Category Archives: Movies & Books

illustrated children’s books

I have always appreciated a beautifully illustrated full-length children’s book.  I’m not talking about a few color plates here and there, but say, at least half the pages illustrated.  Here are a few we own:

  1. Heidi – one of my personal favorites
  2. Little Women – I actually don’t love this one, but many people do
  3. The Secret Garden – stunning illustrations and of course, a beautiful story
  4. Harry Potter Sorcerer’s Stone – We received this one as a gift, and I think Bri has read it a dozen times.  I just discovered the first five books are all available in this format and purchased the second one.
  5. The Golden Compass – We loved listening to the audiobook together, and Bri seems to have enjoyed reading the illustrated version as well.

Does anyone else have any recommendations for illustrated children’s books?

The year in review: books

I read 77 books this year, about 25 fewer than last year.  My average rating on Goodreads was 3.4, lower than last year’s 3.6.  Was it a great year for reading?  Not really.  But it was a good year.  There were some diamonds in the rough.

The best – 5 star books (according to me):

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

“I loved the characters. I loved the flow of the story. And I particularly loved how the author first presents America through the eyes of a Nigerian, then turns around and presents Nigeria through the eyes of someone who is kind of American but also still kind of Nigerian.  Among other things, it made me want to hop on a plane and go visit Lagos.”

26 Marathons: What I’ve Learned About Faith, Identity, Running, and Life From Each Marathon I’ve Run by Meb Keflezighi

“If you enjoy running books, this is a must-read. I’ve read dozens of running books at this point, but this one is one of the exceptional few that really resonate. I read Meb’s last book, Meb for Mortals, and it was good, but not great. This one is great. Meb’s outlook on running and life is just so worthy of emulation. His great attitude, hard work over not just years but decades, and just wonderful personality make him a person to admire. I was so inspired reading about the marathons of his career. His record is really incredible – NY, Boston, bronze and fourth at the Olympics. This is especially incredible considering that he wasn’t really *that* fast compared to the Bekeles and Kipchoges of the world. But he kept showing up and raced strategically, and it paid off for him.”

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande

“I honestly believe this book will be lifechanging for me. It is so full of clarity on some of the most difficult points of life – how to age and how to die. It’s almost impossible to consider how to live when you cannot care for yourself – or how to help your most loved ones in that situation. After reading Gawande’s book, I feel much more equipped to handle that eventuality, both for myself and others. Then, the hardest question of all, perhaps, how to die. It’s an unacceptable truth that we all die, or made acceptable only with an unshakeable belief in God and Heaven. Either way, how to manage the last months, weeks and days? Again, I feel better having read this.”

Do Not Say We Have Nothing by Madeleine Thien

“Fantastic read with a lot of relevance both in the United States and also with regard to our relationship with China. I loved the characters in this historical fiction and learning a bit more about Tiananmen Square and the Cultural Revolution.”

5 star books for kids:

The Endless Steppe by Esther Hautzig

“Esther Hautzig’s family’s life was saved by being deported from Poland in cattle cars to Siberia. Their family, left behind in Poland, were all murdered by the Nazis. This is the fascinating story of Esther’s five years in Siberia as a deportee trying not to starve but also chasing boys and courting her teachers’ approval. The book does not shy from the truth of death but is never sordid and doesn’t dwell on the gruesome. For me, it’s just the right level for a child of 10 or so.”

Esperanza Rising by Pam Munoz

Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Alcevedo

“This was one of the better young adult books I’ve read. It’s theoretically written in poetry; I felt like prose to me, but either way, the writing is beautiful. I listened to the audiobook, and the two narrators were excellent.”

Racso and the Rats of NIMH by Jane Conly

“I loved this as a kid, and now my kids, especially my third grader, love it as well. I think it’s actually much better than Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of Nimh, though that one is good as well.”

4 star books – all worth reading

My favorites from this list, the ones that stick out in my mind as I review the list of not-quite-fives at the end of the year, are all in bold.

  • Better by Atul Gawande
  • Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty
  • Born a Crime by Trevor Noah
  • Spill Simmer Falter Wither by Sara Baume
  • The End of October by Lawrence Wright
  • Actress by Anne Enright
  • The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis
  • Banner in the Sky by James Ramsey Ullman
  • What She Knew by Gilly Macmillan
  • The Wheel on the School by Meindert DeJong (for kids)
  • Complications by Atul Gawande
  • One by One by Ruth Ware
  • The Ultimate Bicycle Owner’s Manual by Eben Weiss
  • The New Wilderness by Diane Cook
  • The Comeback by Daniel de Vise
  • Genome by Matt Ridley
  • Out of Thin Air by Michael Crawley
  • Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi
  • The Glass Hotel by Emily St. John Mandel
  • Ghosts of the Tsunami by Richard Lloyd Parry
  • A Children’s Bible by Lydia Millet
  • Running Home by Katie Arnold
  • Pale Horse, Pale Rider by Katherine Anne Porter
  • Bravey by Alexi Pappas
  • The Great Brain by John D. Fitzgerald
  • Running for My Life by Lopez Lomong

What was your best read this year?  Or just a book that jumps in your mind when you think about good reads of 2021?

Best books of the last 125 years – my list

See the previous entry for the New York Times list.  In no particular order (fiction only):

  • The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
  • The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
  • Empire Falls by Richard Russo
  • Goodnight Mr. Tom by Michelle Magorian
  • Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • Plainsong by Kent Haruf
  • Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
  • Heidi by Johanna Sypri
  • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
  • Atonement by Ian McEwan
  • Life of Pi by Yann Martel
  • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
  • The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
  • Suite Francaise by Irene Nerimovsky
  • Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone by JK Rowling
  • We Are All Completely Beside Oursevles by Karen Joy Fowler
  • Euphoria by Lily King
  • Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Of these, my top few would be:

  • The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell
  • Atonement by Ian McEwan
  • The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood
  • Euphoria by Lily King

And if I had to pick just one, I think I’d go for Cloud Atlas.  So there you have it – the best fiction book of the last 125 years.

What are your picks?

Best book of the last 125 years

The New York Times has a “vote for the best book of the last 125 years” feature.  Their nominated books, alongside my Goodreads rating and any thoughts I had on them, are listed below:

  1. 1984 – Have not read
  2. All the Light We Cannot See – 4 stars – no comments, sadly.  But I remember thinking it was good but definitely not great.  A little too on point, if that makes sense.
  3. Beloved – 4 stars – “I think this must be the type of book you have to read twice to really understand. The writing is beautiful, but the book is depressing from end to end – and confusing from end to end. It reminds me a little bit of the God of Small Things in writing style but without the waves of understanding at the end.”  Basically, probably it went over my head.  And also was very depressing.
  4. Catch-22 – Have not read
  5. The Catcher in the Rye – read in high school.  Liked but did not love, if memory serves.  Not transcendent in any case.
  6. Charlotte’s Web – 4/5 – An excellent children’s books, but there are better out there.  “I re-read this sweet little book for the first time since 2nd or 3rd grade. L seemed to enjoy it, though she’s not sure she liked it quite as much as the “Laura and Mary” books. I liked the way it dealt with heavy themes, like death, in an accessible way that wouldn’t, for the most part, frighten a small child. Reading it led to some good conversation about where our food, and bacon in particular, comes from. Mostly, though, it’s just a low-key, lovely read for a young child.”
  7. A Confederacy of Dunces – Have not read
  8. The Fellowship of the Ring – 4/5 – A great book, no doubt.  The best in the last 125 years?  No.  Slow to get going, lacking action, lacking strong female characters, etc.  But I look forward to re-reading it, and maybe reading it to my kids.
  9. A Fine Balance – Have not read
  10. A Gentleman in Moscow – Have not read
  11. Gone With the Wind – 3/5 – “It’s impossible to write about this book without writing about the racism. Most old books are racist, but this is a book about the Civil War and race, and that makes it different, and in my opinion, worse. I can’t even begin to enumerate the ways in which it’s offensive. As a result, though I loved many things about the book, I really can’t recommend it.GWTW is the first book I’ve read about the Civil War in ages. I’ve read novels that have touched on that war, but this book really centered on the war and of course, Reconstruction. It’s easy to forget in the modern age how incredibly devastating that war was to our country and especially to the South. What a tragedy! In any case, I enjoyed relearning something I’ve thought of very little since AP History class twenty years ago.

    Scarlett is a wonderful, tragic character. I find myself jaded in my old age, and I don’t enjoy rom coms and the like the way I used to. I find it harder to be stirred by romance in books and movies, but the romance of Scarlett and Rhett is one for the ages.”  – Best book?  Really?

  12. Grapes of Wrath – 5/5 – Now we’re getting somewhere.
  13. The Great Gatsby – Read it a long time ago.  I don’t remember it being particularly extraordinary.
  14. The Handmaid’s Tale – 4/5 – A bow to trendiness and today’s politics and while an excellent book, by no means Atwood’s best. The Blind Assassin, which won the Booker Prize, was far better.  I also preferred Cat’s Eye. “Re-reading it years later, it’s interesting to see how my perspective has changed. As a mother of young children, it is wrenching to read of her daughter being taken from her. Of course, this happens to women all over the world, but really, how utterly and completely unacceptable. Otherwise, the book spends a lot of time very slowly unwinding the details of the society in which “Offred” is trapped and how she got stuck in her current position. I found it a little lacking on forward action – everything has already happened until near the end.The book contained some elements well familiar to me from other Atwood novels, particularly her affair with Nick. It is very much like the romance from The Blind Assassin – a dangerous and ill-advisable affair, an inscrutable lover, the relationship seemingly being physical and sexual only and yet not, lack of conversation.”
  15. Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – 5/5 – Having read this aloud to my kids recently, I really do love this book.  Best of the last century?  Maybe best kid’s book.  Maaaybe.  Best book period?  Nah.
  16. Infinite Jest – haven’t read
  17. To Kill A Mockingbird – 5/5 – An excellent book no doubt.  I haven’t read it in decades, though.
  18. A Little Life – haven’t read
  19. Lolita – haven’t read.  And really?
  20. Lonesome Dove – haven’t read
  21. One Hundred Years of Solitude – haven’t read
  22. The Overstory – haven’t read
  23. A Prayer for Owen Meaney – haven’t read
  24. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn – not rated on Goodreads, but I loved it.  An excellent YA book.
  25. Ulysses – haven’t read, and probably not smart enough to understand it anyway.

Out of this list, I’d probably vote for the Grapes of Wrath.

Which is your favorite, or your favorites, off this list?  Vote here.  Excepting Ulysses and Lolita, I’m excited to take a crack at the ones I haven’t read.

2020: The Year in Books

Usually I wait until the end of the year to publish my “books of the year” post, but my Kindle is broken and Saoirse won’t let me listen to audiobooks in the car anymore, so I’d say I’m not likely to read more than one or two more books at most.  I’ll come back and edit if I finish something extraordinary.

(Thanks to Goodreads for the stats.)

  • Books read: 101
  • Pages read: 33,791
  • Most popular book: Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens –> “shelved” by 1.8 million people
  • Least popular book: Running Outside the Comfort Zone by Susan Lacke –> “shelved” by 528 people
  • Average rating: 3.6
  • Highest rated book (by Goodreaders): The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

5 Star Nonfiction:

  • Heart: A History by Sandeep Jauhar
    • “If you have read and enjoyed books like Gene and Emperor of Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee, you’ll love this. I never had any particular interest in how the heart works, but I found this pop science account of the heart’s function and the history of humans figuring out how it works absolutely fascinating. “
  • Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic by David Quammen
    • “I’ve been reading a lot of “epidemic” books lately, and this is my favorite thus far. Quammen is a stellar writer if you’re looking for a popular, non-academic but thoroughly researched take. I look forward to reading more by Quammen and also avoiding both bats and African spelunking for the res of my days.”
  • The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic-and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson
    • “The title is a bit hyperbolic, but overall I really enjoyed this book. I doubt I would have loved it so much if I’d read it during normal times, but now, as Corona rampages around the globe, it was highly informative and relevant to today’s times.”
  • The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee
    • “This is such a great book. Honestly, I just loved it. It’s half history and half science, and covers genetics from the days when ancient philosophers were speculating about how heredity works to Mendel, Darwin, Watson, all the way to the present. I particularly enjoyed hearing about Mendel’s pea plants, the development of artificial insulin, and the development of artificial clotting agent for hemophiliacs. The author refers to his own family’s troubled history of schizophrenia, and, unlike some other reviewers, I think it really adds to the story. I recommend this to everyone Honestly, it made me regret going into aerospace instead of genetics or microbiology.”
  • What’s Going On In There? How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life by Lise Eliot

5 Star Fiction

  • The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Dare
    • “Adunni is a young teen coming of age in modern-day Nigeria. Her story takes us through rural life and then to Lagos. She is a wonderful, highly likable character, and through her eyes, we see a slice of Nigeria today. Good plot, good characters, good story all in all.”
  • Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
    • “Everything I Never Told you is the story of a teenage girl’s death and forces and experiences that brought her to the lake where she drowned. It deals with themes of racism, isolation, parenting and living through one’s children and more.

      I loved this. I think a great novel is one that makes you reconsider what you know. Everything I Never Told You made me seriously examine my parenting. It also made me want to be a better person – a better parent, a better friend, more aware of people who might be lonely and need a kind word.”

  • All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
  • Circe by Madeline Miller
  • Milkman by Anna Burns
    • “It took me quite a while to get into this one – nearly a third of the book. Once I was finally hooked, though, I couldn’t put it down. The narrator is an 18-year-old living in Belfast in the late 1970s, that is, during the Troubles. If you’re interested in the Troubles, this is a must-read. The writing style takes a while to get used to, but it’s quite unique. And I enjoyed this unusual window into what life must have been like. Teenage girls just trying to live their lives aren’t usually the heroes of stories on this topic.”
  • Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
    • “Kya grows up an orphan in the swamps of the deep south. Her life is touched by some very good and bad people. Owens tracks the path of her life to a murder trial. The book is part mystery and part love story. Overall, an easy and enjoyable read.”

5 Star Kids Books

  • Anne of Green Gables by LM Montgomery
  • Brian’s Winter by Gary Paulsen
  • The War That Saved My Life Kimberly Brubaker Bradley
  • Heidi by Johanna Spyri
  • By The Shores of Silver Lake by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • Little House on the Prairie by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • Little House in the Big Woods by Laura Ingalls Wilder
  • Hatchet by Gary Paulsen

There are a few that didn’t rate five stars, but I still think are worth an honorable mention:

  • When We Were Worthy by Marybeth Mayhew Whalen – great fast-moving page turner
  • The Tangled Tree: A Radical New History of Life by David Quammen – on modern molecular biology
  • She Has Her Mother’s Laugh by Carl Zimmer – on heredity
  • Brian’s Winter by Gary Paulsen – sequel to Hatchet
  • Truly Madly Guilty by Liane Moriarty – I’m pretty much obsessed with Moriarty
  • A Walk in the Woods: Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail by Bill Bryson

If I had to pick my top five, in no particular order, I’d choose:

  • Spillover by David Quammen
  • The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee
  • The Girl With the Louding Voice by Abu Dare
  • Milkman by Anna Burns
  • The War That Saved My LIfe by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

I do think I was a bit more generous with the 5-star ratings this year, but it was a great year for reading.  I really enjoyed reading more pop science this year, and because of not working and S getting older, I had a lot more time for reading than in previous years.  My habit is to not use my laptop or phone in my bedroom at night, and to only read from my Kindle when it’s time for bed or when I’m up nursing S.  (She is still up twice a night, so that’s about 45 minutes of reading right there.)  It adds up.  I’m looking forward to next year and some more great books!

science books and notable books

I’ve really been enjoying reading a lot of science books lately.  I think since I’m not working, my brain is fresh, and at the end of the day, I enjoy diving into something moderately technical.  While I did some science reading while working, in general I was pretty sapped at the end of the day, and wanted to read something completely different.

If you’re looking for some great science books, my recent favorites are:

  • *Spillover / Quammen
  • The Body / Bryson
  • She Has Her Mother’s Laugh / Zimmer
  • *Heart: A History / Jauhar
  • *The Emperor of All Maladies / Mukhergee
  • *The Ghost Map / Johnson
  • The Hot Zone / Preston
  • *The Gene / Mukhergee
  • Sapiens / Harari
  • I Contain Multitudes / Yong

(Some of these are obviously more technical/science-y than others.  Books marked with * are my favorites.)

Anyone else have a science book to recommend?

The New York Times notable books just came out, and I have to say, I’m pretty disappointed with the selection of science books.  Here is the list:

  • BECOMING WILD: How Animal Cultures Raise Families, Create Beauty, and Achieve Peace
  • THE BOOK OF EELS: Our Enduring Fascination With the Most Mysterious Creature in the Natural World
  • THE END OF EVERYTHING (Astrophysically Speaking) By Katie Mack
  • HIDDEN VALLEY ROAD: Inside the Mind of an American Family By Robert Kolker (on schizophrenia)
  • OWLS OF THE EASTERN ICE: A Quest to Find and Save the World’s Largest Owl By Jonathan C. Slaght
  • THE SIRENS OF MARS: Searching for Life on Another World By Sarah Stewart Johnson
  • UNTIL THE END OF TIME: Mind, Matter, and Our Search for Meaning in an Evolving Universe By Brian Greene

So, out of 100 notable books, seven are on science – one on animals, one on eels, one on owls, two on how the world will end, one on the search for ET life, and one on schizophrenia.  While a couple look interesting, where are the books on viruses and bacteria and biology?  Am I the only one for whom COVID has made these topics particularly interesting this year?  Maybe other people just want to escape them.  I guess I feel if I could understand how diseases work a little better, perhaps it would give me a modicum of control.  That’s a fantasy, no doubt.

Books by POC – recommendations

Highly recommended books by Black authors:

  • Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adichie
  • A Long Way Gone by Ishmael Beah
  • Cutting For Stone by Abraham Verghese
  • Infidel by Ayaan Hirsi Ali
  • Swallows of Kabul by Yasmina Khadra
  • We Need New Names by NoViolet Bulawayo
  • Taking Flight by Michaela DePrince (for kids)
  • Meb for Mortals by Meb Keflezighi (if you’re a runner)
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama
  • Butterfly Burning by Yvonne Vera

Recommended books by Black authors:

  • Brother, I’m Dying by Edwidge Danticat
  • The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin
  • Girl, Woman, Other by Bernadine Evaristo
  • My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite
  • So Long a Letter by Mariama Ba

Highly recommended books by POC (not Black):

  • The Namesake by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
  • Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi
  • Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua
  • The Year of the Runaways by Sunjeev Sahota
  • Chemistry by Weike Wang
  • When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi
  • The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Recommended books by POC (not Black):

  • A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
  • Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Unaccustomed Earth by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • The Lowland by Jhumpa Lahiri
  • The Storyteller’s Daughter by Saira Shah
  • The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar
  • I Sweep The Sun Off Rooftops by Hanan Al-Shaykh
  • Wild Swans by Jung Chang
  • Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok
  • In the Shadow of the Banyan by Vaddey Ratner
  • House of the Winds by Mia Yun
  • A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki
  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
  • The Year of the Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen
  • I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong