Tag Archives: 5 stars

2020 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reads (Part 4)

I read 400 books in 2020. Here are my remaining favorites:

The Odyssey by Homer

I actually liked this one a bit better than The Iliad. I like the way the story plays chronologically, starting with Odysseus’s son and then filling in backstory through Odysseus relating his memories. It kept things fast paced and right in the middle of the action. Made me glad I wasn’t born a woman in Ancient Greece, though. What a sucky time to be alive.

All The Queen’s Sons by Elizabeth Kipps

A gender-bender 12 Dancing Princesses retelling! I’ve mentioned this one on my blog before but seriously–I think this one is a delight and well worth picking up for lovers of fairy tales. It is a short but charming tale of a feisty shoemaker’s daughter who is determined to solve the mystery of the prince’s worn out dancing slippers.

No Higher Honor: A Memoir of My Years in Washington by Condoleezza Rice

Looking for a general but through overview of the foreign policy that defined George W. Bush’s presidency? Look no farther. Pick it up on audio book if the size intimidates you. (It intimated me!) It is worth the read. I found this memoir particularly fascinating because the moments she describes defined my childhood. She describes 9/11 from the perspective of someone in government at the time. Though if I have one complaint, I wanted more of Rice’s perspective. This is not a memoir where the writer overshadows her subject. While Rice sometimes references the unique role she played as a single, black woman as Secretary of State (particularly when meeting with traditional Islamic rulers or responding to Hurricane Katrina’s race issues), she rarely does so overtly. But because of that, I found I listened closer to see how she engaged with her male colleagues or dealt with confrontation or handled being a single woman in politics. A powerful read.

The Fall by Albert Camus

I once saw a video essay that described Camus as “the angst you feel the summer before going to college when you’re stuck at home but know there must be something more out there.” He’s so angsty. And normally I am not down for angst. But this is the sort of angst that rings true to life. I don’t think it tells the whole story. My worldview certainly encompasses more. But I can’t help admiring how beautifully Camus summarizes the despair of realizing how messed up mankind is without more.

The Dancing Star by Berta Ruck

Berta Ruck never ceases to amaze me with how modern her fluffy, romantic novels read. Not modern in a scandalous sense…but rather, as this book itself begins: “Here is a story of the conflict between Love and Ambition. An old conflict? Old for men. Fairly modern, however, for women.” Career or family? Here is the whole dilemma laid out in 1923! The story follows Ripple Meredith, a gifted dancer caught between her traditional family and fiancé (Love) and her passion for dancing (Ambition.) But other themes also come into play, including sacrifice, passion, purpose, and “getting a chance.” Ripple’s mother sacrifices so her daughter can “get a chance” before settling down with the first nice young man to catch her eye. You can read it as a social commentary or just for the adorable romance, because it has both and there is a delightful romance. This might be my favorite Ruck novel yet…but then again, I think I say that about every one I read.


2020 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reads (Part 3)

400 books. Here are 8 more favorites:

A Jane Austen Education: How Six Novels Taught Me about Love, Friendship, and the Things That Really Matter by William Deresiewicz

Part memoir, part literary analysis, and part love letter to Jane Austen, A Jane Austen Education was an easy, thought-provoking, and thoroughly enjoyable read. In it, Deresiewicz chronicles his experience as a grad student reading Jane Austen for the first time. I went in expecting some “new insights” on Austen from a male perspective, but was delighted to find he loved Austen for all the reasons I did. There is a lesson in there somewhere. The book also taught me to appreciate Mansfield Park, which I thought impossible.

True Grit by Charles Portis

Truly, unexpectedly badass…even after seeing the movie and knowing what to expect. The court scene alone deserves 5 stars; I quite literally laughed out loud. I guess I am a fan of Westerns now.

Middlemarch by George Eliot

I read an amazing review of Middlemarch which described the novel this way: “It’s a book…about people who shouldn’t have gotten married and did. About people who should have gotten married and didn’t. About people who married the right person, and people who married the wrong person.” And that’s about it. 900 pages revolving around relationships and should-have-beens. I loved every moment of it. It was beautifully character driven. It made me smile. It made me sad. It made me want to shout for the WRONGNESS we bring into our lives. And it gave me more insight into human nature. What more can you ask for from a classic? I highly recommend as an audio book.

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray

I did not have as strong a reaction to Vanity Fair as I did Middlemarch, but I think it probably the better book. It was one of those books you read and then discover you’ve known it all your life because it has impacted Western civilization in some distinctive way. The characters Thackeray draws ring true to life not just because I recognized them from the people around me, but because his distinct slant of looking at them found an echo in the literature that followed. Thackeray never met a rabbit trail he didn’t like but he breaks the fourth wall enough to make it amusing and even inserts himself in the narrative at a random point. Sometimes it felt like a slog but I am truly glad I read it.

Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

I fell for Jude immediately because he starts out as a precocious little bean. Then he rapidly grows up to become a twerp. Worse, a twerp with no self-awareness because the first girl to give him a wink sends him off his search for knowledge and into a world of hurt. And he stays there because the boy never met a bad decision he didn’t at least consider. By the end, I just shook my head at his drama queen antics. But I still got it. Because the book rings true to life. I kept thinking that if you told me this tale but substituted all the characters and setting for a guy growing up in rural Tennessee, I would totally believe it. (Please someone write this interesting sounding contemporary retelling.) It is a little bit heartbreaking, decidedly tragic, and yet an overall shrewd novel.

The Divine Comedy by Dante

In my head, The Divine Comedy is one of those books you need to be an Oxford don to read, much less understand. It is a classic but, like, not a readable classic. So, I was pleasantly surprised when it proved to be such an easy audio book. I give full credit to the translators and narrator. Each chapter begins with a little description of the ensuing pages which makes things clear and easy to follow. Not being an Italian noble from 1320, a lot of the references and name dropping went over my head. In that regard, an annotated translation in print would have worked better. But if like me you find Dante intimidating, I recommend starting with the audio book.

Paradise Lost by John Milton

I knew Milton and I would get along when he kicked off with a growling essay about how poetry doesn’t need to rhyme. You tell ’em, son. This didn’t work quite as fluidly in the audio format as The Divine Comedy but I liked it more. I mostly list it on here to encourage fellow non-academic readers that it can be tackled. And it is worth the effort.

Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare

Somehow I never actually read Romeo and Juliet in high school. But I did read The Juliet Club by Suzanne Harper a million times as a teenager which is a YA novel that apparently quotes a lot of Shakespeare because I was surprised by how many passages of this play I knew by heart. This is a sassy, colorful, and genuinely entertaining story. It deserves its reputation and cultural significance, despite (because of?) the wacked main characters and their poor decisions.


2020 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reads (Part 2)

I read 400 books in 2020. Here are some of my (eclectic) favorites:

Bronze Age America by Barry Fell

The next time someone asks me which dead author I would want to have dinner with, I think I’m going to have to answer “Barry Fell.” If his dinner conversation is even a tenth as full of personality as his book, he’d be someone worth knowing. Fell is extremely passionate about the fact that Bronze Age Nordic Europeans sailed to modern day Canada and traded with “Amerindians.” Apparently in the 1980s this was a highly controversial claim (perhaps it still is?) because in this book he’s determined to prove he isn’t crazy. And he does so by jumping from archaeology to oceanography to linguistics, from Africa to Ireland to Canada, from Nordic myths to carbon dating to funeral rites, all with barely a breath in-between. It is a hilarious, wild ride…though I doubt he meant it to be. I stayed up till the wee hours reading I was so entertained.

Political Writings by Immanuel Kant

The introduction of my edition makes two striking points: 1. You should just learn German if you want to understand Kant. 2. Kant is a dry writer with occasionally brilliant sentences. I found both true. (Presumably true. I don’t speak German so apparently I don’t understand Kant. But this was a fascinating read!)

The Duchess of Malfi by John Webster

Written in 1614, this play is a tragedy and * spoiler alert * everyone dies. But oh, what tragic, beautiful deaths they have. It left me slightly teary-eyed, which takes doing.

Babette’s Feast by Isak Dinesen

A short story about the power of gourmet food, Babette’s Feast came highly recommended and did not disappoint. It is a story of two austere women who take in a French refugee. She in turn repays their kindness with cooking. I don’t want to give too much away, but I would highly recommend reading with a book club if possible.

The First and Second Discourses by Jean-Jacques Rousseau

Rousseau is not my favorite philosopher by any stretch of the imagination but I have to give credit for his impact on Western civilization. He raised many valid critiques with how we operate in society. There is a reason people struggle with the paradox in his writings well over 200 years later. Worth a read–the Judith R. Masters translation is particularly excellent.

Symposium by Plato

In which Socrates drinks everyone under the table, Alcibiades publicly admits his crush on Socrates, and Plato sets the foundation for how we think about love in the Western world. Not bad for 90 pages.

The Federalist Papers by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, John Jay

Well, it took over a decade, but I finally cleared The Federalist Papers. I think the problem is I went in expecting theory and got procedure instead. This is the nitty-gritty details of constitutional governance. The letters reference historical examples and quote political philosophers, but mostly to explain why the constitution was written the way it was. Practical, useful, insightful, even, but not something you want to curl up with on a rainy day.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

Throw a phrase like “an intimate tale of three generations” into a book description and I’ll usually run in the opposite direction. It sounds so threateningly of intergenerational conflict and simmering angst. And “an intimate tale of three generations” is exactly what this book promises. But Gilead pleasantly surprised me. It is the story of an elderly pastor writing to his young son about all the things he will never be able to tell him–things about their family, of prodigal sons, and of the town Gilead. The book tackles themes of grace, parenthood, and faith. It is complex in spirit but short enough in length to make it a surprisingly fast read. I didn’t expect to, but I loved it.

All Things Considered by G.K. Chesterton

Here is the thing about G.K. Chesterton: he begins discussing Christmas traditions, veers off into why he anti-vivisectionist, and concludes with turkey. (As in the bird.) Somewhere in-between he drops an aside about the king’s crown and “Tolstoian non-resistance.” It ought to come across entirely nonsensical and yet over a hundred years later, I read it and go… “Oh, why, that applies to what is happening today! It is like he wrote for 2020!” You never know what you will get but you can be confident it will be worth it.

Life Together: The Classic Exploration of Faith in Community by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Don’t be fooled by how innocently short this book looks: it packs a punch! In a hundred pages, Bonhoeffer lays out the role of personal prayer, worship in common, everyday work, and Christian service in Christian community. You might not agree with everything but you will certainly be challenged


2020 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reads (Part 1!)

I previously shared my favorite reads of 2020. But after reading 400 books, you better believe quite a few made the 5 star mark! I have a habit of sharing my 5-star reads from the year before. Because I read so many this year, it will take a few days. Worth it though…because I recommend adding all of these to your to-read list! Enjoy.

Intellectuals and Race by Thomas Sowell

I sometimes forget how much I enjoy reading Thomas Sowell. He approaches his topics academically and professionally but isn’t afraid to take on the perspective of the day. And he does so in a manner that, whether you end up agreeing with him or not, truly makes you think. This book approaches the way academics treat race issues. I found it particularly helpful as a counter, or at least alternative perspective, to my criminal procedure class.

The Quest for Cosmic Justice by Thomas Sowell

The Quest for Cosmic Justice shows how confused conceptions of justice end up promoting injustice, how confused conceptions of equality end up promoting inequality, and how the tyranny of social visions prevents many people from confronting the actual consequences of their own beliefs and policies. A short but powerful read.

Wren to the Rescue by Sherwood Smith

My favorite middle school read of 2020! When a princess gets kidnapped by the evil magician, her best friend sets out to save the day, accompanied by a prince and an apprentice wizard. It is a familiar storyline but fun. A book full of magic, friendship, and strong female characters.

Danse de la Folie by Sherwood Smith

Looking for your high schooler, not your middle schooler? Then I recommend Smith’s delightful Regency romance. The story follows two heroines: the mature and steady Miss Clarissa Harlowe and her guest, vivacious wannabe-novelist Lady Kitty. Two charming gentleman, a host of delightful side characters, and some villainous villains later, and you’ve got one great story. Of course, the path of true love never did run smooth, so plenty of impediments keep our couples apart. (But none of those impediments include stupid misunderstandings or miscommunication. I just love this book.)

Reflections on the Psalms by C.S. Lewis

C.S. Lewis begins this work by comparing it to two school boys studying together because they have the same sort of questions that have long since ceased to puzzle–and in fact, have long since become incomprehensible to–their schoolmaster. The analogy works beautifully for this book. It is one non-theologian expressing his understanding of the Psalms, and in doing so, making it that much more understandable for the rest of us.

The Voluntaryist Creed: Being The Herbert Spencer Lecture, 1906, And A Plea For Voluntaryism (1908) by Auberon Herbert

Good luck finding a copy of this one–but if you can, you are in for a treat! To steal from a friend’s review, “Even though its a little over 100 years old it could’ve easily been written today. Herbert describes the dangers involved when politicians believe they can rationally decide as to how a society should develop.” A powerful, concise argument for the free market with lots of great quotes.

The Press and Abortion: 1838-1988 by Marvin Olasky

Despite the dry-sounding title, The Press and Abortion: 1838-1988 weaves a tale almost worthy of Erik Larson. It delves into the melodramatic headlines, sensational advertisements, and chilling murders that molded the early narrative of abortion in the media and how the language slowly became more sanitized and normalized in the 1900s. I now want a volume 2 tracing the last 30+ years!

Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett

Being an audible learner, it probably helped that I listened to this play as an audio book. But even so, I was shocked by how much I liked it. My sister lists it as one of the worst books she has ever read and my Goodreads friends seem pretty split down the middle on its merit. But I loved it. The very pointlessness. The frustration and angst and resignation. The characters. I get why people don’t like it, especially if forced to read it in high school. But man. It resonated.

Oedipus Rex and Antigone by Sophocles

Who needs Romeo and Juliet? Give me Haemon and Antigone any day for the dramatic and unnecessary deaths of romantic youths! In all seriousness, I thoroughly enjoyed these ancient plays and was reminded of what skill the Greek playwrights had that however many years later, I was still left chuckling and slightly heartbroken by the end.

Miss Buncle’s Book and Miss Buncle Married by by D.E. Stevenson

These books feel exactly like the literary version of a giant cup of tea on a rainy day: cozy, soothing, and absolutely delicious. The story follows Barbara Buncle, an English spinster in desperate need of some cash. So, she writes a book. A book based on the people in her small, English village. After all, what are the odds they will ever see it? As it turns out, very high, as Miss Buncle’s book becomes an overnight sensation and causes all sorts of chaos in the village as people recognize their literary counterparts…The title of the sequel gives away what happens next, but the delightful hijinks and village life continues in book 2. I highly recommend checking out.


My Favorite Books of 2020

400 books read in 2020. Here are my top 10:

10. The Closing of the American Mind by Allan Bloom

Published in 1988, this classic critique of higher education and intellectual thought was a surprisingly rambling read. Bloom jumps from the evils of Walkmans to the importance of Plato without blinking an eye. But if you stick around for the ride, he weaves an important and intriguing argument about educational philosophy. The crisp style and philosophical bend reminded me of Thomas Sowell, but instead of getting at ideas in politics, Bloom gets at ideas in philosophy and higher education, with an emphasis on the dangers of relativism.

9. Shifting Shadows: Stories from the World of Mercy Thompson by Patricia Briggs

Short stories are an art form and Patricia Briggs proves herself more than a master in this collection. I don’t necessarily recommend reading this one unless you have read her other books, but I felt it deserved a shout-out considering I devoured everything I could get my hands on by Briggs this past year. Keep an eye out for a longer post by me breaking down why I fell and fell hard for her books. (Despite…werewolves.)

8. The Gabriel Hounds by Mary Stewart

When rich and spoiled Christy Mansel decides to visit Damascus, she little imagines running into a long lost relative. But she can’t resist when she learns her eccentric Great-Aunt Harriet (long believed dead) lives nearby in a crumbling palace attended only by a doctor and handful of native servants. Except not all is as it appears…Your enjoyment of this novel will likely depend on whether you get the American or British version. The love interest is a first-cousin in the British version and more distant relation in the American. (Did you know you can still marry your cousin in most of the world?) I read the British version and despite not being totally behind the romance, I loved the characters and the writing–of course, it is Mary Stewart. I love just about everything by her.

7. Ghosts by Henrik Ibsen

I read Ibsen’s more famous play, A Doll’s House, this year and while I liked it, I loved his play Ghosts. Which feels a little twisted as this story centers on a widow who is haunted by the many mistresses of her deceased husband and her son who has inherited syphilis from his philandering father. Charming, right? But for a play written in 1881, the emotions still come across so strongly I can only imagine how shocking it was when it was published. It certainly strikes a cord today.

6. On the Incarnation by Athanasius of Alexandria

Published in the fourth century, this tiny volume lays out the meaning of the incarnation. It is marvelous. If possible, I highly recommend getting a copy with the introduction written by C.S. Lewis. His 7-pages are worth the price of the volume alone, but the whole thing is wonderful. Eye-opening even if you’ve been a Christian for a while.

5. Return of the Thief by Megan Whalen Turner

The 6th and final book in the Queen’s Thief series, Return of the Thief somehow lived up to my impossibly high expectations, just not at all in the way I expected. Any plot synopsis would be a major spoiler so I’ll just echo my usual plea: give the series a try! The first book is unbelievably slow but if you keep going, you will be richly rewarded for the effort. Easily my favorite fantasy series.

4. Justice on Trial: The Kavanaugh Confirmation and the Future of the Supreme Court by Mollie Hemingway and Carrie Severino

What really happened during the Kavanaugh confirmation? Who made what accusations…and when? Who knew what…and when? This book lays out the history of what happened during the hearings and includes an overview of previous confirmations (and why Republicans historically are terrible at choosing Supreme Court justices.) This was a really intriguing look at the history and tradition of the court, as well as everything the Kavanaugh family had to go through upon his nomination. And it doesn’t take a law degree to read!

3. Dorothy and Jack: The Transforming Friendship of Dorothy L. Sayers and C. S. Lewis by Gina Dalfonzo

Love C.S. Lewis? Love Dorothy L. Sayers? Look no farther than this marvelous (and short!) biography about their friendship! Both went to Oxford University, both loved reading G.K. Chesterton, and both made names for themselves as popular writers of theology for the general public. But it wasn’t until Sayers wrote Lewis a fan-letter that their friendship took off. While on the one hand this book describes their friendship, the very act of describing means delving into the philosophical debates the two shared about art, gender, faith, literature, and so much more. It also provides an intriguing glimpse into their mutual friendships with people like J.R.R. Tolkien. It is honestly a great look at what platonic friendship can look like.

2. Greensleeves by Eloise Jarvis McGraw

Set in the 1960s, 18-year-old Shannon Lightley wants nothing more than a place to belong after a lifetime spent bouncing between her divorced parents in Europe and her extended family in the United States. When a family friend offers her a temporary gig investigating a mysterious will, she jumps at the chance to avoid making a decision about her future. Using an assumed name and working as a waitress in a diner, Shannon finds herself entirely on her own for the first time in her life; and as the long summer days go by, she tries to sort out who she really is and what her future holds. This is one of the best coming-of-age stories I have ever read. I think every teenager can relate to Shannon’s feeling of displacement, and it makes her character growth that much more powerful. Highly recommend.

1. The Mutual Admiration Society: How Dorothy L. Sayers and her Oxford Circle Remade the World for Women by Mo Moulton

This biography follows four of the first female graduates from Oxford University: Dorothy L. Sayers, Dorothy Rowe, Charis Frankenburg, and Muriel St. Clare Byrne. Close friends, they were among the first women to receive college degrees and over their varied careers held almost every role available to women at the time as nurses, school teachers, playwrights, advertisers, speakers, directors, mothers, maiden aunts, and most of all, writers. Their friendship survived two world wars, loss of spouses and children, fame, scandal, and more, lasting from the 1910s to the 1980s. It is truly an impressive, inspiring story.


2019 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reviews, Part 7 (The Re-Reads)

François Mauriac apparently said, “If you would tell me the heart of a man, tell me not what he reads, but what he rereads.”

Well, I don’t know what the list says about me, but I re-read 58 books over the last year. 30 of them were 5-star reads. I’ve decided to provide a list of them. There are too many for a write-up but I recommend them for a good read!

Mr. Malcolm’s List by Suzanne Allain
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen
Persuasion by Jane Austen
In Another Girl’s Shoes by Berta Ruck
The Masqueraders by Georgette Heyer
The Corinthian by Georgette Heyer
The Talisman Ring by Georgette Heyer
False Colours by Georgette Heyer
Cotillion by Georgette Heyer
Arabella by Georgette Heyer
These Old Shades by Georgette Heyer
Devil’s Cub by Georgette Heyer
The Quiet Gentleman by Georgette Heyer
Sylvester by Georgette Heyer
The Grand Sophy by Georgette Heyer
Frederica by Georgette Heyer
Regency Buck by Georgette Heyer
The Convenient Marriage by Georgette Heyer
The Falconer’s Knot by Mary Hoffmann
The Iliad by Homer
The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye
Bargain Bride by Evelyn Sibley Lampman
The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis
Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis
Enough Rope by Dorothy Parker
Across a Star-Swept Sea by Diane Peterfruend
Just One Wish by Janette Rallison
Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster
Dear Enemy by Jean Webster


2019 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reviews, Part 5 (Greeks and Romans)

Welcome to my favorite reads of 2019…Part 5! I TAed this past semester for a class on early Western political thought which means I finally knocked off a lot of Greek writers from my to-read list! However, I will be the first to say that I only understood most of these books because I was taking a class while I read them. Accordingly, while these hit five stars and were favorites of the year, I don’t necessarily recommend just picking them up for fun.

The Histories by Herodotus

Basically, the book where we get the story of 300. Full of facts and legends, it really was an interesting read and fascinating as the first “history book” as we know the term today. I found it surprisingly fun as well as historically significant. 

Clouds, Frogs, Assemblywomen, Wealth by Aristophanes 

Arisotphanes was an Athenian playwright who lampooned the Iliad-like honor culture of Greek society. I read 4 of his plays. They are extraordinarily vulgar, extremely astute, and quite funny. And considering 2,000 years have passed since he wrote this stuff, it is incredible that his poop jokes are still funny. I think Wealth was my favorite. 

Phaedo by Plato

 Plato’s account of Socrates last hours before his death. It is a final look at his philosophy towards life and the philosopher’s call. Brief but impactful. 

The Republic by Plato

An incredibly important book for Western thought and the more I study it, the more I realize how much it impacted the world we know today. I kept pausing to exclaim, “But that’s something C.S. Lewis says!” or “That’s straight out of Saul Alinsky!” or “This is foundational to a G.K. Chesterton arguments!” But of course, it isn’t a book a book that depends on Lewis or Alinsky or Chesterton, but rather the common background for all them. That said, definitely a philosopher’s book. It begs for debate, discussion, further analysis but it doesn’t entirely satisfy because it leaves much unanswered. 

Ethics by Aristotle

I actually read this one twice: first at the beginning of the year while in Thailand then for my class. It definitely made way more sense the second time through. Context does amazing things for your understanding. I particularly liked the section on Friendship. Quite thought provoking. 

The Aeneid by Virgil

I did not like The Aeneid as much as The Iliad, but it certainly deserves credit for historical significance. The Aeneid follows the fall of Troy through the founding of Rome. Tons of hilariously bad passages foreshadowing the glory of Rome and Caesar and whatnot. But also tons of familiar scenes that are part of our modern mythos. So, worth a read. 


2019 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reviews, Part 4

#IMomSoHard by Kristin Hensley & Jen Smedley

Be prepared to learn and laugh about all the intimate, awkward parts of being a mom that no one talks about. I am definitely not the intended audience for this book, not being a mom  and all. However, it still made me laugh really hard and gave me insights to relate better to my friends who are moms. I highly recommend this one as an irreverent and upbeat look at the challenge of motherhood and how to support the moms in your life. 

Hamlet by William Shakespeare

Hamlet is that guy you know everything about but somehow haven’t met. You have all the same friends and maybe work in the same field but your paths never cross. And everyone says, “Oh my gosh, how do you not know Hamlet?” and all you can do is shrug and be like “IDK, dude. IDK.” Anyway, I’ve finally met Hamlet. And he’s awesome. Wonderfully ambiguous and funny. This is officially my favorite Shakespeare play.

The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People’s Lives Better, Too) by Gretchen Rubin

The Four Tendencies focuses on how people respond to expectations and how those expectation motivates them. Gretchen Rubin claims four types exist: Upholders, Questioners, Obligers, and Rebels. Upholders are motivated by internal and external expectations. Questioners only by internal expectation. Obligers only by external expectations. Rebels are motivated by neither. It sounds pretty simple and in a way it is.The book is not particularly mind blowing once you understand the initial framework. But I actually don’t think the author intends it to be. Perhaps it is just her legal style, but she cuts through a lot of the fluff one would typically expect. It made the whole thing a straightforward and fast read. Quite insightful and practical. 

Mike and Psmith by P.G. Wodehouse

A sporting story about cricket and the friendship of two, unlikely schoolboys at the turn of the century. Wodehouse’s distinctive comedic style mixes with the boarding school vibe to give a lovely, old fashioned flavor. Psmith is one of the most delightful characters I’ve met in a long time. You don’t even have to know anything about cricket to enjoy this story! 

The Enchiridion by St. Augustine

In The Enchiridion–Latin for “the handbook”–St. Augustine summarizes Christian doctrine in under 144 pages. It is brief, profound, and definitely worth chewing over. He expounds on the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love in a way that was new to me. If you are at all interested in reading more by the early church fathers generally or St. Augustine in particular, this is a good place to start. 

Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions by Mario Giordano

The only cozy mystery to make it on my 5-star list, Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions is actually a German novel semi-recently translated into English and set in Sicily. The author does a great job conveying life in Sicily through quirky characters, beautiful descriptions, and odd jokes. For being a light-hearted murder mystery, it also tackles many heavy topics. The heroine of the piece, Auntie Poldi, is a depressed, alcoholic divorcee/widow who moves to Sicily with the intent of drinking herself to death. But her family won’t let her. Her sisters-in-law drop in regularly to make sure she is doing okay. Her nephew–the narrator of book–comes regularly to stay with her. The book has some genuinely brilliant quotes, funny scenes, and great characterizations. Oh, and murder. I cannot wait to read more in the series. 


2019 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reviews, Part 2

Best reads of 2019…continued. 

Since You Asked… & Somewhere Only We Know by Maurene Goo

Since You Asked… was Maurene Goo’s first novel and Somewhere Only We Know her most recent. I loved them both. But honestly, I have yet to meet a Maurene Goo novel I did not love. She writes about Korean-Americans and usually references Korean dramas which is the way to my heart. Since You Asked… feels very “first novel” but the snarky heroine, tight friend group, and lack of any overarching plot make up for it. It balances angst with character growth and I found it super heartwarming. Meanwhile, Somewhere Only We Know is the story of a K-pop starlet trying to take a day off and a paparazzi who tricks her into hanging out with him. The K-pop starlet carries the plot with a quirky, driven character and it made for some fun, fluffy reading while still maintaining an undercurrent of emotional punch. If looking for some good YA, I will always recommend Maurene Goo. 

From Buddha to Jesus: An Insider’s View of Buddhism and Christianity by Steve Cioccolanti

I recommend this book with a caveat: a formally Buddhist (now Christian) friend recommended it to me while I was studying in Thailand because I was struggling to understand Eastern Buddhism. (It is quite different from Western Buddhism.) The book does a great job differentiating the two. It perfectly fit what I needed at the time. But I would not recommend this to the casual reader hoping to compare the two religions. The main purpose of this book is to be a very short and to the point primer for Christians going on short term missions with the intention of witnessing to Buddhists in Asia. It might be an “insider’s view,” but it is a very select view with a very specific mission. 

The Knockoff by Lucy Sykes & Jo Piazza (audio book version

This was an absolutely delicious audio book and if you decide to read The Knockoff, I recommend checking it out in the audio format. Katherine Kellgren somehow manages British posh, valley-girl, and start-up tech nerd without once making it feel forced or awkward. Delightful. The story itself is a novel about a middle aged woman who returns to her position as editor of a fashion magazine after a long leave only to find her boss turned it into an app. Now, surrounded by Millennials and baffled by e-mail, this Gen Xer must learn to find commonality with her co-workers and save her magazine. Despite a rather over-the-top villain, I found the story surprisingly thought-provoking and sweet. I really liked it. Very memorable. 

Evidence Not Seen: A Woman’s Miraculous Faith in the Jungles of World War II by Darlene Deibler Rose

This memoir tells the story of an American missionary who was held in a Japanese POW camp for four years during WW2. While it certainly recounts God’s grace to the prisoners during a very harrowing time, my favorite parts were when Darlene Deibler Rose lets down her hair a little and lets you know what she really thinks. For as much grace as she shows to her Japanese captors, she might suddenly name drop someone and be like “Yeah, that woman was a skank who had 3 amazing kids and I have no idea how they turned out amazing with a Mom like her.” And you would think it would come across as offensive and maybe it does to some. But to me it felt genuine. The personality of the storyteller really shines through. This is an imperfect memoir that feels super genuine and honest because of its imperfections.

Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan

So, Crazy Rich Asians made 5 stars. China Rich Girlfriend did not. Jury is still out on Rich People Problems. We shall see. But I sure loved this one. It is a not-so-subtle mockery of the glitzy, rich life of an elite few and I ate up every word. Like the movie, my favorite part is how the intertwining stories balance the soap opera of Nick and Rachel’s life with the [still soap-opera-y] but more hard hitting drama of Astrid’s crumbling marriage. Of course, it is not perfect. Definitely vulgar at times and more language than I like. But so fluffy and ridiculously over the top I could not help loving it.

 


2019 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reviews, Part 1

I read 319 books in 2019 and quite a few turned out to be gems! Here are some of my favorites.

The Boy With Wings by Berta Ruck

Written in 1915, this novel contains multiple levels. At its most basic, it is the romance of a Welsh girl and her aviator boyfriend. At another level, it is the story of how war came to England from a woman’s perspective. And finally, at an even deeper level, it is a work that provided social identity to women in a rapidly changing era. I honestly think it should rank as a classic and I cannot believe there are only two reviews of it on Goodreads (and one is mine!) I did not necessarily like the story, but I am amazed by how it captures emotions I still feel–and don’t always know how to express–over a hundred years later. The writing’s very timelessness makes it beloved.

Commentary on the Epistle to the Galatians by Martin Luther

Martin Luther writes about Paul as one writes about a mutual friend. It brought passages I thought I was pretty well familiar with to light in new ways. I found it a wonderful reminder of the power of justification by faith alone and the work overall uplifting, thought-provoking, and encouraging.

EntreLeadership: 20 Years of Practical Business Wisdom from the Trenches by Dave Ramsey

Dave Ramsey is obviously a very familiar name in financial circles and in EntreLeadership he talks about what it takes to to succeed as a leader, manager, and entrepreneur. This is a pretty foundational read and full of relevant advice and experience. He comes across curmudgeonly at times and I personally would never want to work for him, but I sure enjoyed learning about how he structures incentive and such. This was particularly good as an audio book. 

Daring to Hope: Finding God’s Goodness in the Broken and the Beautiful by Katie Davis Majors

I really love Katie’s first book Kisses from Kate and her second memoir did not disappoint. For those not familiar with her story, Katie did a ‘gap year’ in Uganda…and  ended up staying and adopting 13 orphan girls. Katie experiences more pain and suffering daily than I think most of us ever will fully know. But the point isn’t the magnitude of pain, but the commonality of wondering where God is amidst the pain. Katie opens up about her heartbreak. She writes of losing children and watching friends die, of unanswered prayers and unexpressed doubts. She writes of the gospel and the prophets and patriarchs and in doing so reveals the many cries of God’s people within the Bible. Although different in scope and nature, it reminded me of C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed. Powerful, strengthening, and inspiring.

On Fairy-Stories by J.R.R. Tolkien

“Very little about trees as trees can be got into a play.” A lovely essay about truth and fairy tales and creation and…oh, everything worth thinking about. I want to memorize every word. (Though admittedly, this is an area I’m interested in so I was predisposed to love it.) An excellent read following Letters to a Diminished Church by Dorothy L Sayers. The two works touch on the Christian’s role as creator, but in very different ways.

In Plain Sight: Impunity and Human Rights in Thailand by Tyrell Haberkorn

I recommend this book to anyone seriously interested in human rights violations and the way a nation can zealously uphold human rights in name while simultaneously violating them in reality. While this book centers on Thailand specifically, the author does an incredible job describing a universal reality. He describes the class attitudes that uphold the rights of some but not others. Interspersed with theory and facts, he tells compelling stories of human rights violations in Thailand. Throughout he holds that human rights violations did not appear and disappear with each coup d’etat, but rather existed consistently throughout them all. Besides containing a great combination of stories, data, and theory, In Plain Sight was very well written. I read it in one sitting. Great topic sentences! Engaging and well worth the time.