I can’t talk about books I read this year without also telling you what I recommend from the list of movies of 2019. I guess since my two sons each write for movie review sites (The Next Best Picture and Ready Steady Cut), as well as hosting podcasts (The Screeners Podcast and Geek Card Check), and because they spent Christmas time talking about their favorites, it’s fresh on my mind.
My goal was to read a book a week. I read half of that. I have no excuses! But maybe if I have a goal of two books a week for 2020… Well, we’ll see.
Remember that I told you I am an eclectic reader. History, biography, fantasy, science fiction, mystery thriller–just give me something well written. Also it doesn’t hurt if it is also in a British setting; I’m an anglophile.
- Nicholas and Alexandra by Robert Massie. The account of the tragic lives of the last Russian tsar and his family. The royal family were victims of the Bolshevik revolution in the early 20th century, but they were also trapped by their own refusal to recognize that their people cried to be released from the feudal bondage from which the rest of Europe had departed.
- Queen Victoria’s Matchmaking by Deborah Cadbury. Having just finished Nicholas and Alexandra, I wanted to take a look at the progeny of Britain’s Queen Victoria. An astounding number of her descendants sat on or near the thrones of many European countries in the 19th and 20th century, including Russia’s Alexandra. Many even found themselves on opposite sides in World War 1.
- Killers of the Flower Moon by David Grann. This is the story of the development of the FBI in the US. In this department’s genesis, investigators find themselves racing to discover the killer of many members of a Native American tribe in Oklahoma because of the money they were set to inherit from property and mining rights. Since my own grandmother was born and raised in that vicinity, I was fascinated by the intrigue. This is a story well-told.
- Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose. I’ve known that this was a great story, and that it spawned a miniseries, but I never took the time to read it. So my husband and I, driving to see family, listened to this book. It’s compelling, grim, inspiring.
- The Knowledge of the Holy by AW Tozer. My Bible study uses this book for 2019-2020. It’s a small book with short, bite-sized discussions about the nature of God. If your Bible study is interested in using it, please let me know and I’ll send you the study notes.
- Essential Truths of the Christian Faith by RC Sproul. I used this book to supplement our reading of Tozer’s book. These chapters are small–around two pages for each attribute of God. So you can imagine it can’t go terribly deep. It makes an excellent companion to Tozer’s book, though.
- A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. This was probably the most delightful book I’ve read in quite a few years. A Russian aristocrat is “imprisoned” for life in a hotel in Moscow, never to set foot outside. This is a better alternative to what many of his social circle received at the hands of the Communists, so he makes the best of his situation. Every character is perfectly depicted; I didn’t want the book to end. Up through the very last page, this book had me entranced. It’s what prompted me to read Nicholas and Alexandra, just to get a feel of the setting and of the people.
- Golden Tresses of the Dead by Alan Bradley. If you’ve read my reviews of the past few years, you’ll know that I love this series of books. They are like dessert: delightful, funny, and sweet. This is the ongoing story of Flavia de Luce, a 12-year-old genius living in the huge but run-down ancestral home of her family in post-World War 2 England. She loves to solve mysteries and also enjoys mixing up the occasional poison in her great-great uncle’s laboratory. If you haven’t read these, drop what you’re reading and pick up the first book of the series, Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. If you have to ask why the books have strange titles, you’re not as smart as Flavia, and she’d tell you that herself.
- Tidelands by Phillipa Gregory. This is the first of a new series by the author of The Other Boleyn Girl. Her characters are portrayed beautifully, and she has researched the time period well (Tidelands is mid-17th century). Her books can get a bit racy. This one isn’t too bad.
- I needed to catch up on many of the John Grisham books I’ve not read. Each one is rewarding. How he manages to come up with fresh plots and characters, I have no idea, but he depicts his characters so well and keeps you guessing until the last. I’ll recommend all of these to you:
The Last Juror
- The Long Road to Mercy by David Baldacci. This author is prolific. He’s got several series of books, including a fantasy series. He must never sleep! Anyway, this is the start of a new series that promises some interesting plots set in the American Southwest.
- I binged on a TV series called Shetland (remember I love nearly anything British), so I decided to read the books on which the show is based. Ann Cleeves writes them, as well as another series on which the TV show Vera is based. Here’s what I’ve read so far:
- The Lord of the Rings trilogy by JRR Tolkien. If it’s been a few years since you read it (and DON’T tell me you’ve never read it!), I recommend it to you. Great books invite repeated readings. This is very nearly a perfect story.
- Another series that invites frequent re-reading is Harry Potter by JK Rowling. I re-read the first two toward the end of 2019. On to the next five!
- The Calculating Stars and The Fated Sky by Mary R. Kowal. This is Hidden Figures meets The Martian. Such good books! This is an alternate history book set in the 1960s, in which a meteor devastates the Earth and they need to rush the developing space program in order to establish a new colony of survivors on Mars before the Earth succumbs to a new Ice Age. Very well written, with a woman as the scientist who plays a key role as “calculator”–human mathematician–and also longs to be one of the astronauts who goes to Mars..
- Skyward by Brandon Sanderson. This is the first in a new series by this prolific author. I have liked a couple of his other series, but not all of them, but this one was quite good. A young woman dreams of becoming a pilot like her father, fighting an alien race that threatens the planet from just beyond the planet’s atmosphere. The main character is brilliantly depicted, and I look forward to the next volume to come later this year.
Finally, books waiting in my queue for 2020:
- The Guardians by John Grisham
- The New World, Volume 2 of Winston Churchill’s History of the English Speaking People. I read the first volume a couple years ago.
- Dead Water by Ann Cleeves
- Star Sight by Brandon Sanderson
- Little Women by Louisa May Alcott (re-read)
- Making Sense of God by Timothy Keller
- The Gown by Jennifer Robson
- Saving Truth by Abdu Murray
- The 36-Hour Day by Nancy Mace and Peter Rabins, a guide for those caring for people who have Alzheimer and other dementia diseases. My sisters and I are watching our mother unravel, and it’s heartbreaking, and I need to know more.
- Also I received The Book of Common Prayer for Christmas. I will use it during my quiet times, to supplement the Scripture I read every day. I’m looking forward to reading this more than all the other books on any list!
And now I can give you my list of movies from 2019. My top favorites are listed first, but the rest have no particular order.
- Yesterday: Maybe one of the top films of the year for me. Drop what you’re doing and watch it.
- Little Women: Beautifully portrayed in a unique manner that really works. I need to re-read the book!
- JoJo Rabbit: This was a complete surprise to me. The subject might seem off-putting: it’s about a little boy in Nazi Germany whose imaginary friend is Adolf Hitler. But wait! Go see it! It is funny and sweet and emotional, very much worth your time. It sits in my top favorites list.
- It’s a Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood: Such a good movie. One of my top favorites. I just re-watched it and love it even more. Sweet, honest, evocative. I hope Tom Hanks earns an Oscar for it.
- Knives Out: This is on my favorites list. Hilarious. Well done who-dunnit film you should see.
- Honey Boy: This is harsh and gritty, devastating and honest. Shia LeBeouf wrote this autobiographical script and plays his father. Give yourself a few minutes to digest it once the movie’s over. So well done. This makes it to my list of favorites.
- Avengers Endgame: You have to see the Avengers movies in order, and this one follows nicely but (spoiler alert) kills off a character I will miss terribly.
- The Farewell: Sweet and honest, could be emotional but pulls back from the edge nicely.
- Toy Story 4: Pretty good, but the best was #1.
- Captain Marvel: This is an Avengers movie, so read what I said above about Endgame. Well done!
- Apollo 11: The documentary. It’s a must-watch for everyone.
- Shazam: Nope. Waste of time.
- Aladdin: Will Smith’s genie was great, but for the most part this was a yawner.
- Late Night: Funny and sweet story of a talk show host facing dwindling audiences and finally decides she needs to make some changes–not just in the show, but also in herself.
- Missing Link: Good animation but predictable story line.
- Ford v Ferrari: Another sweet, funny movie, well done.
- 1917: Well done. Non-stop action, gritty, depicting the horrors of that war in a new perspective.
- The Aeronauts: Not on my favorites list but interesting.
- They Shall Not Grow Old: On the 100th anniversary of the end of World War 1, this film relies solely on real film footage and old recordings of the voices of British soldiers to tell the tale. It’s not for everyone, but if you like documentaries, you should watch this.
- Star Wars Rise of Skywalker: Honestly, my husband and I didn’t like this very much, which scandalized our kids. So we went again (yes, I know…), and on second viewing it came together better for us. Not my favorite Star Wars film, but it was okay. (Sorry guys!)
Now let me hear from you! What books and movies are on your lists?