Monday, December 11, 2017

Top Ten Favorite Books of 2017


I'm linking up with The Broke and the Bookish for another Top Ten Tuesday.

In years past I've broken up my favorite books into two different top ten lists, one for fiction and one for nonfiction. This year, though, was just not one of my best years for reading. For five months out of twelve I had no 5-star reads. My 2017 goals also meant I read fewer books than in past years. And I ended up rereading quite a few books, which (though excellent) I'm not going to repeat from previous years' lists. So I'm going to throw all my choices together into a single list of the top ten books I read this year!


1. American Hookup by Lisa Wade
This overview of "hookup culture" on college campuses could have taken an alarmist approach, but the author instead focused on making room for the voices of actual college students about the good, bad, and ugly of hookup culture. She provided historical and sociological context for the stories and synthesized them into topic areas, but overall did a great job of keeping the students' personal experiences front and center — which also made for a better and more interesting read.


2. Everything Leads to You by Nina LaCour
I absolutely loved this unconventional YA romance. It takes places the summer after high school graduation, so while it has the voice of a YA novel, it doesn't fall into any of the well-known tropes of a "high school" story. There's a mystery, and a huge undertaking, and messages about family and loss and independence. I had tears rolling down my face at the end.


3. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas
This book manages to be a fantastic dive into the issues driving the Black Lives Matter movement while also just being a great book, with relatable characters, funny lines, suspense, drama, and a surprisingly satisfying ending. I also love that Thomas didn't try to pander to white audiences with the book; ultimately, she didn't need to.


4. How to Talk So Little Kids Will Listen by Joanna Faber and Julie King
This recent publication co-authored by Adele Faber's daughter takes the techniques from Faber and Mazlish's classic books and focuses them on kids ages 2-7. Through example scenarios and concrete suggestions, they provide a toolbox of ways to deal with the challenges of parenting. I'm already looking forward to rereading it now that my son is just old enough to start using their techniques.


5. Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs
I found this more compelling and readable than some other true accounts of former slaves, though her experience was different enough from many others that you wouldn't want to read this in isolation. In Jacobs' case, she wasn't subjected to the worst parts of chattel slavery, so you're left to deal with the fact that her experience in slavery was wrong because it's slavery.


6. The Last Time We Say Goodbye by Cynthia Hand
This book handles the topic of suicide much more skillfully than some other recent YA novels and does not romanticize it. It speaks honestly to the process of grief and to the emotional mess that's left in the wake of someone's suicide. It's not free from YA clichés, but overall it's well done and worth a read. (Bring tissues!)


7. The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander
With masterful organization and clear prose, Alexander lays out the case that the War on Drugs has created a "racial undercaste" that aligns with the cultural stereotype of the "criminalblackman," disenfrancishing an entire swath of the American people in much the same way that the Jim Crow era did. This is a painful but highly necessary read.


8. The Sleepwalker's Guide to Dancing by Mira Jacob
Jacob manages to weave together fantastic writing, a number of important themes, and a cast of complex, believable characters in this novel that took her a decade to complete. I laughed out loud more than once, and I cried near the end. It wasn't perfect, but I genuinely enjoyed the read and missed the characters when I was done.


9. The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli
I didn't really understand people saying about an author "I'd read her grocery list" until I encountered Becky Albertalli. This book made me look back on my high school self with fondness, in the same way Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda did. (It contains minor spoilers from that book, so start with Simon!) Very sweet, very relatable, and a nice example of a realistically diverse cast of characters. I'm ready to read the third book in this universe as soon as it comes out.


10. Where Am I Now? by Mara Wilson
Wilson is a talented storyteller, and I was surprised at how relatable I found most of her childhood stories. I'm glad I took the chance of picking up this book based on nothing more than my love for Matilda.

Look at that — all female authors! That was unintentional, but I guess it says something about what kinds of voices spoke to me this year.

What were your best reads of the year?

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Monday, December 4, 2017

Nine Bookish Settings I'd Love to Visit


I'm linking up with The Broke and the Bookish for another Top Ten Tuesday.

I have a hard time with topics like this because 1) I don't like to travel that much and 2) there are many, many book settings I would never want to visit. I don't understand when I see books like The Hunger Games on lists of fictional worlds that people want to visit, or books set in historical periods when people had fewer rights and died from lots of things that are preventable today. (I know I'm too much of a realist sometimes.) Anyway, I did come up with nine books that either presented a desirable fictional world or actually made me interested in visiting some part of our world — here you go.


1. All Creatures Great and Small: Yorkshire Dales
James Herriot makes spring and summer in the Dales (at least in the 1940s) sound like the most idyllic environment one could be in — wide open blue skies, rolling hills, calm meadows.


2. Anne of Green Gables: Prince Edward Island
I've only made two very quick stops across the Canadian border, and I think this would be a fun place to visit, knowing that there are Anne-related tourist stops around the island.


3. Birdsong: WWI battlefields
I've mentioned before that my great-grandfather served in World War I, and in this book one of the main characters visits the site of a battle her grandfather fought in. It made me want to see the parts of France mentioned in my great-grandfather's memoir of the war.


4. Eat, Pray, Love: Italy
I mentioned this in my list of books that make me hungry, but this book made me want to seek out the local restaurants in Italy that don't even have a name where the food was so good it made Elizabeth Gilbert cry.


5. The Fault in Our Stars: Amsterdam
Technically I got interested in Amsterdam from John Green's videos while he was researching for The Fault in Our Stars, but either way, it sounds like a cool city.


6. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society: Guernsey
I don't think I knew this island existed before I read this book, but it sounds like a lovely place to visit.


7. The Harry Potter series: Hogwarts
I mean... obviously.


8. The Phantom Tollbooth: Kingdom of Wisdom
I don't think I'd want to get stuck in this bizarre world of words and numbers permanently, but visit it? Totally.


9. Totto-Chan: Tokyo
I have actually visited Tokyo, but it was before I read this book. I don't know if the location of her school is marked today, but given this book's popularity in Japan I would think it's possible.

Which books would you voluntarily inhabit?

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Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Best of the Bunch: November 2017


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

Of the six books I read this month, I had no 5-star ratings and one 4.5-star rating, so that one is my best of the bunch.


I started out irritated with the narrator of The Secret History for his seemingly pointless lies to everyone, and for a while the book seemed rather dull and meandering, but after the characters returned from winter break everything suddenly picked up very quickly and I was sucked in by the suspense. I like books that are entrenched in the logistics of complex situations, and that's part of what made this read so enjoyable — you know from the opening pages that one of the characters is going to end up dead and that the narrator had a hand in it, but it's the way things fall apart in the aftermath of the murder that made this such a compelling read. A bit of suspension of disbelief is necessary but not so much as to detract from the book. I found this a fascinating read and I can see why it's so often recommended.

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





Monday, November 27, 2017

Top Ten Books on My Winter TBR List


I'm linking up with The Broke and the Bookish for another Top Ten Tuesday.

Let's pretend there isn't a bunch of overlap with my fall TBR list, shall we?


1. Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott


2. Cat Among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie


3. Dead Man's Folly by Agatha Christie


4. Disunity in Christ by Christena Cleveland


5. I'll Meet You There by Heather Demetrios


6. In Cold Blood by Truman Capote


7. A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah


8. Sophie's Choice by William Styron


9. The Stand by Stephen King


10. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert M. Pirsig

What will you be reading this winter?

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Monday, November 20, 2017

Top Ten Books I'm Thankful For


I'm linking up with The Broke and the Bookish for another Top Ten Tuesday.

Happy almost Thanksgiving, everyone! I enjoyed this topic, as the books I'm grateful to have read are a little different than those I would call my all-time favorites.


1. 168 Hours by Laura Vanderkam
This book prompted me to actually do a time log for a full week (which I've done twice now). I've also started recommending it to my mentees as a great way to think holistically about the role that work plays in your life. I'm grateful that it takes a tone that is both motivating and non-judgmental.


2. The 5 Love Languages by Gary Chapman
The great thing about this book is that so many people, even if they haven't read it, are familiar enough with the love languages that you can refer to them in conversation and be understood. It provides a clear framework to help people talk about their needs and their behaviors in a way that doesn't make one person's approach to relationships seem better than another's.


3. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver
If I hadn't read this book, I probably wouldn't have become a pescatarian, so I'm glad I did!


4. The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin
Because of this book, I did my own happiness project in 2011, which included things like getting our powers of attorney in order and actually starting to floss every day. The positive effects of that year have continued through the present day.


5. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
I'm grateful these books exist not just because they're awesome as books, but also because of the fandom that has formed around them. And, if not for Harry Potter, I would not have clicked on that vlogbrothers video back in 2007 and found the Nerdfighteria community that has been a big part of my life for the past decade.


6. I Will Teach You to Be Rich by Ramit Sethi
I read this book right before I started a new job where it turned out they'd misled me about getting a 401(k) and I had to set up an IRA myself. Because of Ramit's no-nonsense advice, I just picked a company and got it set up without spending forever worrying about picking the right one. This is another book I recommend a lot, and I'm glad it exists.


7. The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondō
After years of reading organizing advice, this book provided me with what I needed: an evidence-based, step-by-step system for getting the entirety of my possessions in order. Although our apartment isn't always picked up, it's usually possible to get everything back in its place within about 10 minutes if needed, and we own very little that we don't use or enjoy.


8. Room for One More by Anna Rose Wright
This was the book that first made me think seriously about adoption. I'm thankful that when other factors arose that made adoption a good option for our family, it was already on my mind because of this book!


9. Taking Charge of Your Fertility by Tori Weschler
I'm incredibly grateful that this book exists because it provides me a non-Catholic source to explain our family planning method. Even though I still struggle to find supportive medical professionals, I know I can at least raise fewer eyebrows by talking about the "Fertility Awareness Method" rather than "Natural Family Planning."


10. Torn by Justin Lee
I didn't need Justin's book to convince me that a person could be gay and Christian, but I'm still thankful this book exists. I know of multiple people who found this book a lifesaver when they or their kid came out to their conservative Christian family. There are many books out there that talk about faith and sexual orientation (and I've read many of them), but this to me is the gold standard for having an unfailingly gracious tone with clear, conversational writing.

What books are you thankful for?

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Wednesday, November 15, 2017

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.

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs: This was my favorite book of October. I found it more compelling and readable than some other true accounts of former slaves, though her experience was different enough from many others that you wouldn't want to read this in isolation.

The Fisherman by John Langan: This was supposed to be a horror novel, but it was pretty boring. Most of my book club felt the same way, and everyone wondered why it had such high ratings on Goodreads. I think it would be a terrifying horror movie, but it didn't translate to the page.

Midwives by Chris Bohjalian: This started out promising, but I ended up feeling pretty bored by it. It's the story of a court case, and it's implied that there will be another layer — the defendant's daughter coming of age — but that never materializes, so you're left with just a blow-by-blow of the trial. The complex ethics at the heart of the novel are more interesting than the story itself.

The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby: It's mind-boggling to think of someone composing an entire book in their head and then dictating it one letter at a time via blinking one eyelid. And yet — I can't escape the fact that this made the book much weaker than if it had been carefully crafted and edited on paper. It's a short enough book, and enough people have resonated with it, that it's probably still worth a read, but don't expect too much from it.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt: I like books that are entrenched in the logistics of complex situations, and that's part of what made this read so enjoyable — you know from the opening pages that one of the characters is going to end up dead and that the narrator had a hand in it, but it's the way things fall apart in the aftermath of the murder that made this such a compelling read.

Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks: Faulks is an excellent writer, by which I mean he creates a very real sense of place, with descriptions of sights, sounds, textures, and emotions that bring the trench warfare of WWI alive. Unfortunately, I personally found the book hard to get through and could not connect to any of the characters nor understand their motivations.

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

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Monday, November 13, 2017

Top Ten Books I Want My Children to Read


I'm linking up with The Broke and the Bookish for another Top Ten Tuesday.

For this week's topic, I conveniently have a shelf on Goodreads called "Books I Want My Kids to Read." I've taken books off the list that our son Gregory has now read, but there are still plenty on the list for when he's older. Here are the ten I most hope he (and our future children) will someday read — books that I already have ready on our bookshelf!


1. All-of-a-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor
I like this as a book for kids for a lot of reasons: The characters are Jewish, but it's not a Learning About Judaism kind of book; there are lots of opportunities for kids to talk about their feelings about different situations, like having a new baby in the family; and it shows the parents' thought processes as well, which would be interesting to discuss with a child. Plus it's just a sweet and enjoyable read.


2. The Breadwinner by Deborah Ellis
This is a solid middle-grade novel that introduces some tough topics (the main character has to dress as a boy to get a job after the Taliban take her father) but it's not a scary, action-driven story; it focuses more on the main character's internal growth as she makes difficult decisions and learns to be more independent.


3. Caddie Woodlawn by Carol Ryrie Brink
It's no secret around here that I like this book more than the similar Little House on the Prairie. This would be a book I'd want to read and discuss with my kids, as there are lots of opportunities to ask, "Why do you think so-and-so did that?" or "How do you think so-and-so was feeling?" and I'd want to point out the old-fashioned views on women and American Indians.


4. Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine
I love this twist on the classic Cinderella story, where Ella is a strong, confident character even when she's cursed to do the bidding of others. There's a strong message about consent as well — Ella actually gets to choose whether she wants to marry the prince!


5. George by Alex Gino
This book does a great job of introducing what it means to be transgender. George is introduced from the beginning with female pronouns, so kids are likely to understand why George is so frustrated when people keep calling her a boy and making her use the boys' bathroom!


6. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster
This is a book that I love so much that I'm almost afraid for the day my kids will read it in case they don't love it as well. It's so quirky and fun and introduces mind-bending concepts around language and numbers in the form of an adventure story.


7. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry by Mildred D. Taylor
This book set in the American South in the 1930s not only provides clear illustrations of how people in America were (and are) treated differently because of their race but it also provides opportunities for discussion about how the black family at the center of this novel chooses to navigate those challenges. For the centering of the black experience I like it better than To Kill a Mockingbird.


8. Sideways Stories from Wayside School by Louis Sachar
This series was another favorite of mine as a kid that I hope my kids will like. It's a perfect blend of absurd humor and apt observations about education that any schoolchild can appreciate.


9. Totto-Chan by Tetsuko Kuroyanagi
This is one that I like to compare to the Ramona Quimby books for the writing style and the main character's personality. She isn't fictional, though; the book is based on the true stories of the author's experience at an experimental school in Japan in the 1940s.


10. Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
What childhood is complete without the classic poems of Shel Silverstein?

What books do you most want the kids in your life to read?

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