Monthly Archives: December 2016

2016 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reviews, Part 3

The 5-star, best of the best, reads from 2016! 

The Iliad by Homer

It is always difficult to rate a classic, but this is a super-duper classic. THE classic. A lot annoyed me in this story and I was often bored or grossed out, but the humanity captured is truly amazing. Many of the struggles, desires, emotions, and even insults thrown back and forth are recognizable and relevant today. This is a messed up story, but it is a also a story of coming to terms with grief and life and honor. It is incredible. My favorite “character” was Diomedes. I can’t believe I had never heard of him before! He was awesome! There is a reason this story has remained such a favorite for so long.

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas 

I had some pretty high expectations for Bonhoeffer and, remarkably, it lived up to them. Bonhoeffer is great, not only because it is the story of the pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer, but because it incorporates WW2 history, theology, and the story of Germany in the early twentieth century all at the same time. I especially enjoyed the quotes from Bonhoeffer. I am going to have to read more by him. This book may be thick but it is worth it. Highly recommended for lovers of history and anyone who wants to learn more about a fascinating, relatively unknown and unsung hero of WW2.

David Copperfield by Charles Dickens 

Despite being ridiculously long and occasionally mindbogglingly boring, this book was wonderful and hard to put down. There were moments I loved it and moments I hated it. However, in the end, loving or hating, I really enjoyed David Copperfield and it might surpass Our Mutual Friend as my favorite Dickens novel. You can never tell what will happen next. There were a lot of characters but it was surprisingly easy to keep them straight. I like how everything was tied up and how everything comes around. The description on the audio book says, “tragedy and comedy in equal measure.” That is this book in a nutshell. It will make you laugh and it will make you cry. And in the end, it is totally worth the 34 hours, or 900 some pages, or whatever else it takes to get through it. Go Dickens!

Poems by C.S. Lewis 

Did you know Lewis was a poet? He was a really good one, too. In general, I don’t read poetry but this volume gave me a better sense of why people like it. Poetry can be bite size brilliance. These were utterly profound but applicable and memorable. My favorites were “Pan’s Purge”, “Reason”, and “The Country of the Blind.” Some of Lewis’s poems are silly. Some are profound. Quite a few confound me with allusions to things I know nothing about. He writes about angels and nature, love and Dwarfs. Well worth finding. 

The Metamorphosis by Frank Kafka 

I like this book because I could enjoy it just as it was, as a story, and yet also enjoy it as a classic literary work revealing human nature. I like Gregor and the love he has for his family, a love eventually worn down by self-absorption and then flipped again in his last moments. I actually liked his family as well with all their passivity, self-absorption, and laziness. Basically, they are horrible humans, but they ring true. The way they behave towards Gregor felt completely natural and realistic. Kafka makes a brilliant point about human dependency and how we let things control our whole lives. Fascinating stuff! 

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens 

Another Dickens novel! This timeless Christmas tale was even better than I expected. The book is simple and yet timeless. I don’t know what else to add because you probably already know about Scrooge and his nocturnal visitors, this story is part of our common culture. I thought I knew it. However, it has more depth than I realized. If you haven’t read it for yourself, I recommend doing so. 

Common Sense by Thomas Paine 

The historical significance of Common Sense alone argues for a 5 star rating. Highly readable, this pamphlet references natural law, legal theory, historical precedent, and Old Testament narrative. It made for an enjoyable read and provides insight into what fired up our Founding Fathers. I was pleasantly surprised by this one! 


2016 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reviews, Part 2

The best books I read in 2016…take two! 

Orphan Justice: How to Care for Orphans Beyond Adopting by Johnny Carr and Laura Faidley

Orphan Justice is a blunt look at the intellectual and emotional problem of orphans and the way society handles, or rather doesn’t handle, them. While promoting adoption, this book also focuses on solutions that help orphans beyond adopting. It addresses many issues facing society from child trafficking and HIV/AIDS to racism and poverty. A very convicting, challenging read. 

Georgette Heyer by Jennifer Kloester

Georgette Heyer is one of my favorite authors and I really enjoyed reading about her life. This book has its problems, perhaps more than others on this list, but it was such a treat to read about an author I deeply adore, even after learning about her flaws. And Heyer definitely had her flaws. From her inability to manage her finances to her weird marriage to her extreme shyness, Heyer was a strange, snobbish woman who yet remains extremely recognizable. She really is “to be found in [her] work.” A definite must-read for all Heyer-lovers. 

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley 

Despite its bizarre premise, Frankenstein was a really good read. Though the details in the writing occasionally got on my nerves (this was the age of Romanticism), the overall plot was captivating and tumultuous. It is Gothic horror. The Gothic portion gives it historical importance; the horror gives it a timeless interest. The book is a great combination of literary merit with themes about morality, responsibility, etc. and is full of genuinely good storytelling. It is an English major’s book but also Bookworm’s book too. Win, win.

The Mysterious Affair At Styles by Agatha Christie 

Christie’s first mystery, The Mysterious Affair At Styles also introduces her starring detective, Hercule Poirot. Emily Inglethorp rules Styles, but when she is suddenly found dead, her new neighbor Poirot is called in to find out why! This book was marvelous. There were a host of interesting characters and a most naive but endearing narrator. I enjoyed the story thoroughly and was kept guessing the whole time.

Destiny of a Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard 

This is a biography about the assassination of President James A. Garfield. I knew very little about Garfield going into the book and was pleasantly surprised by how readable and informative it turned out to be. I have a greater understanding of him as a president and era he lived in. I especially appreciated reading this one during an election year.  It reminded me that as dreary and depressing as this political season has been, America has weathered worse. As a country, we’ve dealt with corruption, assassinations, and Civil War. We survive and move on. Well worth reading! 

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Shorter than I expected, but exceptionally good regardless. It wasn’t over the top but still dark and interesting. I was most fascinated by Dr. Jekyll’s initial reaction to Hyde. Unlike Dr. Frankenstein, who gets all pale and wussy because he created something ugly, Dr. Jekyll initially celebrates his alter-ego. He puts aside Hyde because of society’s condemnation, but it isn’t until he sees his friend’s abhorrence that he really understands what he did. Really fascinating. 

Operation Mincemeat: How a Dead Man and a Bizarre Plan Fooled the Nazis and Assured an Allied Victory by Ben Macintyre 

In 1943, the Allied forces wanted the Axis to think they were attacking Sardinia rather than their actual target, Sicily. To convince them, British intelligence concocted a crazy scheme involving a dead body, forged papers, fake German spies, and the Spanish government. In this bizarre but true account, Macintyre masterfully recounts the story of the men who influenced and enacted the deception. I highly, highly recommend this one. 


2016 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reviews, Part 1

This year I read 168 new books – here are some of the best! See any favorites? 

Breaking Busy: How to Find Peace and Purpose in a World of Crazy by Alli Worthington 

Alli Worthington is a woman who knows about busy…something that becomes evidently clear as she tells her story as an entrepreneur and mother of 5 boys. However, she also knows about finding peace in God and the joy of doing what you are designed to do. In this quick but deep read, she talks about the importance of stepping away from cluttered schedules and maximizing your time doing what you were designed to do. Very inspiring and worth the time to read.

7 Women: And the Secret of Their Greatness by Eric Metaxas 

In this companion book to 7 Men: And the Secret of Their Greatness,  Metaxas provides the biographies for seven, Godly women who impacted the world: Joan of Arc, Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, Maria Skobtsova, Corrie ten Boom, Mother Teresa, and Rosa Parks. I found 7 Men somewhat dull, but I really liked these biographies. I especially appreciated what a diverse group they were. 

The War That Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

A sweet, wonderful book set in WW2 England. 9-year-old Ada has a club foot and is emotionally and physically abused by her mother, so when her brother is sent to the country for protection from the bombing, she decides to sneak along. They end up in the home of a depressed woman who needs them as much as they need her. I really enjoyed the realism and pace of this book. The character change was well done. Really good historical fiction. 

Overrated: Are We More In Love with the Idea of Changing the World Than Actually Changing the World? by Eugene Cho

This book was seriously convicting. Are we more in love with the idea changing the world than the reality? Cho is very open and vulnerable about his struggles in this area. He calls out his own motivation first and foremost. In doing so, he calls out me. He calls out Millennials. He calls out all of us who genuinely want to make a difference…but often by being in the spotlight instead of doing the work. I particularly appreciate how firm Cho is. He calls it how he sees it and seriously challenges the way we view what making a difference really means. I highly recommend this one. 

The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place by Julie Berry

When their headmistress and her odious brother are suddenly poisoned, the students of St. Etheldreda’s School for Girls have a decision to make. Do they alert the police and return to their respective homes, or carry on as if nothing happened? They opt to bury the bodies. Unfortunately, hiding murder is not easy, especially when the murderer is still at large! This is a fun, Victorian tale of murder, mayhem, and most inconvenient situations. A great part of the book’s charm comes from the 7 main characters who have very distinct personalities. Good for middle school on up! (And especially good for adults like me who just love a fun, farcical story.) 

Dad Is Fat by Jim Gaffigan 

In this book, comedian Jim Gaffigan writes about being a Dad, raising 5 kids in a 2 bedroom apartment, and dealing with the stigma of having a “big” family. As the eldest of 5 kids, I found this book HILARIOUS. I was in public when I read it and people kept staring because I was laughing so hard. Gaffigan may come across panic stricken half the time, but he clearly loves his family. A very funny, clean, and enjoyable read. 

Valiant by Sarah McGuire 

A re-telling of the Brave Little Tailor, Valiant is the story of Saville, a girl who dresses as a boy and takes her Father’s place as tailor to the King. When she learns that an army of giants are about to attack the city, she goes out and manages to trick them into leaving. Suddenly everyone things she is a hero! But can the courageous tailor save the kingdom from an even greater threat, the Duke and his larger than life army? I loved Valiant! It had a developed heroine, satisfying relationships, and lovely writing. Definitely one I plan to re-read and recommend. 


2016 Reading Challenge – The Moving Ones

Last year, I had a post designated for the the most “mind blowing reads” of 2015. I was planning on doing that again this year. However, what stands out most from this year isn’t the non-fiction that made me think, but the books (fiction and non-fiction) that made me feel. Each of these books left a lasting impression on my mind. All the 5 star reads I will share over the next few days arguably have a claim on this list (they did make 5 stars), but these were the ones that came immediately to mind. Without further ado, I present you:

Emotionally Moving and Character Shaping 5 Star Reads from 2016:

A Separate Peace by John Knowles 

This American classic is a dark, coming of age story set during early WW2. It is the story of Gene, a brooding introvert, and his friend, Phineas, the outgoing and favorite boy at school. This book is full of emotions: hatred, love, friendship, and jealousy. It was poignant, melancholy, and left me slightly breathless by the end. I’m glad I didn’t read this one in school because I would not have enjoyed it nearly as much as I did on my own. Also, while they are often compared, I immensely preferred this one to Catcher in the Rye.

Are Women Human? Astute and Witty Essays on the Role of Women in Society by Dorothy L. Sayers

A 75 page booklet consisting of two essays: “Are Women Human?” and “The Human-Not-Quite-Human.” Sayers did not write or speak much about feminism but in this work she lays out her opinion about the role of women in society. Sayers’s main point is that men and women have more in common than not and that each should do what they were designed to do. If a woman enjoys and is good at business, she should be a businesswoman because that is what she was made to do. However, if a woman desires to be a traditional housewife, she should do that because that is what she was meant to do. The same standards apply to men and women equally. While these are hardly groundbreaking concepts, Sayers’s brevity and snark offer an exceptional and thought provoking look at what it means to be human in today’s society. 

All The King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren

661 pages, but worth every word. At first glance,this Depression-era novel is the story of Willie Stark, an initially idealistic politician who amasses power and uses ruthless methods to get what he wants. However, this is equally the story of the men and women around Willie, especially his right hand man and the narrator of the book, Jack Burden. I’ve already written about how much I love Jack; the truth is, I enjoyed all the characters in this book. They are multilayered and even characters with only one or two scenes have color and depth. Rarely, though, do characters only have one scene. They always seem to come around as the story weaves a tighter and tighter plot towards the final, emotional conclusion. The writing style is beautiful and poetic and the plot is thought provoking and full of character change. Definitely my favorite book from 2016. 

Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton 

Chesterton is utterly brilliant and reading him is like thinking on a different level. This is a book on theology and orthodoxy and Christianity; it is a convulsion of ideas and pictures about stories, worldview, and the role of joy in the Christian’s life. I didn’t always agree with Chesterton but I was challenged to think more deeply about why. He writes in a clear fashion that makes abstract concepts understandable, yet deals with subjects so profound I could read this book ten times and still gain something new. Here is one popular quote to illustrate – “The poet only asks to get his head into the heavens. It is the logician who seeks to get the heavens into his head. And it is his head that splits.”

All Quiet on the Western Front by  Erich Maria Remarque

They were Germany’s Iron Youth, but as WW1 drags on 19-year-old Paul Bäumer and his friends become more and more disillusioned and embittered by war. What will become of men trained only to kill? I found this book so beautiful. Difficult. Thought provoking. Introspective. Painful but real. The narrative isn’t “exciting” necessarily and the whole story seems to drift from moment to moment, but in doing so it reflects the characters and their outlook. Their lives have been stopped and now drift with the war. I love the mercy and realism, the camaraderie and sorrow. The war created one good thing – their friendship – and then destroyed it with all the senseless death. So poignant. My second favorite read from this year.


Reading Metrics 2016

I was hoping to eek out one or two more books before the end of the year but a quick glance at my schedule tells me this is unlikely. It has been a good year; I read more books than last year. My final total: 168 new books in 2016. (Only 3 re-reads, though. 😦 ) It was a total of 41,409 pages (less than average but the book quality was overall better.) 

My average rating was 3.5 stars and a great chunk of the books came from my to-read list (hurray!) For several weeks, I actually had that list under 950. (Then the Summit Oxford 2017 Reading List was published. Sigh.) However, it is still under 1,000 which I consider quite the accomplishment. 

Last year I met the gang at the Algonquin Round Table…this year I discovered the literary circle of the Detection Club and in particular became enamored with Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, and G.K. Chesterton. (I’ve always loved these authors but I didn’t know much about their personal lives.) 

My favorite book this year: All The King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren. 

The most disappointing book: Girl Online by Zoe Sugg. 

My favorite author from this year: Anne Brontë.

The most unexpectedly-good book: Written in Red by Anne Bishop. (Disclaimer: dark book, not for everyone. I found the sequel inappropriate and did not finish) 

The best series I read this year: The Lynburn Legacy by Sarah Rees Brennan (at any rate, it was the only series I started and decided to finished) 

The best guilty-pleasure book: Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? by Mindy Kaling. 

The longest book: Winter by Marissa Meyer. (832 pages)

Shortest book: The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico. (48 pages)

Best Fairy Tale: Valiant by Sarah McGuire 

 

 


Classics 2016

It is my favorite time of the year! (Next to Christmas, Easter, July 4th, and my birthday, of course.) This is the time I blog about all the books I read over the past year. However, before I jump into my stats, I thought it might be fun to list out all the classics I read this year. 

You see, I have a bit of an inferiority complex where classic literature is concerned. I blame my friend Hope. When we were seniors in high school, she was appalled at how few Charles Dickens novels I had read (only 3!) and proceeded to introduce me to some really great reads, like Our Mutual Friend. Since then, no matter how many classics I read, a tiny part of my brain always tells me I’m behind. This is part of the problem with being friends with English majors. It is also partially because, outside of school, it isn’t very usual to read classics unless you have specific motivation. This year, I challenged myself to work through my to-read list, especially the classics. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed most of these books. You will probably see many of these on my 5 (or 1…) star book review posts!

Brave New World by Adolph Huxley
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Robe by Lloyd C. Douglas
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley
The Iliad by Homer
The Communist Manifesto by Karl Marx
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
Dracula by Bram Stoker
A Separate Peace by John Knowles
Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
The Tempest by William Shakespeare
Where the Red Fern Grows by Wilson Rawls
Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Gulliver’s Travels by Johnathan Swift
The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
Nineteen Eighty Four by George Orwell
Journey to the Center of the Earth by Jules Verne
Little Dorrit by Charles Dickens
Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë
The Beautiful and Damned by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Brontë
The Stranger by Albert Camus
The Sun Also Rises by Ernest Hemingway
The Metamorphosis by Frank Kafka
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
The Legend of Sleepy Hollow by Washington Irving
Villette by Charlotte Brontë
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
All the King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren


Merry Christmas! 

Merry Christmas, everyone! I hope you have a special day!