Books of 2020 (Part 1)

“This year I hope to slow down, spend more time savouring what I read.”  That’s what I said in January of 2020, after reviewing 2019’s list of 100 books.  I figured that in 2020 I would cut it down to about 50 books.  We’ll see how I did with that plan:

January

  • 2000 Years of Christ’s Power:  Volume 2 The Middle Ages, Nick Needham History

  Foolish was I, to think that this volume wouldn’t be as fascinating as the first.  I’ve marked so many pages to re-read and make notes on that there hardly seems to be a clean page left.  Needham’s account of this controversial and often misunderstood time period was remarkably well-balanced. 

  • The Secret Keepers, Trenton Lee Stewart Children’s

  Although I didn’t enjoy it as much as the Mysterious Benedict Society, The Secret Keepers is classic Stewart fun.  It had some of my favourite things, such as lighthouses, loving families, and mysterious pocket watches.  I noticed intriguing themes of independence and community, secrecy, and honesty (although I wished the latter was a little more developed).

  • The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, Rosaria Champagne Butterfield Autobiography

  Butterfield tells her story in a voice that is probing, honest, and compassionate.  The result is encouraging, if a little convicting. 

  • The Mysterious Benedict Society: The Perilous Journey, Trenton Lee Stewart Children’s

 It was this book—about a decade ago—that really got me interested in the Mysterious Benedict society.  This was my Christmas gift for my youngest brother, and we read it together. 

  • January Snow, Hayden Wand Fairy-tale Retelling/ Historical Fiction

 How fitting that my last read of January 2020 was with a character named January and set in the ‘20s.  An excellent Snow White retelling that cleverly incorporates familiar elements of the old story, while adding some twists I would never have expected.  The scene of ‘Snow White’s resurrection’ was one of the best I’ve ever seen. 

February

  • Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy Eric Metaxas Biography

I had complained before over having lost Metaxas’ Bonhoeffer biography.  I managed to get a new (slightly used and cheaper) copy.  It was a heavy book, not just in size (500+ pages) but also in topic.  There are grisly details, sobering ideas, and this is one of those books where the hero dies in the end.  Metaxas is an excellent biographer.  I especially appreciate how he explained 1920s/30s Germany and the rise of Hitler. 

  • The Rakshasa’s Bride, Suzannah Rowntree Fairy-tale Retelling/ Fantasy/ Historical Fiction

This Beauty and the Beast retelling was unlike any I’ve ever read, and not just because of the Indian setting.  In most stories it is the beauty who plays the Christ-like figure who rescues the beast.  In this story it is the beast who is saviour, and the beauty is faced with her ‘inner beast’. The Rakshasa’s Bride reminded me of ‘Till We Have Faces in that a Christian message was so cleverly shown in a non-Christian setting.

  • The Inimitable Jeeves, P.G. Wodehouse (Audio) Comedy

I started this one (through a different production) earlier last fall but quit because the reader had no business narrating Wodehouse.  My father got me back into the story—it is his habit to listen to portions of the Jeeves stories over tea-break, and I’m happy to join him.  The Inimitable Jeeves is classic good fun, with some brilliant quotables.   I admit I found Bingo Little’s presence tiresome, however, which is a problem considering this book features him often. 

  • The Prince of Fishes, Rowntree Fairy-tale Retelling/ Fantasy/ Historical Fiction

Although I’ve always liked the story of The Fisherman and His Wife, I used to see it as a sort of comedy.  Silly fisherman’s wife…how could anyone be so pompous?  But this version is far more serious, bringing the reader back to the Garden in a way. Aside from the story itself, the setting was incredible.  A sort of alternate reality Byzantium… I wouldn’t mind seeing more of that.

  • The Bells of Paradise, Rowntree Fairy-tale Retelling/ Fantasy

Out of all the fairy-tale retellings of Rowntree’s Beasts and Queens collection, this is the only one to outright step into fairyland.  The effect is both enchanting and haunting. 

  • The Mysterious Benedict Society:  The Prisoner’s Dilemma, Trenton Lee Stewart Children’s

My brother got this for me at Christmas, and we read it together.  It had been a long time since I last read this book, but a few scenes were strong in my memory, and it was good to re-live them.  I’ve now finished re-reading the original Mysterious Benedict Society trilogy, and I’m eager to find this new fourth and final book.

  • Death Be Not Proud, Rowntree Fairy-tale Retelling/ Historical Fiction

Back to the 1920’s for another Snow White story, but this time set in New Zealand!  This one had a great atmosphere, with mountain lakes, music, and mysteries.  But perhaps a little too much mystery for me.  There were times when I was feeling quite lost. 

  • On Pascha by Melito of Sardis (translated, introduced, and annotated by Alistair C. Stewart) Historical

An interesting look into a paschal liturgy of 2nd century Asia.  I appreciated the extra material at the end, and the comments provided by Stewart for context. 

March

  • Seaborne:  The Lost Prince, Matt Myklusch Children’s

A unique adventure story—a mix of pirate fantasy, with some surf/wind/skateboards involved. I was slightly disappointed at the finale, since the bulk of the story seemed to be leading to something else.  But I enjoyed the clever twists and character dynamics.

  • Hans Christian Anderson/ Fairy-tale Collection Children’s/ Fantasy

I finished the first half of this collection (the Anderson half) in February.  I’ve been reading plenty of fairy-tale retellings, but not enough old-style fairy tales, and it was good to go back.  It was interesting how many enchanted bird people came up, though, and I couldn’t help but wonder how often people could be executed without hesitation.

  • 4.50 From Paddington, Agatha Christie Mystery

I bought this book partially as an homage to Christie (who got me into vintage British mysteries) and partly because the cover was pretty (red, with embossed gold).  I didn’t expect to read it, really.  My last experience with Christie had been disappointing, and Sayers had taken my full attention.  But one chapter was all it took for me to get back into the swing of things. 

  • They Do It with Mirrors, Agatha Christie Mystery

(in the same volume as 4.50 From Paddington)

I read this one a long time ago—long enough to forget much of it.  But I think I can say I enjoyed the story now that I’ve read it a second time. 

  • Invictus, Ryan Graudin Sci-Fi

Quite the ride! The cast is marvellously quirky, the plot mysterious, and the stakes high.  Better yet, people properly appreciate gelato and chai tea.  Time-travelling books are tricky, however, and while I loved going back in time to rescue ancient artifacts, there was something that I felt I lost in the ending, 

  • For Elise, Hayden WandParanormal

Paranormal is not my normal reading material, but this book was just my type of ghost-story!  I loved the dynamic between the melodramatic writer and his sensible editor ghost who won’t put up with rubbish—literary or otherwise.  In some ways, For Elise reminded me of The Girl Who Could See, which is a good thing.

  • Seaborne: Strangers in Atlantis, Matt Myklusch Children’s Fantasy

This second book was not, perhaps, as strong as the first.  But it still had the fun, adventure, and high stakes that makes one forget any improbabilities. 

  • O. Henry Collection Classic (Short Stories)

About time that I picked up that old O. Henry collection I found at the used bookstore.  There were some stories I didn’t care for (Roads of Destiny, A Harlem Tragedy) but overall, I enjoyed the collection.  O. Henry may be known for his knack for twists, but I also enjoyed the vivid imagery and allusions. 

April

  • Treasure Island, Robert Louis Stevenson Classic/Children’s

Good, classic, adventurous fun!  Little wonder that this is the perfect pirate story: a tale of danger and treachery but filtered through the wonder and innocence of a boy.

  • In the Teeth of the Evidence, Dorothy Sayers  Mystery (Short Stories)

Another short story mix of Lord Peter Wimsey, Monty Egg, and various thriller/mysteries without reoccurring characters.  The latter were the best, in my opinion—apart from the last two, which were a little too odd.  

  • The Complete Lord Peter Wimsey Stories, Dorothy Sayers Mystery (Short Stories)

I’ve finished the last of the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries!  What am I to do with myself now?  The very last story, Talboys, was a sweet send-off showing the family life of the Wimsey household.  The parting Wimsey-ism, pulled off with childish panache, was a stunt I wouldn’t mind having a part in to be honest.

  • A Royal Masquerade, Allison Tebo Fairy-tale Retelling /Comedy

A fantastical comedy of errors! It takes great talent for a writer to make me laugh (rather than rage and weep) at the destruction of a cake.

  • Twinepathy, C.B. Cook Superhero

Not my sort of superhero story, I suppose.  It held potential, especially with young Maddie.  However, I felt as if both the narrator and the plot would benefit from some time to mature.

  • Trail of Blood, J.M. Carroll History

History, yes, but only to an extent. There are historical facts, dates, names, etc. but picked and edited to support a certain point of view and not a very solid one at that.  Read as an experiment.

  • Tatian’s Address to the Greeks Historical

Tatian is known for the Encratite heresy, so there is a certain sadness in reading his works.  But he was evidently well read and mentions many figures and historians—fueling my interest in ancient times. 

  • Theophilus to Autolycus Historical

Another apologetic work addressed to a pagan of the Hellenist world.  There is something in Theophilus that seems gentler than the other apologetics.  I like his wordplay in chapter 12. 

May

  • Doctrine and Practice in the Early Church, Stuart Hall History

I was looking back at pages I had marked and finding I had forgotten many interesting things.  I decided that meant it was time to re-read the whole book.  This round I noticed that Hall has a bit of a curmudgeonly element, but his work is still good. 

  • Behind Convent Walls, Emily Sarah Holt Historical Fiction

The first two sections of this book… weren’t my favourite.  I had trouble following the story and connecting to the characters.  The final section was better and takes place behind the titular convent walls. 

  • The Sword of Islam History

The fifth volume to the series The Christians: Their First Two Thousand Years.  It feels weird to skip the past three volumes, but I happened to have this one on hand and thought I’d try it out.  The first part of the book focused more on the Muslims than the Christians, which was quite helpful for context and understanding of history.  Byzantium is another focus, with its dramatic and tragic history.

  • Theophilus to Autolycus, Book II Historical

So far, I like Theophilus.  The beginning of this second book is poetic, and later goes on to discuss the Old Testament.  Chapter one has a very good-natured beginning, with Theophilus calling Autolycus ‘very good friend’, and speaks of parting with mutual friendliness.  Also note the early use of the term ‘Trinity’.

  •  Theophilus to Autolycus, Book III Historical

I think I detect Theophilus beginning to lose his patience at this point.  This last book is heavy with names and dates and seems to have been part of Ussher’s bibliography. 

  • The Phoenix Thief, Stacia Joy Fantasy/ Gearpunk

Many years ago, I read the first few chapters when they were shared online.  I loved the characters and the atmosphere but didn’t know where to get the rest of the story.  I finally found the full on Wattpad, and it was well worth the wait! 

  • Athenagoras’ A Plea for the Christians Historical

Athenagoras writes a letter to Emperor Marcus Aurelius (and Commodus).  Marcus Aurelius is known for being a wise and tolerant leader…except towards Christians.  Athenagoras appeals to the emperors as philosophers, reasoning with them as wise men. 

  • Runaway Ralph, Beverly Cleary Children’s

Read the second Ralph story with little brother.  I hadn’t fully read this one when I was a kid—I had only browsed and thought it boring.  Reading it fully with a reading buddy, I found it much better.

  • Ralph S. Mouse, Beverly Cleary Children’s

“I love this book!” said lil bro, after we had finished the last Ralph story.  I read this one as a child but forgot most of it. 

  • Christianity at the Crossroads, Michael Kruger History

Enjoyed re-reading one of my favourite history books.  Let me say how much I appreciate Kruger’s ability to both loop back and remind the reader of key points as well as zoom out and show the big picture.  I also admire how graciously and intelligently he dismantles historical stereotypes. 

June

  • Quo Vadis, Henryk Sienkiewicz Historical Fiction

Despite the tropes I didn’t care for, certain uncomfortable descriptions, and the anachronisms that set my teeth on edge, this isn’t all that bad.  I appreciated the themes of finding truth, real peace, and real beauty in a world of corruption.  I still prefer Ben Hur.

  • James Herriot’s Cat Stories Autobiography (Short Stories)

I may not be much of a cat person, but I cannot resist a good Herriot story. 

  • Oliver Twist, Charles Dickens Classic

I’ve heard/seen Oliver’s story in every form BUT the original novel… and I figured it was time to fix that.  While there were parts I wasn’t entirely keen on, I’m glad to have finally read this classic.

  • Robinson Crusoe, Daniel Defoe Classic

Robinson Crusoe surprised me.  This book is culturally significant enough that I know a few key scenes and characters… but the full plot and purpose of the story was unknown to me.  I didn’t realise that it was such a strongly theological book.  While I love a good survival story, the theological thoughts are what makes this book so interesting.

  • New Testament History, F.F. Bruce History

A good book for anyone wanting to better understand the context of what was going on before and during the new testament.  Especially helpful for understanding 1st cent. Jewish faith and politics.

To be continued…

5 thoughts on “Books of 2020 (Part 1)

  1. I love how many fairy-tale retellings are on this list! I am super interested in reading more fairy-tale retellings, but I never really know where to find good ones. I will have to check out some of this ones. 🙂

    Like

  2. I’ve been looking forward to this list since last year’s! Very glad it’s here.

    I’m glad to hear the second volume of 2000 Years of Christ’s Power is good! I’ve been meaning to get the first volume since you recommended it, and I’m interested in all the eras but the medieval one holds a particular fascination, for some reason.

    You make Rowntree’s fairy-tale retellings sound absolutely enchanting. I’ve wanted to try some of them for a while, and now I REALLY want to. I’ll have to see if the library has them.

    Which parts of Oliver Twist didn’t you like?

    I remember being surprised by all the theology in Robinson Crusoe! Bored too, but I was pretty young. I’ve been thinking I ought to reread it.

    Like

    1. Thank you! I’m glad you enjoy reading my year end book lists, as I enjoy writing them.

      The medieval age is a fascinating time, but I would recommend reading the first volume beforehand. So important for context.

      I hope you will be able to find– and enjoy– them!

      I still enjoyed Oliver Twist. It’s just that some Fagin scenes disturbed me. There were also those typical 1800s novel elements of melodrama and strange coincidences, I’m never sure if I find those ridiculous fun or just plain ridiculous.

      Robinson Crusoe is worth re-reading. I tried the book when I was younger, but couldn’t finish because I was frustrated with how thick-headed young Crusoe was.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s