Sunday, October 31, 2021

Best of the Bunch (October 2021)

Best of the Bunch header

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

Of the 8 books I read this month, I had two 5-star reads:

Girl Sex 101 by Allison Moon

Know My Name by Chanel Miller

Now that I see these side by side, they seem to be strangely related — the first one an inclusive guide to consensual, pleasurable sex that respects yourself and your partner, and the second one the aftermath of sex being weaponized. Both are important to understand. For my Best of the Bunch, I'm going to go with the one that has an astounding 4.71 rating on Goodreads.
Miller is an incredibly talented writer, and she did an admirable job narrating the audiobook of Know My Name. Through a minutely detailed account of the aftermath of her assault by Brock Turner in 2015 — all the way through the recall vote for the judge who gave Turner only six months in jail — she gives the reader a visceral sense of what it's like not just being a survivor of assault but surviving the court process that is involved in trying to get justice. She points out with stunning clarity the problems with both the structural and the cultural responses to sexual assault and why victims so rarely report or report years after the fact. Her story is important as both an indictment of the way sexual assault survivors are treated and as an empathetic mirror for those who have experienced assault themselves. Really powerful and 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: Amazing Grace and To Kill a Mockingbird
Five years ago I was reading: Brideshead Revisited, Adoption Parenting, and Writing My Wrongs
Ten years ago I was reading: The Great Gatsby

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Monday, October 18, 2021

Ten Online Resources for Book Lovers

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

This week's topic ought to be useful for all of us! We're sharing websites, podcasts, apps, and other online resources that our fellow book lovers may find useful. Most of these are ones I've talked about before, but here they all are together!

1. Book Series in Order
This site has been super helpful in my quest to read all of Agatha's Christie's books, since I like to read each sleuth's books in order of publication. It's also come in handy for series I read with my son, so I know the next book to request from the library!

2. For Real podcast
This is 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 podcast
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. Goodreads
Obviously I love Goodreads for tracking my own reading and sharing my ratings and reviews, but it's also a great source of book recommendations. I like finding new people to follow who have similar literary tastes, and I've filtered my home feed to only show updates that include reviews, so I don't have the frustration of wondering, "But why did you give it 3 stars?" I also like looking through the lists to find books that are highly rated or very popular that I haven't read or books that fit a particular category I want to know more about.

5. Kindle app
I like reading on my Kindle Voyage, but it stays on my nightstand unless I'm going on vacation. With the app, I can read my current book wherever I am, and it syncs to the spot where I left off on another device. I am definitely one of those people who will get five minutes of reading in while waiting in line at the grocery store.

6. My TBR
I got a Recommendations subscription for Christmas last year, and it's been so fun to have a "bibliologist" picking out three books specifically for me and my reading preferences once a quarter. I can provide feedback on the recommendations and choose how far outside my comfort zone I want to go. For the most part, they've found ones I hadn't heard of but enjoyed reading!

7. OverDrive
OverDrive is the primary reason I'm able to read so many books in a year. Anytime I finish a book, I can immediately send a new one to my Kindle or download a new audiobook for my phone. No waiting! And the wish list feature keeps track of the books I want to read, so I can filter by books on my wish list that are available immediately for download. It's amazing.

8. Overdue podcast
This isn't one I subscribe to, but when I finish a book I enjoy listening to an episode about it if there is one in the extensive archives. 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.

9. PaperBackSwap
When I can't find a book at the library, or when I love a book and decide I want to own a hard copy, it goes on my PaperBackSwap wish list. When I'm next in line and someone posts a used copy, then I can use one of my credits to have it shipped to me! The books are almost always in good condition, and all I have to do to get another credit is pay Media Mail rates to have one of my old books sent to someone. It's only like $20 a year for a membership, which is totally worth it!

10. What Should I Read Next? podcast
Anne Bogel of Modern Mrs. Darcy (a great resource unto itself!) 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. The format is helpful for letting me know whether I'd also like the books she's recommending or if the guest has different taste than me. She's also great at interviewing the guests to draw out the interesting details of their lives or work.

What resources do you recommend?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The Vanishing Half and Sabriel
Five years ago I was reading: A Little Life, Adoption Parenting, La traduction est une histoire d'amour, and On the Road
Ten years ago I was reading: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Friday, October 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!

Strange the Dreamer by Laini Taylor: Laini Taylor's beautiful writing came alive with Steve West's masterful audiobook narration. The start was a little slow, but the characters all felt so real, the world-building was excellent, and the romance was actually enjoyable despite technically being kind of instalove. I really enjoyed my time spent in this other world and plan to read the sequel.

Somebody's Daughter by Ashley C. Ford: Ford covers a lot of "issues" in this memoir — having an incarcerated parent, surviving sexual assault, experiencing neglect and abuse — but she balances these hard truths with other truths, about the care and closeness she experienced from family members and friends, about the confidence in boundary-setting she found after going away to college, and about the healing she found through therapy and time.

The Space Mission Adventure by Sharon M. Draper: The Black Dinosaurs go to space camp, where they participate in simulated space missions and learn a lot about space travel. This was a more contained kind of adventure/mystery than the previous books, but my 6-year-old and I enjoyed it either way.

The House of Broken Angels by Luis Alberto Urrea: Urrea is a talented writer, dropping the reader into the midst of a large family gathering. That said, it's exhausting enough attending an actual family gathering, and I don't know that I got much from the literary experience of sitting through someone else's, particularly as the book focused almost exclusively on the men, who were engaged in some kind of ongoing pissing match with each other.

Pregnant Girl: A Story of Teen Motherhood, College, and Creating a Better Future for Young Families by Nicole Lynn Lewis: Lewis deftly combines her own story of teen parenthood with both statistics and the stories of the young parents her organization serves today. Through her stark honesty, she helps the reader understand the many factors that shaped her life, detailing the ways she barely escaped falling through the cracks to be able to begin and then successfully complete a college degree.

Saga, Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples: So glad I finally picked this up! This makes excellent use of the graphic novel format (even if it's a little gory for my taste). There's suspense and action and humor, and I'm definitely interested in continuing the series.

Information Dashboard Design: The Effective Visual Communication of Data by Stephen Few: This is a pretty good overview of the best design principles for dashboards. I was familiar with much of it already, but I found it a thorough review of the practical considerations that make dashboards easier or harder to use. The screenshots are from 2006, so they're pretty hilarious and not exactly representative of what you'd see today, but they still get the point across.

Adulthood Is a Myth by Sarah Andersen: I had a hard time relating to this. The author's target audience seems to be college students, as there are various references to classes and papers and tests. Most of the jokes were ones I've seen elsewhere before, and the themes of lack of self-control, poor self-image, and periods being the worst thing in the world just didn't resonate with where I am in my life.

The Backyard Animal Show by Sharon M. Draper: Draper is skillful at working in important topics through stories of kids having adventures. In this fifth book in the series, the Black Dinosaurs have a pet show gone awry that is grounded in lessons about deforestation and habitat destruction. Sad there's only one book left in the series!

A Psalm of the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers: This was just lovely. Chambers has written a book for this moment, for those who have been burnt out by the pandemic or by late-stage capitalism, who need permission to try something new or to just sit with a cup of tea for a bit without accomplishing anything. I'm looking forward to the next book in the series.

Know My Name by Chanel Miller: Miller is an incredibly talented writer, and she did an admirable job narrating her own audiobook. Through a minutely detailed account of the aftermath of her assault by Brock Turner in 2015, she gives the reader a visceral sense of what it's like not just being a survivor of assault but surviving the court process that is involved in trying to get justice.

The Unbecoming of Mara Dyer by Michelle Hodkin: Young adult books can be wildly hit or miss for me, and this one had most of the attributes that make one a miss. The writing and editing were sloppy, the adults don't seem to care what happens, there's painfully token diversity, and the love interest in the alphahole of all YA alphaholes. I was not a fan.

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Ace, The Vanishing Half, and Sabriel
Five years ago I was reading: A Little Life, Adoption Parenting, La traduction est une histoire d'amour, and On the Road
Ten years ago I was reading: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows

Monday, October 4, 2021

Ten Bookish Pet Peeves

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

As far as I can tell from going back through my archives, this is a new one! This week we're talking about our bookish pet peeves. Here are ten of mine!

1. Books that are only available in hard copy
The only books I intentionally read in hard copy nowadays are those with a major visual component, like graphic novels. Otherwise it's very hard for me to find time to sit down and read a print book. Most of my reading is done via audiobook while I'm doing tasks around the house, and the rest is via ebook, which I can read on my phone standing in line at the store or at night on my backlit Kindle screen under the covers where it won't wake the baby. So if I want to read something but it's not available in digital formats, I need to really want to read it.

2. Books that would have been fantastic if they'd just been edited a little better
It's so frustrating when I read a book and think, "This would be fantastic if it weren't for [the constant typos / the inconsistent details / that one plot line that didn't make any sense]." As someone who's done developmental editing as well as proofreading, it's clear to me when a little more attention from a careful editor could have made the book a 5-star read but that just didn't happen.

3. Characters who make irrational or out-of-character decisions to move the plot along
Characters don't have to make the decisions that I would have made, but I need to understand why they're making the decisions they are. I get annoyed when characters suddenly choose to do something that's convenient for the plot but has no rational explanation or is completely at odds with the person we know them to be up to that point.

4. Children whose maturation is wildly out of sync with their supposed age
Look, I have a developmentally delayed kid, and I get that not all kids develop at the same rate, but if a kid is acting way younger or older than their age, I expect it to be commented on. To take one example (The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry), why is a seemingly average 2-year-old being propped up with pillows and spoonfed and then called "exceptionally verbal" when at 3 years she's speaking single words? Or maybe there's a kid whose speech patterns and behavior suggest they're in elementary school, and then after only a few years have passed in the story they're celebrating their 18th birthday. In this kind of situation I spend way too much time flipping back, trying to figure out if I missed something.

5. Excessive focus on a character's identity or difference
I am all for character diversity, and I also think there's a place for books that are specifically meant to teach about certain identities or experiences. I get annoyed when these attributes are slapped on characters in lieu of giving them a personality or when the book dwells unnecessarily on how unusual this aspect of the person is. Go read Writing With Color and get yourself some sensitivity readers!

6. Hints about an epic plot twist that never materializes
This has happened to me multiple times now! The author drops hints here and there that all seem to point to a potential twist or plot resolution, and I get excited when I think I've figured it out, and then... nothing. The plot is predictable, the resolution is a trope, and none of the hints are ever explained. So annoying!

7. Nonfiction authors who make assumptions about their readers
I know Sheryl Sandberg gets a lot of crap for Lean In, but I personally appreciated how explicitly she laid out the narrow audience her book was for. It's much more frustrating to me when a career or self-help book is purportedly for "everyone" but is actually addressed to people who share a multitude of characteristics with the author. Or the many parenting books that assume throughout that the reader is a woman who is married to a man and who physically birthed the child herself, even if they include a throwaway sentence about how "dads can get something out of the book too"!

8. Plot twists that I figure out hundreds of pages before the characters do
I enjoy the feeling of putting together the pieces and guessing what's going to happen, but I prefer to figure it out just a few steps ahead of the characters. If I've figured out a key plot twist early on and then I have to wait for the entire rest of the book for everyone else to catch on, I spend the whole time going, "Why hasn't anyone figured this out yet? Is the reader supposed to know something the characters don't or did I just figure this out really early? Am I wrong? [Usually not.] Can we hurry up and get to the reveal already?"

9. Quotations inserted as full sentences without a clear source (except for an endnote)
This is a major pet peeve of mine with nonfiction books. Rather than saying "As so-and-so said" or "According to such-and-such article" some authors will just put entire sentences in quotation marks in the middle of their writing with no context except for a footnote or endnote that you have to stop and look up. Either invite the other writers into conversation with your text by referencing them by name, or put more effort into synthesizing their ideas into your own thesis, even if that means not directly quoting the great way they expressed an idea.

10. Switching between past and present tense without a clear reason
Some books intentionally have alternating timelines that are told with different verb tenses, which isn't my favorite, but it can work fine. But sometimes this fluidity of tenses serves no clear purpose and leads to confusion, and sometimes (along the lines of #2 above) verb tenses will even switch mid-sentence because the author and the editor(s) weren't paying close enough attention. It's so distracting!

What are some of your bookish pet peeves?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Sabriel
Five years ago I was reading: All Creatures Great and Small, Adoption Parenting, and The Guns of August
Ten years ago I was reading: Global Wording