Tag Archives: best books of 2018

2018 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reviews, Part 4

Radical Candor: Be a Kick-Ass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Malone Scott

Giving and receiving criticism are two of the most difficult parts of being a boss. This book takes that reality and addresses it head on. I really, really enjoyed and appreciated it. It is somewhat niche as the author’s main case studies come from Google, Apple, and Twitter. However, a lot of the principles she mentions carry over into everyday life. Even as someone not currently managing people, I found a lot of her principles just good advice for every day relationships.

Don’t Cosplay with My Heart by Cecil Castellucci

This Young Adult novel tells the story of a high school girl who copes with her messed up life by cosplaying as her favorite comic book character. I unexpectedly loved the book. It tugged on my heartstrings and wrapped me up in a world of fandoms and cosplay. It wasn’t perfect – a little on the nose with its “all fans are equal” message and I’m never a fan of teenage romance – but it successfully walked the line of emotional and angsty. While it could have been more fleshed out, I liked it because it wasn’t. Short, fun, appealing. It captures what brings people to fandoms and cosplay and how one girl channels her anxiety about life into her costumes. If I have one complaint, it is with the title. It does not do the book justice.

2 Fuzzy, 2 Furious by Shannon Hale

I am officially obsessed with Shannon Hale’s Squirrel Girl. And this is solidly Juvenile fiction. Not aimed at adults at all. Doreen is a Marvel superhero – Squirrel Girl. She doesn’t get to hang out with the Avengers much, but she does text with them! (The Winter Solider is scary…) Her powers include a giant tail that she hides in her pants and the ability to communicate with squirrels. It sounds weird, it is weird, but it works so well. I giggled my way throughout. Also, I am pretty sure I am Squirrel Girl. I need more books in this series PRONTO.

The Way You Make Me Feel by Maurene Goo

Sometimes, Young Adult novels are really terrible, and sometimes they are written by Maurene Goo and are amazing. This book hit me right in the feels. Clara Shin doesn’t take life too seriously. She loves pulling pranks, though, and finally her pranking goes too far and her Dad forces her to work at his Korean-Brazilian food truck over the summer with her arch-nemesis. I loved Clara from the start. I loved the diversity in this book. The character growth. The food truck. I d that even though it is packaged as a sort of Sarah Dessen teeny romance, the real focus is on female friendships and learning to care. The romance hits the right note of important, but not all consuming for the plot. Just good.

My Plain Jane by by Cynthia Hand, Jodi Meadows, Brodi Ashton

This is the second book in the The Lady Janies series. The first one told the story of Jane Gray – the fated 9-day, English Queen – and the third one will tell the story of Calamity Jane (I wanttttt). My Plain Jane, however, tells the story of Jane Eyre. But not the story you know. As always, the Lady Janies mess with history (or in this case, literature) to include a host of fantastical characters and hilarious, witty plot points. It is so fun and creative. You can read it with without reading the first one (only the names connect them.)

The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom by Jonathan Haidt

Using psychology, philosophy, theology (ish), and some biology, Jonathan Haidt digs into what brings true happiness and how we define it. I like how intellectually engaging the book was. Most of the studies, philosophies, and ideas he presented were familiar. However, I’ve never seen them combined like this. It really is about “modern truth” born from “ancient wisdom.” I might disagree with how he reaches his conclusions, but overall I liked chewing it over.


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: My 5 Star Reviews, Part 2

The Death of Ivan Ilyich by Leo Tolstoy   

This is a short novel about the death of a worldly, high court judge in Russia and the reaction of the people around him. The book was beautiful, though even as I write that I realize how odd it sounds. A story about a self-absorbed man dying? Beautiful? Yet it was. It was beautiful because Tolstoy captures how death makes humans sympathetic, even the most insufferable among us.

Warriors Don’t Cry: A Searing Memoir of the Battle to Integrate Little Rock’s Central High by Melba Pattillo Beals

This is a powerful memoir about one girl’s experience during a year of forced integration in Little Rock, Arkansas. I read some of the cases in law school, but it is a different thing to hear it from a 15 year old’s perspective. Whether or not you agree with the politics, it makes for an interesting, thought-provoking read. (Also, I found the book so absorbing I had to remind myself that this was Real Life and not Fiction, so I couldn’t be disappointed when my ship died.) I almost put this book in the Mid Blowing Reads category, and it still might belong there. It is one of those excellent memoirs that places one individual’s experience within the broader changes of history and in the process really makes history personal. (I will say as warning, there is one scene that does make it inappropriate for younger readers.)  

Wait Till Next Year by Doris Kearns Goodwin

This was a powerful, sweet memoir about baseball and childhood. Goodwin recounts her experience as a kid in the 1950s, bonding over baseball with her Dad and reading with her Mom. It doesn’t feel anywhere close to 272 pages. This is the story of childhood innocence, New York, and the rivalry of Dodger, Giant, and Yankee fans. It is brief, sweet, and memorable.

I Am Malala: The Story of the Girl Who Stood Up for Education and Was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai

As a fifteen year old, Malala was shot in the head at point-blank range by the Taliban. Her crime? Seeking an education as a female in Pakistan. I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this book and I was pleasantly surprised. I’ve heard Malala’s story; it is a powerful one. She makes it even more powerful, however, by allowing her passion for her country to come through in her writing. She talks about Pakistan’s conflicts, history, and beauty. Her love is strong and because it is strong, she cuts through the hate, misinterpretation, and confusion and allows her readers to see and love her country too.

Making Your Case: The Art of Persuading Judges by Antonin Scalia and Bryan Garner

Justice Scalia and his thoughts on two skills courtroom lawyers must develop: persuasive thinking and persuasive writing. It is a practical and interesting book for lawyers. I particularly appreciated the portions about brief writing, as that carries the most immediate use for me. Potentially useful for non-lawyers but not perhaps my first recommendation.

You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) by Felicia Day

Like many celebrity memoirs, I picked this book up without a clue as to who Felicia Day was. But I loved the title. And honestly, I ended up loving the book. I mean, she was homeschooled! ME TOO. All her friends in high school came from the internet! SAME! After graduating, she moved to Hollywood to pursue stardom! Oh wait, not me. In fact, once Day left high school, this book ceased to be relatable, but never ceased to be enjoyable. Initially, I liked it because of it reminded me of, well, me. Yet as she opens up about her anxiety and depression, I was reminded of many of my close friends and the world they live in that I often struggle to understand. I feel like Felicia Day’s writing helped bridge that gap a little. Not a perfect book, a little vulgar at times, but one that hit close to home and made me chuckle often. I may not be a gamer, but I sure know what it is like to have all your friends come from the internet. It is fun to find someone else who understands.

(Also, HAPPY BIRTHDAY, BETHANY!!!!)


2018 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reviews, Part 1

I read 255 books in 2018! Here are some of the best:

Confessions by Saint Augustine

Augustine of Hippo is one of the great church fathers of the Christian faith. Confessions is his memoir, testimony, and prayer to God. It is beautiful and difficult. I should have read it long ago. But honestly, even at 25 I felt intimidated and pretentious picking up a book by a church father. Imagine 15-year-old me doing it. But 15-year-olds should read this book. And 25-year-olds. And 85-year-olds. Augustine is not as scary as he sounds. Confessions is an incredibly readable and beautiful book. It is a love letter to God. I found it challenging and profound; I will definitely be coming back. This is one of those books that calls for multiple re-reads.

The Ugly Duckling by A.A. Milne

To read the synopsis is to know the entire plot of this one-act play: a king and queen want to get their ugly daughter married, so they have her beautiful serving maid take her place when a prince comes calling. Little do they guess the prince decides to try the same ruse! Though short, this is a very sweet story and an immediate favorite. The Ordinary Princess by M.M. Kaye (a favorite children’s book of mine) does a fun job retelling it. Very good for a quick read.

Good Brother, Bad Brother: The Story of Edwin Booth and John Wilkes Booth by James Cross Giblin

With a title like “Good Brother, Bad Brother” I expected a picture book aimed at children. Then, when the book arrived, I realized it was 244 pages and not aimed at children at all. This is a full-fledge biography! I went through a phase in high school where I was all things obsessed with the Lincoln assassination and this book landed on my to-read list courtesy of that obsession. My memory has dimmed somewhat as to the actual assassination but this book’s focus on Edwin Booth filled in many fascinating details I’d either forgotten or never knew. Edwin was himself a remarkable man forced to forever live in the shadow of his infamous brother. This biography does an excellent job showing Edwin in a positive light (his acting, overcoming alcoholism, love for his daughter) while also not shying away from his flaws (failed theater, failed marriage, etc.) I definitely recommend this one as a fascinating look at John Wilkes Booth’s brother and as the biography of a remarkable actor basically forgotten by history.

The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, JR. by Clayborne Carson

A fascinating book and great audio with snip-its from Martin Luther King Jr.’s actual speeches. I especially liked what it had to say about organizing. It contains good tips, such as: pick a target, don’t protest generally. (Very Saul Alinsky.) Like most people, I assume, I am most familiar with MLK’s work in the South and was fascinated to learn about his efforts in Chicago. His methods and goals seem to have shifted at that point and perhaps not been as effective. It left me wanting to learn more.

Mr. Malcolm’s List by Suzanne Allain

So, you read Jane Austen. And she’s great! Classic, even. But possibly not an author you want to curl up with on a rainy afternoon. Then you discover Georgette Heyer. She is romantic and clean and everything you were looking for. However, eventually you run out of Heyer and you can only re-read those books so many times. (Trust me, I know.) Where do you turn next? I recommend Suzanne Allain. From a technical standpoint, Mr. Malcolm’s List isn’t a perfect book by a long shot. It plays fast and loose with historical detail (all that first-name calling!) and comfortably relies on some scandalous behavior. But It. Is. So. Fun! And best of all, it fills that Regency craving without causing you to blush. I found it unexpectedly funny and sweet. While reading it, I often flipped back to re-read scenes just for the pleasure of it. Quite a delightful book.

Stuff Christians Like by Jonathan Acuff

Speaking of funny…Stuff Christians Like caused me to laugh so hard that people kept staring at me on the bus. I seriously could not keep it in. The book gently satirizes many parts of Christian culture we take for granted. Though the book is starting to feel ever so slightly dated, I was continually delighted by how dead-on accurate it was. It also ends on a more serious note, combining humor and grace in a way that leaves the book more than just another funny read. It has depth. Mostly, though, I recommend it for a good laugh!


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.