What I Read in December

I did not read many books in December because Advent/Christmas.  I will be making it up in January for sure!

Just before Advent, I heard about The Reed of God on multiple podcasts.  I took that as a sign to add it to my plans for Advent.  It’s perfect for the season, and the chapters are just the right size for reading one per day during prayer time.  This is one of those small books packed full of beauty and wisdom.  I will probably pull it out again next year.

Wintersong has been in my to-be-read pile for a long time.  I am a Madeleine L’Engle fan from way back, but I had never heard of Luci Shaw.  I picked this up after I finished The Reed of God and read one section each evening during Advent. I found myself enjoying the short prose readings more than the poems.

As you may recall, I discovered the Brother Cadfael series courtesy of Booktober. Saint Peter’s Fair is the third book in the series, and I am waiting for the third to arrive.  I like each one more than the last.

Emily of New Moon was a childhood favorite that I specifically requested as a Christmas gift–along with its sequels and the more well-known series by the same author, Anne of Green Gables.  My childhood copies were, of course,  destroyed by fire so it has been many years since I have read them.

Emily Climbs is the second in the series.  It was so fun to have these old favorites to read during the Christmas holidays.  I’m reading the last one now.

I have joined a scary amount of book clubs and along with the books I got for Christmas (not to mention the crazy piles in my room) I am well set up with reads for months to come.  I am excited to share them with you this year.

I am linking up once more with An Open Book.  Click on the picture to find more great reads!

What I Read in November

Oh, look! Here I am again, being all consistent and posting about what I read in November!

Normally our book club reads something scary around Halloween, often something by Stephen King.  The above read (which we discussed outside and distanced around a crackling fire) was not scary at all.  It was well-written but somewhat unsatisfying to me, since the whole point was that the mystery was supposed to remain unsolved.

I also finished my Harry Potter re-read.

Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows is quite simply one of my favorite books of all time.  I consider it a masterpiece, and I think it is the only book I ever read two times in a row, the first time from midnight to 6 a.m. the morning it was released.  It was great fun reading all the books in a row, especially knowing how it was all going to turn out and being able to appreciate all the little clues along the way.

Thanks to Booktober, I got turned on to the Brother Cadfael series and this month I read the second one.

I found it even more delightful than the first one and am excited to read more.  It is always fun to have a series to look forward to.

For fun, I picked up a comfort read to enjoy while soaking in the tub. (Is that TMI?)

I loved Wylly Folk St. John as a child, my favorite book by far being The Secret of the Seven Crows.  Of course, I lost all those books when our house burned down, but my daughter has been buying them as presents for me.  This one is as far as I know her only adult novel, and it is always a fun read.

Finally, this month I participated for the first time in the FemCatholic book club and read this magnificent book.

I did not know much at all about Dorothy Day before I read this, and I fell in love with her.  What makes this book even more amazing than its subject is that it is written by Dorothy’s granddaughter, and focuses on the relationship of Dorothy and her daughter, Tamar.  I read this with highlighter in hand.  It was beautifully written and full of wisdom I want to remember, and it was so absorbing that I truly did not want to put it down.

So, without the challenge of reading a book a week for Booktober, I only managed five books this month.  Still, I did sit down with and read most afternoons for at least a little while.

This month I am tackling a couple of Advent reads, and in January I am taking part in FOUR book clubs so I will have a lot to share then!

I’m linking up with An Open Book.  Click below to see more great reads!

What I’m Reading These Days: Booktober and More

I’ve always been that girl with her nose in a book.  Yet somehow in recent years I have realized that I am spending more and more time reading news online and less and less time sitting down with a good book.

This month I decided to do something about that.  I have made an effort to sit outside on the porch for a little while every day with a book.  My days of reading a book every day are not going to return any time soon, and I did not even make a dent in my massive stack of books-to-be-read (not to mention the ten or more typed pages of books I want to read but do not own); but I am pleased with what I did manage to get through in 30 days.

First up:

I belong to the best book club in the world.  Why? Because it meets next door; there is always plenty of good food, wine, and conversation; and no one gets mad if you have not read the book.  This month, though, I did read and enjoy this discussion of how hardship builds community, which I found especially interesting in light of the current polarized state of the world.

I joined an online book club this month too, Booktober sponsored by The Myth Retold.  Participants voted between two books in each of four genres, read one each week and discussed them in a private Facebook group.  Week one was the first in a series.  Brother Cadfael’s first adventure involved a quest for relics of a saint to bring glory to his medieval monastery–and, of course, murder.  I loved this glimpse of the Middle Ages and plan to read the rest of the series.

I have been doing a lot of anti-racist reading/listening/learning in online groups, so this read was especially timely.  I think I read it all in one sitting.  I learned a lot–especially just how exhausting it is to deal with microagressions. That was a term I kind of bristled at the first time I heard it, but Brown really made me understand what it feels like to be on the receiving end. This book also made me consider how I take my Black friends for granted by thinking that I can ask them whatever about racism without considering whether that is a role they really want.

This was an historical fictional account of a former aristocrat and an idealistic attorney caught up in the French Revolution.  It was diverting enough but ultimately did not really have any staying power–it is already fading quickly from my mind.

This, on the other hand, was my favorite Booktober choice by far.  On the one hand, it was a hard read because being poor in Brooklyn in 1912 was not joke.  But the characters were so well-drawn, the setting so well-described, the stories so true that I did not want to put it down and I have been telling everyone how much I loved it.

Since the pandemic began, our family has been watching a lot of movies.  Lockdown gave us the opportunity for uninterrupted marathon viewings in which we had long wished to indulge, such as watching every Harry Potter movie in succession.  Having done this I was inspired to do what I had never done:  read all the books in succession.  Some of them I believe I had only read once.  It was fun to read the earliest ones with foreknowledge.  I love a well-planned series and it is fascinating to see the clues to the ending that are present from the very first book.  The Order of the Phoenix is not a favorite but I liked it more after having just watched the movie, since the book is vastly superior.

The same is true of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, which I also read in October.  I had forgotten a lot of the details and it almost felt like reading it for the first time.

Reading seven books in one month, some of them quite long, is no small accomplishment in my current busy life, especially considering that I also read a slew of online content.

I hope to report back at November’s end having read the last Harry Potter book, my book club’s selection for the month, and the pick from another online book club, at least.

I’m linking this up with An Open Book, which you can visit by clicking the button below.

Book Review: Everything Old

Y’all know I love to read, and that I occasionally review books here.  I was enthusiastic about an earlier Amanda Hamm novel, because not only did I enjoy the story but I had always wondered why among the plethora of Christian romance novels there were none by or about Catholics.

So when Amanda offered to send me her most recent book, Everything Old, I was very excited. (The book was my only compensation for writing this review, and this is my honest opinion.)

So, if you are familiar with the Christian romance genre, you will know that series are very popular.  Usually the books are set in a quaint little town, and different couples find love (and God’s love too!) in each episode.  Often the seeds for the next novel are apparent in the preceding one.  Everything Old follows this clever formula, leaving me wanting to read the next one so that I could learn more about the supporting characters.

But the heart of this volume is the sweet love story of Gabriel and Ruth, former friends separated by a misunderstanding, who are reunited by–of all things–being pressured by a lady in the parish (I’ll bet you have a lady like this at your parish!) to start a young adult faith group.

Amanda’s characters are believable, awkward, endearing, and real.  Their dialogue sounds natural, and so do their internal monologues.  It’s easy to like them and easy to care about them and their problems.  Relatable is an over-used word, but it really applies here.

Of course I love that the characters are Catholic, which makes them even more relatable for me! And that while their faith is important, it comes across in a natural, believable way.  Like all of us, the characters hope to be saints in the making, but they are not there yet!

If you are a Catholic who likes romances, you will like this book–and if you read it, you may even learn about a saint or two!

You can read more about Amanda and her writing here.

Book Review: 67 Ways to Do the Works of Mercy with Your Kids

As a student in parochial school, I first encountered the Corporal Works of Mercy, as a list to memorize for a religion grade.  Thirty years or so later, I made my homeschooled children memorize them too, write them out in their best handwriting, draw pictures illustrating each one.

There’s nothing wrong with memorizing things, y’all.  But that should really only be the starting point when it comes to something as important and central to the Catholic faith as the Corporal Works of Mercy are supposed to be.

Heidi Indahl’s amazing book, 67 Ways to Do the Works of Mercy with Your Kids, is a comprehensive guide to moving from listing the Works of Mercy to living them as a family.  I’m going to rave for a minute here and tell you that I can’t think of a thing that Heidi could have added to this book to make it any better.  It provides everything you need to learn about, understand, and teach your children about the Works of Mercy, and then it goes on to provide dozens of examples of how you and your kids can do them in your community.

A new idea for me was the Cycle of Service: preparing your family for serving by learning about about the Works of Mercy and discussing projects in advance, acting in the community by serving others, and reflecting on the experience together afterwards.  Something else that was not familiar to me was the designation by Pope Francis of a new, unofficial work of mercy: Care for Our Common Home.

Implementing liturgical living in your Catholic home–celebrating feast days with special meals, lighting an Advent wreath, decorating your home altar, “giving up something” for Lent–is becoming more and more popular among Catholic families.  And that’s great.  But there are lots of ways to be Catholic, and I can’t think of a better one than integrating serving the least of these into your family culture in the mindful way that Heidi writes about in this book.

Heidi is an author, a blogger, and a Catholic homeschooling mother of many.  Along with her husband, she offers homeschooling consulting with a Montessori focus, and if I had known her sooner my adventures in homeschooling would probably have been more successful!  I love her blog, her Instagram, and her Facebook page, from which I frequently nab parenting memes to share because our philosophies are so closely aligned.  She is an authority you can trust.

Want to take a look before you buy?  You can preview and purchase the book right here.

For extra ideas that you won’t find in the book, check out this post on Heidi’s blog, and this Pinterest board.  And for more great books for Catholic families, visit her publisher, Peanut Butter and Grace.

Grieving Together: Review and Giveaway

Grieving Together: Catholic miscarriage book for couples

Ten years ago, I lost our sixth and last baby in an early miscarriage, a baby who was planned, wanted, loved.  I’ve never written about it here.  In a very dark period of my life during which I lost first the baby, then my dream home, and finally almost every possession to fire, it was and remains by far the most painful of the losses I suffered.  I don’t like to talk about it and I’ve never wanted to write about it.

But I decided to share just a little today in the hopes of helping ease the burden of others who have lost babies.  There are so many of us, which is something I hadn’t realized until I miscarried and women started whispering words of commiseration: “It happened to me too.  It is hard but it will get better.”

Grieving Together: Catholic miscarriage book for couples

When I was deep in grief–a longer period of time than I would have expected–when all I could do was lie in bed and sob while clutching a board book, the only thing I had bought for the baby, I felt very alone.  I looked online for resources, as one does these days, and found very little.  Eventually my husband and I conducted our own private little ceremony of praying together and naming the baby.  This did bring closure and healing to him, but my grieving process was very different.

Grieving Together: Catholic miscarriage book for couples

I wish that I’d had a copy of Grieving Together: A Couple’s Journey through Miscarriage.  This is the book you never want to need, but are so glad exists if you do.

Reading it even now, I felt affirmed, comforted, accompanied.

Laura and Franco Fanucci have authored a much-needed treasure, a companion and guide to grieving together as a couple.  Having experienced infertility, miscarriage, and infant loss in their own marriage, they know intimately the grief of their readers.  That experience informs the book and their empathy is tangible.  Reading a book from people who have been in your situation is uniquely comforting.

I was impressed by the book’s breadth–it starts with the more practical aspects of miscarriage: what it is, what the experience might be like, considerations of medical treatment and funeral arrangements.  But this section is anything but clinical–it is still animated by Laura and Franco’s love and concern for their readers.  The next section covers grief, including the ways the grieving process may be different for each partner. This is followed by a section of practical suggestions of support from friends, family, the community, and the Church, making this a book that’s valuable to more than those who have suffered loss themselves.  Finally, the last section discusses life after miscarriage, whether your path includes adoption, another pregnancy, or no more babies.

Grieving Together: Catholic miscarriage book for couples

This is a Catholic book, published by Our Sunday Visitor, with Catholic prayers and rites, concrete ways parishes can help, saints to pray to for comfort and guidance, and more.  Other than our pastor’s sincere sympathy, my parish offered no support to us when we lost our baby, and I suspect that is pretty standard.  So this book would make a great gift for your pastor, along with a suggestion for a ministry to serve couples who have suffered miscarriage.  The Catholic Church is well known for concern over unborn babies threatened by abortion, and sponsors ministries for post-abortive women; her concern for babies lost involuntarily and their parents should be a natural outgrowth of these pro-life convictions.

Grieving Together: Catholic miscarriage book for couples

Grieving Together is available now on Amazon. (If you purchase it through links on the blog I will receive a small commission.)  I received the book free in exchange for my honest review.

Or you could enter the giveaway below and win a copy for yourself, a friend, or your parish.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

To Hear His Voice/Until I Rest in You: Mass Journals for Catholic Moms and Kids

I’ve written before about my discovery of prayer journaling and how much it has enriched my prayer life.  Since then, I’ve participated in online retreats, book discussions, and other practices that are helping me grow in faith–maybe I will share more about some of them in another post.  And now I’m ready to try Mass journaling.

Probably about a year ago I started hearing about Mass journals and seeing them online.  And I was curious.  Then my friend Ginny designed one especially for kids.  I thought it was a cool idea but I couldn’t imagine that Lorelei would be interested in such a thing.

Ginny just published her third installment of To Hear His Voice–they’re seasonal–and this time she launched a version for mothers too!  When I heard about Until I Rest in You, I knew that this was the journal I wanted to try.

Lorelei saw me looking at it online and asked me what it was.  When I explained, she said she thought that sounded interesting and she wanted her own!

So that’s how I ended up having the opportunity to review both the mom and kid Mass journals! (I received free PDF copies and was not otherwise compensated, and my opinions are my own.)

But let’s back up a minute, in case you are wondering what a Mass journal is and what you are supposed to do with one.  Ginny’s journals contain the Sunday readings with reflection questions and space for writing and drawing.  The journals could be used to read in advance of Mass to prepare, to follow along during Mass while taking notes, or to re-read and reflect afterward–or any combination of the three!

Now let’s talk about some of what makes Ginny’s journals special.  First of all, they are visually appealing.  The covers are so pretty, and so is all the lettering, and the decorative details throughout the books.  Ginny pays attention to detail, and it shows.

The journals are divided by week, and I love that each section starts off with a list of the Feast Days for that week, and is prefaced with an inspirational quote from one of the saints.  The kids’ journal also includes Reconciliation and Adoration Journals at the end.

The writing prompts are original and thoughtful, inspiring genuine reflection on the readings and connecting Scripture to every day life.  The prompts in the children’s journal are age-appropriate yet challenging.  And there is plenty of room to write in both journals, whether you are a mom with a lot to say or a kid with big handwriting!

The journals are available in PDF format or in hardback, and if you need a closer look before you decide, Ginny will even send you a sample chapter.  For a more detailed description and explanation of the journals, click here for To Hear His Voice and here for Until I Rest in You.  To purchase right now, click below!

If you purchase either book through the links in this post, I will receive a small commission.

Books Worth Reading: Christmas Edition

It’s Christmas Eve!

In a time of year full of traditions, there is one I think I cherish the most, and it will happen this evening, after Mass and dinner out, when all my kids–even the adult ones–will gather in the living room before the tree to open one present each.

The tradition has its roots in my own childhood.  I don’t know where I got the idea that everyone should be allowed to open one present on Christmas Eve, but I convinced my mother that we, too, should adopt this custom.  And for the first few years, I can remember picking any present I wanted to, which usually meant the biggest one!

Somewhere along the way, our practice changed to opening a specific present that my mother chose, and it was always a chapter book.  The idea was that we would go up to bed and read a few chapters and it would help us fall asleep while waiting for Santa.

Emily was not quite a year old on her first Christmas, and I started the tradition immediately with a picture book I read to her before putting her to bed.   The following year I gave her a Christmas book by Tomie de Paola (described in more detail below).  This gave me the idea that going forward I would give only Christmas books.

As Christmases passed and our family grew, so too did our collection of Christmas picture books.  I started a couple of new traditions–reading a few stories every year in my children’s classrooms, having a bedtime story party for their classmates in our home.  Then our house burned down and we lost them all.  A sweet little girl in Lorelei’s class, remembering the party she had attended the year before, helped us repurchase our favorites, and six years later we again have a full box that we pull out every year.

It became increasingly difficult to find five good-quality Christmas books that we didn’t already have every year!  For awhile I tried buying the big kids chapter books but the Christmas offerings for adults weren’t quite on the same level as the picture books they had loved as children.  So last year I tweaked the tradition yet again, and began giving Emily, Jake, and Teddy each their own copy of one of our favorites for them to begin building their own Christmas library.

We began last year with The Clown of God by Tomie de Paola, our all-time favorite that we read on Christmas Eve every year after we’ve finished the new books.  I cannot get through this sweet retelling of an old legend without crying.  It’s a very Catholic tale of conversion with some Franciscan brothers and a miracle included.
the clown of god
This year they will be receiving The Christmas Miracle of Jonathan Toomey by Susan Wojciechowski.  This redemptive love story is beautifully illustrated and yes, it makes me cry too.
jonathan toomey
The Other Wise Man, a story written originally by Henry van Dyke and adapted for children by Pamela Kennedy, will probably be next year’s gift.  It’s the story of a fourth wise man who missed meeting Jesus in person because he was too busy helping others along the way.
The Other WIse Man
An Appalachian tale based on a true story, Silver Packages by Cynthia Rylant is another touching story about Christmas giving that ends with a tear-inducing twist.
silver packages
The four stories above were among the first Christmas books we collected and they continue to be favorites that the kids–yes, even the big ones–want to hear year after year.  But there have been a few gems that despite their more recent acquisition have captured a spot on our favorites list, like A Small Miracle by Peter Collington, a surprising tale in which a poor woman is repaid for her kindness by some very unexpected visitors.  This is a quirky, wordless story that will hold the attention of every age group.
small miracle
I’ll stop here, because five seems like a good number and then I can do this again next year.  Tell me about your favorites in the comments–and Merry Christmas!

Walk in Her Sandals: A Path to Greater Holiness

Don’t laugh, but high up there on my list of personal goals is a desire for greater holiness.  I’ve known a few holy people in my life–have you?  They radiate peace and God’s love and you feel blessed to be in their presence.  I’d like to be one of those people, but they are rare.

I’d also like to be the kind of person with a prayer routine, or the kind who keeps a prayer journal, or attends daily Mass and/or adoration, or has a spiritual director.  While other women are envious of the well-kept houses and perfectly behaved children they see on Facebook and Pinterest, I’m jealous of the spirituality of the Catholic women I have encountered online.

Wow, how messed up does that sound?

As a someone who delights in reading and learning, you would think that at least I could manage some regular spiritual reading.  Yet the inspirational books with scriptural reflections for each day lie unopened on my nightstand, and my pile of unread religious books grows ever higher.  Whenever I manage to open one of those books, I fall asleep within minutes.

Life is busy and life is hard, and most of the time I have to content myself with at least the notion that I am living my faith through my actions instead of devoting time to prayer and spiritual reading.  I think that’s a bit of a cop out, though, and that’s one reason I was grateful for the opportunity I was given to read A Walk in Her Sandals: Experiencing Christ’s Passion through the Eyes of Women.

In exchange for my honest reflections and as part of my participation in the Siena Sisters blog hop, I received an advance copy of this creative take on the Passion of Jesus.  One thing I AM good with is deadlines so I was able to make time to read this book so I could share it with you.

Not that it was a big sacrifice.  I really enjoyed reading it, and I stayed awake too.  Written in sections by a team of ten Catholic women, this book is meant to be used as a Lenten study, either for an individual or a small group.  It is divided into six chapters, each showcasing a spiritual gift unique to women with accompanying scripture and exegesis, personal reflections, suggestions for prayer, questions for group discussion, and guidance for evangelization.

The heart of the book for me, though, were the stories that make up an imaginative thread that gives the book its title and its life.  Each chapter introduces us to some of the women who knew Jesus or his disciples, and invites us to experience the events of Holy Week through their eyes.  I’ve read things like this before, and they can easily seem a little too precious, but these stories were well done, the women carefully characterized, the narrative compelling and moving as each woman encountered Jesus and His message in her own way.  I just loved these stories.  They really brought the scripture, which  I of course have heard hundreds of times, to life in a new and exciting way for me.

I recommend you go here and order Walk in Her Sandals before Lent.  I plan to read it again myself at that time, and maybe I will be able to move a little further down that road to holiness by Easter.

This post is part of the CWBN Siena Sisters Blog Hop.  Click the picture below to see what everyone else had to say about Walk in Her Sandals.

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