"Great Expectations" by Charles Dickens

My opinion of Charles Dickens has officially been changed! A good friend of mine recommended Great Expectations, but I did not think I would really like it. I read part of Oliver Twist in high school and barely made it through Hard Times in college, so for the last few years I've been anti-Dickens. My friend was right, though. Great Expectations definitely exceeded my expectations!

I tried really hard to predict how the novel would end. Overall, I'm pleased to say that it took me by surprise. It's a coming-of-age story with a bit of a twist. And after reading so many novels that have an unrealistically happy ending, Dickens gives us something more true to life. His characters have to face the consequences of their choices, whether good or bad. My favorite characters are Joe and Herbert (I always have to pick a couple of favorites) and now I finally know what people are talking about when they allude to Miss Havisham. If you're up for a bit of a heavy read, I think this one is well worth a try! I think I'm going to read Nicholas Nickleby next!


"The Hiding Place" by Corrie Ten Boom

My mom always says that The Hiding Place is one of the books she would read if she only read ten books in her life - or something like that. It's at the top of her list and for a good reason. It is truly one of the most amazing stories I have ever known and because it had been years since I'd read it, I wanted to read it again this year. It's a quick read, but a powerful one.

Corrie Ten Boom and her family lived in Holland during WWII and risked their lives to help countless Jews escape the Nazis. Corrie was in her 50's when Germany took over her country, but performed heroic acts that others half her age were often too afraid to perform. She and her sister were sent to prison and a German concentration camp for what they did, but they never gave up on their most powerful and important weapon: Faith.

Corrie is one of my heroes and reading her story again makes me want to visit Holland and the Beje (bay-yay), the Ten Boom home where numerous Jews were hidden. I have always loved reading about WWII and the people who survived its ravages, but I think Corrie and her family perfectly exemplify the Christlike love that had to exist during that terrible time. They sacrificed everything in the name of a loving God. What better service can anyone give to the Lord?

Read it. Now. If you haven't already, The Hiding Place should go to the top of your "Must Read" list immediately!


"The Graveyard Book" by Neil Gaiman

I finished this book in the hospital, waiting for my sweet baby girl to arrive. Labor took a long time and reading was a good way to pass the time. Especially since The Graveyard Book had such a fantastic ending!

I had a hard time getting into this one, but the end really was so wonderful. Nobody Owens is a wonderful young hero and his story is unique and creative. Neil Gaiman sure knows how to create a fanciful world with lovable characters and unique situations. I'm not sure if I enjoyed this book or Stardust better, but I hope they make a movie of The Graveyard Book someday! If it's anything like Stardust in comparison to the book, it would be great!

If you're looking for a fun, easy read, you can't go wrong with a Neil Gaiman novel! Maybe I'll pick up a few more of his next year.


"The Glass Castle" by Jeannette Walls

I started a new job about a year ago and found myself among a group of women with very different literary tastes. I was so excited to find that one of them appreciates classics and "old literature" as much as I do - she and I have spent hours talking about books like Dracula and authors like Charles Dickens. Another coworker is slightly obsessed with all things Harry Potter. A literary soul sister for me there! A third coworker has very different literary taste than I do. Her all-time favorite book (according to her) is The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls. For the last year, she has told me repeatedly how wonderful it is - sad, but wonderful - and how inspired she is by Walls, her life, and the way she's risen above the trials of her childhood.

I won't deny it. I have a rebellious streak in me and whenever anyone - and I mean anyone - tells me that I have to read a certain novel or I have to watch a certain movie because it is just that good . . . I resist. The independent streak is also a bit of a prideful streak that has, somewhere along the line, convinced me that popular opinion does not necessarily suggest good opinion. So until someone convinces me that their opinion is actually good, I tend to assume otherwise. I trust my coworker's opinion and love her dearly, but I resisted picking up a copy of The Glass Castle for all these months simply because it was so strongly recommended. And maybe also because when I gave this same coworker my copies of The Middle Place and Shattered Silence to read (because of course I have great taste when it comes to literature!), she admitted that The Middle Place didn't really appeal to her. A clear sign that our taste in books is vastly different.

Anyway. I finally finished The Glass Castle this afternoon. And did I enjoy it? Yes and no. Jeannette Walls has a unique story and her childhood was as strange and difficult as any I can imagine experiencing. But I still didn't love the book. Memoirs are one of my favorite genres, but this one dragged a little. It's not a long book, so I still got through it fairly quickly, but I was anxious for it to end. Or maybe just anxious to find out how Walls finally rose above the trials of her youth to become a successful adult. I find it especially interesting that Walls rarely, if ever, expresses genuine love for another human being. It makes me wonder if she really has hardened herself to love and affection or if it is only her writing style that makes her seem a bit cold. I am constantly looking for warmth in the characters I read and in Walls, that warmth is lacking. Regardless, her experiences make me appreciate the warmth and comfort of my own life. Reading about the hardships of others always makes me appreciate my childhood, my family, and the little blessings that I normally take for granted.

I am glad I finally took my friend's suggestion and read this book. If you're thinking of reading it, I won't tell you not to. I'll just tell you that you should really read The Middle Place by Kelly Corrigan next. Or something even more light-hearted. Like a Calvin and Hobbes comic book perhaps. I think I have one nearby - that's where I'll be for the next hour or two.


"Stardust" by Neil Gaiman

I wanted a quick read from my list and the movie "Stardust" is one of my all-time-favorites, so I decided that the book should be just the quick literary fix I was looking for.

After finishing the book, I had a long talk with my dad about it. He had recommended that I read The Graveyard Book, also by Neil Gaiman, so I figured he'd probably read Stardust, too. The agreement we came to is that the novel is fun, magical, and enjoyable without question. And . . . that the movie took this short little gem of a novel and expanded on it to make something even better.

I almost wish I had read the book first. Almost. Because the Robert De Niro character in the movie is not found in the book and he is by far my favorite. But maybe if I had read the book first, I wouldn't love Captain Shakespeare as much - who knows. Either way, I did see the movie first, so my expectations about the book were slightly skewed.

If you haven't seen or read either, I have no idea which one to recommend first. They are both wonderful. The movie, if you can believe it, is a bit more innocent. Seems like Hollywood would take the less-than-innocent parts of the book and expand on those, but it actually improved on them in many, many ways. I think both choices are excellent and I'd like to high-five Neil Gaiman for creating a story so imaginative and wonderful that it could be expanded upon! That is not always the case. But Gaiman does it masterfully! I need to finish The Graveyard Book now - before someone makes a movie out of it.


"The Count of Monte Cristo" by Alexandre Dumas

I finished! I finally, finally finished!!! It might be a miracle. I almost couldn't believe it when I ran out of pages. And the first thing I had to do was call my sister because this is one of her all-time-favorite books. Her first question was, "Did you love it?!"

The answer is . . . well . . . no. I didn't love it. But I did immensely enjoy the second half. The first half was so long and boring that I almost stopped reading, determined never to go back. However, the I-can't-leave-a-book-unfinished side of me resisted that temptation and started again a few months later. Confession: I may have read the first half in its unabridged form and the second half abridged. But that's ok. That may have been what it took to get me through. To be honest, though, I'm not 100% sure what I read. I read both halves on digital readers, but not on the same digital reader, so the editions were different. I didn't have the energy to go back and find the exact copy I'd been reading before and regardless, I still finished.

My greatest praise for this novel is that the ending is truly, truly satisfying. Having seen the movie many times, but knowing that the book was extremely different, there was still a part of me that was waiting for that movie moment to fall onto my page. It never did. The screenwriter of the movie took the bare bones of the novel and created something almost entirely new. But Alexandre Dumas created something better, something more realistic, something that only true adventure stories can give.


"The Killer Angels" by Michael Shaara

 I am very unsure of how to review this book. I did not enjoy it, which is why it took me pretty much all of 2013 to finish it (plus a little of 2014). I struggled through and only found myself truly captivated in the last four chapters or so. However, I am glad I read it because in some way, I feel like those few chapters made the rest of the book worth struggling through.                                                                                                                             I have been meaning to read this for almost as long as I can remember because it's a novel that has always been on my mother's shelf. The movie "Gettysburg" is based on this book and having seen the movie, it was kind of fun to read and see the movie in my mind during certain parts. It's almost word-for-word. Because of that, I think the novel is actually a better screenplay. The writing is very choppy and Shaara's style is very fragmented. Most of all, I don't like that he gives personalities to actual characters from history. Historical Fiction is one of my favorite genres, but in my opinion, Shaara took it a little too far. The research he did and the accuracy of his re-telling of the events at Gettysburg are, unarguably, phenomenal. I just don't like the characterization because no one can really know what Robert E. Lee was like or what Joshua Chamberlain was thinking during the attack at Little Round Top. A little characterization is necessary, of course, but The Killer Angels takes it to a whole new level.

After having said all of that, I will repeat myself. I'm glad I read it. If nothing else, reading this novel gave me a better appreciation for what the men who fought at Gettysburg must have experienced and what they must have witnessed in just a few short days. I can't imagine living through that horror and reading about it made me want to visit those historical sites again. More than anything, I want to stand on Cemetery Ridge and look out across those fields. The Killer Angels may not have been the best way to learn about the bloodiest battle in our nation's history, but regardless, I learned. And now have the desire to learn more and see more. I love America and I am grateful that we are a nation not divided into North and South. We have those men to thank for it!


2014 Reading List

2014 Reading List:

7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls (3/30/14)
The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman (4/2/14)
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens (7/18/14)
Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling (4/16/14)
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling (4/-/14)
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling (5/27/14)
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling (10/-/14)
Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling (12/-/14)
Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows by J.K. Rowling
The Hiding Place by Corrie Ten Boom (5/23/14)
Nicholas Nickleby by Charles Dickens
Stardust by Neil Gaiman (3/20/14)
The Story of My Life by Hellen Keller
Thinking in Pictures by Temple Grandin
Something by John Grisham (haven't picked one, but I've found that any Grisham novel is a pretty good choice)

Yes, I do realize that Sherlock Holmes alone could take me the entire year to read, but I'll do my best to get through as many of the stories as possible. I also realize that listing the entire Harry Potter series for this year might be considered lazy since I've read all of them once or twice or three times before. But it's been a couple of years since I last read them, so guess what - it's time for a repeat! I'll also be finishing the books I didn't get to in 2013. So the seemingly shorter list for this year might be just as challenging as last year's, after all!