20 Favorite Reads from 2020

In spite of all the craziness of this year, reading never stopped for me and continued to be an escape as well as a part of learning and growing. I had several favorites but wasn’t sure I would list twenty, but why not? These are my favorites from 2020 in no particular order of preference though most were published earlier.

1. The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell (1996).  I started the year reading this first book from Russell and though science fiction is not my usual genre, I did enjoy this one. A listening post in Puerto Rico picks up some music from another planet and a group of scientists and Jesuits set off to find this planet. Only one returns. Why? What happened to the rest of them?

2. Daughter of Fortune by Isabel Allende, translated by Margaret Sayers Peden, (1998). Allende, a Chilean/American, writes historical fiction with a touch of magical realism. In Daughter of Fortune, Eliza Sommers is raised in a British colony in Chile, falls in love with an unsuitable servant, and when the servant leaves for the goldrush of 1849 in California, Eliza manages to secretly follow him. I loved the beautiful writing of this book as well as the descriptions of the historical places and events.

3. The Lost Queen by Signe Pike (2018). Pike read a book which traces the origins of the real Merlin who had a twin sister who became a strong Scottish queen. From that, Pike writes an entertaining and compelling first book of a coming trilogy.

3. The Historian Elizabeth Kostova (2005) This book is long, slow-paced, rich in description, and a bit creepy. A father and his daughter are on a quest to learn more about Vlad the Impaler and what, if anything, he has to do with the legend of Dracula. Again, not my usual genre, (horror) but I enjoyed this one.

4. Fool’s Quest by Robin Hobb (2015)What would my year be like without reading a Robin Hobb book? Hobb is my favorite fantasy writer, and I have spent years following Fitz and his adventures  or  misadventures.

5. Anthony Horowitz The Word is Murder (2018) If you’re looking for a good murder mystery, look no further than Anthony Horowitz. He always delivers and this mystery within a mystery is no exception.

6. The Murmur of Bees by Sofia Segovia; translator Simon Bruni. Historical fiction, magical realism, this tells the story of a family during the Mexican revolution and the influenza of 1918. I loved it!

7. Started Early, Took My Dog Kate Atkinson (2010). This is the fourth of the Jackson Brodie books. I recently reread the first (Case Histories) for a library group meeting next week. I enjoy Atkinson’s rather dark humor and the way she weaves several story lines together.

9. Summer Queen Elizabeth Chadwick (2013).  I’ve been reading Chadwick for years. One of my favorites for historical fiction. This is the first of a trilogy about  Eleanor of Aquitane. She married King Louis of France at the age of 13 in 1137.

10. A Gentleman in Moscow Amor Towles (2019). A count is put under house arrest by the Bolsheviks in Moscow in 1922. Consequently, he spends the rest of his life in a hotel. If this premise doesn’t sound fascinating to you, you’ll just have to trust me (and hundreds of other readers) who found this book full of charming characters, humor, and great descriptions.

11. Big Summer by Jennifer Weiner (2020). “Unforgettable novel about friendship and forgiveness set during a disastrous wedding on picturesque Cape Cod.” Though I did enjoy this (more than I thought I would), unforgettable is a bit of a stretch but maybe that’s just my age. Still, this was a fun read covering some serious issues concerning friendship. 

Audio These are my four top audiobooks. All fiction as I rarely listen to nonfiction.

12. The Mother-in-Law Sally Hepworth (2019). A woman’s complicated relationship with her mother-in-law ends in suicide; or murder? This was so good, going back and forth with the different viewpoints and the ending totally surprised me.

13. The Goldfinch Donna Tartt (2013). This book won the Pulitzer for fiction in 2014. A young boy is with his mother in a museum when a bomb goes off. His mother is killed and he takes a priceless picture away with him. Both of these events haunt him for the rest of his childhood and into adulthood. Parts of this book I loved. The audio was excellent and I became attached to Theo and his friend Boris. Other parts were tiresome (drug use, language, etc.), but overall, a book that kept me entertained for many hours. 

14. The Tidelands Philippa Gregory (2019). In England 1648, Alinor is a woman skilled with herbs and suspected of witchcraft. Her husband is missing and believed to be dead, so Alinor must use her wits and skills to provide for herself and her children. Another long one that kept me enthralled and ready for the next in the series.

15. All We Ever Wanted Emily Giffin (2018)  Set in Nashville and told with three different viewpoints (with different narrators), a girl’s picture is taken at a high school party and spread over the internet. Not only is the girl half clothed, a racial slur has been inserted. One boy is accused but is he guilty? A story of entitlement, family drama, and the dangers of social media. Excellent!

Nonfiction Yes, I do read some nonfiction.

16. Owls of the Eastern Ice Jonathan C. Slaght (2020). Slaght, a field scientist and conservationist, saw his first fish owl in Primorye, Russia. Though they have a wingspan of over six feet and a height of over two feet, they are elusive and little has been known about them. Slaght spent five years with other scientists in the wilds of Russia tracking, capturing, and learning about these fish owls and what they need to survive.

17. Isaiah by the Day Alec Motyer (2014) This is a translation by the Biblical scholar Alec Motyer along with a daily devotional. A friend and I have been studying Isaiah together and this book along with Motyer’s commentary has been a tremendous help and blessing to us. Highly recommended for anyone serious about studying the book of Isaiah.

18. Proverbs Eric Lane (2007). I used this book in a Bible study and though it was listed on my goodreads as the least favorite of my books for 2020 (meaning not many people listed it on goodreads), I found this to be a good study tool with intelligent questions.

19. Pudge: the Biography of Carlton Fisk Doug Wilson (2015). I’ve been a baseball fan since I was a kid, and I found this biography interesting both in telling about the life of Fisk and the history of baseball during the 70’s and 80’s.

20. The Prodigal Prophet and the Mystery of God’s Mercy Timothy Keller (2018). An excellent study on the book of Jonah though I don’t think I’ve read anything by Keller I didn’t enjoy and learn from.

Those are my favorites from 2020. Looking forward to another year of reading. How about you? Any highlights from 2020?

Books I’m Reading–August 2020

My book reviews have been sporadic at best. Okay, all my posts have been sporadic. Anyway, I wanted to highlight a few books I’ve read recently in no particular order.

Adorning the Dark by Andrew Peterson, a songwriter and storyteller, is part memoir and part encouragment for all who desire to imitate our Creator with their art for His glory. Peterson uses his personal story of how he persevered to establish himself as a songwriter and more specifically how he came to write the album “Behold the Lamb” to illustrate how we can use our talents and gifts for worship and to encourage the church.

“Since we were made to glorify God, worship happens when someone is doing exactly what he or she was made to do.

 

In Introverts in the Church Adam S. McHugh discusses how introverts can feel out of place in not only our extroverted world, but specifically in the extroverted church. If you’ve ever come late to church to avoid the meet and greet, you know what I’m talking about. Of course, the current pandemic has put a stop to such intrusions but there are other ways introverts can be uncomfortable or never have a chance to speak and share.

Understanding the differences in people–the way they serve and the way they worship–is important for everyone in the church. We should be careful not to think our ways are best and be dismissive of others.

The chapter on “Introverted Evangelism” highlighted several problems I’ve always had with most of the standard ways I’ve been taught on how to evangelize. “My understanding of evangelism shifted dramatically when I began to view my role not as initiating spiritual conversations but rather as responding to the ways that God is already at work in people around me.”

In many evangelical churches, entering the sanctuary is not a time of reflection and awe but more a time of greeting your friends and catching up on the past week’s events. For most introverts, a time of quiet is needed to enter into the heart of worship. “When introverts enter into worship, we are apt to come trembling before a God whose mysterious otherness often reduces us to silent awe. We want to hear God’s voice which comes to us more often in whispers than in triumphant shouts.”

Also recommend Susan Cain’s Quiet:The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.

Pachinko by Min Jin Lee is a work of historical fiction that takes place in Korea and Japan in the early part of the twentieth century. I first read this a year or so ago, and am rereading on audio for my library book club this month. “Sprawling family dramas” that cover several generations as well as history I’m unfamiliar with make this a book I’m glad to be able to reread. Sunja is a young girl in Korea who falls for a wealthy businessman from Japan. When she refuses to become his mistress, the consequences for herself and her son follow her throughout her life. The history of Korea being occupied by Japan and how difficult it was for the Koreans both before and after the war (WWII) is a part of history I was unfamiliar with and Lee is excellent in painting the atmosphere of the time. Pachinko received several literary awards and was National Book Award Finalist for Fiction in 2017.

 

 

How Firm a Foundation

April is National Poetry Month and though I don’t read as much poetry as I would like–between studying the Psalms and some hymns, I have been reading more poetry than usual.

We don’t often think of hymns as poetry, but when we take the time to read  and hear the words, we often find beautiful phrases with some deep theology woven in. Leland Ryken, a literary editor of the ESV Bible and a professor of English at Wheaton College for almost fifty years, writes in 40 Favorite Hymns on the Christian Life: “Much of the beauty that we experience when we sing hymns is the beauty of the music. Experiencing hymns as poems puts the focus on the verbal beauty of the words and phrases. The great hymns of Christian tradition are an untapped source of devotional poetry, just waiting to be made available for the pleasure and edification of Christians.”

In my familarity with hymns, I have too often sung through the words, not appreciating their depth of feeling and theology. I would like to challenge you to read through some of your favorite hymns and consider the words and what the writer may have been going through or trying to convey.

For today, I want to look at the hymn, “How Firm a Foundation.” The opening stanza contains words of comfort and assurance. A reminder that since God has given us His Word to live our lives by, how could we have a more firm foundation?

“How firm a foundation, ye saints of the Lord, Is laid for your faith in his excellent Word! What more can he say than to you he hath said, To you who for refuge to Jesus have fled?”

What more can He say? Nothing–though, of course, we need to read His Word to know what He has said. The next four stanzas are written as if God were speaking, reminding us of the promises from His Word.

In the second stanza: “Fear not, I am with thee, O be not dismayed. . . . I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand.” (Isaiah 41:10)

Third stanza: “When through the deep waters I call thee to go,” I will be with thee. (Isaiah 43:2)

Fourth stanza: “When through fiery trials they pathway shall lie”–His grace is sufficient. (2 Co 12:9; 1 Peter 4:12-13)

Fifth stanza: “The soul that on Jesus hath leaned for repose”–He will never forsake. No, Never! (Deuteronomy 31:6)

Though written in 1787, the words are no less true or relevant for our lives. Enjoy and worship this hymn written with the ancient truths of God’s Word.

 

Favorite Reads of ’18

One of my first reads of 2018, The Snow Child is a lovely retelling of a Russian fairy tale taking place in Alaska.

The Beautiful Mystery is Louise Penny’s eighth Inspector Gamache mystery. The whole book takes place at a secluded monastery in the wilderness of Quebec.

 

 

Rabbit Cake has a ten-year old protagonist whose mother drowned while sleepwalking. Sounds depressing, I know, but this is a delightful book. Favorite quote:

“That was what her rabbit cakes were about, celebrating every small good thing in your life. I know most families don’t celebrate every new moon or every solstice and equinox, but maybe they should. You never know when someone you love will shoot themselves in the middle of their own birthday party, or be found dead in another state, caught in a river dam, so everyone might as well have their cake right now.”

Beartown: About hockey, love, hope, tragedy, friendship, and loyalty in a small town where everyone knows everybody and everyone is affected by another’s hurt. “Everyone has a thousand wishes before a tragedy, but just one afterward.

 

 

 

The Queen of Hearts: Two women who became best friends in medical school are now practicing medicine and raising their families in Charlotte, NC. A doctor from their past comes to Charlotte and secrets better left buried come to surface.

Magpie Murders: A mystery within a mystery by a writer who not only writes spy novels and mysteries but also television dramas such as “Foyle’s War” and “Midsomer Murders.”

Dissolution: First of the Matthew Shardlake historical mysteries. Henry VIII has ordered the dissolution of monasteries. Informers abound and a murder soon takes place. Well-written historical fiction as well as a mystery. Looking forward to continuing this series.

Assassin’s Quest: Third in what was originally called The Farseer Trilogy. Has since grown to several more books but start with the first: Assassin’s Apprentice. Nobody builds fantasy worlds and develops characters better than Hobb.

Sorcerer to the Crown: First in a new fantasy series. Takes place in Victorian England. Zacharias Wythe, a freed slave and the new Sorcerer Royal, must find out why England’s magic is drying up. Bonus: there’s a dragon. Second book coming out in March.

A good year for reading! Looking forward to many more in 2019. How about you? What were your favorites in ’18? Which books are you excited about in 2019?

Happy New Year!

 

Christianity Today’s 2018 Book Awards

I subscribed to the magazine Christianity Today and one of the features I look forward to every year is their list of book awards. (No real surprise there). I invariably find, not only books I’ve never heard of, but also authors.  Not just the authors of the books, but also the reviewers who usually have their own books and/or blogs. Last year my favorite find was: Crossing the Waters by Leslie Leyland Fields. https://pmgilmer.com/2017/07/01/crossing-the-waters-by-leslie-leyland-fields/

CT awards books in several different categories. I will not try to cover all the categories or all the books, but will point out the ones I’m most interested in and hope you will read the whole article for yourself. The categories include: Apologetics Evangelism, Christian Living/Discipleship, CT Women, Fiction, and Spiritual Formation.

I have read a book from the category of CT Women the last few years. This year the winner of that category is You Carried Me by Melissa Ohden. Ohden was adopted into a loving family, but eventually wants to learn more about her biological family. When she learns that she was the victim of an unsuccessful abortion, she becomes more determined to find out what happened and why. Ohden uses her testimony to reach out to others who may be victims of abortion or other types of violence.

This year’s fiction winner is by Katherine James, Can You See Anything Now?  which is a debut novel for James. The award of merit goes to Daniel Taylor for Do We Not Bleed? A Jon Mote Mystery. Taylor’s first Mote mystery, Death Comes for the Deconstructionist, won the fiction award last year. If you’re interested in a rather lengthy review by John Piper: https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/who-killed-postmodernism

Among the many books that came out about Martin Luther this year, the winner for the History/Biography category was Martin Luther: A Spiritual Biography by Herman Selderhus. Using Luther’s own words, Selderhus follows Luther on his spiritual journey as a monk, a husband and father, a preacher and writer.

The overall Book of the Year winner comes under the category of Beautiful Orthodoxy. Liturgy of the Ordinary: Sacred Practices in Everyday Life by Tish Harrison Warren. Warren takes the common incidents of our day and reminds us of their spiritual significance. From one reviewer: “Warren takes you through a single ordinary day, from waking up in the morning to going to sleep at night, and manages to make connections to just about every important aspect of the Christian life. She is a gifted writer whose stories, rife with humor, teach you deeper things without ever making you feel like you’re being instructed.” (Stan Jantz) An article taken from the book is included in CT and this alone has made me anxious to read this book.

If you like to read about the other winners: http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2018/january-february/christianity-todays-2018-book-awards.html

Have you already read any of these books? Ready to add them to your TBR?

 

 

Seventeen of my Favorite Books from 2017

Looking back over 2017, I can’t say I’ve accomplished all my goals, but I did meet and go beyond my goals for reading. Okay, I manage to accomplish that goal every year–through college, having babies, homeschooling, working on my masters, etc. No matter what my year may bring, I will always squeeze in some reading time.

So, what were my top reads of 2017? Trying to cull my favorites was challenging, but thanks to Goodreads (my memory is not so great), I have come up with my top 17 from various genres. Some of these have been mentioned in previous posts and one I plan to review later, but I didn’t want to leave them out.

Historical fictionThe House of Riverton Kate Morton; The Alice Network by Kate Quinn; The Women in the Castle Jessica Shattuck; Small Island by Andrea Levy; Wiley Cash The Last Ballad

Suspense/mysteryThe Dry by Jane Harper; The Devotion of Suspect X by Keigo Higashino; India Black by Carol K. Carr; Midnight at the Bright Lights Bookstore by Matthew Sullivan. All of these books were suspenseful, entertaining, and not what I was expecting. (I know; maybe if I read the blurbs? But sometimes they are so full of spoilers.) I picked up Midnight at the Bright Ideas Bookstore because a book group I’m in was going to read it and because, well, a great cover. If I knew it would start with a suicide in a bookstore, and something terrible happened to the main character as a child, I probably wouldn’t have started it. But, once I did, (except for the night I knew the bad thing was about to happen, so I closed it until morning), I could hardly put it down. Great story. 

Historical Romance: The Painter’s Daughter Julie Klassen

Christian Living: Crossing the Waters by Leslie Leyland Fields

History/Biographical: Clementine: The Life of Mrs. Winston Churchill by Sonia Purnell; Destiny of the Republic: A Tale of Madness, Medicine, and the Murder of a President by Candice Millard (assassination of James Garfield); Ice Ghosts: The Epic Hunt for the Lost Franklin Expedition by Paul Watson. 

Literary Fiction: Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. I’ve heard for several years about what a great book this one is, but a book about some terrorists taking over a party of VIP guests in a South American country? Just didn’t sound appealing, but Ann Patchett is such a great writer, I finally had to try it. It took me a few chapters to get into it, but once I did, I was engrossed.

Young Adult: The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon. I listened to this one, and the narration is superb. 

Best Series: Shetland Island by Ann Cleeves (Read the first six; also belongs under Mysteries)

What about you? What were your favorites this year? What books are you looking forward to in 2018?

Charles Dickens and Serial Fiction

Starting tomorrow, I will begin posting a new story in eight parts. I will not wait a week between each posting as I did with my last story, and each installment (except the last) will be considerably shorter than the installments of “My Name is Absalom.” I believe these shorter installments will be more attractive to those who like to read on their phone–whether waiting in line or finding yourself with a few minutes to kill waiting on a doctor or a loved one, etc. (not waiting in traffic, please).

Serial fiction is nothing new, and in the 19th century, many books were first published this way. I knew Charles Dickens published some of his books in serial fashion, so I decided to do a little research to learn more about how and why he published in this way.

First I learned that Dickens published all of his books this way. I heard someone just a few days comment (complain?) about the wordiness of Dickens’ books, but serial publishing explains this to some degree. No one in the 19th century sat down with an over 800 page copy of David Copperfield or Bleak House. Most of his novels were published in twenty parts. In Dickens’ first book, The Pickwick Papers (1836-1837), thirty-two pages of text along with two engraved illustrations, and sixteen pages of advertising sold for a shilling. The last installment cost two shillings as the text and illustrations were doubled and other parts were included such as a preface, table of contents, list of illustrations, etc.

Other authors who published in serial form include: George Eliot, Thomas Hardy, Anthony Trollope, and William Makepeace. In the early 20th century, books by Hemingway, Edith Wharton, and F. Scott Fitzgerald were also serialized. Their books were serialized in newspapers often after they had already come out in books.

In this century, several books have come about after being posted as blog posts. Andy Weir first posted the chapters of his book, The Martian, as blog posts after failing to publish other books. When his fans wanted it put in book form, he created a Kindle version for .99. After selling 35,000 copies in three months, he finally had the attention of some publishers, and the rest, as they say, is history.

How about you? Do you enjoy reading short stories in serialized form? Or even books? What type of stories do you think are best suited for being published in several installments?

 

Coal River by Ellen Marie Wiseman A Book Review

“On the last day of June, in the year when the rest of the world was reeling from the sinking of the Titantic, nineteen-year old Emma Malloy was given two choices: get on the next train to Coal River, Pennsylvania, or be sent to a Brooklyn poorhouse.”

First of all–great first sentence. Need to keep this one for future study.

Second–though I won this book in a goodreads giveaway (which means I had to enter to win it)–upon receiving it, I confess I was not overjoyed at the prospect of reading something which looked to be rather grim reading. I don’t know much about working in a coal mine, but I know enough to know it was (and is) a far from pleasant life–especially in 1912. So, I reluctantly began my reading, but was soon drawn into the story of Emma and her rather tragic life.

Wiseman tells a difficult story well and manages to make it entertaining. Emma is forced to live with her aunt and uncle when her parents die in a fire. Her relatives see her as a burden, (though her free labor is a bonus), but that is not the worst part of Emma’s life. Seeing how the miners and their families are forced to live and how poorly they are treated by the owner of the mine as well as those under him (such as Emma’s uncle) tears at her heart and makes her determined to try to find a way to help them.

Doing what she can for the miners and their families, Emma puts herself in very dangerous situations as she not only tries to help them, but also to let the world know how the miners, especially the children, are being treated. In spite of laws having been passed to protect children and other workers, these laws are being ignored by the owner of the mine.

As ever when I read a book of historical fiction, I am interested in why the writer chose their subject and how much of it is based on fact and true events. Wiseman says she has long been “fascinated” by coal mining, but learning of the breaker boys made it “a story that needed to be told.” I agree and can highly recommend this book.

Wiseman has written three other books of historical fiction, and I look forward to checking them out. How about you? Have you read any of Wiseman’s books?

Listening to Books

20170224_092523

In the past few years, I have been listening to audio books more and more. I first began listening to them on my daily walk as it was rather dangerous to try and read a book while walking. Since I discovered bluetooth headphones, I can listen even more while cooking or performing those necessary evils known as “housework”. Last year I began to listen to them as I’m driving. I had tried to listen in the car at different times, but found my mind wandering too much to keep up with what was happening and thoughts of “where did that character come from?” were occurring too often. Then my son broke his leg, and I was spending more time on the road making daily trips to and from his school, so I decided to try listening again and was soon hooked.

I’m not sure why “listening” to books took some getting used to since, after all, that is how I was first introduced to reading. As with most people, my first introduction to the world of books was my mother reading stories to me. I also remember listening to books on a record player (you know, LPs or what are now known as “vinyl”) at school. I heard the books of both Wrinkle in Time and The Hobbit when I was in fourth and sixth grades. Though I have since read the print version of both these books, the memory of hearing them while sitting at a desk (breaking into my usual daydreaming) makes them more special than most.

I don’t believe audio books will ever replace the written word for me, but I am glad to have found a place for them. Anyone that enjoys listening quickly learns that finding a narrator you like is as important as finding favorite authors. Also some books just are easier to listen to than others. For me, those with a great deal of description tend to put me to sleep. Others are harder to keep track of the characters and the scenes without being able to go back and review. But, I’m getting better.

The most entertaining books (for me) are those in a series. Once you’re in a series and are familiar with the characters, it seems easier to stay focused. Another plus is having a narrator with whom you’re already familiar (change the narrator in the middle of the series and fans will complain loudly). A young adult, scifi series I’ve enjoyed over the past few years is Marissa Meyer’s Lunar Chronicles.  For historical mysteries, I’ve listened to several books from Jacqueline Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs series as well as books from the two series by Charles Todd. Simone St. James writes historical mysteries with paranormal aspects. Others I’ve enjoyed include: Stella Bain by Anita Shreve; Bone Gap by Laura Ruby; and The Sun is Also a Star by Nicola Yoon.  I found The Sun is Also a Star enjoyable as an audio because there were multiple narrators. Some books have put me off when a male tries a female voice and vice versa; but, not always.

Every year awards are given by the Audio Publishers Association (APA) which “recognizes distinction in audiobooks and spoken word entertainment”. Looking these up, as well as past winners, is a good way to find books you might enjoy listening to. For a list of the recently released finalists of 2017, check out AudioFile’s webpage: http://www.audiofilemagazine.com/audies/?utm_source=email&utm_medium=20170222-nl3feb-audiestxt1

What about you? Have you jumped on the audio book bandwagon yet? Any favorite books? Narrators? Most people listen to audio books while performing other tasks. What else do you do while you’re listening?

 

The Women in the Castle Jessica Shattuck

20170127_155658I’ve read many books of historical fiction that take place during World War II, but few that are from the vantage point of German characters. (One exception that comes to mind is the excellent The Book Thief by Markus Zusak). The Women in the Castle is a new book of historical fiction coming out in April, and it is a story of three German women whose husbands were involved in an attempt to assassinate Hitler during the war. What happens to these women during and after the war because of this (obviously, unsuccessful) attempt creates a story that examines good and evil in the choices that people make. How do our choices affect, not only ourselves, but also those we love and want to protect?

In spite of the inevitable sadness running through this book, I was easily caught up into the story and could commiserate with each character and the hard choices they were forced to make. The three women were distinct with their own personalities.  They came from different backgrounds with secrets to hide, children to protect, and the need to find their way through a new world after their old one was destroyed.

Shattuck was able to write her story because of the memories and recollections of others, among them her own grandmother, mother, and aunt. There really was a German resistance and because of the research Shattuck has done, we can learn much of what people endured and why they may have made some of the decisions that they did.

Lovely writing and intriguing characters set in a difficult, but important time in history. Highly recommended!