Thursday, December 31, 2015

Reading Challenge Update ~ 2015 Conclusion!

2015 Reading Challenge Conclusion @ Mt. Hope Chronicles 
In total, I read 60 books this year!

***ETA: I completely forgot one. How did that happen?! I actually read 61 books, because I also finished La's Orchestra Saves the World in the last two months. It was an impulse read. The cover was so lovely, I couldn't help it. [grin]

I also made some progress on 9 more.

Some long (A Tale of Two Cities, The Grapes of Wrath…), some short (In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson, A Long Walk to Water…).

Some difficult (Catch-22, Beloved), some delightful (The Awakening of Miss Prim).

Some deep (Leisure: The Basis of Culture by Pieper, Beauty Will Save the World), some superduper shallow (Highland Fling).

Some quickly (The Law and the Lady), some sloooowly (Hamlet).

Most new to me (A Christmas Carol), a few old favorites (Little Britches, Dominic).

I added so many books to my original list over the course of the year, and there were many books I didn’t even touch. But I read more than I would have if I hadn’t made a list!


It’s so, so difficult to choose favorites because I read some great books this year. But I’ll cringe and do it anyway.

Here’s my top 5 (if you ask me tomorrow, my answer may be different!).

Supper of the Lamb 

The Awakening of Miss Prim

The Boys in the Boat

The Book Thief

A Long Walk to Water

My two favorite book experiences this year:

Reading A Tale of Two Cities aloud to the boys.

Discussing Hamlet month after month with my Schole Sisters.

The two biggest surprises:

The Grapes of Wrath [I didn’t expect to love it as much as I did!]

The Book of the Dun Cow [How does one describe this story?!]

Least Favorites:

The Signature of All Things [Well-written, but disturbing and I wish I hadn’t read it. It was so long, and I wasted so much time.]

Catch-22 [It made me slightly insane and it was waaaaaaay too long, but I’m glad I read it for cultural literacy reasons.]

And a literary link round-up for December:

On Challenging Yourself Next Year [Do it!!]

[My Reading Challenge 2016 list is in the works. I’ll post it soon!]

:: Responses to “12 Reasons You Should Read At Least 12 Books This Year” @ Seasonal Soundings

:: Back to the Classics Challenge @ Books and Chocolate

:: The 2016 Reading Challenge @ Modern Mrs. Darcy

:: 2016 Reading Challenge @ categories, 13 books, 26 books, 52 books, 104 books!

:: 31 Day Winter Read-Aloud Challenge—for your KIDS! @ Amongst Lovely Things

On Books I Didn’t Finish

:: December 7 – John Milton, from “Paradise Lost” [Literary Advent Series] @ Center for Lit [Check out the rest of this wonderful series!]
Here I sense a double ransom:  Christ’s life and mine.  The Son lays down His life to buy me back from the enemy; I trade mine to gain the riches of His life and work.  Emptying my hands, forsaking my own goodness, I receive His – His life for mine; my life for his.  Through this ransom, Milton professes, “Heav’nly love shall outdo Hellish hate.”
:: A Perpetual Feast #1: Talking Homer with Wes Callihan and Andrew Kern! [I’m so excited about this podcast series!! I’ll be finishing The Iliad and reading The Odyssey with Levi next year, and we are going through the Roman Roads Western Culture Greeks DVDs with Wes Callihan—so this is perfect!]

:: The True-Life Horror That Inspired Moby-Dick @ Smithsonian

On Reading to Live

:: What Happens When Homes Have No Books @ Acculturated
“Most of us can’t rush around, talk to everyone, know all the cities of the world, we haven’t time, money or that many friends,” [Ray] Bradbury said. “The things you’re looking for… are in the world, but the only way the average chap will ever see ninety-nine per cent of them is in a book.”
:: Autodidacticism: How You Like Them Apples? by Joshua Gibbs @ CiRCE
This is the strength of autodidacticism; it is a kind of beginners luck enjoyed not with a game, but a book, and not just once, but over and over again. The rules of a book are unknown, undogmatized, and so the book has secrets and mysteries. In the same way it is possible for a dramatist to overact, it is possible for a teacher to overteach a book— to predestine the mysteries the students will solve, to program them to love this character, to predetermine the kinds of questions they are capable of asking. No autodidact will overteach himself a book, though.
:: Why can’t we read anymore? @ San Francisco Chronicle [I struggle, really struggle, with attention issues.]
What was true of my problems reading books — the unavoidable siren call of the digital hit of new information — was true in the rest of my life as well.

Books Finished in November/December:

Hamlet! [I had the last meeting with my Schole Sisters. It took us over a year, but we watched and then read the play, discussing portions at a time using the 5 Common Topics. It was satisfying to end with Testimony, as the play wraps up with Hamlet exhorting Horatio as a witness. It seems “testimony” is a prevalent theme in the play. Whose testimony is reliable? Who is acting? Who is covering up their actions? And Shakespeare seems to build a case for Horatio as a credible witness all through the story.]

The Sign of the Beaver [With Levi and McKinnon for CC Challenge B]

A Christmas Carol [The boys and I listened to Adam Andrews (Center for Lit) read this one aloud and it was spectacular! I can’t believe I hadn’t read it before. Then we went to see a radio-theater-style reading of it at the local high school.]

Supper of the Lamb [Loved, loved, loved.]

Clouds of Witness [Decent mystery by Dorothy Sayers]

The Grapes of Wrath [There’s a reason this one is a classic. Tragic, but so beautifully written.]

[ETA] La's Orchestra Saves the World [Nice story by the author of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. This is a stand-alone novel set in England during WWII.]

Not Finished:

Paradise Lost [I tried, I really did, but I am just. not. smart enough. I need the plain English novel form and a bunch of study notes.]

The Iliad [I’m still working on it. At least it’s easier than Paradise Lost!]

The 2015 Book List Challenge ~ Final List 

[*Added to original list]


Lila: A Novel [I had a more difficult time getting into this novel than Robinson’s previous two novels in the series, but the story was greatly rewarding in the end. What a beautiful picture of grace the author masterfully paints. Marilynne Robinson is at the top of my list. 4 1/2 stars]

Hood [Hood is the first Stephen Lawhead book I’ve read. It is a retelling of the Robin Hood myth. It was well-told and entertaining, but not excellent. I’d like to try another series by Lawhead. 3 1/2 stars]

The Sunday Philosophy Club [This is from the author of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, which I very much enjoyed. Interesting in places, charming in places, and boring in quiet a few places. 3 stars.]

A Girl of The Limberlost (ChocLit Guild) [Sweet, safe, turn of the century romance novel by Gene Stratton-Porter, full of natural history. 3 1/2 stars]

The Brothers K

The Road

Dune [I tried to start it and just couldn’t get going. Maybe I’ll try again later this year.] [I found this article at The Guardian: Dune, 50 years on: how a science fiction novel changed the world. I guess it stays on the list…]

The Once and Future King [in progress]

The Chosen [A fascinating look at Jewish culture in 1940s Brooklyn, New York, written by Chaim Potok. I was captivated. 4 1/2 stars]

Beloved [Toni Morrison has given us a tragic and graphic but exquisitely-written narrative that seeps the reader in the culture of slavery. Haunting. 4 1/2 stars]

The Book Thief [The narrator (death) and the writing style were very imaginative, picturesque, and poetic. I appreciated reading a book about WWII that gave a bit of insight into the daily life of average poor German citizens. Several characters were endearing. But Hans—I think I love him. Tough but beautiful ending.  4 1/2 stars]

*Whose Body? [Lord Peter Wimsey debuts in this detective novel by Dorothy Sayers. Slightly reminiscent of P.G. Wodehouse, but not nearly so silly, Whose Body? is the first of the series. I mostly read this one so that I could work my way up to Clouds of Witness. 4 stars]

Clouds of Witness [Another decent Wimsey mystery from Sayers.]

Catch-22 [This was a tough read for me, and I wished it had been about half as long. I cannot read 400+ pages of satirical nonsense before my head explodes. It gave me more to think about, however, as I was reading Unbroken since both books are about bombardiers during WWII. It is an important modern classic, but not at all enjoyable to read. 3 stars]

Lord of the Flies [Lord of the Flies was not cheerful, by any means, but not quite as grim or at least not as explicit as I was expecting. Important modern classic, not particularly enjoyable. 3 1/2 stars.]

The Great Gatsby [Quintessential Jazz Age and a cultural imperative. 4 1/2 stars.]

Invisible Man

The Return of the Native

The Poisonwood Bible: A Novel

The Grapes of Wrath [What a masterpiece. I had no expectations of enjoying this novel, but the writing is so magnificent and poetic and human. Yes, the story is heartbreaking in many ways, but also beautiful. 4 1/2 stars.]


A Tree Grows in Brooklyn [A Tree Grows in Brooklyn was s.l.o.w. reading for me without much of a plot. It was beautifully written, though, and certainly felt like an authentic childhood and coming of age in Brooklyn at the beginning of the 1900s. Much of it reflected the author’s experience. I really began connecting with the story in chapter 39 (yes, that far in) when the main character, Francie, was discussing her writing with her English teacher. Their conversation (disagreement) about beauty and truth hit the mark. The author clearly saw beauty in her childhood experiences, even in the midst of poverty and hardship, and she wanted readers to experience her life vicariously. “It doesn’t take long to write things of which you know nothing. When you write of actual things, it takes longer, because you have to live them first.” It was honest (but not gritty) and often sad (yet hopeful). I’m thankful for the chance to walk in Francie’s shoes, even if it was a long walk. A classic. 4 1/2 stars]

The Signature of All Things [This is a brilliantly-told narrative, even if it took quite some time for the story to get going. (The beginning is interesting, but the first 13 chapters all seem to have the same pacing.) I have very strong feelings about this one, but it is a bit of a pendulum swing when I consider it. It disturbed me. I think I hated it. But maybe, if I read it again, I’d love it. Oddly, it reminded me in some ways of Till We Have Faces, which I didn’t hate. I don’t even know how to rate this one. 4 1/2 stars for the excellent writing. 2 stars for enjoyment.]

*Godric: A Novel [My feelings about Godric were similar to my feelings about The Signature of All Things, though I was more frustrated than disturbed and Godric wasn’t as long. I think I hated it, but maybe I’d love it if I re-read it so that I could understand it better, see more deeply. I suppose good writing is writing that makes you feel and think, in which case both books are excellent. I don’t know. But I hate hating books. It makes me feel shallow and imperceptive. Am I not intellectual enough to love books that aren’t enjoyable? I think I have to be prepared ahead of time for a tragic or graphic or dark story like I was for Beloved or Till We Have Faces. I also find it fascinating that stories can speak so differently to people. Again, it is true: no two people read the same book. 4 stars for the writing, 2 1/2 for the enjoyment.]

Merry Hall [I loved Down the Garden path by Beverly Nichols, and Merry Hall did not disappoint. It’s like P.G. Wodehouse in the garden. Quite hilarious. The little vignettes are somewhat unconnected, though, and there is no driving narrative, so I didn’t find myself needing to continue reading. 3 1/2 stars]

*Go Set a Watchman: A Novel by Harper Lee [Megan Tietz has already given a phenomenal thoughtful review on Sarah Bessey’s blog. This book is a completely different experience from To Kill a Mockingbird. It feels like a light read, somewhat rambling (though not unpleasantly) with flashbacks to Scout’s growing-up years, until at least two-thirds of the way through. And then a tornado hits for the last fifty pages. My emotions were all over the place and I was worried about how it was going to end. But the conclusion is incredible. Friends, we are all so human. Humility. Grace. Love. Hope. (P.S. I still love Atticus.) Also, this is more of an adult’s book than To Kill a Mockingbird. There is language, but it’s more about the age and transformation/conflict of Scout/Jean Louise. 4 1/2 stars.]

*Gone with the Wind (ChocLit Guild)

*The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry: A Novel [This is a charming and delightful modern novel. I needed something light after a run of several difficult novels. I liked this one in a way similar to The Rosie Project. Quirky. Modern. Not depressing. Not cheesy. Not squeaky clean, but not gritty. 3 1/2 stars]

*The Little Village School [Charming story. Sort of like Mitford, but centered around a school in England. 3 1/2 stars]

*The Awakening of Miss Prim [Review here. 5 stars for enjoyment.]

*The Book of the Dun Cow [I’m not sure how to categorize this one. It’s a little like Watership Down (one of my all-time favorites) but shorter, more poetic, more romantic, more theological, and more intense. It’s not a child’s animal book. It’s a story about human nature (embodied in animals), leadership, and the epic battle between good and evil. Reading Watership Down, I was surprised to be so moved by the noble actions of rabbits. Who knew chickens could move me in the same way?! 4 1/2 stars.]

*La's Orchestra Saves the World [Nice story by the author of The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency. This is a stand-alone novel set in England during WWII. 3 1/2 stars.]


Pride and Prejudice (ChocLit Guild) [For years I have adored both the BBC movie version with Colin Firth as well as the newer movie version with Matthew Macfadyen, but I had never read the book! Now I can say that I’ve read it. But, honestly? It was delightful in the same way that the movies are delightful. (grin) Both movies retain so much of the story (particularly the longer BBC movie version) and the original dialogue, that I simply replayed the movies in my mind throughout my reading of the whole book. And then I wanted to watch the movies again. I’m not sure how to separate my love for them, so I’ll rate them together: 5 stars.]

Gulliver's Travels (An abridged re-telling) [I love this retelling and the illustrations are fantastic. A must for cultural literacy. 4 stars]

Moby Dick [I knew I wouldn’t end up reading this one this year (or ever), so I grabbed an excellent graphic novel version. This month a friend shared with me an interesting essay titled Why You Should Read Moby Dick by R.C. Sproul. I still don’t know if I’ll read the unabridged version, but I appreciated having some deep ideas to think about as I read the graphic novel.]

Paradise Lost (ChocLit Guild) [In progress]

The Brothers Karamazov

The Lord of the Rings

Frankenstein [in progress]

The Law and the Lady (Or any book by Wilkie Collins. ChocLit Guild) [Gripping Gothic mystery by the author of The Woman in White and The Moonstone. Wilkie Collins was a contemporary of Dickens and he creates quite the Dickensian character, Miserrimus Dexter, for this novel. My attention was captured from the first chapter and I couldn’t put it down. Entertaining and satisfying. 4 1/2 stars]

Hamlet (CC Moms Book Club) [I also read aloud the retelling of Hamlet by Leon Garfield. The boys loved it.] [Discussing this play over a period of many months made this play so rich and deep for me! 5 stars]

*A Christmas Carol [I can’t believe I hadn’t read this one before. So perfectly Dickens in every way. 5 stars.]


The Iliad [in progress]

The Odyssey

Children’s and YA Novels

The Door in the Wall (CC Challenge A) [A wonderful coming of age story set in Medieval times. 4 stars]

A Gathering of Days (CC Challenge A) [This was my least favorite of all the Challenge A literature selections. Somewhat boring and forced. I didn’t care for the journal-style writing. 2 1/2 stars]

Crispin: The Cross of Lead (CC Challenge A) [This was my favorite of the Challenge A literature selections. I ended up purchasing the other two books in the trilogy as well as several others by the author. Another great coming of age story set in Medieval times. 4 stars]

Where the Red Fern Grows (CC Challenge B) [I had avoided this book all my life because I don’t enjoy animal books, much less sad animal books, but maybe I was finally mature enough to appreciate this one. Wonderful. 4 stars]

*A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park [This was an excellent read about a boy from war-torn Sudan. Highly recommended for adults as well as children (though it may be a little much for very young or sensitive children). This will be one of my favorite books this year. 4 1/2 stars.]

*In the Year of the Boar and Jackie Robinson by Bette Bao Lord [This is a darling book about a little girl who moves from China to New York in the year 1947. It is a well-written simple chapter book. I would have given it four stars if it hadn’t been for two short events in the book that I did not care for. First (and this is a nit-picky complaint), a bully at school gives her two black eyes while swearing at her, and the words are bleeped out in asterisks. Shirley refuses to tell her parents what happened because she knows the bully would take it out on her. Her resolve not to tattle is rewarded by the bully becoming her friend the next day. Second, Shirley’s next friend tells her that she wants to show her something and swears Shirley to secrecy. The girls sneak into the friend’s dad’s office (he’s a psychiatrist) and the friend shows her a book (presumably a medical book) with pictures of naked people. Shirley pretends enthusiasm, but has no desire to look at the book. The story takes only a couple pages, but it begins with “Only one aspect of her friendship with Emily would have displeased her mother, but she was not likely to find it out, and so Shirley did not trouble herself too much over it.” It was this second event that just didn’t sit well with me, partly because the rest of the book is wonderful for 8-11 year olds. 3 stars.]

*Escape From Mr. Lemoncello’s Library [Put Charlie and the Chocolate Factory together with Chasing Vermeer and Hunger Games (without the grit), add the Dewey Decimal System, board games and puzzles, trivia, and a gazillion book and author references and you get the middle grade adventure Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library. I thought it was great fun, and my boys loved it. The prose is very simple and modern, but the novel definitely sends the message that learning and reading can be quite exciting. 3 1/2 stars]

*Dominic [Dominic has to be one of my favorite children's chapter books ever. Philosophical, adventurous, charming, and hilarious for children and adults alike. The high level of vocabulary makes this book a fantastic read-aloud. If I had to use as few words as possible to describe this book, 'joie de vivre' sums it up nicely. "The boar began crying again. Not out of sorrow this time, but out of excruciating joy. 'How can I ever, ever in this world, not to mention the next, and disregardless of unforeseen contingencies, adequately thank you!' he said. 'I can't even begin, let alone work up a proper preamble to a beginning, to tell you how unendurably happy you've made me. But I'll try...'" 5 stars.]

*The Sign of the Beaver (Challenge B) [This was added to Levi’s Challenge B schedule for the end of the semester. I hadn’t read it before and I enjoyed it. Easy, short, survival-themed—perfect for kids who enjoy My Side of the Mountain, Little Britches, and Where the Red Fern Grows. 4 stars]

Junk Food

*Highland Fling [So fun. So easy to read. So not edifying in any way. (grin) 3 stars]

*Paradise Fields [I enjoy this author, but this was probably my least favorite book of hers. 2 stars]

*Undetected  [Tom Clancy meets Grace Livingston Hill. Well-researched and interesting details about sonar. Squeaky-clean and positive Christian romance. Not painfully written. Probably just a tad (ha!) unrealistic and idealistic. If I were willing to be totally honest, I would tell you that this genre is smack-dab in the middle of my comfort zone and the easiest, most enjoyable thing for me to read. But I don’t want to admit that. (wry grin) 3 stars]

*Attachments [Chick lit set in 1999. 3 stars]



Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption (ChocLit Guild) [Excellent story. I loved reading about Zamperini’s life and all the non-fiction facts and stories that are woven together to create Unbroken. It is a heartbreaking narrative in (many) places, but ends with such redemption and grace. I felt like the writing was a bit forced in places, as if the author was trying too hard, but otherwise it was fantastic. 4 stars]

*The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics (ChocLit Guild) [Outstanding. The author deftly weaves multiple stories into one cohesive whole: the Pacific Northwest, logging, mining, the building of the Hoover Dam, the Depression, the Dust Bowl, the history of rowing, the construction of rowing shells, Hitler’s rise to power in Germany, the 1936 Berlin Olympics, the intimate life story of Joe Rantz (and details of the lives of several other men), and the 1936 U.S. Olympic rowing team from the University of Washington. 4 1/2 stars.]

*84, Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff [A charming collection of correspondence between a New York writer and a bookshop in London from 1949-1969. 3 1/2 stars]

The Greater Journey: Americans in Paris (ChocLit Guild) [in progress]

The Hiding Place (CC Challenge B) [An incredible, moving true story. 4 stars.]

A Short History of Nearly Everything

Faith, Culture, and Education

The Pursuit of God (ChocLit Guild)

Beauty Will Save the World: Recovering the Human in an Ideological Age (CiRCE Conference)

Norms and Nobility: A Treatise on Education (CiRCE Conference) [in progress]

Leisure: The Basis of Culture

The Soul of Science (CC Parent Practicum)

Wisdom and Wonder: Common Grace in Science & Art (CC Parent Practicum)

Honey for a Teen's Heart [Detailed review here. 4 1/2 stars]

Invitation to the Classics: A Guide to Books You've Always Wanted to Read [Excellent companion to the classics. I’ve read the introduction and will read the entries for each classic as I finish the classic itself. The entries include information about the author and the historical context as well as issues to explore within each book. Written from a Christian worldview.]

*Just Walk Across the Room (ChocLit Guild)

*The Conversation: Challenging Your Student with a Classical Education by Leigh A. Bortins (third in trilogy) [Excellent. 4 stars for the trilogy.]

*Teaching from Rest [Short, encouraging, and often profound. 4 stars.]

*Supper of the Lamb: A Culinary Reflection [Review at this link. 5 stars] 


*The Bronze Bow (CC Challenge A)

*The Phantom Tollbooth (CC Challenge B)

*Little Britches (CC Challenge B) [A must read for all ages. 5 stars.]

*The Question (CC Moms Book Club) [deep reading in progress]

*A Tale of Two Cities (read aloud) [Epic. Redemptive. Incredible. In my top ten all-time favorites. 5 stars.]

*The Catcher in the Rye [in progress]

*Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass by Lewis Carroll (audio book/read-aloud)

*Peter Pan by J.M. Barrie (read aloud)

*Heidi by Johanna Spyri


dawn said...

My husband listens to audiobooks from librivox on his commute (45 minutes one way) and thought the reader for Moby Dick was excellent. And he loved Moby Dick.

He also liked the Count of Monte Cristo's reader. He's listening to Crime and Punishment now read by 'expatriot in bangor maine' and Jason says he's fine as a reader.

He's read a ton more classics than I have simply by listening in the car for the last 11 years. Then again, he can listen and hear books, I struggle with that.

Heidi said...

I so wish I could do audio books. I know I'd get through so many more books, but I am not only terrible at listening to audio books I have something bordering on an aversion to them. Sigh. It sure would help with all those classics I haven't yet read. I did love The Count of Monte Cristo, though. It's in my top 10. :)

Laura at By the Bushel said...

I just finished your RAR podcast with Sarah! on selecting books. Loved it! I know it was a lot more for kiddos, but couldn't help but be excited about MY next book, whatever it is.
'Amazon's and Swallows' jumped out at me from podcast, and from this list, 'Boys in the Boat.'
Looking forward to 2016!! Happy New Year!!

Renee said...

61 books is AMAZING! When do you read? I would love to read more, but have no idea how to find the time! I try to read around 20 books a year, about 10 of those in the summer when life is slower. But during our school year, I usually read a chapter or 2 before bed. Any other time during the day is full!! Thoughts?

Danielle said...

Wow, that's a lot of books! Good for you.

The kids and I enjoyed listening to The Sign of the Beaver on audiobook in the car. Such a good book.

Windhover Farm said...

You are a kindred spirit---Supper of the Lamb! Read it at seminary but time for a re-read.
Hope Brothers K is still in your reading list for 2016?!
And in your spare time, would love some brief reviews on books you've read in Faith, Ed. and Culture cause you are making incredible progress on your list and me, none. I need a kick of some sort! On that note, big thanks for keeping your list updated. Inspiring and useful.

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