January 4, 2019

Here it is — this year’s (well, last year’s) book review post! Part One, that is. Read and enjoy, and let me know what books you loved or hated in 2018! (If there’s an {a} after the title it’s because I listened to it on audiobook. I used to consider that cheating, but I don’t anymore. Not really. Kinda. Whatever. I’m trying not to be so judgy, and I’m trying to expand my reading horizons. Thank you, audiobooks, for expanding my reading horizons.)

  1. I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith (1949, fiction) – Please, oh please, disregard the terrible cover on the modern edition (the number one rule of not-judging-books, after all) and promise never to watch the terrible movie, but DO buy this book and read it and get swept away in the beautiful, witty prose. Read it and imagine living in a dilapidated old castle, swimming in the moat, sunning yourself on the battlements, strolling to the nearby inn to drink cherry liqueur with your lunch under the trees. Imagine having a slightly crazy father who’s a writer who no longer writes and a slightly crazy sister who’s marrying the wrong person and a slightly crazy stepmother who likes to wander around naked outside to commune with nature in the moonlight. You can’t help but love Cassandra and all the others, and root for them all to be happy. It’s light but it’s well-written lightness.
  2. Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse (1938, fiction) – Please, oh please, buy and read this book too. In January, Todd and I went to Cancun, Mexico with our good friends Nate and Erin (WITHOUT children), and we spent many hours relaxing on the beach, imbibing tropical beverages and soaking up the sun and the silence….except for when the silence was broken by me snorting, chuckling, and/or giggling at this book roughly every seven seconds. The book is so very British: the characters are polite even when they’re being rude, they do things like pinch constables’ helmets and sip brandy to calm their nerves, and Bertie Wooster’s iconic (and quintessentially British) butler Jeeves makes frequent appearances to provide dryly-delivered (and hilariously astute) advice. This was the first book I’ve read by P.G. Wodehouse, and I’m shocked that I’d made it this far in life without him.
  3. Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas {a} (2011, biography) – Okay. I love the story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer — the deeply conservative pastor who loved Jesus and loved peace and tended towards pacifism but who nonetheless became involved in a plot to kill Hitler. When I was a kid my family listened to a radio theater production about Bonhoeffer and I’ve had a soft spot for his story ever since. I also like Eric Metaxas, who I’m inclined to think is rather brilliant. But this book is…..long. I’ve had it sitting on my shelf for years and have always been daunted by its size, so I finally listened to the audiobook, which is a cool 24 hours. That’s not really that long, I know, not compared to the hours we spend in front of screens, but it’s also long in the sense of being a little tedious. If you’re looking for a book that’s just about the plot to kill Hitler, look elsewhere. If you’re interested in a thorough understanding of who Bonhoeffer the man was, then this is your book. It recounts his whole life, including lots of background on the theological, philosophical, and political leaders who influenced his thinking. It includes many (MANY) letters and transcripts of speeches etc. etc. in their entirety, which if I’d been reading the book with my own eyeballs I might have just skimmed right over. So is it good? Yes, without a doubt — it is about an important and influential person, written by an intelligent and informed person. Is it an easy, satisfying read? Well, no. I did see that there is an abridged version of the audiobook, and I’d maybe recommend giving that a go if you’re interested in the book but you’re now experiencing some commitment issues.
  4. Magic by William Goldman (1978, fiction/thriller) – Oh, William Goldman, we’ll miss you. This genius of a writer passed away in November of this year, leaving behind quite the written legacy — from screenplays like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid to books-turned-into-screenplays like The Princess Bride. He also wrote this strange little gem of a book, about a more-than-slightly unhinged magician who adds a ventriloquist dummy into his act and then begins to take increasingly violent advice from said dummy. It sounds psycho (and it is), but it was also a quick and rather entertaining read, making the most of the “unreliable narrator” POV. Not for the faint of heart.
  5. The Power of Moments: Why Certain Experiences Have Extraordinary Impact by Chip Heath & Dan Heath {a} (2017, communication & relationships) – Ever wonder why the memories that stand out in life are the especially good ones and the especially bad ones? The authors investigate the psychology behind why that is, and then explore ways to intentionally create those especially good memories in our families, our communities, and our places of work. This could be called a “how-to” book, but I became all teary-eyed at many points throughout, so it’s rather special as far as “how-to” books go.
  6. Called to Create: A Biblical Invitation to Create, Innovate, and Risk by Jordan Raynor (2017, Christian living) – At our church we say “all of life is all for Jesus,” and this book is a practical and inspiring guide to what that looks like, specifically in the realm of work. Raynor talks about developing a proper perspective of work, and then looks at examples of Christians in the workplace — from Guinness beer to Sevenly clothing to inner-city laundromats. My only real beef with the book is that it speaks particularly to entrepreneurs, but I think it could (and should) have been written to all believers.
  7. The Forgotten Trinity by James White (1998, theology) – I picked up this book because a Jehovah’s Witness gal started coming to my door about a year ago. She came often and we talked a lot, and of course the Trinity is one of the glaring, important differences in our theology. Even though I’ve grown up with a pretty solid understanding of the Trinity, I felt like I needed a refresher course in order to make our conversations livelier, and this book was a great way to do that. (Please disregard the crappy cover on this one too.)
  8. Building a Storybrand by Donald Miller {a} (2017, marketing) – Fact: I do not have a marketing bone in my body. I don’t get marketing, I don’t have a feel for what works and what doesn’t, I don’t understand the psychology of it. And yet I have reason to care about the philosophies behind good marketing, and so at Todd’s recommendation I listened to this book, which really is a fascinating read. Miller identifies seven components of good storytelling and then applies those to how a company views itself in relation to its target audience. I enjoyed the audiobook so much that I purchased a physical copy, and I plan to go back through and make some notes in the margins.
  9. Emotional Intelligence 2.0 by Travis Bradberry & Jean Greaves {a} (2009, nonfiction/self-help) – Nope. If you’re already a self-aware adult – like, at all – the observations in the book will just feel like common sense things that you already know and take for granted. And if you’re not self-aware, this little book just isn’t going to change that. An added terrible thing about the audiobook: the book includes a ton of little testimonials and survey responses, and the reader chose to read every one of them in a different voice. It was weird.
  10. The Two Towers by J.R.R. Tolkien (1954, fiction/fantasy) – I mean, it’s LOTR. If you know me you know I love these books, and I’ve loved getting to read them to my older two boys over the last year (or so). The Two Towers ranks third for me in the trilogy, but that’s still high praise. It’s darker and drearer (not a word but it should be….actually no, I just tried saying it out loud and it’s a terrible word….but the book is more drear than the first), and the plot doesn’t move along as much as in the other two. The whole Helm’s Deep business is a little tiresome to me, but the Gollum/Smeagol storyline is good enough to cover a multitude of wrongs. And the book doesn’t contain a multitude of wrongs. It’s got a multitude of….rights. Anyway, I love it.
  11. The Hiding Place by Corrie ten Boom {a} (1971, autobiography) – I read this for the first time in high school, and listened to it this time with my older two boys, and I absolutely love it. I love Corrie, I love her father, I love her sister Betsie. I want to go back in time and drink coffee with them (they drank a lot of coffee) and see their watch shop and talk late into the night around their kitchen table. I want to see with my own eyes the laugh wrinkles around Mr. ten Boom’s eyes, to see Corrie’s fierceness, to witness Betsie’s steadfast love. I want to see the crookedy stairs and the hodgepodge rooms of their home. I want to see the hiding place in the stairs where they hid the radio, and the hiding place behind Corrie’s bed where they hid Jews from the Nazis. I want to see the streets that took them to the train that took them to prison and eventually to Ravensbruck. I want the whole world to know Corrie’s story, to know that it’s possible to have courage in the face of evil, to show love in the face of hate, to trust God in the face of hopelessness, to forgive when the burden of wrong feels crushing. If you haven’t read it before, you must. (PS I very much enjoyed the audio version of this one.)
  12. The Tech-Wise Family: Everyday Steps for Putting Technology in Its Proper Place by Andy Crouch {a} (2017, parenting/technology) – Todd suggested I read this book and I was like “No, I have so many books to read, I don’t need to add another one, blah blah blah,” but then for some reason I read it anyway (well, listened to it) and it ended up being one of my favorite books this year. This perspective on technology is one we need to hear. Our kids need us to hear it. If you’re in the middle of figuring out how much television your kids should watch, how many hours they should play video games, whether or not they should have personal phones, computers, etc., read this book. Seriously. (I will say that he takes his conservatism towards technology a tad further in certain areas than seems practical to me, but obviously you can decide how much of his advice you want to take.)
  13. The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah (2017, fiction) – This is a beautifully sad story pivoting around two very different sisters who both find their own ways to survive and fight their way through occupied France during WWII. I loved how the sisters’ differing circumstances caused them to approach the occupation in very different ways, and I especially felt deep sympathy for the one who was a mother. However…You know how you finished reading Pride & Prejudice and afterwards you kept thinking And how ARE Lizzy and Darcy doing these days? Or how after Harry’s first year at Hogwarts you found yourself wondering how he was getting along over the summer? And then you had to remind yourself that none of them are real people? After reading this book, I didn’t find myself ever once thinking about what’s-her-name or what’s-her-name’s sister. Here’s the thing: I believe that when it comes to a story’s staying power, well-formed characters trump a well-formed plot, and this book had the latter (kinda) but not the former. I feel bad giving this book a negative review. Look anywhere else and you’ll find nothing but glowing reviews. And I didn’t dislike it….it just didn’t feel like quite as great a masterpiece as it was supposed to.
  14. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King (2000, memoir/writing) – Holy. Cow. I ate this book up. Devoured it. King’s love of writing is infectious, and his writing advice is wise and practical. It’s entertaining for anyone who enjoys memoirs, and empowering for anyone who enjoys writing. This book is definitely in my top five from this year, and it’s likely to be one I will read again.

Thanks for reading! Part two coming soon!


2018 Book Review – Part I

  1. Chrystal says:

    So much greatness!! I just saved about 8 of these to my “to read” list! I highly recommend An American Marriage – fave book of the year. Wonder if I’ll see it on Part II 🙂

  2. Cassia Karin says:

    Maybe… the most excited I have been about your posts all year. And I LOOOVE reading ALL of your posts. But somehow, someway, our hearts seem to be attached by books… and I LOVE your mind, and thought on books!
    So! In comment…A few things:
    1. I am SO excited to pick up King’s book! EEk! Can.not.wait.
    2. Last year was my first year entering into modern/kinda-modern fiction with Wendell Berry’s “Hannah Coulter. (*LOVED) and am now in the market to continue this pursuit!
    3. I’m not sure why, but I teared up reading your review on the Hiding Place. I’ve never read it, but will. I think I teared up because of your longing to do all those sweet things… things I think I would love to do too, and with you, maybe too…
    4.I love Two Towers. Probably more than the others simply because of Tree Beard: “Don’t be Hasty, now!” “Do. Not. Be. Hasty. That’s my motto!” Hahahaha, gets me every time.
    5. I can’t wait to read P.G. Wodehouse. He has been on my list for sometime, I just keep looking for his books in the used book stores and haven’t found him yet. I could just order him on Amazon, of course, but for some reason, it feels more Wodehouseee to purchase his books in a used book store, where people are, instead of through the Modern Monster… I don’t know 🙂

    P.s. SO excited for Part II!

    • elisajoy says:

      Our hearts ARE attached by books! I love that. I think you will love Stephen King’s book, and I hope you’ll love Wodehouse! It’s totally silly but so well-written. And I have a copy of Wendell Berry’s “Jaybor Crow” but I haven’t read it yet (sheepish face). Whenever I hear quotes from him, I know he’s a kindred spirit! And I love that you connect with Treebeard. He is pretty wonderful, as are you. xoxo

  3. Deb says:

    I’ve only read 3, 11 and 13. Took me a solid week on Maui to read Bonhoeffer. Eric Metaxes is pretty brilliant. I personally loved, loved The Nightengale. Like, a LOT. Preferred it to All the Light We Cannot See. It was beautifully written but such a downer for me.

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