My Favorite Books of 2023

Every year, I’ve found great joy in sharing my favorite books with others. Here are my favorites from this year. Hopefully, you can find something you might enjoy from this list too.


The Least of Us: True Tales of America and Hope in the Time of Fentanyl and Meth by Sam Quinones

If I could only recommend one book for you to read this year, it is this one. You don’t have to even try to find someone who is struggling with addiction these days. Walk down the street, and there they are. And if you are like me, your life has already been drastically changed by loved ones struggling with drug-addiction or who’ve lost that battle.  This book helped me to understand not only my own family with a lens of greater compassion, but the monster that is facing our nation. 

It asks the monumental questions, how did we get here and what can we do about it?  And through masterfully interwoven personal stories of heartbreak and triumph, Quinones is able to give answers. He gives the overarching history of how we got where we are today, the science behind why these drugs are far worse than those of the past, and shares poignant personal stories filled with darkness, hope, and compassion.  You are guaranteed to cry at some point while reading this book, either from the sheer beauty of the heroic people he writes about, or from the devastation that addiction has caused.  So let’s stop looking away or pretending the problem doesn’t exist.  Reading this book is a great first step in finding solutions.

Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents by Isabel Wilkerson

Having read “The Warmth of Other Sons,” and having loved it, I didn’t even read what this was about.  I trust her authorship. In her other book, I loved her in-depth historical research and ability to find personal stories to tell the story for her.  She does the same in this book, but this book is based on a thesis: racism in America is really casteism by a different name. 

Wilkerson makes a great case for this throughout the book.  And as always, her research is excellent and her writing, lovely.  For some readers, this book will make you uncomfortable and rethink long-held ideas.  And that’s a good thing.    

Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrass Tyson

Do you want to simultaneously be amazed by the universe, humbled, and feel downright dumb?  Then is the book for you.  I just can’t help but love Tyson’s ability to write about such enormous and complex subjects with such humor, while breaking it down for little simpletons like me.


Everything Sad is Untrue by Daniel Nayeri

This is at the top of the list because it’s terrific.  This was a must-read, funny, delightful, whirlwind of a book.  I loved how creatively he told his story.  He and his Persian family immigrated to America when he was a child and the way tells his story is much like the Persian rugs (with all of its intricacies) he writes about, being blown around in a tornado.  It’s a marvelously told story that you won’t want to miss out on.

Can’t Hurt Me by David Goggins

This book surprised the heck outa me. This is not one that I thought would ever be on my list because it’s not the best or the most beautifully written, but it is important.  I thought it was a self-help book and I try to avoid that genre in general because I find them trite and not for people who’ve lived a lot of life (and spoiler alert: this book is both a memoir and a self-help book).  So why did I read it? Well, you can thank Ethan for that.  He read another of Goggin’s books and said that I should read one because I was so eerily similar to Goggins.  This intrigued me because here’s what I knew about the author: he’s a former Navy Seal, who, outside of his military accomplishments, has performed many ridiculously crazy physical feats over the years and he swears like a sailor (which is appropriate, LOL).  So what in the world could I have in common with this übermensch?  

It didn’t take me long to find out.  And the more chapters I read, the more I couldn’t believe that there was someone in the world so much like me.  Goggins had a very rough upbringing and even though, on the surface, our stories seem different in the obvious details (he’s an African-American man from the Midwest, I’m a white female from the South), we had many similarities and have both taken away many of the same ideas, strategies, and reflections from life.  He overcame many of the same obstacles that I did and he figured out the same strategies to get through hard things that I also figured out long ago.  The difference being, he gave his strategies nifty little names in order to share them with others.  In many places the book was uncomfortable because we have many shared faults, but I appreciate his honesty and vulnerability in sharing them with his readers.  Yes, I feel weird saying this because it feels strangely self-promoting, but I do think these are really important concepts and tools.

Disclaimer: if you can handle the cursing, it’s a great book.  

Here are a few more memoirs I recommend:

I’m Glad My Mom Died by Jenette McCurdy

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

Beautiful Country by Julie Qian Wang


Silence by Endo Shusaku 

Deep.  Thought-provoking.  And the best fiction book that I read this year.  The forward of the audiobook, written by Martin Scorsese is a wonderful entry to the story itself.  As it happens, I had already seen the movie made by Scorsese based on the book and it’s one of my favorite movies of all time.  Super dark, because hey, the subject matter is martyrdom, but it is so beautiful and redemptive and although it’s fiction, it is based on historically true events.

Too Much Happiness by Alice Munro

Unlike all of the other novels in this category, this book is a compilation of short stories.  Ethan and the kids bought me this as a gift and what an amazing gift.  Each story, with its starkly differing narration, is fully engrossing.  Not only was I always left with a desire to know how the rest of the character’s life played out, I found that I was unable to go directly to the next short story without some time in-between to digest.  I had to let one go before I could move on to the next.  All that to say, if you are like me and have only short blocks of time to devote to reading at each sitting, this might be a great choice for you.  The stories are all very different from each other, but all are truly wonderful. 

The Quiet American by Graham Greene

“I stopped our trishaw outside the Chalet and said to Phuong, ‘Go in and find a table. I had better look after Pyle.’ That was my first instinct – to protect him. It never occurred to me that there was a greater need to protect myself. Innocence always calls mutely for protection when we should be so much wiser to guard ourselves against it: innocence is like a dumb leper who has lost his bell, wandering the world, meaning no harm…”

His words speak for themselves.  I love Greene’s subtle way of disguising important concepts with seemingly simplistic story-telling.  It’s a short book, but a good one and you should read it.

The Dutch House by Ann Patchett

This was a beautiful read.  I loved how the house in the story is portrayed as its own character: at once beautiful and a point of envy and pride for some characters while being repulsive, and too ostentatious for others.  The house is the center around which all of the characters are pulled in its gravitational wake.  The book is about bitterness, grief, forgiveness, and understanding.  

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Sometimes you just need to laugh and the absurd humor in this book will do it for you.

Other terrific Fictional reads:

Emily Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah (this pairs well with the non-fiction “The Worst Hard Times… by Timothy Egan) 

The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich (pairs well with the non-fiction “Call Me Indian” by Fred Sasakamoose)

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Everything I Never Told you by Celeste Ng 

Children’s Literature

The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo

“‘You were wrong,” he said.  “All of you.  You asked me to renounce my sins; I ask you to renounce yours.  You wronged me.  Repent.”[…] Despereaux stood before the Mouse Council , and he realized that he was a different mouse than he had been the last time he faced them.  He had been in the dungeon and back up out of it.  He knew things that they would never know; what they thought of him, he realized, did not matter, not at all.”

This is probably my all-time favorite children’s book.  One of the greatest joys of my life is reading some of my favorite books to my kids. This one, in particular, holds a special place in my heart.

Long ago, my 7 year-old brother Daniel told me all about this book that his teacher had helped him check it out from the school library. He was obsessed. It was the first book that inspired him to be brave and made him cry with hope. He identified strongly with Despereaux (even though he had no idea how to pronounce his name). Years later, I stumbled upon this book at the library and remembered how much he’d loved it, and decided I needed to know why he’d loved it so much. It didn’t take long to understand. There are few other children’s books that hold so much beauty, hard truths, depth, and complexity while still holding the young reader spell-bound.

Charmed Life by Diana Wynn Jones

This was an author that was recommended by Neil Gaiman in his memoir, so I thought I’d give it a try.  DELIGHTFUL!  I can’t wait until my kids are just a bit older so that they can enjoy them with me.  Magical, funny, and with unexpected plot twists.  Mainly though, I love the messaging within the two books I’ve read so far: learning to trust the right people.

My Favorite Books of 2022


The Buried Giant and Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro

There is a handful of authors that I trust to always tell me a unique, beautiful, and creative story.  Kazuo Ishiguro is at the top of my list.  His books are always creative, but what is most fascinating in the heart of all of his story-telling (and he dabbles across fantastical, realistic, or science fiction genres), it is always about the people and relationships within the story.  And in both of these books, he certainly does tell a beautiful, unique, and human story.  Although I won’t give you any hints as to the plots (I believe his books are read much better that way), you will not be disappointed.

The Stand by Stephen King

 *This is not for the sensitive reader and contains all of the things—and I mean ALL the things—you don’t want your kids to read*  In fact, I probably wouldn’t recommend this to most of the people who read this blog unless you have a dark sense of humor, read a lot of books, and are okay with evil characters doing evil things…because they are E-V-I-L.

Years ago, I read King’s “On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft” and enjoyed it immensely and learned a good deal.  But I’m not a horror genre person.  Horror movies and books generally bore me.  However, this particular book kept popping up as a must-read on an NPR fiction book list where I’d read 90% of the other books recommended and loved most of them.  So this year, when I saw it pop up as a free audiobook available at the library, I thought, why not?  I’ve always wanted to see his advice on writing in action.  

On the aspect of writing, I am impressed to say the least.  He masterfully sets scenes in relatively few words, creates memorable characters with unique speech and consistent thought patterns, tells a multi-faceted story with a broad overarching theme and interesting spiritual undercurrents.  In his tiny asides, it’s easy to see that he’s experienced much of life, held various jobs, has lots of hands-on knowledge, and what he doesn’t know, he makes up with excellent research and a unique imagination.

As to the actual story, I couldn’t help but smirk darkly at what he imagined the world to be like during the book’s pandemic.  The book was written in 1978 and after having experienced the COVID lockdown and seeing the news out of China, it was hard not to see some similarities.   He imagined a militaristic reaction and a poorly executed containment.  But that is just the first part of the book.  The rest is all about the fight of good against evil.  And the evil is very evil and the good is somewhat good, but mostly just human.


Taking Charge of ADHD: The Complete Authoritative Guide for Parents by Russell Barkley 

This book is just what I needed and is on my bedside bookshelf for quick reference.  My husband and 4 children have ADHD.  Most of the reminders and consistency falls to me and that can be very difficult to maintain if I had, say, a Chronic illness based on diminished energy levels (haha…).  It’s pretty tough to be everyone else’s brains, and even though I had routines set up, I needed just a little more help in helping my little people.  Enter this book.

The first part of the book is building the scientifically historical case of why ADHD isn’t just made up, what research actually shows about the ADHD brain (yes, it’s mostly genetic—with percentages of likelihood and everything!), and why it’s important to understand it. The book goes on to give ideas for how to better parent kids with ADHD.  Some of it is applicable to our situation, much of it we already do, and some of it isn’t.  Overall though, the complex reward system for chores was a game-changer.  It’s more work for me in some ways, but the trade-off for not having to remind each child every step of the way, is worth it.  It goes on to have advice for the teenage years because teens with ADHD tend to participate in more risky behaviors than those without.  Lastly, it goes into both non-medicinal ways to help those with ADHD (CBT therapy, exercise, etc…), and medications currently available.  It goes into great detail about what the drug is, how the drug works, and its pros and cons.  I greatly appreciated this list so that I could speak knowledgeably to the doctor on behalf of my kiddos.  We do as much as we can for our kiddos that is non-medicinal, but we’ve seen how much easier things are for them when their brains are functioning better–even when it means medication.  If you have ADHD or have a child who has it, please read this book. You’ll be doing both of yourselves a favor.

Imperfect Harmony: Singing Through Life’s Sharps and Flats by Stacy Horn

This was a delightful book that was recommended to me by my Aunt Mary.  Aunt Mary was a librarian for much of her life and also loves to sing in choirs.  Any book that she recommends, I will always read because I know it will be good.  And this book hit all the right notes (see what I did there?).  If you love music, or love singing in a choir, this is the geek-out book for you.  Not only does Horn make you love the music you already love even more by telling you the history behind it, she writes with a delightful sense of humor.  It really was the one book that made me smile every time I picked it up.


Maus: A Survivor’s Tale Books 1-2 by Art Spiegelman 

These two books were on the banned books list (of which I read a few this year).  Some of the others I read, probably shouldn’t be read before college, but I don’t really believe in banning books.   These two books are about Spiegelman’s dad who was a holocaust survivor.  Not only is it an extremely creative way to write a memoir, it was powerful in this graphic novel format.  This was my first graphic novel and it took me a bit to get used to, but I really appreciated his story-telling in his father’s voice.  When my kids are older, I want them to read these two books because I think that these stories are important.


The Alloy of Law Series by Brandon Sanderson

The whole series was delightful!  I love anything that Brandon Sanderson writes, and this one was especially genre-bending.  However, the best review on the first book in the series comes from Patrick Rothfuss, one of the genres most equally talented authors. If you’re on Goodreads, you need to check it out—it’s hilarious and the highest praise one author can give another.

A Memory of Light by Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson 

This is the very last book in the Wheel of Time series.  It took me many years to read through the 14 volumes that make up this series.  And after an Israel-wandering-in-the-desert kind of slog that went on from books 7-12, Brandon Sanderson, after the death of Robert Jordan, was given the Herculean task to finish/salvage the series.  And boy did he ever.  It was more action-packed than all but the first Wheel of Time books.  Was the whole 14 volumes series worth it?  I’m still not sure. But this last one was great.

Most Disappointing 

The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo

I never thought I’d EVER say this, but I think the Disney version was better. *Gasp* That makes this even more shocking because Les Miserables (also by Victor Hugo) is one of my all-time favorite books…so I had high expectations.  I slogged through, waiting for it to grab me.  I waited for myself to like one or any of the characters.  And although there are sparkling moments of beauty, and snarky bits of social commentary throughout, I was sorely disappointed by this book.  Spoiler alert: everybody dies (okay, almost everybody).  If you wade through this tome, just know that the ending is dark.  Some are given over as lambs to the slaughter, others given over to their vices.  No one remains unscathed by the whimsical malevolence of fate.  There is no hero, no antihero.  There are just people being people.  And in a way, I kind of liked the haunting ending.

If nothing in this year’s lists interests you, I’ve got plenty more lists from other years (2021, 2020, 2019 & 2018, 2017, 2016, 2015, 2014, 2013) or you can find me on Goodreads.

My Favorite Books of 2021

As always, these are not books published in 2021, they are just my favorites that I read this year. This is in no way exhaustive and if I had more time, I would’ve added a few more…


The Girl Who Drank the Moon by Kelly Barnhill

This was a delightfully magical read.  I couldn’t put it down.  If you only pick up one fictional book this year, make it this one—you’ll be very glad you did. 

Anne of Green Gables by L.M. Montgomery

I’m the least romantic person I know and unfortunately, my exposure to this story was to see the 80’s movie.  Anne’s annoying penchant for romanticizing everything and her love story with Gilbert Blithe seemed dumb to me (I know, hate me all you want). But being slightly more mature in my ability to stomach romanticism (at the ripe old age of 38), I tried it out.  It was delightful.  Not because of Anne–she was still pretty annoying–but because of Marilla Cuthbert. I identify with her in both the best and the worst ways.  Like her, I’m practical, a lover of cleanliness and efficiency, sarcastic, and if left to my sin-nature without God’s gracious mitigation, I can be cold and self-righteously unmerciful like her.  And yet, just as in the book, Anne is able to soften Marilla’s heart over time, and just as Anne does for her, so I find that I’ve surrounded myself with many Anne’s throughout the years and they have helped to make my heart more tender. It’s a classic for a reason and I’m glad I got over myself and read it.

My only caveat to the reader is, if this makes you feel inspired to go out and adopt an Anne of your own, just know it will be nothing like this (see parenting book review below).

Biographical Fiction

Brutal Imagination by Cornelius Eady

I was not expecting this.  I borrowed this from the library without knowing hardly anything about it and I’m so glad that was the case.  This is one powerful and poignant narrative based on a real-life event.  I don’t want to give much away, but the title could not have been more fitting.  It makes me want to read more of Eady’s works.

Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders

As with the above book, I love how Saunders blurs the lines of fact and fiction.  He weaves so inventively both factual historical accounts of the life and times of Abraham Lincoln with his own fantastical narratives.  If you delight in encountering literary novelties, you will enjoy this book.  However, I would not recommend this to readers unable to tolerate divergent moral/theological ideas and perspectives.  It also tends toward the crass in various places.

Non-Fiction and Memoir

Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta by Brian Kolodiejchuk

This book has somehow stuck with me the entire year—like an ear-worm for the soul.  It was not beautifully written, it was tedious and repetitive, and points were belabored.  BUT it was powerfully inspiring and showed the deepest, darkest, and most intimate portrait of this saint. Her love for God and her great longing for Him is amazing.  I don’t think I could ever be a saint.  Although I try to do what God asks of me, there are few things that put dread into my heart more than what Mother Teresa encountered.  Saints like Mother Teresa, desire so much to be like Christ and to partake in his suffering, that they sometimes experience what is called the “long night of the soul.”  It is that complete silence, darkness, and feeling of separation from God like what Jesus experienced on the Cross when he cried, “Father, why have you forsaken me?”  So many times, as I read her words, “I cannot refuse anything God asks of me,” I was convicted and challenged. Could I do that?  Could I still be obedient to Him like she was for 55 years, if I no longer felt his presence?  Could I have the faith to remain steadfast?  

Hidden Valley Road: Inside the Mind of an American Family by Robert Kolker  

This book was riveting, heart-breaking and also, the MOST triggering book I’ve ever read. This is about a large family of 12 children, six of whom end up schizophrenic. If you have lived with a violent schizophrenic, or even a non-violent one (I’ve lived with both), this book will hit far too close to home in all of the worst ways. I couldn’t put it down, and yet, it was so painfully and intensely accurate to my own experience, that I would find myself shaking with adrenaline and had to set it down for several days at a time to move out of my own dark experiences and back into a healthy state of mind before continuing.  I understand far too well the different reactions of the siblings who escaped: one sister became the caregiver and advocate for her (safer) affected siblings, one brother moved far away, having little contact and creating his own life. And one sister, after years of emotional avoidance and self-sabotage, received therapy and started trying to reconnect with her brothers before their early deaths (an all-too common occurrence for those taking anti-psychotics for long periods of time).

This family and the sad improbability of half of their children developing the disease, is an important part in helping researchers understand schizophrenia better. Aside from the memoir aspect of the book, there is the thread of scientific study woven throughout the narrative and I found that both interesting and heartening.

If you know anyone with a family member or family members with schizophrenia, do them a favor and read this book. It will give you a good glimpse into how hard and sometimes, impossible it is for them every day to care for someone with this diagnosis.

Seabiscuit: An American Legend by Laura Hillenbrand

I knew nothing about horse-racing and frankly, didn’t care about it.  But because there are two authors that I implicitly trust to make me love something I know nothing about (and the other is the next listed), I knew that I would love it.  And I did.  It’s about so much more than a little knock-kneed horse winning horse races.  It’s about the amazing and eccentric people who cared for this horse and how all of what they did changed them and changed many.  Read it.  You will be so glad you did.

Facing the Mountain: A True Story of Japanese American Heroes in World War II by Daniel James Brown

“Lord have mercy,” was the prayer that kept forming on my lips as I read this book.  This is not the first time that I’ve read about the American concentration camps for Japanese-Americans (more gently called Japanese Internment camps). I did not know that immigrated Japanese (and Chinese for that matter) were denied the rights to become American citizens. This book delves into the personal stories of those that came from those concentration camps in order to fight for the country that had wrongfully bankrupted, imprisoned, and in some cases, killed their family members.  What heroism. And what tragedy based on racist paranoia. Most sadly though, some things don’t seem to have changed all that much in America for those who look different.

Know my Name by Chanel Miller

I didn’t know much about her story other than that she was the nameless girl that Brock Turner had sexually assaulted.  She tells such an intimate and raw story, leaving out nothing.  Her honesty, forgiveness and her courage are unrelenting.  It is an important story and it is an all-too common story that most people are too afraid to tell. It was special to listen to the author read her own story.  In places, her voice shook and cracked where she felt deep shame, or grief. It became defiant and incredulous when unbelievably unjust things were said and done to her, the victim. The terrible miscarriage of justice in her case has become the sounding alarm that America’s treatment of victims of sexual assault must change.

Three Little Words by Ashley Rhodes-Courter

This book is written by a girl who was brought up in foster care.  Her story is well-written and if you’ve experienced any part of the foster care world, you know that her story is like that of many others.  Although this book mostly took place in the 1990’s, at least in my experience, not much has changed. What makes this story stand out is that it is written by an author who found a way to move through her years of trauma.  Most kids who go through so much trauma from a young age, cannot and may not ever be able to tell their stories in a cohesive way. I’m thankful for this book as it gives voice to so many. 

As a foster parent, I cannot recommend this book enough and I think it should be required reading for those looking to foster and adopt (and for anyone in social work), as many of the behavioral/attachment challenges faced by prospective foster/adoptive parents are shown. The author does a wonderful job of showing her own thinking, behaviors, and struggles with attaching–and she is a mild norm. She also witnesses the extreme behaviors of other children she encounters along the way–and it’s those things that are so hard to explain to everyone except other foster parents.

Parenting Books

Dancing with a Porcupine: Parenting Wounded Children without Losing Yourself by Jennie Lynn Owens

This is the story of Jennie Owens and her adopted children.  It is the story of many if not most foster and adoptive parents and really pairs well with “Three Little Words.”  It is sometimes nearly impossible to describe what it’s like being a parent to wounded children, but Owens does it well through using the example of her own life and parenting.  It’s many times difficult, non-stop, and exhausting.  It’s far too easy for parents to lose track of their own selves amidst the sea of their kid’s needs.  If you know an adoptive family, this might be a good read for you (to understand how to best support them) and them (so they have more resources and know they’re not alone).

The Best Books I read in 2020

Reading is like an open door to a new world
Books: an open door to a different world.

This year, I hit my goal of 50 books and beyond, and lucky me, most of them were terrific books, but that made this list very hard to pair down.  So here goes…


Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption by Bryan Stevenson

If you choose one non-fiction book to read on this list, this should be it.  Not only is it important, it’s also written in a compelling and personal way, with a perfect balance of compassion and lawyerly matter-of-factness.  

I saw the movie first, and although it wasn’t bad, it only covers one of the many stories in the book of those wrongfully convicted and on death row.  If you have a heart for troubled kids or those with disabilities you may ugly-cry your way through this book as I did.  You may also come away from this book with fire in your veins and newly-refreshed hope in your heart.

The New Jim Crowe: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Color Blindness by Michelle Alexander

Alexander did a terrific job delving into the research for this book and I felt like I learned so much about the history of the racist “War on Drugs.”  There were some things that surprised me—like her research and views on the pros and cons of affirmative action and the lip-service but opposite actions of President Obama regarding “The War on Drugs.”  Depending on the reader, it has the potential to be eye-opening, uncomfortable, but very needed.  White friends, please read this book and understand the problem more fully.  If you want to change America for the better, reading this book is a great place to start.

The Boy Who was Raised as a Dog: And other Stories from a Child Psychiatrist’s Notebook by Dr. Bruce Perry

This was a fascinating and encouraging read.  Each chapter is a story about a child/children that Dr. Perry helped.  Several are extreme cases, some are unfortunately typical for children coming into foster care.  I love his compassionate, atypical approach to therapy (which is actually very intuitive and instinctual).  Here is one of the fascinating take-aways I gleaned. 

You may have heard “children are so resilient.”  In reality, children are far less resilient than teens/adults because their brains are in the midst of developing when the trauma is occurring.  The younger they are when the trauma occurs, the more development is derailed.  If the trauma continues without some sort of abatement, the outlook is bleak.  If the child has a healthy attachment, even for the first year of life, and then horrible circumstances after that, that year of attachment gives that child a much higher chance for resilience later on.  (This is HUGE).

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, Body in the Healing of Trauma by Bessel A. van der Kolk  

This book, like Dr. Perry’s book was eye-opening, fascinating and encouraging.  The one concept that I loved in this book was, when replaying trauma, if you can find a way to feel control, no longer being the completely helpless victim, you can slowly start to change your trauma response to those memories.  Trauma affects every system of your body, so, as Dr. van der Kolk points out, there are many methods now that patients have found ways to move through their trauma (both literally and figuratively).

The A-Z of Therapeutic Parenting: Strategies and Solutions by Sarah Naish

There is a term that the author uses that I love.  As foster or adoptive parents, we are “re-parenting” our kids.  That means that what many parents are able to do on a daily basis are not options for us.  Times that most kids love and anticipate, like birthdays and holidays, might be absolute hell for us. It’s many times an opposite world. Anyway, this is a wonderful and practical index of ideas to implement.  The larger half of the book really is laid out A-Z with descriptions of what behaviors are occurring, why they might be occurring, what to do in the moment, and what to do afterward.  Great ideas for parenting kids with attachment issues.


The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage by Paul Elie  

This is one of the best and most inspiring books I have read in years. I loved this book. Elie does an incredible job in his research and helps one feel connected on a personal level, with each of the four famous writers: Flannery O’Connor, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, and Walker Percy. He weaves their spiritual journeys with how it corresponds to their writings at the time. It’s truly beautiful. And, in all transparency, I am the target audience because…

  1. I’m a Catholic convert
  2. a wanna-be writer
  3. a lover of southern fiction (particularly these authors)
  4. and I have an insatiable desire to understand the “why” of people.

Hope’s Boy: A Memoir by Andrew Bridge

I found this while browsing at my library and wow, what a beautiful surprise.  This is the true story of a boy named Andy and his life’s journey through foster care.  There are so many things that he believes and thinks as a kid in care that anyone who is connected with fostering/adopting should know (social workers, foster/adoptive parents).  I highly recommend this book whether or not you are connected with foster kids, but especially if you are.

The Splendid and the Vile: A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance During the Blitz by Erik Larson

I’ve never been disappointed with an Erik Larson book.  If you enjoy history but need it to be not dry and boring, Larson is the author for you.  I really loved this book in particular because of the heroism, stubbornness, wittiness and eccentricities of the Churchill family.  Perhaps it’s also because I see many parallels between Ethan and Winston Churchill; especially in their ability to lead during a crisis, and to do what is right in the face of criticism. Thankfully though, Ethan doesn’t have Churchill’s moodiness.

An Abbreviated Life: A Memoir by Ariel Lev

I appreciated Lev’s ability to tell her strange story.  It’s very difficult to convey all of the complexity of being the child of someone with Borderline Personality Disorder, but I think she does it well.  If you have a dark sense of humor as I do, you might find yourself chuckling and saying, “Yep, been there, done that” under your breath.  If you have no experience with this, you might find it disturbing or off-putting.  Warning: If you were raised by a parent with BPD, this book might be very triggering unless you’re in a healthy enough place to read it.


Kristin Lavrensdatter by Sigrid Undset

If you choose one fictional book to read from this list, this one is by far the best.  It is written by a famous Norwegian author and is set in the 1300’s Norway.  The historical aspects are so well done and fascinating.  Undset really makes you feel as if you are watching lives unfold during that time. This book follows the life of Kristen Lavrensdatter from childhood through adulthood.  It is a very rich, spiritual and profound story.  However, I feel it my duty to warn you that the book is sectioned into 3 parts and totals over 1600 pages (with helpful historical footnotes) and when it is over, you will be sad it’s over. Part 1, although very good and beautifully written, is the weakest and a little slow.  Also, this is the part where Kristin falls in love and romance, as a general rule, no matter how well-done, makes me queasy.  Part 2 picks up speed and throws in quite a few surprises. I’m rarely surprised (a curse of being a voracious reader who’s also seen a lot of life), so the ability to surprise is a hallmark of good story-telling. Part 3 can’t be read fast or slow enough.  Okay, I’m done gushing over it, but do yourself a favor and read it.

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

This was an absolutely delightful book with a lovely twist at the end.  That’s all I will tell you because it’s just a beautiful book with lovely characters.  Be forewarned: this book may make you long to try some of the foods mentioned in the book.

Joy in the Morning by P.G. Wodehouse

After reading many heavy books early in the year, I asked my well-read Facebook friends to give me some happy light-reading ideas.  This series was hands-down the favorite for laughs, so I tried it out.  And laugh I did!  How have I lived my life without this particular joy in it?  As I laughed along, I couldn’t help but see Hugh Laurie (a favorite actor/jazz pianist of mine) as Bertie Wooster.

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Being the morbid person that I am, I’ve always said that if anything ever happened to Ethan, I’d pack up and move to Alaska.  I love Alaska.  I love its harshness, wildness, and beauty.  So when I read the description of the book…Vietnam vet with PTSD takes his family to Alaska, I was already hooked.  I appreciated Hannah’s realistic portrayal of a vet with PTSD, the brutality and beauty of Alaska, and the unity and dependence on community that is required to survive.

Britt-Marie was Here by Fredrik Backman

Backman has become a favorite author of mine.  His characters always sparkle with quirks and good hearts underneath eccentric exteriors.  This one is about a delightfully persnickety woman who solves every problem with bicarbonate of soda and has herself an unexpected little heart-warming adventure.  It’s such a fun read.

A few more noteworthy reads to consider:

  • Braving the Wilderness by Brene Brown
  • The Read-Aloud Handbook by Jim Trelease
  • The Mysterious Howling by Maryrose Wood
  • Strength in What Remains: A Journey of Remembrance and Forgiveness by Tracy Kidder
  • Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer
  • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nahisi Coates
  • I am Malala: The Story of the Girl who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban by Malala Yousafzai
  • The Rithmatist by Brandon Sanderson
  • The Worst Hard Time: The Untold Story of Those Who Survived the Great American Dust Bowl by Timothy Egan

The Best Books I read in 2018 & 2019


The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

  This book is a fast, easy read and oh so enchanting.  I’m partial to it for many reasons, but mostly because I love historical fiction, realistic descriptions of nature,  mysteries, touches of magic, and stories of finding joy in hardship.  The story is set in the 1920’s, when people were beginning to homestead the Alaskan frontier.  The author grew up in Alaska, so her first-hand knowledge of its dangerous enchantments suck the reader right into the story.  It’s a beautiful tale of hope, sadness, and choosing joy after loss.  It’s historical fiction mixed with a fairy-tale.  Read it.  Then consider reading it to your teens.

Laurus by Eugene Vodolazkin

  This book is magical—in the most medieval Orthodox Russian sense of the word.  This was the book I chose to lug with me for 200 miles of the nearly 400 miles of the Camino de Santiago.  I could not have chosen a more perfect book for a pilgrimage.  It is the tale of a spiritual pilgrim named Arseny, who finds his way through an old world in which the line between faith and magic is inextricably blurred, and whose entire life is spent chasing God.  Not only is it a fantastic book that should be read, but for me, the parallel of reading it during my own spiritual pilgrimage gave it a more tangible import; so much so, I left it at one of the stops along the way, with an inscription to the next Camino pilgrim who picks it up.  Here is the crux of the book that I hope will give you a sense of its beauty. 

“And so, O Savior, give me at least some sign that I may know my path has not veered into madness, so I may, with that knowledge, walk the most difficult road, walk as long as need be and no longer feel weariness.” [says Arseny]

“What sign do you want and what knowledge?” asked an elder standing [nearby]. “Do you not know that any journey harbors danger within itself? Any journey — and if you do not acknowledge this, then why move? So you say faith is not enough for you and you want knowledge, too. But knowledge does not involve spiritual effort; knowledge is obvious. Faith assumes effort. Knowledge is repose and faith is motion.”

“But were the venerable not aspiring for the harmony of repose?” asked Arseny.

“They took the route of faith,” answered the elder. “And their faith was so strong it turned into knowledge.”

A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving

This was an audiobook that I chose for the Camino.  I don’t know how many times I found myself walking up and down mountains, guffawing at the antics of the two main characters in the book (especially the Christmas pageant part). It is a well-crafted story.  There is mystery aplenty, the characters are unique, the narrator gives you just enough hints to make you wonder how you get from the beginning of the book to the end, with just enough strangeness and hilarity that you can’t stop reading.

Circe by Madeline Miller

  I think this was my favorite Fiction from 2019.  It was so beautifully written, and so creative.  After finishing Homer’s Odyssey a few years ago, I felt dissatisfied because I had a multitude of unanswered questions all pertaining to the origins and story of the ever-tantalizing Circe.  Apparently, Miller thought along those same lines and wrote herself a beautifully fleshed-out answer in book form.  If you enjoy Greek/Roman/Nordick myths, fantasy, or an appreciation for the classics, you’ll love this.

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro

  After reading two of his other books, “Remains of the Day” and “When We Were Orphans” (both of which I highly recommend), I felt a sufficient enough amount of faith in his story-telling abilities that I could endeavor to set aside my cynicism regarding the implausibility of the situation on which this particular sci-fi story hinges. And enjoy it, I did.  A lot. The characters and their relationships are wonderful and complex.  The exploration of psychology is enjoyable and the narration is divine.  Narration, I believe, is Ishiguro’s greatest asset.

Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

  This book contains all of my favorite things: southern foods and language that always take me back home, mystery, murder, drama, and lots of nature.  The only downside for me—and maybe 1% of the population—was the romantic stuff (necessary I guess, but boring).  That being said, it’s a great book. 


Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy

  As you might be able to tell from my comments above, I’m the least romantic person I know with a very low tolerance for emotional frittering.  So, for many years, because I knew the basic gist of the plot (an affair between Vronksy and Anna and how that affair drives Anna into desperation and madness), I kept finding reasons to avoid this book.  For some reason that escapes me now, I decided to take the plunge last year.  I’m so glad I did.  It is an amazing book and amongst my favorites now.

Here is something important that no one tells you about this book: there are 2 parallel story arcs (the Anna and Vronksy affair is only one of them), with 2 main characters, Anna Karenina, and arguably more important, Konstantine Levin, but only the former is ever talked about.  If you’ve watched the most recent cinematic iteration, Levin and his plot line are left out entirely.  I think this is the gravest disservice that one could do to the telling of this story because it robs it of its meaning and depth.  I suppose Levin and his plot is left out of retellings because his story is not as dramatic as Anna’s and Vronky’s, but at least to me, it was his story and the contrast of it against theirs that gave everything meaning. 

  I loved the depth of character of Levin.  I loved how he thought, his grappling with questions of faith, his way of thinking, his hard-working, decisive nature.  His appreciation for nature.  I identified so much with him and wondered if he was based on someone Tolstoy knew.  Much to my delight, I learned that Levin was an autobiographical portrait of Tolstoy himself!  If you read it, I’d love to know what you think.

The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins

  I get a kick out of Victorian who-dun-its.  Especially when they’re penned by Wilkie Collins.  His “sensation novels” are always slightly over-dramatic, full of fragile, fainting women, and men who speak in passionate hushed tones of the sensibilities of ladies.  And yet, Collins always manages, even within the drama, to keep it light-handed and with a touch of tongue-in-cheek.  It’s a fun and wonderful story that I imagine him writing with one arched eyebrow and a smirk on his face.


Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson

  Always fantastic.  I’ve written about his books nearly every year. Here’s the review regarding the first book in this amazing series.

The Magician’s by Lev Grossman (the series)

  I was a little iffy going into this series, but the ideas, although dark, interested me.  Many people who’ve mentioned this series compare it to a very dark version of Narnia.  That’s accurate, and I do love Narnia, but there are many creative, and rather original ideas within the books too.  A former professor of mine recommended it and knowing that she and I have similar taste in books, I had to read it. I’m very glad I did.

Warning: There is quite a bit of language and some sexual content in the first book.  You may just want to skip over some of that (that’s what I did and there’s no plot-loss because of it). By book two, the series hits its stride and has less of the “bleh” and more of the “cool.”

Legion by Brandon Sanderson (series of novellas)

  I love reading something that you can tell that the author had a grand ole time writing. This was a fun, original, odd, mystery/thriller sci-fi novella.  

Parenting Books

The Connected Child by Dr. Karyn Purvis

I wrote a review of this a few years ago, when I’d only had the experience of raising traumatized siblings (which I’ve since learned most people don’t count as actual parenting) but now that I have actually parented other traumatized children for a year (which yes, is exactly the same as raising ones siblings), this is my parenting Bible.  I’ve read many, many parenting books, and I have to tell you, it doesn’t matter if your kids are traumatized or not, this is the best parenting book you will read. The loving principles within are applied in our home. I don’t generally re-read books, but I’ve read this one at least 20 times now.

Better Behavior for Ages 2-10: Small Miracles that Work Like Magic by Tara Egan

   This is a little-known gem and it dovetails perfectly with the parenting techniques laid out in the Connected Child (also known as TBRI). And if you are parenting traumatized children, there are only a few slight modifications that you will need to make to some of the techniques in this book (but if you read The Connected Child first, it’s obvious).  


The Indifferent Stars Above by Daniel James Brown

  You may be wondering why anyone would voluntarily read an entire book about the Donner party? Well, for three reasons.  1) I read this because sometimes when my own life sucks, I need to read about people who had it WAY worse, to put my little trials into perspective.  2) Since reading Brown’s Boys on the Boat, I would read a phonebook if he wrote it, And 3) since I was mostly self-educated, there are things that I missed learning about, and knowing more than the Donner party ate each other, is one of them.  

The series of unfortunate events that led up to the horrific events is unbelievable.  And to me, the extraordinary amount of research that went into this writing, but also the empathy, his ability to connect with the people who experienced the events (through letters, other histories, journals), his sensitivity and attention to detail, is what makes Brown much more than just another bored historian retelling a well-known story.  If you can stomach it (no pun intended), you should read this.


A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson

  I suppose that he will always make my list.  The man’s stories make me laugh out loud.  Perhaps it’s his mixture of humorously self-deprecating stories while simultaneously looking down on everyone around him and placing them in some sort of narrative box to write them into later.  This particular book was my favorite of all of his books because it’s about hiking and that is something I’m actually semi-knowledgeable about.  I laughed so much at the hilariously ignorant antics of him and his friend “Stephen Katz” as they navigated the Appalachian trail. As with all of his books, there is a perfect blend of actual information about hiking the Appalachian, exaggeration of things to fear while on the trail, his personal stories of mistakes, and the history and ecology of the trail.  You can’t go wrong.  

Historical Fiction

Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

  This was a well-crafted story about a fictional family living through mostly non-fiction events.  The story revolves around a real black market baby adoption scheme in the 1920’s that kidnapped children and coerced destitute families to give up their children to the Tennessee Children’s Home Society.  It was fascinating and eye-opening.  It is a good mystery, and well told.  You should read it.


Educated by Tara Westover

  I loved this book because I could identify so much with it.  If you want to understand those from dysfunctional homes whose lives are daily affected by severe mental illness and violence, this is going to be an educational read.  The Westover family was a fringe Mormon survivalist family in Idaho.  They were self-taught, abused, and whose beliefs revolved around everything their bipolar, possibly schizophrenic, father taught them.  Tara is a survivor and her story is important because her story, although extreme, is not unlike the story of many.

The Best Books I Read in 2017

This year, I tried to read 50 books.  I only finished 45, but I wanted to tell you about my favorites—the cream of crop.


A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

During WWII, 70 different publishing companies got together to create an Armed Services Edition to send to soldiers fighting on the frontlines.  This was one of the books chosen because of its ability to inspire hope.  And that is exactly what it did more than anyone could’ve predicted.  I learned about this book from a WWII memoir that I read last year which mentioned its ability to make soldiers feel again and it made me wonder what made this book so special?  It immediately went on my reading list and I am so happy it did.  Of the all of the books read, it was my absolute favorite.  The book begins with this beautiful metaphor: “Some called it the Tree of Heaven.  No matter where its seed fell, it made a tree which struggled to meet the sky.  It grew in boarded-up lots and out of neglected rubbish heaps and it was the only tree which grew out of cement.  It grew lushly, but only in the tenements districts.”  A good start, huh?

A Man Called Ove by Frederik Backman

This book will make you laugh all throughout. It’s about a fastidious and curmudgeonly old man in Sweden named Ove (pronounced: oo-vah) who, after the death of his beloved wife, decides that he has nothing left to live for.  Solution?  Suicide, of course.  Unfortunately for his plans, he has a strong sense of right and wrong tucked under several layers of sweaters (because the cost of heating a house is just too damn high).  And also, he has new neighbors who not only interrupt his well thought-out plans time and again because they have no sense of personal boundaries, but also because they (and young people in general) these days are clueless as to how to do things the “right way” and somebody’s got to set them straight.  It is not only a hilarious book, it’s quite endearing—like a grumpy old man.


The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson

This is such a fascinating read about what many people may never have heard about: the black migration in America.  Through the author’s use of 3 main characters and the true accounts of their lives, flight and families, the author intertwines their personal histories with the larger historical narrative during those times.  The book is masterfully written, riveting, and educational.  Being from the south, I also loved the author’s naming the south’s hierarchy a caste system—as that is exactly what it was.  I also appreciated that once the characters moved to the north, the author did not stop there and imply happily-ever-after, but showed the dire hardships they faced once they got to the north and that in many ways, life was not always much better for a long time.  It’s sad, real, and a must-read.  Also, if you decide to read it, you might consider the audiobook as the narrator is one of the best I’ve ever heard with a masterful range of realistic southern accents.

Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi

In my work as an ESL teacher, I have met many wonderful Muslim families and I have always thought that I’d love to understand their religious beliefs and cultures better.  I’ve read portions of the Quran and have learned a few things about Middle Eastern culture, but I thought this book might give me a more personal lens through which to understand.  I was not disappointed.  The author’s love for Islam and desire to know God was inspiring. His journey to conversion to Christianity was a long one, filled with many good theological questions, but also very practical questions (how can I do this to my very devout family?).  He was able to look critically at his Islamic beliefs alongside Christianity.  This book unexpectedly inspired a greater love for God in me and a renewed appreciation for His relentless pursuit of us.

Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown

Me, before reading this book: “It’s a book about rowing.  Too bad I don’t care about rowing.”  *puts off reading book for a year*

Me, after reading the book: “I love rowing.  I had no idea that rowing was such a beautiful thing.”  *dries tears*

Spoiler: It’s not really a book about rowing.  It’s about the boys in the boat and their oft-times difficult lives.  It’s about how they came to trust each other, how their mentors saw the best in them and brought it out.  It’s about how they completely defied the mountainous odds set against them—and how they could not do it alone.  They had to trust and depend on each other enough to be a team.  Oh yeah, and the means by which they learned all this was through rowing.

Tattoos on the Heart: The Boundless Power of Compassion by Gregory Boyle

This is such a beautiful book about how choosing compassion, even when you’re not sure it’s the right thing to do, is a life-changing choice.  Father Boyle explains how “Homeboys Inc.” came about as a way to give gang members and ex-cons, a job, and some place to find good camaraderie and purpose, instead of ending up back on the streets.  This memoir will make you laugh, cry, cringe, and roll your eyes.  It’s raw, funny, real, and beautiful.


A Canticle For Lebowietz by Walter Miller

I won’t say too much about the plot of the book because it might give things away, but what I will say is, this book is so creative, ironic, funny, and complex.  It’s a very unique story that you might really enjoy.

A Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

I really loved this book.  If you grew up as a woman in a legalistic cult like I did, you will find this fictional story fascinating, alternately infuriating and nauseating, and scarily plausible.  In Atwood’s world, women are told what to wear, how to act, what to say, what thoughts to think, under the guise of strict Biblical guidelines. A woman’s ability to bear children is both her curse and humanity’s salvation. Certain women (essentially breeders) are used as society’s sacrificial lambs, sacrificing freedom, choice, dignity, and sometimes their own lives all in the hope of furthering the human race. And like in cults, women are kept in check by other women who’ve been given a taste of power through their strict adherence to the rules.  Men, in this fictional world, are supposedly the ones holding all the power, but like in reality, they too are just a different kind of victim held by the unchecked shackles of their own desires and lust for power.


Why We Can’t Wait by Martin Luther King Jr.

If you read no other book on this list, read this one.  It is important and timeless. I’m a firm believer that we can learn many things from history that are applicable right now.  This book is thoughtful, moving, and Dr. King is so eloquent and his heart for all of God’s children is clear.  While reading it, I was struck by so many things but will mention just a few.

  1. Unlike many of the protests today, those who wanted to protest with Dr. King were asked to sign a pledge after a thorough examination of conscience. Signing the pledge was not to be done lightly, without prayer and spiritual preparation and thought.  The protests were to show that they were coming from hearts desiring change, not from hatred.
  1. I’ve heard many white men say things like, “The reason that there is so much crime in the black community, is because these kids grow up without fathers.  Either they’re in prison, or dead.”  What none of them admit is that white people were the ones separating black families for centuries.  First through slavery, then through low-paying jobs so that mothers had to be live-in housekeepers and father’s had to most times, travel great distances for work.  It’s a terrible cycle (“orphans giving birth to orphans”) that Dr. King identifies and calls out first thing in the book.  If we want a strong society, we MUST make decisions that strengthen families, not tear them down.
  2. Dr. King made a point of showing the similarities between the poor white and poor black in the south and although he welcomed the poor whites to be a part of the movement, he knew they would likely deny it.  It’s sad to me that white people in such similar circumstances as their black neighbors were so blinded by the color of skin that they denied their similarities.  From reading this and other books, it seems that historically, this divide was one stemming from a false sense of power, that say, a poor, white slave catcher might feel because, although he is only on society’s second lowest rung, he believes he has power over the man on society’s bottom rung.  And like bullies, reacting out of their own misery, they make the lives of those below them even harder instead of choosing to have empathy or compassion.

The Emperor of Maladies: A Biography of Cancer by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Every time I’ve recommended this book to someone, the reaction is, “Why would I want to read a book about cancer?”  Because it’s fascinating.  If you like history, medicine, or science, this is the book for you.  Yes, cancer is a scary thing for most people (myself included), but I also like to understand scary things.



The Connected Child:  Bring Hope and Healing to your Adoptive Family by Karyn Purvis

This is such a wonderful book.  Whether you’re kids are adopted or not, this is the most hands-on approach of how to connect with children that I’ve encountered.  For attachment-challenged children, there are some very effective strategies that are accessible, don’t require a degree in psychology to employ and understand, and much of it is intuitive.

Daring Greatly: How the Courage to be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead. by Brene Brown

This is a book that I gave to every family member this year because so many of the concepts within are so important. One of the most important ones I learned was, shame and guilt are two very different things.  Shame says I’m a bad person.  Guilt says I made a bad choice.  During the time I was learning this, I was also going to my first confession where the priest asked clarifying questions and explained to me the same thing.



Elantris by Brandon Sanderson

This is Sanderson’s first book.  And although the hardcore fantasy fans will tell you that Sanderson’s magic systems are comparatively sloppier than his later works, I say who cares?  This book is amazing.  I LOVED the story and the characters.  It is a story of hope beyond all odds, crazy unexplainable magic, feisty, brave, and clever women, and brave, clever, and optimistic men.  The ideas are fresh and creative.  It doesn’t need to be perfect to be amazing.

Other great reads to consider:

Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (delightful)

In a Sunburned Country by Bill Bryson (hilarious)

Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs (heart-wrenching)

The Story of My Life by Helen Keller (eloquent)

The Supper of the Lamb by Scott Hahn (eye-opening)

The Fellowship by Sara Roberts Jones (cathartic)

The Best and Worst Books of 2016

As with every year, I like to reflect upon the best of the best books I read throughout the year.  This year, out of the 30+ books I read, it was very difficult to narrow down because they were all very good.  Not a single one was bad or poorly written, so those books categorized as “Worst” simply did not live up to my expectations. As always, these are my biased opinions.

Most Influential

Man’s Search For Meaning by Viktor Frankl

If you have never read this book, you absolutely must.  Frankl masterfully weaves his own story of his time in Nazi concentration camps with his astute observations as a psychoanalyst. He observed that those who believed that they had a purpose to live for, did in fact, remain alive and in relatively better health than those who lacked purpose.  When someone succumbed to hopelessness, it was a quick descent to sickness and death.  This observation inspired what later be came to be known as logo-therapy.  A very important break-through in psychology.  I’m making it sound far more dry than it is, but it is amazing.


Joan Chittester: Essential Writings compiled by Mary Lou Kownacki

I’ve never read a book that expressed so fully the deepest echoes and beliefs etched in my heart. I read this book to pass the time while I sat in hospital after hospital, for hours upon hours with my brother this past month.  So perhaps my memories of the truths encompassed in this book are a bit magnified by that stressful time, but truths are still truths, nevertheless. Joan is a Benedictine nun who is not shy about her beliefs, her deep love of Christ and his church, or her criticisms of it. Her writings are many times a challenge to the church to take a leap of faith in following the example of Christ; specifically in the area of allowing women to fully be acknowledged as an equal part in Christ’s kingdom.


The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame

My only experience with this classic was the Toad’s Wild Ride at Disney World when I was 3 or 4 years old.  I have fond memories of that particular ride because it didn’t scare the bejeezus out of me like the Snow White ride did.  So thinking fondly back to that experience, I had high hopes for a fun and frivolous tale.  Frivolous it was, but not so much fun.  The antics of Mr. Toad sounded too much like someone who struggles with Bipolar and having had way too much experience with being the responsible one trying to keep the Mr. Toad’s alive, I did not find the book enjoyable as I had hoped.


Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry

This book was recommended to me by several friends as being a terrific book, so I must’ve been expecting something different.  The first 13 chapters felt very forced, as if the older male author was having a difficult time knowing what a young woman would think and feel.  (I learned after reading it that this was Berry’s first time writing from a female character’s perspective.  It shows.)  The main character, Hannah Coulter, is extremely passive in her own life and her reactions to things that happen in her life seem rather unbelievable.  She’s alternately timid and bold, and seems to cry at the drop of a hat sometimes, but not at the times when tears seem most natural or appropriate. For instance, the first few chapters are all about her strong love for her grandmother, but when her grandmother passes away half way through the book, there is one quick passing sentence.  No grief, just a quick “oh yeah, and by the way, and she died a while back” sort of feel. The book gets significantly “truer” as she ages, because her thinking becomes less gender-driven and more universal and parental in her reflections.  There are some gold nuggets of wisdom about life and aging tucked away in there too.  So although I wanted to rip up the first half, I was glad that I held on until the end.

Best Fiction

The Power and the Glory by Graham Green

This was by far the most moving of the fictional books I read this year.  This book takes place in Mexico at a time when the Catholic Church was being persecuted.  Without giving anything away (because it is an absolute must-read), the story follows a persecuted “Whiskey Priest” who is running from the law, while still trying to minister throughout Mexico and how, even though he is completely flawed, God is still able to work through him.  It is a beautiful and redemptive picture of unmerited grace for highly imperfect people.


 All The Lights We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr

This was truly a lovely book. The story is a weaving of the lives of two characters: a blind girl and a German boy before and during WWII.  The chapters are short and lyrical and for the movement of the story, Doerr chooses to jump back and forth in time to give us enough thrilling forward glimpses to keep the reader hooked, and enough backward glances to help us love and feel connected to the characters and their disparate worlds.  He does a wonderful job making the reader “see through the eyes” of the blind girl too—how things feel, smell, taste, and sound. I can see how some readers might be annoyed at the shifting back and forth in time and perspectives, but by the end, I understood why he did it, and I found it to be essential to the story-telling.


Best Non-Fiction

The Devil in the White City by Erik Larson

If you have ever desired to be immersed in a different time in history, Larson has done the enormous amounts of research to help you do that.  It is the crazy story of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair and the amazing amount of work and perseverance that made it possible.  Alongside the story of the building of the fair is also the story of America’s first serial killer, H.H. Holmes.  If you are disturbed by that sort of thing (and trust me, it’s disturbing), you can either skip those chapters or forego reading the book altogether.


In Cold Blood by Truman Capote

After learning about Truman Capote’s friendship to Harper Lee (the author of To Kill a Mockingbird) and the fact that she helped him do the research for this book, I felt like I might be missing out if I didn’t read it.  I was not disappointed.  This book is filled with thoughtful prose of the southern variety (to which I’m always biased), fully developed characters masterfully interwoven throughout the story, and a kind of psychological study on the what drives people to kill.  If you enjoy history or understanding the “why of people” like I do, you will really enjoy this book.


The New Tsar: The Rise and Reign of Vladimer Putin by Steven Lee Myers

I’ve been following Russian politics since I was in high school because I’m a nerd and weird, so for me, this book filled in quite a few gaps that Russian and American news reporting left at the time of many of the events mentioned in the book.  Myers did a wonderful job with his in-depth research for the book, gathering both favorable and unfavorable information. I especially enjoyed reading of Putin’s private interactions and conversations with former President George Bush.  It was interesting to get a glimpse of the private Putin—quiet, abusive, and aloof—not just be fed more state-issued propaganda of the powerful leader (as much of Russian news does). If you have any interest in international politics, it seems like now is the perfect time to get better idea of Russia’s enigmatic leader…since we might be seeing much more of him in the coming years.

Best Memoir

Helmet For My Pillow by Robert Leckie

You may be familiar with this book since the series “The Pacific” was partially based on it.  It is a beautifully written account of WWII in the Pacific Theater, replete with enough 1940’s culture references and colloquialisms, to drop you right into that time period.  Leckie is a Marine Corps grunt with the heart of a writer. The most amazing thing about this memoir in contrast to many others, is the view of nature being more brutal an enemy than the actual Japanese enemy.  And the memoir is bigger and more important than just reporting about his own time in war.  He uses the tortuous monotony of the everyday trials to bring forth the bigger questions about life and humanity in an eloquent, but unsentimental way.


All Over But the Shoutin’ by Rick Bragg

My husband (the dear, sweet man) bought me this book after he heard the author on NPR talking about his memoir.  Even though Bragg was raised in Alabama in the 1960’s and 70’s, I could not help but notice the many similarities to my own southern upbringing (probably the reason my husband thought of me).  From the foods we ate, to the common phrases, to the societal norms and pressures that neither of our family’s lived up to, it seemed all too familiar.  I really appreciated his honesty about himself and the confessional feel that ran throughout the book.

Best Fantasy

The Name of the Wind and Wise Man’s Fear (The King Killer Chronicles #1-2) by Patrick Rothfuss

These are tomes (the first being 661 pages and the second being 993 pages) and are totally worth every.single.word.  I cannot say enough good things about these books.  They are imaginative, exciting, eloquent, and just plain amazing!  If you decide to read them, know that there are two downsides to reading this series. 1) You will need a few months to reset your fantasy expectations because once you’ve tasted a fine French wine, everything else will taste like vinegar and grape juice. 2) The last book in the series is not finished yet (it’s been 5 years).

The Best, Worst, and Most Thought-Provoking Books I Read in 2015



Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh

Beauty, depth, and hope from darkness: I believe those words best sum up this book.  I don’t want to say too much if you’ve never read it, but it is probably my favorite book of the year.  The characters are memorable, humorous, and realistically multi-dimensional.  Probably a big part of why I enjoyed this so much is because I live with a devoted Catholic, an Atheist, and an Agnostic.  Come to think of it, I suppose it sounds like the beginning of a joke.  Anyway, it’s a terrific book that you should read.  And as a friend of mine encouraged me, “…it gets bleak, but the payoff is worth it.”  He was right.


The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins

I thought this would be a good ole fashioned mystery, but no, it is much more.  This book really takes the lead for memorable narration.  Throughout the book, there are several opinionated narrators, all trying to tell their part of the mystery of the missing Moonstone; essentially, a delightful play in perspectives.  The first narrator is an elderly steward for a wealthy family who is rather old fashioned in his view of women, and seems to find all of the answers to life’s perplexing problems in the pages of “Robinson Crusoe.”  The next narrator is the prudish churchwoman who has a way of always being right (at least in her mind), and  has plenty of hellfire and damnation tracts on hand to give to any sinful passersby.  Having known a handful of people like her throughout my life, it made me cringe and laugh simultaneously to think that the author must be basing her on someone he knew.  It’s really a wonderfully written book with delightful characters, oh, and a lovely little mystery.


I know why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

I always had her book on my to-read list, but it was hearing of her passing that made me want to read it this year.  What a poignantly told story in a uniquely moving voice (both in the narrative sense and in the literal sense).  I listened to this as an audiobook so that I could hear Ms. Angelou’s rich voice telling her own story and I’m so glad I did.  There were so many well-written phrases, and unique ways of describing events.  Her story is one of struggles, of beautiful moments, of harsh realities, and childhood innocence.  If you like listening to audiobooks, this one is a must.


Measure of a Man: From Auschwitz Survivor to Presidents’ Tailor by Martin Greenfield

As the title explains, the book is about a Holocaust survivor who immigrated to America to become one of the most highly-sought after tailors in the US.  Who knew that making suits could be so interesting?  I certainly did not.  Mr. Greenfield is quite the character and has an engaging way of telling his story.  It’s definitely worth a fun, fast read.



Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

I need to first say, that this is not a bad book; quite the contrary, it is so well-written that I had visceral reaction.  I believe that if I were a different person who did not grow up surrounded by so much Fundamentalist hypocrisy, and did not have a family filled with wayward children, I might have liked this book.  But, I don’t and I didn’t.  In a handful of places the book was simply boring.  The characters, with the exception of two, were flat and two dimensional in some ways, and oddly deep and three dimensional in other ways, making one feel that either the whole book is the author’s sloppy attempt to shove her beliefs on the reader through an Uncle Tom-like narrator, or it is masterfully crafted to show the unreliable narrator’s own pious blindness toward himself and parts of reality.  I tend to think it is the latter.

It is a memoir written by an aged Congregationalist pastor, John Ames, to his young son before he dies.  The tale ultimately centers around a wayward young man that Pastor Ames, who speaks often of forgiveness, refuses to forgive.  In some ways, I appreciated the glaring hypocrisies of the pastor, able to judge and point out the speck in another’s eye, while glossing over the plank in his own, but it was also far too familiar, too realistic.  The only true Christ-like character in the story is the pastor’s wife, who I found to be intriguing, mysterious, and hardly in the story.  The wayward young man I also really liked.  He was, for all his many faults, honest with himself.


So when, at the end, the pastor forgives the wayward man without asking forgiveness for his own sin, it was too much for me.  I finished the book with a sour taste in my mouth. But perhaps one that was supposed to be there?


The Philosophy of Edith Stein by Dr. Antonio Calcagno

I was going into reading this book with little prior knowledge of the Catholic Phenomenologist (no, that is not a ghost hunter) Edith Stein.  The first few chapters devoted to explaining her life as a Jewish Atheist Phenomenologist who converted to Catholicism, and later died in a concentration camp, were good. When it came to explaining her views of Phenomenology and the importance of the Catholic feminine, I was disappointed.  Many times, the author used various words and phrases in other languages (German, Latin, French) without any explanation or clarification to their meaning or English equivalent.  I did a good bit of translation throughout and was dismayed that a majority of his foreign language word choices held no greater significance than their English counterparts, so his word choices seemed to me, pretentious.  For the most part, it was probably just my personal distaste for academic verbosity, and my inner drive for efficiency, that made me dislike the writing so much.  There were many times where the author went the most roundabout way to make his point, I lost interest, had to start over, and then was able to summarize what he’d said in four paragraphs in three short sentences (then again, a true philosopher probably appreciates the nuance that I have no patience for).  And as a book about the writings/philosophy of Edith Stein, and although referring constantly to her writings, there was a disconcerting dearth of quotes and little of her own writing included (plenty of which she did).  Some of her arguments were interesting and thought-provoking, but I think another book, perhaps a translated version of something she wrote would be more beneficial to the novice reader of Edith Stein’s philosophy.


Most Thought-Provoking


Outside the Magic Circle: The Autobiography of Virginia Foster Durr

This book is an edited version of a recorded conversation with Ms. Virginia Foster Durr and I’m so glad that it is.  Many of the beautiful southern idioms and colloquialisms come through magnificently, and her southern cadence is etched all over the pages of the book.  She winds her way through the fascinating details of growing up in the impoverished and racist south, her school years, and her journey of how she turned from being a racist southerner to one of the foremost civil rights and incidentally, women’s rights activists, in the 1940-60’s.  A terrific read and interesting perspective on all sorts of historical events.

Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey

This was the quintessential book to sum up my year of reading feminist literature.  This was a refreshing, yet honest look at where the church is now, its interpretation of the Bible (aka its tendency to interpret through the lens of patriarchy), and the subsequent consequences.  Overall, it is an encouraging call to men and women alike to change the church through love and grace, embracing all believers in their God-given callings, regardless of gender.

The Best, Worst, and Most Thought-Provoking Books of 2014



Les Miserables by Victor Hugo

The epitome of BEAUTY.  If I had to say what kinds of stories delve deepest into my soul, it is this story: redemption through great suffering and sacrifice.  I read the unabridged version and I’m so glad that I did.  Before reading it, I had several people tell me to just skip the endless chapters of historical narrative.  Never.  Not only was I immersed in the history of the time period which in turn gave the fictional story much more depth, but Hugo’s observations were oft times interesting, cynical, and witty.  If you’ve ever wanted to know more about the battle of Waterloo, convents, or the sewer system of Paris, this is the book for you 🙂

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

What a wonderful thriller.  The writing is fabulous and the characters so real, it’s hard to put this book down.  And that’s saying something, since I grew up watching the Hitchcock movie over and over.  Honestly, I would recommend both.  Great book, great movie.  The best part was, I got this book for a dollar at a library sale. Win.

Angela’s Ashes by Frank McCourt

It takes a truly talented writer to be able to tell you about his miserable Irish childhood and make you laugh and cringe all the while.  He does such a wonderful job of capturing his childhood understanding of God, school, sickness, death, and hunger and bringing you through that into his young adulthood.  His writing is sarcastic, witty, and beautiful in a dark way.

Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption by Laura Hillenbrand

This was my final book of the year, because I wanted to read it over Christmas break.  And boy did I save the best for last. Hillenbrand does a terrific job of weaving the bigger historical picture with the life of Zamperini.  Warning: once you begin reading this fast-paced, masterfully-written book about the crazy life of Louis Zamperini, everything else in you life will be put on hold (eating, sleeping, etc…).  You must read it.  It’s just that good.  Beware.

The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

When I was 16, a woman at church warned me about how horrible a book it was.  It was about a really dysfunctional family who went to Africa as missionaries and failed miserably.  With the memory of that awful review always staying at the back of my mind, I decided to read it if I ever found it.  As luck would have it, I found it at the same library sale as other books on this list.  The writing is fantastic and at times, poetic.  If you have traveled or lived in a foreign country, or especially if you are a child of a parent with a personality disorder, you will identify much with this family.  It is a wonderful book in that it is dripping with harsh, ugly and sometimes beautiful truths.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

After reading “American Gods” last year, and although not liking the story but appreciating his writing and imagination, I decided to give him another go this year.  I’m so glad that I did.  He is a masterful storyteller and oh so delightfully creative.  This book kept me enraptured, enchanted, and constantly guessing as to where this tale might be going.  I was mostly wrong.  Yay!

The Way of Kings: Book One of the Stormlight Archive by Brandon Sanderson

I know that loads of people hate the fantasy genre.  I do not.  However, I do concede that there is an overwhelming amount of crappy fantasy and a dearth of good fantasy writers.  But Sanderson, is where it’s at.  This guy is it.  This series is it.  If you have never before read fantasy, don’t start with this guy and especially not this series because you will forever after be disappointed even with some of the other big names.



A Thousand Gifts by Anne Voskamp

In case this is your favorite book in the whole world, you may stop reading now.  I have gotten much flack from the female Evangelical Christian community about my views on this book, but I do not apologize for my opinions.

The point of the book is great.  She has some good, relevant and deep points.  But getting to those nuggets of wisdom is a trial akin to swimming through a murky lake at night with your eyes closed.  It’s almost impossible to stay on track.  Why?  Bad writing.  Lots of people argue with me that she’s being artistic or poetic.  I love poetry.  I love art.  No, this is an extended edition Hallmark card.  Let me quote you a passage (and no, I’m not picking the only one or even the worst of the bunch—I simply opened the book and pointed to a page).

“I slam upright, jolt the bed hard, hands gripping the cotton sheets wild.  There’s a halo of light by the door.  I breathe, heave breathe.  There are stars…My chest pounds hooves of a thousand stallions running on and away, the universe outside the window holds—the one stuck through with stars—and I breathe, I breathe.”

Did you like this writing?  If so, read the book and enjoy.  But here’s the thing.  No, I don’t like fluffy, lacy writing, but it’s more than that.  This book somehow rings partially false and makes me ask the question, what is the point of being a writer?  Is it not to tell truth?  It’s strikes me that she’s trying to hard to impress readers with the truths she’s discovered, but leaves some of the darker truths unexplained or ignored.  I sense an underlying depression or sadness that may be helped but not fully cured by moment-by-moment thankfulness, but is never acknowledged.  Thus, making the sincere acknowledgement of God’s graces to us, seem slightly Pollyanna tinged.  Then again, I could be completely wrong.

Death Be Not Proud by John Gunther

This is another book that rang false in a very sad way.  This is a book written by a father about the last years of his son who is dying of a rare brain tumor.  From the point of view of experimental medical practices in the 1950’s, it is fascinating (who knew that doctors experimented with mustard gas to shrink tumors?).  However, from a personal point of view of John Jr. (the son), the book is extremely lacking.  If John Sr.’s point was to simply chronicle the medical journey of his son in the most sterile, detailed way possible, then he did his job well.  As the reader, I know John Jr. was witty, very bright, and had a promising science career ahead of him, but that was all.  I could not help but wonder if the father who was writing the book, was unable to bring himself to write personal moments with his son because it was too difficult, or were they non-existent?  My theory is that either the father, the son, or both, lay somewhere on the autism spectrum and thus, had a difficult time identifying emotions in play.  The most personal moments of the book lay at the end written by the ex-wife and mother exploring the idea of loss, death, and sadness.  Overall, I came away with a hollow feeling.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt

After reading her previous best seller last year (see review) and being disappointed by the story itself, I thought I would give her another chance.  Nope.  If I thought the last one was bad, this one has even more drinking, drugs, and an even more fatalistic ending than before.  So here’s the moral of the whole long story: the only thing that makes this wretched life worth living is the need and desire for beauty.  Or as Dovstoevsky so eloquently put it, “Beauty will save the world.”


Most Thought-Provoking

Girl at the End of the World by Elizabeth Esther

This book really got me thinking about what it was like being a woman in a cult.  As I read her honest account, it brought back memories of the fear of eternal damnation, the trying to always be perfect, and the ridiculous standards for women made by men.  If you grew up in fundamentalist church or cult, you might really find this book not only interesting, but encouraging.


Bonheoffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy by Eric Metaxas

This is a wonderfully written autobiography that weaves history, faith, family, and the endless search for God, oh yeah, and Bonheoffer’s part in it all together.  It is a large book that asks large questions and delves deeply into the heart of Bonheoffer’s faith.  It is not a light read, but it is a must-read.

The Best, Worst, and Most Thought-Provoking Books of 2013

Picture by tubagooba CC Some Rights Reserved

Picture by tubagooba CC Some Rights Reserved

Have I ever told you how much I love fiction and memoirs?  I love them very much.  Why? Because fiction (as well as memoir) is like seeing reality portrayed in a stain glass window.  The story is condensed into its most poignant scenes, but the more subtle elements are there if you know how to look for them.  It’s colorful, the characters are complex and sometimes exaggerated.  But what makes this stained glass mean anything is the light of truth that shines through it.  If that truth isn’t there, then the story is useless and if it has no different color, its a plain realistic window.

The best of books are able to do this without obscuring the truth too much, but the worst books are the ones written by authors who are either unsure about how to tell the truth or not out to tell truth at all.  They are there to sell books.

So, as I’ve read quite a few in 2013, I’d like to share with you my mixed bag.  Suggestions of things to read, things to avoid.

Best Fiction

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini

What can I say?  I’m not quite finished with this book and I already love it.  As with his previous books, it’s full of artistic stories with plenty of reality mixed in.  It reads like someone telling you a bedtime story, and that’s exactly how the book begins.  Warning: I was cautioned ahead of time that because there are so many intertwining stories, one needs to keep a character cheat sheet handy.  I haven’t needed one, but it might be because I knew in advance that if I didn’t pay close attention to names, I might get confused.  So since I was warned, I figured you should be too.


As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

It took me a bit to really get into the lingo of this book, but once I did, I could not put it down.  It is a story about a very dysfunctional family.  For me, this book hit very close to home, and many times, I had to set it aside because it made me so angry at the predictability of some of the character’s choices. Warning: If you’ve lived a relatively charmed life, you will find this book terribly disturbing.  If you can relate, read it.  It might help you understand your childhood a little more.


The Call of the Wild by Jack London

There are three authors that I love for their writing styles: John Steinbeck, Cormack McCarthy, and Jack London.  They have the unique ability to use as few perfectly placed words as possible to tell a very powerful story.  For a long time, I avoided reading this because its…about a dog or wolf or something.  But let me tell you, this is so beautifully written, and is such a good story, you can’t not read this.  And in full disclosure, this book actually made me tear up in one part (I rarely cry, so I know it’s a moving story if I do).


The Life of Pi by Yann Martel

I enjoyed this book.  It was highly imaginative and fun.  And at several points, I kept thinking, “He must’ve done a lot research.” Warning:  If you listen to it as an audiobook as I did, make sure that you are not running a long distance in the heat of summer while listening to the part where he is thirsting to death.

Pathfinder by Orson Scott Card

This was a fun sci-fi/fantasy book.  It turns time travel on its head and really is just a fun, quick read.  I enjoyed how it begins with a small story, and begins to unfold into a huge story by the end of it.  It’s great for teenagers and young adults.  Warning: It is part of a series of which the second book is not as good, and the third book is not out yet.


Best Memoir

Night by Elie Weisel

For many schools, this book is required reading and rightly so.  It’s the brief and gripping firsthand account of one Holocaust survivor who lived to tell his story about life and death in Auschwitz.


The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson

I checked this one out of the library on audiobook, knowing nothing about it. Warning: This book is laugh-out-loud hilarious.  I began listening to this while at the gym and kept bursting out laughing.  I’m pretty sure that the man next to me was about to call the paddy wagon.  If you have a parent that idealizes growing up in the 50’s, this will make you laugh all the more.


All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot

This one makes me smile every time I think about it.  This is a book for which the word nostalgic was created. If you’ve never read it, you must.  It will make you laugh, smile, and wish that you too could ride in an unreliable car in jolly old England.


Thought Provoking

This is the category I’m using to say that although I didn’t love the book, I’m glad I read it.

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert Heinlein

For years, I’ve seen this on the best of sci-fi lists, but since sci-fi isn’t generally my favorite, I kept putting it off.  Heinlein is creative, preachy, and highly opinionated.  Spoiler Alert: It was interesting, and the Christ-like death of the main character was predictable from midway through the book, but it was interesting.


American Gods by Neil Gaiman

This book really stuck in my head.  After being sorely disappointed by the cliched and angsty treatment of Greeks gods in The Lightning Thief, I was really looking forward to this one.  It did not disappoint.  It was not predictable, the characters were fascinating, and the story drew me in.  Warning: There are several “uncomfortable” scenes in this book, if you know what I mean. *clears throat*


Dune by Frank Herbert

I really don’t have too much to say about this book.  I was told that I would love it, but I didn’t–I liked it.  I found it interesting with some wonderfully creative ideas, a wonderful plot, but I think I just really disliked the authors writing style as well as all of the characters.  They all seemed completely devoid of hearts.



This is Our Faith by Michael Pinnock

Other than most chapters beginning with old e-mail forward jokes and stories, the book was as thrilling as staring at a blank wall.  I’ll take the wall.  I’m not ragging on this book because it’s a Catholic book, just to keep it clear.  It’s just that it’s terribly written.  It’s for those who have grown up in the Catholic church, and not for Protestants wanting to know more.  So, to really learn more about the Catholic faith, I bought the Catechism–it was much more informative.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

Let me begin with the one positive thins about this book: it was very well written.  Okay, now to save you some reading time.  There are four things to say about this book: drugs, alcohol, arrogance up the wazoo, and poor choices.  The characters were all rich jerks, the narrator wanted to be one of them, and they all killed people.  The end.

The Lightning Thief by Rick Riorden

This.  This was awful.  Perhaps it’s because I’m not 10 and I’ve read other books and I have an imagination.  There was so much potential, but every time that an exciting turn could be taken, nope.  Riorden had to keep it as boring as possible.  How do you make a book about a boy finding out that Greek gods are real and that he’s one of their sons, boring?  Honestly, I would think it would take more work.  And if an impressionable 10 year old did read this, they might come away with a terrible attitude problem like the main character has.

There you have it.