2013 Reading Challenge – My 5 Stars

As 2013 draws to a close, I am forced to acknowledge a painful reality. The truth is…

I am not going to reach my 2013 Reading Challenge. *sob* I know. It hurts. Every year I bite off a little more than the year before, spend half the year denying I’ll ever make it, then out-read the goal by a good twenty books by the end of December.

But not this year.

It is December 30th and I, Amy, am acknowledging that I have not accomplished my 200 book reading goal.

I’ve only read 179 books, putting me at…ouch. 90% of my goal.

So close, yet so far. I think I might manage to finish The Black Cauldron by Lloyd Alexander by tomorrow, but that only gives me 180 books. A noticeable 20 books short. However, it is still 28 more books from last year and 2,490 more pages. Total, I have 48,628 pages recorded reading for this year, though several of the older books I read didn’t have page numbers on the Goodreads website and weren’t counted.

My reading has been incredibly eclectic…stretching the book recommendations from high schoolers in Dayton TN to more scholarly works read through the Summit Worldview program in Oxford, England. Some books were really good. Others were….less so. I’ve gotten better about being more discriminatory in my reviews and book ratings. In 2013, I marked 14 books as 5 stars and 22 books as 1 star. That’s what gave me the idea. Not everybody has the time – or the inclination – to read 179 books.

But I have. And, most conveniently for me, I have a record of each one. So, without further ado, I present a list of Amy’s Top 5 Star Reads from 2013. (In the random order ordained by Goodreads)

The Last of The Mohicans by James Fennimore Cooper.

The Last of The Mohicans follows the adventures of Cora and Alice Munro as they travel to join their father at Fort William Henry during the French and Indian war. Accompanied by Major Duncan Heyward, the scout Hawkeye, and the two Mohicans Chingachgook and Uncas, their adventure spans the treachery of Magua, the taking of the fort, and flight for safety. It is a “romance” in the old fashion sense of the word that often comes across as a comedy because of the antiquated language until the end where it becomes the world’s most depressing tragedy.
And it is utterly brilliant. There is a reason it is a classic. There are some themes that never grow old, themes of virtue and manliness. And The Last of the Mohicans has it. Well worth the time.

City of Masks by Mary Hoffman

Lucien is a British teenager with cancer. Everything changes, however, when an old Italian notebook gives him the power of a stravagante, a time traveler to 16th century Italy. Caught up in a world of assassinations, intrigues, and spies, Lucian grows strong and healthy in this new world even while dying in his own time. With time running out, he is faced with the impossible choice. Should he spend his last days with his family…or stravagante permanently to Bellezza?

A terrific book full of adventure, suspense, mystery, and intrigue. I love the writing. Good young adult fiction, which is not always easy to find. Wasn’t so thrilled with the sequels.

Life At the Bottom by Theodore Dalrymple

One of the best books I have read in a long time. Theodore Dalrymple has spent years as a doctor working with the underclass in Britain. What is poverty? Every person seems entitled to four walls, a roof, a TV, and full healthcare but does that make them grateful? He illustrates the mindset that keeps generations and their children trapped in a cycle. “Undiscriminating” policy makers do just that, “un-discriminate” and the result is a dual problem of people getting aid when it offers them no insensitive to better themselves, and people being refused aid because they are trying to do just that.
Dalrymple is blunt, unafraid to point directly to the problem, and not a policy maker. Those three things make this book utterly valuable. Though he writes about the white underclass in England, he might be writing about the inner city of Milwaukee or New York. Highly recommended.

Reflections on the Revolution in France by Edmund Burke

A weird book to give five stars, I acknowledge. Even at the time it was widely noted that Burke’s historical accuracy is sketch. The rhetorical power of this book, however, is brilliant. His burns are great! More importantly, his arguments are extremely relevant, even today. His reasons for opposing the French Revolution are well worth considering. He recognized the dangers posed by inalienable rights…and where they eventually led within the Revolution. Not exactly a ‘light’ read, but worth the time investment.

Two Treatises of Government by John Locke

I really love John Locke. The man talks 17th century smack. I read his First Treatise of Government in one sitting, mostly giggling. The Second Treatise involves fewer rebuttals of arguments and more theory of government. Drenched as I have been in American government, it was fascinating to see Locke’s arguments carried out in the Constitution. I suppose not something your typical reader will find appealing, but I loved it.

On Liberty by John Stuart Mill

Mill argues for individual freedom and liberty, both from the government and society. It’s a fascinating read, inspiring, and worth the time. Easy to understand for laymen and political nerd alike. Good quote – “The only freedom which deserves the name is that of pursuing our own good in our own way, so long as we do not attempt to deprive others of theirs, or impede their efforts to obtain it. Each is the proper guardian of his own health, whether bodily, or mental or spiritual. Mankind are greater gainers by suffering each other to live as seems good to themselves, than by compelling each to live as seems good to the rest.

Steinbeck’s Ghost by Lewis Buzbee

I’m not much of a fan of Steinbeck or Madeleine L’Engle, but I ended up loving this book. The writing was a little slow at first, but intense, aching, and beautiful. Love all the book references. I fell in love with the book the first time I read it and was eager to find more by him, but The Haunting of Charles Dickens proved disappointing and my initial enthusiasm for Buzbee died. However, Steinbeck’s Ghost was worth the time for a good bit of fiction and a well-blended connection of classic books.

The Spirit of the Law by Montesquieu

A thick, but well researched book. Its impact on history alone makes it worth of 5 stars. The impact Montesquieu had on the Founding Fathers is evident on every page. It isn’t an easy book, necessarily, but another one I’d recommend for a good grounding in political theory. The Spirit of the Laws by Montesquieu changed the vocabulary of political theory. His analysis and synthesis of the emerging separation of powers in England defined the way Englishmen, and later Americans, understood their political identity. Well worth the read

The Pilgrim’s Regress by C.S. Lewis

An allegory written by Lewis within a year of his conversion, The Pilgrim’s Regress proved a challenging, but understandable read. The book made sense, which I appreciated, yet couched theological terms in imagery. Not Lewis’s best work, or his easiest, but worth the time and read.

The Case for Life by Scott Klusendorf

A very useful book for equipping Christians to defend their pro-life views. Very handy, though I wasn’t always thrilled with his “mock” conversations. At times they came across as a little naive, but I realize he has more experience in those conversations than I do. Scott Klusendorf is a terrific speaker, a great writer, and I thoroughly enjoyed reading his book. It is very clear and easy to understand He makes a lot of great points and at more than one occasion, I started jumping up and down and shouting “YOU HAVE TO HEAR THIS ARGUMENT IT IS SO SIMPLISTICALLY BRILLIANT” in the general direction of my flatmates in Oxford. Previously they assumed the only thing that got me so excited involved Koreans.
Really, though, well worth the time for Christians seeking some solid arguments.

Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld

Leviathan is as much about possible futures as alternative pasts…That’s the nature of steampunk, blending future and past.”
What if Charles Darwin had discovered more than evolution? What if he unlocked DNA? What if he learned how to blend the DNA of different creatures to create flying machines and impossibly strong working beasts? Think how different history might be. Of course, some might object to the English creation. The Ottomans or the Austro-Hungarian Empire for example. They might create machines of their own to counterbalance. As the world veers towards World War 1 in the summer 1914, what might life have been like?  Young Alek is a prince of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, though unable to claim the throne because of his mother’s commoner blood. When his parents are murdered, supposedly by Serbian anarchist, his only choice is to flee. His life is being hunted. Only a few faithful men stay by his side, their only goal to get him to safety. Meanwhile, in England, Deryn Sharp disguises herself as a boy to join the British Air Service. It’s the only way she can escape being turned into a proper lady by her mother and aunts. Danger abounds, especially when a lady doctor joins the crew. As Europe goes to war, the Deryn and Alek cross paths and their futures take another drastic turn.

I usually end up feeling frustrated with steampunk, lots of potential and few live up to it. Loved Leviathan, though. Intriguing plot, good balance of action, science, adventures, mechanics. My only comment is that I am intrigued by authors who add a spiritual dimension to steampunk, which this novel didn’t have. However, it didn’t need one. It had plenty of “future” and “past”, history and science, intermingled to be truly a steampunk novel. Good teen novel for 14 and up

No Wind of Blame by Georgette Heyer

Who murdered Wally Carter? Certainly there are suspects…but none of them were near the murder weapon. In a who-done-it worthy of Agatha Christie, Georgette Heyer sweeps up the reader in an exciting adventure that keeps the reader guessing. Though I love her historical romances, my previous experience with Heyer’s mysteries was not very satisfactorily. This is one is very much a pleasure to read.

The Searchers by Joseph Loconte

Beautifully written and detailed, The Searchers is well worth reading. Dr. Loconte uses personal stories, pop culture references, and historical examples to illustrate the passage from Luke of the road to Emmaus. He explores not only grief and doubt, but the nature of angels, conspiracy v conspiracy theories, and humanity’s desire for something beyond, among other things. By taking a few verses of the passage at a time, he uses it as a springboard to explore surrounding themes and illuminate meaning. Nothing extremely surprising, but an easy read that weaves several complex themes.

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