December Reads – 2018

Is it strange that I’ve been reading so many books about art theft lately? It’s just such an interesting area of true crime that you don’t hear about much.

 

1. El Deafo by Cece Bell

My students are obsessed with graphic novels, and I find many of those books annoying (sorry, Dog Man). This book is an exception. One of my students requested a copy of it, and I ended up telling him he would have to wait until I finished reading it first. The author tells the story of her own childhood as a student who was deaf. She highlights the challenges of being a student who is deaf or hard of hearing in a truthful and humorous way that all kids can relate to. This was a quick, delightful read.

 

2. The Monuments Men by Robert M. Edsel (audiobook)

This book tells the true story of the men who worked during WWII to protect and rescue artwork. These men risked their lives to save the culture of people and nations. At times I had a difficult time focusing on the information because of the many details and length of this book, but overall I really enjoyed it. Also, I watched the movie based on this book and thought it was excellent!

 

3. Hallelujah: A Journey through Advent with Handel’s Messiah edited by Cindy Rollins

I used this book as a guide through the advent season this year. I loved how the book explained the traditions behind advent. Each day, there were several Bible verses to read which were paired with 3-10 minutes of Handel’s Messiah.

 

4. Mr. Dickens and His Carol by Samantha Silva

The author readily admits that she did not base this story strictly on history. Keeping this in mind, I enjoyed this atmospheric, fictional retelling of how Charles Dickens wrote his beloved “A Christmas Carol.” This was a great light read for the holiday season.

 

5. The Gardner Heist by Ulrich Boser

This book took me a long time to finish because I kept getting distracted by other books. I kept coming back to it though and found it interesting to read about Boser’s experiences investigating the Gardner heist, which is the largest unsolved art theft in the world. It’s amazing to me that after all these years none of the art has been recovered and no one has been arrested for the crime despite the numerous theories and possible suspects. This books pairs well with the new podcast “Last Seen,” which also investigates the Gardner heist.

 

6. The Wisdom of God: Seeing Jesus in the Psalms and Wisdom Books by Nancy Guthrie

I started this study in the summer but didn’t finish up the last couple chapters until this month. I really enjoyed this study and how it connected the wisdom books with the gospel and New Testament.

 

Book I abandoned:

Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan

The mystery of this story intrigued me, but I found the romance too annoying. I just couldn’t do it.

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November Reads – 2018

I feel like my reading life is typically put on hold this time of year as things get busy with work and the holidays. But don’t worry, things always pick up over Christmas break! One of my favorite things about winter is curling up by a blazing fire with a warm blanket, steaming mug of tea, and a thick book.

 

1. The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore (audiobook)

This is the fascinating, true story of the women who worked painting dials with radium paint during the early 20th century. They would leave work literally glowing from the radium powder. They loved their work and were admired by their peers. It wasn’t until years later that many of them began to suffer aches and painful deaths. Doctors could not give them an accurate diagnosis or find a way to ease their symptoms. If you feel squeamish with oral surgery or bone decay, this books is not for you! I found myself wincing many times as I listened to what these women suffered, but I believe their story of pain and perseverance deserves to be told.

Although I would recommend this book, I would not necessarily recommend the audiobook. The narrator’s voice was annoying at times, especially when I could hear her audibly swallowing between sentences!

 

2. The Discipline of Grace: God’s Role and Our Role in the Pursuit of Holiness by Jerry Bridges

I highly recommend this book! Bridges does a wonderful job of explaining through scripture the intertwining of God’s work of grace in our lives along with our own responsibility to live holy lives.

 

3. The Bible (ESV)

My pastor recently challenged our church family to read the Bible in 90 days. I thought this sounded impossible, especially since I’ve struggled to complete reading the Bible in 1 year before. I used the YouVersion Bible app plan for reading the Bible in 90 days and really enjoyed listening to the passages while getting ready in the morning. Reading the whole Bible in such a short time span helped me see some of the themes and big picture. It was a nice change of pace from studying one book in depth.

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October Reads – 2018

1. The Last Battle by C. S. Lewis (audiobook)

I finished my sojourn through Narnia. C. S. Lewis never disappoints.

 

 

2. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

If you like character-driven stories, this book is for you. I loved it. In the 1920s, Count Rostov is sentenced to house arrest in a Moscow hotel where he will spend the next several decades. The privileged aristocrat watches as world events reel outside his attic bedroom. Instead of retreating in hopelessness, Rostov resolves to pursue a purposeful life…with the help from a young girl who knows the hotel like the back of her hand.

 

3. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith (audiobook)

This coming-of-age novel is beautifully written. I enjoyed immersing myself in the moments of joy, fear, sorrow, and determination that shape Francis Nolan’s childhood and her whole family.

 

4. Hallowe’en Party by Agatha Christie

This was the perfect, atmospheric mystery to curl up with on Halloween night. Poirot is called in to help solve the mysterious murder of a girl at a children’s Halloween party. As he learns about other mysterious deaths in the community’s past, he begins to connect the pieces and enters a race against time to prevent another murder from occurring.

 

I abandoned…

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin

I just couldn’t get on board with the obvious romance and dramatic character development that I could predict coming in this book. A nice young women goes to sell books to a small bookstore owned by a grumpy, unlikable middle-aged man with a tragic past. Need I say more?

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September Reads – 2018

I was very thankful for audiobooks during this busy and hectic month.

1. Prince Caspian by C. S. Lewis (audiobook)

I continued my journey through Narnia this month. I may be enjoying the series more now than I did when I was younger. Each story is so unique and powerful.

2. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader by C. S. Lewis (audiobook)

 

 

3. Priceless: How I Went Undercover to Rescue the World’s Stolen Treasures by Robert K. Wittman & John Shiffman (audiobook)

In this memoir, Robert Wittman recalls his experiences as an undercover FBI agent tracking down stolen art. This is an area of true crime that I hadn’t considered before, and I now have a greater appreciation for art and those who protect it. Understandably, Wittman paints himself in a very positive light in this book, but it was interesting to hear his perspective on art and art crime.

4. The Silver Chair by C. S. Lewis (audiobook)

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August Reads – 2018

Is anyone else sad to see summer reading draw to an end?

1. The Door Before (100 Cupboards prequel) by N. D. Wilson

I’ve been so excited for this prequel to one of my favorite youth/fantasy series! I enjoyed learning the backstory to the series, but I’ll admit I was slightly disappointed. I didn’t fall in love with this book like I did with the others, but it is still a good book – especially for fellow N.D. Wilson fans.

 

2. The Magician’s Nephew by C. S. Lewis (audiobook)

Growing up, I always said “Voyage of the Dawn Treader” was my favorite book in the Narnia series. As I’m rereading them, I think “The Magician’s Nephew” may take that place. I love this story and the analogies in it so much. It’s absolutely fantastic. Also, as a side note, I’m thrilled that I finally found an old copy of “The Magician’s Nephew this past year. My collection is now complete!

 

3. Hoping for Something Better: Refusing to Settle for Life as Usual by Nancy Guthrie

I enjoyed going through this devotional on the book of Hebrews this summer. So much practical truth!

 

4. The Horse and His Boy by C. S. Lewis (audiobook)

 

 

 

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July Reads – 2018

1. Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen

I grew up reading and watching movie adaptions of Jane Austen’s novels, but I was completely unacquainted with “Northanger Abbey” until now. I found it very enjoyable to go into an Austen novel without knowing what to expect. I didn’t have any preconceptions of the characters based on the movie, so I could imagine them based solely on the descriptions in the book and my imagination. I loved it.

 

2. The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion (audiobook)

In this delightful story, Professor Don Tillman lives a structured, ritualistic life. When he decides to get married, he tackles the project as he does everything else in his life: with an efficient, scientific method. He creates “The Wife Project,” a survey and elimination process to help him identify a potential wife. But when Rosie comes into his life and refuses to leave, she doesn’t meet any of his qualifications of a good match. The story that follows is both humorous and heart-warming as it examines what it really means to love someone.

 

3. The Paper Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg (audiobook)

This book was absolutely dreadful. I heard several sources compare it to Harry Potter, so I decided to give the audiobook a try. The story and characters were unconvincing and weighed down with plot holes. It was supposedly set in the early 1900s, but this wasn’t evident until midway through the book. Also, no major events took place during the first two hours of the audiobook (unless you count folding paper cranes and cooking pasta major events), but then suddenly a sorcerer appears on the scene and nonchalantly rips the heart out of a character’s chest. WHAT?!?! My friend and I finished this audiobook together, but only because we needed entertainment for our 40+ hour road trip. We did enjoy mocking the author and audiobook narrator, plus some of the 1 star amazon reviews are hilarious.

 

4. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis (audiobook)

It has been quite a few years since I lost myself in the world of Narnia. I’m making my way through the series and finding it even more magical and meaningful than before.

 

{Cape Breton, Nova Scotia}

5. Evangeline: A Tale of Acadie by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

I don’t think you can travel to Acadia without reading the poem “Evangeline.” My friend and I explored Acadia National Park and the Maritime provinces of Canada together, and she read this aloud while I drove. I love reading about the places I’m visiting, so this was perfect. “Evangeline” is a beautiful, tragic romance that also unfolds the history of the Acadians during their expulsion.

 

6. Four Seasons in Rome: On Twins, Insomnia, and the Biggest Funeral in the History of the World by Anthony Doerr

I adore the way Doerr writes. “Four Seasons in Rome” is his memoir about the year he spent in Rome with his wife and twin baby boys. I have never been to Rome or raised twins, yet his descriptions and stories are both vivid and relatable.

 

7. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer

I moved this book to the top of my reading list when I found out Netflix was releasing a movie based on this book. I’m so glad I read it! Written as a series of letters, this book is set during post-WWII and tells the story of a young author who travels to the island of Guernsey for inspiration. The characters she meets are so charming and enduring. This is a must-read in my opinion.

 

8. Echo by Pam Munoz Ryan (audiobook)

“Echo” is considered middle grade fiction, but both youth and adults will enjoy this book. The reader is introduced to three children who live seemingly different and unconnected lives but all use their musical talents to face life’s challenges. I love how the author mixed history with a touch of legend and fantasy.

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June Reads – 2018

I feel so blessed to have a job that gives me time off in the summer to relax, travel, and READ! If you’ve been reading anything especially good this summer, I’d love to hear about it!   1. The Energy Bus: 10 Rules to Fuel Your Life, Work, and Team with Positive Energy by Jon Gordon

I read this book with one of my co-workers to learn about how to bring positive energy to the work place. The 10 rules are simple but powerful ways to improve your attitude in a way that impacts others. The book is written as a fictional story, which can be somewhat cheesy at times, but it made for a quick and easy read.

2. Mr. Rochester by Sarah Shoemaker (audiobook)

I enjoyed listening to this audiobook on a road trip. Some reviews say the story was too slow, which I could maybe see if you were reading it instead of listening. The story is about Mr. Rochester from Bronte’s Jane Eyre, and I especially liked reading about his childhood and years as a young adult. The part with Jane felt understandably a little more constrained, but it was interesting to see what Rochester might have been thinking and why he behaved as he did.

3. Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay

I binge read this book. Such a fun, light summer read! It reminded me a lot of Daddy-Long-Legs, which was one of my favorite books in my mid-teens. The book is written as a series of letters from Sam to her benefactor who is paying for her graduate degree. Sam is obsessed with books and learning to live in the moment instead of retreating behind Jane Austen quotes in uncomfortable social situations. I’m looking forward to trying some other Katherine Reay’s books now!

 

4. Reading People: How Seeing the World through the Lens of Personality Changes Everything by Anne Bogel

I’ve always been fascinated by personality tests and finding personality descriptions that I resonated with, so this was the perfect book for me to read! Anne Bogel goes into detail about a different personality framework in each chapter. She not only explains the different personality types but also gives readers a way to harness this knowledge in their lives. After reading this book, I understand my own tendencies, strengths, and weaknesses more, and I feel like I’ll be more understanding of others when they think or react differently than me in the same situation.

 

5. I Shall Be Near to You by Erin Lindsay McCabe (audiobook)

This historical fiction novel tells the story of Rosetta as she disguises herself as a man in order to follow her husband into the army during the American Civil War. I liked how the author intertwined history with the lives of these fictional characters.

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May Reads – 2018

1. Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

This book was a Goodreads Choice Winner in 2017, so I decided to give it a try. I loved how the author structured the narrative. The story starts with Mrs. Richardson waking up late one morning to the smell of smoke. Someone has lit fires in the bedrooms. From here, the author takes us back to the events leading up to the arson and introduces us to the lives Mr. & Mrs. Richardson and their four high school children. The perfect, painstakingly planned out community of Shaker Heights is disrupted by the arrival of a mother-daughter duo and by a custody battle. As a read this book, I was struck multiple times by the human desire for something that can’t be fulfilled on our own. Some characters take control of their lives and follow rules only to find some things are still out of their control. Others break the rules in search of a fun, happy life and find they are still discontent. In the end, all the characters are still searching for something to complete their lives and bring them joy. Overall, this wasn’t one of my favorite books, but it was thought-provoking.

 

2. Salt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys (audiobook)

I LOVED this book! There are so many WWII historical fiction books out there, but this one quickly became one of my favorites. The story is told by four very different people who find their lives intertwining due to the war. The audiobook was fantastic because there was a different narrator for each character’s part of the story. I liked seeing into each character’s thoughts as they fought for survival. This book was also an interesting way to learn the history of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a ship shrouded in more tragedy than the Titanic.

 

3. The Song of Glory and Grace (Outlaws of Time book 2) by N.D. Wilson

I am a huge fan of N.D. Wilson, but I’m struggling through this series. I have trouble engaging in the story line, and I miss Wilson’s imaginative descriptions and humor that pervade his other books.

 

The book I abandoned…

The Magicians by Lev Grossman (audiobook)

A high school student receives a mysterious invitation to join a secret college of magic where he meets other brilliant young adults with magical capabilities. With that kind of premise, I can see why this book is described as Harry Potter for a more mature audience. I made it almost a fourth of the way through the audiobook before giving up. None of the characters were enduring, and I didn’t care what happened to any of them. Several times, I fell asleep while listening to this book and found that I didn’t mind missing a large chunk of the story. I also quickly grew tired of the language/swearing.

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April Reads – 2018

Friends, audiobooks have changed my reading life. I didn’t realize how much time I spent driving until I started listening to audiobooks in the car. And now I don’t have to choose between cleaning my house and reading – I can do both at once!

 

  1. North! Or be Eaten (book 2) by Andrew Peterson (audiobook)

I love Peter Sandon’s voice as he narrates this audiobook. It fits the tale perfectly. This second book in the Wingfeather Saga took a bit of a darker turn as the Igiby family flees from their home and tries to find safety in a world of enemies, monsters, and traitors. It seems unlikely that a family could survive so many near-death experiences, but Peterson won me over in the end and I’m looking forward to the next book in this series.

 

2. Berlin 1936: Sixteen Days in August by Oliver Hilmes

This historical book about the 1936 Olympics was not quite what I expected. I thought it would focus more on the actual Olympic events and the athletes, but instead it was more about the atmosphere in Berlin and the lives of the people who were there at the time. I felt very confused for the first part of the book as character after character was thrown at me. Just when I had figured out who someone was, they would vanish from the story and a new person would be introduced. After getting passed my initial misconceptions, it was interesting to learn about what it was like in Germany leading up to WWII. It is amazing how much was already set in motion in 1936 and how the Nazis managed to hide so much as tourists streamed into Berlin for the Olympics.

 

3. These is My Words: The Diary of Sarah Agnes Prine by Nancy Turner (audiobook)

I loved how the voice of Sarah changed and developed throughout this book. This story follows Sarah’s life from 1881-1901 as she faces great loss and love.

 

4. The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros (audiobook)

A short and sweet story about Esperanza, a Latina girl, living in Chicago. The story is told in poetically written snapshots, and I enjoyed catching glimpses of what growing up in Esperanza’s culture would be like.

5. In Farleigh Field by Rhys Bowen

I heard this book compared to binge watching a British TV drama, and I think that description holds true. Set in WWII, In Farleigh Field is a historical novel about life in Britain with the impending horror of being invaded by Germany. It focuses on the lives of several young adults who find themselves caught up in a world of mystery, spies, and code breaking.

 

6. The Monster in the Hollows (book 3) by Andrew Peterson (audiobook)

7. The Warden and the Wolf King (book 4) by Andrew Peterson (audiobook)

I wasn’t sold on the Wingfeather Saga until I read these last two books in the series. I feel like book 1 & 2 were just setting the stage for all the events in these two books. Peterson’s stories are full of creativity, lots of adventure, an amazing cast of characters, and beautiful allegories that make these books worth reading for all ages. I was struck several times by how relatable these characters in a fantasy world could be. I was somewhat disappointed that Andrew Peterson narrated these two books instead of Peter Sandon, but these still made great audiobooks to keep me awake on my drives to and from work.

 

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March Reads – 2018

I felt like I had reading ADD this month. I usually prefer to devote all my attention to one book at a time, but this month there were several times when I realized I had 2-3 books going at once. I would start one book, and then get distracted and start reading another. Here are the four I actually finished reading:

1. On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness by Andrew Peterson (audiobook)

I’m continuing with my youth fiction/fantasy mania. This series (The Wingfeather Saga) was recommended to me by a couple people during my Harry Potter hangover. I listened to the audiobook and really liked it. I’m interested to see where the series goes.

2. Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

I only gave this book 2 stars on Goodreads, but not for the reason most people did. Most of the 1 and 2 star reviews say they could not get past the way this novel was written. I actually loved the premise of this book and Saunders’ experimental organization and format. Saunders writes this story as a series of quotes from the characters. I felt like the ghostly characters were talking directly to me, and the story wasn’t bogged down by “he said…she said…then he said…”

This book takes place when Willie Lincoln died and was buried. Willie wakes up in the graveyard surrounded by a host of strange and, quite frankly, horrific characters who do not realize they have died. Everything changes for these characters as they interact with this sweet young boy and witness an unusual visit from his father, President Lincoln.

So why did I give this book only 2 stars? I did not like some of the content that frequently entered the story. There were multiple sexual references and language used by some of the characters that I did not appreciate. I found myself skimming or skipping over some pages. It was just too much for my taste.

3. The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd

Why wasn’t this book on my radar sooner? I couldn’t put this book down once I started it. Set in the 1960s, this book tells the story of Lily Owens. Lily is a young teenage girl who finds herself growing up without her mother, running away from her father, and finding a home among a group of African American women on a bee farm. I fell in love with this unique, beautifully flawed cast of characters.

Also, I am thrilled with my colorful, cute copy of this book from the Penguin Drop Caps series.

4. Ready Player One by Ernest Cline (audiobook)

Another book I only gave 2 stars! I would have given it 2.5 if that was an option. I heard this book mentioned several times, especially now that the movie is out, and downloaded the audiobook out of curiosity. I almost gave up on this one several times during the first half. I strongly dislike dystopian literature. I also didn’t grow up in the 1980s and don’t play video games. Since those three elements are the basis of this book, I had a hard time getting into it. However, I was intrigued by the overall plot, especially in the second half of the book. I listened to the last 5 hours in only 2 days, but I can’t say I would recommend it.

 

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