Friday, June 29, 2018

Best of the Bunch: June 2018

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

Of the 8 books I read this month, I had two 5-star reads:

Castle of Wizardry by David Eddings

Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans

Once again, the first one's rating is inflated by personal nostalgia, so I'm giving the best of the bunch to...

Getting something out of the Bible doesn't require someone translating it into "plain English" or offering commentary tinged with personal bias explaining what it all really means. In this book, Rachel Held Evans points out larger themes that recur throughout the Bible and why, historically, they were such frequent concerns of the Bible's authors, so you have enough context to spot these motifs as you read and also see how they might connect to your own life. I have read all of Evans' books to date, and this is definitely her best, most mature writing to date. The book is well organized, her ideas are well expressed, and she refrains from oversimplifying. If you're looking for a middle ground between trying to silence your discomfort with certain parts of Scripture and deciding to mentally devalue the entire thing, this is a challenging, fascinating, beautiful journey through reading the Bible with new eyes.

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: In the Woods and Vanity Fair
Five years ago I was reading: The Casual Vacancy, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, and Thinking, Fast and Slow
Ten years ago I was reading: Girl with a Pearl Earring

Monday, June 25, 2018

Ten Series I Didn't Continue

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

This week we're talking about series that you decided not to continue with. In most cases, I know after the first book in a series that I don't want to read any more. Here are ten series I won't be finishing.

1. Divergent (Book 1: Divergent by Veronica Roth)
The first book was fine but a little too predictable. I read the preview of the second book in the back of the first one, but I didn't care enough to want to continue it.

2. The Dune Chronicles (Book 1: Dune by Frank Herbert)
I read the first one just for the cultural background knowledge since it's such a popular book, but I found most of it super boring and had zero desire to continue with that universe.

3. Flavia de Luce (Book 1: The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley
I know my opinion of this book/series is unpopular, but I couldn't stand it. The main character's decisions made no sense and the entire thing was painfully predictable. I'm still trying to understand what the appeal is for the people who have read the whole nine-book series.

4. The Maze Runner (Book 1: The Maze Runner by James Dashner)
The writing in this book was so, so bad. The plot was honestly compelling enough that I briefly considered reading the second book just to see what happened, but I couldn't subject myself to the writing anymore.

5. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (Book 1: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs)
There were so many little things that annoyed me in this book, despite finding it fairly compelling plot-wise. The writing was more "telling" than "showing" and seemed forced at times to fit with the found photographs, there were inconsistencies in how the character's weird abilities worked, and I had too many logistical questions about the time loop thing. Knowing how many people have read the sequels is the only thing that's tempted me to pick them up, but I don't think I will.

6. The Mortal Instruments (Book 1: City of Bones by Cassandra Clare)
I actually liked Clockwork Angel and would consider finishing that series someday, but for this series I couldn't get past the first book. The writing and editing were sloppy, the romance was not believable, the plot twists were so predictable I wasn't sure if they were supposed to be twists, and the character diversity was badly handled. I did not want more of any of that!

7. The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency (Book 1: The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith)
I wanted to like this one more — I love detective stories! — but I couldn't get over the fact that a main character is described as having never married, and then later in an aside he is described as being a widower. That kind of blatant consistency error sours the whole book for me.

8. Perry Jackson and the Olympians (Book 1: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan)
I liked the premise of this one, but the book was a little too predictable and the main character just seemed way too shocked at every. single. thing. Like isn't there a point at which you say, "Guess I'm living in a weird fantasy world now, I'm just going to roll with it"? Maybe it's just because I'm not the target age group, but I had no interest in continuing with this series.

9. Robert Langdon (Book 1: Angels and Demons by Dan Brown)
This is the only series on the list where I've read more than one. I actually really liked this first book. The Da Vinci Code was fine, not great, but The Lost Symbol was terrible and I gave up at that point.

10. The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants (Book 1: The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares)
I read this in high school, and I think I may have been moderately interested in reading the sequel, but I never made it a priority. As time has gone on the only things that have stuck with me from the first book were the things that bothered me, so I haven't gone back to this series.

Which series have you abandoned?

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

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Everything Leads to You and Vanity Fair
Five years ago I was reading: Crossing to Safety and The Guinea Pig Diaries
Ten years ago I was reading: Gone with the Wind

Monday, June 18, 2018

Top Ten Books on My Summer TBR

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

It's time to plan my reading for the next quarter! I'm happy to say that I got through everything on my Spring TBR list. That might be a first for me. Here's what I'm hoping to read this summer!

1. Enchanter's End Game by David Eddings
I'm almost done with my reread of the Belgariad! This is the fifth and final book in the series. I'm going to take a break before I start on the Malloreon series and tackle one of the other series on my 2018 goals instead.

2. The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson
I tried this on Kindle and was too bored to stay engaged with the story. I'm going to give it another go on audio and see if I like it better.

3. Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurchinka
This book has been on my radar for a while, but now I think it's time I actually read it as a parent.

4. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
I've seen people recommending this series for forever, and I told a friend who was looking to use up Audible credits that people seemed to like it, so he just started listening to it. I figure it's as good a time as any to read it myself.

5. Redefining Realness by Janet Mock
Mock now has a second well-rated book out, so it's high time I got around to reading her first one!

6. Sarah's Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
This is on my TBR list and will be the July read for one of my book clubs.

7. The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadiman
This is one that's been on my TBR list for a while and I see it recommended on a regular basis. I had the opportunity to hear Anne Fadiman speak a few years ago and am looking forward to finally reading this book.

8. Talking Across the Divide by Justin Lee
I frequently recommend Lee's first book, Torn, and he's finally releasing a second one later this summer!

9. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler
Another of my book clubs just chose this as our next read on my nomination. It's one of my favorites, but it's been long enough that I need to reread it. I'm going to try it on audio this time.

10. The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon
This is another book that I hear recommended frequently and it's been on my TBR list for quite a while. It's time!

What will you be reading this summer?

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

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Stiff and Vanity Fair
Five years ago I was reading: The Silence of Bonaventure Arrow and The Red Tent
Ten years ago I was reading: Gone with the Wind

Friday, June 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.

Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide by Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDinn: I had mixed feelings about this book. It's a comprehensive and remarkably concise overview of some of the worst problems facing women internationally today, but I was put off by the book's tone for most of the time I was reading it. I think it's a good introduction to international women's issues, but it could have been written in a less Western-dominated way.

A Soldier of the Great War by Mark Helprin: I really considered abandoning this one, but I thought if I kept reading I'd figure out why the book had such high ratings. Unfortunately, I never could figure it out. I suppose if you enjoy near-death experiences, objectification of women, philosophy, mountain climbing, and hearing about the worst a human body can endure while still surviving, then you'll love this book, since that sums up about 90% of it.

The Fact of a Body: A Murder and a Memoir by Alexandria Marzano-Lesnevich: I was disappointed that this wasn't more about the death penalty, and it also wasn't a true crime mystery. But once I adjusted my expectations, I appreciated what the author was able to do with the book. The two halves of the book never quite fit together as seamlessly as I would have liked, but when you sit with them together you start to realize the power in telling both stories.

Poirot's Early Cases by Agatha Christie: This is a 1974 compilation of short stories that were published previously in the 1920s and 1930s, which means you get the hallmarks of her earliest mysteries, including Captain Hastings and casual racism. It's a bit formulaic, but I'm a sucker for plot twists, and that's basically what this whole collection was, so on the whole I enjoyed it even if it wasn't particularly memorable or unique.

The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman: This book was both heartbreaking and infuriating. It was extremely well written, but practically all the characters' choices exasperated me. I'd only recommend it if you're going to discuss it with a book club so you can talk about all the ways that this one child's upbringing was handled poorly (and if you aren't going to pull your hair out at the constant switching from past to present tense).

Kingbird Highway: The Biggest Year in the Life of an Extreme Birder by Kenn Kaufman: I enjoyed this far more than I expected to. Although the subject matter wasn't inherently interesting to me, the book was very readable and set up an easy-to-follow plot arc: After spending a couple years hitchhiking around the country to see different bird species, Kaufman decided to undertake a Big Year, trying to see more bird species in a single year than any other birder had before. I appreciated Kaufman's reflections about using a structure in order to have the experiences you want to have in your life while running the risk of being too beholden to the structure itself.

Curtain: Poirot's Last Case by Agatha Christie: For the final book, we're back at Styles and back in the first-person narration of Captain Hastings after a long absence. It's a nice touch to bring everything full circle after 50+ years. And after all that time, Christie manages to tell a new kind of story. It wasn't a favorite, but I think this was an excellent ending to the series and a fitting farewell to the great detective.

Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart by Christena Cleveland: Cleveland takes a broad range of research and theory in social psychology and applies it to the Christian church. She shows why our identity feels so closely tied to our specific denomination, why we shy away from the notion of being a universal church with those who seem different from us (theologically or culturally), and why attempts at crosscultural collaboration (e.g., a predominantly white church and a predominantly black church joining forces) so often go badly. I particularly liked how she explicitly talked about the realities of power dynamics and histories of oppression when talking about crosscultural collaboration.

Castle of Wizardry by David Eddings: This was a very enjoyable reread. If Eddings finally hit his stride in the last book, this is where his writing truly shines. There were multiple moments where I laughed out loud throughout the book. I'm glad that this series has stood up to rereading.

The Alienist by Caleb Carr: I can see why this action-packed book was made into miniseries. It's a bit less compelling in book format, though. I kept expecting some kind of plot twist, though, and there never was one. The main drama, besides the killings, came from political tensions, which I found difficult to follow or care too much about. It certainly kept me reading, but in the end there wasn't anything I found particularly notable about the book.

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rushdie: I may be getting old and cynical, but I felt like, other than using Hindustani inspirations for the names of people and places, this hewed very closely to every other children's story of a child getting whisked off to a magical land with quirky characters where they have to save the day. It wasn't bad — it was well written and a fun adventure story — it was just highly predictable. For kids of a certain age who can't get enough of this kind of story, however, I think it's great to add into the rotation a story that's not about white British or American kids.

From Twinkle, with Love by Sandhya Menon: Sandhya Menon's books are such heartwarming YA stories. Even if everything ties up in a predictable, happily-ever-after bow, the journey there and the characters involved feel real. I kind of love that in her books there isn't really a mystery about who the love interest will be or whether they'll end up together, which leaves the narrative free to explore bigger issues about friendship or family. I laughed out loud many times and nearly cried at the end.

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 Storyteller and Vanity Fair
Five years ago I was reading: MWF Seeking BFF and The Red Tent
Ten years ago I was reading: Gone with the Wind

Monday, June 4, 2018

Ten Abandoned Books I Wish I'd Finished

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

This week's topic is about books we abandoned too soon. I'm not sure how you can really know whether you abandoned a book too soon, though with some of the books I've abandoned, I'm pretty sure they weren't going to get any better. But for some of the books I haven't finished, I wish that I'd been able to make it through the whole thing, if only for superficial reasons. Here are ten I wish I'd finished.

1. Auntie Mame by Patrick Dennis
This one I abandoned a quarter of the way through because I just didn't find it funny. I still see it crop up from time to time and I kind of wish I'd made it farther in the book so I could at least have the context of knowing the whole storyline.

2. The Coldest Winter Ever by Sister Souljah
I see this listed all the time as a beloved book of many black women, and I really want to understand why! But I found the narrator's tone so grating and the reviews I skimmed basically said, "Yeah, it doesn't get any better for 90% of the book" and so I couldn't bring myself to devote any more time to this one. Maybe someday.

3. The Issa Valley by Czesław Miłosz
Except for the truly awful Etiquette for an Apocalypse, this is the only book for my local book club that I haven't read all the way through. In my defense, almost no one in the club made it all the way through because it was so incredibly boring. But maybe, having been to Poland now, I should give it another go?

4. The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel with Bret Witter
I made it halfway through this book before giving up because it was so depressing and not at all what I was expecting based on how it was advertised. I know so many people really loved it when it first came out, though! I wish I'd read all the way to the end so I could at least see if the second half redeemed it for me.

5. Notes from a Small Island by Bill Bryson
I generally like Bryson's writing, but it felt like you had to have lived in Britain in the '90s to understand even a quarter of the references he makes. The only other kind of humor seemed to be making fun of people, which is my least favorite part of Bryson's style. Still, I see this on so many must-read lists that I wish I'd made it at least a little farther.

6. Real Boys by William S. Pollack
This is one that I pulled from my mom's bookshelf when I was maybe high-school age? Some age that was definitely not the target audience for this book. I found it interesting but I was a much more scattered reader back then and I just never got around to finishing it. I have no idea if it would still jive with my worldview as a 32-year-old, but now that I have a son it could be interesting to read through.

7. Rediscover Catholicism by Matthew Kelly
Our former church gave out free copies of this book to the congregation and our priest made us promise that if we took a copy we'd read the whole thing and then pass it on to someone else. I tried, but I found it poorly written and edited and I just couldn't get past that. I wonder if I tried it on audio if I'd have the same experience or if I'd get more out of it that way.

8. "Shakespeare" by Another Name by Mark Anderson
So when I was in middle school we watched a video exploring the authorship question and laying out the evidence that Edward de Vere, Earl of Oxford, may have written some of the plays attributed to Shakespeare. I picked up this book thinking it was going to be an exploration of the authorship question, but instead the author takes it as a given that de Vere wrote the plays and provides a biography of de Vere's life with the framework of explaining how he got the idea for each of the plays. I don't share the author's confidence in that premise, but it could be interesting to read again, knowing what I'm signing up for this time.

9. To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis
My dislike of voluntary time travel plots and deception-based plots is well-established, and so I felt justified in abandoning this one early on, but I see so many people recommending it as a favorite that I can't help but wonder if I chucked it too early.

10. Wizard by Marc Seifer
I'm honestly not 100% sure if I finished this book, but I'm pretty sure I would have recorded it in my book journal if I had. My husband and I listened to this audiobook on our 5-day move across the country, and it was super interesting, but I don't think we quite finished it. I would be open to rereading it / finishing it someday!

Which books did you DNF too early?

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

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The Golem and the Jinni and The Millionaire Next Door
Five years ago I was reading: Eleanor & Park and At Home
Ten years ago I was reading: Groupthink