Tag Archives: novels

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. 


Pamela by Samuel Richardson

Two stars (and 592 pages long!)

It took me seven months, but I did it. I survived Pamela. Published in 1735, this book really set the stage for the modern novel. And what a stage it was. 

Allow me to save your precious time:

Pamela, The Short-ish Version: 
Pamela: I am a virtuous maiden!
Pamela’s parents: PAMELA. GUARD YOUR VIRTUE.
Servants: PAMELA. GUARD YOUR VIRTUE.
Pamela: I must guard my virtue!
Me: Whoah, chillax, dudes. She’s like 15. Stop making a big deal out of her virtue. What’s the worry?
Young Lord: I will take Pamela’s virtue!
Me: Ah, that’s the worry.
Young Lord: * repeatedly makes attempts at Pamela’s virtue * 
Pamela: I must stay strong! 
Young Lord: You’re pretty. You must be a slut.
Young Lord: * dresses like a servant girl and sneaks into Pamela’s bed *
Young Lord: I will have you!
Pamela: * repeatedly barely escapes with her virtue * 
Servants: Oh no! GUARD YOUR VIRTUE.
Pamela: SOME HELP WOULD BE NICE. Woe is me!
Servants: He’s our master. What would you have us do? GUARD YOUR VIRTUE.
Pamela’s parents: If you lose your virtue, we, like, aren’t ever going to talk to you again.
Young Lord: * makes more attempts at Pamela’s virtue *
Young Lord: The servants like you. Somehow you have fooled them all into thinking you are not a slut!
Young Lord: * kidnaps Pamela and locks her away in another house *
Pamela: Alas! Poor me! For I can do nothing! But above all I must preserve my virtue. 
Pamela’s parents: If you lose your virtue, we still won’t ever talk to you again. 
Young Lord: * makes more attempts on Pamela’s virtue *
* this goes on for about 300 pages * 
Young Lord: Well, Pamela! You’ve resisted me. You must be virtuous. I will marry you. 
Young Lord: * under his breath * Haha! Yeah right, slut. I’m going to pretend to marry you but not really.
Pamela: I heard that. Woe is me!
Young Lord: No you didn’t. 
Pamela: Yeah I did. I think maybe I will kill myself instead of giving up my virtue. Woe is me!
Young Lord: Wow, you must really be virtuous. 
Pamela: Ya think? Woe is me!
Young Lord: Okay, you can go home now. 
Young Lord: JK, I want to marry you for real now. I’m sick and can’t leave my bed for love of you.
Pamela: What a coincidence! I love you too! But I am so beneath you!
Me: How is there still 30% of this book to go?????
Young Lord: Beneath me in rank and wealth but not in virtue! 
Me: Duh, you freaking kidnapped her!! Pretty sure you have no virtue. The cow has more virtue than you.
Pamela: If you marry me, I will spend the rest of my life devoted to you for showing such kindness. 
Me: HE KIDNAPPED YOU.
Young Lord: Let’s get married tomorrow.
Pamela: Oh! But as a virtuous maiden, the thought of getting married fills me with shyness! Let’s push it off.
Young Lord: Must we?
Pamela: Just for two weeks.
Young Lord: Two weeks is sooooooooo long.
Pamela: But I’m so shy! 
* This goes on for some time *
Pamela’s Dad: I am here! If Pamela is still virtuous, she can come home with me. If not, I never want to speak to her again. 
Pamela: I’m getting married!
Pamela’s Dad: Cool beans! In that case, have fun, kiddo. Bye. Oh, by the way future son-in-law, thanks for the money!
* Pamela and Young Lord finally freakin’ get married *
Me: Why is there still 20% of this book to go???
Young Lord: Now, Pamela, I shall tell you all the ways you must act and behave to make me a good wife.
Pamela: I love my master so! I will do all you say. 
Young Lord: Always be happy and dress nice and never contradict me or point out my faults or ever talk about my faults to anyone and always tell everyone what a great guy I am. 
Pamela: But these are all exactly what I most wish to do! 
Young Lord: You make a great wife.
Pamela: Oh! I do not deserve your compliments! You are too good! Too kind!
Me: Have we just all agreed to forget about the kidnapping? Attempted rape? etc. etc.?
* insert long and boring plot point about Young Lord’s older sister who hates Pamela but then comes to love her when Pamela takes her side in an argument * 
Young Lord: PAMELA. How DARE you take my sister’s side over mine! You shall leave this house without me.
Pamela: Oh! Don’t make me! I will never not take your side in an argument again.
Young Lord: Oh, okay. You’re forgiven. I guess I can be a bit temperamental. We all have our faults, right? 
Pamela: Oh! But you have none! You are so kind, generous, good, loving, noble! 
Me: 
Pamela: By the way, you wanted to see all my letters to my parents and friends. Can I mail this one? 
Young Lord: How come you only sign it with your first name? 
Pamela: It seemed too presumptuous to assume you would let me take your last name!
Young Lord: By golly, I like this humility in you. Go ahead and use it. 
Pamela: You are so kind, generous, good, loving, noble!
Me: WHY IS THERE STILL 10% OF THIS BOOK TO GO?????? 
Young Lord: Oh, btw, remember that one time when I tried to take your virtue? 
Pamela: Oh yeah, why?
Young Lord: Well, once I did the same thing to another girl, but she gave up her virtue and gave me a daughter. And…surprise! Here is the daughter. 
Pamela: Oh! I love her above all things! Let me keep her!
Young Lord: Uh…maybe. Or we could just leave her at the boarding school…
Young Lord: We could have our own kids…
Pamela: Oh! Don’t speak so vulgarly! 
Pamela: Um, dare I ask what happened to your cast off lover? 
Young Lord: Well, I tried to make her my lover again but she fled to Jamaica. Aren’t you thrilled? You don’t need to worry about competition. 
Pamela: I feel kind of bad for her. Had she not succumbed to temptation, she would still have her virtue, like me!
Young Lord: You behave so nobly! How I love you! 
Pamela: And I love you!
Author: I shall now endeavor to tell you what each character means. 
Author: * goes into exhaustive description about what moral lesson each character represents *
THE END
Me: * gags repeatedly *


2018 Reading Challenge: Best Cozy Mysteries

The books didn’t make it high enough to rate 5 stars and it did not feel right to stick them in Honorable Mentions…but I read several great detective books (and series) this past year. Here are a few that especially stick out:

Agatha Raisin and the Quiche of Death by M.C. Beaton

So, this book did not actually get a particularly high rating from me. But it deserves a spot on this list because I found the heroine so fascinating! It is a mystery about a career woman who retires young and moves to a rural, English town. She wants to impress her neighbors, so she buys a quiche to enter into a homemade quiche making contest…but her quiche ends up poisoning the judge! Usually detectives in rural, English villages are the sweet, Miss Marple type. Not Agatha Raisin. She is a horrid person and I loved it. It was so nice to read about someone with such a unique personality! And with the hint of romance at the end, I might have to go find the sequel… (The mystery itself was okay, nothing to write home about.)

The Thin Woman by Dorothy Cannell

Reading this book felt like drinking a brisk cup of tea. Every time I sat it down, I wanted to go do something practical and efficient. Which is kind of a weird reaction to a book…but it made the story memorable. I went in expecting a whodunnit and found instead a Very British mystery/romance/adventure. It was good but not quite what I had in mind. Still, engaging story with solid characters that I found mostly memorable for the writing.  

Mystery Series:                                                                                          

Haley Randolph Series by Dorothy Howell

Imagine the heroine from Confessions of a Shopaholic developed a habit of stumbling upon dead bodies everywhere she went, and you have the Haley Randolph series. Haley is self-centered, bad with money, and always hunting for the next designer purse. But you cannot help loving her. No matter how many times her work ethic makes me physically cringe, I want to keep reading. I think I love this series because it is so random. Plot points come from every direction and rarely actually fit together. You would think that would make the books annoying, but instead it makes them engaging. Anything could be important. Add a heavy dose of humor and multiple attractive guys floating around with minimal romantic angst, and you have a fluffy series I really enjoy.

Miss Fortune Mystery Series by Jana Deleon

Where is a CIA assassin with no family to go when her cover gets blown? In the Miss Fortune Mystery series, the answer is: the bayous of Louisiana. While Fortune – the heroine of this series – is enjoyable character, the real show-stoppers are the crazy old women she runs around solving mysteries with. I love the characters, the setting, and the humor of these books. Highly recommended.

Amory Ames by Ashley Weaver

Amory Ames is a glamorous, wealthy society woman married to a notorious playboy in the 1930s. While the mysteries are interesting, the setting and relationship between Amory and her husband are really what keeps me glued to this series. At the beginning, the couple is estranged and contemplating divorce. However, as the books go on, they begin to work more closely together and rebuild their marriage. I love both Amory and her husband. If you like Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, you’ll probably like this series.


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.


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. 


A Lady of Quality by Francis Hodgson Burnett

If you are anything like me, the name Francis Hodgson Burnett brings to mind books like A Little Princess, The Secret Garden, or Little Lord Fauntleroy. And what do those books share? They are all sweet, beloved children’s stories without an ounce of vice in them. Can you think of a more perfect main character than Sara Crewe from A Little Princess

I did not expect much more from A Lady of Quality. Yet almost from the moment it began, the book took all my preconceived notions about Burnett and threw them out the window! I kept double-checking the author because I could not believe she wrote this. 

The heroine of the story, Clorinda, behaves horrendously. She beats servants, belittles peers, swears, breaks commandments, and a whole lot more I won’t get into so that I don’t spoil anything. The point is, she is not a nice character. And yet, unlike what you would expect from a Victorian novel, she never gets her competences for her actions. If anything, the plot pardons it all! The story is heavy on melodrama and certainly sanitizes her by the end, but the process of getting her sanitized is what I found truly remarkable. 

She isn’t a character you like, and yet precisely because of that she become redeemable. There is no really likable character in this book, but neither is anyone truly evil. (Okay, maybe one guy. But even the book pities him!) I did not expect the level of nuance that I found within the characters. 

The story is a melodrama and a romance in the traditional sense and, at some level, it follows that line exactly. Everything builds up for the final, grand marriage at the end. Yet romantic love is not the only thing pushing this plot. Self-love and sisterly love and sacrificial love all play important roles in developing the characters and the story. While I might look for such themes today, I did not expect to find them in a little remembered book from 1896! 

I think I need to read more by this author, especially her adult works!


Re-reading The Witch of Blackbird Pond

I have blogged at length before about my love of The Witch of Blackbird Pond by Elizabeth George Speare. When forced to pick a favorite book, I usually default to this one. I’ve read it countless times. In fact, I wore out two copies of the book before graduating high school. However, it has been a while since I last read it, so I decided to pick it up again. I forgot how good The Witch of Blackbird Pond is. I really, really, really love this book. 

One reason I enjoy re-reading Georgette Heyer’s novels is that I always discover something new. She uses such subtlety with her characters that I constantly find I have missed something in my earlier reading. This is not the case with Elizabeth George Speare. However, that is not because The Witch of Blackbird Pond lacks subtlety. I have just read this book and daydreamed about it and analyzed it so many times that I almost think I could quote parts of it. Kit and Nat and Mercy and Judith are all old friends to me. I don’t think I could find a new side to them. 

Re-reading this book after a long break, I’ve been struck by how much my enjoyment is mixed up with my familiarity with the story. I find a sense of identity and pleasure as much in remembering reading it as I do in actually reading it. 

It is just like the Cornelia Funke quote in Inkspell:

“Isn’t it odd how much fatter a book gets when you’ve read it several times?…As if something were left between the pages every time you read it. Feelings, thoughts, sounds, smells…and then, when you look at the book again many years later, you find yourself there, too, a slightly younger self, slightly different, as if the book had preserved you like a pressed flower…both strange and familiar.”

This is exactly the reason I added a “re-read” section to my challenge. It is so nice to re-read favorite books. Now if you will excuse me, I have almost reached the scene where Kit discovers the meadow, one of my favorite parts!