Tag Archives: 2018 Reading Challenge

2018 Reading Challenge: Honorable Mentions

With so many books read in 2018, several stand out but didn’t quite make the 5 star mark. I still have to give them a shout-out! (And you should consider adding them to your to-read list.)

In Another Girl’s Shoes & His Official Fiancé by Berta Ruck

Berta Ruck wrote in the midst of World War One and it makes her fluffy, female novels all the more intriguing. They are romantic and fun but written at a time when most women really did not know if their boys would make it back. It shows in her style. She also takes a strong, feminist tone that is remarkable considering women in England did not have the vote yet when these books were published. I have enjoyed everything I have read by her, but these two particularly stand out. I suspect they will become re-reads every year.

Captain Blood by Rafael Sabatini

It took me over a year to get through this swashbuckling adventure, but it was worth it in the end. If you love Robert Louis Stevenson or Walter Scott, you’ll love this tale of nobility and piracy! (Stick with it, the last third is the best.)

Orange Is the New Black by Piper Kerman

I haven’t watched the TV show Orange Is the New Black and I was a little skeptical of the book, but my professor recommended it and I ended up enjoying it quite a bit. Kerman does a good job humanizing prison and talking about necessary reforms without getting on a soap box and alienating the reader. Definitely an adult book, though. Don’t recommend for younger readers.

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

There are two sides to every story, and Bryan Stevenson does a powerful job telling the stories of the incarcerated men and women on death row. Agree or not with his conclusions – this is a powerful book.

The Hollow Kingdom by Clare B. Dunkle

Possibly this book stands out because I read The Stolen Songbird right before it, which basically has the same plot but done much more poorly. At any rate, this is the story of a young woman forced to be the Goblin King’s bride.  It is one of those fantasy books where the author takes an existing mythology and adds her own twist, creating a whole new legend to tell around the campfire. It reminded me of Lloyd Alexander (who the author credits), Beth Hilgartner (perhaps it is just the use of the name Kate, but there is a The Perilous Gard feel), and Diane Stanley.

A Lady of Quality by Frances Hodgson Burnett

Prior to this book, I only knew Burnett the author of Little Lord Fauntleroy, A Little Princess, and The Secret Garden. This book read so differently I kept double-checking to make sure I wasn’t confused and mixing up authors. But no, this is her! The heroine of A Lady of Quality is thoroughly strong willed and dislikable. She is mean and twisted. But Burnett redeems her, not by sacrificing her to wasting disease or anything like you would expect from an author writing in the 1800s, but by giving her a romance for the ages. Though the book builds towards her final, saving romance, it doesn’t revolve around it. Different kinds of love push the story along, from a sister’s devotion to a Father’s self-centeredness. It really is fascinating and not all what I expected from this era.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing by Marie Kondō

I went into this book mostly to better appreciate my sister’s minimalist lifestyle, and frankly, doubted it would apply to me. Turns out, it did! Kondō called out a LOT of my habits – like getting rid of clothes by forcing them on my younger sisters, saving boxes from appliances because maybe, someday I’ll repack, and keeping something because I got it as a gift once and have not used since. In fact, time and again her points hit so specifically home that I would experience a twinge of shock. Oh yeah…I do that…

Pimpernel by Sheralyn Pratt

I obsessively love The Scarlet Pimpernel. The book…the movies…the series…. you name it. I love it. And once upon a time I discovered Across A Star-Swept Sea, which was a fantastic, gender-bender retelling. But guess what? I FOUND ANOTHER AWESOME RETELLING. This book! Pratt takes the Scarlet Pimpernel we all know and love and turns him into a white-collar crime fighter. It works, partially because she does not try and recreate the Scarlet Pimpernel. Jack is very much his own man. He’s….well, Pimpernel. This is another book I can’t wait to re-read.

The Thin Man by Dashiell Hammett

Hammett is a master at the crime noir genre, but I think he excelled in The Thin Man because he steps a tiny bit away from the dark, brooding shadows and creates a funny, likable couple as his main sleuths. Nick and Nora are great! I cannot wait to get my hands on the movie. (The only thing I like more than a good noir book is a good black and white movie.)


2018 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reviews, Part 3

Free to Serve: Protecting the Religious Freedom of Faith-Based Organizations by Stephen V. Monsma

A solid, introductory look at religious organizations (both for- and non-profit) within the United States and the increasing legal challenges they face. I spent the summer obsessively reading religious freedom cases, so I was looking for something a little more specific and technical. However, this was a good overview of the arguments for religious liberty and how recent rulings have hampered that liberty. Four stars but I bumped it up to five for the “interludes.” These essays, particularly the first one, were my favorite part of the book. Solid read – and recommendation! No legal background needed to appreciate.

All Rise for the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor

A really heartwarming, well-developed story about a boy raised in prison with his Mom. Very cute and yet it never downplays real emotions. It embraces moral dilemmas but also never gets too intense for middle school readers which I liked. (It very easily might have.) A really solid read!

Do Over: Rescue Monday, Reinvent Your Work, and Never Get Stuck by Jon Acuff             

While the book reads like many of your standard self-help, follow-your-passions, cheerleading business books, it brings something slightly more to the table. I read and enjoy those books, but they do not mirror my personal experiences. Accordingly, books about Reinventing Monday or Finding The Work You Love never quite apply to me. This book targets that audience but also offers practical, useful advice I found good for right now.  I’d give this one 3.5-4 stars as a business book, add .5 for humor, and then another .5 because I found it so relatable. In particular, when he was describing how much he hates e-mails and details, I was shouting, “YES! THAT IS ME.” I also feel like he offers good advice about managing mentors, cheerleaders, and casual relationships. This book offers very sound advice about what networking really looks like. Definitely worthy of the Seth Godin/Dave Ramsey crowd it aims to run with.

The Serpent’s Secret by Sayantani DasGupta

THIS BOOK WAS SO FUN! An original fairy tale that emerges from Indian folklore, it walks the line of creative and classic – familiar fairy-tale allusions blend with new ideas. I really loved all the strong characters, the crazy adventure, and the way everything wraps up without a cliff hanger. Great for middle school readers (and older, of course.)

Everyday Law in Russia by Kathryn Hendley

A direct but informative look at Russian law. My professor actually wrote this book and used it as a textbook, but I often found myself reading ahead and losing track of time. It helps that Professor Hendley presents a clear thesis and sticks to it throughout without rambling side tangents. I found her persuasive and educational. Easy for non-lawyers, too!

Speak Easy, Speak Love by McKelle George

A 1920’s retelling of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing! I found it so fun I couldn’t put it down. It was not that the writing was that enjoyable (okay, but sometimes a little cluttered) or that I needed to know what happened to the characters (honestly, Beatrice was kind of annoying?) but somehow all together the good and bad came together to create something really delightful. It is a character driven story and not super action packed, but they are very well developed characters. It is easy to like and sympathize with them and want to read on. Side tangents and romances and plots flit here and there but it stays true to its core.


2018 Reading Challenge – The Mind Blowing Ones

I read 255 books in 2018. I know not everyone has the time (or inclination!) to read that many, so every year I like to compile the best and worst reads of 2018. Some years have better books than other, and this year was no exception. It is with great pleasure I present to you:

The Best, Most Blind Blowing Reads of 2018

Surprised by Laughter: The Comic World of C.S. Lewis by Terry Lindvall

This book looks at the role of humor in the writings of C.S. Lewis. It covers the range of his writings and broadly quotes from his poetry, fiction, and non-fiction. I particularly loved how the author engaged with the ideas of Lewis by quoting authors who inspired or interacted with him (such as G.K. Chesterton, Dorothy Sayers, or St. Augustine) to further flesh out the meaning and implications of the ideas. He layers his analysis by using Lewis’s works as a telescope to view laughter, but never treats the work as the finished goal in and of itself. It is the ideas that matter; direct quotes or themes just enhance the ideas. This was a seriously good read. Though occasionally dry, it uses repetition only to further a theme and never to make up for inadequate scholarship. Highly recommended if you love the writings of C.S. Lewis or just want to engage more with the idea of laughter in the Christian’s life.

The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich A. Hayek

There is something a little awe-inspiring about reading a book and realizing how much personal philosophy and intellectual heritage you owe to it. I got the same feeling the first time I read Locke’s Second Treatises of Government. When I consider the impact this book has had on my life and work, it amazes me it took me this long to read it. In Road to Serfdom, Hayek looks at what it takes to have a free society. This should be required reading alongside 1984. It conveys the problems of socialism and yet eerily resembles a conversation we could be having today. Thought-provoking and inspiring, I highly recommend this one.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

Any part of Louis Zamperini’s life would be worth telling a story about. From running in the Olympics to fighting sharks on a deflating life raft to surviving horrors as a prisoner of war, this man experienced the inexpressible. Yet he came through it. Unbroken tells his story in a powerful way and leaves the reader with much to ponder about bravery, optimism, and human nature. If you aren’t a big reader and just one good book to take away from this list, I recommend making it this one.

The Little Big Things: 163 Ways to Pursue EXCELLENCE by Tom Peters

I would recommend this book for the snark alone. However, I don’t need to because it also contains tons of great advice, interesting stories, and good points about business and life. The audio book was excellent; I did not want to put it down. Peters used his blog posts as the foundation of the book and the upside is that the work contains lots of profound thoughts in quick, sharp form. They get straight to the point and if he ever gets repetitive, he has the grace to recognize it. A few pop shots at books like The World Is Flat and Built To Last only add to the fun. If you are looking for a business book that won’t descend into clichés – but will, in fact, make fun of books that do – this is the one for you.

Scalia Speaks: Reflections on Law, Faith, and Life Well Lived by Antonin Scalia

Any author – or in this case, speaker – who compliments C.S. Lewis and quotes G.K. Chesterton will win my regard. However, in this wonderful compilation of speeches, Justice Scalia does more than honor their memory; he becomes their intellectual successor. Reading this collection, I easily imagined Justice Scalia joining the Inklings at the Eagle and Child. Although topically he addresses very different things, the attitude of academic rigor and spiritual wonder comes across the same. He shared their worldview. I gained a great deal of insight from this book. It started off a little rough and probably could have ended stronger, but everything in the middle was wonderful. This is Justice Scalia speaking to the common man on subjects ranging from President Taft to Thomas More. He brings wit and wisdom to every address. My favorites were his commencement speeches. Whether you know and love Justice Scalia, or have no clue who I am talking about, this one is worth a read.

Girl, Wash Your Face: Stop Believing the Lies about Who You Are So You Can Become Who You Were Meant to Be by Rachel Hollis

“With wry wit and hard-earned wisdom, popular online personality and founder of TheChicSite.com founder Rachel Hollis helps readers break free from the lies keeping them from the joy-filled and exuberant life they are meant to have.” Popular books make me hesitant, especially books written by internet celebrities I’ve never heard of. But honestly, this book blew me away. With each chapter, Hollis tackles a different lie she believed about herself and the way she overcame it. The book emphasizes that you are in charge of the person you become and what you make of your circumstances. I found it encouraging, inspiring, and comforting all at the same time. Perhaps someday I will come back and give this book a full review. At the very least, I will be returning to it again.

Finally, the best book of 2018…drum roll please…

Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis by J.D. Vance

I do not think I will ever be able to describe the culture shock of moving to the Appalachian Mountains as an 18 year old. The Bible Belt is…different. But you know who can describe it? J.D. Vance. And he does it brilliantly. This book was amazing and everything I’ve tried – and failed – to express about my experience as a Yankee attending college in the South. But it is better than anything I could describe because this isn’t a stranger looking in. This is someone from the culture honestly communicating what it is like. He talks about hopelessness and poverty and overcoming the odds. It is honest, gracious, and real. This is a memoir worth reading.


2018 Reading Stats

My 2018 Reading Stats

255 books across 75,094 pages. Of the 255, 39 were re-reads. A disconcerting number were set in the regency era. (That kind of defined my reading this year. At this rate, I could get into a time machine to 1815 and probably survive quite nicely.)

Average rating: 3.4 stars

Average Book Length: 294 pages

Achievements: I got my to-read list under 900. For like, a day there. Currently at 901.

My Favorite Book This Year: Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance

Read my Mind Blown post tomorrow for why!

Most disappointing book: Hello, I Love You by Katie M. Stout

Since this book received 2 stars, it does not come up again in my posts, so here is the brief version: YA novel with a K pop star love interest? Um, yes. Sign me up! But unfortunately, it was terrible. The end.

Best Re-Read: The Year of Secret Assignments by Jaclyn Moriarty

This was such a hard category. I re-read several books this year that pleasantly surprised me or delighted me as old favorites. However, in the end, this one wins because it wasn’t actually an old favorite. I originally gave it 4 stars but kind of forgot about it. This time through, though, I loved it and won’t soon forget it. I ran through the gamut of emotions reading it. Jaclyn Moriarty really is a fantastic author. Her strength lies in her unique way of telling a story – in this case, through letters between pen pals at two different high schools. Warning: some language.

Best Author: Georgette Heyer

Hands down. She ties with C.S. Lewis for my Favorite Author of All Time, but I did not re-read any Lewis this year. Just Heyer. All the Heyer. (Actually, only 19 Heyer. But still. I re-read 19 of her books this year.)  

Best middle school read: All Rise For the Honorable Perry T. Cook by Leslie Connor

You’ll find a full review somewhere in my 5 Star reads posts.

Longest Read: Process of Constitutional Decisionmaking: Cases and Materials by Paul Brest at 1,856 pages

A decent textbook but heavy on history over caselaw.

Shortest Read: Thief! by Megan Whalen Turner at 8 pages

But since it was Megan Whalen Turner, those were probably the best 8 pages I read this year. If you haven’t read her Queen’s Thief series yet…go and do.