Monday, February 28, 2022

Best of the Bunch (February 2022)

Best of the Bunch header

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

Of the 15 books I read this month, I only had one 5-star read, and it was a reread, but I guess it's the Best of the Bunch!
I actually liked Killers of the Flower Moon better on reread because of the audiobook, and I'd liked it quite a bit the first time. It's a fascinating and horrifying true crime story from a century ago. Forced to relocate to what seemed like poor land, the Osage ended up gaining immense wealth when oil was discovered after they'd secured the rights to all resources under the ground. It might seem like this is a rare case where indigenous people didn't get completely screwed over by white Americans, but it turns out that white people figured out how to steal their wealth anyway through systematically murdering the Osage. Because of the massive web of corruption, it took a determined outsider from the infant FBI and his team to finally solve the crimes. Or did he? As the author pulls back the lens farther and farther with each section, the true horror sinks in.

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: Record of a Spaceborn Few, James and the Giant Peach, and How to Be an Antiracist
Five years ago I was reading: The Brothers Karamazov and The Nightingale
Ten years ago I was reading: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children

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Monday, February 21, 2022

Ten Dynamic Duos from Literature

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

This week's topic is "dynamic duos." Without further definition, I sought out pairs from literature who were not (canon) romantic and who worked together or both carried the story in some way, not a prominent main character and a far-distant secondary character. This meant that I ended up with a lot of characters from children's literature, but I did manage to find some from other books as well!
1. Aziraphale and Crowley (from Good Omens by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett)
Though an angel and a demon should be sworn enemies, thousands of years kicking around the same planet together have created an unlikely bond that they must draw upon to try to stop the end of the world.
2. Beezus and Ramona (from the Ramona series by Beverly Cleary)
These sisters have a challenging relationship, but it's their entertaining back-and-forth that moves the story along.
3. Charlotte and Wilbur (from Charlotte's Web by E.B. White)
With Charlotte's brains and Wilbur's willingness to learn, this spider and this pig are able to accomplish quite a bit!
4. Frog and Toad (from the Frog and Toad series by Arnold Lobel)
Raking leaves, going swimming, climbing mountains, eating cookies — these two best friends are always up to something!
5. Gerald and Piggie (from the Elephant and Piggie series by Mo Willems)
The unshakeable friendship between Gerald and Piggie helps them navigate all of the ups and downs of life.
6. Jessi and Mallory (from the Babysitters' Club series by Ann M. Martin)
Each of the babysitters in the club got the spotlight from book to book, but when it came to babysitting, these two were inseparable. Literally — as the youngest members of the club, they were only allowed to babysit as a pair (or so I remember).
7. Julie and Maddie (from Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein)
Though their time together on the page is short, these two young women — World War II pilot and spy — accomplish amazing things working together.
8. Kizzy and Jenks (from The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers)
Among the various members of Wayfarer's crew, the ship's engineers function the most like a pair, two friends who act like siblings, who know each other's quirks and are there for each other when needed.
9. Poirot and Hastings (from the Hercule Poirot series by Agatha Christie)
Though not cited as often as Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, in this pair you also have a brilliant detective and his faithful sidekick who documents everything. And Hastings, in his bumbling ignorance, sometimes inadvertantly provides the clue that ties everything together for Poirot.
10. Zoey and Sassafras (from the Zoey and Sassafras series by Asia Citro)
Zoey and her cat Sassafras work as a team to help the magical creatures of their nearby forest with their problems by setting up scientific experiments to find solutions!

Who are your favorite dynamic duos?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: A Closed and Common Orbit, Mr. Popper's Penguins, and How to Be an Antiracist
Five years ago I was reading: The Brothers Karamazov and The Nightingale
Ten years ago I was reading: Stumbling on Happiness

Monday, February 14, 2022

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.

Lots of middle grade and graphic novels, plus some long travel days and a new schedule of only having my kids half time, meant I broke my record for books read in a single month! Here's the full list and what I thought of each.

Good Talk: A Memoir in Conversations by Mira Jacob: This graphic memoir jumps back and forth in time from her childhood to the questions her own son is now asking. I thought it was funny, powerful, and heartfelt, and the conversational format was a brilliant way to tell stories.

The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood: This story of children raised by wolves now being taught by an English governess was delightful. It requires a generous helping of suspension of disbelief, but as the book doesn't take itself too seriously, it works. Highly recommended on audio.

Bips and Roses by Asia Citro: In this eighth book of the Zoey and Sassafras series, the problem-of-the-week was a bit more complicated than usual, but once the goal was established I thought the way the experiments proceeded was delightful.

Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It by Chris Voss: Voss provides a lot of concrete tips for negotiating along with specific examples, and some of them will certainly be helpful to have in my toolbox. However, I don't think they're as widely applicable outside of structured negotiation scenarios as he implies, and he also seemed wildly ignorant of the ways that his experience in the world as a charismatic white man cannot be applied across the board to every other person.

The Hidden Gallery by Maryrose Wood: This was just as charming as the first book, with Lord and Lady Ashton behaving ridiculously, the children getting into trouble despite their best efforts, and Penelope trying to fulfill her governess duties while also trying to answer the ever-growing questions about the children, her origins, and the strange happenings around her.

Saga, Vol. 8 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples: The first half of this volume felt like an unnecessarily heavy-handed treatise on abortion, but the second half was more compelling, and it was lovely to get a happy ending for once.

The Unseen Guest by Maryrose Wood: My suspension of disbelief stretched a bit too far in this book, but it was still a fun read. I don't know if I would have quite as much patience for all the tangents if it weren't for Kellgren's stellar narration that gives them a kind of ironic tone that I personally enjoy.

Here's to Us by Becky Albertalli and Adam Silvera: I was skeptical about this sequel going in, and it took a while for the book to find its rhythm, but the characters always felt real. The authors use the dual-perspective format well to show how Ben and Arthur make assumptions and have miscommunications that, while they don't have a huge impact (this isn't one of those "if you'd just talk to each other" rom-coms), make everything just a little more awkward.

Sing Anyway by Anita Kelly: This was a lovely little novella! I loved the characters, the dialogue, the romance. Being a novella, the plot is pretty simple, but it was well paced, and I liked the diverse representation that didn't feel didactic or too central to the plot.

At Bertram's Hotel by Agatha Christie: Rather than a straightforward murder mystery, this involves what appears to be a missing persons case, and then later someone else is killed, but the real mystery centers on the hotel and why something seems just a little off about it. It wasn't one of my favorites, but at least Christie's usual offensiveness was kept to a minimum, which I guess is something.

Saga, Vol. 9 by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples: I can definitely see why people didn't like things ending on this note in 2018. But this was one of the better volumes in a while, in my opinion. It was tightly plotted, I could actually follow the different characters' motivations, there were satisfying plot twists, and it didn't feel like the authors were manufacturing plot to make a point. I'll look forward to picking up the tenth volume once it (hopefully) comes out in the next year.

Rising from Ash by Jax Meyer: This was a super-relatable depiction of an ace character in relationship with someone who's experienced a lot of trauma, and I loved how they navigated really hard things like adults. The only unfortunate thing is that the punctuation is a hot mess, and that made it difficult to read.

The Interrupted Tale by Maryrose Wood: This installment includes more clues, more high-stakes action, and more ridiculousness. In this case, Penelope and her pupils travel to her alma mater for an event, but why has the school changed so drastically, and can they restore its joy and singing?

Bunnicula by Deborah and James Howe: I opted to reread this series from my childhood before sharing it with my kids because I couldn't remember how scary it was and also wanted to see if it had aged well. It's a good level of creepy for a kid, I think, and the interactions between the main characters are pretty ridiculous and hilarious.

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Grann: I actually liked this better on reread because of the audiobook, and I'd liked it quite a bit the first time. This account of true horror is well researched and well told, and I'm glad I nominated it for my book club to read for this month.

Howliday Inn by James Howe: This was definitely a step down from Bunnicula. It starts out in the same vein (are these dogs werewolves?), but then it veers way off with animal relationship drama and a dog going missing and the kennel handlers acting strangely. I probably wouldn't make an effort to give this one to my kids after the first book.

Buffering: Unshared Tales of a Fully Loaded Life by Hannah Hart: In this brutally honest memoir, YouTube star Hannah Hart shares about everything from her mother's schizophrenia to her own challenges with PTSD and self-harm, interpersed with a lot of humor.

The Unmapped Sea by Maryrose Wood: In this penultimate volume of the series, secrets are revealed (that the reader has likely already guessed at this point) and additional details are uncovered that explained some of the inexplicable aspects of prior books. I look forward to getting the last audiobook in the series.

Wishypoofs and Hiccups by Asia Citro: This one wasn't one of my favorites — I'm skeptical that you can deduce a hiccup cure by measuring the frequency of hiccups after each attempt — but it gets extra points for a being a reunion book, where multiple characters from past books make an appearance, and there's a group photo at the end.

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet, Mr. Popper's Penguins, and Do Better
Five years ago I was reading: The Brothers Karamazov, Good-Bye to All That, and The Nightingale
Ten years ago I was reading: Stumbling on Happiness

Monday, February 7, 2022

Ten Queer Romances I Might Want to Read

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

This week is a "love freebie"! I've only started reading romances in the past couple years and still haven't read very many, but I have quite a list on my "might want to read" list by now from all the recommendations I've gotten. For a previous Valentine's Day freebie I talked about some of the romances on my list, so this time I thought I'd focus just on some of the queer romances on the list. There are a lot more out there than there used to be, but many are still under the radar!
1. A & B by J.C. Lillis
I don't know a lot about this one except that people are describing it as "cheesy" and "adorable," and there will definitely be a time I'm in a mood for a book like that.
2. Georgia Peaches and Other Forbidden Fruit by Jaye Robin Brown
There was a lot of hype about this one when it came out, but I haven't gotten around to reading it. However, having read some truly awful books that pit religion and sexuality against each other in a simplistic way, this one seems like needed rep for LGBTQIA+ Christians.
3. Heartstopper by Alice Oseman
Cute gay YA romance graphic novel? Yes please!
4. The Henna Wars by Jaigirdar Adiba
I am raising an eyebrow a little bit at the description of "When Dimple Met Rishi meets Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda" (because those are some powerhouse YA romances and it seems like they might just be trying to say "They're brown and gay!"), but nonetheless, this story of two teenage girls with rival henna businesses in Ireland falling in love sounds pretty cute.
5. How to Be a Normal Person by T.J. Klune
I've seen this recommended a lot more since Klune's bestseller The House in the Cerulean Sea came out, and the combination of ace rep and a story set in Oregon makes me especially interested.
6. It Takes Two to Tumble by Cat Sebastian
This has been recommended multiple times on Get Booked, and it's basically The Sound of Music but gay, which I am totally here for.
7. The Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite
This has also been recommended more than once on Get Booked, and it sounds pretty great. It's 1800s historical fiction where one of the characters needs a French astronomy text translated, and the other one shows up to take the job, and things unfold from there.
8. The Price of Salt by Patricia Highsmith
This is a 1952 classic I haven't yet read but would like to. As far as I've heard, it's the rare queer classic that escaped the "bury the gays" trope.
9. Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee
I love me some middle grade, and it's about time that a middle grade character's first crush was someone of the same gender. This looks super cute!
10. The Summer of Jordi Perez by Amy Spalding
This one may skate too close to the "angsty teen romance" category for me, but I haven't read much in that category that includes queer representation, so I'm willing to give this a shot.

Have you read any of these? What queer romances do you recommend?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Dinosaurs Before Dark, and All the Birds, Singing
Five years ago I was reading: The Last Time We Say Goodbye, Good-Bye to All That, and How to Talk so Little Kids Will Listen
Ten years ago I was reading: Stumbling on Happiness