Sunday, January 31, 2021

Best of the Bunch (January 2021)

Best of the Bunch header

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

Of the 12 books I read this month, I had two 5-star reads:

Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas

The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher

This was a hard choice because these were both excellent! However, I'm going to go with the one that ended up on my all-time favorites list as the Best of the Bunch...

I absolutely adored The Shell Seekers. The characters felt like real people, and what I loved most was that there are no villains in this book; every person has their own values and priorities, and sometimes those lead to conflicts with one another, but no one is really evil. The pacing was well done, and the descriptions are masterful, so that I could feel myself there, experiencing the sights and sounds of a country garden or the seashore or a hot, stuffy London taxi. I'm glad I saved this one for when I had the time to read it in long stretches, because it's the kind of book you have to take time to inhabit, or else you may get impatient with the detailed descriptions or scenes of people living their everyday lives. Highly 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: Activist Theology and Call Down the Hawk
Five years ago I was reading: Lonesome Dove, Dancing with God, The Girl on the Train, and Emotional Vampires
Ten years ago I was reading: Boy

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Monday, January 25, 2021

Ten New-to-Me Authors I Read in 2020

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

This week we're talking about authors that were new to us in 2020. I tried to pick out authors who have written multiple books and weren't new to everybody in 2020, just to me!
1. Julie Berry
Although I wasn't head over heels for Lovely War like a lot of people have been, I quite enjoyed it and thought she wrote a well-researched historical novel. Her previous books didn't get nearly as much acclaim, so it will be interesting to see what she does next!
2. Angela Y. Davis
It took me far too long to get around to reading one of Davis' books, but I'm very glad I read Women, Race & Class in 2020. I'm also interested to read one of her more recent books, Freedom Is a Constant Struggle.
3. Doris Kearns Goodwin
In 2020 I read what is definitely her most well-known work, Team of Rivals, but she has several other highly rated books that could be interesting to pick up.
4. bell hooks
I have no excuse for the fact that I didn't pick up any of hooks' works until last year, but I'm very glad that Ain't I a Woman had stuck on my to-read list for so long. I also very much want to read Feminism Is for Everybody.
5. Adib Khorram
It worked out well that I read Darius the Great Is Not Okay for the first time in 2020, since a sequel also came out last year! I loved the Darius books and look forward to seeing what Khorram does next.
6. T.J. Klune
I picked up The House in the Cerulean Sea due to all the buzz, but I didn't realize Klune had written a ton of other books as well that are also very highly rated on Goodreads!
7. Kate Milford
Before everything shut down, I had a chance to see Milford speak, and I read the first two books in the Greenglass House series in preparation. She had not been on my radar before but I'm glad to have been introduced to her books!
8. Kate Morton
Morton has written a ton of well-loved books, but The Secret Keeper was the one that had made its way onto my to-read list and the one I finally read last year. I really enjoyed it and would definitely be open to reading more of her books.
9. Beth O'Leary
I don't know why the description of The Switch was so compelling to me, but I loved it and then had to read The Flatshare as well. Hoping to get her next one just as soon as it comes out this year!
10. Renée Watson
I picked up Piecing Me Together as part of my goal of reading more books set in Portland, and it was so good! I don't know how she got on my radar originally, but she has a ton of other books that are not as well known as this one.

Which authors were new to you in 2020?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Ghosts of Greenglass House and Their Eyes Were Watching God
Five years ago I was reading: Lonesome Dove, Dancing with God, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, and Stolen
Ten years ago I was reading: The Luck Factor

Monday, January 18, 2021

Ten 2020 Publications I Still Want to Read

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

This week's topic is about books we didn't get to in 2020. Since one of my 2021 goals is to read books published in 2020, here are ten that I'm still very interested in reading.
1. Big Friendship by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman
Every time I've heard this one mentioned it has stood out to me. I've never listened to their podcast, but I'm definitely interested in a book about friendship that includes honest conversations about the authors' own real-life, interracial friendship.
2. Caste by Isabel Wilkerson
I finally read The Warmth of Other Suns in 2019, and now Wilkerson has a new book out that showed up on just about every best-of list I saw for 2020.
3. Cemetery Boys by Aiden Thomas
I get skeptical about hyped YA books, but this one seems to have sustained its popularity, and I'm always down for more queer rep and teens of color in leading roles.
4. Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo
The Poet X is on my "shelf of shame" because I cannot believe I still haven't read it, and now Acevedo has another book out that people are consistently flipping their lids about.
5. Hidden Valley Road by Robert Kolker
The hosts of For Real raved about this one on multiple episodes, and then right after I put it on my list, my bibliologist recommended it to me because of how much I loved The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. I'm now on my library's (very long) holds list for it.
6. Me and White Supremacy by Layla F. Saad
This was one of the many anti-racist books recommended this past year, but this one stands out because it encourages the reader to do actual work as they go. As one of my other goals for this year is to continue reading books about race in America, I think this would be a good one for ensuring that I'm applying what I'm reading to my own life.
7. The Mirror & the Light by Hilary Mantel
I read the first two books in the Thomas Cromwell series and have been waiting forever for this third book to come out, so by the time it did I'd forgotten everything from the first two books and didn't want to devote the time to going back to them. But I would like to finish the story at some point.
8. Our Time Is Now by Stacey Abrams
I've felt discouraged by the voter suppression efforts in the past few years, but seeing the way that the work of Abrams and others made a difference in the 2020 election and the recent Senate elections in Georgia gives me hope.
9. We Keep the Dead Close by Becky Cooper
This is another one that the For Real hosts are huge fans of, and although I don't necessarily gravitate toward true crime, it's another one where — like The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks — it sounds like the author was able to weave her own investigative process into the story in a way that was well done.
10. Why Fish Don't Exist by Lulu Miller
Yet another one that everyone couldn't say enough good things about in 2020. I was already intrigued the first time I heard someone emphatically rave about it, and since then it's come up again and again as a must-read.

Which 2020 publications are still on your to-read list?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Dreams from My Father, The Next Evangelicalism, and There There
Five years ago I was reading: Lonesome Dove, Dancing with God, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, and Stolen
Ten years ago I was reading: The Luck Factor

Friday, January 15, 2021

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.

Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka: This was depressing and weird, but surprisingly I'm still glad I read it. I'm not entirely sure what Kafka's point was (even after reading the Sparknotes) but I found it a sharp critique of capitalist society, personally. I can't say I particularly enjoyed reading this, but I'm glad to now have the understanding of this classic story.

The Flatshare by Beth O'Leary: This was a sweet slow-burn romance — two people occupying the same flat at different times of the week develop a friendship via the notes they leave each other, and then it develops into more after they finally meet. Despite how much of the book in general was predictable, there were still plenty of surprises and multiple laugh-out-loud lines.

The Parker Inheritance by Varian Johnson: This was a very satisfying read! It wasn't as focused on the puzzle/mystery as I expected, but that ended up being OK. The sections from the 1950s provide a great middle-grade level look at the experiences of Black Southerners in that time period, while the modern-day sections dive into subjects like divorce and bullying.

The Moving Finger by Agatha Christie: This was fine. It gets bonus points for surprising me with who the killer was. I wasn't a big fan of the narrator of this one, who made me roll my eyes at his lengthy reflections about women. Overall, I appreciated the solution quite a bit, but I could have done without almost everything else.

Strangers from a Different Shore by Ronald Takaki: This is an incredibly comprehensive history of the immigration patterns and experiences of various Asian American groups. It goes into much more detail than the PBS series on Asian Americans (which I also recommend). This will take some patience to get through, but if you want to have a deeper understanding of this aspect of American history (and what it reveals about the history of race in America more generally) I definitely recommend it.

Autobiography of a Face by Lucy Grealy: It's impossible for me to separate my feelings on this book from the fact that I first read Ann Patchett's Truth and Beauty, a look at Lucy Grealy from the outside, which definitely affected my perspective. However, I found it to be a valuable look at what it's like to be a child growing up with your medical needs at the center of your life, spending much of your childhood in hospitals or recovering from the time spent there.

A Room with a View by E.M. Forster: Forster definitely has a gift for drawing out the odd and sometimes painfully awkward ways that human beings relate to one another. I also appreciated the idea behind this story, but in practice I was not a fan of how it played out. (Lucy "discovers her independence" by having two men tell her what she really thinks about other men.) Overall, I think Forster is a talented writer who wrote a great cast of characters and then completely undermined his own message with the way he went about bringing together the supposed romantic leads.

The Baby Signing Book by Sara Bingham: If you approach this book for what it is — not an introduction to a language by a native speaker, but encouragement to use bits and pieces of a language for other purposes — I think Bingham does a thorough job of making the case to skeptical hearing parents about why it's valuable to learn some ASL signs and use them with your hearing children as early as possible, and then she provides concrete suggestions for how to introduce these signs and use them as part of daily life.

Feminist, Queer, Crip by Alison Kafer: This was definitely a mixed bag. Kafer has moments of absolute brilliance and clarity and other moments where her terminology is undefined and her points unclear. There's a lot of valuable content in this book, but given that Kafer largely quotes from others' work, I don't think this would be my go-to recommendation for understanding either disability or intersectionality.

Charlotte's Web by E.B. White: I finally got my 6-year-old to be interested in chapter books at bedtime, and this was the book that did it! There's suspense, there's humor, there's action, there's friendship, and there's just enough background description to paint a picture of the different seasons and locations without making my kid lose interest.

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Dreams from My Father, The Next Evangelicalism, and There There
Five years ago I was reading: Lonesome Dove, Dancing with God, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, and Stolen
Ten years ago I was reading: The Luck Factor

Monday, January 11, 2021

Ten Bookish Goals for 2021

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

This week is about our resolutions for the year, bookish or otherwise. I typically set 10 bookish goals each year, and I debated on whether to abandon the practice this year. I like some things about having goals but sometimes they can stress me out, which is not what I want in my reading life. Eventually I decided I would make my goals less "SMART" by taking away exact numbers and would go easy on myself by listing out what I planned to do anyway rather than making any stretch goals this year. Here's what I expect to do this year. (See my previous post of how I did on my 2020 goals.)

1. Read some books from my to-read list.
I'm still working my way through my original to-read list, and I'd like to make at least a little progress this year on getting more titles read from that list. (Since I no longer have unread books on my shelves, this is kind of the equivalent for me.)

2. Read some books published in 2021.
I like having a goal that gives me permission to pick up at least some "new and shiny" publications when I hear about them.

3. Read some books published in 2020.
Every year there are books published that I regret not getting to, and though I read 18 books published in 2020, there are lots more on my list, so I want to make space to get to some of those!

4. Read some books from my "shelf of shame."
I'm slowly working my way through these few dozen "books I should have read by now," which I always enjoy because they tend to be ones that even casual readers know and recommend, so we can discuss them.

5. Continue with the Miss Marple series.
Will I finish the series this year? Probably, but if I don't that's OK too!

6. Read something my sister recommends.
I'm continuing this goal that I've had in recent years. My sister hasn't done a lot of personal reading since starting law school, but there are some books on her favorites list that I haven't read, so I'm going to see which one she thinks I should try.

7. Read everything my bibliologist recommends.
I'm very excited to have been gifted a TBR subscription for my birthday, and I already read and loved one suggestion, The Parker Inheritance. The other recent recs will take a while to get from the library, and then I'll get another set of three recommendations next quarter, which I plan to prioritize in my reading!

8. Read some books about race in America.
I've read a lot of books on this topic in the past decade and I have many more on my to-read list, so I want to make sure I continue learning about the experiences of Americans of color as well as the historical and present-day contributors to structural racism.

9. Reread some books I've read before.
It's well documented on this blog that I'm not a big rereader, but in the past few years I've ended up rereading some, mostly for book club but also by revisiting childhood classics. Now that my older son is up for having me read chapter books to him at bedtime, I plan to get through several rereads.

10. Participate in at least two TTT linkups each month.
I've done pretty well with this the past couple years, and I'd like to continue!

What are your 2021 goals or resolutions?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The Seeress of Kell, The Next Evangelicalism, and There There
Five years ago I was reading: Lonesome Dove, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, and Bhagavad-Gita
Ten years ago I was reading: Human Happiness

Thursday, January 7, 2021

Review of 2020 Bookish Goals

It's 2021! It's time to look at my 2020 goals and see how I did.

1. Read at least three books published in 2020.
I actually read quite a lot of 2020 publications: 18! As is usually the case, many of the best books I read this past year were published in 2020.

2. Get roughly 1/3 of my 2020 reads from my TBR list.
So it turns out that when I set a goal of half my reads coming from my TBR list, I only managed about a third, and when my goal was a third I managed even less, haha. It was about 15%. The good news is that I cut my original TBR way down so there are only 41 books left on it.

3. Read 50% fiction and 50% nonfiction.
I only managed 38% nonfiction, which is slightly higher than normal. Nonfiction books can be hella long, though, so page-wise I might have been closer to 50/50.

4. Read at least five books on my "shelf of shame."
Success: I read eight! Side note: People seem really bothered by my shelf of shame, but I love it. It externalizes, in a cheeky way, a feeling I already had, and it gives me a finite list of the books I feel I "should" have read by now so I stop feeling like there are hundreds of books in that category and realize there are actually only 32 of them.

5. Read something my sister recommends.
This year my sister's pick was Girls with Sharp Sticks. My sister's got dark tastes, y'all. It wasn't my favorite of the ones she's recommended, but I enjoyed it!

6. Read some modern books on feminism.
I forgot this goal was about modern-day feminism and read two books from 1981 (Ain't I a Woman and Women, Race, & Class, which were both excellent) but I read some more modern ones as well. I definitely recommend Hood Feminism and I Bring the Voices of My People.

7. Read some books set in Portland.
This goal led me to Adib Khorram's excellent Darius books, as well as another of this year's favorite reads, Piecing Me Together.

8. Read a Louise Penny book.
I read the first two in the Chief Inspector Gamache series and concluded that they're not for me. Now I know!

9. Listen to some classics narrated by celebrities.
I listened to five! I particularly appreciated getting to hear Tim Curry read Sabriel.

10. Start the Miss Marple series.
Success! I read four of the books and plan to continue with them this year.

How did you do with your 2020 goals?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The Seeress of Kell, The Next Evangelicalism, and There There
Five years ago I was reading: Lonesome Dove, Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda, and The Quran
Ten years ago I was reading: Human Happiness

Monday, January 4, 2021

Seven Most Anticipated Releases for the First Half of 2021

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

This week's topic is the book we're looking forward to in the first half of this year. What I've found is that I do end up reading a lot of books in the year they come out, but I typically don't know about them ahead of time. I just hear about them when they come out and then pick them up because they sound good or a lot of people are recommending them. However, I do know of seven books coming out this year that I am interested in reading!

1. The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green (Release Date: May 18, 2021)
I started listening to this podcast not too long ago, so even though some of the content in the book is from the podcast, most of it should be new to me.
2. Concrete Rose by Angie Thomas (Release Date: January 12, 2021)
I've been on the holds list for this prequel to The Hate U Give since I first heard about it, so I'm hoping to get it right away when it's released!
3. Do Better by Rachel Ricketts (Release Date: February 2, 2021)
I just heard about this recently, but it seems right up my alley as someone who runs a podcast about faith and feminism.
4. Kate in Waiting by Becky Albertalli (Release Date: April 20, 2021)
Although I haven't been a big fan of Albertalli's recent collaborations, I still love her work enough to want to read everything she writes!
5. Mister Impossible by Maggie Stiefvater (Release Date: May 18, 2021)
I greatly enjoyed the first in the Dreamer trilogy that came out in 2020, and I'm excited that the next book is due out so soon! I think the third one might also come out this year?? Maybe she wrote them all before starting to release them? Clearly I haven't looked too far into this!
6. One Last Stop by Casey McQuiston (Release Date: June 1, 2021)
I loved Red, White, & Blue as much as anyone, and I'm very excited to see what McQuiston does next!
7. The Road Trip by Beth O'Leary (Release Date: April 29, 2021)
I read O'Leary's other books for the first time this year, and now I'm a big fan! Definitely picking up this next one.

Which books are you anticipating in 2021?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The Seeress of Kell, The Next Evangelicalism, and There There
Five years ago I was reading: Middlemarch and The Quran
Ten years ago I was reading: Human Happiness