Top Ten Tuesday: Ten Books I Read Because of Someone Else

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Happy Tuesday!  Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and the Bookish. This week we’re talking about books you have read that were recommended to you by someone else. My list is made up of books recommended to me mostly by other people in my book club, and blogs.

I decided to go with books that I have read in the last two years that were first recommended to me by someone else. You will notice this isn’t exactly a top ten list, but a mixed bag. I think it’s fun to sometimes talk about books that didn’t “wow” me. 

Guests on Earth by Lee Smith

It’s 1936 when orphaned thirteen-year-old Evalina Toussaint is admitted to Highland Hospital, a mental institution in Asheville, North Carolina, known for its innovative treatments for nervous disorders and addictions. Taken under the wing of the hospital’s most notable patient, Zelda Fitzgerald, Evalina witnesses cascading events that lead up to the tragic fire of 1948 that killed nine women in a locked ward, Zelda among them. Author Lee Smith has created, through a seamless blending of fiction and fact, a mesmerizing novel about a world apart–in which art and madness are luminously intertwined.

Recommended by: A friend of mine who works at Davidson College. We later went to hear the author speak on campus.

My rating: 3.5/5 stars. I would definitely read more by this North Carolinian author.

The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton

Set in seventeenth century Amsterdam—a city ruled by glittering wealth and oppressive religion—a masterful debut steeped in atmosphere and shimmering with mystery, in the tradition of Emma Donoghue, Sarah Waters, and Sarah Dunant.

Recommended by: My neighborhood book club.

My rating: 4/5 stars. I really enjoyed this one, even though quite a few of my fellow book club members didn’t.

A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Kell is one of the last Antari, a rare magician who can travel between parallel worlds: hopping from Grey London — dirty, boring, lacking magic, and ruled by mad King George — to Red London — where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire — to White London — ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne, where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back — and back, but never Black London, because traveling to Black London is forbidden and no one speaks of it now.

First of all, I just have to say, holy batman run-on sentence! I just noticed that now. It’s a good thing the book was much better written than the blurb!

Recommended by: Many bloggers, but I first saw it reviewed by Cait at Paper Fury (via Goodreads) and Carina at Carina’s Books.

My rating: 4/5 stars. My review is here.

Isle of Palms by Dorothea Benton Frank

Anna Lutz Abbot considers herself independent and happy, until one steamy summer when she must find a way to deal with the secrets of her unpredictable family-and her past.

Oh, my beloved Lowcountry, which has taken quite a beating from Hurricane Matthew. I read this book on the beach this past summer at Hilton Head Island visiting my parents. They have been staying at our house in Charlotte since they had to evacuate last week, and haven’t been allowed back on the island yet. We don’t know how severely their home has been damaged.

Recommended by: My mom.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

The House Girl by Tara Conklin

Virginia, 1852. Seventeen-year-old Josephine Bell decides to run from the failing tobacco farm where she is a slave and nurse to her ailing mistress, the aspiring artist Lu Anne Bell. New York City, 2004. Lina Sparrow, an ambitious first-year associate in an elite law firm, is given a difficult, highly sensitive assignment that could make her career: she must find the “perfect plaintiff” to lead a historic class-action lawsuit worth trillions of dollars in reparations for descendants of American slaves.

Recommended by: Book club.

My rating: 3/5 stars. Probably on the lower end of 3 stars. It was okay.

Cataloochee by Wayne Caldwell

Against the breathtaking backdrop of Appalachia comes a rich, multilayered post—Civil War saga of three generations of families–their dreams, their downfalls, and their faith. Cataloochee is a slice of southern Americana told in the classic tradition of Flannery O’Connor and William Faulkner.

Recommended by: A friend.

My Rating: 4/5 stars. This was a surprise gem! I read it while we were vacationing in a cabin in the Smoky Mountains last summer, which made it even better to be immersed in the setting.

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff

Every story has two sides. Every relationship has two perspectives. And sometimes, it turns out, the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets. At the core of this rich, expansive, layered novel, Lauren Groff presents the story of one such marriage over the course of twenty-four years.

Recommended by: Book Club.

My Rating: 3/5 stars. I was a bit disappointed in this book, I was expecting to like it more than I did.

Euphoria by Lily King

Inspired by events in the life of revolutionary anthropologist Margaret Mead, Euphoria is the story of three young, gifted anthropologists of the 1930s caught in a passionate love triangle that threatens their bonds, their careers, and, ultimately, their lives.

Recommended by: A friend who knew I studied cultural anthropology in college.

My Rating: 3/5 stars. It was okay. Another one low on the 3-star spectrum.

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty

Big Little Lies is a brilliant take on ex-husbands and second wives, mothers and daughters, schoolyard scandal, and the dangerous little lies we tell ourselves just to survive.

Recommended by: Book Club.

My Rating: 3/5 stars. I really enjoyed the second half. Liane Moriarty books are usually a delight to read!

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Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

A powerful true story about the potential for mercy to redeem us, and a clarion call to fix our broken system of justice—from one of the most brilliant and influential lawyers of our time. 

Bryan Stevenson was a young lawyer when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending those most desperate and in need: the poor, the wrongly condemned, and women and children trapped in the farthest reaches of our criminal justice system. One of his first cases was that of Walter McMillian, a young man who was sentenced to die for a notorious murder he insisted he didn’t commit. The case drew Stevenson into a tangle of conspiracy, political machination, and legal brinksmanship—and transformed his understanding of mercy and justice forever.

Recommended by: A friend from the local social justice advocacy group that I belong to.

My Rating: 5/5 stars. Excellent. I learned a lot of new things about the capital punishment system in America, particularly how it has been applied over the last few decades in the South.

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WWW Wednesday – 28 September 2016

 

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Welcome to this week’s WWW Wednesday post, a meme hosted by Sam over at Taking on a World of Words. Don’t forget to go take a look at what everyone else is reading! You can post your own WWW in the comment thread here.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?

What did you recently finish reading?

What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently Reading:

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A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab – I sped through ADSoM, but the beginning of AGoS has slowed me down somewhat. I love tough, badass Lila, but the story of how she spent the four months since the end of ADoM has not been holding my attention as her solo parts in the last book. The coup on the pirate ship was fantastic, but now the storytelling is dragging just a bit. And Rhy at the beginning of this book is incredibly annoying. What has gotten in to him? I hope there is an explanation for his weird behavior later in the book.

Just Finished:

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A Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab – I am working on writing the review today, and will be posting it tomorrow!

Up Next:

Wherever There is Light by Peter Golden – I may have to put AGoS on hold to read this one in time for my book club next week.

Little Girls Can Be Mean by Michelle Anthony – Yes, little girls can be mean. My daughter stands out a bit in the Bible Belt for not being Christian, and she has already had a few kids say some not so nice things to her about that. We are working with her on formulating the a way to respond to mean behavior in general (not necessarily just bullying) in the elementary years, and I am hoping this book has some helpful advice.

What are you reading this week?

WWW Wednesday – 14 September 2016

WWW is a weekly meme hosted by Sam over at Taking On a World of Words. You can join in by commenting on Sam’s post, and answering three questions.

Currently Reading:

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Roots: The Saga of an American Family by Alex HaleyI don’t have as much time to read this week as I would like, and so far, I have only made it to page 140. Roots is a story spanning generations about a man – and his descendents – who is captured in 18th century Gambia and sold into slavery in the American colonies. I am 9 pages away from the moment where he is kidnapped; Kunta Kinte is currently a young Mandinka man enjoying life in his village. I hate what is to come for him.

Just finished:

 

Sailor Moon, Volume 1 by Naoko Takeuchi – My daughter is reading these as well. Good, cheesy fun.

The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness – You can find my review here.

What’s Next:

 

A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows by V.E. Schwab – I’ve heard that books published under Victoria Schwab are YA, and book published under V.E. Schwab are adult, so I am curious what sets these apart from her YA work and makes them adult fantasy fiction.

What is coming up next on your reading list? 

Book Review: The New Jim Crow by Michelle Alexander

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The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindess by Michelle Alexander (Revised edition)

For the past 6 weeks, I have been participating in a series of facilitated community discussions in Charlotte, North Carolina, about the book The New Jim Crow. To say it was an enlightening experience would be an understatement.

I have spent quite a bit of time studying the issue of race in America. I also grew up in the suburbs during the foundation and escalation of the War on Drugs. The infamous commercial, This is your brain on drugs, will forever be etched into my memory.

I have always been strongly against capital punishment, and its disproportionate use amongst people of color. I also believe that the increasingly privatized prison system in America targets people of color at alarmingly high rates, which is one of the reasons why I was motivated to pick up this book. In The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander provides an unparalleled look into the system of mass incarceration, and how our entire criminal justice system has been turned into a new racial caste system that manages to flourish in an era of colorblindness, primarily enacted through the War on Drugs.

The New Jim Crow is provocative. It is gut-wrenching. It is intelligent. It is at times deeply uncomfortable. It challenges you to break your silence on the topic. It is also extremely well-researched, filled with pages and pages of endnotes. It is a book that I believe all Americans should read and discuss with each other.

“The genius of the current caste system, and what most distinguishes it from its predecessors, is that it appears voluntary. People choose to commit crimes, and that’s why they are locked up or locked out, we are told. This feature makes the politics of responsibility particularly tempting, as it appears the system can be avoided with good behavior. But herein lies the trap. All people make mistakes. All of us are sinners. All of us are criminals. All of us violate the law at some point in our lives. In fact, if the worst thing you have ever done is speed ten miles over the speed limit on the freeway, you have put yourself and others at more risk of harm than someone smoking marijuana in the privacy of his or her living room. Yet there are people in the United States serving life sentences for first-time drug offenses, something virtually unheard of anywhere else in the world.” (p.215)

“Seeing race is not the problem. Refusing to care for the people we see is the problem. The fact that the meaning of race may evolve over time or lose much of its significance is hardly a reason to be struck blind. We should hope not for a colorblind society but instead for a world in which we can see each other fully, learn from each other, adn do what we can to respond to each other with love. That was King’s dream–a society that is capable of seeing each of us, as we are, with love. That is a goal worth fighting for.” (p.244)

Rating: 4.5/5 stars

WWW Wednesday – 7 September 2016

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WWW is a weekly meme hosted by Sam over at Taking On a World of Words. You can join in by commenting on Sam’s post, and answering three questions.

Currently Reading:

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Flora & Ulysses by Kate DiCamillo

Holy Bagumba, this book is fantastic! Kate DiCamillo is one of the many authors who will be at this weekend’s Festival of Books and Authors, hosted by the non-profit Bookmarks organization in Winston-Salem, North Carolina this weekend. We are going to the festival, and the whole family is so excited to meet her! We hadn’t read Flora & Ulysses yet, so I picked it up on Amazon last week to read ahead of the festival. We will definitely be stopping by the Booksigning tent to get her books signed! We will likely also purchase a copy of her newest release, Raymie Nightingale, at the festival.

I am about 2/3 of the way through, and it is definitely jumping up to the top of my list of favorite Kate DiCamillo books.

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The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander. Still plugging away at The New Jim Crow, but I hope to finish it up in the next day or so.

Just finished:

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Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier – I enjoyed it, but didn’t love it. I probably won’t review this one, but would give it 3.5/5 stars. Might be the case of a book not living up to the high expectations I had set for it.

Reading Next:

Well, last week’s What am I reading next thoughts turned out to be completely inaccurate, lol. Here’s this week’s guess.

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Roots: The Saga of An American Family by Alex Haley – I participate in the TBR Challenge over on Librarything, and this is one of the books on my list (Rebecca was on the list as well). I have only read 12 of the 24 books on my challenge list; I really need to get back to it!

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Sailor Moon, Vol. 1 by Naoko Takeuchi – Back on my list again this week. I like to balance intense books (i.e. Roots)  with purely fun reads.

WWW Wednesday – 31 August 2016

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WWW is a weekly meme hosted by Sam over at Taking On a World of Words. You can join in by commenting on Sam’s post, and answering three questions.

What are you currently reading?

I am currently reading two books, that couldn’t be more different from each other.

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Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier – “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” Who doesn’t know that line? Rebecca has been languishing on my TBR shelf for years and years. I am only about 25 pages in, and I love the atmosphere that Daphne du Maurier creates, right from the very beginning. I already have a chill of anticipation as to what is to come.

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The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander – Hands down, this is one of the most important nonfiction books that I have read this year. With only one chapter remaining, it has been a slow, thought-provoking book that I have read as part of a local discussion series called Educate to Engage, a group that has also created the hashtag #NoMoreBystanding. Michelle has constructed a thorough, convincing, passionate account of how the American criminal justice system, triggered by the creation and design of the War on Drugs, has become an institution of oppression towards African-Americans and people of color. The book is filled with detailed facts, arguments and studies to back up the basic premise. It is not an easy read, but it has helped give me the words to talk about a subject that has always been deeply unsettling to me.

What have you recently finished?

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Winter by Marissa Meyer – I loved this book! I thought it was the best one of the whole series. When I started Lunar Chronicles, I enjoyed the first book, Cinder, but didn’t love it. Here, at the end of the series, all of the characters have captured my heart. I didn’t want it to end. Marissa Meyer created a fascinating world with captivating people, it was such a fun read.

What are you reading next?

It’s a toss-up between two books:

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Brooklyn by Colm Tóibín – This is the Sepember selection for my book club, but I am not sure if I will be able to get to it in time for our meeting. I am not extremely motivated to read it right now, especially since the reviews I have heard are only average.

Sailor Moon Vol. 1 by Naoko Takeuchi – My daughter is beginning to express an interest in Sailor Moon manga, so I thought it would be a great time to re-read these books! This will probably be what I pick up next.