Thursday, February 15, 2018

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.

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? by Alyssa Mastromonaco: This was a fun and fairly quick read. I found the book enjoyable to read, funny if not laugh-out-loud so, and vaguely helpful as a career guide (maybe if I were 10 years younger it would have been more helpful). I had some frustrations with the editing and organization, but it's a short book and I'd say it's worth the read.

A Kiss Before Dying by Ira Levin: I read most of this twisty thriller in one sitting, and I was impressed by the many ways in which the author keeps the reader in suspense. It was a skillfully plotted book that I think anyone who loves suspenseful novels will enjoy.

The Black Stallion by Walter Farley: I can definitely see why this has been such a popular children's book: it has adventure, suspense, and lots of horse talk. It's a bit dated and a bit predictable, but overall I enjoyed the read and think kids today would still enjoy it.

The Clocks by Agatha Christie: This one had an unusual and delightfully creepy premise that's unlike most of Christie's closed-set murder mysteries. I liked that the solution was simple but unexpected. This ranks up with my favorite Poirot novels.

How to Be an Explorer of the World by Keri Smith: This is like a book version of The Art Assignment (which it predates). Each page suggests an experiment or new approach to experiencing, observing, or documenting the world. There are different prompts that would be good creative jump starts for visual artists, writers, actors, and scientists.

The World According to Mister Rogers by Fred Rogers: This collection does a nice job of demonstrating the unique person that Fred Rogers was and the breadth of wisdom that he shared. We could all benefit from these reminders about how to be the best kind of human, especially coming from someone who modeled everything he taught.

Strangers in Their Own Land by Arlie Russell Hochschild: This book seeks to explain what the author calls the Great Paradox — that the areas of the country most devastated by pollution are also most populated with conservative voters, who vote for candidates supporting deregulation and less oversight. This book doesn't offer a step-by-step plan for winning over the South to the Democratic Party again or solving the environmental crises that make up the main focus of the book. But it did provide me with a fuller picture of some of my fellow Americans, and for that it was worth the read.

When Dimple Met Rishi by Sandhya Menon: This one lived up to the hype — it was an adorable, feel-good romance that was predictable but not as much as I expected. If you're looking for a light, sweet read or just want to remember what it was like to fall in love for the first time, this is a great pick.

Who Moved My Cheese? by Spencer Johnson: This was basically what I expected — a cheesy (no pun intended) business metaphor in book form. What I didn't realize was that the book is extremely short and is pretty much just the cheese metaphor story. I didn't find it particularly valuable or revolutionary.

Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford: This was pretty much exactly the bittersweet, heartwarming piece of historical fiction it was billed as. I learned more about Japanese internment camps and about Seattle jazz in the 1940s. I can't say I recommend this as a great love story, but as a family drama and a work of historical fiction? It's great.

Mandy by Julie Andrews Edwards: This was a sweet children's book in the vein of other classic "orphan girl" stories like A Little Princess. Ten-year-old Mandy finds an abandoned, overgrown cottage and sets about making it her own secret home. It was predictable but sweet and worth checking out.

"Multiplication Is for White People" by Lisa Delpit: As a compilation of others' research on race and education, this is excellent. Where Delpit inserts her own beliefs and theories, they tend to be anecdotally based and sometimes contrary to existing research. The end result is a mixed bag; you could probably get more out of one of the many other sources she cites.

In Cold Blood by Truman Capote: There's a reason this is a true crime classic. I was surprised that it's not set up to be suspenseful, but that ended up being a wise choice so we could get deep dives into the lives of the victims, the killers, and the detectives simultaneously. As long as you're not bothered by Capote filling in the gaps with his own imagined scenes and conversations, it's a great read.

What have you been reading this month? Share over at Modern Mrs. Darcy!

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Monday, February 12, 2018

Favorite and Least Favorite Book Couples (From the Past Year's Reading)

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

This week is a "Love Freebie" for Valentine's Day. In past years I covered things I like and dislike in book romances, favorite fictional couples, and best male-female friendships in books, plus a recent post on book crushes, so I felt like I might have exhausted my options. But then I thought, maybe I've come across more fictional couples in the past year's reading that I could talk about — and I have. Here are five whose relationships I enjoyed, and five that I didn't like as much.

Post contains spoilers for these books: Americanah, Birdsong, Everything Leads to You, Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, I'll Meet You There, The Nightingale, Turtles All the Way Down, The Upside of Unrequited, and When Dimple Met Rishi.

Favorite Book Couples from the Past Year's Reading

1. Emi and Ava (Everything Leads to You)
I loved this book so much, and I liked seeing Emi and Ava become friends and then something more. Even when things were complicated and stressful, their relationship was a source of comfort and healing.

2. Skylar and Josh (I'll Meet You There)
I can't say I was a big fan of Josh as a person, but overall I liked their slow-burn romance that developed amid a bunch of other painful life issues, and how they encouraged one another to make it through.

3. Dana and Kevin (Kindred)
They worked as a team to try to deal with the challenges of involuntary time travel, and Kevin recognized that he could never truly understand what Dana was going through even while still doing his best.

4. Molly and Reid (The Upside of Unrequited)
There's something so sweet about two misfits finding a fit with one another and experiencing the pure joy of being with someone who really wants you for the first time.

5. Dimple and Rishi (When Dimple Met Rishi)
Both these characters were so great, and they pushed each other to be their best selves.

Least Favorite Book Couples from the Past Year's Reading

1. Ifemelu and Obinze (Americanah)
I enjoyed this book for its observation on race and culture in America, but I never cared too much about the main characters' relationship, and so I couldn't feel too enthused about Obinze leaving his wife to be with Ifemelu.

2. Stephen and Isabelle (Birdsong)
Stephen was super rape-y toward Isabelle in the first part of the book — pursuing her and touching her before she gave him any encouragement — and then after they got together Isabelle bailed rather than tell Stephen she was pregnant. It was not romantic at all.

3. Henry and Keiko (Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet)
There was no reason the author needed to make their friendship into a romance — it felt forced. And for as much as he talked about thirteen being an age of maturity in Chinese culture, I still found it hard to care too much about two 12-year-olds falling in love.

4. Isabelle and Gaëtan (The Nightingale)
From the moment Gaëtan was introduced, with his bad-boy persona and crooked smile, I knew he was going to be a love interest, and it just felt so unnecessary. If I was traveling alone in a war-torn country and some swaggering guy came up to me I would be terrified, not want to run off and sleep with him.

5. Aza and Davis (Turtles All the Way Down)
With all the focus on Aza's character development, there wasn't much energy put into giving these two any sort of chemistry. Their relationship felt like a stand-in for an idea, there to make a point about Aza's mental illness but not getting any sort of authenticity of its own.

Which book couples have stood out in your mind from your recent reads?

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Monday, February 5, 2018

Ten Books That Have Been on My TBR List the Longest

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

I'm happy to report that there's only one book still lingering on my TBR list from the last time Top Ten Tuesday did this topic! That would be embarrassing if all of those books were still on my TBR list. Here are the new ten that have been on the list the longest!

1. Getting the Love You Want by Harville Hendrix
This was recommended to me on my old blog back in 2013. I guess it's good that I haven't been in search of a marriage self-help book in the last 5 years?

2. The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse
This was on some Entertainment Weekly list of the "best books ever" back in 2013, so I added it to my list. I'm decidedly meh about the other Hesse I've read, so I haven't been that anxious to pick this one up.

3. Harmful to Minors by Judith Levine
This was recommended by a fellow blogger back when I had my old blog, and then it was also recommended on Sexplanations at some point. Now that I'm not railing about sex education all the time I haven't been prompted to seek this one out.

4. How to Be a Perfect Stranger by Stuart M. Matlins
Another one recommended by a fellow blogger on my old blog. Apparently I went through a phase of getting book recommendations on my blog! This probably would have been a good one to read before I went to my first Jewish wedding in 2014, but I didn't think of it at the time.

5. The Professor and the Madman by Simon Winchester
I'm pretty sure I got this recommendation from the Grammar Girl podcast back when I used to listen to it. It still sounds like an interesting book and I see it pop up from time to time on different people's lists.

6. Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child by John M. Gottman
I don't remember where I first heard about this one — maybe from my cousin? — but I am all about John Gottman and his research on marriage, so I am happy to find out what he says about raising a kid. I suppose now that I actually have a kid it might be a good time to finally pick this one up.

7. The Story of Christianity, Vol. 1 & Vol. 2 by Justo L. González
This was a recommendation from Rachel Held Evans and probably falls in the category of "books I feel I should read." I know bits and pieces of the history of Christianity but not how each "era" led into the next.

8. Swann's Way by Marcel Proust
This was another one from that EW Top 100 list. It's one that a lot of people seem to describe as "great" but I don't see a lot of people gushing about how much they loved it, so I have a feeling it'll be a bit of a slog.

9. The Unlikely Disciple by Kevin Roose
This is the one that's still a holdover from my previous list. I put a hold on it at the library, so hopefully I'll get to it before too long.

10. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig
This is at the top of my TBR list right now. I downloaded the audio version on OverDrive but one of the files was corrupted (and there's a bug with my OverDrive software that won't let me download an audiobook more than once, ever). So now I have a hold on the ebook version.

Which good books have escaped your memory?

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Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Best of the Bunch: January 2018

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

Of the 11 books I read, I had one 5-star read, which was my best of the bunch.

The World According to Mister Rogers does a nice job of demonstrating the unique person that Fred Rogers was and the breadth of wisdom that he shared. After I started the book, I went online to find a daily calendar of Mister Rogers quotations, as each one has so much to unpack that you really need a full day to reflect on it. There are few people I can think of who so reliably showed an unconditional love for the world and also spoke with openness and vulnerability about their feelings as a way of inviting others to be their authentic selves. We could all benefit from these reminders about how to be the best kind of human, especially coming from someone who modeled everything he taught.

What is the best book you read this month? Let me know in comments, or write your own post and link up below!

Monday, January 29, 2018

Books I Can't Believe I Read

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

It seems you could interpret this week's topic two ways: Either "Wow, I can't believe I succeeded in reading that difficult/long book!" (War and Peace, Infinite Jest...) or the way I interpreted it, which was "Wow, I can't believe I wasted precious reading time on this stupid book. I probably should have abandoned it."

1. Adoption: Choosing It, Living It, Loving It by Ray Guarendi
I've read quite a lot of adoption books by now, and this is probably the worst one that I didn't outright abandon. It was like a compilation of bad jokes (mostly of the "stupid husband" variety) that also glossed over the potential issues related to adopting a child who's older, has special needs, is of another race, etc. with a glib "All kids are the same" attitude. It was a waste of time.

2. Against the Gods: The Remarkable Story of Risk by Peter L. Bernstein
I read this as part of a "book swap" at book club and felt obligated to finish it on behalf of the guy who recommended it. This was billed as a history of risk but was actually a history of probability and forecasting with references to risk awkwardly shoehorned it. It also could have benefited from a stronger editor, as there were glaring inconsistencies in some places (e.g., names, ages). I don't think I got anything out of it.

3. Beauty of the Broken by Tawni Waters
This was a book club read. My review began, "There are so many problems with this book that I don't even know where to start." In a book that attempts to combat homophobia, it manages to be offensive to Native Americans, other people of color, mentally disabled people, Christians, and survivors of sexual assault, on top of just being poorly plotted.

4. Blackout by Sam Mills
Another choice for online book club before we started locking down who was allowed to nominate books. It tries to be an updated 1984, but the writing is just terrible. It was certainly action-packed, but the plot was too convoluted and the characters were so "complex" as to have no consistency in their actions. Our club would have been better off just reading 1984.

5. Bo's Café by Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol, and John S. Lynch
I read this book because it was repeatedly recommended by one of the hosts of the ONE Extraordinary Marriage podcast as a powerful book on dealing with an anger problem. I should have realized that it was going to be a heavy-handed piece of Christian media. The book is pretty anti-counseling (apparently all you need to combat an anger problem is a Christian mentor) and seems to be an attempt to write a "guy book" about sports and cars and boats that will lead people to Jesus. I consider myself a Christian but I could barely stomach this book.

6. Confessions of a Counterfeit Farmer Girl by Susan McCorkindale
This was recommended to me years ago when I was looking for something funny to read, and I wish I'd had Goodreads then because the ratings are bad. Apparently I'm not the only one who got tired of the rinse-and-repeat "I live on a farm but I like high heels and Starbucks and might break a nail if I did any work, haha" jokes that made up the entire book. If only I'd been in the habit of giving myself permission to abandon books back then.

7. The Fisherman by John Langan
I don't read a lot of horror because it freaks me out, but this (another book club selection) was just boring. Rather than using the medium to its fullest, Langan tried to write a book that would be scary as a horror movie, but it's hard to translate jump scares and creepy visuals to the page. I got to the point where I was like, "Lemme guess, it's another dead white person who's naked and has eyes like a fish." I don't understand how this book has such good ratings.

8. A General Theory of Love by Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini, and Richard Lannon
I finished this book only because a coworker lent it to me, and then after I forced myself through it it turned out she hadn't even read it yet. The writing was overly complex, they made constant unfounded generalizations, and the "theory" seemed to be that children need to be with their mothers 24/7 or they will be doomed for life. Again, I do not understand how this book has such high ratings, and I would recommend it to no one.

9. The Lost Symbol by Dan Brown
I loved Angels and Demons, thought The Da Vinci Code was OK, and should have stopped there. The ending to this one was dumb. I can't believe I wasted time listening to this one.

10. Son of a Witch by Gregory Maguire
I only read this book because Wicked was so disappointing that I was hoping this one would have some answers to all the loose threads, but I should have just recognized that it wasn't going to get any better. I can forgive myself for reading the first book because of the hype and my love for the musical, but I definitely should have stopped there.

Which books do you wish you hadn't wasted reading time on?

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Monday, January 22, 2018

Books I Really Liked but Can’t Remember Much About

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

Ah, those dark days before Goodreads... Now I have the ability to call up a detailed review to remind me what I thought of a book, but for my pre-2013 reads that's not the case. Still, this category was challenging because if I really liked a book, I generally remember quite a bit about it, and if I don't remember anything about it, I don't remember if I liked it! These are the ones I came up with that I know I liked but that I read so long ago that I'm super fuzzy on the details.

1. The Audacity of Hope by Barack Obama
I read this before he was president, so all his ideas seemed fresh and exciting, but I can't really remember what any of them were. I remember a story about him taking a red-eye flight to vote on a bill and then no one understanding the nuances of his vote... but that's about it.

2. The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman by Ernest J. Gaines
I remember the premise of this book — a girl born into slavery at the end of the Civil War lives long enough to see the civil rights movement in America — but I couldn't tell you any of the details.

3. Black Boy by Richard Wright
I always get mixed up whether this or Native Son is Wright's autobiography (it's this one), but while I remember the plot of Native Son vividly, I can't remember a single detail of Wright's own life.

4. The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
I loved this book in middle school, and I remember one scene near the end, but the book is, what? Like 900 pages? I really don't remember anything else from it. I think I still have my 10-page book report on it, though...

5. Cry, the Beloved Country by Alan Paton
I picked up this book in high school when I was sort-of dating a guy from South Africa, which may have influenced why I liked the book, but I remember absolutely nothing about it now except the setting.

6. The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Emmuska Orczy
This is another book from middle school that I really loved, and I remember the basic contours of the plot, including the big reveal of who the Scarlet Pimpernel was. I couldn't tell you exactly what the Scarlet Pimpernel did, though, except that it had something to do with the French Revolution (I think), or what anyone else in the book did for that matter.

7. The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
I remember listening to this on audio while running on the track in my college gym. I know the premise — one demon writes letters to another demon on how to best influence human beings to sin — but I don't think I could tell you a single one of his "tips." At the time, though, I know I was like, "Oh, that's so true!"

8. A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson
I praised this book a lot after reading it, and I know that it manages to be comprehensive (as the title suggests), accessible, and concise, but have I remembered any of the actual lessons from the book? If I have, I couldn't tell you that they came from this book.

9. Stumbling on Happiness by Daniel Gilbert
This is another nonfiction read that I referenced a lot after reading it, but now I've read so many similar nonfiction books that I couldn't say definitively that any one study or story came from this book.

10. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
I know that this book involves talking animals... and that it's a well-loved classic... but I don't remember a single aspect of the plot now.

Which good books have escaped your memory?

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Monday, January 15, 2018

Top Ten Bookish Goals for 2018

I'm linking up with That Artsy Reader Girl, who is now hosting Top Ten Tuesday!

In case you missed it, here's how I did with my 2017 bookish goals! I've decided over the years that making ten big goals is a little overwhelming, so I'm trying to make more of my goals smaller and more achievable this year.

1. Read the His Dark Materials series.
I read the first two books in the series in middle school and never read the third one, which means every time there's a list that's like, "Have you read His Dark Materials?" I can't check it off because I've only read 2/3 of it. And I like checking things off!

2. Read the whole Chronicles of Narnia series.
This is another one where I read the first two books (I think in college) and then moved on to other things. I might ask a friend to do this read/reread with me.

3. Finish the Hercule Poirot books.
I've read 31 of 37, and it feels definitely doable to read the last six this year. Then I have to decide whether to tackle her standalones next or one of her other detective series.

4. Reread the Belgariad and Mallorean series on audiobook.
These were some of my favorite books in middle school and high school, and I got my now-husband hooked on them in college. But I haven't reread them in over a decade! Since I recently recommended these to a friend looking for audiobooks, I thought it might be fun to reread them on audio.

5. Read something my sister recommends.
I like this goal from last year, so I'm going to do it again this year!

6. Read some of the unread books on my bookshelf.
I had this goal a few years ago, when I successfully read almost everything on my shelf that was on my TBR list, but then I realized I had some other books — like data visualization manuals I had put on my PaperBackSwap list a long time ago and just received recently — that weren't even on my TBR list. It's increasingly difficult for me to find time to read hard copy books, so I'm not going to attempt to read everything, but at least a few.

7. Get roughly 50% of my 2018 reads from my TBR list and 50% from elsewhere.
I continue to struggle with balancing getting through the books I've been wanting to read (or feel like I should read) and having the flexibility to pick up books when I first hear about them. This year I'm going to continue tracking what I read off my TBR, so I'll have a total count to see how I do with this goal.

8. Read at least three books published in 2018.
I am terrible about not reading new releases until years after everyone's stopped talking about them. The one year I pushed myself to read a bunch of new releases so I could vote in the Goodreads Awards, the books I read were either 1) terrible and I didn't want to vote for them or 2) weren't even on the list. So that's no longer my goal, but I do still want to keep up a bit more than I usually do. I think three seems like a manageable number to shoot for this year.

9. Read some 2017 releases.
In the spirit of the above goal of not letting too much time pass, I plan to read some of these 2017 releases I wish I'd read by now.

10. Promote the Best of the Bunch linkup more.
I'm keeping this goal from last year because I didn't really do anything with it. Maybe this year I will!

What are your bookish goals for 2018?

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