Ramblings and Ruminations

Best Reads Of 2018 – 3rd and 4th Quarter

I originally wasn’t going to do this post.  I was so behind and would be posting this so late . . . well, it would be pretty lame.

However, one of my followers said on a recent survey that they would like to see more about the books I’ve been reading lately, so I changed my mind.  I MUST MAKE MY FOLLOWERS HAPPY!

Obviously, the fact that this post is ridiculously late hasn’t changed but whatever.  The reviews also range between fairly extensive and tiny blurbs . . .

 

 

ANYWAY.  🙂  Onto the book reviews!  This one is for you, Gracelyn!

 

 

There is so much to love about this book!  There are the lovable characters: Sylvester, a gentle and damaged heart hiding beneath a cloak of glitter and illusion. Huxley, the smooth-talking but thoughtful salesman. Dominic, the adorable bearer of placid wisdom.  The Worldbuilding: Robots who answer to the term “electricals,” the circus, star cities, sky trains, show-stopping magic acts.  The Story:  Rollicking, thoughtful, heartfelt, thrilling, introspective, breezy – with a heavy dose of spectacle.  There is nothing sloppy here; it bears the mark of a dedicated artisan. The plot and the arcs resonate with truth without Reeder having to overenunciate the lessons or her faith. Nothing is bludgeoned, nothing is marred.  First and foremost, it is a good story– as attractive as a warm fire, as flavorful as a nourishing soup – and I enjoyed every single bite.  Reeder has touched upon the key that every author should know – that an author’s primary goal is to entertain . . . and Reeder does more than entertain—she enchants.

Find it on Goodreads

 

 

Esther Forbes captures the human element of people so well, we are irrevocably pulled into Johnny’s arc, whether we relate to him personally or not.  Her characters ring so true to our humanity, that even though Johnny is proud, stubborn, and foolish, we understand him and are rooting for him.  Almost from page one, the reader is plunged into a painful journey of growth as Johnny fights against the world, against humbling himself, and recognizing his own limitations.  Aside from the characters (the laconic and undeniably cool Rab, the faithful and contained Cilla, and a myriad of unlikable – but very real – antagonists) this is a beautifully-written, well-researched story that transports the reader to the birthing pains of a country like no other on Earth as America steps into the fight for freedom.

We give all we have, lives, property, safety, skill…we fight, we die, for a simple thing. Only that a man can stand up.

Find it on Goodreads

 

 

This novella infuses new life into an old tale with a flowing, traditional style with an epic, mythological, Tolkien-esque vibe.  Despite being a novella, Williams knows how to use every word to the max, and keeps such a tight focus, the story feels longer and the setting (moody, mysterious, and frigid) feels intimate and detailed.  There are also very few authors that can really portray True Goodness . . . and I felt that in this book.  I loved the kindness Keeva shows almost immediately to Idris – and the determined courage in her humble gesture as she takes the hand of a man that most would revile.  I will admit, I am infamous for my criticism of romance, but I shipped these two from page one.  Snow White has never been my favorite fairy tale, but H.S.J. Williams has made me a believer!

Find it on Goodreads

 

 

This book takes a lot of classic tropes and makes them irresistibly fun with a slightly wry, tongue-in-cheek attitude.  The plot moves slowly, and the author spends a lot of time ambling through his world-building – but, please, amble away when it’s a world this imaginative!  From the evil Fangs of Dang, to singing dragons, and very mysterious book shops – this world is full of delightful layers and details.  And then we have the characters.  The siblings; reluctant hero Janner, the awkward Tink, and the sweet-natured Leeli.  The quirky book shop owner, the noble-hearted mother and, most especially, Podo and Peet the Sock-man – two fierce but altogether different protectors that capture the readers heart.  Humorous, exciting and occasionally scary (but in that fun way we enjoyed being frightened as young children!) – this book was nothing short of an adventure.

Find it on Goodreads

 

I was a little worried that I would be lost reading this book.  Like the people Nat trips over because they are too slow to understand everything he can, I was worried that I also would trip over Nat’s smarts.  However, the author captures Nat’s genius and skills with clarity and simplicity, expertly painting Nat’s intelligence without losing us in the telling.   Nat’s brilliant mind is truly incredible to watch, but it wouldn’t have mattered so much if it had not been paired with a irresistibly steady heart.

Carry on Mr. Bowditch shows us that life is full of setbacks, hardships and unforeseen detours—and it’s the attitude that matters.  It is our own outlook that affects every aspect of our lives, and Nat’s outlook never falters.  Victimization, self-pity, fear and depression are all firmly shut up in a box where they belong, where they can have no bearing on Nat’s life as he steps bravely and cheerfully through every valley.   Nat is not just a navigator on the seas, he also knew how to navigate life in the best way possible—with self-effacement, courage, and hopeful determination.  More than just a brilliant sailor with his ship, Nat knows how to sail through life’s freak storms and doldrums—with Faith, hard-work, and consistency.  Sometimes a hard story, often an inspiring one, and, ultimately, a good story to the very last page.

Find it on Goodreads

 

For many years, Rosemary Sutcliff has been one of my favorite authors . . . and she always will be.  It had been a long time since I had read this book, and I decided it was high time to rediscover it. It was even better than I had remembered.  Meet Marcus, a young soldier who’s career and future seem dashed after a courageous defense cripples him for life.  But Marcus is one of a rare breed, he possess a raw, white courage, a grim determination, that forces him to press on.  Despite all odds, and take up a new dream: venture into the wild north to find a lost standard and clear his father’s name.  With him comes his best friend, and former slave, Esca.

Marcus and Esca’s relationship is, in my mind, one of the definitive buddy stories and one I will never tire of reading.  On top of that, we have Cottia and Marcus, a relationship that moves beautifully from a sibling-like comradeship to something quite romantic.  Then we have Uncle Aquila, the proverbial writer and a gruff old bachelor who has more charm than he’d like to admit.  There are other side characters, all of them colorful and unforgettable—and they are merely the finely painted details of a magnificent and epic adventure supported by the roots of Sutcliff’s superb writing.  Sutcliff is a storyteller without parallel, and The Eagle of the Ninth is one of her greatest works.

Find it on Goodreads

 

 

Mary Stewart is one of my top 10 favorite authors of all time.  This re-read was magical. Stewart’s novels truly are adventure stories for women, featuring a smart and plucky heroine who has her fair share of action, but always in a refreshingly believable way. Focusing more on the “whydunit” instead of the “whodunit” – there is still an abundance of high stakes and surprising twists.  Always located in some intriguing location, this time the readers is swept away to the isle of Corfu, a place lovingly described with exquisite detail.  Hands down, Stewart has one of the most beautiful writing styles I have ever read.  It is like slipping into a hot bath, like stepping into a vacation home. It feeds the soul with its breathtaking craftsmanship. If you’re looking for an intriguing story with exotic locations, exciting adventures, intriguing characters and a dash of romance than look no further. Mary Stewart offers it all.

Find it on Goodreads

 

 

I’ve read more than one book set in a Communist country, but this one is perhaps one of the most poignant of them all. The tighter the focus of the story and the stronger the normalcy of our characters actions the more chilling the backdrop of horror becomes.  This book revolves around Arcady’s consuming love of soccer, and, because of that deliberate focus, we feel the things Arcady is ignoring even more intensely – the fear, the hunger, the uncertainty . . .  and the gradual sense of belonging.

Written in a spare, brutally understated style that makes every bit of Arcady’s pain hit the reader even harder, it also creates a kind of beautiful, lyrical sound to a distressing story.  Though this story shines a light on the true nature of the evils of Socialism and Communism, it is also a touching father son story that is sure to move you deeply.

Find it on Goodreads

 

 

Let me just get this out of the way first . . . I shall always like the movies better than the book.  The book didn’t make me scream and cry, the movies did.  The movies added a lot more intelligence to some of our characters motivations, fleshed-out arcs beautifully, added some darn-good excitement, and were generally just more awesome.

 

Oh wait – wrong movie.

 

There we go.

 

HOWEVER – after watching the movies, I reread this book and understood it and liked the story better in its own merit than I did before.  Though there was never a question of whether or not this is beautifully written – it is.  I absolutely loved the writing style – the meter and cadence of the words on paper flows like poetry.  As for the characters, I still only connect with Bilbo – but what a connection!  He is, without a doubt, one of my favorite heroes of all time.  His heart, his courage, his spunk, his simple longings . . . they steal your heart.  Even his terror, clumsiness, and whinging are simply so human.  And yet, he goes “there and back again.”  He faces down a dragon and he helps reclaim a kingdom.  Bilbo IS one of the ultimate heroes, because he is normal, and his ordinary courage makes him great.

The other character I really liked was Gandalf.  A bit less huggable than the movie version and a tad more arrogant (and occasionally awkward).  He’s so puffed-up and so clever and interesting it’s hard not to like him.

As for the story, it pulls you in with the feeling of quintessential quest, all written with that grandiose and distant feeling of old myths, with a wonderful ‘episodic’ arrangement.  Overall, a charming adventure story with a wonderful hero.

 

But the movies were still better.

 

Find it on Goodreads

 

 

After the Bible, this is the most influential book I have ever read.  Be warned – the author uses the allegory of climbing a mountain to lead the readers to the truths he is trying to reveal – and this book is indeed a climb out of our natural habitat of making do with less than what God is offering.

Everything inside you will very likely be yelling at you to stop and go back down the mountain.  You will pick up the book seeking intimacy and very likely be scared:  “Do I want this much, intimacy?”  But keep climbing, don’t look back.  Don’t stop for anything.  Let go—keep reading.  This book moved me to the core and I felt my Father’s love penetrate to a part of me it had not reached before.  The Holy Spirit used this book to bring me to a place of knowing my Father in a way I had not known Him before.  God is the Hero of a woman’s dreams, the shining Prince that rescues us, and the Father – our precious, loving Father – that holds us in His arms night and day and loved us with an everlasting love.

Find it on Goodreads

 

 

Frank Baum was a true storyteller and romped with such freedom through his fictional tales it never fails to bring a smile to my face.  Here’s our heroine (and our very sassy barnyard companion) wandering around on a desert island, dodging Wheelers and looking for food and—presto!—there’s a tree brimming with shiny dinner pails, bursting with good old-fashioned American food!  Baum waves his fist and laughs at the idea of trying to write a “serious work” and, consequently, we have some of the most enduring children’s fiction of all time.  The sheer zaniness of Dorothy’s adventure in the land of Ev delight me ever single time.  From the quirkiness of Billina the chicken to the enchanting (and hilarious) kingdom of the gnomes, Ozma of Oz is a rollicking gold story that is sure to capture you.

Find it on Goodreads

 

 

The first book that introduced me to Mary Stewart, and still my absolute favorite.  From the entrancing opening lines to the understated denouement, no one weaves a tale like Mary Stewart.  I absolutely adored the characters in this novel; Nicola, the brave British rose.  Mark the courageous, reserved and driven brother.  Colin, youthful, humorous and buoyant.  Frances, brutally honest, charming, and in love with flowers. And Lambas, magnificently stoic, tough as nails, and with an inquiring turn of mind.  Even the villains do not escape Stewart’s masterful brush—but you’ll have to read it for yourself to discover who they are.  This book is nothing short of sheer magnificence.

Find it on Goodreads

 

 

This book is very dear to my heart.  This series has always been one to comfort me during hard times, but it does more than comfort – it inspires.  There are very few stories containing inspiring heroes any more, and even fewer stories that portray true goodness – and this is one of those books.  Aside from being an intriguing and compelling fantasy story, this book’s purity draws me towards it the way I would step towards a fire on a cold night.  The Mistmantle Chronicles are more than just a “animals with swords book.”  It is a beautiful, swirling adventure that sweeps the reader away into a magical and amazing place.  This book also paints deep spiritual truths that touched me to the core. From dizzying heights of joy and giddiness to sorrow so deep I actually cried over more than one book – The Mistmantle Chronicles is not “just a children book” – it is a treasure, a classic, a joy. These are my go-to books when I am feeling unwell – because they don’t just entertain, they teach me, they illuminate, they guide. They sing the song I was made to sing – a song of Truth and Eternity and the One that I belong to,

Find it on Goodreads

 

 

In a certain way, this book might be my favorite of the series, even though it is the darkest.   The sheer heart and courage of these characters make me catch my breath.  These true heroes face their darkest moment, and they do not fail.  I love the way M.I McAllister seamlessly picks up threads from the first book and reveals that, even though certain villains are dead, their schemes were far reaching and the aftermath is just as dangerous.  There’s also an Arthurian legend vibe as my darling characters search for a magical stone that can be held only by the true king.

Every time I read this book my heart is full, and I am encouraged yet again that the Heart that died for me will never leave me nor forsake me.

Find it on Goodreads

 

 

A slightly different Mistmantle book containing some genuinely tragic scenes that still make me misty-eyed as I read these scenes of heroism . . . and the courage to continue in the face of unimaginable loss.  This book reminds me of one of my favorite quotes from The Last Battle:  “A noble death is a treasure which no one is too poor to buy.”  The Heir of Mistmantle appeared to be the final book (for a time) and there is a beautiful, heart-catching closure on the final page as we close the book and our minds burst with hope and eagerness for the adventure that is to come.

Find it on Goodreads

 

 

Though no quite as good as the first three book, this one still nabbed a solid four stars from me.  Unlike its more plot-driven predecessors, this book feels more like a very long action sequence.  It’s a delight to see the characters continuing to grow and come into their own as they are plunged into war and, as ever, the magnificent Crispin portrays the nobility of a king that we can only hope to emulate.  I know I’ve talked a lot about heroes and heroism in these Mistmantle reviews, but there’s simply no other word for it.  It’s so refreshing to see heroes with pure hearts who are truly worth imitating as they conquer the battles before them because of their faith in the One greater than themselves.

Find it on Goodreads

 

 

This review was a monster – so I’m just going to post the excerpt about Aslan.

Which brings me to Him. All Narnia stories are always, ultimately, about Aslan. Always, always – it is about Aslan. Every other character, every scene, is merely dough for the filling, skin and ligaments surrounding the Heart—a beautiful, sacred Heart that beats with unending Love. In every book, Aslan grows bigger as I grow older. In every book, we see a new side of Aslan, with every re-reading. Here, in The Magician’s Nephew, we see him as Creator – and it is a wondrous sight. 

That glorious lion, singing the song I love best of all, the song of life. And yet, we see a foreshadowing to His ultimate sacrifice. Even surrounded by New Life, there is a moment of grief between Digory and Aslan – but when the grief is shared and put into perspective, there is beauty in it, and it belongs. This Great and Terrible Beauty, this, Aslan’s introduction, firmly establishes, his might, his majesty and his dignity. There is a prostration here before Aslan that, I think, is a tad stronger than the other books, for this is where the tone is set for the rest of the series. This is the point where we acknowledge Him as the Core, the Song, the LifeGiver, the Lion who Must be obeyed, the King we must surrender to. Aslan is merely the reflection of the One I love – but what a beautifully and humbly crafted reflection. 

I really enjoyed writing this review, and it’s one of my favorites.  You can read the full review HERE ON GOODREADS.

 

And there you have it, my friends!  My favorite reads of 2018’s 3rd and 4th quarter!  Not a great deal, considering that’s six months worth of reading, but I guard my four and five stars as fiercely as a dragon!

Have you read any of these books?  What were some of your favorite reads of 2018?  Let’s chat!

 

 

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11 thoughts on “Best Reads Of 2018 – 3rd and 4th Quarter

  1. Carry On, Mr. Bowditch was a favorite in high school! Fairest Son is absolutely fabulous *heart eyes*! And of course….The Magician’s Nephew *sigh*, that is a favorite of mine as well 🙂

    1. RAYLEIGH – HI!!!!!!!! Thank you for commenting! <3

      This was actually my first time reading Carry On, Mr Bowditch! I had skimmed over it when I was young, but never felt inclined to read it properly until a good friend pushed me too! Fairest Son was lovely, yes! – and Magician's Nephew. *sighs happily with you* It is a pure delight! What is your favorite Narnia book, Rayleigh?

  2. I love your book posts, Allison!!!! <3

    Completely agree about Rosemary Sutcliff and EOTN 😀 😀

    Ooooooh, you've reminded me of books that I need to check out–"Fairest Son" and Mary Stewart! Yes!!!

    1. Aww – really? Thank you, Katie! <3

      YESSSS. *beams and salutes fellow RS fan*

      Yes, you do!!! I think you would enjoy the Mary Stewart heroines!

  3. I loooove hearing your thoughts about all your reads and am so glad you decided to do this post! Though I’m ashamed to say I’ve only read three of these–The Electrical Menagerie, The Hobbit, and The Magician’s Nephew.

    I 10000% agree with all your thoughts on The Electrical Menagerie. Enchanting is the exact word that comes to mind when I think of it. It was such a cozy, hopeful, beautiful books. I just read it and I’m already ready for a reread. I haven’t read a book that made me feel such delight in a long time. Absolute a new favorite!

    I’ll TRY to figure you for liking The Hobbit movies more than the book. ;D Okay, but really, I’ve been obsessively reading that book for 16 years now, so obviously I’m a little biased. Probably TOO biased. Lol. But I’m glad you did read it and enjoy it! And YES to Bilbo. One of my most favorite heroes in fictional history.

    1. (Splitting up my comment so it’ll actually post.)

      Okay, but your thoughts on The Magician’s Nephew are going to make me cry! You put it SO beautifully. Those books gave me such a deeper understanding of Jesus’ love. Just…AWK. I have no words.

      Fairest Son and The Wingfeather Saga are on my TBR! And I’ve been wanting to try the Mistmantle Series as well! Hearing your thoughts on it makes me want to even MORE. In fact, I think I have the first book somewhere around her… I definitely need to read it!

      Thanks for sharing! Your reviews are so poignant and deep. I love them! <3

      1. AW, thank you, Christine!! *hugs* Tsk, tsk! No shame! It’s merely more exciting reads for your TBR pile – notice my hand links. *winks*

        *SQUEALS* I knew you would like it! Yes – there is such a hopeful feeling to it – it was absolutely lovely.

        Hehe – thank you for forgiving me about the Hobbit book vrs the movie. <3

        And I think that’s so special and marvelous!! <3 And that actually makes the book MORE special to me, when I see how much my friends adore it. And I did enjoy it more the second time around (four stars instead of three). YES, Bilbo is essentially THE fictional hero to my mind!! *hugs and squishes little hobbit*

        Aww, thank you, you’re so sweet. I’m glad you enjoyed the Narnia review. They strength my spiritual walk too, and I am never able to think about them or read them without feeling that I am going “further up and further in.”

        *cheers* YIPPEEE - I think you will really enjoy all those books and I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on them when you do!! Especially, my babies, Mistmantle. *GRINS*

        Ahhhh! *blushes* Thank you, Christine – I’m glad I posted then, after all! <3

  4. Once again, I read your post and wrote a comment the morning you posted it, but didn’t get a chance to comment on the laptop till now. 🙂 But better late than never!

    I LOVED this post, Allison!! 😀 I really, really enjoy seeing more of the books you read, and hearing your thoughts on them. I especial enjoyed the reviews for my favorite books that you hadn’t posted before. Your reviews of Carry on Mr. Bowditch, Johnny Tremain, and Eagle of the Ninth are FANTASTIC!! *ecstatic grin* I love the way you capture the aspects of a book that really matter, and how your vivid, fiery writing style comes out even in book reviews. 😀 You MUST post those three on Goodreads!!!! Since you hadn’t reviewed them, i didn’t expect to see your thoughts written out formally, so this was a treat!

    Also, everything you said about Bilbo, Gandalf, and Aslan is wonderful!

    Seeing your review of Arcady’s Goal here makes me want to read it!! It’s historical fiction, so it looks like the kind I’d enjoy, since if you loved it, it MUST be good!! And everything you said about it (father-son story, understated writing style, powerful book) sounds AMAZING and my kind of thing! I’m guessing you agree that this assumption is likely?

    1. AWW – thank you, Mary! *beams* I’m so glad you enjoyed it! And thanks for reminding me to post the reviews on Goodreads!

      OH MY!!! *eyes bug out* *clutches head* I am so flattered by your description of my writing! *GOGGLES* AHH! Thank you!! <3 <3

      YES, I THINK YOU SHOULD READ ARCADY'S GOAL, NOW THAT YOU MAKE ME THINK OF IT. It's VERY understated and the writing style is spare, delicate and brutal all at the same time, with great themes! Yes, by all means, you should read it! I'll send you the recommendation formally on Goodreads!

      1. I did! You must! 😀

        Awww, you’re welcome, my dear! IT’S TRUE!! I adore your writing, no matter what you’re writing, and sometimes it’s particularly fabulous! 😀

        OKAY, YAY, then I will!! I need easy but quality middle grade books to read at the beach, so this may be one of them, if it’s good enough to be worthy! I have my eye on My Brother’s Secret and a couple others, as well. And Red Towers of Granada (I’m spacing out my Trease books with a few months in between, even though I’d love to binge them all at once, haha!).

        Wow, that sounds wonderful! Exactly what I love. And I’ve read very few fiction books about life under Communism during the Cold War, so I’m sure it will be informative and eye-opening. I already added it as to-read, back when I read your post! It appealed to me and jumped out at me immediately, when you reviewed it – though I would never have taken an interest in it without hearing you say it was good. (There are so many recent historical novels that could be good but are mediocre instead.) I had never heard of it till now! Though I had heard of the one by the same author called Breaking Stalin’s Nose, or something like that.

        1. I WILL!!!

          OH MY!!! *hides face* *grins foolishly and blushes* Thank you!! <3

          YES, THAT WOULD BE PERFECT. Grab Arcady for the beach. But be warned, Arcady and My Brother's Secret are very poignant and might make you cry! (Arcady made me misty). HAHA - good for you on your restraint with Trease. I'm SOOOO excited for you! *claps hands*

          The author of Arcady's Goal was (obviously) from Russia and left his Communist homeland behind for the freedom of America (he's actually Jewish) and he had a very gripping and moving Author's Note. Socialism (off-shoot of Communism and Marxism) is a hellish threat and must be exposed, and that's something he's aiming to do.

          I very nearly didn't read it myself (not a soccer fan!) but I'm so glad I did!

          I've actually put some of his other books on hold - including a fantasy one that looks delightfully quirky.

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