Tuesday, August 31, 2021

Best of the Bunch (August 2021)

Best of the Bunch header

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

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

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake was a reread of a favorite, which I had nominated for one of my book clubs. I just love these characters so much. On this reread, I chose to experience the book via audio, and it was like I was watching a movie unspool before my eyes. Wingfield has managed to write a book that touches on the darkest parts of human nature — domestic violence, animal abuse, sexual assault — and make it unbelievably heartwarming and uplifting. All the members of my book club loved the book and couldn't believe they hadn't heard of it before!

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: Thank You for Voting and Felix Ever After
Five years ago I was reading: The Martian and A Prayer for Owen Meany
Ten years ago I was reading: Scale Development

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Monday, August 23, 2021

Ten Books I Wish I Could Read Again for the First Time

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

This week's topics is books we wish we could read again for the first time. With great books, there's always the option to reread, but some books will never have the same feeling on a reread that they did when you were on the edge of your seat to find out what happened next the first time. Here are ten whose rereads will never live up to the first time through!
1. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green
2. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
3. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie
4. The Mysterious Benedict Society by Trenton Lee Stewart
5. Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
6. Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
7. The Secret History by Donna Tartt
8. Still Alice by Lisa Genova
9. The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
10. We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Joy Fowler

What books do you wish you could read again for the first time?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Untamed and The Color of Law
Five years ago I was reading: Oh Crap! Potty Training and A Prayer for Owen Meany
Ten years ago I was reading: Scale Development

Sunday, August 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.

Here's what I read this past month, including what I've been reading to my son!

Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff: Ruff uses a monster-of-the-week theme in this supernatural horror novel, but he also cleverly ties each chapter to a different facet of systemic racism. I found the plot compelling and the writing sharp, and Ruff clearly did his research as a white man writing a cast of Black characters.

Dear Rachel Maddow by Adrienne Kisner: I appreciated both how Kisner adapted national politics for a high school setting and how she created a realistic plot that wasn't the typical "underdog" story. Even if everything wasn't wrapped up in a bow (just as in real life) there was plenty that was satisfying about the way various plot threads resolved.

A Promised Land by Barack Obama: Obama's writing is thorough and precise, which made the book endlessly fascinating but also dry at times in print, but hearing his story in his calm, honest, optimistic voice was engaging and uplifting. It's an investment of time but a valuable glimpse into the everyday experience of being in politics and, especially, holding the presidency.

Jada Sly, Artist & Spy by Sherri Winston: I got this as a chapter book to read to my 6-year-old, but it ended up being a little too complex for him to follow and I finished the last third on my own. I appreciated Winston's vision for this book and the way the mystery was developed, even if I had some issues with how it all played out.

The Anthropocene Reviewed by John Green: This book is part memoir, part history lesson(s), part meditations on life. In giving 5-star reviews of everything from velociraptors to smallpox vaccines to "wintry mix", John Green beautifully discusses how humans affect, interpret, and adapt to every facet of the world in which we find ourselves.

Fantastic Mr. Fox by Roald Dahl: This was a better read for my 6-year-old than James and the Giant Peach. The narrative is much simpler and the story shorter, and it's also not as dark as many of Dahl's books. It's not a favorite for me, but he really enjoyed it!

The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman: I wanted to like this a lot more than I did. The mystery itself was decent, the dialogue was entertaining, and there were a number of clever misdirections with the way the story was written, but the story didn't match the promise of the premise and I found the resolution(s) rather unsatisfying.

Ruby Lu, Brave and True by Lenore Look: This is more a series of vignettes than a single story. There are some good lessons in here, like about bullying and competition, but also some choices I wouldn't want my kids to imitate. A lot of what happened in the story went over my son's head due the frequent use of metaphor, hyperbole, and understated jokes.

The Homecoming of Samuel Lake by Jenny Wingfield: I just love these characters so much. On this reread, I chose to experience the book via audio, and it was like I was watching a movie unspool before my eyes. There are certainly some moments I'd change, and I recognize that the book's "miracles" could be seen as a bit cheesy, but I still had a great time revisiting the Moses clan in this story.

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Little Fires Everywhere and The Color of Law
Five years ago I was reading: Bread & Wine and A Prayer for Owen Meany
Ten years ago I was reading: Scale Development

Monday, August 9, 2021

Ten Secondary/Minor Characters Who Deserve More Love

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

This week we're talking about great characters who aren't the main characters of their books. This is what I came up with, but I know there are many more I just didn't think of!
1. Abby Suso (from the Creekwood series)
Abby is a major character in the Creekwood books, but she's never gotten her own book. She goes through a lot over the course of the series — moving to a brand-new place, making new friends, dealing with a stalker-ish classmate, and exploring her own sexuality.
2. Ellen Claremont (from Red, White & Royal Blue)
Her story isn't the focus of the book, but let's stop and appreciate all that President Claremont has to deal with as the first female president of the United States, not to mention one whose son causes multiple international incidents!
3. Dylan (from I'll Meet You There)
Working in education consulting, one point I heard made during my first year at my current organization was that we tend to talk about kids in rural areas as if the goal is to educate them so they can leave. But what about educating the ones who want to stay and remain part of their local community? Unlike the novel's main character, Dylan is genuinely happy to stay in her hometown with her baby and doesn't want to be lumped into everything her friends are trying to escape. Props to her for not letting someone else dictate what happiness should entail for her.
4. Jack Boughton (from Gilead)
I don't want to say too much because it involves a plot twist, but Jack is misunderstood for much of the book and brings out the main character's shadow side, only to prove to be more complex and human than expected by the end.
5. Marcela (from Don Quixote)
One of my favorite scenes in this lengthy classic involves Marcela, who is initially portrayed as a cruel temptress who drove a man to kill himself for love for her. But when we finally meet her, she delivers an excellent defense of what would today be called "friendzoning," saying it isn't her fault if men fall in love with her and that doesn't mean she's obligated to love them back, and if they want to be ridiculous about it that's on them. Not what I expected to find in this work from the early 17th century!
6. Matthew Lynch (from The Raven Cycle series and Dreamer Trilogy)
Again, I don't want to spoil anything, but there's a secret about the incorrigibly sweet youngest Lynch brother that comes out during the course of these series that would be incredibly hard to live with, so let's all spare a thought for Matthew. (And also I haven't read Mister Impossible yet but I'm looking forward to it, so don't spoil any further developments!)
7. Mr. Bennet (from Pride and Prejudice)
I tend to be in the minority for how much I enjoy Mr. Bennet as a character, but I appreciate the way he stays grounded amid his wife's constant anxiety and how he cares more about Elizabeth's happiness as a person than her value as a marriageable young woman.
8. Polgara (from The Belgariad and Malloreon series)
Polgara does, thankfully, get her own prequel in this universe, but she's still a secondary character in the two main series. She's awesome and nearly unflappable and incredibly clever, and I'm glad she gets a little slice of happiness after making sacrifices for centuries for the sake of the world.
9. Susan Pevensie (from The Chronicles of Narnia series)
Susan is the proverbial black sheep of the Pevensie kids, the one who misses out on the final adventure because she's become too "worldly" to go back to Narnia. But so what? People have diverse interests and need to explore their identity as they grow, and if Susan is interested in "nylons and lipstick and invitations" at the moment, good for her. After the events of the last book, she likely gets a shake-up in her priorities anyway.
10. Zuzana (from Daughter of Smoke & Bone)
The main character's best friend, Zuzana is a spitfire of a girl who has little patience for things that she doesn't like but deep loyalty for her friends. She's funny and brave and has some of the best lines in the book.

Who are some other great secondary/minor characters?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Everyday Antiracism, Still Life, and Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk
Five years ago I was reading: The Big Four and A Prayer for Owen Meany
Ten years ago I was reading: Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone