Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Best of the Bunch (November 2021)

Best of the Bunch header

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

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

Still Stace: My Gay Christian Coming-Of-Age Story: An Illustrated Memoir by Stacey Chomiak

Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe

How the heck am I supposed to pick between these? I loved them both and read each in about two sittings. I guess I'll give some extra weight to the one written by a friend of mine, because it was very cool to get to hear more of her story (and her book is new so not as well known!).
Still Stace was originally going to be a much shorter children's book, but I'm glad that it evolved into this more detailed memoir for a young adult audience. I think it's so valuable for LGBTQ+ Christian teens to have this honest story of how Stace moved from a place of shame and numbness to a feeling of peace and wholeness after she started seeking God's voice instead of just the interpretations and beliefs of those around her. I read this book in two sittings; the writing was accessible and the story was compelling. Her voice throughout this book is honest and open as she shares the painful experiences of her past. And her illustrations add such a unique flavor to the story! Although I don't believe that there's a single book you can hand to a Christian loved one who has strong negative beliefs about LGBTQ+ identities that will change their minds overnight, I do believe that stories are far more powerful than proof-texting or logical arguments in opening people's hearts. And for anyone from any background who doesn't understand what it's like to struggle with reconciling faith and sexuality, I'd definitely recommend this book.

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: A Promised Land and Strangers from a Different Shore
Five years ago I was reading: Interpreter of Maladies, Middlesex, and Murder on the Orient Express
Ten years ago I was reading: Reviving Ophelia

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Monday, November 22, 2021

Ten Characters I'd Love An Update On

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

This was a fun thought exercise. I'm not generally a fan of writers adding sequels for books that don't need them (especially since it often requires creating conflict where there was previously resolution and hope), but here we can just imagine all of these characters as real people and wonder what they'd be up to since the story ended!

1. Alba DeTamble (from The Time Traveler's Wife)
We only get a brief glimpse of Alba in this book, where she seems to be a pretty well-adjusted kid for having a time-traveling disorder. How does that affect her as she grows up and attempts to navigate long-term relationships?
2. Alex Claremont-Diaz (from Red, White & Royal Blue)
We leave Alex on a happy ending (it's a romance, after all), but he still has most of adulthood ahead of him and a whole international situation to navigate in the public eye. What is that like for him?
3. Alice Love (from What Alice Forgot)
Is Alice able to take the lessons from her period of amnesia and prevent any distance from creeping into her marriage again? How does this experience affect her parenting?
4. Blue Sargent (from The Raven Cycle series)
This universe has continued with the Dreamer Trilogy, but Blue gets barely a mention now that we're following Ronan. How is she navigating adulthood, and what do her family relationships look like now? How much is the supernatural still part of her day-to-day?
5. Claudia Kincaid (from The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler)
Claudia is a precocious, clever kid when she concocts a plan to live in a museum and solve a mystery in this book. How have those skills served her as she's grown up?
6 & 7. Crowley and Aziraphale (from Good Omens)
The TV series kindled in me a new love for these characters from a book I read over a decade ago. Given all they've been through together, what happens next for these two?
8. Dimple Shah (from When Dimple Met Rishi)
I'll admit, I know there's a short story about Dimple and Rishi that has come out since the original book, but I haven't read it, so this is on me! However, I think the story mostly focuses on their relationship, and I'm interested to know about Dimple's continued experience in programming. How does she navigate being a woman of color in web development at Stanford? What is her career after college?
9. Matilda Wormwood (from Matilda)
This is one where I'm glad there was never an actual sequel (because that poor girl went through enough already!), but I'd love just a glimpse of her adult life, where I imagine her having strong boundaries and a loving community and basically building the life she wants for herself.
10. Starr Carter (from The Hate U Give)
Starr has to make some difficult and brave decisions in this book, and we see some of the immediate consequences of that, but what does her life look like five or ten years out? Which relationships has she maintained? Has she continued to be an outspoken activist, or has that part of her life taken a backseat to all of her other ambitions for now?

Which characters would you like an update on?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The House of the Spirits and The Body in the Library
Five years ago I was reading: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, Middlesex, and The Girls
Ten years ago I was reading: Sundays in America

Monday, November 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!

Stars and Sparks on Stage by Sharon M. Draper: The Black Dinosaurs want to win the talent show, but they're forced to think about more serious things after meeting a new student who was made homeless by Hurricane Katrina. I thought it was handled in an age-appropriate way. My 6-year-old got bored with this one partway through, but I enjoyed it!

Girl Sex 101 by Allison Moon: This was billed as a fully inclusive sex-ed book, and it definitely delivered! Although addressed primarily to queer women, it covers all genders and genitals; the only people who aren't a focus are cis men, and it's not like there's a shortage of information out there about having sex with cis men. In addition to extensively covering trans bodies, it's inclusive of disabled bodies and fat bodies as well. The world would be a better place if everyone read this book before they had sex!

The Mirror Crack'd from Side to Side by Agatha Christie: I actually figured one out! I'm so proud of myself, haha. It was fun seeing how all the pieces fit together once I had an idea of what the solution was going to be.

Honey Girl by Morgan Rogers: This book had potential, but it never really coalesced for me. Rogers did a lot of telling not showing, and we didn't get to see a lot of the relationship building between characters. Everyone in this book talked to each other very dramatically about pain and monsters and the universe, but that's not a substitute for the real ways that people care for each other.

Dragons and Marshmallows by Asia Citro: This was fun! My son wasn't quite as invested as he's been with some other books, but he enjoyed it and so did I. It's a basic introduction to the scientific method wrapped in a story about magical creatures. This was recommended to me by a lot of different people, and I'm glad it delivered!

Saga, Vol. 2 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples: This was an enjoyable continuation of the story from Volume 1. It's still a little heavy on the gore for my taste, but there are a lot of funny lines and the art makes it feel like you're watching a movie.

Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh: This one was a mixed bag for me. Some chapters were as laugh-out-loud funny as her first book, but the overall question the book kept coming back to was "What do you do when you find out that nothing matters?" and she was still clearly in the middle of that nihilism and depression while trying to mine it for stories worth telling. I'm grateful for what her art has given to the world, and I hope that she can find her way to some more peace and meaning in her life.

Set Boundaries, Find Peace: A Guide to Reclaiming Yourself by Nedra Glover Tawwab: This was a good, if pretty basic, overview of why it's important to have boundaries and how you can implement them in your life. I think that for anyone who struggles with setting boundaries at all or who has a lot of unhealthy relationships or a toxic work environment, this would be an excellent first step.

Monsters and Mold by Asia Citro: This was a cute continuation of the series. I liked seeing how Zoey again used the scientific method to solve a magical creature's problem, and in this one there is some exploration of how what works in a laboratory may not be practical when applied outside of it! I was possibly more eager than my son to find out what the solution was going to be, haha.

Muse of Nightmares by Laini Taylor: This was a satisfying conclusion to the story started in Strange the Dreamer. Taylor is an incredibly skilled writer, both on a sentence level and in terms of plotting and character development. What I appreciate most about this story is how Taylor has given us a multitude of morally gray characters, all of whom have done terrible things, but their reasons for doing so are deeply understandable and sympathetic.

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The House of the Spirits and Truth & Beauty
Five years ago I was reading: The 100-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared, Friendship at the Margins, and The Girls
Ten years ago I was reading: Sundays in America

Monday, November 1, 2021

Ten Books I Would Hand to Someone Who Claims to Not Like Reading

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

I went with kind of a wide range for this topic because there are a variety of reasons someone might be turned off from reading and so different books will work to inspire different people!

1. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by Hank Green
This book works on multiple levels: It's extremely action-packed, it includes puzzles that the characters have to solve, and it's also a meditation on fame in the Internet era. And it's excellent on audio, so it's a good one to introduce reluctant audiobook listeners to that format as well.
2. Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
This book is also best experienced as an audiobook, narrated by the author. For anyone who thinks memoirs are too heavy or boring or who thinks "celebrity memoirs" are trashy, this is a laugh-out-loud account of a serious topic — Noah's experience growing up as the illegal child of an interracial couple during apartheid South Africa. It's well loved by hundreds of thousands of readers.
3. The Extraordinary Education of Nicholas Benedict by Trenton Lee Stewart
I find the entire Mysterious Benedict Society series delightful, but the first book in the series might be a little too quirky for some people. This standalone prequel is a great example of how middle grade can be fun for adults to read too, as the writing is excellent and it's fun to read about the main character outsmarting those around him and trying to piece together clues to find a treasure.
4. Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
I'd encourage fans of the miniseries (or really anyone) to pick up the book that inspired it, as it's hilarious, fast-paced, and entertaining, and you can see how the print format allows for a different type of humor than the screen (though I loved both versions).
5. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
This absolutely compelling look at the U.S. criminal justice system — part memoir, part journalistic nonfiction — is important for everyone in the United States to read, and for anyone who associates nonfiction with dry history books, this will be a heartbreaking wake-up call about just how important it is to learn the realities of what's happening today.
6. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
Anyone who's been turned off from science fiction by reading too many "classics" by white men needs to give this book a try. The world-building is fascinating and inclusive, the characters jump off the page with their big personalities, and the plot includes a lot of high stakes for people just trying to do their best. It'll be an even easier sell for fans of Firefly, a frequent comp for this book.
7. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
This book is so action-packed that it's hard to put it down once you start. The references to video games and '80s pop culture also provide nostalgic hooks for certain reluctant readers as well. And so many people have read this (plus there's a movie) that they'll definitely have people to discuss it with.
8. Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
This is a frequent recommendation for reluctant romance readers. For anyone who thinks romance is either staring longingly from wind-swept cliffs or erotica with a thinly strung-together plot, here is a hilarious, heartbreaking, inspiring, satisfying tale of love between the U.S. President's son and the Prince of Wales that also imagines a slightly more inclusive America where a divorced woman with a gay, Latino son can be president.
9. Saga, Vol. 1 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Graphic novels are a frequent recommendation for reluctant readers, and I think the best option will depend on the reader. Some are much more like comic strips, while some, like this series, are extremely cinematic, with lots of dialogue, sweeping shots, and text meant to convey a voiceover only at key moments. This is one I'd hand to movie buffs, especially those comfortable with a little bit of gore.
10. The Sea of Tranquility by Katja Millay
Young adult is another genre that gets a bad rap, and it's partially deserved, as many YA novels focus more on capturing a certain tone or message over polishing the writing, and sometimes the characters feel more like sketches or caricatures. This one, though, has the readability of a young adult novel, and does feature teenagers at its center, but it has a gravity to it that you don't always find in this type of book, as the main character seeks her own stunted methods of coping with the traumatic event she endured (and you don't know what that event is at the beginning). It's a compelling story for teens and adults alike.

What books would you hand to someone in this situation?

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