Friday, December 31, 2021

Best of the Bunch (December 2021)

Best of the Bunch header

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

Of the 7 books I read this month, I had no 5-star reads, and two 4.5-star reads:

Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty

Unicorns and Germs by Asia Citro

As much as I enjoy the Zoey and Sassafras books I'm reading with my older son, I'll stick with an adult rec for this end-of-month linkup.
I liked Apples Never Fall a lot better than Moriarty's last few. The mysteries (Where is Joy? Who is Savannah?) were compelling, but even more than that, what I like about Moriarty's writing is how brilliantly she captures the subtleties of being a person: the way that people have resentments they don't even realize are resentments, or how an individual's earnestness is sweet from one angle and cringeworthy from another. The main critique I have of the book is that the denouement is way too long. ("How the Delaneys dealt with COVID" could have been a bonus short on her website rather than the entire last act of the book.) This hasn't quite beat out my favorite Moriarty books, but I did really enjoy the read and look forward to her next one.

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: Strangers from a Different Shore and Feminist, Queer, Crip
Five years ago I was reading: Death in the Clouds, Good-Bye to All That, and Dracula
Ten years ago I was reading: The Spirit Level

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Monday, December 27, 2021

Top Ten Books I Read in 2021

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

It's time to share my favorite reads of the year! I'm honestly not 100% confident I'm not going to finish another 5-star (or 4.5-star) read in the last few days of the year, but oh well, here we are! This year I'm not splitting by fiction and nonfiction because most of my 5-star reads this year were either rereads or chapter books, which I'm not including here, so I actually didn't have a lot to pick from. Here are my ten favorites of the year. To read more about why I liked them, you can search for them on the blog or check out my Goodreads! (Psst: To see my favorite read every month, I encourage you to check out — and link up with — the Best of the Bunch linkup.)

1. Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty
2. Girl Sex 101 by Allison Moon
3. Listen by Patty Wipfler and Tosha Schore
4. The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers
5. A Madness of Sunshine by Nalini Singh
6. Nothing to See Here by Kevin Wilson
7. On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed
8. A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers
9. Rick by Alex Gino
10. Wholehearted Faith by Rachel Held Evans

What were your top reads of 2021?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The Moving Finger and Feminist, Queer, Crip
Five years ago I was reading: Don Quixote, Good-Bye to All That, and The Wonder
Ten years ago I was reading: The Spirit Level

Wednesday, December 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 older son!

Merhorses and Bubbles by Asia Citro: This was slow to start, but my son and I enjoyed it. There are a lot of scenes with Zoey's dad (who can't see magical creatures) played for laughs, and the solution to the magical creatures' problem in this situation contains both an important lesson about ecology and encourages getting civically involved.

Wholehearted Faith by Rachel Held Evans with Jeff Chu: It was so good to experience Rachel's voice again after her sudden passing in 2019. Throughout this book, she reflects on what it means to live life and love God and one another with your whole heart, and why that includes making room for our doubts, our questions, our anger, and every facet of our identities.

Still Stace: My Gay Christian Coming-Of-Age Story: An Illustrated Memoir by Stacey Chomiak: This was my favorite read of November. 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.

Gender Queer by Maia Kobabe: I deeply enjoyed this graphic memoir. As Kobabe shared eir honest feelings about eir gender and sexuality, it was clear that e felt them in a profound way even during the times of eir life e didn't have language for them. I think Kobabe's memoir as it stands is an affirming mirror for a common queer journey, where identities don't just land overnight and then stick forever, but that doesn't mean that labels can't be helpful signposts along the way.

Saga, Vol. 3 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples: At this point in the series I started to struggle a little bit to keep all the different characters' relationships straight and remember who's chasing whom and for what reason, not to mention figuring out who's dead and who was just seriously wounded. But it's still enjoyable for the great action, humor, and overall storyline.

An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz: I was familiar with the long history of the U.S. government making and breaking treaties with the indigenous peoples of this land, but Dunbar-Ortiz added a new dimension to my understanding. As a comprehensive, thoroughly researched, and highly detailed work of history, the book is understandably a bit dry, but extremely well done and definitely worth a read.

Caterflies and Ice by Asia Citro: I really enjoyed this one! Zoey uses quick thinking to save the magical caterflies' eggs, but her solution has unintended consequences, and she must use additional scientific knowledge to fix it. I learned something new in this one!

Saga, Vol. 4 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples: This was a weird, dark set of chapters in this story. Both Marko and Alana take unnecessary risks, and there's lots more carnage left in a variety of places. This volume wasn't bad, it just felt like too much plot, not enough of the witty dialogue and deep character emotions that I've enjoyed in the series up to this point.

Saga, Vol. 5 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples: This one still had too many different story lines for me to fully keep track of them, but there was more snappy dialogue this time, and the plot made more sense, though I'm still tired of watching various people getting blasted and then having to wait several pages to find out if they're dead or not.

The Pod and the Bog by Asia Citro: This one didn't hold my son's attention quite as much as some previous books, possibly because it's about a magical plant rather than a magical creature, but I thought it was surprisingly engaging nonetheless. Through experimentation, Zoey has to figure out where this seed pod came from so she can replant the seeds in the right location. It's a good explanation of both research design and how plants work, set up as a mystery!

Apples Never Fall by Liane Moriarty: I liked this a lot better than Moriarty's last few. The mysteries within the story were compelling, but even more than that, what I like about Moriarty's writing is how brilliantly she captures the subtleties of being a person.

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The Flatshare and Strangers from a Different Shore
Five years ago I was reading: Three Act Tragedy, Five on a Treasure Island, and Ficciones
Ten years ago I was reading: Liberated Parents, Liberated Children

Monday, December 13, 2021

Top Ten Books on My Winter TBR

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

I didn't get through as many of the books on my fall TBR list as I would have liked, probably because this past month has been bananas here, so three of them are showing up here again. But that's OK! Here are those and the rest of what I plan to read this quarter.

1. Aristotle and Dante Dive Into the Waters of the World by Benjamin Alire Sáenz
This is a carryover from fall.
2. Can I Recycle This? by Jennie Romer
I was very excited when I heard about this book because I seem to be perpetually baffled by how recycling works and how to know what I can put in the bin. Now that I'm going to be living in my own house, it seems like a good time to figure this out and be a responsible user of my recycling bin.
3. A Caribbean Mystery by Agatha Christie
This is next up in my quest to read all the Miss Marple books!
4. Drinking the Rain by Alix Kates Shulman
I don't remember how I heard about this book, but as I start my own new life chapter after a divorce it seemed like a good time to read this memoir about surviving divorce, embracing soltitude, and learning to be self-sufficient.
5. Good Talk by Mira Jacob
This is the pick for one of my book clubs for January, and it's one I've wanted to read for a long time now. I love the author, I've heard rave reviews about the book, and I could always use advice on handling different conversations with my kids.
6. Here's to Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera
I love Albertalli's writing (though I tend to prefer her standalones to her collaborations), and I enjoyed the first book in this series, so I'm definitely picking this one up.
7. The Natural Mother of the Child by Krys Malcolm Belc
This is a carryover from fall.
8. Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss
A ton of my Goodreads friends have given this book 5 stars, and it sounds fascinating! I'm always up for a good combination of practical advice and in-the-field stories from an author's professional work.
9. Out of Office by Charlie Warzel and Anne Helen Peterson
My cohort lead at work is a huge Anne Helen Peterson fan and as we're a fully remote organization, she posted about being excited to read this and a bunch of other people said they'd be interested in reading it too. It has a very long wait list at my library, though!
10. Rising from Ash by Jax Meyer
This is a carryover from fall.

What do you plan to read this winter?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: A Promised Land and Strangers from a Different Shore
Five years ago I was reading: Three Act Tragedy, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and Ficciones
Ten years ago I was reading: The Family Bed

Monday, December 6, 2021

Ten Things People Do More Often in Books Than in Real Life

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

It's a freebie week! I've compiled a top ten list of things that book people seem to do way more than actual people do.

1. Not know they're holding their breath
"I let out the breath I didn't know I was holding." Really? You weren't breathing through that entire page and your body wasn't like, "Hello, give me some air!"?

2. Bite their lip until they taste blood
These book characters all seem to be walking around with split lips! You were so nervous/scared/whatever that you literally bit so hard you drew blood? And then the "metallic/salty/bitter taste of blood" just filled your whole mouth? Yuck.

3. Bite the inside of their cheek
Usually when I hear people talk about biting their cheeks, it's something they do accidentally while eating, but people in books do it constantly, either as a nervous tic or to keep from laughing or for some other reason.

4. Smile with half their mouth
The pages of YA romances are filled with hot guys who are apparently experiencing an epidemic of Bell's palsy or else only know how to smirk at people, because they all have the same tendency to smile with half their mouths or are described as having a "lopsided smile." Seriously, where are the guys who just have a nice, typical smile? The kind that uses both sides of their mouth??

5. Not realize that the person screaming is them
I get that our beloved book characters go through some traumatic stuff, and so maybe that explains this phenomenon, but I feel like most of the time people know if they're screaming. And yet book characters are constantly experiencing something terrifying/shocking and then hearing a scream and only belatedly realizing it's coming from their own mouth.

6. Not realize they've been speaking their thoughts aloud
Look, I talk to myself out loud all day, but trust me, I'm very aware that I'm doing it. When I worked in an office and they put the summer intern desk in my office, I would warn the intern each summer that I may think out loud while they're in there. I have yet to have an experience where I thought I was having a conversation in my head and then suddenly realized that all of those thoughts had come out of my mouth without me noticing that I was speaking. But apparently many book characters have a hard time distinguishing between silent thinking and out-loud thinking and are shocked when they realize they've been talking!

7. Respond to someone as if in answer to that person's exact thoughts
On the flip side to #6, many times someone is actually thinking their thoughts silently to themselves in their head, and then some other character responds as if they heard those thoughts out loud. I have definitely had people guess my feelings from my facial expression, and sometimes people may anticipate what I want to say in response to them, but I haven't had the experience of, say, sitting silently in a car with someone and thinking a thought and then getting a coherent, out-loud response from the other person as if they'd heard an exact sentence in my brain. In books, though? Happens all the time.

8. Zone out so long that they don't realize someone's talking to them
This is a favorite technique of amateur memoirists who don't realize that you can just give the reader backstory without having to build a whole scene where you stand there staring off into space and remembering how you got to that moment until someone waves their hand in front of your face and asks if you're listening and you "snap back to the present." I certainly get lost in my thoughts at times, but it's usually because I'm worrying about something, not reflecting in narrative detail on all of my life choices up to that point.

9. Get pregnant the first time they have sex with someone
Except for romances — where you're most likely to get sex scenes for the sake of sex scenes — if a character with a uterus has sex with someone, then I'm going to estimate 80% of the time they end up pregnant. Especially if their lover dies or leaves forever afterwards. If first-time sex resulted in pregnancy in real life as often as it does in books, there would be a lot more pregnancies!

10. Have a best friend of a different gender (and both be straight)
With almost all of the people I know in real life who have an actual platonic best friend of another gender, at least one of the people in the friendship is not attracted to their friend's gender. But with all these friends-to-lovers YA romances, you'd think it was extremely common for straight people's very best friend to be someone of another gender. Oftentimes this is explained by them being neighbors or their moms being best friends or their friendship going back to elementary school, but when I was in high school, my best friend was not someone I'd known my whole life and it definitely wasn't a guy. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, I'm just saying it happens all the time in books!

What else would you put on this list?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: A Promised Land and Strangers from a Different Shore
Five years ago I was reading: Lolita, Middlesex, and Murder on the Orient Express
Ten years ago I was reading: I Am the Messenger