Alright, it’s time to review the entire 25 books in my now-completed challenge! As a reminder, I asked for book suggestions for 5 different categories: Non-Fiction, Character Stories, An Unknown Book By a-Known-For-Something-Else Author, Modern Fiction, and Something Unusual. I had 5 books in each category with a total of 19 different submitters; people could submit up to 2 books for any 2 categories, but they had to label them in preference of #1 or #2; that way I could make sure I got 5 in each category and at least 1 from each person, and the extras submitted that I didn’t read this time can get first dibs in my NEXT challenge (if I don’t read them leisurely first).
Anyway, these 25 books were a varied combination of familiar and new genres, authors, and style of writing, and I really liked something about every single book. So let’s get this overview started!
1. Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell (Hannah’s only)
2. Bonhoeffer- Biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Travis’ #1)
3. The Reason by Lacey Sturm (Bethany’s #1)
4. Conversation With God by Samuel Nathanson (Dad’s only)
5. The Year of Living Biblically by A. J. Jacobs (Jennie’s only)
How likely am I to read more by this author/style of non-fiction? I would definitely read more Rob Bell and A. J. Jacobs; I am not as likely to recreationally read Samuel Nathanson but his book was one I liked so if I wanted to read more of that style I would keep him in mind; I know that Lacey Sturm has some more books and I would be semi-interested to read those but it’d probably get put on the backburner. As for the Bonhoeffer biography, I am more open to reading these kinds of in-depth biographies than I was before, especially about people I should know about but don’t.
Which ones am I likely to read again or buy? I own Conversation With God so I’m sure I’ll read it again; I would like to own Velvet Elvis, and I would probably own The Year of Living Biblically. I am unlikely to read The Reason or the Bonhoeffer book again, although I tend to be willing to buy big books I read to brag on the fact that I finshed it, so if I saw a good version of Bonhoeffer somewhere that was cheap I’d probably grab it.
Which was the most surprising? I know I was not much looking forward to the Bonhoeffer book because of how intimidating it was, but I was surprised how much I understood it and was drawn in by it. The others might have had some surprising moments but were otherwise roughly what I expected.
1. The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis (Calista’s #1)
2. Mister God, This Is Anna by Fynn (Kristin’s only)
3. Appointment With Death by Agatha Christie (Naomi’s only)
4. Joe Picket by CJ Box (Julia’s only)
5. Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (Emma’s only)
Which character was my favorite? Deza Malone is the definite top, since she’s got so much spunk and spirit; then I think I’d go with Joe Pickett and Claire tied for second, as Joe was subtly interesting but didn’t blow me away, and Claire had traits that were more frustrating but she also had a lot of intelligence and adaptability; Hercule Poirot and Anna tied for third, as I think Hercule is a potentially great character but in this book he felt a little flat to me, and Anna had a very sweet charm that was somewhat overplayed by the storytelling.
Which one did I relate to the most? Gosh, I didn’t really relate to any of them too much… but if you combine Deza’s spirit and inner-monologuing with Joe’s self-consciousness and good-heart, that’s probably the closest
What were the words I would use to describe each character? Deza is imaginative and gutsy; Anna is free-spirited and thoughtful; Hercule is analytical and cautious; Joe is discerning and humble; Claire is passionate and quick-thinking.
Would I want to read more about them? I think there might be a sequel (or a prequel) for Deza Malone, which I should definitely seek out; I am potentially interested in reading more Outlander; I would read more Agatha Christie for the mystery and more Joe Picket for the character; and I would be okay with having Anna show up in a story with more depth in it.
AN UNKNOWN BOOK BY A FAMOUS AUTHOR
1. The Willoughby’s by Lois Lowry (Calista’s #2)
2. The Partner by John Grisham (Travis’ #2)
3. Tietam Brown by Mick Foley (Wayne’s #2)
4. Skipping Christmas by John Grisham (Beth’s #2)
5. The Gun Seller by Hugh Laurie (Nathan’s #2)
Which authors did I know before reading this book? Lois Lowry was the only author for whom I had read other books of hers before starting the challenge; I’d heard of John Grisham, and I obviously know Hugh Laurie as an actor, but I’d never read any books by them, and this was the first I’d heard of Mick Foley.
Which were the most unexpected stories from what I knew of the author? The Willoughby’s was much more goofy and flippant than I had expected (the recent Netflix movie is fine but not as good), and Hugh Laurie’s was more complicated than I would’ve guessed. But I didn’t really have expectations for the others.
Which authors am I most likely to revisit based on this book/s? Lois Lowry because she’s just great anyway and I liked her versatility here, and John Grisham because both of his stories were solidly entertaining. I have no idea if Hugh Laurie and Mick Foley have written anything else, but due to the former one’s wit and the latter one’s character writing, I would definitely be willing to read something else by either of them.
1. Just Listen by Sarah Dessen (Bethany’s #2)
2. Passenger by Alexandra Bracken (Kaitlyn’s only)
3. An Absolutely Remarkable Thing by John Green (Micah’s only)
4. The Italian Bulldozer by Alexander McCall Smith (Beth’s #1)
5. Spirit Circle by Satoshi Mizukami (Nathan’s #1)
Which genre was the most new to me? Definitely the manga genre of Spirit Circle since I’d never read any manga before; the genre I’m most familiar with is probably the Passenger genre because I’ve read a lot of YA style sci-fi/adventure stuff.
Which style of writing felt the most compelling? I really enjoyed the Sarah Dessen book and I have actually read a lot of her stuff since then due to her relatable characters in interesting but realistic plots; I also love the way Alexander McCall Smith writes, and John Green’s book was very intriguing (although I’m not sure if that was due to plot or writing style).
Which modern character would I most want to keep following? The main character in The Italian Bulldozer and the main girl in Just Listen; I definitely need to look for the sequel for An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, but the MC in that is not my favorite.
1. Thinner Than Thou by Kit Reed (Holly’s only)
2. Ancillary Justice by Ann Leckie (Jacob’s only)
3. Tales of the Unexpected by Roald Dahl (Maria’s only)
4. Daggerspell by Katherine Kerr (Wayne’s #1)
5. Mrs. Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs (Kathy’s only)
Which was the most unusual? These stories were all very fitting for this category so it’s hard to choose! Thinner Than Thou was the common genre of dystopian but the path it used to get there was more unique than I’d read; Ancillary Justice and Daggerspell both had it in the writing style and the creation of the world; Tales of the Unexpected had weird plots, and Mrs. Peregrine was probably the least unusual in its genre, but the inspiration was intriguing; I’m gonna say it goes Tales of the Unexpected, Ancillary Justice, Thinner Than Thou, Daggerspell, and Mrs. Peregrine.
Which had the best world-building? Gosh, except for the short story book by Roald Dahl, they all did this well, too. Ancillary Justice and Daggerspell both had the most complex story that you just got immersed into without explanation, but Daggerspell was easier to follow so it goes higher; and Mrs. Peregrine and Thinner Than Thou can be tied for third because the first one has more elements that it builds over a series while the second one delves deeper into one subject.
What were the oddest distractions to the story? Ancillary Justice was really hard to follow at times due to the immersion without explanation (and the lack of pronouns was very new to me so that took me a while to get used to), and Tales of the Unexpected and Thinner Than Thou were often gross and disturbing, which meant I remembered them but with mixed emotions.
Favorites? The Mighty Miss Malone, The Willoughby’s, Just Listen, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, and The Italian Bulldozer are the top 5 that I most thoroughly enjoyed and would actively read again/look to purchase; runner-ups Velvet Elvis, Tietam Brown, and The Spirit Circle all had aspects about them that I loved
Least favorites? I will probably never read Thinner Than Thou and Tales of the Unexpected again due to my visceral reaction against certain scenes/stories; I would rank Mister God, This Is Anna and The Reason low just because they were less interesting than the rest/weren’t my favorite style of story; and Ancillary Justice and The Gun Seller had aspects I really liked but frustrated me with the percentage of time that I couldn’t follow what was going on
Most rewarding category? Modern Fiction was the most thoroughly engaging group of 5; I liked every one of those books and loved most of them
Which books have influenced me the most? I have gotten really into Sarah Dessen since I read her book in this challenge and I like her a lot as an author; after reading Bonhoeffer, Spirit Circle and Daggerspell, I am more open to reading their genres than I was before; I had the strongest emotional reactions (both good and bad) to Tietam Brown, An Absolutely Remarkable Thing, and Thinner Than Thou.
Which series did I continue/am I likely to? I read the sequel to Passenger, the entirety of Spirit Circle, and am caught up on Mrs. Peregrine; I am looking out for the sequel to An Absolutely Remarkable Thing; I am potentially interested in reading more of Daggerspell, Agatha Christie, Outlander, and Joe Picket (in roughly that order)
What will I be doing next? I am going to finish Charlie Bone first, and then create a list of “books I’ve been meaning to read but have been waiting for my book series to finish” and go through those. At the same time, my plan is to read through everything I own! I usually only buy books I have already read, but even so, over the years I’ve collected a surprisingly large amounts of books that I haven’t read at all (I recognized the author, it’s a classic, I know someone who liked it, etc.) I will be sure to let you guys know when I’m ready for my next challenge. Thanks everybody for contributing to my 2019-2021 Book Challenge… I had a blast!
I finished the last 5 books in my challenge that I started back at the beginning of 2019! So here are the reviews for the last of them, and I will shortly write up a blog that will compare all of the books against each other in their respective categories. But first, the final 5 books!
THE GUN SELLER by HUGH LAURIE
(suggested by Nathan Megill, “unknown by a famous author”)
I have somewhat mixed feelings about this book, mostly because it started out quite fun and capturing my attention, but it sort of lost me in the plot in the last third. This is a very snarky, silly spy parody with a likeable main character and a great narrative voice. It’s not surprising that it’s clever because it’s Hugh Laurie, and Hugh Laurie is hilarious. There are these throwaway one-liners all throughout the book, as well as fun dynamics between the main characters. And I was thoroughly enjoying and following it up to a point. But somewhere in the last section of plot in the book I suddenly got lost. It was a combination of getting confused in the politics of the villainous scheme, and the fact that there were several different groups of characters who were supposed to all be unaware of the other groups and keeping secrets or spying or something and I just could not keep them straight. So the climactic ending was somewhat less climactic because I didn’t really know what was being resolved and how it was happening. That was also when the comedy took a backseat to the plot, so it was extra hard to not be following it. But aside from my mix-ups and confusion, it was an easy read and a fun one. Go Hugh Laurie!
“Where… have you been, Lang?”
“Oh, hither and yon,” I said. “As you know, I am a petal borne aloft on the autumn winds. It should say that in my file.”
“You followed me here.”
“Tut. Followed is such an ugly word. I prefer ‘blackmail’.”
“But, of course, it means something completely different. So all right, let’s say I followed you here.”
She and I were in the offices of Smeets Velde Kerkplain, which, if nothing else, would presumably score you something pretty decent in a game of Scrabble…
He flinched. Visibly.
Well, of course it was visibly. Because I wouldn’t have known about it otherwise.
Solomon raised an eyebrow. Or rather, he left it where it was and dropped his body slightly.
OUTLANDER by DIANA GABALDON
(suggested by Emma McCoy, “character story”)
Well, this was another long book that I renewed multiple times and returned several days late in order to finish, since it was 625 pages. It was well-paced and interesting, and I’m a decently fast reader, but some books just take many hours of reading time, and this was one of them.
I have never seen the show based on this, but my sister has watched most of it and has ranted to me about various things she likes and dislikes about it, so I knew the premise and who the 3 love triangle characters were before getting into it. I was also warned that the show was very sexual, and it makes sense because the book was as well, and by that I mean that it had multiple descriptive sex scenes, and so there were a few that I kind of skipped over just because it was too much for me. It also was a little rough to read through the various abuses from Captain Randall. But anyway, those were my big disclaimers.
I did enjoy the book as a whole. (It is roughly the content of the first season, after comparing plots with Elizabeth.) I liked that Claire was smart and that she adapted very quickly to her situation. I liked the chemistry between her and Jamie fairly well, although they certainly had their screaming-match moments. But even if they’re both hotheaded and stubborn, I appreciated watching the growth of their trust between each other.
I am not sure if I will continue the series since it’s around 9 books long at this point, and that is a very big investment, and it is a lot of sex scenes to skip if they keep that up during the whole series. While I liked the story, I don’t feel restless enough about the conclusion that I feel like I “have to read the rest of them” right away. But the first book was definitely a good entertaining read despite the harder sections to get through, and I might be tempted to someday continue just to get to the plot point that Elizabeth rants about the most.
“I felt an odd sense of intimacy with this young Scottish stranger, due in part, I thought, to the dreadful story he had just told me, and in part to our long ride through the dark, pressed together in drowsy silence. I had not slept with many men other than my husband, but I had noticed before that to sleep, actually sleep with someone did give this sense of intimacy, as though your dreams had flowed out of you to mingle with his and fold you both in a blanket of unconscious knowing. A throwback of some kind, I thought. In older, more primitive times (like these? Asked another part of my mind), it was an act of trust to sleep in the presence of another person. If the trust was mutual, simple sleep could bring you closer together than the joining of bodies.”
THE ITALIAN BULLDOZER by ALEXANDER MCCALL SMITH
(suggested by Beth Dettman, “modern fiction”)
For years I have loved The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by this same author, but I’ve never read anything else by him. This has a similar feel in the style of writing; it has the same charm, the same poignancy and depth under the lighthearted humor, and the same love for the location it takes place in, even though it’s a very different place. He paints beautiful pictures about wherever his characters are, and that’s not something I usually notice, but I feel like it’s very much a part of Alexander’s tone and I find it very pleasant.
The story as a whole is simple; it has consistent but mild humor that is not uproariously funny but definitely has touches of the absurd in the slow build of the plot. The casualness with which the main character accepts that he has to travel through Italy on a bulldozer feels real but adventurous (and the ridiculous circumstance which led up to that in the first place was certainly amusing). I also enjoyed watching the arc he goes through as he deals with his various romance issues, analyzing his feelings all the way through. This book felt very true to Alexander McCall Smith and it was fun to have a short, single story that wrapped up so nicely.
“…reading through his manuscript in review, he realized that large sections of it had a heaviness about it, a dullness, that had not been present in his previous books… If there was no sparkle in the manuscript, and that, the press had noted, was the hallmark of his books – a certain infectious delight in the discovery of new places and the food and wine that went with them – then that absence must be down to the absence of precisely that curiosity and engagement in his private life. But how did one add sparkle to a life from which that very quality had drained away? By coming here, he thought; by coming here to Montalcino and allowing the beauty of the Tuscan countryside to work its magic; by doing exactly what he was now doing.”
THE REASON by LACEY STURM
(suggested by Bethany Morgan, “non-fiction”)
I feel like I might have heard this story before, but I might be mixing it up with a New Life story. Either way, this was a pretty cool one to read; it’s the testimony of the original lead singer of the band Flyleaf (a band I know I’ve heard the name of but can’t name any of their songs) and how she was dealing with depression and suicidal plans and how God rescued her and changed her life. It was decently written, and it was an engaging testimony. It felt very much like I was just sitting and listening to someone share their life story during a weekend Christian youth conference where the speaker related their own struggles and lessons into teaching segments for the listeners, so while it might have felt somewhat raw and unpolished as a book goes, it is okay that it was that way because that’s the kind of book it is. She felt very real and honest in her writing, which I definitely appreciated. And it had a nostalgic style that made me fondly remember those kinds of youth group conferences.
While my own struggles have been very different from Lacey’s and I didn’t necessarily relate to a lot of it, I am glad I got the chance to know her story. I probably wouldn’t read it again, but I am glad that I did.
“So we stagger toward death with reckless laughter or deep, sad aching, and as we free fall we tell ourselves this falling sensation means we are alive. But the leap we took to get that feeling is a leap to our own destruction.
The question then becomes, What can save us and give is what we are restless for? Not the world we live in and are rebelling against. That world can’t fool us. And not the death we’re plunging toward, the one we know nothing about. We just need God who started life itself to tell us. If only He would rend the heavens and come down.”
DAGGERSPELL by KATHERINE KERR
(suggested by Wayne Little, “something unusual”)
The final book of my challenge was a worthy one to end with. Although it is the first book in an apparently 16-Book series (whoa is that a hefty undertaking!) it ended in a way that works for a single novel, open-ended yet satisfying. This intense-world-building fantasy story seemed like it was going to be ominous to get into, with somewhat confusing terms such as “Wyrd”, “Dweomer” and “Gwerbert” that I had to figure out from context, and a great deal of time-hopping that I didn’t realize was happening right away. But I was glad to discover that after some acclimation to the world that I understood fairly well what was going on. I think that was thanks to the writing and foreshadowing. It felt long but fast-paced at the same time, and the reading itself was pretty easy (even if the politics were occasionally a bit confusing because I didn’t really ever actually know who Corbyn was?). I was also a little thrown off by the lack of, like, actual chapters. The book is split up into time periods, but there are no chapters within the time periods, just occasional breaks between the paragraphs, and so the really long time period was probably 150 pages with just a few lines of space to give you a place to stop. A little annoying, but oddly not as bothersome as I would’ve expected.
The best part is that the themes and character arcs of this story felt understandable, complex, and triumphant. Seeing the threads of connection throughout the characters’ multiple lives as they kept getting reborn, and then seeing how those characters grew from their old selves into healthier cycles and end up righting wrongs from years past, was satisfying and I think it was done really well. So while this story might not be compelling enough for me to feel the need to jump into the rest of the series anytime soon, as a fantasy story (which is a genre I don’t read a lot of) this was a surprisingly intriguing read that I definitely enjoyed.
“It was then that he saw the omen. Out in the meadow, two larks broke cover with a heartbreaking beauty of song that was a battle cry. Two males swept up, circling and chasing each other. Yet even as they fought, the female who was their prize rose from the grass and flew indifferently away. With a cold clutch of dweomer knowledge, Nevyn knew that soon he would be watching two men fight over a woman that neither could rightfully have.
She had been reborn.”