First Quarter Reading (and the All-Stars)

My goal for this quarter (that's January-March, not nine weeks if you're conditioned to think in terms of school like I am) was to read 30 books. I read over 100 books last year, mostly from the summer on, so I didn't think 30 books for these three months was a huge stretch considering all my free time. If anything put a damper on my reading, it was sleeping many hours a day and feeling too nauseated to concentrate on anything. Nevertheless, I persevered and came in at 37. A few of these were re-reads, but hey, that counts, right? (Of course it does.) 

I am too lazy considerate of your time to include every book, some because I just wouldn't recommend them and others because they were just kinda eh. But I will tell you about the best ones of the list so that you don't waste your time with anything less than awesome reading. (Fair warning- I was on a bit of a nonfiction kick this time around.)

In no particular order, here are my favorites:

-Don't Give Up, Don't Give In by Louis Zamperini and David Rensin. This memoir is the perfect follow-up to Unbroken and gives a personal look at Louie's life straight from the source. Reading it made me sad all over again that Louie passed away last summer (in fact, only about two weeks after this book went to the publisher.) It's full of stories- some funny, some inspirational- and is further proof that this was one extraordinary American hero. It's amazing to me how many obstacles the man faced and still ended up decades later with a positive attitude. And hearing about his conversion and desire to share his faith in his own words made it even more special. (Also, when he talks about meeting his tormentors from the POW camp and contacting the Bird, I cried.) It's a quick read and totally worth your time. 

-Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay. This was the first book I read in January and it was the perfect start to my year of reading. Good grief, I loved this book. When it was over, I just kept saying, "That was SO good," over and over (to anyone who would listen.) Some people aren't wild about a diary format, but this is told in letters written from Samantha, an orphan whose grad school sponsorship hinges on her willingness to write letters to her anonymous benefactor. Since he knows of her borderline obsessive love for Jane Austen, he requests that she address the letters to (you guessed it!) Mr. Knightley. Her letters chronicle her difficulty in grad school (one professor is particularly hard on her), her attempts to reach out to another boy from her group home, her first taste of love and dating, and more. If you are an Austen fan, you'll appreciate all the references, but it's just stellar regardless. (Bonus: the Kindle edition is on sale for $2.99 right now!)

-Lizzie and Jane by Katherine Reay. This woman is so talented, for real! Her second book is about two sisters who have been estranged since they lost their mom to cancer, but now the older sister has cancer herself and the younger sister goes to visit and try to help out during chemo. At heart, it's a sister story, which of course I love, but it's also a love story and gives what seems like a really realistic look at dealing with cancer from the perspective of several different patients (not just Jane.) I love how Katherine Reay uses different aspects of her characters' lives to bring so much richness to the story; for example, Lizzie is a chef and uses food throughout the book not only to cope with her only issues but also to reach out and help others, mainly her sister's family. This one was a little sadder than Dear Mr. Knightley but just as great. 

-Belles on Their Toes by Frank Gilbreth, Jr. and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey. Cheaper by the Dozen is one of my favorites (woe to those of you who have only seen the Steve Martin movie which has NOTHING in common with the classic other than the twelve kids) and I've been hunting down the sequel for years. When I saw this at the library I may have squealed for joy. =) Anyway, it picks up right after Mr. Gilbreth's death (tears!) and mostly tells about how the family worked hard to stay together and run things smoothly so that Mrs. Gilbreth could continue the business of motion study. Seriously, these books are hilarious. I love, love, love them and you should check them out. When I teach high school English again (someday) I think I'll read them aloud to my students. Also, Frank, Jr. wrote a third book called Time Out for Happiness that, in addition to small biographies on each of his parents, contains a great deal of detail about their work in motion study and the breakthroughs they made in that field. They really were remarkable people and the whole Gilbreth family is just the best. 

-Killing Lincoln by Bill O'Reilly. I love reading about this era and what's most fascinating to me about the whole thing is, honestly, how Lincoln wasn't assassinated sooner. Considering the lack of security around the President during that time, it was relatively easy to get close enough to harm him. In fact, the Secret Service was brand new and wasn't even assigned to the President; it was a branch of the Treasury Department. Anyway, this is a super in-depth look at the conspiracy behind the assassination- more widespread than I realized- and really delves into John Wilkes Booth's obsession with Lincoln and hatred of the North. (Seriously, the guy was messed up.) What also stood out to me was how quickly (relatively speaking) the military and police were able to catch Booth, considering how little opportunity there was back then for instant communication. (It's not like the guy was leaving a paper trail with a credit card or something.) It's a must-read for any Civil War or history buff for sure.

-What the Dog Saw by Malcolm Gladwell. If the mark of a great author is that I want to read everything he's written, then Malcolm Gladwell falls into that category. I've read all his books in the last few months (except his newest, David and Goliath, which I just checked out this weekend. Yay!) and this one was my favorite. It's a series of essays he wrote for the New Yorker and the topics range from birth control to hair dye to dog training to ketchup (yes, ketchup!) and they are all fascinating. He just has this knack (actually enormous talent- knack is an understatement) for sharing what seems like a random story or collection of facts and bring it all around to make a really interesting point or tie everything together with a perspective I would never have considered. This is one of those books that I enjoy because it makes me feel smarter =) and it gives you a pretty good knowledge of a wide range of subjects which is always an enjoyable feeling, especially if the history of hair dye comes up, which it very well may. =)

-Edenbrooke by Julianne Donaldson. The subtitle is "A Proper Romance" and that could not be more accurate. It's not a very long book- I read it in an afternoon- but it was just a delight. Marianne is a young girl on the brink of adulthood who is more interested in riding and books than in securing a wealthy husband (her twin sister's obsession.) But since her mother has died and her father has taken off in his grief, she's been stuck in "town" with her grandmother (who isn't very comforting) and jumps at the chance to visit some old family friends in the country. On her way there, some conflict arises (of course!) and a dashing gentleman appears (naturally!) and the romance ensues from there. There isn't a lot of other "fluff" to get in the way of the love story. There's definitely a place for that in a lot of books, but sometimes you just want to read a good, "proper romance." 

-Upstairs at the White House by J.B. West. Janssen recommended this one a while back and when I checked the library's online catalog, it was actually there (always a pleasant surprise!) AND available so woohoo! This was one of my favorites of the bunch, since it combines my love of history with my love of "behind the scenes" type stories. The author worked in the White House for 28 years and for 12 of those years he was the Chief Usher (who basically runs the entire place.) He worked closely with all the First Ladies from Eleanor Roosevelt to Pat Nixon. (My favorite chapter was on Jackie Kennedy.) Mr. West was amazing- extremely organized, incredibly patient, endlessly respectful to each First Lady, and always prepared to deal with the variety of crises- major and minor- that arose throughout his tenure. (Apparently changing Lyndon Johnson's shower heads to suit his need for just the right water pressure was a process that lasted his entire administration.) Also, as Janssen pointed out, "behind the scenes" doesn't really mean "dirt" on anyone (ahem, JFK.) He really is respectful of each administration regardless of their political stance. As he states several times, White House staff is loyal to the White House, not necessarily the President. The Presidents change; the House doesn't. Anyway, I loved this one. Ten stars!

-As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales of the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes. Um, bonus features in book form of one of my favorite movies? Yes, please! And my love for Cary Elwes was only reinforced when he guest starred on Psych, so I couldn't wait to get my hands on this. He tells about getting the part, filming, etc. from his own perspective, of course, but each chapter also has little inserts from the Rob Reiner (the director), Mandy Patinkin, Chris Sarandon, and the rest of the cast. Some stuff I knew from watching the 25th Anniversary DVD edition (nerd alert, perhaps) but a lot of it was brand new information and fascinating. For example, I knew that Cary Elwes and Mandy Patinkin had done all their own stunts for "the greatest sword fight in modern times," but I didn't know that Cary Elwes had been riding around on Andre the Giant's four-wheeler (he was too big for a car on set) and broke his toe a few weeks before they shot the sword fight. So, all that fancy footwork he's doing is with a painfully broken toe. (Also that explains why he limps his way through the Fire Swamp... the guy could barely walk!) I just love this movie and and the book made me love it even more. ("This is true love. You think this happens every day?") I mean, it's written by Wesley. Come on!

-Bonhoeffer by Eric Metaxas. Wow. This one took me a while to get through (nonfiction is always slower for me than fiction) but it was totally worth it. I had planned on reading this for a while and in fact read a shorter biography of Bonhoeffer in January to familiarize myself with his life in preparation for this one. (Again, maybe that's nerdy.) Also, the first biography I read was from the Heroes of the Faith series which I highly recommend for kids and teenagers (and adults, obviously, but they're geared toward younger readers- not too hard for a 4th or 5th grader- without dumbing anything down.) ANYWAY, I started this one on the Kindle but it was just too much for me to read on my phone (somehow knowing there are a million pages left is too daunting in that format) so when I could get the physical copy I jumped at the chance. I can't recommend this enough. Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a Christian hero, plain and simple. The work that he did for the Resistance on behalf of the Jews in Germany during the Holocaust was amazing enough (and ultimately cost him his life) but his writings and work on theology, discipleship, and just Christian faith in general is monumental even to this day. What struck me throughout the book was that so much of what he said about being willing to sacrifice for the sake of the Gospel and to speak out against evil is SO relevant to our culture today. (Our churches may not be being silenced like they were in Nazi Germany, but the days of speaking freely in our country are numbered for sure.) Bonhoeffer was incredibly devout but also fun-loving, very close to his family, and loved the arts and music. He was a brilliant scholar, talented musician, and loyal friend. But most of all, he was willing to put his own plans, talents, and safety aside for the good of his fellow Germans and Christians. This book will challenge your faith in a huge way. (Also, given the length of this description it may have warranted its own post. Oops.)

There you go! (And I said it wouldn't be too long... imagine if I'd included the whole list!) I really loved these books... if you read any of them let me know and we'll have a virtual book club! I'll bring the cookies. =)

Happy reading!


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