20-ish Top Reads of 2018

“Clear the decks!” crows Mom. “It’s Best Books time!”

She may be a bit confused. Ever since my puppy days it’s been “deck the halls” this time of year. Well. You know how moms are. Especially when someone asks, “Which kid is your favorite?”

Okay, okay. So no one put it quite like that. But plenty have asked which books are her favorite. “It’s almost the same thing,” sniffs Mom.

Hah, bumhug! says I.

Arf you may know, Mom met her 2018 reading challenge last week: 365 books in one year. People keep asking which “kids” are her favorite from that long, long list. (For background, see: When They Tell You It’s “Impossible.” Also see: How I Read 100+ books in 90 days.)

I’m kinda curious myself. I gave her the puppy eyes look.

Works every time.

So ‘clear the decks’ for Mom’s Top Reads of 2018.

Warning: “That ‘top 20’ thing’s just not gonna happen,” says Mom.

Indeed, competition for a spot on Mom’s ‘totally subjective, 100% unscientific’ list was fierce. So bow-wow-ish, in fact, that Mom divided the list into four basic categories:

  1. Best Fiction
  2. Best Non-Fiction
  3. Best Series
  4. Favorite Authors.

Also Honorable Mentions.

Each book earned its respective spot based on quality of writing, creativity and poignancy, superior characterizations, outstanding, unique plots and overall excellence. And Just Plain Fun. (Note: No book that brainlessly, repeatedly deploys gratuitous profanity ever makes Mom’s “best” list. She calls that “sloppy-writing-lazy.” Hah, bumhug again.)

365 books in one year. And then some! November 27, 2018.

Anyway, Mom’s Top Books Read in 2018 are,in no particular order:

Best Fiction

  1. Hattie Big Sky – Kirby Larson
  2. Time for Andrew – Mary Downing Hahn
  3. A Dog Called Homeless – Sarah Lean
  4. Run Far, Run Fast – Walt Morey
  5. The Incredible Journey – Sheila Burnford
  6. There Come a Soldier Peggy Mercer
  7. Wolf by Wolf – Ryan Graudin
  8. Anchor in the Storm – Sarah Sundin
  9. The Wood – Chelsea Bobulski
  10. Man O’War – Walter Farley
  11. The Journey Back – Priscilla Cummings
  12. Sarah Bishop, Thunder Rolling in the Mountains – Scott O’Dell
  13. The Adoration of Jenna Fox – Mary Pearson
  14. Ever the Hunted– Erin Summerill
  15. Hoot – Carl Hiassen
  16. Dividing Eden – Joelle Charbonneau
  17. The Velveteen Rabbit – Margery Williams
  18. Unwind – Neal Shusterman

Re-reading a seasonal favorite, “The Christmas Box,” by Richard Paul Evans.

Best Nonfiction

  1. A Prisoner and Yet – Corrie ten Boom
  2. The Kite Runner (historical fiction) – Khaled Hosseini
  3. The Black Dogs Project – Fred Levy
  4. Before Amen – Max Lucado
  5. My Family for the War (historical novel) – Anne Voorhoeve
  6. Great Lodges of the National Parks – Christine Barnes
  7. Hidden Child – Isaac Millman

Best Series

  1. The Misty of Chincoteague series – Marguerite Henry
  2. The Silver Brumby series – Elyne Mitchell
  3. Billy and Blaze books– C.W. Anderson
  4. The Jimmy Vega mystery series – Suzanne Chazin
  5. Black Stallion series– Walter Farley
  6. The Survivors series – Erin Hunter
  7. Fire and Thorns trilogy – Rae Carson

Favorite Authors

Honorable Mentions

Well, woof the deck! Or something. All this reading and book-ing makes me hungry. About that leftover pot roast… You gonna eat that?

 

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5 Cool Authors for Cold Weather and Turkey Leftovers

I was just a young pup last Thanksgiving. Chewing on slippers. Dish towels. Wayward fingers. Learning Come. Down. Jump. Sit and Stay. Also how to jitterbug. That just kinda happened. I mean, who can listen to In the Mood sitting still?

Anyway. I’m coming up on two and a half years now. So I’m leaving all that baby stuff behind. Well, some of it. But I’ve gotten pretty good at chasing fallen leaves. Wearing that stupid “doggie jacket” Mom insists on when the temperature drops below forty degrees. Swiping turkey leftovers when no one’s lookin’.

Even though it’s cold and crisp outside, it’s not all bad. A neighbor’s cat, Sir Puddleglum, is staying indoors most of the time. (That’s not the orange tabby’s real name. I just call him that because it gets his goat. Or his cat nip. Whatever.)

Anyway again. Apple cider. Crunching leaves. Snoozing by the fireplace. Mom says fall is a great time to re-read some favorite authors. She showed me her list. I’m passing it on to you at no extra charge. (Don’t tell anyone.)

5 Cool Authors for Cold Weather (in no particular order):

1. Earl Hamner, Jr.

Hamner is best known as the creator, executive producer, and warm narrative voice of The Waltons. He wrote several books, including the autobiographical Spencer’s Mountain and The Homecoming. The latter inspired the movie of the same name. It became the pilot that launched The Waltons. You can almost hear the snow fall… G’night John Boy…

2. Jill Hucklesby

Never heard of her? Me neither. Until Mom swooped into the library and yanked Samphire Song off a shelf. The librarian said it was on the “weeding” (death) list. She felt sorry for it. Read it. Loved it. Said it’s brisk. Engaging. Beautifully written, with memorable characters. The story revolves around a young girl, Jodie, and her half-wild stallion, Samphire. Both are damaged. They inch their ways toward healing together.

3. John Eldredge

A multi-published author of best sellers like Wild at Heart, John is a Mom perennial favorite. He has a warm, cogent, and down-to-earth writing style. Bonus points: I hear John’s a Dog Guy.

4. Richard Paul Evans

Mom says this guy is a prolific, award-winning author perhaps best known for The Christmas Box. Richard publishes a book every year, usually when temperatures start dropping. Says Mom: Richard’s gentle, uplifting stories are a great choice for curl-up-near-the-fireplace reading!

5. Gary Paulsen

Looking for larger-than-life outdoor adventure told with a keen eye for detail and a gritty, spunky writing style? Gary Paulsen’s your guy, according to Mom. His many books include The Hatchet series, Dogsong, Harris and Me, Woodsong, and Winterdance.

Even Sir Puddleglum can’t complain about that.

Hey. You gonna to finish that turkey sandwich? Askin’ for a friend.

When They Tell You It’s ‘Impossible’

No one came out and said it in so many words. But it was everywhere implied. The arched eyebrows. Dubious glances thinly camouflaged by polite nods. Watery half-smiles that didn’t quite reach the eyes.

It added up to: Good luck with that one, sis. As in, Nice pipe dream. Better chose a more reasonable, reachable goal. Aim lower. Because that’s impossible.

These were the wordless but emphatic rumblings I got when I occasionally mentioned my 2018 Goodreads Reading Challenge goal to select friends, Romans, and fellow countrymen: 250 books in one year, January 1 to December 31.

My internal response to the doubters? Watch me.

The author at age 1 year.

As you may know, I’ve been a voracious reader since early childhood. For me, a little slice of heaven includes settling in to a comfy chair in front of the fireplace with a big mug of hot whatever and a good book. Or even a mediocre one.

I incorporate reading into my daily schedule, setting aside at least an hour a day to read. I rarely turn on the TV. When I can swing it, I also set aside Sundays for reading.

Besides. I’ve never been a big fan of “aim lower.” So when people sort of rolled their eyes at my “250 books in one year” reading goal, I quietly revised my goal upwards. To 365 books in one year.

Well, guess what? I just cleared that benchmark, finishing my 365th book since January 1, 2018. (My 365th book was Mark Twain’s The Prince and the Pauper.)

Don’t believe me? You can check out several prior posts charting my reading progress over the past few months.  (Like: Celebrating ~ 200 Books in 6 Months. Or: The Big Summer Stretch: 150+ in 90.; Rockin’ it This Summer With Reading, and Reading Challenge 2.0: Why I’m Going Back to Square One.) I’ve also got the Goodreads Reading Challenge log to prove it. A complete listing of every title I’ve read this year, including:

From November 14, 2018.

Cuz lemme tell ya, friends. There’s nothing that motivates me more than having someone insist or imply I can’t do something. That just revs me up to knuckle under. Dig deeper. Go farther, faster. Throttle up.

Incidentally, the 358th book I finished en route to title number 365 was The Trident: The Forgiving and Reforging of a Navy SEAL Leader.  By Jason “Red” Redman. (He goes by “Jay.”)

When you think of the word “courage,” multiply that by a factor of about one hundred. You’re still not close to this riveting read about one warrior’s journey to hell and back.

Redman was severely wounded in Iraq in 2007 – hit by machine gun fire at point-blank range. He endured thirty-seven surgeries over four years before retiring in 2013. He is the founder of Wounded Wear, which later evolved into the Combat Wounded Coalition, a non-profit organization which supports combat wounded warriors and families of the fallen. The Trident is his poignant, brutally honest memoir about the meaning of leadership, true grit, and triumph against all odds.

In the Epilogue, Redman writes:

“Tomorrow always will come. It may not be the tomorrow you wanted or hoped for, but it will come. It is up to you to be ready for it, to shape it and make it what it will be. You can’t change the past but you control your future as long as you’re willing to…”

 

OVERCOME

There is nothing in life that cannot be overcome if you’re genuinely willing to try and never quit.

LIVE GREATLY

Lift up those around you, always give back, climb a mountain, jump from a perfectly good airplane, and never pass up life’s opportunities.

LOVE DEEPLY

In the end the only thing you will have left are the relationships you forged and sustained in life.

STAY HUMBLE

Pride has destroyed more men than all wars combined.

LEAD ALWAYS

True leaders lead at all times regardless of the situation they are in and who’s watching.

 

Redman summited my favorite mountain, Mount Rainier, in 2010. He closes with: “If you follow these principles (see above-Ed), “when your hour is called, you can go, knowing you had…. NO REGRETS.”

Like finishing 365 books in one year when most everyone thought it was the stuff of pipe dreams. (It required focus, discipline, and prioritizing. I also read fast. That helps.) But the biggest factor in completing this year’s reading challenge? It came down to having the “want to.”

Additionally, the jet fuel that propelled me across the 2018 Reading Challenge finish line I set for myself back in January? It was the dubious looks and raised eyebrows from those who implied or otherwise indicated I couldn’t do it.

365 books in less than one year! And I’m not done yet!

So. Someone telling you your dream, goal, plans or (fill in the blank) are “impossible”? No way. No one can do that. Better chose a more reasonable, reachable goal. Aim lower. The next time you hear “that’s impossible” or someone rolls their eyes at a goal you’ve set for yourself, just smile sweetly and dig in.

You might also want to read Redman’s memoir. Just sayin’.

Meanwhile, know what?  I’m not done yet. The clock is still running on 2018. So why stop at 365 books? Here I go… !

Tails From a Thanksgiving Expert

I’m an expert on thanksgiving. Just ask Mom. I’m thankful for just about everything and everyone. That dropped bit of bacon. Unattended hot dogs. Belly rubs! Sea gulls! Snoozes in the sun. Walks in the woods! My favorite blanket, right next to the heating vent.

Mom says words related to “thankful” include gratitude. Appreciation. Gladness. Being at peace. Contentment. Cheer.

See? Told you I’m an expert.

A few things that make my tail wag like a pinwheel:

The guy who walks by my yard every day. Mark has yellow hair and dark glasses. His voice is light and friendly. “I’ve never had much use for dogs,” he once said, reaching over the fence to pet me. “I was a confirmed a cat lover. Until I met Kimber.” He’s my best friend!

The lady across the street who delivers the newspapers. “Hello Kimber!” she says when she walks by. She has short dark hair. She smells like sunshine and good cheer. June also knows just where to scratch me behind my ears. She’s my best friend!

The lady in a wheelchair who smells like generosity and good memories. I always say “hello” when she rolls by. I smile. She smiles back. Mary’s my best friend!

I keep a sharp eye out for my next door neighbor. Sometimes I see Virginia out for a walk when Mom and I are out for our walk! I remind her how happy I am to see her! She smiles. It’s a sparkly kind of smile. I like that. She’s my best friend!

A big black dog lives across the street. She’s older. Doesn’t move so fast anymore. I say hello to her across the street. Lexy doesn’t usually answer. She’s not as talkative as me. But when we cross the street, we exchange greetings and neighborhood news. She’s my best friend! Sometimes Lexy’s grandpa comes to visit. He always saves me at treat. He’s my best… oh, never mind.

I’m also thankful for a job. Mine is patrolling the property and keeping everyone safe. I smell everyone who comes by, making sure they smell friendly. Every once in a while someone doesn’t smell right. I alert my family immediately! I’m the scout. The look out. Just ask the neighborhood cats and the deer who wander out of the woods.

On the job!

In fact, I often lie awake at night, making sure nothing happens to anyone in my house. It’s a big responsibility. But I’m up for it. After I make sure no one has died in their sleep, the next morning I take a snooze in that nice sunny patch in the yard.

Sometimes I talk to people when Mom and I are out on walks. My favorite people are the ones who are small and can’t really talk yet. They understand me just fine. And I understand them. We both know words like Mom and Dad and brothers. Sit. Snack. Lunch time. Car ride!

I used to tell these little people about myself. They knew what I was saying. They would tell me things back. Like, “Macaroni and cheese again?” Or “I am not ready for my nap! Am not! Am not! Am not!”

But I’ve noticed something. These little ones don’t stay little. They grow. Get bigger. Taller. Like my brothers. The more they grow, the less they understand what I’m saying. And the less I understand them. Especially when they start saying things like, “Internal Revenue Service.” “Presidential debate.” Or, “what’s the Wi Fi code?”

Meanwhile, Mom says, “Thanksgiving Day is almost here!” I’m not quite sure what that means. But if Mom’s merrily skipping about the house, cooking up a storm, it must be something good. So I’m up for it.

Thanksgiving 2017

On Thanksgiving Day, I’ll do what I do every day. Be thankful. Glad. Content. On. The. Job. I’ll make sure everyone who comes to my house smells right. Then all my best friends, new and old, will sit around the table and pass wonderful-smelling food around. I may have to sit on the porch. It’s so hard to stay calm with all the excitement and delicious smells!

But I have a plan. I’ll help clear the plates. You know, lick them clean. No one will notice. They’ll be too busy talking and laughing. Waiting for dessert. If I play my biscuits right, someone might save me a bit of their dinner. Or drop something under the table. Oh, happy day!

After dinner, I’ll snuggle into the recliner with Mom. We always watch George Bailey, Sam Wainwright, Mr. Martini, Bert the Cop, Ernie the cab driver, Old Man Gower and Clarence Oddbody, A.S. II every Thanksgiving night.

Family. Faith. Redemption. Best friends. Good food. A nice, warm bed. Long walks. Sunshine. A yard I don’t have to share with a cat. Told you I’m a thankfulness expert.

How ‘bout you?

The In-Between Month & The Dreaded Orange Raincoat

Mom calls November the “in-between” month. Not quite winter. Not really full fall. Lots of trees have dumped their leaves. Temperatures are dropping. But not low enough for snow. Here on the Olympic Peninsula, the rains return. And return. And return.

When the weather turns wet, Mom insists on dragging out The Dreaded Orange Raincoat. Why does she do this? Is she averse to getting soaked to the collar, crashing through every puddle in sight, or galumphing around town up to her nose in rain water?

Me, I’m fine with all of the above. (I am part Lab, you know. As in water dog.)

Anyway, did I mention they closed the book place awhile back? For “renovations.” About a million dollars worth. I don’t know what that means. Can you eat it?

But it means we haven’t been able to walk over to the library lately. One of us really hates that.

Good news: The book place is supposed to re-open in about a week or so.

So you might call November the “in between month” for reasons not related to weather. Or seasons. It’s in between closures and re-openings of a favorite place in town.

At least for one of us.

The other just wants to shed her stupid rain coat.