Here’s the thing about the first fifty

We’re half way through July and I’m half way through this year’s book challenge. Time to talk books!

AUDIOBOOKS
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  • Milkweed by Jerry Spinelli
  • Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
  • Hope Was Here by Joan Bauer
  • The Thickety by J.A. White

Let’s start with audiobooks, since I only listened to four. I have been a fan of audiobooks since downloaded all the Harry Potter audiobooks onto my iPod in college. I like listening to an audiobook while on a long solo road trip (so pretty much anytime I’m in the States), when the power is out and internet is not an option, when I’m working on a puzzle, and when I’m working on school stuff (lesson plans, grading, etc.) For me audiobooks are entertaining background noise for when I’m doing something else. They are a way to consume another book while also getting somewhere or finishing something. I rent my audiobooks (and most of my ebooks) from Download Destination. They have a large selection and although it can be a little tough to listen to hours and hours of an audiobook in the two week rental period, Download Destination is free and easy. I have the app downloaded on my iPod so I can listen to my audiobooks anywhere. I choose audiobooks by browsing through the available selections. I’ve never set out to listen to a particular audiobook but, man alive, Download Destination has a HUGE library of audiobooks.

I really enjoyed Mlikweed because of the point of view. The narrator is a non-Jewish orphan who doesn’t really understand what is going on as people are forced into ghettos and boarded into cattle cars during World War II. The book starts with the boy waking up in the woods with no knowledge of who he is or where he came from. It’s a little unsatisfying that we never really find out his history but I appreciate that the reader sees, hears, smells, and experiences only what the narrator does – no more, no less.

Gilead is an old preacher’s letter to his son. It was long and kind of boring. I fell asleep a few times listening to that one.

Hope Was Here was a nice story about a girl named Hope who ends up very involved in her aunt’s new business partner’s political endevors after a cross country move. There is a very long list of children’s books I would recommend before this one, but it wasn’t bad. Same with The Thickety. It was interesting – certainly an interesting idea to have this community/cult that follows a made up religion called The Path who believe it is their duty to convince the rest of the world that magic does in fact exist and that it is in fact evil – but this book took a long time to get anywhere and there are some questions I have about the magic. I listened to the first book in this series but I have no plans to continue.

NONFICTION
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  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott
  • Yes Please by Amy Poehler
  • Torn by Jusin Lee
  • The Christianese Dating Culture by JS Park
  • Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker
  • Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey
  • Fat Girl Walking by Brittany Gibbons
  • You Deserve a Drink by Mamrie Hart
  • Forgotten God by Francis Chan
  • Truth and Beauty by Ann Patchett

So far this year I think I’ve read more nonfiction than in all my previous years combined. Most of these fall into one of two categories: Jesus books and funny memoirs. (Check out the covers above. The Jesus books are all yellow and gray. Weird.) I wish I could say that the Jesus books really knocked me off my feet but the funny memoirs have hands down been more memorable for me this year. I was very pleasantly surprised by Brittany Gibbons and Mamrie Hart’s books as Brittany is a blogger and Mamrie is a YouTuber. Both of their books were well organized, concise, and hilarious. I highly recommend both. I also recommend Brittany’s blog. She did not take the easy way out and put a bunch of blog posts together and call it a book (I’m looking at you, Glennon), so you can read the book and then still enjoy the blog. Mamrie’s YouTube channel is also a great place to be on the internet. Her YDAD videos where she teaches you how to make different cocktails are entertaining and I don’t even drink. That girl is just plain punny. (She loves puns.)

Sarah Bessey and JS Park are both bloggers I’d followed for a while before buying their books and unfortunately their books for me were kind of let downs. Both books have titles that reach out and grab you (one of Park’s other books is called What the Church Won’t Talk About) but then nothing I read in either of their books was something brand new and worldview-challenging that I hadn’t heard before. Maybe it’s because I read both of their blogs fairly regularly but Jesus Feminist and The Christianese Dating Culture both felt like the same two or three blog posts repeated for a hundred or so pages. I’m definitely still enjoying Sarah’s blog, but JS Park’s blog has become a rotation of book promotions. He has some words of wisdom, some things that have stuck with me and changed my way of thinking about people, but when you’re putting out three books a year there’s bound to be some repitition. My advice if you’re going the way of JS Park is just to pick one book of his. Read one and you’ll have read them all. Maybe just check out his Tumblr.

Interrupted by Jen Hatmaker was the best Jesus book I’ve read in a long time, possibly ever (except the Bible of course). She is funny and raw and true and vulnerable and challenging. In a year where I’ve had a lot of questions about the modern American church, Jen’s book came as a very timely answer. I’ve also enjoyed following her on Facebook. She’s got a lot of good things to say and I appreciate that even after writing books about Jesus and the Bible for years she is still asking questions, searching for ways to do this following-Jesus-thing better.

Bird by Bird and Truth and Beauty are memoirs of sorts but they both also inspire me as a writer. I love love love them both and feel like a better woman and a truer artist having read them. I loved Bird by Bird so much that after reading the ebook I ordered a used paperback from Amazon. Anne Lamott is another one I really enjoying following on Facebook. Her status updates are more like blog posts – challenging and encouraging stories that remind us we all need each other. I’ll never forget reading Anne’s advice on self-love. She recommends we care for ourselves as we would a newborn baby by taking naps and eating well and often. That’s just the tip of the Lamott iceberg of wisdom.

SERIES
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  • The Ender Quintet by Orson Scott Card
  • Miss Peregrine’s Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs
  • Twilight series by Stephanie Meyer
  • MaddAddam series by Margaret Atwood
  • A Series of Unfortunate Events books 2 & 3 by Lemony Snicket

Someone recently did a Would You Rather book version and one of the questions was, “Would you rather read only stand alone books or only series?” After the amazing series (what is the plural of series?) I’ve read this year, I would definitely said that if I had to choose I would choose to, for the rest of my life, read series. Series give the author a chance to go deeper with characterization, go wider with plot, and broader with world building. I love reading a series and knowing that within those three, four, five, or whatever books I can find anything there is to know about this world. I suppose I should mention I prefer series that feature made up worlds of magic and technology not-yet-developed.

The books in The Ender Quintet and the MaddAddam series were some of the best I’ve read. They are just really well done with a lot of information and consistency. I really enjoy how fiction, especially fantastical and science fiction, can make me look at reality in new ways. Both of these series did that for me. Through The Ender Quintet OSC explores intercultural relationships and our basic definitions of humanity. He explores familial, community, and romantic relationships. We see many different worlds, cultures, and people groups. Some are power hungry, some are steeped in tradition and spirtuality, and some are focused on expanding the mind. Margarat Atwood makes similar explorations in her MaddAddam series. It’s like YA dystopian future for grown ups and I loved every minute of it. I love how book one starts in the thick of things, after stuff has already gone down, and from there we get to learn more and more about what the world has come to.

I read the Twilight series purely for academic reasons and to be able to say with confidence and surety that they really aren’t good books and there are much better things for the world’s readers to be spending time on. Miss Peregrine was fun. I definitely preferred the first book, though, and the second was a little too contrived – a little too shaped by the photographs (Ransom Riggs collects old photographs and incorporates some of his collection in the novels). A Series of Unfortunate Events is always fun. I like them for reading out loud or for younger readers.

Last week I read Cinder by Marissa Meyer which is the first book in The Lunar Chronicles and I’m really looking forward to reading the rest of that series. Apparently so is the rest of the world, unfortunately. I was on the Download Destination waiting list for months waiting for Cinder and I lacked the foresight to also put on hold the rest of the series, so now I’m waiting. I have read a few other firsts in a series but these are the only series of which I read more than one book. The other ones obviously didn’t catch my interest enough to send me searching for the next installment.

LEAST FAVORITES
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  • Portals of Water and Wine by RL Haas
  • Akarnae by Lynette Noni
  • A Matter of Fate by Heather Lyons

All of these were based on such good ideas but were, in my opinion, poorly executed. I just have way too many questions about these worlds we’re supposed to be in. A lot of people praised Akarnae as a combination of Narnia, Harry Potter, and X Men but I thought it was just an HP rip off. It’s about a girl who finds out she’s special just in time to attend a school for kids like her where she instantly meets and becomes best friends with two guys who, like literally every other character in this book, are described as totally gorgeous. The girl and her guy pals go on disconnected adventures and I don’t remember how it ends. There’s more where that came from, as this is the first in a series, but I’m not interested.

Portals of Water and Wine was almost painful. So cheesy and predictable. Another “girl finds out about secret world” thing. This one had some time-and-space consistency issues. Have we been in this magical forest for two days or two weeks? Weren’t we just in the kitchen? How did we get here and when?

A Matter of Fate was the worst, though. A teenage girl manages to fall in love with twin brothers who are totally cool with it. It’s got a Percy Jackson vibe, which would’ve been cool without all of the stupid romance stuff. There is no reason why the main character wouldn’t have talked to the brother of her childhood first before falling in love with the other brother. I don’t buy it on any plane. Too many YA books have everyone tripping over themselves to do whatever they can for the main character girl who is always selfish and immature and helpless. It’s not real life and it’s embarrassing that these are the characters women are writing. This one was also part of a series I will not be reading anymore of.

WORTH MENTIONING

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  • Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters by Ben H. Winters and Jane Austen
  • The Bees by Laline Paull
  • Salvage by Alexandra Duncan
  • The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket by John Boyne
  • Under the Dome by Stephen King
  • A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters is worth mentioning because it’s Jane Austen but with sea monsters. It’s creative and fun with all the romance of our girl Jane. There are other books like this, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies for example, that I wouldn’t mind trying in the future. This is a good one for readers who enjoy both classics and also fantasy/sci fi stuff.

The Bees is worth mentioning because it is told from the viewpoint of a bee named Flora. I loved the name Flora. The first few scenes had me confused and wondering why the author didn’t just have Flora start off in the nursery since the fact that she came from the lower class didn’t have much to do with her story, but after a rocky start I really got into it. It wouldn’t make a top ten list of mine but this book is definitely memorable in that it is the only book I’ve ever read told from the viewpoint of a bee. I liked the way the boy bees were portrayed. It was pokey-funny towards males in a way most stories aren’t.

Salvage is more than just another YA dystopian future. It’s got spaceship cults and strong women and is set in space, the Caribbean, and Mumbai. Loved it. The second book in this series comes out this September.

The Terrible Thing that Happened to Barnaby Brocket is everything good about children’s literature. The main character, Barnaby, is a boy who floats. One day he floats away from his hometown of Sydney and has some interesting adventures while traveling around the world and back home. Everyone he meets is “different” or “abnormal” just like him, but as we learn from each new friend of Barnaby’s, there is no such thing as normal. I would love to read this one to or with children one day.

Under the Dome was my first Stephen King novel! I watched the first couple of seasons of the show and just wanted more time with the characters. Unfortunately, the show is only loosely based on the novel and I didn’t find my beloved characters in there. The book was still a good read though. Much darker than the show with a lot of death and even some (hinted at) necrophilia. Blegh.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn is worth mentioning because historical fiction is my jam and because Betty Smith is a great story teller. It’s just good stories of a girl growing up in Brooklyn. Just like the one tree behind her apartment building, Francie finds that even she can grow in Brooklyn.

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I am currently half way through Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell with Eleanor and Park on deck. I long ago started Anna Karenina and will finish it eventually. I recently inherited the Harry Potter series in Spanish and have started in on libro dos as well. I generally read one book at a time but Anna Karenina is just so long and Harry Potter is just so familiar so I’m mixing it up. This year I also took to reading a nonfiction and a fiction at the same time which I enjoyed. In addition to Rainbow Rowell books I picked up Mexican Whiteboy by Matt de la Pena at the library and a few fun ones at the thrift store (Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingslover, Peter and the Starcatcher by Dave Barry and Ridley Pearson, and by Therese Anne Fowler). All of these real books can keep me off my Kindle for at least a week!

Don’t forget to check the Book Challenge page for links to free pdfs of some of the books mentioned here. For some quotes from some of these books (and so many more!) check out Words, Wisdom, etc.

What have you been reading lately? What books do you consider worth mentioning?

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3 thoughts on “Here’s the thing about the first fifty

    1. Thank you! I try to mix it up and keep it diverse. I also just want to read as many books as possible! It’s not the worst way to spend my twenties, right? 😛

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