Thursday, July 30, 2020

Best of the Bunch: July 2020

Best of the Bunch header

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

Of the 13 books I read this month, I had three 5-star reads:

Love, Creekwood by Becky Albertalli

Piecing Me Together by Renée Watson

I highly recommend The New Jim Crow, but it was my Best of the Bunch the first time I read it. So I will pick something else instead!

The chapters of Piecing Me Together are very short, so it was hard not to read just one more... and one more... and one more. Watson manages to cover a lot of ground in not a very long book, and she does it at a level that's accessible for young adults — I would argue this is even more of a middle school-level book language-wise, even though the protagonist is a high school junior. We see the complex situations Jade has to navigate, like how she feels slighted by the women in her mentorship program for Black women and girls because they make her feel like a charity case, even though she also benefits from the program, and also her mom is encouraging her to take advantage of the program while feeling ashamed that she can't provide the same things that Jade's mentor can. As time goes on, Jade finds ways to speak up for herself. It's an empowering read that doesn't downplay the realities of Jade's life. Definitely recommended!

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: Getting the Love You Want, Imperium, and White Fragility
Five years ago I was reading: Encyclopedia Brown, Boy Detective, Okay for Now, The Princess Bride, and Nervous Conditions
Ten years ago I was reading: Angela's Ashes

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Monday, July 27, 2020

Ten Books I've Read Whose Titles Are Female Characters' Names

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

It's a freebie week! A while back there was a topic of single-word titles, and I realized a lot of the one-word titles were names, so I decided to save those for a separate post. I decided to limit it to books where the name is a female character.

1. Binti by Nnedi Okorafor
Binti is the first of the Himba people accepted to Oomza University, and she must travel among the stars to reach it. But an alien race is looking for revenge on Oomza — will she be caught in the middle?

2. Emma by Jane Austen
Emma Woodhouse imagines herself to have great, benevolent control over the lives of those around her, whether serving as a matchmaker or trying to refine the manners of her lower-class friend, Harriet Smith. But things begin to unravel quickly as she suspects romantic feelings that are not actually there, encourages feelings on one side that are not actually reciprocated, and is completely ignorant of feelings that do exist.

3. George by Alex Gino
Ten-year-old George knows she's a girl, but that's not what people see when they look at her. When her teacher says she can't try out for the part of Charlotte in the class play, Charlotte's Web, because she's not a girl, she hatches a plan to show everyone who she really is.

4. Heidi by Johanna Spyri
Heidi goes to live in the Alps with her grandfather, and her positivity and optimism brighten the lives of those around her. The book is a bit simplistic and prescriptively religious, but Heidi is an endearing character.

5. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Lolita is the victim of a single-minded child molester in this classic book that is hard to read for its subject matter and yet endures because of its incredibly beautiful language. Nabokov forces the reader through the cognitive dissonance of being verbally entranced by a despicable narrator.

6. Mandy by Julie Andrews Edwards
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.

7. Matilda by Roald Dahl
Matilda goes from a neglectful family to a school with an abusive headmistress. Rather than allowing these experiences to break her, she channels her frustration into power and ingenuity, finding clever ways to get back at those who have hurt her and others.

8. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
I got this on audio recently so I can finally reread it, like I've been saying I want to for years! Rebecca is our narrator's husband's deceased first wife, and somehow she still has a hold over the household...

9. Ruby by Cynthia Bond
Ruby has been worn down by a lifetime of neglect and abuse. To be honest, I had mixed feelings about this book, as the storytelling and the writing are very good, but I was continually tripped up by what felt like unnecessary supernatural elements and excessive, sometimes gratuitous abuse and violence, mostly sexual.

10. Sadie by Courtney Summers
I just reread this for book club, a year after I first read it, and I loved it even more. Sadie is on the hunt for her sister's killer, and her story alternates with a true crime podcast that's following her trail after she herself goes missing.

Which books have you read that would fit this theme?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The Horse and His Boy and Imperium
Five years ago I was reading: Dangerous Girls, Brown Girl Dreaming, The Princess Bride, and Nervous Conditions
Ten years ago I was reading: Angela's Ashes

Wednesday, July 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.

This past month my son and I have been at my parents' house so they could help out with him, and it's amazing what a difference this has made in my reading life!

Lost Children Archive by Valeria Luiselli: There were many aspects of this book that I liked, but the overall construction of it was too artistic, too metaphorical for my taste. I appreciate what Luiselli was trying to do, and I would still like to read her nonfiction book, but this novel wasn't for me.

Sadie by Courtney Summers: This was a reread for book club, and I enjoyed it even more the second time. This time through I came close to crying at the end, and I better understand why Summers ended it the way she did. Very powerful.

Women, Race, & Class by Angela Y. Davis: This book is just what it says in the title — an overview of the intersections of gender, race, and class throughout history, specifically looking at the feminist movements and how they did or did not incorporate women who were Black or were not upper or middle class. Davis covers a lot of ground in a short book, and it's clear why this book is still highly recommended four decades later.

The Color of Compromise: The Truth about the American Church’s Complicity in Racism by Jemar Tisby: Tisby provides a history of systemic racism in the United States, specifically through the lens of Christianity. This wouldn't be my go-to recommendation for a general history of systemic racism, but it's an excellent choice for any conservative Christian who may be newly open to learning about the church's historical and contemporary complicity with systemic racism.

Darius the Great Is Not Okay by Adib Khorram: It's always great to read a YA book that doesn't feel like every other YA book I've ever read. This was lovely and sweet and a nice change of pace. Definitely recommended if you can get past the near-constant Star Trek and Lord of the Rings references.

The End of Policing by Alex S. Vitale: This is a thoroughly sourced summary of all the areas of society in which policing has made things worse rather than better, including schools, mental illness, homelessness, gangs, and border control. If you want to better understand the current "defund the police" movement, this is an excellent overview of the main arguments. Definitely recommended.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick: I liked the first part of this book — we're placed into an Earth overcome with radioactive dust where most people have fled to a new colony on Mars. After that, though, I felt like the plot wandered around a lot. Beyond the engaging premise, it was just one of those books about a self-absorbed guy going through an existential crisis who keeps changing his mind about what he wants to do next, and we're supposed to care because there's symbolism and stuff.

Love, Creekwood by Becky Albertalli: This was exactly what I was hoping for! We revisit the characters from Creekwood through the emails they send each other during their freshman year of college. It was funny and sweet, just like you'd expect. A nice little return to this world and these characters!

You're Not Listening: What You're Missing and Why It Matters by Kate Murphy: This one was definitely a mixed bag for me. I think, on the whole, I came away with some food for thought on how to be a better listener. However, I had several large concerns with the author's approach to this topic, from overgeneralizations to audist language. This isn't one I'd go out of my way to recommend.

For the Love of Men: A New Vision for Mindful Masculinity by Liz Plank: Plank details all the ways that gender roles and toxic masculinity hurt men, too, and how gender equality and giving men more freedom to have emotions and explore their true interests is beneficial to all genders. I thought this was interesting but not too surprising and could have been organized and edited better.

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang by Ian Fleming: Having David Tennant read me a children's book while I'm sick in bed was just about perfect. The story is a bit outdated and some bits don't always make sense, as you'd expect from a children's book, but on the whole I thought it was a fun mix of delightful and thrilling (and so much better than the movie!).

The Highly Sensitive Child: Helping Our Children Thrive When the World Overwhelms Them by Elaine N. Aron: I read this on Anne's recommendation that this is less triggering for an HSP than the adult version. I think this book is helpful for getting a general overview of this particular temperament, but I found a lot of the general parenting advice questionable; her specialty is on temperament, not parenting. This might be helpful as an introduction to highly sensitive people, and children in particular, but I wouldn't recommend following all of her parenting advice.

Hood Feminism: Notes from the Women a Movement Forgot by Mikki Kendall: Kendall details the many issues that aren't counted as "feminist issues" because they don't uniquely affect women, and yet if you look at the lives of marginalized women, the issues that are most pressing in their lives are largely ignored by mainstream feminism. This book is valuable for anyone interested in social justice, but particularly for white, middle/upper class feminists who may not understand why those different from them can feel left out of the feminist movement.

Shiloh by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor: I never read this one as a kid, but I probably would have liked it. I liked books where kids had to solve a problem on their own through ingenuity and hard work. In this case, the main character is trying to hide and care for a dog that a local man has been mistreating. Nowadays this wouldn't be the first book I'd recommend for a classroom (there are more than enough books about white boys and their dogs) but I'm glad to have finally read this.

A Beautifully Foolish Endeavor by Hank Green: I couldn't put this down. I really love this duology — it's relevant and funny and action-packed and thoughtful and a kind of science fiction that speaks to the experiences of Internet content creators in a way that I haven't seen elsewhere. This book doesn't have the puzzle-solving element that I loved so much in the first book, but it was still a highly satisfying read.

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: There Are No Children Here
Five years ago I was reading: The Death of Ivan Ilyich and The Woman in White
Ten years ago I was reading: Angela's Ashes

Monday, July 13, 2020

Ten Books That Make Me Smile

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

This week we're talking about books that make us smile! A lot of my favorites and 5-star reads are great books that deal with heavy topics, so while I love and appreciate them they don't necessarily make me smile when I see them out in the wild. For these books, though, I remember the reading experience with fondness and smile when I hear about someone reading one of them!

1. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green

2. The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart

3. Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour

4. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart

5. Pastrix by Nadia Bolz-Weber

6. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster

7. The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater

8. Red, White, & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

9. Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli

10. When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon

Which books make you smile?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: El Deafo, Cotton candy on a rainy day, and There Are No Children Here
Five years ago I was reading: Clockwork Angel and The Woman in White
Ten years ago I was reading: Angela's Ashes

Monday, July 6, 2020

Top Ten Authors I've Read the Most Books By

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

It's time to update a topic from five years ago, authors we've read the most books by. Since writing that post I have tried to update my Goodreads to reflect every book I've read, not just adult books, so there are going to be more children's authors this time around!

1. R.L. Stine (62)
Clearly, I read a lot of Goosebumps books as a kid!

2. Stan & Jan Berenstain (61)
My parents have a big collection of Berenstain Bears books so I read a lot of these growing up, and recently my son has become a fan as well!

3. Gertrude Chandler Warner (60)
Only the first 19 books in the Boxcar Children series were actually written by her, but the series was continued under her name so I'm not sure how else to count them. I had a subscription where I would get a couple Boxcar Children mysteries every month until I finally got tired of them.

4. Agatha Christie (50+)
As mentioned in my previous post on this topic, I have been rereading my way through Christie's complete works. I have 50 books recorded as read in Goodreads, but I know there are some others I read growing up that I haven't yet recorded, so it's likely more than 60 books at this point.

5. Ann M. Martin (41)
This is, of course, the author of the Baby-Sitters Club books, although I only ever read the mystery series, not the regular one. As you can see, I was big into mystery series when I was a kid!

6. Dr. Seuss (30)
Between what I read growing up and what I've read now with my son, I've covered a lot of his books!

7. David Eddings (25)
I've read almost everything Eddings wrote, except for some of his earliest non-fantasy works.

8. Debbie Dadey & Marcia Thornton Jones (18)
These two wrote the Bailey School Kids series, starting with Vampires Don't Wear Polka Dots.

9. Beverly Cleary (15)
I got my son super into her books before I realized that there were some problematic elements to them, which we have had to discuss! These were some of my favorites as a kid.

10. J.K. Rowling / Robert Galbraith (13)
This includes the Harry Potter series, the Cormoran Strike series, and just about all of her standalones.

Some honorable mentions: Tim LaHaye & Jerry B. Jenkins (12), Mercer Mayer (12), Roald Dahl (10), William Shakespeare (11), Eric Carle (9), C.S. Lewis (9), Beatrix Potter (9), and Mo Willems (9)

Who are your most-read authors?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Partners in Crime and Tyrell
Five years ago I was reading: City of Bones and Tao Te Ching
Ten years ago I was reading: Angela's Ashes