Saturday, March 30, 2019

Best of the Bunch: March 2019

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

Of the 10 books I read this month, I had only one 5-star read, so that's my Best of the Bunch!

Becoming lived up to the hype for me! I knew very little about Michelle Obama's life going into this book, so I appreciated getting a greater understanding of her family of origin, her school experiences, and her career prior to becoming First Lady. In clear, engaging prose, she helps the reader understand both why she was often made to feel "not enough" and how she had the support of many others who lifted her up and kept her going. For all that I appreciated about what President Obama did while in office, I hadn't realized the extent to which the Obamas intentionally used their platform to try to make lasting changes for underprivileged Americans in a multitude of ways. I came away with a greater appreciation for the entire Obama family for the ways they chose to use the time they had in the White House.

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

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Homegoing, The Thorn Birds, and America's Public Schools
Five years ago I was reading: The Woman Warrior, The Body & Society, and War and Peace
Ten years ago I was reading: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

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Monday, March 25, 2019

Eight Bookish Podcasts I Enjoy

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

This week's topic is an audio freebie! I've previously shared books best experienced on audio and what makes a good or bad audiobook so I decided to go a slightly different route this time and share some bookish podcasts that I have enjoyed.

1. Audio Book Club (Slate)
This one is unfortunately on an indefinite hiatus, but that's OK; it falls into the category for me of podcasts that I keep in my library so that when I finish a book I can see if any of them have covered that title before. There are a lot of bad book discussions out there, but this one is truly like a book club of very smart people who all have insightful things to say and often bring in references to scholarly articles or other authors' works. It's not always the same people each week, either, and when relevant they try to bring in voices that matched the lived experiences of race, gender, or whatever other topic is central to the book under discussion.

2. For Real
This podcast just hit its one-year anniversary! It's a biweekly podcast focused on nonfiction reads. Each week the hosts profile some of the most interesting new releases, then dive into a specific topic with related recommendations. My TBR gets longer every single time I listen to this one.

3. Get Booked
I love the broad range of books that get discussed on this show! Listeners write in with requests for specific recommendations (e.g., books set in a specific small country, books that will teach them more about a specific historical event, books that are readalikes for their favorites) and then the two hosts each recommend a book they think would fit the request. If they're stumped, they'll ask their colleagues at Book Riot for suggestions, so it's not always limited to just what the hosts have personally had the chance to read.

4. Harry Potter and the Sacred Text
So far this year I've been successful at my goal to read a chapter of Harry Potter in French and then listen to that chapter's episode of this podcast. The hosts are delightful, have great stories and insights, and bring another level of engagement to the text that I appreciate.

5. Overdue
This is another one that I keep in my library of podcasts so I can be sure to listen to the corresponding episode any time I finish a book that Andrew and Craig have covered previously. Originally the podcast's format wasn't my favorite because it didn't provide a lot of deep insight, but now I genuinely enjoy it. One host will read the book and then attempt to summarize the plot to the other one, who will ask clarifying questions that generally make the book's plot sound nonsensical and hilarious when it's picked apart like that. The one who didn't read the book will do background research on the author, which can be quite interesting to hear.

6. Throwback Bookstack
I just listened to my first episode of this one but I plan to keep it in my library to search. The hosts read children's literature (including middle grade and young adult) that they read growing up and now are rereading as 30-something women. A lot of the podcasts I've tried that are in the vein of "friends or siblings read books and then discuss together" are poorly edited and include a lot of giggling and tangential conversations or in-jokes, but this one is much more straightforward, with continuous dialogue and good sound quality.

7. What Should I Read Next?
I've been reading Anne Bogel since Modern Mrs. Darcy was in its infancy, but for some reason I didn't listen to her podcast when she first started it — I think I was afraid it would overwhelm my TBR list! Now that I have a looser framework for tracking books I might be interested in, I'm glad I've started listening to this podcast, in which Anne uses the clear structure of "Tell me three books you love, one book you don't, and what you're reading now" to recommend to her guest three (or more) books she thinks they'd like. She's also great at interviewing the guests to draw out the interesting details of their lives or work.

8. World Book Club (BBC)
This podcast has a different format than most of the ones I listen to since the BBC is enough of a big deal to actually get famous authors on their show. Each author is there to talk about their most well-known work (so it's another one I keep in the library for when I've finished a specific book), and they field questions that are sent in from readers literally all over the world. Even when I did not like the book, it's interesting to hear authors talk about their books, and since it's taped with a live audience who can also jump in with questions, sometimes you can get real wildcard topics!

What are your favorite bookish podcasts?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Watership Down, The Thorn Birds, and America's Public Schools
Five years ago I was reading: Persuasion, The Body & Society, and War and Peace
Ten years ago I was reading: The Glass Castle

Monday, March 18, 2019

Top Ten Books on My Spring TBR

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

I managed to read everything on my winter TBR, so it's time for a fresh list for spring! I'm starting a new job this week so I'm not sure how that's going to affect the time I have to read, but I'm going to be optimistic. Here's what I hope to get through in the next three months.

1. 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
This one is recommended again and again as a classic for book lovers, and at under 100 pages, I have no excuse not to read it already.

2. Educated by Tara Westover
This was on every best-of list for 2018, and my audiobook hold should finally be coming through in another month or so. I'm looking forward to finally getting on the bandwagon!

3. Maybe You Should Talk to Someone by Lori Gottlieb
I don't remember now where I originally heard about this one, but I have a hold on the library copy of the ebook when it comes out in April. Through Gottlieb's professional experience as a therapist and personal experience going to her own therapist, this book promises to explore the process of therapy and what makes it worthwhile.

4. Sadie by Courtney Summers
My sister recommended this book to me — specifically, the audiobook — and since one of my goals for the year is to read something she recommends, I put a hold on it right away! She said there are sections of the book that are intended to be podcasts, which really sound like podcasts on the audio version.

5. Silent Spring by Rachel Carson
This is a classic that has been on my TBR for a while, and this seems like an appropriate time of year to read it. I've been trying to read more nonfiction by women that aren't just memoirs, which is why I originally added this to my TBR.

6. The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis
I'm still working my way through my buddy read of the Chronicles of Narnia, and I've just started The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. I hope to get to this one by the end of April!

7. There's Something About Sweetie by Sandhya Menon
I've loved Menon's previous two books, so of course I have a hold on her next book for when it comes out in May.

8. The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson
This has been on my TBR for some time and I've been hearing it referenced quite a bit lately! I'm looking forward to finally diving in to get the full story of the Great Migration.

9. We Wish to Inform You that Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families by Philip Gourevitch
I've read two different memoirs from survivors of the Rwandan genocide, but I think it will be helpful to read this award-winning journalistic account of the tragedy to get a broader viewpoint.

10. When Broken Glass Floats by Chanrithy Him
My local book club picked "Oregon Book Award winners" as the theme for April, and I chose to nominate this one, which was selected. I have not yet read anything about the Khmer Rouge regime, so I am glad to have the chance to read Him's own story.

What will you be reading this spring?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Broken Harbor and Queen of Sorcery
Five years ago I was reading: Wolf Hall, The Body & Society, and War and Peace
Ten years ago I was reading: Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing

Friday, March 15, 2019

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.

On the Come Up by Angie Thomas: It's hard to follow up something as stellar as The Hate U Give, but Thomas managed to pull it off. Set in the same neighborhood, this book follows a new character, Bri, as she tries to make it as a rapper. When it seems like she's finally getting a chance to have her voice heard, she has to decide what she's willing to do, and who she's willing to lose, to make that happen.

Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis: I tried to be less critical of this than of the first one and just enjoy it as a fantastical children's story. Overall, I found this a quick read/listen and a pretty straightforward adventure story with some Christian elements. I'm looking forward to continuing with the series.

Moneyball: The Art of Winning an Unfair Game by Michael Lewis: This is the kind of book that has a fascinating premise that would make an excellent long-form magazine article but got turned into a book instead. I found the statistics part interesting, but ultimately this is a book for baseball fans and will be enjoyed most by that audience.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield: I appreciated this most of all as a tribute to books and reading, and secondly as an engaging mystery. Some parts were a bit too dark for me, and I found the narrator's constant grieving over someone she'd never met to be far-fetched, but on the whole it was an enjoyable read.

No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame by Janet Lansbury: I was a bit skeptical going into this because of what I knew about Lansbury, but I was surprised to find that this book is more or less a very concise version of my other favorite parenting books. I think the longer books may be better for providing context, example situations, and arguments in favor of these kinds of approaches, but if you're just looking for a straightforward "Tell me what to do with my toddler" read, this is a great place to start.

R For Dummies by Andrie de Vries and Joris Meys: This was a helpful introduction to R, more so than the online course I started with, which assumed a base knowledge of R I didn't yet have. Unfortunately the book was poorly edited, with constant mismatches between the text and the scripts and figures; hopefully the 2nd edition is better edited.

The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafón: I appear to be the odd one out on this. I found the motivation for the central plot line lacking, the description of female characters exasperating, the characters' emotions at soap-opera level, and the perspective-shifting (where 1st-person narrators shared what others were thinking and feeling) annoying. Calling it a "literary mystery" seems like a stretch to me.

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith: I enjoyed this most of all for the authentic voice of a 17-year-old girl — not just the intense focus on your own emotions and the words and actions of others, but also a feeling of profundity for small rituals and new sensory experiences. The plot was anything but predictable, and while it dragged at times, overall I found it a delightful read.

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

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Broken Harbor and Queen of Sorcery
Five years ago I was reading: Wolf Hall, The Body & Society, and War and Peace
Ten years ago I was reading: Grammar Girl's Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing

Monday, March 11, 2019

Ten Books with Happy (or Hopeful) Endings that Don't Need a Sequel

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

This week's topic is supposed to be standalone books that need a sequel, but I could only come up with a couple that I'd actually want to read sequels for. Too often sequels are not a necessary continuation of a story but an attempt to live up to the magic of the original, and in that they almost always fall flat. Instead, I came up with ten books for which I'd be disappointed if there were ever a sequel, since I think it could only pop the bubble of happiness — or hope — that we're left with at the end. Since books plot rely on conflict, taking us back to that world would require imagining things going wrong for the characters we'd left with their happily ever after.

1. Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
This is a story primarily of one character's growth and self-discovery, and it ends on a happy note with a hopeful future. Going back into the world of these characters could only mean that some new conflict — either between them or external to them — has cropped up, and I don't want to see that happen to them.

2. Emma by Jane Austen
There's a reason that the revival of the Emma Approved web series seems to have flopped. Once everything's tied up at the end of the book (or the adaptation) of it, then either Emma has to relapse back to her meddling ways (the central plot driver in the book) or else some other, new plot has to be introduced, which will never have the spark of the first one. Best to leave it with everything tied up nicely.

3. Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour
The characters in this book have to overcome a lot of challenges, both internal and external, and they learn a lot about themselves and each other in the progress. Their happily-ever-after at the end is hard-won, and I'd hate to see them have to deal with yet more challenges in a sequel.

4. The Girl with All the Gifts by M.R. Carey
There is a prequel / companion book that came out after this, but Carey has wisely stayed away from a sequel. So much of what makes this book engaging is the world-building, and the ending is so momentous that nothing that happened afterwards could have the same driving force as the original story.

5. I'll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios
In this book, a lot of different characters find their own happily-ever-afters that each look different from one another, and it takes the central character the whole book to recognize that her life goal is not the same as everyone else's, and that's OK. We're left on a hopeful note as she finally leaves her small town in order to pursue her dreams, and a sequel would either separate us from all the characters we got to know in the first book or require the main character to end up back in the small town she had finally left.

6. The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh
This book's main character goes through a truly traumatic childhood and is only just finding her feet as an adult when the book closes. You want to believe that her life can only get better from there, and putting her into a sequel would mean that one way or another she had to deal with challenges once again.

7. Lies We Tell Ourselves by Robin Talley
Talley surprisingly managed to find a hopeful ending for this book despite the immense challenges that would have been faced by an interracial lesbian couple during the civil rights era. It's clear that no matter what, their lives moving forward are not going to be easy, and I don't see any value from having to watch them going through even more in a second book.

8. Matilda by Roald Dahl
This is another case where the main character has gone through some terrible stuff as a kid, and she manages to find a loving guardian who has gone through the same. You end the book wanting nothing but rainbows and sunshine for the rest of their days, and I wouldn't have wanted any book (especially written by twisted-minded Dahl) that would have dispelled that.

9. The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay
This is yet another story where the main character has gone through a traumatic event and has managed to find some glimpses of hope and healing by the end. I wish her all good things and no sequel where she has to go through any big conflicts ever again.

10. Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel
This book moves back and forward from the start of a pandemic to the lives of the survivors twenty years later. Most of what makes this book engaging is just discovering how the world adapted over those twenty years. At the end we get a glimpse that civilization may be rebuilding some of what existed before (in the reader's present-day world). I can't imagine what a sequel would entail; just watching another twenty years of adaptation and rebuilding doesn't sound like it could match the scope of the original.

Which books do you hope never have a sequel?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Radical and Pawn of Prophecy
Five years ago I was reading: Parent Effectiveness Training, Sense and Sensibility, and War and Peace
Ten years ago I was reading: Inkspell

Monday, March 4, 2019

Ten Characters I Wouldn't Mind Being

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

This week's topic is "Characters I’d Like To Switch Places With," which is a challenging one — plots thrive on conflict, so if you're in a book there's likely something bad happening to you at some point or other! I mostly focused on side characters and children's books to find ten characters who would allow me to inhabit a different world without having to suffer too much. I also stuck with female characters when thinking about whose place I'd want to be in.

1. Amelia Maugery (from The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society)
No one on Guernsey had it easy during the war, but Amelia managed to pull together a community to maintain a semblance of normalcy. As one of the most well-read people in the community, she's a character whose shoes I wouldn't mind stepping into.

2. Cam Jansen (from the Cam Jansen series)
I was obsessed with detective stories as a kid and would have loved nothing more than to have been a kid detective myself. And how cool to have an eidetic memory!

3. Cho Chang (from the Harry Potter series)
Of all the characters in this series, I think I'd choose to be Cho — she's in Ravenclaw, she gets to participate in Dumbledore's Army, but she's a year ahead of Harry so she manages to graduate before the school is taken over. She does have her personal moments of grief and also relationship drama, but who doesn't at that age?

4. Claudia Kincaid (from From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler)
I related so much to Claudia as a kid! She's a spunky, smart kid who loves planning, and of course she also gets to investigate a mystery, which was my dream. I would have definitely traded places with her.

5. Jo March (from Little Women)
Unlike a lot of women I was never super into this book or the March sisters, but compared to the many books involving war or dystopian regimes or people just being terrible to each other, this book's setting wouldn't be a terrible one to live in. And if I had to pick a March sister to switch places with, it would probably have to be Jo.

6. Kat Potente (from Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore)
Another character who gets to assist with unraveling a mystery — although in this case, all of Kat's stellar programming skills can't actually solve the puzzle. Still, she doesn't end up too bad in the end, and besides feeling embarrassed, nothing terrible happens to her, so her life wouldn't be too bad to have.

7. Mandy (from Mandy)
Here's another children's book with a happy ending. Mandy's life as an orphan isn't all sunshine and rainbows, but she manages to find her own special project that allows her to feel pride and independence and eventually leads her to build connections with others.

8. Mina Harker (from Dracula)
Of all these characters, Mina probably has the worst lot, being bitten by a vampire and in danger of becoming one. Still, she manages to keep her head and helps the male characters figure out how to ultimately defeat Dracula, and she has a good partnership with her husband. She's a surprisingly admirable female character for a horror novel written by a man in 1897.

9. Rhonda Kazembe (from the Mysterious Benedict Society series)
Of all the characters in this series, Rhonda's the most level-headed one. She's gifted like the kids who are the main characters, but she manages to avoid more of the dangerous situations than they do. She gets to put her talents to use doing work that's important and interesting, and she's found a family within Mr. Benedict's home. If I were going to be in the world of this series, I'd definitely want to be her.

10. Wendy Darling (from Peter Pan)
The book itself is pretty dark and creepy and racist and sexist, so I'm not exactly recommending it, but the story at its center is one that most of us are familiar with. Wendy is one of the few female characters, and her experience isn't too bad — she gets to have the experience of flying and going to a new land, she's (eventually) given respect by the boys who live there, and then she gets to go home and basically says, "Well, that was fun, but now on with the rest of my life."

Which characters would you switch places with?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Third Girl and Better Than Before
Five years ago I was reading: The Omnivore's Dilemma and War and Peace
Ten years ago I was reading: Inkspell