The books of 2018 and top picks

End-of-year book posts are always and forever my favorite part of the book blogging world, both to write and to read. This is the first year I’ve both started and ended the year with Goodreads without dropping the ball somewhere in the middle. Watching that progress bar grow was motivational for me, and it helped me surpass my own goal of seventy books and finish something like eighty-two this year. (It also helped me catch up on my blog list when I got dreadfully behind on it.)

What’s noticeably absent from the list are links to reviews. I wanted to blog–I miss it!–but something kept me from it this year. Usually it was time, and when time was available, motivation was lacking. I hope to do better in 2019. ๐Ÿ™‚

Okay, enough palavering. It’s time to get to the point of the post. ๐Ÿ™‚

I read a lot of good books this year! In general, I only finish books that I like at least moderately, so there are no real clunkers on my list, ever. However, some always rise to the top. In no particular order, here are my favorites of the year:

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Beauty by Robin McKinley surprised me. I read The Hero and the Crown by her a couple of years ago and enjoyed it but didn’t love it. I enjoyed this one so much that I did manage to review it . Reading Beauty also sparked an interest in fairy tales in me that led to my teaching an elementary books class at our homeschool co-op in which we spent the first semester reading and writing our own fractured fairy tales. One never knows where these bookish rabbit trails will lead!

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis was my first book by her but certainly not my last. I had purchased the audio of this one way back during one of those fantastic two-for-one sales during which I’m always determined to get my credit’s worth of listening time. I certainly did on this one; it’s over twenty-six hours long! (That’s a lot of pavement pounding, cooking, and driving.) I love history but I’m only a very casual and infrequent fan of sci-fi, but since Willis’ are heavy on the history, I totally fell for it. Jenny Sterlin’s narration of this made it so, so good. I was totally in love with the main character, Kivrin, and the hero of the tale, Father Roche. I wept for the tragedy of the Middle Ages by the end of the novel. If you haven’t read Connie Willis, this one is a great one to start with. (Bonus: this novel gave me the name for my own puppy, if I ever have one that I get to name. ๐Ÿ™‚ )

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier is another audiobook that I purchased for a few dollars during an Audible sale. This one is just delightful, in a perfectly gruesome way. It’s smart and clever and suspenseful and imaginative and full of heart. I loved it. Michael Page’s narration makes it that much more enjoyable. In fact, I loved it so much that we’re kicking off our 2019 with it as our lunchtime read-aloud. I don’t know if it’s possible for my children to enjoy it more than I did.

I did a lot of re-reading this year due to the fact that I’m teaching everywhere-and-all-the-people these days (co-op, community college, and three of my own children). Is it cheating if I pick a book I’ve read several times as a favorite again? The Wednesday Wars by Gary D. Schmidt made my list in 2014, but when I think back on 2018, I’ll remember reading and re-reading (and listening and re-listening to the fantastic audiobook narrated by Joel Johnstone) this book. It was made all the sweeter for me because I got to share it with a dozen or so of the best middle schoolers I know.

Is it possible for Leif Enger to disappoint? I’m not saying it’s impossible, but it sure would be surprising. His writing is so interesting that at times it verges on the edge of distraction for me (as in I’m so distracted by how he says it that I forget what he’s saying), but his stories are also so completely compelling that I am drawn back to both the plot and the themes so thoroughly that I never lose the thread or my interest in it. Virgil Wander was just as good to me as his two previous novels.

The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings is one I read as a child at some point. I picked it up again to read alongside Louise as a part of her year of learning. (Side note: our homeschooling, and my thoughts about learning/education, has evolved to the point that I don’t even know what to call it anymore.) A multi-tasker by necessity, I tackled this one also as an audiobook. Well! Let me say that there is no way I could’ve enjoyed this more had I read it myself. Tom Stechschulte’s narration for this Pulitzer Prize winning novel set in the swamps and backwoods of Florida in the mid-to-late 1800s could not have been better. It also scratched my itch for more regional literature, a genre (subgenre?) which never fails to delight me. This is one book I regret not having not a chance to review. I LOVED it. I think it’s my tip-top favorite of the year.

Nonfiction

Unfortunate title aside, Yes, Your Teen Is Crazy: Loving Your Kid Without Losing Your Mind by Michael J. Bradley is full of wisdom about parenting during the teen years. The best take-away I got from it is just the reminder that the adolescent brain is a work-in-progress. I think I need to re-read this one every few months (or sometimes every week! ๐Ÿ˜‰ ).

Mere Churchianity by Michael Spencer is something of a sentimental favorite, though the book itself isn’t sentimental at all. I’ve been an Internet Monk reader for years, and though the man himself is no longer with us, his words live on in a weekly republished column, Monday with Michael Spencer.  Thoughtful, reasonable, and above all, humble–these are words that I’d use to describe iMonk. We could use more of that in our world today.

Yes, I read it. I didn’t really want to–I thought it was about failed homeschooling, and I don’t need anything else to fuel my own self-doubt. However, curiosity won out over trepidation, and I figured out that this book isn’t so much about homeschooling as it is about extreme dysfunction due to mental illness and the tenacity to overcome seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Educated by Tara Westover is the one book I talked about the most this year, and it’s definitely the one that sent me to the internet in search of more information about the author and her family than any other book I read. Whew.

After Educated, what was to stop me from plunging even further into the abyss of extreme familial dysfunction? I couldn’t resist. The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls was even slightly more riveting than Educated, mostly due to the fact that a large part of the dysfunction in the Walls family was fueled by alcoholism, a refrain that is familiar to me. Double whew.

So I must have a thing for heartrending true stories. What Stands in a Storm by Kim Cross tells a tale that I am a little too familiar with because I lived through it, though (thankfully!) on the sidelines. This is the story of the deadly tornado outbreak of April 2011. I had to take breaks while reading this one just to recover a bit emotionally. It’s a day that changed the South forever. I know I’ll never disregard a tornado watch or warning again, and especially so since reading this book.

Two thousand eighteen was a year of change for me and my family. Oh, with children, no year is the same, but 2018 was particularly challenging because the dynamic in our home school changed. One child went to school in an actual building away from home! To say this affected me is something of an understatement because homemaking and homeschooling have been my full time occupation for a decade-and-a-half now. Pete and Geri Scazzero have been very instrumental in my life spiritually in helping me navigate life transitions by calling me back to some very basic principles that have helped me weather change. The Emotionally Healthy Woman by Geri Scazzero helped me remember that I am a person, too, outside of who- or whatever else I am for my family. God has plans for me, too, as a person, outside of my role as a wife/mother/teacher. This book helped me remember that.

Read-Alouds

Yes, things changed this year, but we’re still reading aloud. We don’t read aloud as much as we did, at least the girls and I don’t, but I’m still reading aloud with three (and sometimes four) children, both collectively and separately, in different configurations. These are my favorite read-alouds of the year. (I’m including audiobook we listened to together in this group.)

The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind by William Kamkwamba was a part of the girls’ geography studies last school year for the continent of Africa. We listened to the audiobook (delightfully read by Chike Johnson) on something of a whim–I figured a professional narrator would do the Malawian names justice and I just couldn’t. I didn’t expect to love this one so much. To me, this book provides a perfect picture of what self-driven education looks like. That’s true learning.

Is there an author more fun to read aloud than Richard Peck? I think not! Here Lies the Librarian was a re-read for me, and boy, did I enjoy it.

Shane by Jack Schaefer is a nostalgic pick for me because I read it for the first time in ninth grade, and this year I read it aloud (from my original copy!) to my twelve year old. I thought we might enjoy dabbling in a genre we’ve barely explored (the Little Britches series is the only one that comes to mind that we’ve read that’s similar, and she doesn’t remember it, sniff sniff). Although it’s pretty violent, there is something about this book that is very moving. We enjoyed it a lot.

I read The Girl Who Drew Butterflies: How Maria Merian’s Art Changed Science by Joyce Sidman with my young teen, and I loved it. Joyce Sidman is one of my favorite modern poets, and picture book biography (especially ones written for older elementary children to teenagers!) is one of my favorite genres. The bonus in this book are the copious illustrations, excerpts from Merian’s own writing, and Sidman’s original poems. We raised Monarchs last year, and Louise ending up taking the responsibility of nurturing and keeping the chrysalises safe until the butterflies emerged. I love nature and was so glad to share this title with my child who loves it like I do.

When I asked my children themselves what their favorite read-alouds of the year were, Louise (age just-turned-thirteen last month) named Shane as her top pick.

The DLM had a harder time choosing. His number one book was The Warden and the Wolf King by Andrew Peterson (we read the entire Wingfeather Saga this year!) He also loved the Penderwicks (we’ve read the first two books), the Vanderbeekers, and Escape from Mr. Lemoncello’s Library.

So even if I didn’t blog much, we did read a lot, and we read a lot of good books. This was also a big year for audiobooks for me, and I don’t expect that to change. My biggest find this year was the subscription service Scribd. I have a very hard time keeping Louise in books (she’s read something in the neighborhood of 250 books since May, a number that astonishes even me), and Scribd has helped plug that hole.

I’m eager for whatever bookish 2019 has in store!

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3 Comments

  1. I am enjoying getting acquainted with your blog. A few of these titles I have read, a few I have intended to read (my curiosity is piqued even more now!), and a few I’d never heard of.

    Thanks for the reviews and Happy New Year!

  2. Great picks! I’ve wanted to read Educated for the longest time now, I should get to it soon.
    Virgil Wander looks amazing, I might give it a try soon.

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