Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Best of the Bunch (November 2022)

Best of the Bunch header

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

It was a good reading month! Of the 14 books I read this month, I had three 5-star reads.

Girls Auto Clinic Glove Box Guide by Patrice Banks

The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker

Check, Please! Book 2: Sticks & Scones by Ngozi Ukazu

I feel pretty confident this month in which one I want to recommend as my Best of the Bunch!

The Girls Auto Clinic Glove Box Guide is a super-accessible guide to car ownership (for everyone, not just women). It's valuable both as a book to read cover-to-cover and as a reference guide to keep in your car. Banks earned my confidence early on when she said that she didn't recommend most people do their own oil changes; this isn't a book on how to avoid mechanics, but how to incorporate regular visits to one into your general care of your car. She walks through every part of the car and provides a table of what problems you're likely to see when in the life of the car and what the typical cost is for fixing it. There's guidance on how to change a tire, of course, but also how to know when it's time to trade in your vehicle for a new one. I would definitely recommend this for everyone who drives and/or owns a car. (It's geared toward readers in the United States, but much of the advice is universal.)

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: Shalom and the Community of Creation, The Pod and the Bog, and Apples Never Fall
Five years ago I was reading: The New Jim Crow and Stranger in a Strange Land
Ten years ago I was reading: The Pox Party

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Monday, November 28, 2022

Ten Cozy Reads from the Past Four Years

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

This week's theme is cozy reads. I did this topic four years ago, so I decided to see what I've read in the past four years that could fit this category. I'm not sure exactly how to define "cozy," but these would all be great choices when you just want to curl up with a blanket, a cup of tea, and a book that will leave you a little happier or a little calmer by the end.
1. 84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff
This is a compilation of two decades of correspondence between Hanff and a bookshop in London. The sense of drama she infuses her book orders with — and her over-the-top reactions to the copies she receives — make this an entertaining read throughout. It's also heartwarming to see how she spent her hard-earned money on gifting the bookstore employees with food they couldn't get during wartime rationing.
2. The Blue Castle by L.M. Montgomery
Although this book starts out depressing, as the main character is bullied by her family, it quickly turns satisfying and even hilarious after a shocking diagnosis leads Valancy to scandalize everyone whose opinion she previously valued by doing exactly what she wants with whomever she wants. The book then settles into a more peaceful tone, with beautiful descriptions of nature, as Valancy makes a gentle life for herself and appreciates everything the world has to offer.
3. Heartstopper by Alice Oseman
The two schoolboys at the center of this adorable graphic novel series are just the sweetest cinnamon rolls you could imagine. If you want a heartwarming depiction of young love and friendship, look no further than these books.
4. The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune
This is a story of found family among outcasts, a group of children who have been shunned by society at large for their magical abilities but who are all just doing the best they can. It's also the story of a by-the-book government worker finding love and questioning the system in which he works. And it all takes place on a colorful island in a beautiful, sunny location, perfect for escaping from the winter blahs.
5. Lillian Boxfish Takes a Walk by Kathleen Rooney
As the title suggests, this book is structured around the main character, at 85 years old, taking a walk around her beloved New York City and reflecting on her life. Based on the real-life Margaret Fishback, Lillian Boxfish is a curious, confident, open-hearted woman with a generally delightful outlook on the world. Although she deals with challenges in her life, I think you'll finish this book with a sense of peace and hopefulness.
6. The Magician's Nephew by C.S. Lewis
This is my favorite of the Chronicles of Narnia, and it apparently took Lewis the longest to write, which isn't surprising given the care that seems to have been put into this story. It's charming and whimsical and at times quite poetic, and there's a satisfying sense of justice in the way things shake out for the characters. If you've read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, it's especially fun to see Lewis' imaginings for the origin of things like the wardrobe and the lamppost.
7. The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood
This whole series, of which this is the first book, is both ridiculous and delightful. A proper English governess must care for three children who were raised by wolves, which turns out to be less difficult than you might think, but soon mysterious happenings seem to follow them everywhere and they must figure out what's happening. Suspend your disbelief and enjoy the wonderful absurdity of this story.
8. A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers
Chambers is the queen of "hopepunk," science fiction that imagines a better, more inclusive world. This slim book, the first in a duology, is here to encourage you to listen to your heart and body, to seek out something new — even if you feel like you should be grateful for what you already have — or to just sit and enjoy a cup of tea and let yourself rest.
9. The Shell Seekers by Rosemunde Pilcher
There are, admittedly, some hard things that happen in the course of this book, but it nonetheless left me feeling peaceful and refreshed. There are no villains here; every character is trying their best, and sometimes their values or priorities conflict with one another, but no one is truly malicious. The detailed descriptions of scenery and people's lives mean this isn't one to read in quick snatches but rather to pick up when you have time to get cozy and really invest in the world of the book, and it will pay off.
10. The Switch by Beth O'Leary
I've described this as "a Hallmark Christmas movie if it were in book form and took place in the spring." A grandmother and granddaughter switch places for two months — the grandmother moving to London, the granddaughter to the countryside — to try to reset their lives after some major life events. It's silly, sweet, and just plain fun.

What cozy books have you read in recent years?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Shalom and the Community of Creation, The Pod and the Bog, and Apples Never Fall
Five years ago I was reading: The New Jim Crow and Stranger in a Strange Land
Ten years ago I was reading: The Pox Party

Monday, November 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.

As Good As Dead by Holly Jackson: This book was very different than the first two of the trilogy in many ways, but I ended up enjoying it nearly as much. (Just allow for some suspension of disbelief, especially in the American version.)

Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle by Emily Nagoski and Amelia Nagoski: The Nagoski sisters balance individual, communal, and societal factors in exploring how stress affects us (particularly women) and what we can do about it. It includes solid research, practical suggestions, and helpful example stories.

The Heartstopper Yearbook by Alice Oseman: This was a cute addition to the world of Heartstopper, basically a tour through Oseman's years of creating the universe and the iterations of art that happened along the way. I would have liked a little more from it, but it was a fun snapshot of the different characters and how they came to be.

The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab: I liked but didn't love this. The premise is interesting, the writing is evocative, but I never bought the central love story, so it was hard to get fully invested in the emotional drama.

Greywaren by Maggie Stiefvater: The best elements of the series were present in this conclusion to the Dreamer trilogy, even if the world-building got a little too fuzzy around the edges for me. The ending tied everything up in a lovely way.

The Wright 3 by Blue Balliett: I liked this slightly better than the previous book — still a heavy dose of magical realism, but a tiny bit more deduction and decision-making on the children's part here. I liked the interpersonal dynamics between the characters the best.

Feeding Littles and Beyond: 100 Baby-Led-Weaning-Friendly Recipes the Whole Family Will Love by Ali Maffucci, Megan McNamee, and Judy Delaware: I think the author's general advice about feeding kids was helpful, but unfortunately none of the recipes come close to working for my family's needs. The authors assume, possibly correctly, that most kids like the same specific foods: pizza, burgers, chicken nuggets, mac and cheese, etc. Thus, many of the recipes are designed to build on those taste palates while incorporating more vegetables or introducing some other variety. So if that's your kids, you may find this more helpful than I did.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson: This was good, but I expected more from it after how often I'd heard it recommended. It was a bit creepy, but I was expecting more of a twist that never came.

The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie: If you account for the fact that this was 1920s Christie and therefore incredibly racist, this was a nice change of pace from some of her detective-heavy books, still full of suspense and plot twists.

Creepers Crashed My Party by Cara J. Stevens: I had a hard time remembering the characters' motivations for the various plans and secrets happening, but my 7-year-old liked it and has wanted to continue with the series for now.

Girls Auto Clinic Glove Box Guide by Patrice Banks: This is a super-accessible guide to car ownership (for everyone, not just women). It's valuable both as a book to read cover-to-cover and as a reference guide to keep in your car.

The Art of Gathering: How We Meet and Why It Matters by Priya Parker: This was an excellent guide to every aspect of designing a gathering, from determining its purpose to ending the actual event well. I feel like I now have a valuable framework to guide my own reflection and planning before I host my next gathering.

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Wholehearted Faith and An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States
Five years ago I was reading: To Sir, With Love and The World According to Garp
Ten years ago I was reading: A Year of Biblical Womanhood

Monday, November 7, 2022

Ten(+) Great Series I've Finished

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

This week we're talking about series! I've written about series I want to start and series I don't plan to continue, so today I thought I'd share some great series that I've actually read all the way through.
1. The Belgariad and Malloreon series by David Eddings
These two series follow a core band of characters through several great quests to save the world. I read both of these series in middle school, and they ruined me for other high fantasy because they have so many great female characters with such sharp, witty banter.
2. The Binti trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor
Admittedly I was less of a fan of the third book in this trilogy, but on the whole this is a great series, with engaging plots, interesting world-building, and significant themes packed into novella-size stories.
3. The Clubhouse Mysteries by Sharon M. Draper
My older kid and I both enjoyed this whole series about four boys in Ohio, which was published in the 1990s and 2000s but didn't feel outdated most of the time. I'm not sure it's accurate to call them all "mysteries," but they all involve some combination of action, suspense, and learning, with age-appropriate discussions of everything from slavery to wildlife rescue to homelessness.
4. The Dublin Murder Squad series by Tana French
I don't know if French has said for sure that there will not be any more books in this series, but she's turned to writing other things in recent years. Although every book except the last one infuriated me with its resolution (or lack thereof), her writing is so incredibly good that I couldn't stop reading these.
5. A Good Girl's Guide to Murder trilogy by Holly Jackson
Not only is each book in this trilogy brilliantly plotted, but they build on each other such that minor details from each book end up weaving into a larger narrative in subsequent books. The third book goes in a different direction than the first two, but it's equally well done and I'm still thinking about it weeks after finishing it.
6. The Hercule Poirot, Miss Marple, and Tommy and Tuppence series by Agatha Christie
In my quest to read Agatha Christie's complete works, I've now read every novel featuring these detectives. (I've started on the Superintendent Battle books next.) Although most of these books don't have to be read in order and thus maybe they don't constitute a "proper" series, I've enjoyed reading each detective's books in publication order for those moments where there are recurring characters or references to previous solutions.
7. The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place series by Maryrose Wood
I had a very rough first half of 2022, and these six books, beautifully narrated on audio by Katherine Kellgren (except for the last one, which came out after she died), got me through it. Take Mary Poppins and put her in the Victorian era educating three children raised by wolves and you've got the gist of this ridiculous, hilarious, and heartwarming middle grade series.
8. The Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart
This is a middle grade series that I adore, even more than the previous one. Four children, each gifted in very different ways, solve puzzles and save the world. The Disney+ adaptation of the first book was fantastic and the second season looks great as well.
9. The Raven Cycle series and the Dreamer Trilogy by Maggie Stiefvater
The Raven Cycle series is one of the few examples of YA fantasy that I love, and while the sequel trilogy that takes place after they graduate high school was completely bananas, it was enjoyable as well. I listened to every single one narrated by Will Patton and wouldn't have wanted them any other way.
10. The Wayfarers series by Becky Chambers
The first book in this series is by far the strongest — the rest become progressively less plot-driven and more exercises in world-building as Chambers plays around in the universe she created, but it's a great universe and I enjoyed all the time I spent in it.

What series have you enjoyed?

Looking back:
One year ago I was reading: Wholehearted Faith, Monsters and Mold, and Muse of Nightmares
Five years ago I was reading: Birdsong and The World According to Garp
Ten years ago I was reading: A Year of Biblical Womanhood