My Top 10 Reads of 2018

If you follow this blog, you know I love reading. I beat my goal of 52 books this year and read over 90. That, despite my toddler and several bad bouts with depression, both of which make it hard for me to settle into reading. Below are my favorite reads this year.

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#10 – I Wrote this for You by pleasefindthis

That’s not a typo; pleasefindthis is the pen name for Iain S. Thomas. I discovered this gem through Prime Reading. It’s beautiful poetry with artistic photography scattered throughout. Definitely, my favorite poetry read this year.

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#9 – Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

No, I have not watched the Netflix series. I finished the book before they started running trailers for the show, which looks completely different from the book. My favorite part of Jackson’s eerie original was the crazy ending. Probably the most shocking ending I read this year. If you don’t mind a creepy read about a haunted house that attempts to drive its inhabitants mad, then this book is for you.

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#8 – Respectable Sins by Jerry Bridges

This short, convicting read discusses the sins the church has come to tolerate. Even though I took issue with Bridges’ lack of knowledge on certain subjects (e.g. mental health), I believe authors run into those problems whenever they attempt to write a book that covers a multitude of subjects without the assistance of a co-author. This book still made it into my top ten for the year, simply because it forced me to consider the things I let slip in my personal spiritual walk.

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#7 – Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

I already did a full review of this earlier in the year, but since it made it into my top 10, I’ll just say, this book was a lovely marriage of nonfiction, fantasy, and myth with the readability of a novel.

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#6 – Heart Berries by Terese Marie Mailhot

This one almost didn’t make it onto the list, but only because I started it late in December. Its a beautiful memoir about pain, mental illness, and how storytelling can aid in healing. It’s written in luscious prose that reads like poetry. It’s heartbreaking and oh so lovely.

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#5 – The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware

This book caught my attention when I read a review that compared it to Agatha Christie, whom I LOVE. The murder mystery aspect of it was definitely similar, with the added bonus of gorgeous atmospheric writing that made the book a darker, edge-of-your-seat kind of read. Her depiction of panic attacks was spot on, and I dare you to read it and not feel occasionally claustrophobic.

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#4 – The Unpleasantness at Baskerville Hall by Chris Dolley

Another book that made it into the top 10 that I’ve already reviewed. This blend of sci-fi and P. G. Wodehouse was one of the funniest reads I indulged in this year. I hope to read more of Dolley’s works in 2019.

*drumroll* And now my TOP THREE!

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#3 – Off to Be the Wizard by Scott Meyer

This book though! It was a delicious blend of sci-fi and fantasy. Martin discovers a computer file that can alter his world with only a line or two of code. He uses it to go back in time to Medieval England and trick everyone into thinking he’s a wizard. Such an inventive and hilarious storyline. The characters are lovable, witty, and quirky and the book had me smiling through almost the entire read. Meyer was one of several authors I discovered in 2018, and I intend to read the entirety of this series.

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#2 – A Hobbit Journey: Discovering the Enchantment of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Middle-Earth by Matthew Dickerson

This thought-provoking read looked into Tolkien’s world of Middle-Earth. I learned so much about world building from Dickerson’s in-depth study of the themes within the Lord of the Rings. I recommend it to fans of Tolkien and writers of fantasy. Tolkien had the masterful ability to discuss his worldview without overtly mentioning his personal views on religion or politics, and, after reading Dickerson, I’m convinced this is one of the reasons Tolkien’s books stand the test of time.

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#1 – The Woodcutter by Kate Danley

Sometimes I have difficulty picking favorites when it comes to books, but this year I had no difficulty at all. I will never forget this book. I adore fairy tale retellings. This one was dark, poignant, and written in gorgeous poetic prose. The skill that Danley used to weave in multiple characters from myth, legend, and fairy tale while keeping the story fresh and unique was breathtaking. Love. Love. LOVED it.

I’m so excited to find out what new reads and authors I’ll discover in 2019! Comment and tell me about some of your favorite reads of 2018 and some of the new authors you discovered.

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Book Review: “The Unpleasantness at Baskerville Hall” by Chris Dolley

P. G. Wodehouse is one of my favorite authors. I love his witty dialogue, quirky characters, and how messy his storylines get before all the seemingly superfluous information comes into play to give you a satisfying ending. I frequently compare them to murder mysteries: you have to pay attention or you’ll miss out on all the clever nuances of the ending.

So, when I stumbled on a steampunk Jeeves and Wooster inspired murder mystery it was, for me, the work of an instant to download and read it.

It was unbelievably fantastic. Chris Dolley has Wodehouse’s style mimicked to perfection. The steampunk/sci-fi addition of an automaton Jeeves, named Reeves, was ironically funny, because Jeeves seems a superhuman marvel anyway, and in Dolley’s version he kinda is. Bertie Wooster’s look-a-like is a bumbling private detective named Worcester. He went about solving the mystery with the same muddled brilliance as Bertie uses when matchmaking for his pals at the Drones Club. Add to that multiple Hounds of the Baskerville‘s references, plus one large Orangutang and basically, I couldn’t stop laughing.

This book was number three of a series. Thankfully it could easily stand alone, so when I go back and read the others I won’t be confused.

And I will be reading the others.

Book Review: “Kell, the Alien” by Darcy Pattison

When I first got my Kindle, I was amazed at how many fantastic books were floating around to download for free. FREE! I went kinda crazy and tried to download all the books, paying little attention to content. I now attempt to be more discerning, but it’s so thrilling to be introduced to a fabulous new author.

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If you pay any attention to my reviews, you’ll notice I tend to read a good deal of Middle Grade. This is just as much because I enjoy light reading, as it is that I am searching for gems to pass on to my children when they’re old enough.

And this one was certainly a gem.

Darcy Pattison’s adorable story is about Kell, a young alien trying to navigate life on Earth after he and his parents become indefinitely stranded here. The characters are super sweet and lovable, and the plot is full of innocent fun. Rich Davis’ excellent illustrations scattered throughout the chapters make the story extra cute.

I have already downloaded and started another one of Pattison’s stories, and am only waiting to get the next installment of Kell’s series because I can’t decide if I want it in print or e-book.

I highly recommend getting yourself a copy of the first book. The Kindle edition is still free on Amazon, (which you can read on the Kindle app if you don’t have a kindle).

Download it here! And then let me know if you loved it as much as I did.

 

 

Book Review: “Where the Woods Grow Wild” by Nate Philbrick

It doesn’t surprise me that Nate Philbrick is a fan of Lloyd Alexander. I noticed similarities to The Book of Three as soon as I started reading Where the Woods Grow Wild. But the pig keepers and runaway barnyard animals in Philbrick’s tale carried me into another forest for a new adventure I was glad to take.

Nate Philbrick’s YA fantasy novel is the story of Martin and Elodie’s adventure in the dark and fantastic wood that grows across the river from their village. A dangerous wood that most villagers keep at a safe distance. But a terrible accident draws Martin and Elodie closer to its borders until eventually, they find themselves lost in the dark, wild wood.

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Three reasons I loved this book.

First, the characters. There were so many fun and quirky characters that just made me smile. I love having what I call “gentle” reads to help me wind down at night, and even though there were some high energy scenes in this story, the characters made it warm enough to qualify for my night read category. Along with fun and quirky, the story also had some steady, mature characters who elevated the flow of the story with their wisdom.

Second, setting. Philbrick has a great ability to paint a scene, and with a book that takes place in such a fantastic world, it was especially fun to be drawn deep into the forest while the author’s pen hemmed me in with trees.

Third, and most important, themes. I loved how Philbrick’s story included a character with a physical handicap, and how he showed the character’s struggles to cope with the everyday hardships that came along with it. The story talked about supporting one another through suffering, overcoming trials, and honesty in relationships.

I highly suggest scooting over to his website to check out his novels, as well as his fantastic artwork (he designed the cover of his novel himself!). He’s also pretty fun to follow on Twitter.

Book Review: “Norse Mythology” by Neil Gaiman

The more I read them, the more I love old myths and legends. They’re more than stories, more than magic and gods and the fantastic, they’re part of the history of a people group. They give insight into what mattered to a culture, what a people believed about themselves and life.

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My husband is half Norwegian. His father’s parents emigrated to the United States after their first child was born. They are all very proud of their heritage, which shows itself in recipes, jokes, and heirlooms and even a regularly repeated rumor of lineage to Odin. *wrinkles nose dubiously* So when one of my favorite authors announced that he was releasing a book of Norse Myths, I was extra excited to read it.

I often describe Neil Gaiman’s writing voice as beautiful to the point of dangerous. His tone is fluid, poetic, and enchanting. Once he begins to tell a story, I don’t want to stop listening, and if my 9 month old baby wasn’t trying to nibble the book every time it appeared, I would easily have finished this book in two days. In the end, it took me two weeks and the dust jacket, which frequently sacrificed itself as bate to her grabby, curious hands, barely escaped with its life.

The myths inside are not written as a bare timeline of incidents the way I remember Hamilton’s Mythology, (which, while informative, I will always refer to as “the cure for insomnia”). Norse Mythology read like a novel, each episode one step closer to the inevitable doomsday of the gods, Ragnarök. The cast of characters includes fiendish dwarves, clever giants, and many flawed, yet powerful gods. Gaiman tells each tale with his usual flourish and touch of humor. It was perfectly executed.

Basically this book is beautiful and everyone should read it.

Book Review: “The Ragamuffin Gospel” by Brennan Manning

I first picked up The Ragamuffin Gospel over ten years ago. My parents forewarned me that Brennan Manning was basically a heretic, and that I probably shouldn’t read it because I was easily confused. I was rebellious enough to insist I had the wisdom to discern truth from error, but inwardly terrified I’d be led astray. I skimmed it, then promptly reported to the authorities that they were absolutely right and should I throw the book in the trash now?

This time I actually read it.

Manning delves deep into the relentlessness of God’s love. He reminds the reader how small, broken, and messed up we are, ragamuffins all, and how only those who embrace their own innate neediness can be open to the unfathomable love of God. I know there are many who feel Manning is a bit of an extremist when it comes to the overwhelming nature of God’s grace, but I found his book refreshing and beautiful. Though, I also don’t feel the need to agree 100% with everything I read in a book in order to find it encouraging or enlightening.

The church culture of my youth was your stereotypical hellfire and brimstone kind of church. I wasn’t truly introduced to the idea of a compassionate God who relentlessly loved me until I met my husband and began to study the Bible with him. I think that’s what made the experience of reading this book so moving, especially with its timing on my personal journey. The heavy discouragement I’ve experienced in the past year has made this reminder of my position before Abba like a cup of tea after a long winter’s walk.

“On the last day when Jesus calls me by name, ‘Come, Brennan, blessed of my Father,’ it will not be because Abba is just, but because His name is mercy.”
~ Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

Book Review: “The Reckless Way of Love” by Dorothy Day

Since giving birth I’ve had trouble fitting reading into my daily schedule. But now with such luxuries as the baby’s regular bedtime, I’m finally able to sneak in a chapter here and there. I look for short, easy reads that I can pick up and put down at a moments notice. You know, in case the baby decides she’s going to dig some chokeable substance from deep underneath the sofa or crawl towards the ledge that leads down into the hallway.

The Reckless Way of Love is a lovely collection of thoughts from Dorothy Day’s letters and writings. Because each reflection is usually no more than four paragraphs long, it met my need for something I could pick up and put down without ever losing my place. An added bonus was that the content is spiritually encouraging, something I am in dire need of these days. I could grab a paragraph before minding the baby, and carry the thought of it with me as I went.

The book covered topics of Christian love, suffering, sacrifice and what it means to follow Christ. A writer herself, her book even contained a poignant quote about writing.

“Writing a book is hard, because you’re ‘giving yourself away.’ But if you love, you want to give yourself. You write as you are impelled to write, about man and his problems, his relation to God and his fellows. You write about yourself because in the long run all man’s problems are the same, his human needs of sustenance and love.”
– Dorothy Day

While I didn’t agree with everything she said, I think it’s important to be able to read books from other perspectives, so you can understand other beliefs. I really appreciated her thoughts on suffering and about living in community with other Christians. With my husband still in seminary, we would be lost without the generosity of family and friends who have opened their homes to give us a place to live.

One of the nicest things to do with a pleasant read is to pass it on to another. After sharing a passage of this book with my sister in Texas, I offered to mail her my copy when I finished reading it. I’m glad that I continued to underline my favorite passages as I read, because every time I took out my pencil, I knew it would be there when she read it. It felt like I was sharing thoughts and reflections with my sister who is so far away.

“It is not filth and ugliness, drugs and drink and perversion he is asking us to prefer him to. He is asking us to prefer him to all beauty and loveliness. To all other love.”
~ Dorothy Day ❤