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!

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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: Moby-Dick, and American Voices of World War I
Ten years ago I was reading: The Devil Wears Prada

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