trip to Mexico in May and it was glorious to have all the books I could want in one slim case. I still read on my phone more than on my Kindle since I don't bring my Kindle with me everywhere, but I like reading on the Kindle when I can.

7. Read book club picks more than a week in advance.
I did really well with this in 2017! I didn't always get them read a full week in advance, but having that goal meant that I didn't have any more situations where I was scrambling to finish the book the morning of. The downside is that sometimes my memory's fuzzy if it's been a few weeks since I finished it, but I've usually written enough key points in my Goodreads review that it doesn't matter.

8. Host a book club meeting in the first half of the year.
Success! I hosted in March. There's enough of us in the club that I shouldn't have to host again until late summer or fall of this year.

9. Comment on other book blogs more often.
I did really well with this in the first half of the year, and then in June Delicious Bookmarks stopped working, which is where I saved all the links for the pages I commented on so I could go back to look for replies later. I'd already switched all my other bookmarks to Diigo but kept my comment tracking in Delicious, and I don't want to have two separate Diigo accounts so I need to find a different site. I just haven't put in the work to find a replacement yet. Any suggestions?

10. Promote the Best of the Bunch linkup more.
This is the one thing I didn't do a great job with this year. One thing I did do was start enforcing that people who submit a post have to have a link on that post to the Best of the Bunch linkup, so no one gets free publicity for their blog without also publicizing the linkup to their own readers, but so far this has just resulted in people not linking up rather than adding a link on their own post. If you have any ideas of how to get more people to join in, let me know!

How did you do with your book-related resolutions in 2017?

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Monday, January 8, 2018

Top Ten Books Published in 2017 I Wish I'd Read by Now

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

This week's topic is "Ten Books I Meant To Read In 2017 But Didn't Get To." I've been pretty disciplined with my reading lately — I started off 2017 pursuing my goal of reading whatever I wanted, and then halfway through the year I kind of freaked out and started marching my way through the classics and bestsellers I felt like I should have read by now. Of my Spring TBR, Summer TBR, and Fall TBR, I got through all but four books, one of which I'm reading now and one that I chose to abandon. While I was clearing out my backlog, though, certain new releases kept popping up that I wish I'd taken the time to read when they came out. Here are the ones I most wish I'd read in 2017.

1. Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
I keep seeing this on everyone's lists of books they loved in 2017, and it has a 4.33 rating on Goodreads after more than 54,000 ratings, so it's clearly resonated with a lot of people.

2. The Fact of a Body by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich
I'm always interested in books that challenge me, and the blurb on this one — that the author was staunchly anti-death penalty until she started working on a specific murder case — fascinated me. I like that's a combination of a true crime mystery and a memoir.

3. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders
This seems to be the most polarizing book of the year, and I want to know which side I'm on! I recommended it to a friend who was looking for his next Audible read because I'd read about the audio version using over 100 different voices, and he still isn't sure if he loves it or hates it but is already listening to it for a second time.

4. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee
I honestly know very little about this book except it keeps getting high ratings from people I trust, so I'm interested to check it out.

5. Reading People by Anne Bogel
I read Bogel's blog, Modern Mrs. Darcy, religiously and listen to her podcast, What Should I Read Next?, so I've heard about her new book constantly, but I didn't make it a priority to read last year.

6. Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor
YA fantasy isn't one of my favorite genres, but it seemed like everyone was losing their mind over this book when it came out last year, and it still has a 4.39 rating on Goodreads almost a year and 21,000+ ratings later.

7. This Is How It Always Is by Laurie Frankel
This is one that Anne Bogel has recommended many times, and although she has declined to spoil what the "family secret" in the book was, I read about it elsewhere and now am even more interested in reading this.

8. Warcross by Marie Lu
This has been described as a more diverse Ready Player One, which I am all about.

9. When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon
This is another one that everyone seems to be raving about. I really need to make it a priority to get my hands on this one.

10. Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? by Alyssa Mastromonaco
I already have a hold on the audiobook for this one, which I've heard is well narrated by the author and a fairly quick "read."

Which books did you wish you'd read in 2017?

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Monday, January 1, 2018

Top Ten New-To-Me Authors I Read In 2017

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

As I said in my wrap-up of favorite books, I did a lot of rereading this year (more than usual), and I also made a lot of progress through the complete set of Hercule Poirot mysteries. But there were plenty of great books by authors I hadn't read before, and I'd be happy to read more by any of these authors!

1. Angie Thomas
I loved The Hate U Give, and I definitely want to read her next one, On the Come Up!

2. Cynthia Hand
YA can be very hit or miss for me, but The Last Time We Say Goodbye was written with care and complexity. It looks like her other works are fantasy, which isn't usually my jam, but I might give one a try.

3. Diana Wynne Jones
Even though Howl's Moving Castle didn't rise to the top of my books for the year, I found it charming and enjoyable. I'd like to reread it with my kids, and maybe read the other books in the series as well.

4. Helene Wecker
The Golem and the Jinni was another one that wasn't an absolute favorite of the year for me, but it was well-written and just generally well-designed. I'll be interested to see if she writes another book as popular as that one.

5. Kristin Hannah
Even though I didn't love The Nightingale the way that everyone and their mother seems to have, I could still appreciate how well done it was and would try another one of her books.

6. Michelle Alexander
I wonder if she will try to tackle another work as ambitious as The New Jim Crow, but if she does I will read it. It's hard to find a nonfiction work this comprehensive that's also organized so clearly.

7. Mira Jacob
The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing was her debut novel, and hopefully it won't be her last!

8. Nina LaCour
It took me way too long to get around to reading Everything Leads to You. She has several other highly rated books, though my Goodreads friends didn't necessarily love them, so we'll see when I get around to trying them.

9. Octavia Butler
It took me a little bit to get into Kindred, but then I was sucked in and astounded by its brilliance. I very much want to read Parable of the Sower.

10. Tana French
I finally started on the Dublin Murder Squad series this year, reading In the Woods, The Likeness, and Faithful Place. I have a love/hate relationships with each of these books, but I already have a hold on Broken Harbor.

Which authors did you first read this year?

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