Monday, April 30, 2018

Ten Books I'm Eagerly Awaiting

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

This week's topic is "Books I'd Slay a Lion to Get Early." In past years I haven't really kept up with upcoming releases very much, but this year I have holds on a bunch of yet-to-be-released books, mostly from previously loved authors. I'm not necessarily anxious to get my hands on all of them now — I already have too many books I'm trying to get through at one time — but I am excited for when they come out.

1. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green (Release Date: September 25, 2018)
I have no idea if Hank's book is going to be anywhere as good as his brother's books, but he certainly has the resources and connections to make sure it's polished. As a longtime Nerdfighter, of course I'm going to read this.

2. Ask a Manager by Alison Green (Release Date: May 1, 2018)
I am a huge fan of the Ask a Manager blog and new podcast, and I'm looking forward to reading her book as well. She promises it will have new content and stories that aren't on the blog. If you aren't already reading her, you should be!

3. From Twinkle, with Love by Sandhya Menon (Release Date: May 22, 2018)
I loved When Dimple Met Rishi, and I can't wait for Menon's next book!

4. Inspired by Rachel Held Evans (Release Date: June 12, 2018)
I really appreciate Rachel Held Evans' perspectives on faith, and I've been a longtime reader of her blog, which has mostly gone quiet since her son was born. Her books have been hit or miss for me, but I know she's continued to learn and grow as a writer, and I'm especially interested in what she has to say about learning to appreciate the Bible again.

5. Lethal White by Robert Galbraith (Release Date: Unknown)
Supposedly the fourth book in the Cormoran Strike series is done, but there's no concrete publication date yet. I hope it doesn't take too long!

6. The Mirror and the Light by Hilary Mantel (Release Date: 2019)
This one's been a long time coming, and supposedly it will finally be out next year. I think I'll probably have to reread the first two books, or at least the second one, before picking this up.

7. On the Come Up by Angie Thomas (Release Date: February 5, 2019)
It's going to be hard for Thomas to top the blockbuster The Hate U Give, but she certainly has the talent! It's a bummer the pub date got pushed back for this, but I'll read it whenever it comes out.

8. The final Shades of London book by Maureen Johnson (Release Date: Unknown)
The second book in the series was a disappointment, but the third one was much better. The next one is supposed to wrap up the series, and I hope it ends strong!

9. A Suitable Girl by Vikram Seth (Release Date: Unknown)
I really enjoyed A Suitable Boy (despite its size and lack of digital formats), and a sequel set in present day has been in the works for a long time. Apparently Seth was supposed to have it done in 2016 but separated from his partner of 11 years and missed his deadline with his publisher. If it ever gets finished, I will read it!

10. What If It's Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera (Release Date: October 9, 2018)
I adore Becky Albertalli's writing and want to read everything she writes! Of Adam Silvera's work I've only read More Happy Than Not, which I had mixed feelings about, but I'm just guessing that their joint effort is going to be amazing.

Which books are you looking forward to?

This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. Thanks for supporting A Cocoon of Books!

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Husband's Secret, and The Church of Mercy
Five years ago I was reading: American Gods and Basic Black
Ten years ago I was reading: The Devil Wears Prada

Sunday, April 29, 2018

Best of the Bunch: April 2018

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

Of the 11 books I read this month, I had one 5-star read. And it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that it was going to be my best of the bunch.

I don't understand how Becky Albertalli has hit it out of the park three times in a row, but she's done it again with Leah on the Offbeat. Once again she's brought me back to high school in a way that feels deeply true but not painful, and also manages to be true to my experience in high school then and what teen culture is like now. I laughed out loud many times, and I cried once or twice as well. Albertalli writes beautifully diverse casts of characters, and the book contains call-outs of white liberal racism and bi erasure that are needed but don't bog down the book in Issues. I related to Leah's perfectionism and her difficulty getting out of her own head, and I loved revisiting favorite characters from Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda (with a few references to the Upside of Unrequited characters as well). Don't read this without reading Simon first, but then enjoy coming back to Creekwood!

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

This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. Thanks for supporting A Cocoon of Books!

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The Fellowship of the Ring, The Husband's Secret, and The Church of Mercy
Five years ago I was reading: American Gods and Basic Black
Ten years ago I was reading: The Devil Wears Prada

Monday, April 23, 2018

Ten Past Reads with Common Title Words

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

This week's topic is "Frequently Used Words In [Insert Genre/Age Group] Title." Being a data-minded person, I figured someone else had probably already done the work to figure out which words are most commonly used in book titles, and I didn't want to reinvent the wheel. It turns out that the most common words in titles on WorldCat are pretty boring, so instead I found this analysis of the most common title words by genre. Here are ten genres for which I had read a book whose title had the most common word for that genre.*

1. Bio & Memoirs: "Life" — Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs

2. Children's: "Day" — Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day by Juliet Viorst

3. Fantasy: "Dragon" — How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell

4. History: "History" — Marriage, a History by Stephanie Coontz

5. Literary Fiction: "Sea" — Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende

6. Middle Grade: "Mystery" — The Mystery of the Stolen Diamonds by David A. Adler

7. Mystery: "Death" — Death on the Nile by Agatha Christie

8. Nonfiction: "War" — Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

9. Religious & Inspirational: "God" — The God We Never Knew by Marcus J. Borg

10. True Crime: "Murder" — The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson

*This is based on my best guess of which word in each Wordle is largest; in some cases, it seemed like more than one word was the largest size, in which case I just used the word for which I had an example.

I also used Wordle to analyze the titles (excluding subtitles) of all the books I've read to date, and these are the ten most common words: Life, Love, Girl, Little, Guide, Book, World, God, Secret, and Black!

What books have you read for these categories/words?

This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. Thanks for supporting A Cocoon of Books!

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The Intuitionist and Howl's Moving Castle
Five years ago I was reading: Moby-Dick, Quiet, and American Voices of World War I
Ten years ago I was reading: The Devil Wears Prada

Monday, April 16, 2018

Top Ten Works of Journalistic Nonfiction

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

This week it's a freebie! I decided to pick a sub-genre that I particularly like and share some of my favorites. It turns out to be quite difficult to parse journalistic nonfiction from closely related sub-genres like histories and social science research, but I did my best. I excluded anything that I thought veered too much into memoir, like Gang Leader for a Day. I think journalistic nonfiction books have more of a tone of a long-form magazine article than any of those other related genres — it's ultimately about the writer devoting time to researching some specific topic, even if they insert themselves into the narrative in some way. Here are ten that I've enjoyed.

1. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo
Katherine Boo spent about four years living among the people in a Mumbai slum and recording their lives. This book is the result. It will break your heart and give you no easy answers to walk away with, but I think everyone should read it, especially anyone who thinks getting out of poverty is easily attainable if people would just do X or Y.

2. Being Mortal by Atul Gawande
I can't think of another book that so honestly and accessibly deals with the end of life and all that it entails. Gawande takes us from nursing homes to hospitals to show how modern medicine's triumphs in extending life have made it harder and harder for us to accept the true end of life when it approaches. I want to get this into the hands of every medical professional out there, but in the meantime, everyone else ought to read it too.

3. Bonk by Mary Roach
Roach is best known for her first book, Stiff, but my favorite is the first one of hers I read, which is all about the science of sex. It's interesting, hilarious, and informative, which is the best combination in this type of book.

4. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
Skloot manages to weave three stories together: the life and death of Henrietta Lacks and her descendants; the ups and downs of scientific research related to Henrietta's cancer cells, which continued to grow and divide indefinitely after her death; and Skloot's own adventures in trying to get the Lacks family to trust her enough to do interviews with them for the book. The book also raises many important questions about issues still being debated today, particularly around consent, exploitation, and the furthering of medical research.

5. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
I guess this is technically a biography. Oh well. If you haven't already heard of this blockbuster of a book, it's the story of Louis Zamperini, a WWII soldier who survived more than a month adrift in an inflatable life raft and then experienced utter brutality as an unlisted Japanese POW. Hillenbrand is a masterful storyteller who will have you on the edge of your seat through waves of hope and despair as you experience Zamperini's trials along with him.

6. Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer
This is a fascinating look at Mormon Fundamentalism and how the early years of Mormonism provided the roots for various fundamentalist beliefs, particularly polygamy and blood atonement. It combines history, true crime, and an investigation of modern-day fundamentalist communities. It's valuable not just for the deep dive into the world of Mormon Fundamentalism but also for the larger truths it points to about faith and the practice of religion in general.

7. The Unthinkable by Amanda Ripley
This dips a bit into social psychology, but it's in a larger context of how our disaster preparedness systems need to be adapted to account for human behavior. Ripley manages to strike a necessary balance between frightening and empowering in explaining which parts of our current preparedness practices are helpful and which are not, with the most damning indictments leveled at the leaders and experts who place all their faith in technology and authorities and don't trust the average person well enough to train and equip them.

8. The Working Poor by David Shipler
This is an in-depth look at those who remain in poverty despite being employed, and all of the ways in which the American Dream fails those who looks to its promises. It's comprehensive, in that he looks not just at poor people of color in inner cities but also at poor whites in rural areas; not just at the experience of employees but also at the pressures on employers that create some of the systems that trap workers in low-wage jobs; not just about the ways the labor market fails poor people but at the ways they or their families get trapped into cycles of child abuse and substance abuse.

9. Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder
This also could be considered a biography, but Dr. Paul Farmer's life is worth reading about not so it can inspire you to be him — a man who knows everyone, does everything, and barely sleeps — but so you can understand global health through a different lens than the cost-benefit perspective usually put forward. It raises questions about who we have responsibility for as global citizens, where non-profit organizations should put their efforts, and whether audacious dreams can outlive their charismatic creators.

10. Strangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild
In this book, Hochschild seeks to explore what she calls the Great Paradox — that the areas of the country most devastated by pollution are also most populated with conservative voters, who vote for candidates supporting deregulation and less oversight. Through interviews with residents of one region in Louisiana, she develops a "deep story" that explains the driving philosophy of the typical Tea Party member and how they see themselves and others in the big picture of America. It's thoughtful, enlightening, and (for me) incredibly frustrating to read, but I found it worth it for gaining a fuller picture of my fellow citizens.

What are your favorite journalistic nonfiction reads?

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Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The Bees and The Hate U Give
Five years ago I was reading: Thirteen Reasons Why, Moby-Dick, and American Voices of World War I
Ten years ago I was reading: The Devil Wears Prada

Sunday, April 15, 2018

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.

Radical by Michelle Rhee: This was my favorite book in March. In addition to being a straight-shooting memoir of Rhee's fast-paced and controversial career in education reform, this book is a battle cry for parents, teachers, students, and politicians to use their voices to fight for every student to have a quality education. It's inspiring, motivating, and a necessary read for anyone who cares about the quality of education in the United States.

Pawn of Prophecy by David Eddings: I realized upon rereading this why the publisher has reprinted the five books into two volumes; nowadays in a series each book generally has its own complete story arc, whereas this is much more in the vein of The Lord of the Rings where the first book is simply setting the stage for the rest of the series. It also takes a while in this book for Eddings to introduce the humor, particularly the character bantering, that I enjoy so much about this series.

Broken Harbor by Tana French: I don't know why I keep coming back to Tana French expecting something different than what she always delivers: a maddening, un-put-downable crime novel populated with human beings who make poor choices and for whom justice is rarely served, at least not completely. This time I thought she had done something different, taken a character who seemed like a jerk in the last novel and made him actually likable, with a great rookie partner — and then, once again, she smashed all my dreams to pieces.

Queen of Sorcery by David Eddings: This book is certainly more action-packed than the first one. I had forgotten just how many people our heroes kill along the way — it seems like every other scene is the setup for another bloody battle. I'm still enjoying revisiting this childhood favorite series, though I will concede that as an adult it's clear how one-dimensional most of the characters are. Still, I do love Eddings' humor, and there's a lot more bantering and sly wit in this one.

The Power of Their Ideas by Deborah Meier: Even though this book is more than 20 years old now, Meier's vision for what public schools can be is no less needed today than when it was published. I think the questions she asks, about what and how students are taught, are valuable for every generation, and certainly still relevant today.

Watership Down by Richard Adams: I can see why this has survived as a classic for both children and adults. In some ways it's a straightforward adventure story, complete with prophecies, danger, and daring plans, but the fact that it's set among rabbits means that it's also completely new. Adams develops the world of the rabbits so immersively that it feels almost like a fantasy novel, as there is a whole new vocabulary and societal structure to learn about, but it's grounded in the real world, so it's also familiar. I would recommend it for older kids and any adult who never had the chance to pick it up!

Hallowe'en Party by Agatha Christie: I quite liked this one, probably because I figured out quite a few of the pieces on my own as it went along. The clues are all there, everything ties together, and the solution isn't too far-fetched. I like any Poirot book that includes Ariadne Oliver, and I always appreciate when Poirot's final explanation is to her rather than an entire room full of all the suspects. It's nothing spectacular, but I enjoyed it.

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi: I didn't realize going in that this is basically a collection of short stories, which is not a format I enjoy very much. I think the concept of it is brilliant, and Gyasi's writing and character development are great, but it was disappointing to only get small snapshots of each character's life before moving on.

The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough: It took me a long time to warm up to this one, but once I did I was a goner. The characters felt like real people, the setting was so richly detailed I felt like I'd been on a tour of Australia, and the plot was unpredictable, not only because McCullough isn't afraid to kill off her characters, but also because when you have a central character who's a Catholic priest in love with a woman, do you root for him to break his vows or keep them? This one is an investment, but it's worth wading through the level of detail in order to find yourself fully immersed in the story. I understand how it's earned its place on so many best-of lists.

A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah: It's hard to know what to even say about Beah's memoir of his experience during the Sierra Leone civil war. What he went through is so far removed from my own life that I am just grateful he took the time to put his experiences on paper so that others could get a glimpse of what he went through. Regardless of whatever valid criticisms there might be of the writing, or even of the credibility of some of the details of Beah's account (which has been questioned), I don't think there's another book out there that captures so vividly what living through the Sierra Leone civil war was like and how boys can end up becoming child soldiers.

Elephants Can Remember by Agatha Christie: Even Ariadne Oliver couldn't save the problems with this one. Although I put together the clues before the end, the solution didn't make sense, and the messages throughout about both mental illness and adoption were rife with myths and stereotypes. I would not recommend this one.

Savage Inequalities by Jonathan Kozol: This is a stark look at the vast discrepancies in public education funding in America, particularly comparing affluent and poor areas that are within walking distance of one another. Kozol's writing style drove me nuts and I think he could have broadened his focus beyond funding, but if you haven't already spent years thinking about this issue like I have, then this is probably worth picking up.

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

This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. Thanks for supporting A Cocoon of Books!

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The Bees and The Hate U Give
Five years ago I was reading: Moby-Dick, and American Voices of World War I
Ten years ago I was reading: The Devil Wears Prada

Monday, April 9, 2018

Ten Books I Loved But Will Never Reread

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

Given how difficult it is for me to make myself reread books, you would think there would be a lot in this category, but I was surprised, looking through my top-rated books, how many I've reread already. There are many others that I would be happy to reread if they came up as book club picks even if I wouldn't pick them up on my own. I did, however, manage to find ten books that I enjoyed but have no plans to reread ever.

1. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
This is a painstakingly detailed account of how the United States made and broke promises to Native Americans throughout the 1800s, not to mention killing them en masse at several points in time. I'm very glad to have read it and think every American should, but the level of research and detail was almost mind-numbing, and I don't need to reread the whole thing for the overall history lesson to still be firmly implanted in my brain.

2. The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee
This is another case where the level of research and detail was astounding, and I learned a lot from it, but wow did it take me a long time to get through. I don't think I need to devote that much time again to revisiting this particular book.

3. The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
This book is brilliant, but well beyond my tolerance for gore. I don't usually read horror, and I made an exception because of the rave reviews for this one (which I'm glad I did), but I will not be rereading it. When one of my book clubs picked it one month I chose not to read it again, but I was glad it was chosen and we had a good discussion!

4. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Like most people, I flew through this book and was blown away by the clever plotting and the reveal in the second half. But both main characters are truly terrible people, I already know the twists, and there's one very violent scene that horrified me, so I will not be picking up this one again.

5. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
I couldn't put down any of the books in this trilogy, but I knew I'd never pick them back up again once I was done. They're so horrific both conceptually and in the violent imagery on the page even while being incredibly compelling, and I had trouble sleeping afterwards because I was still thinking about them. I have no desire to revisit that world.

6. Room by Emma Donoghue
This is one of my favorite books, but it was incredibly stressful to read. The climax that comes halfway through the book was so nerve-wracking that I turned my audiobook on double-speed just to get through it faster because I needed to know if they were going to be OK. I'm glad this book exists and I'm glad to have read it, but even knowing what happens I don't think I'd want to be back in Room again.

7. The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith
The Cormoran Strike mysteries are definitely grittier in general than the cozy mysteries I usually read, but this one was particularly brutal. I'm looking forward to the next book in the series, but I won't be going back through the ones I've already read, especially this one.

8. Someone Knows My Name by Lawrence Hill
Books involving chattel slavery are necessarily hard to read, and I've read quite a lot at this point, both fiction and nonfiction. It's not something I ever want to shy away from reading as it's a real part of American history, but I'm not eager to revisit the accounts I've already read. If I did, I think I'd choose one of the nonfiction books rather than a fictionalized version like this to reread.

9. A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
Hosseini is a very talented writer and did a wonderful job with this book, but man, it's depressing. I remember reading this during a cold, rainy spell while living in Chicago, and between the book and the weather I felt like there was this physical weight on me. It's worth reading once, but I would have to be in a really good mood with bright, warm weather to attempt to tackle this one again.

10. Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
Talk about brutal! This was such a compelling read, but the things Zamperini went through were horrifying, particularly the sadism of the Bird in his POW camp. And I can still remember wanting to vomit at the thought of what some of the prisoners did to the Bird's food. Her writing is masterful, but the things she wrote about are not things I want to vicariously experience a second time.

Which great books will you never reread?

This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. Thanks for supporting A Cocoon of Books!

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: You and Dumb Witness
Five years ago I was reading: The Complete Idiot's Guide to Adoption and Moby-Dick
Ten years ago I was reading: Going Postal

Monday, April 2, 2018

Nine Characters I Liked From Books I Didn't

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

Even in a book that's long and boring or has terrible people in it, there's often that one character who sticks out in a positive way. Here are some books I didn't care for and the characters in them that I liked.

1. The Wife of Bath (from The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer)
I think she's probably everyone's favorite character in this book with way too many long and boring stories. She's not exactly a feminist icon by today's standards, but for a book from the 1400s written by a dude, she's a pretty self-actualized female character.

2. A-Through-L (from The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente)
Don't hate me, but I couldn't get into this book. My favorite part was this character, a wyvern who thinks his father was a library. (I honestly don't remember if I liked the character himself or just the idea of him.)

3. Naomi (from Leviathan Wakes by S.A. Corey)
I wish Naomi had been one of the narrators of this book instead of the two assholes who actually narrated it. Then we would have gotten more of her self-confident leadership and less rhapsodizing about her boobs and how cute she is when she's angry.

4. Ruth Connor (from The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold)
I actually liked this book until it turned into a bizarre trashfire at the 90% mark. But the only character whose choices didn't eventually irritate me was Ruth, who devotes her life to the legacies of the dead.

5. Darren (from None of the Above by I.W. Gregorio)
Even though he's a painfully stereotypical love interest, he's just about the only character in this book who doesn't say horribly offensive things at one point or another.

6. Betsy (from A Piece of the World by Christina Baker Kline)
Most of this book was about how sad and miserable the main character was because she was disabled. The bright spot was her friend Betsy, who was bursting with joy at all times and just wanted to bring happiness to everyone around her.

7. Aliena (from The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett)
I could not get into this book, which was long and about architecture and people being terrible to each other. It takes place in the 12th century, so it's notable that Aliena refuses to marry a nobleman just because she doesn't want to, even after he gets mad and "ruins" her, and she also manages to find her own way in the world and take care of her brother.

8. William Dobbin (from Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray)
This was another classic I couldn't get into because it was all a bunch of people being terrible. The one exception is Dobbin, who was kind of too good to be true, but he provided a nice counterpoint to all the stories out there about men stalking their true loves until they relent and marry them. He was respectful of the woman he loved and accepted that her feelings weren't mutual without being all weird about it.

9. Roberta Muldoon (from The World According to Garp by John Irving)
Roberta was the most well-adjusted person in a group of characters with weird neuroses, poor life decisions, and hang-ups about sex. Although she was the butt of several jokes as a transwoman in a book from the '70s, she herself was unfazed by just about everything and therefore was the rock that the other characters looked to for support and stability.

Which characters made bad books better for you?

This post contains Amazon Affiliate links. Thanks for supporting A Cocoon of Books!

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Einstein Never Used Flashcards and The Three Musketeers
Five years ago I was reading: The Westing Game and Mindless Eating
Ten years ago I was reading: Going Postal