Tag Archives: 2018

2018 Reading Challenge: Best Cozy Mysteries

The books didn’t make it high enough to rate 5 stars and it did not feel right to stick them in Honorable Mentions…but I read several great detective books (and series) this past year. Here are a few that especially stick out:

Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death by M.C. Beaton

So, this book did not actually get a particularly high rating from me. But it deserves a spot on this list because I found the heroine so fascinating! It is a mystery about a career woman who retires young and moves to a rural, English town. She wants to impress her neighbors, so she buys a quiche to enter into a homemade quiche making contest…but her quiche ends up poisoning the judge! Usually detectives in rural, English villages are the sweet, Miss Marple type. Not Agatha Raisin. She is a horrid person and I loved it. It was so nice to read about someone with such a unique personality! And with the hint of romance at the end, I might have to go find the sequel… (The mystery itself was okay, nothing to write home about.)

The Thin Woman by Dorothy Cannell

Reading this book felt like drinking a brisk cup of tea. Every time I sat it down, I wanted to go do something practical and efficient. Which is kind of a weird reaction to a book…but it made the story memorable. I went in expecting a whodunnit and found instead a Very British mystery/romance/adventure. It was good but not quite what I had in mind. Still, engaging story with solid characters that I found mostly memorable for the writing.  

Mystery Series:                                                                                          

Haley Randolph Series by Dorothy Howell

Imagine the heroine from Confessions of a Shopaholic developed a habit of stumbling upon dead bodies everywhere she went, and you have the Haley Randolph series. Haley is self-centered, bad with money, and always hunting for the next designer purse. But you cannot help loving her. No matter how many times her work ethic makes me physically cringe, I want to keep reading. I think I love this series because it is so random. Plot points come from every direction and rarely actually fit together. You would think that would make the books annoying, but instead it makes them engaging. Anything could be important. Add a heavy dose of humor and multiple attractive guys floating around with minimal romantic angst, and you have a fluffy series I really enjoy.

Miss Fortune Mystery Series by Jana Deleon

Where is a CIA assassin with no family to go when her cover gets blown? In the Miss Fortune Mystery series, the answer is: the bayous of Louisiana. While Fortune – the heroine of this series – is enjoyable character, the real show-stoppers are the crazy old women she runs around solving mysteries with. I love the characters, the setting, and the humor of these books. Highly recommended.

Amory Ames by Ashley Weaver

Amory Ames is a glamorous, wealthy society woman married to a notorious playboy in the 1930s. While the mysteries are interesting, the setting and relationship between Amory and her husband are really what keeps me glued to this series. At the beginning, the couple is estranged and contemplating divorce. However, as the books go on, they begin to work more closely together and rebuild their marriage. I love both Amory and her husband. If you like Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, you’ll probably like this series.


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.)


Free Kindle Books and Maddening Menfolk: My 1 Star Reads from 2018, Part 2

Doctor in Petticoats by Mary Connealy

A penny to anyone who can tell me what this book was doing on my to-read list. Big mistake. First, I don’t read Christian romance novels generally, so it already lost a star in my book. But then, second, it was terrible. A solider-doctor with PTSD ends up falling in love with a woman and refusing to do any doctoring without her so the woman’s parents are like “We can’t chaperone so just get hitched to this maniacal man you just met!” And it all works out because Jesus and the power of a beautiful woman to cure PTSD. Gag.

Belinda Goes to Bath by Marion Chesney

I toyed with Marion Chesney on and off this past semester and generally tolerated what I found. She writes Regency novels, usually crappy ones, but with strong heroines at the center that almost make up for the sucky romances going on around the main characters. But this book went too far. Basically, this story falls in a series about a “Traveling Matchmaker” who rides around England in a stagecoach, has adventures, and sets up the young people around her. Except the young woman in this book should not have ended up with the…the man (I can’t call him a gentleman or hero) who was an absolute creep. Every good sense should have opposed such a couple. I am still furious about it.

These Broken Stars by Amie Kaufman & Meagan Spooner        

This book was supposed to be a sci-fi novel about two young adults stranded on an abandoned planet. Except it isn’t really a sci-fi novel. It is a freakin’ romance novel that happens to take place on a ‘deserted’ planet in space. And I feel robbed by that fact. There is so much possibility in this story. Or there could be possibility. I mean…it is basically The Titanic meets Cast Away or something, but you know, space! Rich heiress with Daddy issues! Soldier boy with…muscles! Insta-attraction! No wait, enemies to lovers! No wait, mentally unstable and horny teenagers having sex in a cave! It just got worse as the book went on. The ending feels rushed, the conclusion ridiculous, and the danger…just never believable. What a waste of time.

Stone Devil Duke by K.J. Jackson

My only excuse for reading this book is that the cover had a pretty dress and it was free on Kindle. The plot follows a girl who disguises herself as a boy and prowls the slums of London trying to kill the men who killed her father (or something like that) before they kill her. She is joined by this pompous jerk (the supposed hero) who tries to protect her from it all. It started off smoothly enough but the angst, general brutality, and, frankly, vulgarity of the rest of it should have been enough warning to stop. I regret that I didn’t.

That Inevitable Victorian Thing by E.K. Johnston

Loved the title and absolutely nothing else about this book. Sloppy world building, goody-two-shoes-freaking-perfect characters, and seriously contrived romance made this one utterly boring read. Many reviewers sing this book’s praises because of the multicultural, Utopian world it supposedly presents. The reality is, this world without inequality, racism, ‘homophobia’, etc. is utterly boring and entirely unbelievable. There is 0 conflict, except maybe some drama about the “nepotism” of parents who want to pass on the family business (the nerve!) Also, the romance was so, so horrid, but I am not going to get into it here. Just…avoid.  


Free Kindle Books and Maddening Menfolk: My 1 Star Reads from 2018

Bad Romances and Boring Thrillers: My 1 Star Reads from 2013

Awkward Romances and Mediocre Fantasies: My 1 Star Ratings from 2014

The Fault In Our Chick Lit: My 1 Star Reads from 2015

YA Gone Wrong: My 1 Star Reads from 2016

Regency Rejects and Nothing Non-Fiction: My 1 Star Reads from 2017

…Anyone else noticing a theme?

Most years my 1 star reads take up one post. This year…there were a few more. 

A Drink Before the War by Dennis Lehane

This book is supposedly a detective novel featuring two sleuths: a womanizing, lecherous creep who constantly sexually harasses his partner (the “good guy”?) and his partner, a victim of domestic violence. The book tries to be an exposé on racism and domestic abuse or something. At first, it works. Maybe. However, as the story continues, and the characters refuse to get over their hang-ups, it just gets more and more dreary and boring. The plot tries to be a mystery and fails, tries to be a thriller and fails, and finally ends up in some weird tweener state of hard boiled grit and boring psychological drama. Altogether not worth it.

Happy Hour at Casa Dracula by Marta Acosta

As far as free Kindle books go, I did not have high hopes for this one. However, it promised me an Ivy League, Latina heroine who accidently becomes a vampire and I figured, why not? She sounded different from the usual heroine mold. Unfortunately, she was not. The book was one, long soap opera with little humor and loads of drama. Not the worst chick flick I’ve ever read, but not worth it at all.

Beneath a Marble Sky by John Shors

This novel purports to tell the story of the building of the Taj Mahal. Unfortunately, it is a melodramatic tale that plays fast and loose with historical accuracy and the reader’s patience. The characters are either Good or Evil. Good characters are modern and tolerant in their attitude towards life and other religions. Evil ones are Evil because…plot? The modern viewpoints of the characters really jar with the story, especially as the characters only abandon the views when it benefits the plot (like, forcing a daughter into an arranged marriage with an old, gross man and doing nothing when he obviously beats her because historical accuracy.) The final nail in the coffin where this book is concerned is the mingled boorish and boring sex scenes thrown in for shock value. This whole book is just…unneeded.

Game Over by Adele Parks

Another chick flick gone wrong. I was totally on board with how unlikable the main character was. I even didn’t mind her avowedly immoral behavior. It was nice to have a main character with brains and work ethic. Sure, her behavior was reprehensible, but following the Hallmark nature of this plot, I figure it would predictably wrap up with some gush about true love overcoming bad morals. But instead the main character goes from a tough, hustling woman to a sobbing puddle of goo because of a man. It was well-written, and the first half was interesting, but the second half was so bad. It isn’t even that the book stoops to clichés. It just flat destroys the interesting female character.

Evolving in Monkey Town: How a Girl Who Knew All the Answers Learned to Ask the Questions by Rachel Held Evans

It is difficult to summarize my views about this book in a paragraph. Evans talks about attending Bryan College and living in Dayton, Tennessee, coming to terms with her faith, and eventually giving up the “fundamentalism” she was raised with for her own “fundamentals.” I am sympathetic. I too attended Bryan College and experienced many of the things she talks about in Dayton. I too came to terms with my faith while in college and took a hard look at the “fundamentals” of my faith. But whereas I returned to those fundamentals with more wisdom and discernment, Evans seems okay with clinging to emotions and not actually engaging with the fundamentals she so easily dismisses. And because she only talks in terms of emotions, this book really gives very little because there is nothing to bite into. This is “her experience” and not an actual conversation about fundamentals or faith.


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.