The Challenges of Being a Reader: A Month in Books

My shtick of late is to always have two books going – one audio that I listen while in the car and while walking to work and a paper one to read in bed, at the gym and when I find spare time. It’s a great plan, but financially prohibitive if I buy the books. I’ve been relying heavily on my local library, with some used books thrown into the mix. I love the library. LOVE. But waiting for books to come available does has its downsides. On occasion, I find myself reading filler books. Combine that with the duds that naturally fall into any mix, and it means that a month in books can be filled with ups and downs. This past month certainly was. If you can look past the duds, though, you’ll find some real gems.

Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan.Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan

In my ongoing effort to read books on the banned list, I read Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan. It reiterated my belief that all banned books are banned out of fear, which is too bad and seemingly counterproductive to the goal of banning. After all, I never would have found out about this novel had it not been banned.

The plot idea behind Two Boys Kissing is a novel one. It’s told from the perspective of gay men who have died and are looking down over current gay boys, sort of like angels. These men who have passed on have the benefit of knowing how things were versus how they are, of knowing how the AIDS epidemic effected their population in the 1980s and of having grown. It is from their perspective that you hear about boys who are contemplating suicide or running away from home. It’s from them that you hear how wonderfully one boy’s mom handles her son’s coming out and how another boy might be able to handle his parents rejection.

I’ve never read anything like this before and really liked it.

Eventide by Kent Haruf.Eventide by Kent Haruf

Eventide is the second in the Plainsong trilogy by Kent Haruf. My mom passed these on to me saying that she loved them but that my dad found them too slow. That’s sort of a mixed endorsement, so I’ve not been rushing to read the books.

I enjoyed Plainsong but it was sloooow. Eventide was the same way, but I knew what to expect this time. Do you have anything in your life that is kind of boring but which you appreciate for it’s steadiness and sameness? That’s how I felt about this book, and the series up until now. It’s  selection of well-told stories about small-town America and the exciting plot twists are barely exciting and that’s sort of lovely. In a time of Gone Girl and Girl on a Train where the focus is on the plot twist or the unreliable narrator, breaks of slow and steady are just fine by me.

Thinking in Systems by Donella H Meadows and Diana Wright .Thinking in Systems by Donnella H. Meadows

I read this for work. Pro: I got paid for reading! Con: This isn’t the sort of book I would ever read of my own accord. Ever.

Last year during my annual review, I had to select a development activity that would help me in a competency related to work. I picked systems thinking and selected a suggested book because I like to read so how bad could it be? I was a sucker! After complaining about how bad the book selection was, Thinking in Systems was recommended to me as an alternative. It was tremendously better, but still a little wonky.

Did you watch The Wire? No? Stop reading this and go watch that. Seriously. Then come back and I’ll continue with what this book is about. You did watch it? Perfect.

You know the drugs dealers on The Wire? Well, they are a perfect illustration of systems thinking. In the show, the dealers create demand by giving people free or cheap access to drugs. Then they drive up the price, which makes the buyers desperate, which leads to crime, which involves the police. Both the increased use of drugs and the rise in crime has an effect on the students in the school system, which also involves police. This gets the notice of the politicians, who are in bed with the unions, and the journalists, who are trying to piece together the puzzle. Even if you stop the problem of right now, it will start again because it is cyclical. And that’s my bastardized summary of both the show and systems thinking, so now you don’t need to read the book. But seriously, you do need to watch the The Wire.

The Day I Died by Lori Rader-Day.The Day I Died by Lori Rader-Day

My entire knowledge of the legal system is informed by Law & Order – both the original series and SVU. While I am not sure why I like those shows, I know I do. From that, it’s no surprise that I enjoyed The Day I Died by Lori Rader-Day. Was it a deep, literary experience that will stay with me for years to come? Nope. Was it an enjoyable distraction from everyday life? Yep.

The main character in The Day I Died is Anna Winger. She has a mysterious past that comes out in fits and starts throughout the book. She also has an expertise in handwriting that I found fascinating. (Can you really know about someone’s insecurities, impotence or predilection for drinking just from their handwriting???) Rader-Day writes a fast-paced story that is entertaining until the end.

Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham.Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham

There are certain prolific authors I count on to be consistently entertaining. I don’t require anything beyond entertainment from them. These include Michael Crichton, Jodi Picoult and John Grisham. I don’t include any of these writers on my favorite authors list, but if stuck at the airport with nothing to read, I’d happily pick up one of their books. Earlier when I said that the library sometimes leaves me in a lurch while I wait for books to become available? I rely on these same types of authors then. This time, FAIL.

John Grisham has written almost 40 books (based on a quick internet search), so I don’t feel terrible saying Rogue Lawyer was a dud. The main character is an ass and it was just unenjoyable. If you’re stuck waiting on the library or need a book at the airport, skip this one.

Journey to Munich by Jacqueline Winspear.Journey to Munich by Jacqueline Winspear

Much like Rogue Lawyer, I picked Journey to Munich because it was available right away from the library as an audio book. I’ve always enjoyed World War II stories and I love a good mystery or spy story, so what could go wrong? Nothing really, but the only way I can write about this book is to look up what its about because I’ve completely forgotten. That, to me, speaks volumes.

 

 

Lady Chatterley's Lover by DH Lawrence.Lady Chatterley’s Lover by D.H. Lawrenc

As part of my attempt to read harder, I read Lady Chatterley’s Lover, which I picked up from the library book sale last year. The copy I had was such an old edition that I was constantly reminded that this book, published in 1928, is old. Why is that important? Because it was also one of the filthiest books I’ve read in a long time, with many uses of the words f*** and c***. Here’s a quote that seems representative, though cleaner.

Renoir said he painted his pictures with his penis … he did too, lovely pictures! I wish I did something with mine.

I’m not easily offended by language – just surprised – so Lady Chatterley’s Lover was okay from that perspective. I think I probably could have told the whole story in about one chapter instead of 19, but it was a good addition to my read harder campaign. And a nice reinforcement of this quote:

There is no new thing under the sun. – Ecclesiastes 1:9

The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan.The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan

Always on the lookout for a new side hustle, or primary hustle, The Bookshop on the Corner by Jenny Colgan has me wondering if I could open some sort of traveling bookshop. It’s like an expansion of my earlier book-inspired idea to hand out literary prescriptions, and involves little overhead. We used to have book mobiles when I was in grade school. Do you think those could still work? Only for adults, too? Serious question.

This book is about a woman named Nina who is laid off from her librarian job and spins that event into a job change in Scotland, and cute boys are involved. It’s a great book for beaches and traveling. And career inspiration.

The Goldon Age by Joan London.The Golden Age by Joan London

When an author I love, particularly one who writes about books, makes a book recommendation, I listen. A while back, my mom and I attended a book reading by Will Schwalbe, author of The End of Your Life Book Club, and he suggested The Golden Age by Joan London (not that Joan London). I read it on a recent trip in Florida and it was lovely. Maybe lovely is the wrong word, because it wasn’t the happiest book, but it was beautifully written. Its about polio patients in a care home in Australia in the 1950s. That’s not something I’ve ever read much about, so I was particularly interested. Check it out.

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly.Lilac Girls  by Martha Hall Kelly

Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly wrecked me. I mean, I wholeheartedly recommend it, but it wrecked me. I read it on the beach (it’s not a beach read), while drinking too much (it’s not a book to be read while over-served) and surrounded by surgically enhanced people vacationing in Miami (it’s not a book to be read around people who freely engage in optional surgeries). And still, despite these less than perfect surroundings, love.

I mentioned earlier that I enjoy World War II novels. I do, but the terrain is well traveled and it’s hard to find stories that introduce you to something new. Lilac Girls explores a concentration camp where women were operated on to study the effects of war on people. By this I mean that terrible experiments were performed on perfectly healthy people just to answer, “What if…?” What’s interesting about this book, though, is that it s told from the perspective of several characters, including a female doctor who performed the surgeries. It takes you into head spaces you’d probably rather not enter, and I think that’s such an interesting achievement by an author.

While I absolutely do not recommend you read this on the beach with a cocktail in hand and fake breasts all around you, I do suggest that you read Lilac Girls. It’s wonderful.

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins.Into the Water by Paula Hawkins

Earlier, I referred to this as “a time of Gone Girl and Girl on a Train.” I didn’t mean that as a good thing, though I think many people would disagree with me. Into the Water is Paula Hawkins newest book, following her success with Girl on a Train. I think this book is awful. It’s also a New York Times bestseller, so I know I don’t speak for the people on this one. But seriously. In English class when your teacher would tell you to show, not tell? Hawkins didn’t get that message. At so many points in this book there is some hurdle in the plot and the resolution is for a character to say “and then this so this,” even if it makes no logical sense at all.

I’m the dumb-dumb who read this book despite not liking Hawkins’ earlier novel. If you loved Girl on a Train, like so many people did, you might love this. If you didn’t, don’t make the same mistake I did and read this book.

April: My Month in Books

I recently signed up for a new email newsletter called Make America Read Again by Hillary Copsey and a standing section in the newsletter is called “Read Harder.” I love this sentiment. It aligns with what I’ve been trying to do this year in terms of reading classic novels and books that challenge me. The month of April included no classic novels, although one retelling of a classic novel that challenged me in unintended ways, but did include several books that pushed my thinking.

Sorta Like a Rockstar by Matthew Quick,Sorta Like a Rockstar by Matthew Quick

I love all novels by Matthew Quick. All. To my knowledge, the only one I haven’t read is the Silver Linings Playbook, but that’s only because I saw the movie first and it’s just so out of order. What I like about Quick is that he writes about mental illness and social awkwardness and general weirdness so well, so respectfully and with such a great infusion of humor. In Sorta Like a Rockstar, a YA novel, Amber Appleton lives on a bus and is surviving with little help from her mom but lots of help from an oddball support system she’s created for herself. Also, her pet dog is named Bobby Big Boy, or Thrice B, and I love that. If you don’t enjoy YA novels, skip this. Otherwise, I thoroughly recommend.

And After the Fire by Lauren Belfer.And After the Fire by Lauren Belfer

I’m not sure where I found out about And After the Fire (I wish I could annotate my To Read list in Goodreads), but it was all right. I didn’t find it to be amazing, but definitely interesting. Don’t listen too closely to me on that though, because it turns out last year I gave a book only one star and then it later went on to win a Pulitzer. So…
And After the Fire is the story about an original piece of music from Johann Sebastian Bach that was gifted to a Jewish woman and then later stolen during World War II. It jumps back and forth in time between people learning about the music and the story behind how the music was gifted. I’ve read many stories taking place in World War II and this one was unique. I’m not sure why it fell flat for me, but I think it had more to do with the present-day aspects.
Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age by Amani Al-Khatahtbeh.

Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age by Amanu Al-Khatahbeh

Amanu Al-Khatahbeh is the founder of MuslimGirl.com, which is a place for Muslim girls to connect and own their own narrative. What Al-Khatahbeh has created is amazing and her story, as told in Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age, is interesting. I struggled reading this because I think the book has flaws from a literary perspective, but I’m hesitant to state them for fear of them sounding like critiques of her or her story. Where I left in my own internal conversations was that I was happy I read this and I that I intend to view it as one piece of a series of stories. It’s my job to find other women’ stories that I can add to the collection – stories that represent Muslim women but women of different ages and more varied experiences. All that said, I’d recommend reading Muslim Girl: A Coming of Age. It’s very clear at the end of the book that Al-Khatahbeh has a long, successful career ahead of her. By reading the book now, I feel like I am a little getting to the party, but still ahead of many others.

Gunslinger by Stephen King.

The Gunslinger (The Dark Tower #1) by Stephen King

Here’s the deal. I read this book because it’s going to be a movie this summer starring Idris Elba. I think Elba is one of the most handsome actors out there, and that was motivation enough for me. All that said. I. Did. Not. Understand. ANY. Of. This. Book.

Maybe the movie will make more sense to me?

 

 

The Song Rising by Samantha Shannon.The Song Rising (The Bone Season #3) by Samantha Shannon

I read the first in The Bone Season series in 2014. In the introduction of the first book, Samantha Shannon stated it would be the first in a seven-part series. I thought that was such a audacious statement to say about your first novel that I was hooked before I started. The Bone Season series is dystopian fiction that pulls from all of the tropes you know, but it’s darker than many of the books I read and complicated without getting too bogged down in its huge cast of characters. If you’re interested in a new sci-fi series, check this one out.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld.Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld

Earlier this year I read Pride and Prejudice and just could’t see what the fuss was about. Eligible is a modern day retelling of that classic novel and set in my hometown of Cincinnati. It should have made the classic novel knowable to me, right? I hated it even more. I don’t think that’s the fault of Curtis Sittenfeld’s writing, though. If’ I am being picky about the writing itself, I’ll say that I thought placing the plot in Cincinnati was a bust because she included way too much detail. Had she tried less and maybe halved the localized details, I would have been more of a fan. Listening to characters running routes was like listening to Siri, in not a good way. That gripe aside, my main issue with the book, and the one it’s based on, is that I find the people to be deplorable. By setting the story in Cincinnati, Sittenfeld successfully pulled out every aspect I disliked about the wealthy girls at my high school and amplified those traits tenfold. I happily invite anyone to sit down with me and explain why either Eligible or Pride and Prejudice is beloved. Until then, yuck.

The Winemakers by Jan Moran.

The Winemakers: A Novel of Wine and Secrets by Jan Moran

If you’re looking for a fluffy Summer read, check out The Winemakers: A Novel of Wine and Secrets by Jan Moran. It’s an entertaining romance that takes place in vineyards both in California and Italy. There is a near-incestual aspect of the plot that’s a little gross, but aside from that, grab a glass of wine, sit outside and enjoy.

 

 

 

Not Dead Yet by Phil Collins.

Not Dead Yet by Phil Collins

Wonder Boy is obsessed with Phil Collins. Loves him. Named his car Phil Collins in homage. So when I started reading Not Dead Yet by Phil Collins, it was sort of a joke and sort of a way for me to expand my knowledge about my husband’s favorite musician. I was being a little glib, but also honest, when I rated this book as such: First half gets four stars and second half gets three, just like his career. Glib but accurate. The earlier part of Phil Collins career is fascinating and hearing him tell of it is like going back in time to great music history. As he aged, though, his insecurities got in his way. I don’t think that’s me being judge-y; he says as much. For music fans and people who love music trivia, I would at least suggest the first half of the book. When he gets to marriage number two, you can probably set it aside.

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by JD Vance.Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

I have a lot of friends and family who grew up poor and have their roots in Kentucky. Reading Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis gave me such insight into their life. I have increased appreciation and admiration for the people who “got out,” by which I mean moved out of poverty, earned an education and ended a cycle of poverty that potentially goes back generations. J.D. Vance, the author, is strikingly honest in this book. Because he grew up partially in Middletown, Ohio, which is just up the highway form me, a lot of his stories hit close to home, literally and figuratively. I can’t recommend this book enough, have already suggested it to many and am looking forward to hearing him speak in September at the Public Library of Cincinnati and Hamilton County.

Long Ago and Far Away by John Coyne.

Long Ago and Far Away by John Coyne

Although the plan itself feel very long ago and far away, last Fall, Wonder Boy and I were planning on visiting Ethiopia. As in my norm, I started researching by getting lots of novels that take place in that country. And then the trip had to be cancelled due to political unrest and my books started collecting dust.

Well, our visas are still good and we’re planning for this Fall and Ethiopia could (unlikely) be on the table as a destination, so I went back to my bookshelf. Long Ago and Far Away is about a groups of young people’s experience in Ethiopia in the 1970s just before the Ethiopian Civil War, as told in flashbacks. By having the different characters reflect on that time in Ethiopia, just before the fall of Emperor Haile Selassie, author John Coyne is able to share the anxiety and danger of being a resident in that country at that time without distracting from the main plot line. Despite the fact that the book is really about murder and isn’t exactly happy, Long Ago and Far Away made me more excited to visit Ethiopia. Travel research success.

The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan.The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan

Remember when I said one goal for reading this month was to “read harder” or challenge myself? Well, The Association of Small Bombs by Karan Mahajan certainly fits the bill. It was good for me though, especially during this tumultuous political climate where, for the first time ever, I find myself a little scared to travel the world. Did this book about suicide bomber make me feel better about traveling? Of course not! But it gave me the teeniest, tiniest, most minuscule encouragement to try and learn more about the violent situations I read about before making judgement. My main takeaway from the book is the nothing is as simple as it might appear on face value. How I’m translating that to action is to try and keep myself better informed and to do so from multiple perspectives.

George by Alex Gino.George by Alex Gino

My second favorite April read was George by Alex Gino. For whatever reason, I added all of the top ten banned books for 2016 that I haven’t yet read to my reading list. Common theme: people are scared. That’s the only reason I can think of for why anyone would ban books.

George is a delightfully sweet book about a girl who is born a boy. It’s a feat of playing with pronouns and challenging me to be more careful in how I apply the words she, he, his and hers. It’s gives guidance on how to be supportive, under the guise of a children’s book. I’ll be keeping this one in mind as I interact with questioning young folk and suggesting it to kids and adults who are doing the same. Banned by damned.

Eight Hundred Grapes: A Novel by Laura Dave.Eight Hundred Grapes: A Novel by Laura Dave

Do you like to be able to guess how a book will end? I don’t. I mean, I feel clever when I do, and sometimes it helps prevent heartache or reduce the terror. But in general, I want to be surprised. I like when I story doesn’t follow the tried and true course. A lot of people I know loved La La Land but hated the ending. I thought the movie was just okay but loved the ending. I don’t think it’s me being contrarian, although that’s certainly a possibility. Life just doesn’t always work out so neatly and I don’t believe books should either.

Eight Hundred Grapes: A Novel by Laura Dave is about a family at the brink of implosion. Georgia returns home because her relationship is falling apart. She’s in good company because her parents and brother are experiencing the same. The Sonoma County vineyard her father runs is in the process of being sold, which means the foundation Georgia could always rely on is going away. Throughout the story, pieces fall apart and fit together and people gets their acts together. If you’re like me, you’ll complete the puzzle in the first quarter of the book.

This was a nice story. A nice, forgettable Summer read that is great for any vacation or time in the park.

2016: Reviewing A Year of Reading

This horrendously long image shows all of the books I read in 2016. I love many things about Goodreads: It helps me share books I love with friends and get recommendations from the books they loved, it alerts me to new books I might like based on past books read and, most importantly to me, it keeps track of the books I consume so I can refer back to them later.

In 2016 I read 86 books, a total of 27,993 pages ranging in book length of 186 pages to 766 pages and averaging out at 341 pages per book. My average rating to the books I read was 3.2 stars, giving some validity to Outside’s theory that I rate books a little too critically. Goodreads isn’t perfect, at all, and was quick to point out what I read turned out to be most and least popular with it’s members, I had to work to see what got my highest and lowest ratings.

My favorite books of 2016 were:

  •  The Summer that Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel
  • The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
  • My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Frederik Backman

I tried to locate my least favorite book for the year and all I will say is that it was the longest book I read. That earned only one star. I was pretty liberal with two star ratings, handing out 11 of those.

My 2016 reading list

At the beginning of 2016 I started to do a reading challenge that would put me on course to read books by more diverse authors. I hated the challenge through. I found myself selecting books based not on if they interested me but on the color of the author’s skin. I felt guilty about it but I quickly dropped the challenge. I needn’t have worried!

This past year I read more books by people of color and people from different countries that I ever have before. My embracing audio books, I was able to consume more and persist through some more difficult books that, in truth, if that had been in print, I might have stopped. I feel better, smarter and like my world is bigger for heaving had so much diversity in my literary life.

Some common themes across this past year are four authors: Matthew Quick, Kathy Reichs, Alan Bradley and Kerry Greenwood. It’s such a wonderful thing when you find an author or a series you really like!

All of the books I read in 2016, listed in chronological order by date read:

  • The Art Forger by B.A. Shapiro
  • Ghosts of Bergen County by Dana Cann
  • What I Was Doing While You Were Breeding by Kristin Newman
  • The Weed That Strings the Hangman’s Bag (Flavia de Luce, #2) by Alan Bradley
  • Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
  • At the Water’s Edge by Sara Gruen
  • The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie (Flavia de Luce, #1) by Alan Bradley
  • Carry On by Rainbow Rowell
  • A Red Herring Without Mustard (Flavia de Luce, #3) by Alan Bradley
  • The Considerate Killer (Nina Borg, #4) by Lene Kaaberbøl
  • A Good Doctor’s Son by Steven Schwartz
  • In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin by Erik Larson
  • When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
  • I Am Half-Sick of Shadows (Flavia de Luce, #4) by Alan Bradley
  • Speaking from Among the Bones (Flavia de Luce, #5) by Alan Bradley
  • Lucky Us by Amy Bloom
  • The Japanese Lover by Isabel Allende
  • My Brilliant Friend (The Neapolitan Novels #1) by Elena Ferrante
  • Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín
  • Every Exquisite Thing by Matthew Quick
  • No Shred of Evidence (Inspector Ian Rutledge, #18) by Charles Todd
  • The Tsar of Love and Techno by Anthony Marra
  • The Girl in the Well Is Me by Karen Rivers
  • The Dead in Their Vaulted Arches (Flavia de Luce, #6) by Alan Bradley
  • The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics by Daniel James Brown
  • Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock by Matthew Quick
  • What the Waves Know by Tamara Valentine
  • The Doomsday Key (Sigma Force, #6) by James Rollins
  • Boy 21 by Matthew Quick
  • The Hours Count by Jillian Cantor
  • The Paying Guests by Sarah Waters
  • Summerland by Michael Chabon
  • The Passage (The Passage, #1) by Justin Cronin
  • The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen,
  • The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah
  • Me Before You (Me Before You, #1) by Jojo Moyes
  • Weep Not, Child by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o
  • The Wright Brothers by David McCullough
  • Nor The Moon by Night by Joy Packer
  • And We Stay by Jenny Hubbard
  • Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick
  • How to Read the Air by Dinaw Mengestu
  • No Direction Home: A Novel by Maria Silver
  • A God in Ruins by Kate Atkinson
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • True Crime Addict: How I Lost Myself in the Mysterious Disappearance of Maura Murray by James Renner
  • Beneath the Lion’s Gaze by Maaza Mengiste
  • Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson
  • Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb
  • Girl at War by Sara Nović
  • Virals (Virals, #1) by Kathy Reichs
  • Zac and Mia by A.J. Betts
  • The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
  • The Rocks by Peter Nichols
  • Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
  • What Is Visible by Kimberly Elkins
  • Seizure (Virals, #2) by Kathy Reichs
  • Code (Virals, #3) by Kathy Reichs
  • The Summer that Melted Everything by Tiffany McDaniel
  • Cocaine Blues (Phryne Fisher, #1) by Kerry Greenwood
  • Flying Too High (Phryne Fisher, #2) by Kerry Greenwood
  • Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi
  • Murder on the Ballarat Train (Phryne Fisher, #3) by Kerry Greenwood
  • The Yard (Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad, #1) by Alex Grecian
  • Britt-Marie Was Here by Frederik Backman
  • Death at Victoria Dock (Phryne Fisher, #4) by Kerry Greenwood
  • The Guineveres by Sarah Domet
  • The Curious Charms of Arthur Pepper by Phaedra Patrick
  • The Green Mill Murder (Phryne Fisher, #5) by Kerry Greenwood
  • Blood and Circuses (Phryne Fisher, #6) by Kerry Greenwood
  • The Girl in the Red Coat by Kate Hamer
  • Ruddy Gore (Phryne Fisher, #7) by Kerry Greenwood
  • Exposure (Virals, #4) by Kathy Reichs
  • Terminal (Virals, #5) by Kathy Reichs
  • The Black Country (Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad, #2) by Alex Grecian
  • We Are Not Ourselves by Matthew Thomas
  • Innocent Traitor by Alison Weir
  • Best Kept Secret (The Clifton Chronicles, #3) by Jeffrey Archer
  • Crooked Kingdom (Six of Crows, #2) by Leigh Bardugo
  • Trace Evidence: A Virals Short Story Collection by Kathy Reichs
  • Smoke by Catherine McKenzie
  • My Grandmother Asked Me to Tell You She’s Sorry by Frederik Backman
  • Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly
  • Mrs. Grant and Madame Jule by Jennifer Chiaverini
  • Urn Burial (Phryne Fisher, #8) by Kerry Greenwood
  • Raisins and Almonds (Phryne Fisher, #9) by Kerry Greenwood

Hidden Figures and Being a Critical Consumer of Media

Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly. The book is an important contribution to the body of knowledge out in the ether about African American history.According to Nielson, “U.S. adults spent 10 hours, 39 minutes a day consuming media in the first quarter of 2016.” When you consume so much information, how do you evaluate what is legitimate, accurate and useful information? This is something that’s become increasingly prevalent over the last few months in the new/fake news storm that has occurred around the election, but it applies to more than just news. It applies to all media.

I’ve been giving this a lot of thought over the past few days while I read Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race by Margot Lee Shetterly. The book is an important contribution to the body of knowledge out in the ether about African American history. It helps reshape stereotypes about the roles of women in general, and African American women specifically, in science, math and history. It sheds new light on the American history of discovery.

But here’s the thing. I found the book dreadful. It was like listening to someone read out a timeline of facts, at time repetitive and frequently reliant on clichés.

I believe in holding up all media, which certainly includes books, up to high expectations. And I’m torn on if I evaluate Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race as it’s quality as book or its value to our greater historical knowledge.

I have friends who comment on how harshly I evaluate books I read when I log them on Goodreads. I don’t think I am harsh but I do think I am critical. My system is consistent and straightforward, though influenced by the headspace I am in during reading.

  • Five Stars: Loved it, adored it and will be recommending it to everyone I know.
  • Four Stars: Really liked, will likely recommend it but don’t love it so much I have to keep a physical copy of the book on my shelves.
  • Three Stars: Entertaining and enjoyable, but likely forgettable. Most books get this ranking.
  • Two Stars: Didn’t care for the book.
  • One Stars: Hates the book. Few books have received one star from me.

So what do I rate this book?

I’ve gone back and forth on this and think I will be giving it three stars. As a contribution to my knowledge of history, it gets five stars. But as a book, which is how I approached it, maybe two stars? I know no one else might care how I rate my books, but it’s important to me that I apply a critical lens on my media consumption so I can make the best use of the 10.65 hours of media I am consuming each day. I try to apply all media I consume to the same set if high standards, because without those standards, we end up in situations where the headline of the day is about fake news.

I do want to add that I am excited to watch the movie Hidden Figures. I am interested to see how the script for the movie was adapted from what is shared in the book. And I am, always, excited to see the work of Taraji Henson and Octavia Spencer.

Book Series Featuring Strong, Smart Women

A girl detective obsessed with science. A teen who solves crime using science, special powers and a pack of friends. A lady detective who, when she’s not landing her latest conquest, is catching the bad guy.

We all need someone to look up to, and thanks to three book series, readers of all ages can have a strong, smart female role model.

Flavia de Luce Novels by Alan Bradley

Flavia de Luce is obsessed with chemistry and has a passion for poison.Flavia de Luce is obsessed with chemistry and has a passion for poison. In her constant quest to find out what’s happening in the adult world around her, Flavia frequently stumbles across murder scenes. Not one to make a discovery like a dead body and leave it alone, Flavia of course investigates to solve the crime, usually helped along with some scientific know-how.

As the Flavia de Luce series progresses, there is a larger plot afoot, making it clear that Flavia is destined for great things. Along the way, readers get to accompany her on many adventures and learn some along the way.

These are 8.5 books in this series so far, beginning with The Sweetness in the Bottom of the Pie  and ending with Thrice the Brinded Cat Hath Mew’d. These are written for adults, but can be enjoyed by children ages 11-12 and up.

Virals Series by  Brendan Reichs and Cathy Reichs

The Virals series by Brendan Reichs and Cathy Reichs is about a pack of four teens and one wolf dog and the alpha of the group is a very smart girl.Readers of the Bones series will be familiar with Cathy Reichs’ quick, entertaining way of writing. The Virals series is a collaboration between Reichs and her son. In it, a group of teens catches parvo, a disease typically only contagious to dogs. The four teens who catch disease, and the wolf dog from whom they contracted it, become a pack with special powers. Tory, the leader of this otherwise male pack, leads the group to tackle crimes through the Charleston, South Carolina, area.

I’ve read each of the Bones books and a recurring complaint throughout the series is how the main character breaks off to explain scientific details. It reads as hokey and stops the flow of the story. Because the Virals books focus on a group of people, scientific facts can be shared in a more natural way, without interrupting the overall flow. It’s a welcome improvement.

There are five books in this series and one collection of short stories called Trace Evidence. These young adult novels can be enjoyed by adults, but are geared towards teens 13 and older.

Miss Phryne Fisher Books by Kerry Greenwood

The Miss Phryne Fisher Books short enough to consume in an afternoon or two and contain a perfect mixture of adventure, mystery and sex. With 20 books in the series, it’s a wonderful find.When Phryne Fisher decorated her boudoir, she did it in a specific shade of green that would look good against her naked skin. She’s also more than willing to tie herself to the back of a car, unbeknownst to the driver, so she can catch a criminal in the act. Those two sentences tell you all you really need to know about what makes Phyrne such an entertaining character.

Set in Australia, the Miss Phryne Fisher Books, of which you might be familiar with from the Miss Fisher Murder Mysteries television series, are delightful novels.  They are short enough to consume in an afternoon or two and contain a perfect mixture of adventure, mystery and sex. With 20 books in the series, it’s a wonderful find.

I describe the television series as being “PBS with sex.” The description applies for the books as well. They are definitely geared for adults but could be enjoyed by teens as well.