Tag Archives: c s lewis

2019 Reading Challenge: My Favorite Books

With 76 5-star reads this year, you better believe it was hard to choose favorites. I narrowed it down to 46 by dropping all my re-reads. Then I removed any Mary Stewart novels and Greek/Roman classics because–per my scheduling post–those will get separate posts later. But still. This was hard!

However, without much ado, I give you my favoritest favorite books of 2019 (in no particular order.) 

Sanditon: Jane Austen’s Last Novel by Jane Austen & Anne Telscombe (aka Marie Dobbs)

Jane Austen wrote the first 11 chapters of Sanditon before dying at age 41. And they are brilliant. Chapter 3 begins, “Every neighborhood should have a great lady.” Genius. But alas, never completed. Instead, in 1975, Anne Telscombe finished the story. And her conclusion feels way more like Georgette Heyer than Jane Austen. It is a completely different tone and suffers horrendously from hindsight, with characters enthusing about gaslights and other inventions just about to make it big. But you know what? It does not matter. This was still one of my favorite reads from 2019 because it was genuinely entertaining. Unfortunately, or perhaps fittingly, the mini-series based on the story and released this past year did not take well and will not be completed with a second season. 

A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer 

Beauty and the Beast…with an epic twist. You know the story. An enchantress curses a prince to live as a beast until he finds true love. But did you know the first girl failed to break the curse? And the second. And the third. And so on. Each time he fails, Beast goes crazy and destroys all he loves. But it resets. New girl. New chance. All the memories. Except now he has only one reset left. Meet Harper. She lives in the bad part of town and has cerebral palsy. Then she saves an unconscious girl from a sword-swinging weirdo and gets dragged to a fantasy kingdom to break a curse. But she’s not sticking around.
I’ve read loads of Beauty and the Beast retellings and this is hands-down my favorite. It is dark, gritty, and hopeful with very memorable characters. That said, I have no interest in reading the rest of the series. YA authors really need to quit it with the cliff-hangers.

The Trial by Franz Kafka

It took me several tries to get into The Trial but once I did, I devoured it. It tells the story Josef K., a respectable bank officer suddenly and inexplicably arrested and tried but never told what for. It illustrates the falseness of a “justice” system without the rule of law and the character’s own false optimism that it will all get cleared up. I loved it. But then again, I also loved The Metamorphosis which some people do not so consider yourself warned. 

Twelve Angry Men by Reginald Rose

Speaking of courtrooms…Twelve Angry Men is a classic American play (and movie, actually) about the meaning of “innocent until proven guilty” and how one man’s conviction can change the hearts of a whole group. Some plays you need to see performed to really feel the pathos. This is not  one. The words jump off the pages even with just a casual read. It is a rallying cry for the American justice system. I found it moving and inspiring. Definitely an instant favorite and as relevant for 2020 as 1954 when first written. 

The Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis

Do you ever hear so much about a book that you feel like you’ve read it already? That’d be me with The Weight of Glory. I’ve heard so much about the sermons and essays inside this volume that a part of me was surprised to discover it still unread. It was marvelous. I read through the titular piece three times before moving on. I highly recommend this collection of sermons and essays as thought-provoking reading you can take all at once or slowly and one at a time. (And if you understand the essay on Transposition, do tell me, because I did not.)

The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Speaking of books to take slowly…it took me 2 years to complete The Cost of Discipleship. I could not rush it. Everything I read needed to be chewed over and sifted. I found it thought-provoking. Challenging. Encouraging. Motivating. Most of all, I relished reading doctrine. The book was a breath of fresh air. The downside of taking such a long time to read it, however, is that I’m not sure I can pin-point what all impacted me or which quotes I liked best. It impacted me gradually and I fell in love with all the quotes. Guess I need to add it to my to re-read list for 2020. 

Letters to a Diminished Church: Passionate Arguments for the Relevance of Christian Doctrine by Dorothy L Sayers

I love C.S. Lewis and appreciate the emphasis on his writings displayed by many Christian writers and academics today. But if I may be so bold, Christians really need to start paying more attention to Dorothy L. Sayers. Letters to a Diminished Church is a collection of essays on what it means to be made in the image of God the Creator. And it is so good. Sayers writes with biting wit and clear truths and reveals profound ideas. She touches on ancient history, Medieval allegory, and modern psychology. She unhesitatingly jumps from author to author in fleshing out her ideas, including references to Lewis’s Space Trilogy. While I love her book The Mind of the Maker, I strongly recommend starting with Letters to a Diminished Church. Like with The Weight of Glory, the essay format means you can take it as slow or fast as you want without losing the ‘thread’ of the thought. 

Edge of His Ways by Amy Carmichael 

“Thank God courage is as ‘infectious’ as discouragement.” Edge of His Ways is a daily devotional with a different writing of Amy Carmichael–usually a letter or journal entry–highlighted each day. Amy is one of my personal heroines and if you are not familiar with her story, I recommend checking her out. This devotional is encouraging, inspiring, and challenging. The copy I read had a very feminine, floral cover which is a pity because I think it is an equally excellent devotional for men and women. If looking for a short, encouraging daily read, I highly recommend. 

Thailand: The Solo Girl’s Travel Guide by Alexa West

Last, but never least, Alexa West’s amazing Thailand: The Solo Girl’s Travel Guide. If you are traveling to Thailand, you should get this book. If you are traveling anywhere in Southeast Asia, you should see if she has a book about that country. (She probably does.) This goes double if you are a solo traveler and triple if you are a solo girl traveler. Reading Alexa’s book feels like getting advice from a trusted friend and it never once steered me wrong. Some of my favorite experiences last year while living in Thailand came from her suggestions. 


2019 Reading Challenge

I read a lot of books last year! 319, to be exact. Over the next two weeks, this blog is going to be all books all the time as I review the best–and worst–reads of 2019. I have posted my favorite and least favorite reads for six years now, but this year broke a lot of records. So, to help make it more manageable, tomorrow I will post a schedule with what to expect over the next few days. 

Until then, here is a recap of my year!

My 2019 Reading Stats

319 books spanning 91,483 pages. Of the 319, 58 were re-reads

Average rating: 3.3 stars.

Average Book Length: 286 pages.

To Read List: Jumped from 901 to 979. Whoops.

My Favorite Book This Year: Probably Sanditon by Jane Austen and Anne Telscombe but I will have an entire post listing my favorites. 

Most disappointing book: The Big Kahuna by Janet Evanovich 

Best Re-Read: Either Bargain Bride by Evelyn Sibley Lampman or The Magician’s Nephew by C.S. Lewis 

Most Read Author: Georgette Heyer (27 different books!)

Best New-To-Me Author: Mary Stewart   

Best Middle School Read: The Extremely Inconvenient Adventures of Bronte Mettlestone by Jaclyn Moriarty

Longest Read: Understanding Immigration Law and Practice by Ayodele Gansallo at 736 pages (and yes, it is a textbook, but I read it!)

Shortest Read: On Fairy-Stories by J.R.R. Tolkien at a whopping 27 pages

Most Popular Read: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (a re-read) 

Least Popular Read: Mae Om Ki: The Life of the Forest and Ideals of the Justice System by Laofang Bundidterdsakul (I will never again complain when people misspell my last name.)


The Weight of Glory by C.S. Lewis

As a speed reader, I think one of my greatest weaknesses comes from how fast I digest information. No sooner have I read something worth chewing over than I’ve moved on to something else. So, when I find an author who forces me to stop and ponder, I value that author immensely.

C.S. Lewis has always been one of those authors. I picked up The Weight of Glory, which is a sermon he wrote, about three weeks ago and have yet to get any farther than the first paragraph. There is just so much to unpack. Here is how it starts: 

“If you asked twenty good men today what they thought the highest of the virtues, nineteen of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you had asked almost any of the great Christians of old, he would have replied, Love. You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological importance. The negative idea of Unselfishness carries with the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point. I do not think this is the Christian virtue of Love.”

If you haven’t read the sermon already, I highly recommend checking it out and reading along with me! It is 9 pages long and available as a pdf here.


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.


The Happiness Hypothesis by Jonathan Haidt

I rated this one 5 stars so you will probably see it pop up again in my end-of-the-year 5 star reviews. 

Image result for the happiness hypothesis

In The Happiness Hypothesis, Jonathan Haidt draws on his understanding of philosophy and psychology to define happiness and how to achieve it. He quotes from the Bhagavad Gita, Confucius, and the Bible. He mentions Maslow, Adler, Kant, and Socrates. The book covers a wide range of philosophies, religions, and worldviews. It is no lighthearted self-help book designed to help you achieve maximization in five easy steps. And for that I truly liked it. 

Mr. Haidt and I approach the world from two very distinctive worldviews but I think that only added to my enjoyment of the book. It made me think more deeply. I am familiar with all the studies and philosophers quoted – as I think anyone with a recent liberal arts degree should be – but I’d never thought to combine them the way he does. It was quite interesting. There is a lot of intellectual thought here made understandable but not overly simplified. 

Mr. Haidt is an atheist but he does his best to fairly present religion and spiritual experiences and their importance for happiness. (Of course, he considers it mostly biology and sensory experiences but he is up front with his biases.) He also holds an appreciation for wonder and awe that I appreciated. I’d love to see how he squares his atheism with the writings of C.S. Lewis or G.K. Chesterton…

Overall, quite an enjoyable and worthy read. While it didn’t “teach” me anything new, it had me thinking about old things in new ways. In that sense, the subtitle “Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom” is pretty spot on. 


Coolest Sign Ever!

Look what my volunteers gave me! It is homemade, too! 


2016 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reviews, Part 5

The final 6! I read a lot of amazing books in 2016. 

Mind of the Maker by Dorothy L. Sayers

In this intriguing book, Sayers tackles the “analogy” of God as Creator and takes a deeper look at what it means for humans, who create, to be made in the image of God. This was a good but very challenging read. I didn’t always understand the definitions or logic and often had to re-read passages. However, like with Chesterton, I came away with a greater understanding and desire to know more. Sayers’s approach to the Trinity is intriguing and it offers an interesting glimpse into the creative process. Overall, this book is definitely worth the effort. 

The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico 

At 48 pages, this is another charming children’s book that really stuck out this year. The Snow Goose is the story of a hunchbacked painter and a young girl who bond over a wounded snow goose. This book is surprisingly adult (not in content as much as depth) yet beautiful enough to read to children. Gorgeous art and an emotionally real plot. Though somewhat predictable, it is also sweet and noble.

For the Love of My Brothers: Unforgettable Stories from God’s Ambassador to the Suffering Church by Brother Andrew

For the Love of My Brothers picks up where God’s Smuggler ends and represents the expanded vision of Open Doors Ministry during/after the fall of communism. Though “dated” in some regards (I was age 3 and 5 respectively when this book was written and then updated), the book doesn’t feel obsolete. It was a great reminder of all God accomplished and continues to accomplish in the lives of believers across the world. Though I read a couple Brother Andrew books this year, I particularly appreciated this one because of my 2015 visit to Eastern Europe. 

Letters to Children by C.S. Lewis

Lewis received thousands of letters from children and this volume contains some of his answers. I found it immensely satisfying. Lewis’s letters are encouraging, instructive, and occasionally just about mundane things like the weather. There is a delightful amount about Narnia in this book. I love how often Lewis encourages children to write their own Narnia stories. He also answers lots of questions about the Narnia books (yay! More Narnia! Fangirls rejoice!) Even outside of Narnia, though, I was really surprised and impressed by how intelligently Lewis wrote to children. He peppers his letters with references to other books and texts. Truly worth reading and owning. 

The Revenge of Conscience: Politics and the Fall of Man by J. Budziszewski

An interesting  and challenging analysis of politics and Christianity. Budziszewski has two particularly intriguing chapters critiquing liberal and conservative viewpoints. However, the entire book is worth chewing over. I love his strong, pro-life arguments. Readable and worth the time, even if there are moments it feels “dated” and occasionally dense. One of those books I really enjoyed but I don’t expect most people to. 

Beauvallet by Georgette Heyer

It is very possible that I have lost all perspective and objectivity when it comes to Heyer. Even books I previously gave 3 stars I have been tempted to up to 5. I really, really love her writing and characters. While Beauvallet probably isn’t in my top 5 Heyer Reads, it is still pretty high up there. This is a grand, romantic, swashbuckling adventure set in the Elizabethan era. “Mad Nicholas” Beauvallet is a privateer and favorite of Queen Elizabeth who falls for a Spanish lady and determines to woo her, even if it means traveling through Spain where there is a price on his head. I was charmed to find the stereotypical Heyer characters out of their usual Regency setting and I liked the cameos from Sir Francis Drake, Queen Elizabeth, and Mary Stewart. Not perfect but certainly charming enough to win my heart.