Tag Archives: book reviews

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. 


Old Reviews

It throws me for a loop every time someone likes an old review of mine on Goodreads. Even if it was a review I wrote earlier in the year, I feel surprise. Obviously I know they are out there. I re-read them myself semi-regularly. But I still go, how did you find my review? Why this one? Is this what fame feels like?

Take today. I got likes for My Lucky Life In and Out of Show Business by Dick Van Dyke, American Panda by Gloria Chao, The Road to Serfdom by Friedrich Hayek, Peter Pan in Scarlet by Geraldine McCaughrean, and Sapphire Blue by Kirsten Gier. So random! And not one like for the book review I just posted. (You can see my real disgruntlement.) 

My review of Sapphire Blue is my big claim to fame, actually. I wrote it in 2012 and it now has 70 likes! Don’t ask me why. I certainly put more thought and articulation into other reviews before and after. But that’s the one that consistently pops up!


Brightly Burning by Alexa Donne

Image result for brightly burning alexa donne

4 words: Jane Eyre in space.

Does that sound awesome to you? Then you’ll probably like this book. 

Does that sound horrid? You’ll probably hate it. 

On the fence? Well, do you like YA? If yes, read this book. If no, avoid. 

 

I found it pleasant and pretty clever but nothing above 3 stars. 


Addicting Books

“Review up! I finished a book…finally!” I tell my friend.

“She’s back!” says my friend enthusiastically. 

“No,” I say. “I don’t have time for reading. Just the one book.” 

But – as usual – my friend was right. I ended up reading 3 books total within 24 hours. 

Books are just so addicting, you know? Read one, you need another! 


Whatcha Reading…? 4/11/16 Book Update

Over the past few days I finished the three books from my last post (Wired to Create received 2 out of 5 stars, The Lady Investigates 3, and David Copperfield obviously got 5). I followed those up with a mediocre YA fairy tale retelling (The Shadow Queen by C.J. Redwine. Not worth the time.) Now I’m back to juggling two “print” books and one audio book. This time they are all well-known books because I’m trying to put a dent in my to-read list (currently at 1,003.) They are Dracula by Bram Stoker, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad, and Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra.

All 3 of these books have been on my official to-read list since 2010 and on my “mental” to-read list for many years even before that. I’m very excited to be done with them once and for all…the thought of finishing is about the only thing keeping me going with at least one of them (cough…Mr. La Mancha.) 

I’m 114 pages into Dracula and it is finally picking up (though the last chapter was kind of slow.) However, despite the excess of romanticism and slow start, I really am enjoying the book. I love the author’s use of journal entries and letters to tell the story. Epistolary novels were nothing new when this was published, but I don’t think I’ve read anything from its era quite as well developed with the journal entries/letters. It has a proper flavor of horror that I’m immensely enjoying. After years of reading spin-off novels and comparisons, it is nice to finally meet Dr. Van Helsing, Mina, and even Count Dracula “in the flesh.” I think I will get along splendidly with this one. 

I’m less sure about Heart of Darkness, but I haven’t gotten as far. Actually, I’ve barely read the first page. The actual text is only 77 pages but the copy I have is 509 pages. It is full of “Backgrounds and Contexts,” including “Nineteenth-Century Attitudes Towards Race,” and “Criticism,” such as “Cannibalizing Traditions: Representation and Critique in Heart of Darkness.” It is an intimidating sight and I don’t think I’m interested enough in the actual work to read all of it. Or maybe any of it besides the 77 pages of text. We’ll see how it goes. If this book is as confusing as my friend Kris says, I might need the other 432 pages to explain it. But what kind of book needs 432 pages of explanation? Doesn’t sound like a book that should be published. 

Finally, my audio book, good old Don Quixote. I have had a copy of the work for years but it really isn’t one of those books you see on your shelf and think ‘Ah, I am going to tackle Cervantes today.’ Or at least, I don’t. The audio book is 38 hours. I am on disc 4 of 28 or 29 and am pretty unimpressed. It is interesting, fantastical, and  I hope tongue-in-cheek, but with an odd lack of cohesion so far. Waaayyyy too much poetry. And there are the most random details thrown in….like 10 minutes of his friends discussing his library before burning it. Anyway, I’m determined to finish and maybe this book will have a shocking, stellar ending that will tie everything together. Maybe. Probably not. It has to be famous for some reason, though. Right now I just hope it won’t put me to sleep while I’m driving. 


2015 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reviews, Part 3

The Silver Bowl and The Cup and Crown by Diane Stanley

I have mixed feelings mentioning these two. I loved them. The Silver Bowl was adorable, full of danger, wicked curses, a hint of romance, and evil family members. In short, everything a good fantasy novel should have. Its sequel, The Cup and Crown, only adds to the adventure. Our heroine has come of age and now stands out as a butt-kicking, name-taking, epic young lady of magical proportion. It concludes with an ending just bitter-sweet enough to give some emotional pull. And then…the third book happened. I hated it so much I gave it one star. (You will have to read my One Star post to find out why!) So I’m not really sure what to tell you to do with these. Either read just these two and miss one third of the story, or read two excellent fantasy novels and weep as you finish the third, or only read the first because it kind of can stand alone.

The Abolition of Man and The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis

I waited much too long to read these excellent books. Both are short and profound. They are philosophically challenging and will take many re-reads to fully grasp. The Abolition of Man masterfully summarize the importance of universal values for societies. The Great Divorce is an allegory of heaven and hell and the decisions people make when confronted with them.  I cannot praise Lewis adequately enough so I’ll leave this one short and sweet. Go read them.

5 To 1 by Holly Bodger

The plot takes place in 2054, where India is suffering from an immense gender gap. There are 5 boys to every 1 girl. Tired of being sold to the highest bidder, women in India split from the government and form their own country where boys must compete in a series of tests to “win” a wife. The plot flips between the poetry of Sudasa, the girl to be won, and the prose of Contestant 5, who only wants to escape. On the one hand, it is an emotionally appealing and brief (250 page) story that succeeds where most dystopian novels fail because it doesn’t try too hard. There is no insta-love or cliff-hanger ending leading to multiple, pointless sequels. On the other hand, it is also a serious message about elevating one gender over the other, and the danger of valuing sons over daughters or vice versa. Good truths wrapped in a beautiful little YA novel.

Kisses From Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption by Katie Davis

The inspiring true story of Katie, an average American teenager who discovered a passion for Uganda. A single mission trip quickly became a life calling for 18-year-old Katie, who returned after graduating and ended up adopting 14 girls. This book is inspiring and encouraging. Katie’s passion and joy comes through the pages, and I found myself helplessly grinning as I read it! This is a woman who has found her calling and it is beautiful to behold.  

I Am Princess X by Cherie Priest

A brilliant addition to the world of well-told stories. I Am Princess X is a pink and purple book that tells the story Libby and May: the dynamic duo. Best friends since 5th grade, they were co-creators of Princess X, a katana-weilding, ghost defeating princess of their imagination. Libby drew the comics, May wrote the plots, and Princess X made them the perfect trio. Until Libby died in an accident at age 13. Three years later, only May is left. Until one day she sees a Princess X sticker on a building. Then graffitied on a wall. And again on a backpack. Princess X is everywhere, made popular by an online webcomic. Only two people knew about Princess X, and one of them is dead. Or is she? This book is full of convenient coincidences and implausible moments but it really is one of my favorites from this year. It is a fairy tale and a thriller and a story of friendship with a superhero feel. Bad Guys are Bad and Good Intentions save the day. What more could you want?

Elizabeth Is Missing by Emma Healey

Elizabeth Is Missing is a riveting story with a double mystery and an unreliable narrator. Maud can’t remember. She knows her friend Elizabeth is missing, she wrote it down. However, no one believes her, not her daughter, her caretaker, or the police. But Elizabeth is missing. Or is it Maud’s sister, Sukey, who is gone? The years get mixed up for Maud – a woman with dementia – as she recalls the mysterious disappearance of her older sister. Except now it is her friend, Elizabeth, who has disappeared and no one will listen! A very well written mystery that simultaneously echoes the frustration of growing old and the hardship of caring for an aging parent.

Feeling Sorry For Cecelia by Jaclyn Moriarty

Jaclyn Moriarty is quickly becoming one of my favorite YA authors. Feeling Sorry For Cecelia follows a teenage girl named Elizabeth and the struggle she feels losing her best friend, Cecelia. However it is not told in the usual way. The plot is laid out in notes between Elizabeth and her mother, letters with her pen-pal, postcards from her best friend, and occasional letters from her self-esteem. It is very well done. The book handles serious issues (divorced parents, changing friendships, relationships, etc.) but does so in a funny, wry style that kept the story bitter-sweet instead of just plain depressing. The book is peppered with a variety of wonderful, quirky characters. PG13 for content, but well worth it if you’re looking for a solid YA read.

 


2015 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reviews, Part 1

Based on the vast number of good books I read this year, I have broken this post into three parts to help readability. As usual, books are not laid out in any specific way, but in the random order ordained by Goodreads (and myself!) See any favorites?

Enjoy!

Contempt of Court: The Turn-of-the-Century Lynching That Launched A Hundred Years of Federalism by Mark Curriden and Leroy Phillips

Rarely do you find biographies so readable and uniquely connected to everyday life. Contempt of Court covers the trial and lynching of Ed Johnson, an African American accused of raping a white woman in 1906. Despite strong evidence to the contrary, a judge found him guilty and sentenced him to death. The U.S. Supreme Court intervened and eventually went so far as to hold those connected to his lynching in contempt of court. This case was the only time the Supreme Court ever heard a criminal case. United States v. Shipp did more than decide one man’s guilt or innocence. It declared the Supreme Court had authority over a state criminal court case. This both reflected and launched a new age of federal involvement. Very worth reading.

Strong Poison (book 6), Gaudy Night (book 12), and Busman’s Honeymoon (book 13) by Dorothy L. Sayers

These are all books in the Lord Peter Wimsey series. To be honest, I love them all and if you haven’t discovered the brilliance that is Dorothy L. Sayers, you really need to. Her mysteries are intellectual and intriguing and Sir Peter Wimsey is wonderful. However, these three were my absolute favorites. (If you know the series, you’ll realize all these books involve Harriet Vane. She is fabulous.) What is great, though, is that they are all wonderful in equally different ways. Strong Poison involves a cold case, where the murder happened months earlier and now Sir Peter must piece together the clues. Gaudy Night takes place at Oxford and is very soul-searching and academic. Busman’s Honeymoon is everything a fangirl could want for the couple she’s been shipping for 6 books. Oh, so good. I want to go re-read them right now.

The Science of Success by Charles Koch

Easy to understand and filled with helpful principles, this is an “abbreviated” predecessor of Good Profit. It was designed for more internal use and that comes across. Certainly worth reading for a better understanding of Market Based Management and Koch Industries. There are lots of interesting stories and it really is a good grounding in MBM. However. Good Profit is now out. Go read that one.

The Queen’s Thief Series by Megan Whalen Turner

If you want to be technical, only The King of Attolia (book 3) and A Conspiracy of Kings (book 4) got 5 stars from me, but the entire series is totally worth it. While the first book, The Thief, feels a little slow, it has a terrific twist at the end. Plus, the series picks up and gets better and better and BETTER. It has adventure, battles, romance, plot twists. The series will break your heart a million different ways, every one of them worth it. I can’t really give plot descriptions without giving something away, so just go read it already. (There are some mature themes, so I recommended for high schoolers on up)

Guys Are Waffles, Girls Are Spaghetti by Chad Eastham

Chad Eastham’s book Guys Like Girls Who… played an influential role in my life in high school. It was great reading him again. Guys Are Waffles, Girls Are Spaghetti is aimed at teenagers and talks about the different ways guys and girl function. It covers a myriad of topics like brain development, emotions, and relationships. Funny, serious, and easy to read, the book is a mix of stories, facts, and zany quips.  Even “outside” of the intended age group, I found it very helpful. Highly recommended, especially for teenagers.

Plain Kate by Erin Bow

A dark, twisted children’s book that breaks your heart but is eminently worth it. The story is very reminiscent of a Grimm’s Fairy Tale. “Plain” Kate is a woodcarver, left on the streets to fend for herself after her parents die. Her woodwork is beautiful, but many whisper that she is a witch. In order to escape the accusations, Kate makes a bargain with a mysterious man: her shadow in exchange for her heart’s wish. Gypsies, magic, and love all come to play in this lyrical story.

Disclaimer: I do not recommend this book to just anyone, and certainly not the intended age group. Plain Kate involves witchcraft, raising the dead, and sacrifices. While many of these things are treated in a negative light, I know many of my readers will not like it.