Tag Archives: favorite books

2019 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reviews, Part 6 (Mary Stewart!)

Some authors woo you slowly. Erudite and witty, you don’t fall at first glance, but you eventually come to love them. Other authors never quite win you. The spark should be there but no matter how many of their books you read, it never becomes more. More rarely, but infinitely precious for it, you fall for an author at first glance and, more marvelously still, stay in love with them past the cover or the opening line.

That would be me and Mary Stewart. It was love at first read and 9 books later, I am still obsessed. 7 of her books got 5-stars from me, the remaining 2 got 4-stars. I decided the five-stars deserved their own blog post. Two caveats: Mary Stewart is mostly known for her Arthurian fantasies. I have not read those yet. I have only read her romantic suspense novels. Second, she writes romantic suspense novels primarily aimed at women. They lack mystery, but they make up for it with awesome, Gothic atmosphere and kick-butt females. So, if you read her books, don’t go in expecting a whodunit. 

That said…I present my favorite books from my favorite ‘new’ author! (But also not so new as she wrote these mainly in the 1950s and ’60s.)

 Madam, Will You Talk? 

WW2 widow Charity Selborne decides to take a leisurely vacation in France to pull the pieces of her broken life back together. When she arrives at her hotel, she befriends a terrified boy on the run from his enigmatic, possibly murderous father. The book is full of eerie settings and long, descriptive passages. Character pause constantly to drink cognac or smoke cigarettes. Yet despite the slow, descriptive nature of the book, it is also an adventure novel and abounds with murderers, neo-Nazis, and exciting car chases. And best of all, you can listen to a brilliant audio version for free on YouTube.

This Rough Magic

When failed actress Lucy Waring agrees to join her sister for a vacation on Corfu, the last thing she expects is to get entangled with murder. Complete with communists, scenic beaches, and loads of Shakespeare quotes, this is probably my favorite Mary Stewart novel.

The Ivy Tree

While on vacation in England, Mary Gray gets accosted by a gentleman who says she looks just like his cousin, Annabel Winslow. Annabel disappeared years ago but her grandfather still refuses to leave his wealthy farm to anyone but her. He asks Mary to pretend to be Annabel and convince their grandfather to leave the farm to him instead. But mystery surrounds Annabel’s disappearance and Mary quickly realizes she might be in over her head.

Nine Coaches Waiting

When Linda Martin first accepts a position as an English-speaking governess to the nine-year-old Count Philippe de Valmy, she assumes her ability to speak French won’t matter. But she quickly learns that the Count’s French guardians intentionally advertised for an English speaker and that more is going on than meets the eye. When her young charge nearly dies, she decides it is up to her to save the day.

Airs Above the Ground

Vanessa March quarreled with her husband and now feels dreadful about it. But he’s off on a business trip in Stockholm so there is no use fretting to death…until she sees him in the background of a newsreel at a fire in Austria clutching a very pretty girl. Then all bets are off. And if she happens to get embroiled in the mystery of who set the fire while tracking down her missing husband? Well, that’s just a bonus. 

The Moon-Spinners

Nicola Ferris, secretary at the British Embassy on Crete, decides to take a walking holiday and further explore the beautiful island. But things quickly go awry when she stumbles upon a severely injured man in an abandoned shepherd’s cottage and learns there may be more to the nearby village than meets the eye. 

Touch Not the Cat

Bryony Ashley of Ashley Court has a secret. For as long as she can remember, she has shared a psychic bond with one of her cousins. The problem is, she doesn’t know which one. When her Father dies and leaves her a cryptic warning, she hurries home to find out once and for all who her mysterious ‘lover’ is and what dark secret Ashley Court holds. I particularly enjoyed this one because the whole ‘psychic bond with a stranger’ plot reminded me of Unspoken by Sarah Rees Brennan which was one of my favorite reads of 2016. 




Georgette Heyer Appreciation Group

I recently (as in, 3 hours ago) got accepted to a Georgette Heyer Appreciation Group on Facebook. For those of you staring at me blankly, Georgette Heyer wrote novels, predominantly set in the Regency era, and I am an Obsessed Reader.

(No, seriously, I re-read like 19 of her books last year and currently have read 43 of her novels.) 

The first thing the group asks you to do is fill out a questionnaire (should only take an hour, hour and a half!) 

I just completed it. Took me 2 hours. And it was SO MUCH FUN! Because, seriously, who else cares who my Top 5 Heyer Heroes are? Or which her novels are my least favorite? Or which heroine I relate to the most? 

That isn’t even stuff I force you all to read on this blog! 

My first peek at the page has me positively drooling. These people are casually chatting about my Favoritest Books Ever. 

Image result for i think I am going to like it here gif

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.


2017 Reading Challenge: My 5 Star Reviews, Part 1

For those of you who don’t have time to read 119 books in 365 days (and even those of you who do), here are my favorites from this year! They all come with my recommendation. 

Good To Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap…and Others Don’t by James Collins

A business book full of interesting case studies and general principles for building a successful (“great”) business. Like many books in this genre, I enjoyed it because I saw elements of Good Profit in it. Since I love Good Profit, I was bound to like this one too. Overall a bit dated but intellectually engaging and well worth the time. 

Enough Rope by Dorothy Parker

I don’t normally like poetry, but I loved this little volume of poems. Parker is cynical, depressed, and heart-sore yet so real. She is occasionally trite and sarcastic but rarely dull. Sad, beautiful poetry.

Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer

Sir Gareth Ludlow has decided it is time to marry…but on his way to propose to his childhood friend, he meets a lovely young runaway! Determined to return her to her family, he enlists the help of his erstwhile fiance. Chaos ensues. This is a fairly standard Heyer plot yet perhaps one of her better uses of it. A fun, romantic romp! 

The Quiet Gentleman by Georgette Heyer

Gervase Frant returns from the wars to claim his inheritance and take over the family estate. His family accept his return with hostility. Several “accidents” later and Gervase starts to wonder…do they hate him enough to murder him? This book perhaps deserves closer to 4 stars because the mystery is quite clunky. However, Gervase is charming and Miss Morville, the leading lady, absolutely wonderful. Another charming Heyer read. 

Kat, Incorrigible by Stephanie Burgis 

I was twelve years of age when I chopped of my hair, dressed as a boy, and set off to save my family from ruin. I made it almost to the end of my front garden.” So begins a charming, fun story about a girl who discovers she has magic and tries to use it to save her family’s waning fortune. Kat was a likable, spunky heroine and I loved her relationship with her sisters. The whole book kept me guessing with its twists and turns. A creative, magical adventure set in the Regency era written for middle schoolers. 

Thick as Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner  

Megan Whalen Turner is seriously the best. Thick as Thieves is book 5 in the Queen’s Thief series and let me tell you, it is just as good as the others. I won’t say much more because spoilers. If you haven’t already, go pick up The Thief. It is slow at first but worth it for the end. (And the rest of the books.) Definitely one of my favorite fantasy series! 

Ultraviolet by R. J. Anderson 

Sixteen-year-old Alison lives in a mental institute for teens, having murdered the most perfect and popular girl at school. But the case is a mystery: no body has been found. According to Alison, the body just disintegrated. But that’s impossible…right? This book particularly stuck out because I went in assuming it would be another YA fantasy and it turned out to be sci-fi. While this jarred with a lot of readers, I enjoyed the switch. The novel avoids most cliches and really nails the YA genre with its originality. 

Rapid Fire #Book Tag #Books #Reading

Kathyscottage did a general tag on her blog here and I decided to take up the challenge!

ebooks or physical books?

Physical books. No matter how hard I try, I cannot get into ebooks. 

Paperback or hardback?


Online or in-store shopping?

Doesn’t matter. When it comes to books, I have no control. I want them ALL!

Trilogy or series?

Heroes or Villains?


A book you want everyone to read.

Everyone? Probably Life at the Bottom by Theodore Dalrymple or The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels by Alex Epstein because both are very perspective-shaping. 

Recommend an underrated book.

84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff

The last book you finished.

4:50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie

Weirdest thing you used as a bookmark?

I think I once used an envelope full of graduation money. 

Used books, yes or no?

Yes! I love the feeling of a well worn book. It makes me wonder about the people who had it before me. 

Top three favorite genres?

Classics, Juvenile Fiction, and YA

Characters or Plot?

Probably characters, though good characters need a good plot to showcase their actions. 

Short or long book?


Long or short chapters?

Short chapters make it easier to get through a book

Name the first three books you think of.

Just One Wish by Jannette Rallison (it is on my to-re-read list at the moment) 

All The King’s Men by Robert Penn Warren (speaking of good characters…) 

Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis

Books that make you laugh or cry?


Our world or fictional worlds?

Fictional, generally.

Do you ever judge a book by it’s cover?


Book to movie or book to tv adaptation?


Series or stand alone?

I’m starting to appreciate stand alone novels more and more, but series play a special role in developing beloved characters. 

I nominate Tori at isayitbetterinwriting.wordpress.com because I think she will actually do this and anyone else who wants to give it a try! 

Someone else’s Absolute Favorite Book

There are few things more dangerous than giving someone your favorite book. I don’t mean a book you like. I mean, your favorite book. The story that means the world to you. The one you go to when life is hard or when you simply want peace with the world. The book that maybe just changed your life. That book. 

It is dangerous and it is down right vulnerable. By sharing the story, you are opening yourself up. Of course, this isn’t going to be the case with every book you lend out or suggest, but in some cases, it just is. Five years down the road the story might not mean as much to you, but in the moment, that book is something special. 

I used to think that the giving of the book was the bigger deal. After all, you’re the one going out on a limb here. However, I’m starting to think it can be just as difficult receiving a well cherished book. In fact, I’m convinced of it. There are so many nuances to the situation. What if you hate it? Do you tell them that? What if you find it mediocre? Will it affect a newly fledgling friendship? Should you be conciliatory, and if so, how far? You can’t really praise it to their face and bash it on Goodreads. Especially if they are friends with you on Goodreads. 

These things are especially on my mind tonight because a friend gave me her Absolute Favorite Book Of All Time To Read and I’m starting to wish she hadn’t. There is a love triangle. And insta-love. And mooning. And angst. Basically, it is stereotypical Young Adult and if I had gotten this from the library I wouldn’t go any farther. But I will finish it. I’ll read the sequel too, since she gave it to me. However, I can’t say I’m enjoying this one yet and all my hopes are basically pinned on the last half suddenly becoming amazing. Because if not…I’m going to have to walk the fine line of critiquing without offending. And really, who can do that well? 

How my to-read list doth grow (or at least stays the same)

‘That does it,’ I think to myself, ‘I need to manage my to-read list or it will never be achievable.’ (Today the number is back up to 1,005 books.)

There are two ways to manage the list. I can delete books, or I can read them. Deleting is obviously the easier of the two and I set at it with a good will. I mean, am I really going to ever read Bronze Age America by Barry Fell? I hover over the delete button, satisfied that I will soon be down to 1,004. But then I see the synopsis: Based on recent archaeological discoveries, this study explores the theory that Bronze-Age Swedes visited North America around the St. Lawrence River and that some Nordics migrated west, intermarrying with the Dakota tribes to form the Sioux nation

Dang, that actually sounds quite interesting. I want to know more. Bronze Age America stays. I move on.

The American Practical Navigator by Nathaniel Bowditch. There is an entirely useless book to me. I don’t navigate and most of the math in it is over my head. I am about to delete…but…it is Nathaniel Bowditch. I love Carry On, Mr. Bowditch by Jean Latham and I’ve always desired to know more about the real Mr. Bowditch. Obviously I should read his book. It stays. 

I flip to a random page on my list and skim through the books: The Conscience of a Conservative by Barry Goldwater, Elements of Fiction Writing by Scott Orson Card, 45 Master Characters: Mythic Models for Creating Original Characters by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, There Is A God: How the World’s Most Notorious Atheist Changed His Mind by Antony Flew, All Things Considered by G.K. Chesterton, Greensleeves by Eloise Jarvis McGraw, The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins, Miss Marjoribanks by Margaret Wilson Oliphant, and Jane Austen Made Me Do It: Original Stories Inspired by Literature’s Most Astute Observer of the Human Heart by Laurel Ann Nattress. All these books are obviously necessary to the list. Except maybe Miss Marjoribanks, I have no idea where I heard of that one; but Oliphant is a funky last name so it is probably worth reading. 

I move on. I see a biography called Alexander the Great and think ‘There! I don’t want to learn about him. Perfectly deleteable.’ However,then I notice the author’s name is Ulrich Wilken which rings a distant bell and makes me think this is probably a famous biography. I should definitely read it. Following that is The Autobiography of Calvin Coolidge which is fascinating because who knew he wrote an autobiography?! Well, I clearly did at one point but forgot. Underneath that is a biography simply called Calvin Coolidge. I am about to delete it (no need to learn about him twice) but the synopsis catches my eye (‘The austere president who presided over the Roaring Twenties and whose conservatism masked an innovative approach to national leadership’) Well, now I have to read it. 

Onward, past Theonomy in Christian Ethics by Greg Bahnsen and The Warrior Heir by Cinda Williams Chima, past The Princess Priscilla’s Fortnight by Elizabeth von Arnim, The Problem of Freedom: Race, Labor, and Politics in Jamaica and Britain, 1832-1938 by Thomas C. Holt,  and The Secret Life of Copernicus H. Stringfellow: Surreptitious Superhero by Lorin K. Barber.  All of these books are obviously must-reads. 

And so it goes. I make it through several pages and instead of deleting books, usually I find myself adding some.

I write this post partially to poke fun at myself – am I ever going to need a book on screenwriting? Apparently, as I can’t bring myself to delete Save the Cat!: The Last Book On Screenwriting You’ll Ever Need – but also because I have a lot of fun going through my to-read list. I love reading random books. My to-read list chronologizes different times in my life. It is obvious when I was in Oxford, my desire to read political and religious philosophy went through the roof. I know the first time I stepped into McKay’s (used bookstore), because a bunch of juvenile fiction appears. I know when I decided to add all the Sonlight Curriculum books that I didn’t get to read in high school. I know when I first took a Dr. Clauson class (my interest in natural law skyrocketed.) Each random page has its own memories. 

My to-read list is weird and cumbersome and full of books I probably will never read, but most of all the list is fun and full of me. At the very least I can be confident I will never run out of something to read!