Top Ten Tuesday: Favorite books I’ve read so far in 2017

I have yet to post one of these on a Tuesday, except by chance. Once again Linda inspired me with her list. Here are mine, listed from January (#1) to June (#10-11). Not only are there eleven instead of ten, I actually snuck (or sneaked, if you prefer) a couple extra onto the list using the “same author” justification.

  1. Waking Up White, and Finding Myself in the Story of Race by Debby Irving: This was one of the Arlington Reads Together candidates for last year, and I’m glad I finally read it – less because of the quality of writing (it was fine but not exceptional) or the format (workbook-type questions at the end of each chapter) than because of the messages about privilege, oppression, and how to work effectively for social justice. “Discrimination and privilege are flip sides of the same coin.
  2. The Wyrd Sisters and Dodger by Terry Pratchett: After years of other people indicating to me that I might really like Terry Pratchett, I read some…and I really like Terry Pratchett! The Wyrd Sisters was like Macbeth meets Oscar Wilde, and Dodger was pure fun (if you enjoy the details of the sewer system in Victorian London); I listened to the audiobook, and it was a splendid production.
  3. Talking As Fast As I Can by Lauren Graham: Having just watched the four Gilmore Girls reunion episodes, I was excited to read this, and it did not disappoint. I listened to the audiobook, which Graham reads herself of course, and it was just delightful; I was sad when it ended and wanted something just like it. (I ended up with Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick, which was also good.)
  4. Pachinko by Min Jin Lee: A big, multi-generational novel that starts in 1910 and stretches into the late 1980s. I learned so much about Korean history, and particularly the difficult status of Koreans living in Japan (“For people like us, home doesn’t exist”).The Left-Handed Fate cover
  5. The Left-Handed Fate and Bluecrowne by Kate Milford: I love Greenglass House so much and was thrilled to read a story even faintly connected. The Left-Handed Fate was a perfect historical adventure story with a touch of fantasy, and Bluecrowne provided a solid link between Fate and Greenglass. So satisfying.
  6. Pro: Reclaiming Abortion Rights by Katha Pollitt: If you’re anti-abortion, you’re unlikely to pick up this book, but if you do, it might change your mind or at least soften your position somewhat. If you’re already pro-choice, it will give you new angles to consider and strong ways to articulate your reasoning for your beliefs.
  7. The Lotterys Plus One by Emma Donoghue: I’ve read nearly all of Donoghue’s novels for adult readers, so I happily followed her into middle grade territory. The story of nine-year-old Sumac and her nontraditional (but normal to her) family celebrates diversity not by making a big deal out of it, but by making it seem like not a big deal. It’s realistic and funny and poignant.
  8. Gracious by Kelly Williams Brown: I should probably re-read this every six months or so. “There is one kind of thought that’s always useful and always gracious. That kind of thought is, “What can I do for someone else?” …This kind of thought makes the world, and you, a better place.”The Paper Menagerie cover
  9. The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories by Ken Liu: Someone in my book club suggested this, and I’m so glad she did. It’s long, and I had only intended to read the title story and a few others, but I read the whole thing. It’s an absolutely unique collection: stories are set in the past and future, alternative histories, on Earth and in outer space, and more. Liu has a tremendous imagination and a great gift for storytelling and character.
  10. Saints for All Occasions by J. Courtney Sullivan: This was as good as Maine, my favorite of Sullivan’s novels: a story of two sisters who come to Boston from Ireland in the 1950s, their diverging paths and stories, and how they come together again after a tragic event. Family secrets galore, and multiple perspectives, including those in the next generation.
  11. The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein: I devoured this novel about pre-Code Name Verity Julie in two days. It stands alone, but having already read Code Name Verity, it was especially wonderful to see Julie brought back to life, as it were, and at home in her native Scotland. She narrates in first person, which is a different perspective than the journal entries from Verity.

Have I interested you in any of the books above? What are your favorite books that you’ve read so far this year? What books are you looking forward to?

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I was/am looking forward to

This list is a combination of two recent Top Ten Tuesday topics: most anticipated books for the second half of 2017, and books I’ve recently added to my to-read list.

The Pearl ThiefRecently finished or in-progress:

  • The Pearl Thief by Elizabeth Wein: I added this to my to-read list the instant I heard about it, and got a library copy as soon as it came out. It was a delight; I devoured it in two days. So lovely to see Julie (from Code Name Verity) again, at home in her native Scotland. With the first-person narration, her pride and courage are even more immediate, though the stakes are a bit lower this go-round, as she’s not a Nazi prisoner.
  • Holding Up the Universe and All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven: I’ve been hearing good things about Jennifer Niven for a while now – the Not-So-Young-Adult book group at my library read All the Bright Places – so I finally picked up Holding Up the Universe on audio. I finished it on the way to a meeting at the Medfield Public Library at the end of May (more on Medfield later) and picked up All The Bright Places while I was there; I’m about halfway through now. I really like her writing: it reminds me of Cammie McGovern, Julie Murphy, and Rainbow Rowell.

Published recently(ish)

  • Ramona Blue by Julie Murphy: I loved Dumplin’ and was thrilled to learn about Murphy’s new novel; a co-worker has already read and liked it. I’m waiting for a library copy.
  • Girl in Disguise by Greer Macallister: I liked Macallister’s first novel, The Magician’s Lie, and the description of this one looks equally intriguing.Eleanor Oliphant
  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman: How can you not want to read a book with this title? And it has a great cover. And it’s set in Scotland.
  • The Summer Before the War by Helen Simonson: Again, I’m cribbing my co-worker’s list; I too loved Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand and I don’t know why I didn’t read The Summer Before the War as soon as it came out.
  • Miller’s Valley by Anna Quindlen: I had this in my hand a couple months ago but didn’t bring it home on account of the already precarious height of my to-read stack. But I haven’t read Anna Quindlen in ages, this got great reviews, and the description is appealing.
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates: The word “essential” has been used in every review of this book that I’ve seen, and it’s a short book. There’s no reason I haven’t read it yet and I intend to read it before the end of the year.Life on Mars
  • Life on Mars by Tracy K. Smith: I don’t pick up new poetry collections often, but she’s the new poet laureate, and this sentence from a review compelled me: “As all the best poetry does, “Life on Mars” first sends us out into the magnificent chill of the imagination and then returns us to ourselves, both changed and consoled.”

Not Yet Published

  • The Book of Dust by Philip Pullman, obviously. The first installment comes out October 19 (though I’m hoping to snag a galley before then) and is called La Belle Sauvage. There was already an extract in The Guardian.
  • Jane, UnlimitedJane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore(!!!): Just heard about this from a co-worker. Beyond excited for a new (standalone?) book from Kristin Cashore (Graceling).
  • Young Jane Young by Gabrielle Zevin: I’ve loved Zevin’s books in the past, and the Kirkus (starred) review said it’s pleasingly feminist.
  • The Runaways by Rainbow Rowell: I don’t read graphic novels or comics that much but I will follow Rainbow Rowell across genres and formats and anywhere else she goes. I want to catch up on the earlier volumes first, and Brian K. Vaughan’s Saga has also been on my list.

6/23/17 Edited to add: Turtles All The Way Down by John Green(!!!!!), coming October 10! And new E. Lockhart, Genuine Fraud, coming September 5.

Top Ten Historical Fiction

September kind of got away from me. September is always a busy month during which I think I’ll have more time than I do have, but this year, thanks to two bouts of stomach flu, I pretty much missed half of it entirely. Which is to say, I’ve been meaning to write a Top Ten Tuesday post for the historical fiction genre since I read Linda’s Top Ten Favorite Historical Novels blog post over half a month ago.

Historical fiction has always been one of my favorite genres. I find that the best authors in this genre are able to weave period detail into their stories in a way that is subtle and memorable at once. Even though I studied history in college, it’s the history I learned through stories that has stuck with me best.

Cover image of Wolf HallSome novels take famous figures from history and are centered around important historical events. In the case of Philippa Gregory’s The Other Boleyn Girl and Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, it is the court of King Henry VIII in England. In the former, Anne Boleyn’s sister Mary is the main character during Anne’s rise, marriage to Henry VIII, the formation of the Church of England, and Henry’s disenchantment with (and beheading of) Anne. For her books – the first two of a planned trilogy – Mantel takes Thomas Cromwell as her main character.

Cover image of Suite FrancaiseOther novels are about ordinary people in extraordinary times, and the draw of these stories is how their authors are able to make the time and place come to life in a way that seems real. Like Henry VIII’s era, World War II is a popular time period for historical fiction; most recently, the exceptional All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr was a bestseller (and with good reason). A few of my favorite WWII novels are Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Annie Barrows and Mary Ann Shaffer, Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres, Life After Life by Kate Atkinson, and Code Name Verity by Elizabeth Wein.

Cover image of FeverStill a third type of historical novel features extraordinary people in ordinary (for them) times. These characters are as vivid as their settings: Mary Malone (better known as Typhoid Mary) in Fever by Mary Beth Keane, set in turn of the century New York. Katy Kontent in Amor Towles’ Rules of Civility, also in New York, in the 1930s. Regret, a Korean “picture bride” in Alan Brennert’s Honolulu. Tom and Isabel in post-WWI Australia in The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman. Mattie Gokey in the Adirondacks in 1906 in Jennifer Donnelly’s A Northern Light, and Desdemona Hart in 1930s Massachusetts in Maryanne O’Hara’s Cascade.

Cover image of AstrayFor those who have been counting, this has been more than ten, but I want to mention just three more. Astray is a collection by Emma Donoghue, in which each story was inspired by a real piece of history; Donoghue is so inventive that she can spin two sentences from an old newspaper into a complete, absorbing story.

Finally, there are two books from my childhood that could be called historical fiction with a twist: Voices After Midnight by Richard Peck includes an element of time travel, and Running Out of Time by Margaret Peterson Haddix takes place in what appears to be an 1840s village, but – to the main character’s shock – isn’t.

Do you like historical fiction? Which novels are your favorites, and why? If you haven’t read historical fiction before, do any of the above sound interesting?

 

 

 

More to the story

Linda writes, “Top Ten Tuesdays are hosted at The Broke and the Bookish. Today’s topic is Ten Songs That I Wish Were Books, and it may be my favorite topic so far. Now these aren’t necessarily my favorite songs….They’re just songs that I think have a good story behind them that could be developed even more.”

As someone who spent a significant percentage of her teenage years squinting at liner notes and mining song lyrics for meaning, I agree that this is a great topic, and it’s a struggle to keep it to ten (you’ll see below that I kind of cheated to include more), but these were some of the first to come to mind. Unlike Linda, I didn’t pair an author with every song (though hats off to her for some awesome, and telling, choices). These songs already have a story-like quality to them, and I’d love to see three minutes expanded to 300 pages.

  1. “Brick” by Ben Folds Five and “Freshmen” by The Verve Pipe: these two songs are linked in my mind, possibly because they were on the radio a lot around the same time, but they also both have to do with abortion.
  2. “Lately” by Helio Sequence: “Lately” is essentially an updated version of “Most of the Time” by Bob Dylan, which is already part of the High Fidelity movie soundtrack, so I suppose this book already exists and what I want is for Nick Hornby to write another book about music.
  3. “Crush” by Jimmy Eat World: I would like Sara Zarr, Jandy Nelson, Robin Benway, and Gayle Forman collaborate on this one, please and thank you.
  4. “The Way” by Fastball: for some reason this song has always put me in mind of two books: Bless the Beasts and Children by Glendon Swarthout and Smack by Melvin Burgess. But I’d read a third.
  5. “Bank Job” by Barenaked Ladies is the only heist song I know of; I’d like for Dave Barry (Big Trouble, etc.) to write it. Practically every other BNL song would also make a good book; I’m thinking “The Old Apartment,” “The Flag,” “Wrap Your Arms Around Me,” and “Fun & Games” to start.
  6. “Play Crack the Sky” by Brand New: this haunting, tragic song has Audrey Niffenegger’s name on it.
  7. Like BNL, nearly every song by The Weakerthans would make a good novel; I’ll go with “Reconstruction Site,” with “Civil Twilight” a close second.
  8. “Nightswimming” by REM: maybe this is more like one scene in a book than a whole book itself. Let’s give it to Lauren Myracle (The Infinite Moment of Us).
  9. “Cath…” by Death Cab for Cutie: According to Wikipedia, this song is based on Wuthering Heights, so.
  10. “February” by Dar Williams or “As Is” by Ani DiFranco: these top-notch singer/songwriters are probably capable of writing their own books.

 

Best Books I’ve Read in the Second Half of 2015

See Top Ten Books I’ve Read So Far in 2015 from July 1. I will still talk your ear off about Greenglass House and Graceling. And Trigger Warning and NPH’s Choose Your Own Autobiography are superb audiobooks. Here are ten of the books I’ve enjoyed in the second half of the year:

Emmy & Oliver by Robin Benway: Cover image of Emmy & OliverEmmy’s best friend (and boy-next-door), Oliver, was kidnapped by his father when he was seven; he returns at age 17, and reconnects with Emmy and her friends. Good realistic/romantic fiction for those who liked The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney and Sweethearts by Sara Zarr.

Slade House by David Mitchell: This haunted house story is a companion to The Bone Clocks, so of course I loved it; there’s no need to read The Bone Clocks to enjoy Slade House, though, so if this is your first foray into Mitchell’s universe, you can start with this more concise novel. The titular Slade House appears every nine years so its inhabitants can harvest a soul to prolong their lives, but the last victim it lures in is on to them. Deliciously creepy. (I got an early copy and wrote the blurb for LibraryReads.)

We Never Asked for Wings by Vanessa Diffenbaugh: Just as good as The Language of Flowers, but with illegal immigration instead of the foster care system and homelessness as the central issue. Not to say that it’s an “issue book”; the Mexican-American characters at the center of the story are real and complex, their dilemmas hard and heartbreaking.

Useful, Usable, Desirable by Aaron Schmidt and Amanda Etches: I’ve already written about this one here. If you work in a library, or design any kind of product or service or platform for library users, read this book!

Being Mortal by Atul Gawande: Cover image of Being MortalI’m consistently impressed with Gawande’s writing ability, and the clarity with which he communicates his message. In this case, he addresses the issues presented by an aging population, on both the societal and the individual level. An important book that is also easy to read.

The Dive from Clausen’s Pier by Ann Packer: If you’ve been having second thoughts about settling down with the guy you’ve been dating for years and are now engaged to, and he becomes paralyzed in an accident, do you stay with him? Or do you go? This is Carrie Bell’s decision, and The Dive From Clauden’s Pier is a character study of a young woman making a difficult decision about what she should do, and what that might mean about the kind of person she is.

Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari and Eric Klinenberg: Though I’m no longer in the dating pool, I enjoyed listening to how romance has changed and how it has stayed the same in recent history. The audiobook was great; it’s stand-up comedy backed up with smart social science.

Cover image of Unfinished BusinessUnfinished Business by Anne-Marie Slaughter: The author of The Atlantic article “Why Women Still Can’t Have It All” has written a book about the unequal value American society places on competition (ambition, putting oneself first, breadwinning) and care (providing care for children, aging parents, other family members or friends); the former is traditionally male, the latter traditionally female. In order to address gender inequality, we must also adjust the value we place on competition and care.

George by Alex Gino: George is a fourth grader who was born a boy but knows she’s really a girl. But how does she tell her family and friends? And how will they react when she does? This is most likely – hopefully – just the beginning of transgender lit for children and teens, and it’s a sweet, realistic story that avoids extremes: there’s no horrific bullying, but not everyone is instantly accepting either. George’s friend Kelly is a great character also.

Did You Ever Have a Family by Bill Clegg: Cover image of Did You Ever Have a FamilyA story of grief and guilt, told by multiple narrators – the survivors of a tragedy and those related to them. For those who liked The Illusion of Separateness by Simon Van Booy, How to Start a Fire by Lisa Lutz, The Children’s Crusade by Ann Packer, Fellow Mortals by Dennis Mahoney, The Grief of Others by Leah Hager Cohen.

That’s it for me for 2015. If I read any outstanding books in the next week, I’ll tell you about them in January. Meanwhile, what were your favorite books of the year?

Quotes from books, III

I’m continuing to run with this Top Ten Tuesday idea from The Broke and the Bookish; here’s a third installment of quotes from books I’ve read (semi-)recently. (See Part one | Part two.) This set spans my reading from June 2015 back to January 2015 (I’m going in reverse chronological order). Most of these are from adult literary fiction, but there are two from children’s books (actually three, there’s a bonus one from Harriet the Spy), one from a memoir, one from a classic, and one from a nonfiction book about the Finnish educational system.

  1. He wanted to travel but lacked any desire to arrive.The Waterproof Bible, Andrew Kaufman
  2. “The hardest part of making a sacrifice isn’t the moment when you do it. That’s the easiest. You’re too busy being proud of yourself for being so noble. What’s hard is the day after that and the following one and all of those days to come. It’s needing to make that sacrifice over and over again, the rest of your life, while in your mind, you can still taste that which you lost. Or what you think you lost.” Mambo in Chinatown, Jean Kwok
  3. I remembered my memory of the moment, because after so long that’s what memory is: the replaying of a filmstrip that’s slightly warped from having gone through the projector so many times. I’ll never know what actually happened and what distortions I added.The Children’s Crusade, Ann Packer
  4. What we read as adults should be read, I think, with no warnings or alerts beyond, perhaps: enter at your own risk. -“Little Triggers,” Trigger Warning, Neil Gaiman
  5. She never minded admitting she didn’t know something. So what, she thought; I could always learn. 5.5 Is everybody a different person when they are with somebody else?Harriet the Spy, Louise Fitzhugh
  6. People who called her a pest did not understand that a littler person sometimes had to be a little bit noisier and a little bit more stubborn in order to be noticed at all.Ramona the Pest, Beverly Cleary
  7. I can’t imagine a better example of Things to Be Wary Of in the food department than bargain sushi.Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain
  8. Disappointed a hundred times, she still hoped. Howards End, E.M. Forster
  9. I did not think I had rooms enough in me for this kind of love.Vanessa and Her Sister, Priya Parmar
  10. It is better to have a dream of your own than to rent one from others.Finnish Lessons, Pasi Sahlberg

Do these quotes stand alone, or do they need context? Which one(s) do you like best?

She Said, She Said: Quotes from Books

Here’s a Top Ten Tuesday feature from The Broke and the Bookish that I’m going to run with for weeks, months, quite possibly years: Quotes from Books I’ve Read Recently. As usual I read Linda’s Top Ten at Three Good Rats and got inspired. I write down quotes from nearly every book I read and keep them in my LibraryThing account, but I don’t often go back and look through them; here’s a great opportunity to do just that, at a time when saving time by recycling content is the perfect way to avoid complete radio silence on this blog (see: new baby in the house).

Here are ten quotes from books I’ve read recently. I chose these because they struck me as wise or poetic or true or funny, or all of the above.

  1. Every generation assumes that the way it does things is the way things are.Unfinished Business, Anne-Marie Slaughter
  2. What she doesn’t know yet is that ending a relationship cannot be done in one conversation over one evening, that such extrication takes days and months and sometimes years.My Lover’s Lover, Maggie O’Farrell
  3. “Your relatives are famous betrayers,” Penny argues. “There was a time in the 1700s when they weren’t even allowed to sign contracts.”Carry On, Rainbow Rowell
  4. The minute hand of the clock was a terribly slow lever, pushing the hour hand imperceptibly forward.  George, Alex Gino
  5. Memory is strange – part movie, part dream. You can never know if what you remember is the essential thing or something else entirely, a grace note. The Dive From Clausen’s Pier, Ann Packer
  6. There were musicians who never looked up from their hands or their instruments, but she’d seen quartets of straight men gaze at each other like they were making love. -“Cross,” Music For Wartime, Rebecca Makkai
  7. The choices don’t stop….Life is choices, and they are relentless. No sooner have you made one choice than another is upon you. –Being Mortal, Atul Gawande
  8. You could think of promises as a series of nets: some hold for a lifetime; others give way, surprisingly flimsy, in no time at all. –And the Dark Sacred Night, Julia Glass
  9. It is fairly amazing that we don’t get poisoned more often.At Home, Bill Bryson
  10. “There are four things that lead to wisdom….four sentences…[:]I don’t know. I need help. I’m sorry. I was wrong.”-Still Life, Louise Penny

More to come, in reverse chronological order from when I read them. What’s your favorite quote from a book?