Books I read in March and April

April was a busy month, so by the time I realized I hadn’t yet done a post about the books I read in March, I figured I might as well wait until May and do both months together. I still found time to read several books, though, partly because it’s my favorite way to relax, and partly because I spend at least ten hours a week in the car, listening to audiobooks.

Books I read for the 2018 Reading Challenge

March

Dust Bowl Girls by Lydia Reeder – this was the book I chose for a book about or involving a sport. I don’t get much interested in sports, but the story of a girls basketball team during the Depression was pretty interesting, since it was mostly about the girls and their coach, rather than about basketball. I had not realized how big sports for girls were that long before Title IX, nor imagined that there had been professional women’s basketball teams back then. It was especially interesting to learn about the conflict between those who wanted to give girls a chance to play competitively, and those who thought competition was unhealthy for females.

Gods and Generals by Jeff Shaara – Finding a book made into a movie you’ve already seen was a difficult category because I read a lot of books but watch few movies. When there is a movie I want to see that has been made from a book, I try to read the book first. And in those cases where I have liked a movie and discover it was made from a book, I generally go ahead and read the book. Fortunately this blog has posts I have written about a number of movies I have watched over the past several years, and one turned out to have been made from a book I had not read. The book was very interesting reading, though I have to admit to finding it sometimes tedious with the details of the battles, especially as the diagrams provided were not enough to be able to visualize the maneuvers being described. Getting a looking into men’s attitudes and motivations, on both sides of the war, was the most interesting aspect.

The Scent of Rain and Lightning by Nancy Pickard – this was my choice for a book with a weather element in the title. There were a lot of characters to keep track of, though after a while I managed to keep at least the main characters straight. It is a well-told mystery, bringing to life the problems and concerns of small-town life. Some readers indicate they knew early on who the killer was, but it was a surprise to me.

Armed in America by Patrick Charles – I came across this book just a few days after the shooting in Parkland, so it made a good pick for a book about a problem facing society today. Charles presents himself as an objective observer, presenting historical facts and references without taking sides. I think he does this better in the earlier sections, which deal with earlier history, while in the parts that deal with how gun control has been seen/dealt with during our lifetimes, he either does not attempt to present both sides objectively or tries but fails. I learned a lot from the book, though, in terms of the history up through the early part of the twentieth century.

April

A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler – this worked in terms of fitting the category of a book with your favorite color in the title, but it didn’t work for me as a satisfying novel. There were interesting stories within the novel, but I couldn’t figure out where the overall story was going, and after a while concluded that it wasn’t.

A Symphony of Echoes by Jodi Taylor – this was an easy choice for the next book in a series you started (though I could also have used the second book in Riordan’s Trials of Apollo series). I enjoyed this almost as much as the first book in the series, and the “almost” is probably just because it lacked the feeling of novelty (“what a great new series!”) that I had with the first one. It’s just too bad the library doesn’t have any more in the series, and this was the only one I found for a bargain price on amazon.com.

The Book of the Dead by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child – I had several choices for a book by two authors, and I think this was a good choice. It turns out it wasn’t the first book in the series (I picked it up at the library in somewhat of a hurry), so I’ll have to decide whether to go back and read what came before, already knowing what comes after.

She Walks These Hills by Sharyn McCrumb – I had been having trouble finding a book with song lyrics in the title, but a librarian at the college suggested I read something by Sharyn McCrumb. I had expected the book to have some connection with the song lyrics (beyond the four words in the title), which it did not. But it was a fascinating look at life and history in a part of the country I am not familiar with, an interesting mystery, and had the added bonus of dealing with hiking, which I have always enjoyed.

Other books I read, not for the reading challenge

Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely – this was interesting, particularly some of the examples he provides of the irrational ways we often make our decisions. I can’t say I learned much new from it, but it’s always good to be reminded of the ways we allow ourselves to be fooled by certain mental habits, which of course people seeking to influence us take advantage of. I disagree, however, with the author’s conclusion that since we tend to make bad decisions, we need more government regulations to protect us from ourselves, as the regulators are just as subject to irrational thought/behavior as anyone else.

Heads in Beds by Jacob Tomsky – I read this for the book club at the library, and all of us agreed that while some of it is pretty interesting, the author did not need to use so much foul language. We also agreed that we can’t afford to stay in the kind of luxury hotels where he worked.

The Hidden Oracle by Rick Riordan – I like anything by Rick Riordan, and telling a story from the point of view of the god Apollo turned into a mortal teenager gives a new perspective on Riordan’s world of gods and demigods in modern North America. Lots of humor, lots of adventure, and the god-turned-teenager is a very interesting character.

Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes by Kenneth Bailey – I always appreciate a book that can help me understand the Bible better. Kenneth Bailey lived in the Middle East for four decades and is able to provide insights into traditional ways of thinking and speaking in the Middle East, that illuminate certain passages in the Gospels that Westerners tend to (mis)interpret through their own cultural lenses. I first heard of Bailey from a pastor who had read some of Bailey’s articles and incorporated some of the information in his sermons, and I was happy to be able to read a whole book by Bailey.

The Stranger by Albert Camus – I read this book, which took me only a few hours, because my son was reading it for an AP English class. He didn’t like the main character, and I told him I was pretty sure he wasn’t supposed to. I don’t know that I can say I enjoyed reading it, exactly, but it was a surprisingly engaging read, all things considered.

 

Political Suicide by Michael Palmer – this was the first Lew Welcome book I have listened to, and it kept my interest well enough to log a good many miles on the exercise bike and elliptical machine (and a few on the rowing machine), but I don’t know that’s I’ll try another. Since it’s part of a series I figured Welcome would survive the stupid risks he took, but it still annoyed me.

The Sisters by Nancy Jensen – this was for the book club at the library. It was an interesting premise for the book, and portrayed a variety of the ways in which people often mess up relationships and lives, both their own and others’. Real life, however, has a bit more positive mixed in with the negative, I think.

 

Difficult Conversations: How to Discuss What Matters Most by Bruce Patton, Douglas Stone, and Sheila Heen – this was a book my husband was reading, so I read it so we could discuss it together. The authors make a lot of very good points and recommendations, though managing to remember and use these insights in conversations is the challenge. (And I couldn’t help thinking how many characters in books I have been reading could have benefited from the wisdom presented in this book.)

House of Names by Colm Tóibín – I liked Greek mythology as a child, so it was interesting to read a book based on some of those stories. They weren’t stories I knew well, though – books for children don’t generally include human sacrifice, mariticide (had to look up the word for that one) or matricide. Somewhere I had read of Clytemnestra (probably in 9th grade English) and found the story repellent, so the first part of this book was interesting as it told the story from her point of view. The rest was interesting but not in the same way.

Addicted to Reform: A Twelve-Step Program to Rescue Public Education by John Merrow – I’ve always had an interest in education, first as a student, then as a teacher, then as a parent (and now the parent of a teacher), and now working at a community college. So a book on fixing the problems with our educational system naturally caught my interest. Merrow has a lot of good things to say, but in the end I wasn’t sure he really provided a clear path to follow.

The Dark Prophecy by Rick Riordan – another good book about Apollo-as-mortal-teenager, though I didn’t think it was quite as good in some ways as the first one. The books by Riordan are always entertaining reading, though, and a good way to relax while taking a break from more serious things.

Technically Wrong: Sexist Apps, Biased Algorithms, and Other Threats of Toxic Tech by Sara Wachter-Boettcher – a fascinating and easy-to-read book that I came across in the college library. I knew about database fields that don’t allow for the variations in people’s names that are common these days (even where I work, we have to replace non-English characters in students’ names with the closest English equivalent, otherwise bills do not print properly), but many of the other problems were news to me. The problem, as Wachter-Boettcher describes it, tends to be self-perpetuating, so I don’t know how easily or soon things will change. In the meantime, I feel vindicated in my reluctance to use social media more.

State of Wonder by Ann Patchett – a very interesting though implausible story, I enjoyed it but not so much I plan to go looking for another book by Patchett.

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