The Books of 2023

I may have mentioned this during my other blog posts about reading challenges and how I felt that I really didn’t savor the books I was reading because I was on such a deadline. I was constantly checking the progress percentage and felt rushed to get through one book so I could hop on to another.

So this year, I learned. I evolved. I made different arrangements.

Now I’m just recording the books as I read them within the calendar year of 2023. Smart, eh? I thought so! So if you’re curious what I’m reading, read on!

A Wrinkle in Time (Madeline L’Engle)

I’m fairly certain that I read this book in elementary school, but as usual, I’ve been revisiting books from my youth to see if there are any insights that may be different since I’ve matured. If the book was a school assignment, I likely read it only as deeply as I needed to so that I didn’t fail a quiz or enough to write a book report or answer a question in class. So this book, I’m happy to say, was a nice throwback. I’d been reading a lot of bummer stories and so I wanted another palate cleanser. This fit the bill. I am fairly certain I never saw any Christian undertones when I read the book originally, but I sure saw them this time around! I mean, when your author quotes the Bible, it’s a dead giveaway. So that was refreshing! And it was a very creative and provocative story. (Can I just say, I’m also really glad I haven’t watched the recent movie? Fairly certain whatever spiritual values imparted in the book were in some way woke-ified in the movie.)

Of Mice and Men (John Steinbeck)

Unsure how this one fell into my thinking, but it just crawled in there as something I wanted to re-read. Same reasons as above. Had I changed at all since I’d read it before? I’m probably wiser. More appreciative of a good relationship story. And, yes, I was thinking about the ending the whole time because while I’d forgotten many other pieces of the story, the ending was crystal clear many years later.

Tell the Bees That I Have Gone (Diana Gabaldon)

Reading Challenge 2022

Oh yes. I’m back at it! Adding one more book this year to the challenge! Erp!

Lesson Learned (Already): One thing I’ve noticed with reading challenges, this being my second one, is that you’re so busy trying to get through all the books before the year ends, that you really lose sight of the original goal: read more books, expand your horizons, get lost in a great book, discover a new author, find your new favorite author, just love reading because it’s so fun.

Because I’m flying through one book to the next, I am not able to really slow down and savor the words or the story like I normally would. In turn, that may have some bearing on the enjoyment I’ve found from reading some of these books. (So take my thoughts and impressions with a grain of salt, is what I’m saying.) I find myself constantly checking the % of how much I have read. So I’m thinking next year, rather than put the weight and stress of a number on my shoulders, I’ll just jot down the books I read instead and see if that makes a difference. Stay tuned in 2023.

Reading Goal: 22 books

The Last Wish (Andrzej Sapkowski)

Book 0.5 of The Witcher series. I’ve played the newest version of the game on Xbox (not yet finished because I restarted after so much time away), we’ve been watching the Netflix series, and so I thought, “Well, why not see what all the hub bub is about?” Good book, an easy read, and I get moments of, “Oh right. I remember this from the game / show.”

Sword of Destiny (Andrzej Sapkowski)

Book 0.7 of The Witcher series. I inhaled the first book and breezed right into the second. The chapters remind me a little of Sherlock Holmes in that while chronologically they are in order on a global scale, they’re like little mini adventures, not necessarily attached to each other. I could see myself wasting my whole reading challenge by just reading these so I decided to stop at this book and do something different for a while.

Jayber Crow (Wendell Barry)

This one came as a recommendation to me by my friend and coworker, Bob Hostetler. What a glorious book! It was so beautiful it made my heart ache. Hard to explain it and do it justice. So I’m not going to try. But think of a place where you are from (in this case a small town in Kentucky) as being so important with the landscape, your memories, and the history and community that it takes on a life of its own. Almost it’s own character.

Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making (Andrew Peterson)

This also came highly recommended by (and was a present from) a coworker, Thomas Henshell. Andrew Peterson is a singer, songwriter, author and likely a host of other impressive titles who writes about chasing your passion as a follower of Christ. His writing is honest, humble, and wise. He’s gone through ups and downs, failed, pushed through doubts and fears, and along the way has made significant impact in his field, his community of believers, and in his work. Great book.

The Screwtape Letters (C.S. Lewis)

I’d read this some time before, but had forgotten all about it so I picked it up again. Written from the perspective of fallen angels an uncle and his nephew try to “snare” a human and the book follows a bunch of letters from Screwtape to Wormwood. Enjoyable and convicting at the same time.

When Narcissism Comes to Church: Healing Your Community From Emotional and Spiritual Abuse (Chuck DeGroat)

Another recommendation from a coworker. Not something I’d normally read, but I figured I’d try it out. It was very informative and instructional and – in many ways – sad. That will make sense if you read it. But there are answers on how to handle the situation if ever you’re in the situation where you’re in a church or ministry where there is an issue of narcissism.

Blood of Elves (Andrzej Sapkowski)

Book 1 of The Witcher Series. It’s always a good time to follow Geralt of Rivia, Yennefer, and Ciri in their lives and adventures. I’ve since read ANOTHER Witcher book, so I can’t even remember what this one was about. Suffice to say, Ciri is a handful, headstrong and talented, Yennefer has a love/hate relationship with Geralt, and Geralt goes where the monsters and money is. Always an easy read.

The Convenient Marriage (Georgette Heyer)

This was yet another recommendation from a coworker, so even though I had sworn off regency romances, when I found out it wasn’t buried in sex, I decided to try it out. After I’d read it, I found out it was actually written in the early 1900s so it was the novel that inspired a genre! Funnest fact? The heroine of the book had a stutter.

The Time of Contempt (Andrzej Sapkowski)

Book 2 in The Witcher series. This one I feel like should have been retitled, “Ciri’s time in the desert” because, frankly, that’s the only thing I remember about that book. Oh. And a unicorn. And a major war started and everyone gets sucked into it. After having played the game, and watched the Netflix series, it’s so interesting to see some names and places originated within the fiction.

Golden Age (The Shifting Tides, #1) (James Maxwell)

Is it bad that I’d forgotten this one and I just finished it in June? Not much to tell on this one (obviously, since I’d forgotten it and had to look it up) but the story was pretty interesting. Fantasy. Some themes that are vaguely reminiscent of religious themes but I’ll let you determine if you find them oddly or aptly used.

Baptism of Fire (Andrzej Sapkowski)

Book 3 of The Witcher series. I feel this one is “the time Geralt went to find Ciri” and then it lasts forever. Oh, “and his adventures along the way”. I think I should have paced myself a bit more, but the writing is good and the shenanigans he gets into are always interesting.

The Tower of Swallows (Andrzej Sapkowski)

Book 4 of The Witcher series and now I’m starting to seriously lose track of where I’m at because some of these are more about Ciri than Geralt and I feel like this is one of them.

The Lady of the Lake (Andrzej Sapkowski)

Book 5 of The Witcher series. You see I’ve put myself on a mission and ignored my original plan of doing a classic read with a modern read. Oh well, reading is where plans go to die. I will say that I do like how Sapkowski threads fairytales into his books — it’s always interesting to see how he spins it. Very clever. Also this really wraps up the series very well.

The Season of Storms (Andrzej Sapkowski)

I’m actually not sure where, in the timeline, this happens because it’s after he breaks up with Yennefer and before he meets Ciri. A bit unexpected but actually kind of nice to see Geralt on an adventure with Dandelion and some other characters. Also…in this one, I was very mad at mages. Just sayin’. Some spots very hard to read, to be honest. But there is justice. Always justice with Geralt. Take that to the bank.

The Forgotten Home Child. (Genevieve Graham)

Yep. I finished The Witcher series so it was nice to take on a new book. This one was recommended to me by my mother-in-law and it’s about all the orphans shipped from England to families in Canada to help on farms, etc. As with all good intentions, there’s always people who will exploit and this book is no different. It is written in a fictional style but based on a true event. The writing was just okay for me, but the story reminded me a lot of The Orphan Train, which was also heartbreaking. An interesting read and a sad time in Canada’s history.

The Long Day’s Journey Into Night (Eugene O’Neil)

I’m actually in Act 3 of this 4-act play and, other than Alice in Wonderland, I don’t typically read plays. And only then because I didn’t realize that Alice in Wonderland was originally written as a play. Anyway…I’m still reading this one, but from what I understand this is an autobiographical play published (on express direction from the writer) posthumously. It’s a tragedy and kind of a bummer, but it was on the list of 1,000 Books to Read Before You Die and I’d heard the title before, so I thought, “What the heck.” The dialogue is dated, until you remember that this was written in the late 30s / early 40s then it’s spot on. I don’t really like the read but knowing it’s history in some way makes it more compelling for me. The play received a Tony Award for Best Play in 1956 so the fact that I’m not falling all over myself in love with it tells me maybe I’m a boob or I just don’t appreciate things like I should.

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Roal Dahl)

Aw man, now this one brings me back. You’ve probably seen the Johnny Depp version of this tale, but have you seen the Gene Wilder version? If you haven’t, you’ve probably seen the meme, at least. Trust me on this one. Okay, but these movies stem from a quietly adorable and amusing book that I read in elementary school when I was knee high to a grasshopper. So I thought, after some of the heavy reading I’d done recently, I’d go back in time and re-read an old favorite. Did not disappoint, if you can have reading deja vu, I had it. Even the pictures I remembered. Highly recommend, even as an adult.

1984 (George Orwell)

Wow, just haaaad to jump back into the dystopian depressing future, didn’t you, Melissa? Yes. Yes apparently, I did. It’s a classic, how could I not read it? Had no idea how it ended and now I know and kind of right until the last, very last, minute thought it would end differently. (To be fair, I thought the same thing when I watched Logan. So, there you have it. Perpetually disappointed optimist.) Still, spooky how much stuff Orwell got right, considering the book was published in 1949!! Fun fact: Apparently, he wanted to call the book 1980. So glad he went with 1984. Rolls off the tongue better.

The Great Gatsby (F. Scott Fitzgerald)

You know, catching up on all these classics, it’s a lot of work! From the “another ending I did not anticipate” comes, The Great Gatsby. Nope, haven’t seen the movie, but I will at some point check out the Leonardo DiCaprio version. But the book was good. Gatsby, he just tried so hard. And mostly everyone else is atrocious and leechy. Except his neighbor. So, there you have it. My take in less than a sentence.

Neuromancer (William Gibson)

I’m not sure why I got it in my head to do all these dystopian future books. Especially back-to-nearly-back. BUT I did, so it is what it is. The book I understand is probably where it all, in some form or another, started for Cyberpunk and everything along the way. There were so many terms in there that I understood to be legit glossary terminology or, frankly, trademarked company names that I was slightly stunned. So did I love the book, knowing now what I didn’t know then? The foresight was impressive, the world was dark, and people were – frankly – terrible to each other, more or less. The writing, while, insanely creative and visionary, was just ok for me. And I got lost more often than not. Maybe I was too fatigued over the 1984 terms, but it was hard to keep them all straight, honestly. Still, worth the read to be able to say I read it. And to see “where it all started.”

For Whom the Bell Tolls (Ernest Hemingway)

So we went from jumping forward in time to jumping backwards. Didn’t realize Hemingway was a soldier and that he was a journalist in the Spanish Civil War (1936 – 1939). Didn’t realize a lot of things. But I found his writing style so refreshing and clean and easy to read (also found out he called it the iceberg theory) and while this is a long book, and honestly, doesn’t span that long in time, it’s quite a read. I can’t decide if I’m enjoying it or if I’m bored because it really does take its time, but I am definitely seeing how he showcases his characters and it’s quite interesting to me. Fun fact: the entire book, as seemingly long as it was, pretty much encompasses three days in the story.

A Christmas Carol (Charles Dickens)

Wow, talk about cutting it close to the wire! I was thinking about how I could manage to bust out an entire book in just a few days, but I really wanted to read A Christmas Carol since, well, Christmas. Duh! And then as I start reading, I’m watching my Kindle completion percentage going up quickly and I realize, “Oh wait, this is a novella!” and all my problems were solved. Such a great book. Honestly, I thought of Dickens as a little dour and this one provided a lightness that was really a nice way to wrap up 2022.

Reading Challenge 2021

I decided to do a reading challenge again this year.

GOAL: Read 21 books in 2021

Last year, I posted my “thoughts” to Facebook, but this year, no social media, so I’m putting my blog to good use. You’ll discover that my tastes are very eclectic. I try to mix classics with modern so I don’t turn dumb. (Also, I’m really screwed in 2050.)

Anyway, here we go!

1. Stranger in a Strange Land (Robert A Heinlein)

Two words: hated it.

I thought I was reading a book I’d read in high school that I really enjoyed. I was so wrong. Don’t get me wrong, at first as I discovered where the popular word “grok” came from, I was having fun. Then, unfortunately, the book traveled down this hippy dippy free-love / Valentine-as-his-own-religion path, I had to force myself to read on. And the only real reason I did read on was because it was a challenge and I was committed. I’m not a quitter! But I was not liking it.

2. Merry Adventures of Robin Hood (Howard Pyle)

Well it’s a good thing I have some familiarity with the King James Bible because there was a lot of thee and thou floating around this book. An interesting read, though, but the ending was like, “WHAT?! THAT’S how Robin goes out?!”

3. Vanity Fair (William Makepeace Thackeray)

I made the mistake of watching the movie before reading the book, so all I could think of was Reese Witherspoon as Becky Sharp. Holy smokes was this a long one, too! But it’s an interesting take on society, in general, and despite it being written in the mid 1800s, it holds up pretty well when it comes to diving deep into the human condition.

4. Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)

What an amazing book! I loved the premise of this book about family – and not necessarily the one you’re born into. It was also an interesting take on personal responsibility and sacrifice. Not at all what you’d read today, obviously. I found it refreshing.

5. Alice in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll)

Okay, I was not expecting this book to be written as a play. That threw me off right from the beginning.

That and somehow the “free” Amazon Prime rental version I got read like it was written in English as a second language and the formatting was way off. I couldn’t take it and had to buy another copy so I could read it and not feel like I was lost all the time.

I will say the pace of the play and the banter forced me to slow down and really absorb the wordplay. I can’t say I loved it, though it was silly and fun, but I think I was spoiled (and not in a good way) by seeing Tim Burton’s version first, despite this tale being a classic. Oh well, who can figure out preference?

6. Slaughterhouse-Five (Kurt Vonnegut)

I didnot have any expectations on this book other than I knew it was a classic and an anti-war novel written brilliantly and banned at various times in history for whatever reason.

It was strangely interesting to me. I’m not sure what else to say other than, “Was he crazy?”

7. Andromeda Strain (Michael Crichton)

Wow. Considering this was written in the 1960s, it still stands up. Some of the images from the book are a little hokey, but the story is good and Crichton really did his research. I never saw the movie, and I think I’m glad I didn’t. It would have spoiled the book for me.

8. Northanger Abbey (Jane Austen)

Considering the majority of this book takes place in Bath (which I have visited!), I was baffled by the title for a while. Great book, but I would have liked to see some resolution to that horrible Isabella’s machinations. And her pesky, meddlesome brother. But no, we leave Bath and that’s it. The ending came on like a freight train. It felt like Jane Austin ran out of time having spent sooooo long in Bath. Still, it was a good read.

By the way, like “Worcestershire” sauce, I don’t actually know how to pronounce “Northanger”. (North Anger? Northanjer?)

9. In the Garden of Beasts: Love, Terror, and Family in Nazi Germany (Erik Larsen)

I loved his book, The Devil in the White City, so I thought I’d slow my brain (and prepare for history and lots of data) and try this one, too.

It illustrates how subtle and subversive the culture can shift a mindset when certain regime tactics are used. Terrifying how it parallels the media today.

10. Darker Shade of Magic (V.E. Schwab)

This book was recommended by a coworker as one of the best reads ever. I started it as an audiobook, but without a daily commute in which to listen, I found I wasn’t reading it. So I switched to Kindle et voila, I finished it within a week. It’s one of three books in a series and I’m told each one gets better.

Magically traveling through various Londons (red, gray, etc.) as one of a dying breed who can, the character of Kell (Antari messenger and part-time artifact smuggler) and his introduction to Lila, a merciless street rat (and thief), makes for a very quickly engaging and interesting read. The book definitely sets itself up for a sequel as it introduces questions about both Kell and Lila’s history.

11. Little House in a Big Wood (Laura Ingalls Wilder)

What a wild breath of fresh air! It was such a simple, honest book. What was life like living in the woods in Wyoming over a century ago when you caught, prepped, and did everything yourself living in a small cabin with just your family for company and miles of forest all around you? Well, read on, because you’ll find out.

12. Dead Poet’s Society (N.H. Kleinbaum)

I saw the movie so, years later, I had to read the book. Then I found out the book was a “novelization” of the movie script.

What a disappointment. I mean, I was literally reciting the lines from the book because I remembered them from the movie. Oh well.

13. Creative, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration (Ed Catmull)

This was a great book. I mean great. Humility. Honesty. Bits of autobiography. Massive underdog. Landed on top and hoping they maintain that special sauce they worked so hard to achieve.

If you’ve ever heard of Toy Story or Pixar, you will find this book so interesting.

14. The Man Who Would Be King (Rudyard Kipling)

Weird? Good, I guess. It was not at all what I was expecting. I don’t even know what I was expecting. I never read “back covers” on these so everything is a surprise. It went in directions that were strange. The characters were interesting, though not particularly likable? And the crux of the story didn’t really get hopping until the end.

15. The Phantom of the Opera (Gaston Leroux)

Totally unexpected. I’d never seen the musical but someone I know had a book of the music (maybe my daughter or a friend from high school) so I’d heard some of the songs. The book was a bit slow-moving, but it was very enjoyable and interesting in terms of “how it was done”. That’ll make more sense when you read the book. 🙂

16. Dandelion Wine (Ray Bradbury)

This was another slower-paced book with an homage to Bradbury’s childhood. It was just a nice story of a kid growing up in Illinois in the 1920s. It was very wordy in its descriptions, but I loved loved loved stepping back in time.

17. The Invisible Man (H.G. Wells)

I had only seen the movie with Alec Baldwin. This book is nothing like that, that I can remember. It was weird. He works so hard to discover invisibility and once he attains it, he goes psycho and leaves his his morals at the door. And then we switch focus and get to his “backstory” towards the end of the book. I kept wanting to scream at everyone to just, “Throw paint on him!”

18. It Starts with Food (Melissa Hartwig)

This is a precursor to all the other books in the Whole30 program. I did the program in September so I thought I’d read the book first to see what I was in for and prepare myself as much as I could. Interesting read.

19. A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens)

I’ve read a few Dickens novels before, but never this one. I did not like this book for some reason. It made me angry. But I found I kept thinking about it. And reading it. And thinking about it more.

Dickens dives into how human beings cope with trauma and the general mob mentality and justification once society hits a breaking point (French Revolution). It was fascinating and depressing stuff.

20. Battle Ground (Jim Butcher)

This is the latest installment of the Harry Dresden Files series of books with poor Harry taking on a Kraken an that’s the least of his worries. I love the snappy dialogue and pacing of Butcher’s books. This one, however, did not thrill me as much as the others.

I have a theory, though.

Every other book in the series, I listened to on Audible with the dulcet tones of James Marsters (Spike, Buffy the Vampire Slayer) and for this one, I had to read it. It’s a reading challenge, after all. So I tended to catch the pace was too quick or I thought he glossed through that or when will he slow down to just let the story breathe?

Anyway, this one felt rushed to me.

21. The Lincoln Highway (Amor Towles)

I loved the book, A Gentleman in Moscow and Rules of Civility, I knew I had to pick this one up to read it. Towles went in a different direction on this one as it’s a bit more modern-day (1950s America) and his writing style takes a bit of getting used to. There are no “sentences in quotes” in this book. Just dashes and dialogue. If you can get past that quirk, you’re halfway there.

I like his writing, it’s so delicate. Like every word is a butterfly wing, snowflake, and unicorn just magically weaved together to tell a story. He always seems to manage to capture moments so well it’s like you’re right there with the characters.

10 Things That Cheer Me Up, No Matter How Crummy I Feel

In no particular order:

  1. Freshly laundered sheets.
  2. The purr of a happy cat.
  3. Baby smell (after a bath and before the vomiting or pooping).
  4. A really good prat fall.
  5. Having my hair brushed.
  6. Bright stars in a clear night sky.
  7. The smell of camping (trees, not fire pits)
  8. Ice cream.
  9. Celtic pan pipes.
  10. Curling up to a good book.