Friday, February 28, 2020

Best of the Bunch: February 2020

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

Of the 5 books I read this month, I had one 5-star read, which was my best of the bunch!

Call Down the Hawk is the start to a new trilogy that follows up where the Raven Cycle series left off. I can't imagine recommending this to someone who hadn't read The Raven Cycle, which leads you slowly into Stiefvater's fantasy world, but as a fan of that series, it was fantastic to return to that world and go even deeper. Even though it was a little sad not to get much of Blue and Gansey in this book, I appreciated the darker, more adult tone of this series. Some characters may be having complicated romantic feelings, but they aren't anything like the will-they-won't-they of a teen romance. (To be fair, there wasn't a ton of typical teen romance in The Raven Cycle, but the series was largely rooted in the question of who Blue would fall in love with, while this series is focused on much bigger questions.) We're left with quite a lot of cliffhangers, but at least one story arc was resolved by the end of this book, and I'm content to wait for what happens next.

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: No Bad Kids, I Capture the Castle, and The Shadow of the Wind
Five years ago I was reading: The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet, Anna and the French Kiss, Ella Enchanted, and Station Eleven
Ten years ago I was reading: Middlesex
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Monday, February 24, 2020

Ten Characters I Would Follow on Social Media

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

This is a fun topic this week! Which fictional characters would you want to follow on social media?

1. Abby Suso (from the Creekwood series)
Even though I probably relate to Leah the most, she's so introspective and insecure that it's hard to imagine her having a thriving social media account. Abby, though, is opinionated, funny, and smart, and she's willing to speak her mind even if she's still trying to find her own way in the world, which I think is a great combination for a thought-provoking social media feed.

2. April May (from An Absolutely Remarkable Thing)
Maybe this is cheating a little bit because we get to see some of April's actual Twitter feed in the book! Even though we know what she's showing on social media is a brand, only representing one aspect of her, what she does post is inspirational and encourages everyone to have hope and to love their neighbors (plus, whose social media isn't curated?).

3. Blue Sargent (from the Raven Cycle series)
Blue is witness to a lot of supernatural weirdness, but she herself manages to stay pretty grounded. That blend of a mature worldview with stories about things so strange they're hard to believe reminds me of what I like so much about Ask a Manager!

4. Cassandra Mortmain (from I Capture the Castle)
Cassandra may be hesitant to make bold moves in her own life, but she is an excellent observer of those around her and has quite a way with words, so she would be sure to share fascinating stories well told.

5. Dimple Shah (from When Dimple Met Rishi)
I'd love to follow Dimple to see what her experience post-high school is like. How does she navigate being a woman of color in web development at Stanford? What is her career after college? She's thoughtful, self-reflective, and driven, and it would be great to hear her thoughts!

6. Hermione Granger (from the Harry Potter series)
I imagine Hermione sharing the kinds of thought-provoking, challenging articles that the people I learn the most from on social media often share. She would also do extensive research on any current event or political issue and present the most thorough, nuanced takes on it. Sign me up!

7. Ifemelu (from Americanah)
I was kind of meh about Ifemelu's personal relationships in this book, but I loved her blog posts! I'd be content to just hear more of her insights on life in America — and life in Nigeria — without all the ups and downs of her love life.

8. Rosemary Cooke (from We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves)
Rosemary has a lot of interesting thoughts about memory, family, and life in general. She also has some unusual stories from her own life! She'd be a great one to follow.

9. Starr Carter (from The Hate U Give)
This book is all about Starr finding her voice and using it to bring attention to what matters, particularly on matters of racial justice. I'm sure I'd learn a lot from following her!

10. Valancy Stirling (from The Blue Castle)
Valancy stops censoring herself and learns to live life on her own terms. Her social media account would undoubtedly include beautiful nature photos and reminders to enjoy the little things that bring you pleasure and not let anyone else tell you how to live your life.

Whose social media would you like to follow?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The Thirteenth Tale and The Shadow of the Wind
Five years ago I was reading: The Shadow Cabinet, Ella Enchanted, and Station Eleven
Ten years ago I was reading: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

Monday, February 17, 2020

The Last Ten Books that Gave Me a Book Hangover

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

This week we're talking about book hangovers! I would define these books as ones where I keep thinking about the characters long after I've turned the last page. This doesn't happen very often; I had to go back to mid-2017 when compiling a list of the ten most recent books where I had this experience. But you know they're good ones!

1. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green
This is the only book that I've reread within six months of reading it the first time. It was completely engaging and I spent a long time afterwards marveling at the story world that Green had created. I'm very excited for the sequel that comes out this year. (I may just have to reread the original again ahead of time.)

2. Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour
I absolutely loved this book, and by the end I felt like the characters were friends that I'd gotten to hang out with and now had to say goodbye to. A book hangover for sure.

3. The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart
I loved the first Mysterious Benedict Society book and was glad I could immediate read the next two books, but by the end I wasn't necessarily craving any more stories with those characters. This prequel, however, was a standalone, and I definitely wouldn't have mind spending more time with young Nicholas Benedict and his friends!

4. Greenglass House by Kate Milford
I picked this one up only a few days before going to see the author speak and tore through it. I didn't plan to read beyond that first book, but I enjoyed it so much that I started on the sequel immediately but then didn't have time right away to finish it. I kept thinking about everything the author had done well in the first book, and I was glad when I finally had time to read the sequel!

5. The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
This book gave me a lot to chew on, and even though it wasn't a favorite per se, McCullers created a rich, emotional world among her main characters that left me thinking about them and their individual struggles after I was done reading the book.

6. Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli
I don't know if Albertalli will ever continue the Creekwood series, but I would definitely read another book if she did. I laughed and cried many times reading this book, and I blazed through it so fast that my mind was still processing it after I'd finished.

7. The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater
This is the fourth and final book in the Raven Cycle series, and I read all four books basically back-to-back. After living in Stiefvater's world for so long, it was difficult to come up for air afterwards. I recently finished Call Down the Hawk (the start to a follow-up series), and while it didn't exactly give me a book hangover, I am eagerly looking forward to the rest of that series.

8. The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob
I'm not always a fan of long books that move back and forth in time, but in this case it gave me a deep understanding of the characters over a long span of their lives, and I genuinely felt I would miss the characters when I finished the book.

9. The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCullough
This is also a long book that spans a lifetime, but it rewards you for the time you put in. These characters' stories continued to haunt me after I was done, and I got my husband to watch the entire 1980s miniseries with me.

10. The Trespasser by Tana French
French's books always suck me in, but I usually end up frustrated at the end. This one, though, was crafted nearly perfectly, and so I was content afterwards to keep thinking back over the different clues and the way everything had been woven together.

What's the last book to give you a book hangover?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Prince Caspian and Moneyball
Five years ago I was reading: The Book of Chameleons, All-of-a-Kind Family, and A Letter to My Congregation
Ten years ago I was reading: A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

Saturday, February 15, 2020

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.

The Next Evangelicalism: Freeing the Church from Western Cultural Captivity by Soong-Chan Rah: Rah makes an important argument, that the Western evangelical church is clinging to a white-centric paradigm while the growth in the church is happening among other racial groups. Unfortunately, he doesn't synthesize his sources well so the writing is clunky, and he lacks nuance and intersectionality.

There There by Tommy Orange: This is an Important book that is also not my type of book — too many characters, so I never get to emotionally connect to any of them, with frequent switches between first, third, even second person, interspersed with narrator-less essays on the State of the Urban Indian Today. I hope this paves a way in the publishing world for more stories, more perspectives on being a modern Native American in a city, including some that aren't just men with MFAs writing in flowery, experimental styles.

How We Fight for Our Lives by Saeed Jones: Jones' writing manages to be powerful and lyrical without being overwrought as he adds his voice to the gay literary canon to share the story of this generation — what it was like to grow up gay and black in the 1990s and 2000s. I'm not sure what, exactly, will stay with me from this book, but I'm glad it exists. It's worth a read.

Greenglass House by Kate Milford: This was so great! It strikes just the right balance of quirkiness and seriousness, and there's a mystery, and there's an excellent plot twist, the hard-to-pull-off kind where I was genuinely surprised but immediately saw how the clues had been there all along. There's humor, storytelling, mystery, and sweetness. Definitely getting a copy for my own kids.

Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston: I originally read this book in college, and I decided to revisit it on audio. To be honest, the book is much more interesting as a synopsis (independent-minded black woman finds her voice in the South in the 1930s) than reading through the actual details of Janie's daily life. This is the kind of book where I definitely see why it's been analyzed up and down and why it's an important piece of literature, but the experience of reading it in 2020 wasn't especially captivating for me.

Ghosts of Greenglass House by Kate Milford: This was a fun sequel to Greenglass House. We get a good mix of familiar and unfamiliar characters, another mystery to solve, and several plot twists along the way. This wasn't quite as good as the first one, but it was still an enjoyable read, and I'm glad I picked it up.

Activist Theology by Dr. Robyn Henderson-Espinoza: This book sounded right up my alley, as I've always been interested in how we live out faith in everyday life. However, despite all of Henderson-Espinoza's talk of living out their theology "on the streets" and "enfleshing" theology, this was a dense, academic read that was highly repetitive. I think the author would probably be an interesting person to talk to! But I can't recommend their book.

Call Down the Hawk by Maggie Stiefvater: I can't imagine recommending this to someone who hadn't read The Raven Cycle, which leads you slowly into Stiefvater's fantasy world, but as a fan of that series, it was fantastic to return to that world and go even deeper. We're left with quite a lot of cliffhangers, but at least one story arc was resolved by the end of this book, and I'm content to wait for what happens next.

Stolen by Lucy Christopher: I'm glad I had the chance to reread this. I wasn't reading so frantically this time, so I had the opportunity to appreciate the complexities of Christopher's writing. It provides a broad and vivid picture of nature and of the range of human emotions. Definitely a good book for reading and discussing.

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: On the Come Up, Prince Caspian, and Moneyball
Five years ago I was reading: The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight, All-of-a-Kind Family, and A Letter to My Congregation
Ten years ago I was reading: The Jungle Books

Monday, February 10, 2020

Ten Romance Books I Might Want to Read

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

It's a Valentine's Day freebie! I decided to go through the Goodreads romance genre page for books that are on my to-read or might-want-to-read lists. I always thought I wasn't interested in romance (which seemed to me to be synonymous with either erotica or chick lit), but an episode of What Should I Read Next (with a guest who used to feel the same way) prompted me to reconsider when I learned that it simply means there's a happy ending and people in love. So I've been adding more books in this category to my list!

1. Attachments by Rainbow Rowell
Unlike seemingly everyone else I wasn't a huge fan of Eleanor & Park, but I'd like to give her another chance, and maybe I would like a romance between adults better.

2. The Hating Game by Sally Thorne
This one had mixed reviews from the people I follow, despite having an overall 4.18 rating on Goodreads. I feel like I would probably not like it, but maybe I'm one of the people who would love it — who knows.

3. It Ends with Us by Colleen Hoover
This was on all the best-of lists the year it came out (2016), and almost everyone I follow who's read it liked it, so I feel like my chances are pretty good on this one.

4. The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
I keep hearing about this as the one that hooked people who didn't think they liked romance, so maybe it's for me?

5. My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick
This one's YA, but according to the reviews the characters are relatively mature, so that makes me think it might be similar to I'll Meet You There? (I could be way off.)

6. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon
This is on my shelf of shame because it's one of those books everyone but me seems to have read. The time-travel aspect and the unfinished-series aspect have me hesitating, but I will eventually get around to it.

7. P.S. I Love You by Cecelia Ahern
This has mixed reviews from the people I follow, but I'd be interested to read it and then watch the movie. I liked Ahern's One Hundred Names pretty well and that one has a lower overall rating, so you never know.

8. Perfect Chemistry by Simone Elkeles
This is supposed to be an updated West Side Story-type plot set in Chicago, which sounds interesting to me!

9. Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
It seems like everyone has been gushing about this book, so I have a hold on it at the library, though I'm not 100% sold since my best gay male friend wasn't a big fan of it.

10. To All the Boys I've Loved Before by Jenny Han
I think this one might be too YA for me, but I keep seeing it highly recommended on people's lists, so maybe I'll give it a chance!

Which of these have you read? What do you recommend?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Half of a Yellow Sun and Let the Great World Spin
Five years ago I was reading: The Name of the Star, Ballet Shoes, and Charming Billy
Ten years ago I was reading: The Jungle Books

Monday, February 3, 2020

Ten Books On My TBR I Predict Will Be 5-Star Reads

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

This week we're talking about books on our to-read lists that we think will be 5-star reads. I decided to challenge myself and pick books off my original, capped TBR list rather than my 1000+ might-want-to-read list. A 5-star rating is a high bar for me, and I think I've already read most of the books off that list that I was very excited about it, but I picked ten that I'm pretty sure I will probably end up enjoying.

1. Ain't I a Woman by bell hooks
I should get to this one this year as part of my goal to read more books on feminism. This will be my first bell hooks, which I'm looking forward to after seeing her quoted in a million other books I've read!

2. Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
I've heard people gushing about this one on multiple occasions, and it has a 4.37 rating on Goodreads, so I feel pretty optimistic that it will be a good one.

3. The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown
This one is in my audio queue now. I love a good historical story, and I keep hearing about this one!

4. The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee
I gave his The Emperor of All Maladies 5 stars, so I'm hoping this one will be the same!

5. Harmful to Minors by Judith Levine
This one was recommended by multiple trusted sources, and it involves a topic I'm passionate about: the importance of comprehensive sex ed.

6. Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandela
I'm very interested to hear Mandela's story, and it has high ratings, so it should be good!

7. The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher
I've seen this one recommended alongside The Thorn Birds, which I loved, so I feel pretty good about the chances of this one being a 5-star read.

8. Slavery by Another Name by Douglas A. Blackmon
This is one that I've seen recommended alongside The New Jim Crow, which was a solid 5 stars — I'm hoping this is the same.

9. The Truth About Stories by Thomas King
I really liked King's The Inconvenient Indian — he has a great writing style. I'm looking forward to reading this one and expect it to be just as good.

10. A Voice in the Wind by Francine Rivers
I'm interested to read this one because I loved Redeeming Love, but I was also at a different place in my life when I read it. Will I agree with the high ratings this series has received as well?

What books do you plan to read and think will be favorites?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Half of a Yellow Sun and The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter
Five years ago I was reading: Hyperbole and a Half, Flowers for Algernon, and Heidi
Ten years ago I was reading: The Jungle Books