February 1, 2011

Great (and Awful) Books I Read in 2010

Posted in Book Reviews tagged , at 10:36 pm by Tamara

If you’re my friend on Facebook you probably saw a lot of posts toward the end of last year about my attempt to reach my reading goal.  My goal was to read 55 books from January to December 2010, and I did it!  Not only that, but in writing this post I discovered a few I’d read but forgotten to record, so I actually beat my goal.  I don’t know what goal to set for this year–somehow I doubt I’ll be beating last year’s (unless I get a lot read during bleary-eyed 2am feedings, which I doubt.)

I thought I’d post what I read and some brief reviews of ones I had stronger opinions about (good or bad).  I posted the month/year I finished it, and the stars are out of five: one star meaning I thought the book was awful and five meaning excellent.  I read a lot more fiction this year than I have in the past—probably because I heard so many books recommended at work.  Unfortunately I also feel like I read more duds last year than I have in a while (this list doesn’t even count all the books I started but gave up on).  Still, some were great, and I hope you get some good book ideas!

AND, please leave me a comment with a book you love!!

1)  Voice in the Wind—Francine Rivers 1/10 *****

Set in Rome around 70AD, this is a fantastic book about a Roman family, a Jewish girl who is forced into slavery and a German gladiator.  I’ve lost track of how many times I read this series; it’s one of the best Christian fiction books I’ve read (the sequels are great too).

2)  Sarah’s Key—Tatiana de Rosnay 1/10 ***

  • Set in France during WWII and paralleled in the present, the book follows a journalist as she researches how the French government (and civilians) followed German orders to round up Parisian Jews to be sent to death camps.  The story is well written, starkly riveting and heartbreaking, especially since it’s based on true events.  I finished it with a sad ache of emptiness, however.  Even though a major theme is the main character’s attempts to somehow make restitution, there is little hope or redemption in the story, and I couldn’t help thinking that the author needs the hope and peace of Christ to be able to cope with the brutal sinfulness of humanity.  Still, we can’t forget history, or we’re doomed to repeat it, and some stories are just too awful to have a neat sense of closure at the end.

3)  Amazing Grace—Eric Metaxes 2/10  ****

  • The story of William Wilberforce’s fight to abolish the slave trade in England.  His life is a fascinating, inspiring story; what he accomplished both politically and in the mindsets of the people is incredible.  I can only compare it to what it would be like if someone inspired the majority of Americans, including politicians, to become pro-life and outlaw abortion today.  The author waxes a little too poetical sometimes, almost sounding ridiculous in parts, but the story is incredible.  (The movie version is also wonderful, perhaps even more so, if I dare say it.)

4)  Be the Pack Leader—Cesar Millan 2/10  **

  • Good ideas: dogs need exercise, authority, and structure.  Bad ideas: fixation on new age “energy” concepts.  Verdict: skip the book, watch a few episodes of the show

5)  Sheet Music—Dr. Leman 2/10 ***

  • If you need inspiration for God’s desire for your sex life, read Sacred Sex, by Tim Alan Gardener.  If you need more “technical” inspiration, this one is okay.  I disagree with him on some points, however.

6)  Same Kind of Different As Me—Ron Hall & Denver Moore 2/10 ***

  • A wealthy art dealer and his wife meet a homeless man who grew up in modern-day slavery.  A Christian true story told from both their perspectives

7)  I’m a Stranger Here Myself—Bill Bryson 3/10 ****

  • A hysterical, if a bit cynical, commentary on the idiosyncrasies of American life

8 ) The Prince—Francine Rivers 3/10 ***

  • A novella about Saul’s son Jonathan.  It was okay in and of itself, but a horrible disappointment compared to her incredible early novels.

9)  An Echo in the Darkness—Francine Rivers 3/10 ****

  • The sequel to Voice in the Wind

10)  The Developing Person Through the Lifespan—Kathleen Strassen Berger 3/10

  • Psychology class textbook

11)  The Forgotten Garden—Kate Morton 3/10 ****

  • A spectacularly written page-turner that starts when a four year old girl is abandoned on a dock in 1913.  It follows three generations of women as they try to unravel the mystery of their heritage, sweeping back and forth through plot lines in 1900, 1975, and 2005.  One of the best-written plots I’ve read in a long time, but tainted in parts by some dark family secrets.  Other than that, this is a wonderful, vivid read.  (See review for #50 The Distant Hours, also)

12)  Son of Hamas—Mosab Hassan Yousef 3/10  ***

13)  Redeeming Love—Francine Rivers 4/10 *** ½

  • This is a retelling of the story of Hosea, set in the old West.  Angel was sold into prostitution as a child, and meets Michael Hosea, who is determined to marry her.

14)  City of Thieves—Beniov 4/10 **

  • I picked this up because I love Russian history.  It’s a great portrayal of the horror of the siege of Leningrad (St. Petersburg) during WWII and the characters are phenomenal, but it’s peppered with explicit dialogue that ruins it.

15)  Start Your Family—Steve & Candice Watters 4/10 ****

16)  Nineteen Eighty Four—George Orwell 4/10 **

  • Orwell was a philosopher trying to be a novelist, and in my opinion he failed at both.  I had to force myself to finish this (mostly I did because I was born in 1984 so I felt obligated to).  The first third of the book is painfully slow and plot-less, in the middle third Orwell gave up on expressing his ideas through plot and had his main character “read a book” about the Big Brother society, and the last third is brutal and depressing.  I think Orwell would have done better to simply write the philosophy book he had his character read and forget about the boring, contrived plot he attempted to create.  Also, sex is such a common metaphor throughout the book that it was practically a fourth main character.
  • The only reason I gave the book two stars is because it made me think about the influence of the Holy Spirit.  Orwell was not a believer, and as such saw the possibility of a future with no morals, no absolutes, and a useless, broken human spirit.  I kept thinking, “Even if society was like this, SOMEONE would still know truth and stand up for it.”  The reason I believe that is because of the Holy Spirit and God’s promise of a remnant.  It is comforting to know that, no matter how bad our world gets, 1) man was still created in God’s image and that image cannot be completely snuffed out, and 2) as long as the Holy Spirit and the church remains, there will always be those who recognize and stand up for truth.  The Bible seems to indicate that the Holy Spirit and the church will someday be removed from the world, and the world of 1984 might not be too far off from what that could look like, except that I think it will be worse.  I would say read the book if you want to ponder that, but it’s so poorly written I say don’t bother–I’m sure you can find something better.

17)  Ghost: Confessions of a Counterterrorism Agent—Fred Burton 5/10 ***

  • This was relatively interesting, but the author comes across as rather narcissistic and trying to impress us too much, and I have a feeling he wasn’t able to share much about the really interesting things he was involved in.

18)  Research Methods in Psychology—Shaughnessy, et al.  5/10 *

19)  The Sunday Philosophy Club—Alexander McCall Smith 5/10 **

  • A mystery with some philosophy thrown in.  It was a light read but failed to engage me and had an annoyingly convenient ending

20)  The Mysterious Benedict Society—Trenton Lee Stewart 6/10 *****

  • I really loved this book.  The characters are engaging and unique, and the way Stewart uses their various talents in the plot is a lot of fun.  It’s a kids book, but it kept me interested from start to finish.  Definitely a good read-aloud book.  The sequels are enjoyable, although not as good as the first (I thought #3 was better than #2, and #1 was the best).

21)  God’s Grace and the Homosexual Next Door—Alan Chambers 6/10 *****

  • What struck me when reading this book was how applicable its concepts are to many areas of life besides homosexuality.  The authors adeptly apply the gospel of grace, challenging us that the heart of the matter is not the individual sins we (all) struggle with, but our need of Christ.  While it pulls no punches about what the Bible says about homosexuality as sin, the authors stress that the point is not to help someone be “straight,” but to be conformed to the image of Christ.  A loving, strong, and doctrinally sound book–highly recommended.

22)  The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Perilous Journey—Trenton Lee Stewart 6/10 ***

23)  The Winter Garden—Kristen Hannah 6/10 ****

24)  The Mysterious Benedict Society and the Prisoner’s Dilemma—Trenton Lee Stewart 6/10 ****

25)  Theories of Personality—Jess & Gregory Feist 7/10 ***

26)  A Vintage Affair—Isabel Wolff 7/10 ***

  • If you loved playing dress up as a little girl, you’ll enjoy this book, which centers around a woman who opens a vintage designer clothing shop in London.   Phoebe is reeling from a broken engagement and the death of her best friend when she meets an elderly woman who wants to sell her wardrobe of vintage clothing.  The two become friends and Phoebe slowly learns about Mrs. Bell’s experiences growing up in France during WWII.  While the plot is a bit too convenient, I enjoyed it, probably because the protagonist’s love of beautiful old clothes and the lives behind them resonated with me.  (Note: the main character does sleep with her boyfriend, which is not graphic but still annoying.)

27)  Eye of the Red Tzar—Sam Eastland 7/10 ***

28)  A Woman and Her God—Beth Moore, et al 7/10 **  (Shallow)

29)  Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English—Natasha Solomons 7/10 ****

  • This is a sweet, sad, funny, poignant book about a couple who flee Nazi Germany and relocate in England. Jack copes by trying to forget the past and assimilate, going to great lengths to become a proper English gentleman, while Sadie copes by trying to remember and not let go of her memories and loved ones. Jack religiously follows the guidelines in the not-so-helpful “Helpful Information and Friendly Guidance for Every Refugee” pamphlet he’s given when they arrive in England, eventually deciding to add his own copious notes about the British (his observations are hilarious). But one thing Jack discovers is that every proper English gentleman must have membership in a golf club, which he is repeatedly denied because he is Jewish. So, he uproots the family, buys property in the country, and throws everything into a dream of building his own golf course.  I am not remotely interested in golf, but I loved this book. The sweet, funny observations on life in rural England reminded me of a James Harriott book, while the tension between Jack and Sadie’s individual ways of coping is heart-wrenching and yet tender. I rooted for them all the way.

30)  The Bravehearted Gospel—Eric Ludy 7/10 ***

31)  Beauty: A Retelling of the Story of Beauty and the Beast—Robin McKinley 8/10 *****

  • No matter how many times I read this book (I’ve lost count) I always find myself wishing it wouldn’t end.

32)  Rose Daughter—Robin McKinley 8/10 *

  • I adored McKinley’s book Beauty (above) and hoped this would be an expansion of that story (both are retellings of Beauty and the Beast). “Rose Daughter” fell terribly flat in comparison–a boring, unrelatable heroine, a sinister palace instead of the endearing enchanted “breezes” from her first book, and (spoiler warning) the beast stays a beast at the end! Nothing happens in the first half other than Beauty pruning roses and waking up to find her room covered in various creatures (frogs, hedgehogs, etc, which is never explained or given a purpose), and the last part is a confusing mash of three different stories of “what really happened to the beast” before Beauty defeats all the evil sorcerer’s forces by saying “Go away!” (seriously). McKinley’s descriptions in “Beauty” were vivid and creative, whereas “Rose Daughter” flounders with confusing, pointless descriptions that I couldn’t visualize. I am utterly baffled, as “Beauty” is one of my all-time favorite books. As another reviewer said, “Rose Daughter” is just as awful as “Beauty” is wonderful.

33)  Twilight—Stephenie Meyer 8/10 **1/2 (See review under Breaking Dawn)

34)  Terrify No More—Gary Haugen 8/10 *****

  • This is a true story about an undercover operation to rescue young girls from a brothel in Cambodia.  It’s an incredible look into the horrifying world of sex slavery and what we can do about it.

35)  New Moon—Stephenie Meyer 9/10 **

36)  A Tale of Two Cities—Charles Dickens 9/10 ***

  • I felt like Dickens didn’t know where he was going with the plot for the first half of the book, but enjoyed the second half.

37)  Found: God’s Will—John MacArthur 9/10 ***

38)  Eclipse—Stephenie Meyer 9/10***

39)  The Scarlet Pimpernel—Baroness Orczy 9/10 ****

40)  Breaking Dawn—Stephenie Meyer 9/10 *

  • Since I have a heart for ministering to high school/college girls I’m always interested in the latest trends, and these books have had such an overwhelming cultural impact that I finally caved and read them.  I’ve done a fair amount of pondering what makes them so attractive, but that would require a much longer post than this.   Review-wise I can say the plot is sometimes interesting, the “romance” is nauseating, the writing is poor, and the ethical/philosophical issues raised but not addressed are disturbing.  I can’t say I think this series has had a good impact on our society, but if you’re interested in what’s impacting the way girls think, the books are worth the read.

41)  Royal Assassin—Robin Hobb 10/10

  • I’m having a hard time deciding what to say about this one.  This series came so highly recommended that although I didn’t love the first one, I picked this one up on a whim at a used bookstore.  I enjoyed the writing style and the complex plot very much, more so than the first book.  Hobb is excellent at creating vivid characters and keeping all their plotlines moving seamlessly.  What disturbed me about these books was something called “the Skill,” which is a sort of glorified telepathy which reminded me too much of possession.  Granted, that was when it was being abused by the villains, but it still made me uncomfortable.  I think in any fantasy writing you have to tread very lightly with the supernatural, because it only comes from one of two sources.

42)  Speak Through the Wind—Allison Pittman 10/10 **

43)  A Proper Pursuit—Lynn Austin 10/10 ***

  • This was entertaining, if a bit vapid and predictable.  I enjoyed the protagonist’s overactive imagination and laughed out loud a few times.

44)  Core Christianity—Elmer Towns 10/10 ***

45)  Assassin’s Quest—Robin Hobb 10/10

46)  Theory and Practice of Counseling and Psychotherapy—Gerald Corey ****

47)  Pillars of the Earth—Ken Follett 10/10 **

  • The plot and characters were interesting, but I had to skip several scenes detailing the villain’s sadistic sexual abuses, which ruined the book for me.

48)  Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Job

49)  I Samuel, II Samuel, I Chronicles, II Chronicles, Psalms, Joshua

50)  A Christmas Carol—Charles Dickens 11/10 ****

51)  The Distant Hours—Kate Morton 12/10 ****

  • The Distant Hours begins when its narrator learns that her mother was evacuated to a castle outside London during the blitz of WWII.  She is curious about the story and the three sisters who lived in the castle with their father (a famous author) and slowly unravels the mysteries behind her mother’s and the sisters’ past.
  • I really love the way Kate Morton writes—she has a way of describing things that leaves me speechless.  She’ll toss in one-sentence descriptions that are so unique and vivid I find myself  stopping short to read them again.  Honestly I would read her books if only for that.  She is also a master of time and point of view shifts—she unravels the story in a non-linear way that is just brilliant and keeps you guessing and trying to piece together the clues from all the character’s lives.  The Distant Hours was an enjoyable read, and had me particularly riveted at the end, wondering how she was going to tie everything together.  The three sisters have complex, distinct personalities, and Morton slowly lets you get to know them and decide what you think of them (fascination? pity? love? disgust?) The ending had a definite gothic feel (think Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights) that I didn’t particularly enjoy, but, like I said, I adore the way Morton writes so it was well worth the read.

52)  Voyage of the Dawn Treader—C.S. Lewis 12/10 *****

  • This book is tied with A Horse and His Boy for my favorite Narnia book.  It gets more profound every time I read it.

53)  All Creatures Great and Small—James Herriot 12/10 *****

  • This true story about an English country vet is one of my all-time favorite books.  It never ceases to make me laugh out loud.

54)  The Screwtape Letters—C.S. Lewis 12/10 *****

  • This is one of those books I could read a dozen times and still get new insights out of.  Anyone who at all enjoys satire, humor, or psychology should read it—Lewis’ grasp of what makes us tick (for good and bad) is just brilliant.  I don’t agree with all of his doctrinal points, but the book is still wonderful, and (for all its depth) an easy read.

55)  Spiritual Rhythm—Mark Buchanan 12/10 *** ½

56)  The House at Riverton—Kate Morton 5/10 **

  • This was a real disappointment after how much I loved The Forgotten Garden.  It has an almost Gothic, depressing feel and moral-less characters.

56)  Number the Stars—Lois Lowry 12/10 ****

  • This is a great book for introducing children to the Holocaust.  It is honest but not graphic

Note:  All cover images are copyrighted to their respective books



  1. Stacy said,

    First of all, I’m amazed that you were able to read all of those! And secondly, thanks for the list! I am excited to check out some of them soon. P. S. If you are looking for anything good in the fantasy realm, “Brave Story”, and “Dragon Sword and Wind Child” are a couple that I greatly enjoyed. Finally, I miss you!!!

  2. Tamara said,

    Ooh! I’ll check those out! Which one should I start with? I miss you too. :( Want to start a book club with me??

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