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!

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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

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