Thursday, December 30, 2021

My Year in Books - 2021

 As we are winding down 2021, a year which has admittedly held a lot of challenges for my family and me, I am ending one of my slowest blogging years, also, with only nine posts counting this one, with my traditional book list rounding it out for the year. I barely made my Goodreads goal of 50, and didn't think until today that I would (There are only 49 on this list because I read Delighting in the Trinity a second time to prepare for a book club at our new church). With all the challenges this year held, and with deciding to read ten of the Wheel of Time books, all of which had over 1,000 pages each, I almost didn't reach my arbitrary goal.  As it is my kids think I'm cheating to add the Christmas devotional I read each morning this month, but it is a book(let), and I did read it, so, in my opinion it counts. I could count the Bible, too, since I read it entirely again this year, but I don't typically include it in my list, since it is a given that I'll be reading it each year. Anyway, some of these I liked, some I loved, some I didn't like all that much.  Here is my list, with commentary on a few of them.  As always, just because I read a book and listed it here doesn't necessarily mean I would recommend it.  Some I would, some I wouldn't. I will say I LOVED the Andrew Peterson book, Adorning the Dark very much. And I really do hope for the coming year to take some of his advice about not waiting until I feel like it or until everything is just right before writing but to just write. Looking at the sad state of my blog and the fact that I've wanted to write that fiction story since high school, I really do need to take his advice and attempt to adorn the dark in my little corner of the world and just write.  May it be so. So, without further ado, here is what I was reading in 2021.  Happy reading, friends. 

January 2021

  • Faith Alone - R.C. Sproul (NF).
  • The Fires of Heaven (The Wheel of Time Series, #5) - Robert Jordan (F).
  • Simple Genius - David Baldacci (F).
  • Cynical Theories: How Activist Scholarship Made Everything about Race, Gender, and Identity - and Why This Harms Everybody - Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay (NF). Overall, I found this a helpful and critical look at Critical Theory and Postmodernism. Aside from the authors' rather obvious bias against deeply held religious belief, I even found much to appreciate in their proposed solution of a more liberal (in the classical sense of liberalism) approach to scholarship and discourse.  I wouldn't have lumped all people who hold a strong religious faith quite as solidly with other ideas they attribute to the far right (like white supremacy, for example), but I can overlook the bias and appreciate such a sentiment very well could stem from their own experiences, and I appreciate the intent, knowing my own beliefs and community as I do. And I have to think liberal-minded authors like these would appreciate the nuance and willingness to discuss and accept discussion on that. Overall I would recommend this book. 
February 2021
  • The Power and the Glory - Graham Greene (F).
  • The Green Ember - S.D. Smith. Another great middle/high school book find! This was recommended by our pastor on The Cripplegate blog, the first of a four book series, and once again, I loved this.  Pretty much if Pastor Jesse recommends a book, I usually find that it's one I want to read.  We've found several good new book series in the past year that my daughter and I have thoroughly enjoyed, and I had bought this one for her for Christmas upon reading the recommendation. She has been so busy reading for school she hasn't had a chance yet to read it, but having just finished the first book, I know she's going to love this. I bought the second in the series last night at the church bookstore before choir practice, and I'll probably get the next two as well. I was hesitant at first, because it's about rabbits and I wasn't so sure about that, but, as I've heard it described it's not so much like Watership Down, but  more like the Narnia books or the Wingfeather Saga, which I'm still emotional about. Definitely an engaging adventure story and I'm looking forward to finding out what is next in the ongoing adventure with Picket and Heather. 
  • This Tender Land - William Kent Krueger (F). This is one of those novels that is so well-written you kind of lose yourself in the story.  I liked this very much.
  • The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self: Cultural Amnesia, Expressive Individualism, and the Road to Sexual Revolution - Carl Truman (NF).
March 2021
  • Lord of Chaos (The Wheel of Time, Book #6) - Robert Jordan (F).
  • A Children's Bible - Lydia Millet (F).  After waiting quite a few weeks for this on library hold, it was disappointing, but I really did not like this one. At least it didn't take long to read, so I didn't waste too much time with it.
  • The Madness of Crowds: Gender, Race and Identity - Douglas Murray (NF).
  • The Cost of Discipleship - Dietrich Bonhoeffer (NF).
April 2021
  • A Crown of Swords (The Wheel of Time, Book #7) - Robert Jordan (F).
  • Unmasked: Inside Antifa's Radical Plan to Destroy Democracy - Andy Ngo (NF).
  • The Path of Daggers (The Wheel of Time, Book #8) - Robert Jordan (F).
  • Delighting in the Trinity: An Introduction to the Christian Faith - Michael Reeves (NF).  I loved this book. I am so glad one of our pastors recommended it.  I needed to read this today, and it is really good.  I will be pondering and leaning into the love of God for a long time after reading this.
May 2021
  • The Whole Truth - David Baldacci (F).
  • Anxious People - Fredrik Backman (F).  This is the third book I've read by this author and I just really like the way he writes. He has so much insight into the anxieties and insecurities we all can struggle with and such a compelling way of depicting relationships and friendship and the kindnesses that follow when we attempt to look beyond the surface to the things we want to say but can't always express, and start attempting to see people for who they really are, in the way he spins out the story.  I'm looking forward to reading more of his novels. 
  • Winter's Heart (The Wheel of Time, Book #9) - Robert Jordan (F).
  • The New Reformation: Finding Hope in the Fight for Ethnic Unity - Shai Linne (NF).
June 2021
  • Panic Attack: Playing Politics With Science in the Fights Against COVID-19 - Nicole Saphier, MD (NF).
  • Crossroads of Twilight (The Wheel of Time, Book #10) - Robert Jordan (F).  The last couple of books in the series I've only given 3 stars (and the last one I almost gave 2 stars it was that boring and frustrating) because they've just been so slow-going in terms of moving the plot forward.  These really could have stood for some editing and making them move along a bit faster with less words, and in the last book there was a major character and plot development I really don't like and which has made me not like certain characters nearly as much as I would have,  but I've read far enough into the series that I want to know how it will end, so I guess I'm committed at this point.  The last half of this one did pick up the pace a bit to where I actually wanted to start the next book right away when I finished it (though I need to read a library book that I've had on hold for weeks and which finally came available first), and from reviews I've read, it seems that the next books will be better, especially the last three when Brandon Sanderson took over to finish the series after Robert Jordan passed away, so I'm not giving up yet.  
  • Ordinary Grace - William Kent Krueger (F).  Beautifully written. I very much liked this one.
  • Ember Falls (The Green Ember, Book 2) - S. D. Smith (F).
  • Ember Rising (The Green Ember, Book 3) - S. D. Smith (F).
  • Ember's End (The Green Ember, Book 4) - S.D. Smith (F).  I loved this series.  To think I would cry real tears over rabbits.  It's a beautiful story and truly engaging.  I would highly recommend these books. 
July 2021
  • How Lucky - Will Leitch (F).
  • A Man Called Ove - Fredrik Backman (F). Backman is quickly becoming a favorite author of mine. Another good one.
  • Hope…the Best of Things - Joni Eareckson Tada (NF).
  • The Nightwatchman - Louise Erdrich (F).
August 2021
  • Knife of Dreams (The Wheel of Time, Book #11) - Robert Jordan (F).
  • The Gathering Storm (The Wheel of Time, Book #12) - Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (F).  As I've read in many reviews, this was indeed better than the last several books in the series as Brandon Sanderson took over the writing. He seems to focus less on the minutiae and unimportant details that took up too much of those last few books and gets down to moving the story along better, and I'm looking forward to reading the last several books in the series to see how it all wraps up. One of my sons keeps asking if it's worth starting the series, and I'm conflicted on how to answer. On the one hand, I've enjoyed the story, but it's a pretty big time investment - the books are all very long and there are 14 of them, and those middle books do drag quite a bit and all the other things I've not liked about the treatment of women, along with the disturbing overall worldview. However, Sanderson does a better job of toning some of the things I hated in the last book down and actually succeeds in subtly making a character I knew we were supposed to like but who I had a hard time liking as written by Jordan much more likable without drastically changing her character finally, and I'm glad for that. So, yeah, if you're willing to spend as much time as it takes and wade through several books that needed better editing to get to the good part, it's worth it, but not if you don't want to spend all that time on one series. There are so many good books out there to read - it's hard to justify it, in a way. As my other son and I were discussing, the problem with these epic fantasy series is that while the world-building and story may be interesting, they're just so long and there is so much else out there to read besides fantasy that it would be sad to limit yourself just to this genre. You miss out on so much other very beautiful and well-written literature if all you read are these long, epic fantasies. That's why I'm hesitating to read the next one he keeps telling me to read. I'll finish this series and then take a break to read some other things for a bit, I think, before I decide to take on another long fantasy series. 
September 2021
  • The Plot - Jean Hanff Korelitz (F).
  • Towers of Midnight (The Wheel of Time, Book #13) - Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (F).
October 2021
  • A Memory of Light (The Wheel of Time, Book #14) - Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson (F).  I think overall I liked this series ok, but it was just so long and drawn out that by the end I was too exhausted by it to be as emotionally impacted as I usually am at the end of a good series.  It was a satisfying ending for the world that the author created, but the overarching worldview of that world was one I didn't care for - too much like Eastern philosophy for my taste, with the idea of the need for the darkness balanced with the light and the idea that mankind will ultimately choose honor and light and good. The Creator/Light was much too impersonal and uninvolved with the outcome for the creation, though characters would often pray for the Light or the Creator to shelter someone, there was NO indication that there was any sort of loving or even involved creator to do that. It all hinged on the relentless turning of the Wheel of Time and endless cycles of rebirth similar to the concept of reincarnation and Eastern thought,  and blind spinning of the pattern by the wheel, kind of like the impersonal idea of fate, and the hope that people would choose the light over the darkness. Anyway. I'm glad to have finished it. Not sure I'd give it a hearty recommendation since I don't really feel all that much enduring love for any of the characters or the story now that I've spent all this time reading it. So that's that. 
  • Britt-Marie Was Here - Fredrik Backman (F).
November 2021
  • Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death (The Grantchester Mysteries, Book 1) - James Runcie (F).
  • The Unsaved Christian: Reaching Cultural Christianity With the Gospel - Dean Inserra (NF). Of the books I've read so far this year, this is one I very much recommend. It's an important message, convicting and challenging and necessary, especially as someone who lives and grew up in the so-called Bible-belt.  Highly recommended.
  • The Means - Douglas Brunt (F).
  • Pathway to Freedom: How God's Laws Guide Our Lives - Alistair Begg (NF).
December 2021
  • One Faith No Longer: The Transformation of Christianity in Red and Blue America - George Yancey and Ashlee Quosigk (NF).   In his book Christianity and Liberalism, J. Gresham Machen made the argument that liberalism and Christianity are actually two different religions.  This study pretty well bears that out, making a convincing case that the differences in Progressive Christianity and Conservative Christianity are so profound that we are probably witnessing the divergence of the two into separate religious categories.  Interesting read, though if we have been paying attention in recent years, sadly it is not terribly surprising in its findings, to be honest.
  • Mystic River - Dennis Lehane (F).
  • My Last Name - Eric Schumacher (F).  This was a beautiful little story. I finished it in one afternoon, but it left me in sweet tears. 
  • Jack - Marilynne Robinson (F).
  • Cry, The Beloved Country - Alan Paton (F).
  • Shutter Island - Dennis Lehane (F).
  • Christians Get Depressed Too - David P. Murray (NF). Recommended.  This should probably be recommended reading for all Christians, especially if you know someone struggling with depression, or you are experiencing it yourself.  This short book is easy to read and very compassionate and practical, a realistic and helpful look at the complexity of depression.
  • Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making - Andrew Peterson (NF).  I really loved this book. Andrew Peterson is one of my very favorite singer/songwriter/authors, and this book is beautiful.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.
  • Gospel Meditations for Christmas - Chris Anderson, Joe Tyrpak, & Michael Barrett (NF).