How precious are Your thoughts to me, O LORD ... how vast is the sum of them!

Monday, January 14, 2019

Top Books of 2018

I know I haven’t been keeping up with my blog lately (I hope to be here more this year), but I couldn’t miss out on my annual top books post, especially when I’ve enjoyed reading several other bloggers’ great lists. For my 2018 countdown of books that impacted me the most out of all those I read, I’m doing the top 13 plus some honorable mentions. I read 66 books, short stories, plays, and editing manuscripts this year.

First, the honorable mentions: Shakespeare’s The Tempest and MacBeth, Mary Stewart’s This Rough Magic, and Leif Enger’s So Brave, Young, and Handsome.

And now the countdown: 
And Then There Were None
Agatha Christie

This pulse-pounding mystery made it to the list of America’s 100 best-loved novels, according to the Great American Read put on by PBS. It was eerie in a psychological, character-driven sort of way, and like everyone else who reads it, I asked myself in every chapter, “Who will be next? Will there be anyone left at the end?” Definitely a memorable whodunit that satisfied my thirst for a thought-provoking mystery. 
Celia’s House
D. E. Stevenson

I was introduced to a new-to-me author this year, D. E. Stevenson, a niece of Robert Louis Stevenson. Her books are light, cozy, and heart-warming, the types of novels you picture reading with a cup of tea in a British cottage garden. Celia’s House focuses on a growing family who inherits an estate in the Scottish Border Country from their aunt Celia in the early 1900s. It follows them as the children are born, grow up, and have adventures, all the while emphasizing the importance of family ties. 
The Not-Quite States of America
Doug Mack

Few of us who live in the States often think about the U.S. territories—American Samoa, Guam, Puerto Rico, the Northern Mariana Islands, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. This book was enlightening and entertaining as it delved into the history and current conditions of the five territories. I found value in being informed about these far-flung islands and discovering what we share. (Warning: language in a few chapters.) 
Anna and the King of Siam
Margaret Landon

A semi-fictionalized biography, this tells the story of Anna Leonowens, an amazing Englishwoman who taught for five years in the Siamese court in the 1860s. Beloved movies were based off this book. I was inspired by Mrs. Leonowens’s faith in God and courageous perseverance to make a difference, and I was fascinated by the glimpse into this exotic country I knew little about. 
Reading the Bible with Rabbi Jesus
Lois Tverberg

The Jewish roots of Christianity are very important to me, and I found this book to be an accessible study of the Jewish understanding of the Bible and how it seamlessly fits Jesus’ worldview. Tverberg excels at explaining Hebraisms and making them relevant to Christians, enriching our reading of the Bible and reigniting our excitement for God’s truth. Read my review here. 
Jerusalem: The Biography
Simon Sebag Montefiore

Admittedly, this book was hard to get through at times, between being graphic and pessimistic. I gave it only 3.5 stars because of that. But I was impressed with the author’s objectivity and thoroughness. In my opinion (and the opinion of many others throughout the centuries and millennia), Jerusalem is the most important city in the world, and I love learning about it, even if it’s impossible to cover every detail of its history. This book did a fine job and filled in the many holes in my historical knowledge. Read my review here. 
Charlotte Brontë

Shirley is a very different novel from Jane Eyre, but they both demonstrate Charlotte Brontë’s genius and make her one of the classic novelists I admire the most. Shirley is full of richly developed characters and complicated relationships set against a backdrop of early nineteenth-century England, when the Napoleonic wars raged abroad and conflicts between mill owners and mill workers raged at home. My favorite part of the book, however, was the friendship between vivacious landowner Shirley Keeldar and gentle minister’s niece Caroline Helstone. It’s one of the best literary female friendships I’ve ever read. Read my review here. 
Uncle Tom’s Cabin
Harriet Beecher Stowe

Although it may not be as respected now as it has been over the past century and a half, I saw a lot of great things in this book. Before slavery was abolished, when half of America supported it and hardly any white person considered black people as equals, Uncle Tom’s Cabin entered the scene and became the best-selling novel of the 19th century. It profoundly moved the United States. It was one of the first novels to put African Americans in heroic positions, and though there was still a long road ahead and we’re still working on race relations now, this book was groundbreaking. Uncle Tom’s faith in God and his life witness were inspiring. 
Catherine Marshall

I read this book for the first time about ten years ago and found it influential as I struggled with my faith and what it means to follow God. This year, the second time through was almost as rich and affected me in slightly different ways. Above all, I found conviction and encouragement to live and love selflessly. Catherine Marshall’s writing is mature and beautiful as she word-paints images you can experience with the senses of your mind and creates characters you can know and understand. 
Bleak House
Charles Dickens

Dickens always amazes me. In every novel, he creates a whole world—full of intriguing fictional characters as individual and quirky as real people; situations that seem disparate but intertwine as the story progresses, revealing mysteries and tying characters together in satisfying endings; and details that make everything come alive. Bleak House is no exception, but the best part in my opinion is Esther Summerson. I learned valuable lessons from her sweet, unconscious humility and charity. In fact, every single character and puzzle piece of this book was interesting to me. It's sad, funny, intriguing, and inspirational by turns. It could have been longer and I wouldn't have minded. Read my review here. 
He’s Making Diamonds
S. G. Willoughby

The title says it all. God uses our suffering to make us into diamonds. None of us choose to go through hard circumstances, but we can choose how we cope and nurture our relationship with God in the midst of them. This book is geared toward teens who are chronically ill, but any Christian can read it and benefit. Sara Willoughby is the perfect person to write it, as she is a teenager who suffers from Lyme disease and other health issues. She shares how to navigate chronic illness with a healthy perspective fixed firmly on God, demonstrating how trials like that can bring us closer to Him. 
Mere Christianity
C. S. Lewis

This spiritual classic has been on my to-read list for years, and I was not disappointed when I finally read it this year. From the existence of God to the rationale for morality to the root of sin, it wades deep (but not too deep) into the beautiful mysteries of Christianity. Not only a logical defense for belief, it’s compelling and convicting, inspiring love and awe for God and the desire to be a better follower of His. This is worth reading over and over. 
The Hiding Place
Corrie ten Boom with John and Elizabeth Sherrill

Corrie ten Boom is one of my heroes. This well-written book (which I read for the second time) tells the story of how she and her family, in obedience to God, risked their lives in the Dutch resistance, saving the lives of His people the Jews when the Nazis sought to destroy them. Her story is incredibly faith-building as she tells how the Lord worked during those excruciatingly difficult years. She and her family learned many lessons—love for enemies, joy in the little mercies, faith that God knows what He’s doing and will bring His children triumphantly through trials they could never survive on their own.

Have you read any of these books? What are your top reads of 2018?