What I Read in May

This month’s reads are primarily fiction, as befits the beginning of summer! I just made it to my goal, finishing book six while visiting my husband’s family in Baltimore.  A couple of these books were provided to me for free in exchange for my honest review–I will let you know which ones those were below.

Curtain by Agatha Christie is an old favorite. My daughter picked up a copy for me from a used bookstore. Before our house burned down I had amassed an almost complete collection of the works of Agatha Christie, which is around 80 titles in all. I still have most of them but they are covered in soot and stored in the garage, so it has been awhile since I have read them.  This is one of two titles that the author put into safe storage during the Blitz in case she was killed.  Those works (the other was Sleeping Murder, Miss Marple’s last case) were published upon the author’s death which thankfully did not occur till the 1970s.  Written at the height of her powers, this novel is much better than works written later but published earlier.

Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert was a Christmas gift that I have been reading for awhile. Read it if you are a writer! It’s a little goofy at times but I found kernels of wisdom therein.

Seeking Tranquility by Amy Schisler is one of the free books I mentioned. It’s a Catholic romance novel, something I used to wish for back when I was reading a lot of Christian romance novels under the Steeple Hill/Love Inspired imprint. She puts the setting–Chincoteague Island–to great use.  Faith is part of the story for sure, but it’s more a natural backdrop than the entire focus of the story. And the story was absorbing with everything from NASA to the mob with a side of wild ponies.

The Heretic’s Apprentice by Ellis Peters is the next Brother Cadfael mystery and this one is more overtly theological than most, centered as it is around issues of what Catholics are required to believe and what is open to discussion. I am over halfway through with this series now and I am going to be so sad when I finish them.

The Vows We Keep by Victoria Everleigh is the second book I received for free. It’s another Catholic romance starring a former priest whose re-entry into the dating world is adorably awkward. I enjoyed the characters and the story and especially the twist ending that I totally did not see coming.

The Murder of Mr. Wickham by Claudia Gray was pure delight.  Several of Jane Austen’s characters from various books are gathered for a house party (hosted by Emma Knightly) when who should show up but the odious Mr. Wickham! Everyone has a motive for murdering him so when he turns up dead two of the house guests decide to play detective. These sleuths are the author’s creation, being children of Austen’s characters.  One of them is clearly autistic, and I really appreciated the way he was portrayed. This is one of my favorite books I’ve read this year and I wish she would write another one like it.

As ever, I’m linking up with An Open Book! Be sure to check out other great reads there!

 

My Favorite Reads of 2021

Since I had a reading goal for the entirety of 2021, I thought it would be fun to do a round up post of the top ten books out of the 76 books I finished.  For the most part, I am excluding old favorites which I re-read from the list. The inclusion of a book on this list might mean I really enjoyed it, or it has stuck with me, or I think it is a really important book. That is to say, this is not scientific, y’all.

An Honorable Mention must go to all the Brother Cadfael books I read this year. These medieval mysteries by Ellis Peters are a joy for me to read, but I could never pick a favorite. Let’s just say I will drop anything else I am reading when one of these appears in my house (via the library, courtesy of my daughter).

Now, in no particular order, here are the top ten.

Ask Again, Yes by Mary Beth Keane–a Georgetown book club selection–was my favorite read in January.  This story of the intertwined lives of two families and the tragedy that tears them apart was surprisingly uplifting in the end.  And I found it deeply Catholic in its views on marriage and redemption.  Some favorite quotations: “Marriage is long. All the seams get tested,” and (of marriage) “Love isn’t enough. Not even close.

I read Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate for my in-person book club at my next door neighbor’s house.  I couldn’t put it down, even though parts of it were painful to read–it’s based on a true story of poor children in Tennessee being stolen from their parents to be adopted out to well-to-do families.

This Is All I Got: A New Mother’s Search for Home by Lauren Sandler was a gut-wrenching, soul-sucking read, and if you are one of those people who believe a smart, hard-working woman ought to be able to pull herself out of poverty, you need to read this. It was one of my Georgetown book club reads for April.

I read The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien (duh!) via the Tea with Tolkien book club. Although I did not have time to participate in the discussions, I found the weekly podcast episodes summarizing each chapter to be super helpful. This was my second read of this book, which sat largely untouched on my shelf most of my life because it was so challenging, and I think I really have a handle on it now. It is so beautiful.

Another Georgetown selection, The Pull of the Stars by Emma Donoghue is set during the 1918 pandemic but the author did not plan its publication to coincide with our current pandemic. It was a case of truth being stranger than fiction that she had this book about to come out before she ever heard of Covid-19. Needless to say, the coincidence adds weight to what is already a well-written and riveting story about three days is a ward for pregnant flu patients in a hospital in Ireland. It was graphic and painful but I could not stop reading.

Mary Pezzulo, the author of Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy, is one of my favorite bloggers–I share her writing on my page all the time. This is an amazing and personal explanation of the Works of Mercy, with practical and empathetic takes on how you can practice them: “I  have learned so much about what it’s like to be poor, sick, and lonely that I have something to tell other people, so that we as Christians can help one another. God didn’t want me abused, but he has used my journey to help me tell other people about what it’s like so it’s not so hard and isolating for them. I couldn’t have done that before.”

The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune was our in-person book club choice for August and I enjoyed it very much. I found myself wanting to know about the backstory and hoping for more in this universe. I will say the tone is a little strange. It reads like YA fantasy but the protagonist is middle-aged. Also some bits are over the top–like the hilarious pronouncements of the six-year-old Antichrist, but that adds to the fun. At bottom, it’s a sweet, affirming book–though it has its own controversy. I am already thinking about reading it again.

I stumbled into an Instagram book study on The Whole Language: The Power of Extravagant Tenderness by Father Greg Boyle that was hosted by Alissa Molina and I am so glad I did! I had been fortunate to have heard Father Greg speak at my son’s graduation from Notre Dame so I was excited to read this book, and it did not disappoint.  Father Greg is the founder of a ministry that serves gang members, and the stories of mercy and grace and wisdom in this book will surprise and move you.

I read The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien edited by Humphrey Carpenter off and on for several months as my reading plan is to always be reading something either by or about Tolkien. This was just delightful–both for the insights into the writer and his creation. Catholics will especially enjoy learning more about Tolkien’s faith and its relationship to his mythology.

And finally, the book that was undoubtedly my favorite! If you don’t read a anything else on this list, read this one. I promise you will not be disappointed.

I read Piranesi by Susanna Clarke for the Fountain of Carrots book club. It’s absolutely delightful. I read it a second time for my in-person book club (they were fans), and I already am wanting to re-read it so I can unpack new layers of meaning. I loved it so much that I was unable to stick to the book club schedule and finished way ahead. Also, it’s short! A sampling: “The Beauty of the House is immeasurable; its Kindness infinite.

That was fun! I would love to know what your favorite reads from 2021 were, if you would care to comment below!

What I Read in April

Did I meet my reading goal? Yes, I did!

Tiny Hot Dogs by Mary Giulani

This is a memoir by a Georgetown alumna who wanted to be a star and ended up as caterer to the stars instead. It’s a fun read that unexpectedly turns serious near the end, and it’s interspersed with some recipes that sound tasty!

High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out by Amanda Ripley

I found this Georgetown book club selection very interesting. I also thought it was structured exceptionally well, with compelling stories to illustrate the points the author was making, that she kept circling back to and relating to one another. You would not think there was much to compare between Chicago gangs and Marin County politics and war in Columbia, but there is! And the very last part where liberal Jews and conservative Christians spend time hanging out together is gold. I could not stop reading it out loud to my husband.

Draw Near by Cameron Bellm

This is what I used for reflection/journaling during Lent and I absolutely loved it, especially the saints who were new to me.

The Leavers by Lisa Ko

This was another Georgetown selection, and I enjoyed it immensely even while parts of it broke my heart. It’s the story of an undocumented Chinese immigrant and her American-born son and their tragic separation, told from both of their points of view.

Japanese Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edogawa Rampo

Emily brought me this one from the library just because. The author loved detective stories and wanted to try his hand at creating a Japanese style of mystery story. Can you guess how he chose his pen name? Anyway, the stories are quite different from Western mysteries. But they are creepy! I enjoyed reading them.

Knoxville, Tennessee by Elena Irish Zimmerman

My big boys gave me this for Christmas–they saw it while shopping at the drug store and picked it up along with some similar ones that I will be reporting on later. They know I love Knoxville history! The whole book consists of old post cards with commentary on the pictures. A great number of the places depicted have since been destroyed, so this book is a real treasure.

And there you have it!  See more great reads right here!

 

What I Read in March

Well, this will be a short post!  I completed only four books in March, and if Emily hadn’t made a trip to the library the last week of the month, it would have been two.  We visited Boulder this month, which meant four days in the car, but that does not really seem like enough of an explanation, does it?

First up is Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh, which I read for the Fountains of Carrots book club.

Have you ever read a book in high school or college, did not think much of it, and then read it later and were blown away? That was my experience with this book. I barely remembered it from my 20th Century Catholic Fiction class, which I took in my very last semester at Georgetown in 1989. Now I found parts of it to be some of the best pages I have ever read. Some books you really have to have some experience under your belt to understand, in my opinion. I copied some quotations into a notebook I keep and when I re-read them I get chills.  Seriously, this book’s exploration of the effect of having been raised Catholic is not to be missed if you are interested in such things.

Next we have A Good Neighborhood by Therese Anne Fowler, this month’s read for my in-person book club at my next door neighbor’s house.

We all HATED this book. Not that it was not interesting. Not that some parts of it are well-written. Not that we did not care about at least some of the characters. But the ending. It was just wrong. Unless you want to be wrecked and in tears, don’t read it. It is not worth it.

Emily brought me The Confession of Brother Haluin by Ellis Peters, and I read it in two days.

Y’all already know how much I love the Brother Cadfael series. This one kept me guessing almost to the end.

Then I moved on to Scandal in Spring by Lisa Kleypas, which I devoured in one afternoon.

This was the last of the Wallflowers series, the story of four girls who make a pact to help each other find husbands. If you’ve never liked romance novels, you won’t like these. If you used to like them, but kind of grew out of them (as I have), you probably will enjoy them for an afternoon or two of diversion.

This month is going to be better. I should finish three Georgetown book club choices for one thing, and a couple of other books I was reading last month as well. Will I make the six book goal? That remains to be seen!

Don’t forget to click below for other great reads at An Open Book!

 

What I Read in February

So, I just barely made my six book goal this month, and that’s only because the first book I read was a picture book!

But John Ronald’s Dragons by Carolyn McAlister is truly a superior picture book. It’s a great introduction to Tolkien for pre-readers but there’s also a lot to enjoy for Tolkien lovers of all ages, especially the visual depiction of the eras of Tolkien’s life.

There were only two Georgetown selections for the first quarter of this year, and I quickly finished this one:

While I enjoyed Mine! by Michael Heller and James Salzman, I find I have already forgotten most of it!

Next I made the mistake of letting my sister talk me into reading this one:

I say it was a mistake not because Mother, May I? by Joshilyn Jackson  was not good–it was! Rather, it was a mistake because I could not put it down and ignored all my priorities that day. It’s a thriller involving a kidnapping, identity, love and its complications, and even topical issues. I have not forgotten this one and I doubt I will.

I’ve had this one on my list of spiritual books for awhile:

The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Laurence is a very simple little book that was written a long time ago, but it has a modern feeling to it. The premise is that of learning to walk with God in every moment rather than just calling on Him occasionally. I want to read this again and again so I can internalize its message.

This was another one from my sister:

It took me a minute to get into Little Eyes by Samanta Schweblin, since it starts in medias res and lets the reader catch up gradually, but once I did I was hooked. This is an all-too-plausible story about where our many virtual connections and lack of concern for privacy might lead us–and it’s not good!

I have had this one on my non-fiction list for some time, and was happy to get it for Christmas:

As someone who first got the message that my body was not good enough when a doctor put me on a diet at the age of four, the message of radical self-love described in The Body Is Not an Apology by Sonya Renee Taylor resonated deeply with me.  I wish everyone who hates their body and all people who continue to shame them could read this.

OK, so this is the book that was responsible for my almost not reading six:

I wanted to like Franchise by Marcia Chatelain. It’s obviously a meticulously researched book and its story and implications are important. But it is so dense that I could not get through it. I rarely fail to finish something I start reading but I made an exception for this one. It was a Georgetown choice and someone in the club commented that it read more like a sociology dissertation than a book for popular consumption. It’s a good book but not for me.

Finally, I am going to share another one I have not finished:

The reason I have not finished Imagine You Walked with Jesus by Jerry Windley-Daoust is not because I don’t want to read it, but because I want to savor it. And the reason I am telling you about it now instead of when I do finish is because I was supposed to review it and it just is not fair of me to wait to tell people about it for that long! Plus I think it would be an awesome read for Lent if any of you are still looking for something special to do. It’s an introduction to Ignatian Contemplative Prayer, or Imaginative Prayer, where you put yourself into the story and use all your senses to experience the scenes right along with Jesus and his disciples. This is a super-accessible book for anyone who has no experience with this form of prayer, even kids. It can be used for solitary prayer or in a group. Not only does the book provide instruction in this way of praying, it also offers background information to enrich your imagination and many suggested readings to pray with. I recommend it very highly and I am not just saying that because I received a free advance copy.

That’s it for February! Find more great reads below via An Open Book linkup.

What I Read in January

What with Christmas Break and snow days and Covid cancellations and William’s semester starting midway through the month, I had another fruitful reading month!

The Grey King by Susan Cooper

I continued reading this series that I began re-reading in December. This one won the Newbery Award! I learned how to sort of pronounce Welsh from reading it, which is a plus.

The Girl Who Remembered Snow by Charles Mathes

A quirky mystery with a poignant heart. I had read it years ago but did not remember it at all, so that was fun!

Silver on the Tree by Susan Cooper

Last in the series, which always leaves me melancholy and wishing for more. This one finally brings all the main characters together for an adventure.

Autopsy by Patricia Cornwell

I was a little worried going in, because Cornwell’s books have declined in quality in recent years. I had a couple of problems with this one, chiefly with the way-too-rapid conclusion and neat tying up of loose ends, but over all it was the best one in awhile and hard to put down.

Certain Women by Madeleine L’Engle

I’m a L’Engle fan from way back, and I am always delighted to find something of hers that I have not read. The conceit of this novel–intertwining the story of King David and his wives with a more modern David and his–was pleasing to me since I just finished listening to the Bible in a Year podcast so I could really understand it.

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke

I read this again because I convinced my book club to read it. They loved it, and so do I. It’s an absolutely delightful book and if you have not read it you should. I cannot explain it without spoiling it so you need to take my word for it.

Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie

I have almost every Agatha Christie book painstakingly collected from used book stores and salvaged in a sooty condition from our fire. For some reason I got a hankering to read one (they are a comfort read for me) and this one is one of my favorites.

The Messiah Comes to Middle Earth by Philip Ryken

I mostly enjoyed this examination of the threefold office of Jesus (Priest, Prophet, and King) as exemplified by various characters in The Lord of the Rings. However, it does rely on a Protestant understanding of some of the theology which feels strange to me since Tolkien was not only a devout Catholic but is on record writing that his book is profoundly Catholic.

The Hermit of Eyton Forest by Ellis Peters

I always squeal with delight when Emily brings one of these home from the library for me. I am sad to report that I am more than halfway finished reading these. I have loved them all.

Saints around the World by Meg Hunter-Kilmer

Every Catholic child should have this book. I wish I’d had it to teach my kids about the saints when they were young. But it is also pretty cool to read as an adult, because it is full of saints I have never heard of, from all over the world, chosen for diversity, and indexed to help readers find ones they can relate to.

The Art of Advent by Jane Williams

This was part of our family’s Advent devotions but since it goes through Epiphany I could not finish it until now. It includes a painting for each day, a reflection, discussion questions, and a prayer, so it is great for a family activity. We loved looking at the paintings but wished the book was larger so we could have seen the details better. This was written by an Anglican so there are a few minor theological differences from a Catholic understanding.

As ever, I am linking up with An Open Book, which you can visit by clicking below.

 

What I Read in November

Posting late this month because 1) Thanksgiving and 2) End of semester for my kids and 3) Christmas preparations, but even though I am too late for my regular linkup, I wanted to keep up my monthly update–especially as I hit my goal for the month!

The Raven in the Foregate by Ellis Peters

Brother Cadfael continues to delight me! This adventure contained some still timely discussions on pastoral care of sinners.

Monsters of the Week by Zack Handlen and Todd Vanderwerff

I had been reading this most of the year, one entry at a time, to coincide with our family re-watch of all 11 seasons plus the movies of my favorite show.  It includes reviews of every episode plus short interviews of cast members and plenty of inside info.

How to Be an Anti-Racist by Ibram X. Kendi

What I appreciated most about this book is how the author led us along on his own antiracist journey, while inviting us to confront our own internalized biases and learn how to do better.

The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd

This was the only Georgetown book club choice that I read this quarter. I was a little iffy about it because of the subject matter–it is a “memoir” of the wife of Jesus! But it was written in such a way as not to offend, and it was more about the heroine and her journey anyway.  I enjoyed the story and the details of everyday life at the time.

The Whole Language: The Power of Extravagant Tenderness by Father Greg Boyle

I stumbled into an Instagram book study hosted by Alissa Molina and I am so glad I did! I had been fortunate to have heard Father Greg speak at my son’s graduation from Notre Dame so I was excited to read this book, and it did not disappoint.  Father Greg is the founder of a ministry that serves gang members, and the stories of mercy and grace and wisdom in this book will surprise and move you.

And that’s it for November!  I hope to be back to linking up next month.

What I Read in October

I made up for last month’s failure to meet my five-book-a-month goal by reading eight books this month, thanks to multiple book clubs.

Think Like a Rocket Scientist by Ozan Varol

This is a perfectly fine book, which I read for one of my Georgetown book clubs. It just didn’t really grab me and I kind of had to slog through it. I’ve decided to opt out of the Georgetown choices that I am not really excited about going forward.

The Lions of Fifth Avenue by Fiona Davis

It was my third time participating in Booktober this month, and this was the first book I read. It had some problems, but this tale of two women living almost a century apart, both of whose lives were affected by a mystery of books gone missing from the New York Public Library, was a fun don’t-want-to-put-it-down kind of read.

The Sirens of Mars by Sarah Steward Johnson

This was the other Georgetown book club selection that I had trouble finishing. Again, it’s not the author’s fault that the subject matter just did not grab me. One neat thing is that there was a certain amount of overlap between this and the Rocket Scientist book.

Human Voices by Penelope Fitzgerald

This was the second Booktober selection, about people working at the BBC during World War II. It was a weird read because I could see that it was well-written but I just did not care about it at all.

Wise Blood by Flannery O’Connor

I do not even know what to say about this book. Bizarre is the best adjective to describe it. I have read O’Connor’s short stories so I know how strange she can be but I wish that I had read this in college so I could have had a really good discussion about it.

Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man by Emmanual Acho

This would make a great starting point if you have not read any books on being anti-racist yet. It’s based on the author’s video series of the same name in which he answers questions posed by white viewers, on all kinds of topics from hip hop to Affirmative Action. It’s very non-threatening and accessible if there is someone whose consciousness you’d like to raise. 🙂

House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

I slogged through this 600-page tome for my RL book club, having been assured that it was the scariest book ever, and I regret to inform you that I was more irritated than scared. I get that it’s supposed to be clever and experimental and modern but I wish someone would explain its appeal and how it has achieved cult status.  To sum up as briefly as possible, it’s a (fictional) scholarly book about a fictional movie written by a reclusive old man discovered and edited for publication after his death by a troubled, drug-addled young man and it has about a million footnotes and what I will call a creative layout.

A Most Excellent Mystery by Ellis Peters

What can I say? Delightful, as always, and I was pleased to figure out the mystery more quickly than usual.

As usual, I am sharing this month’s reads at An Open Book. Check it out!

What I Read in September

Sometimes it’s hard for me to believe that I have turned into a person who 1) needs to set a reading goal and 2) finds a five-book-a-month goal challenging at times.

I was the kid who always had her nose in a book–brushing my teeth, walking down the hall, eating my breakfast, riding in the car . . . I was reading all the time. You know how kids are with their phones these days? That was me, only with books.

I read around a book a day most of my life until college.  And even up until about ten years ago I was already reading something. I blame the internet. I still read a lot, only not books.

ANYWAY, that’s why I set this goal. And I did not make it in September! In fact, I only read THREE books!

I know why–it was the first full month of school. And my 2:00-3:30 reading time often was absorbed by helping William with online college. That’s one reason. The other is that two of the books I was reading for my online Georgetown book clubs just were not that compelling, making my reading of them more of a chore.

Here’s what I DID read.

Rewilding Motherhood by Shannon K. Evans

Shannon is a blogger and writer whose work I’ve been following for a long time. I loved her first book, Embracing Weakness, and so I was excited not only to read this one but to participate as a member of the launch team, which got me an advance copy and was so much fun.

Beautifully written and full of the wisdom of an amazing array of theologians and thinkers—all of them women—this is a book that challenges you to think and then to think some more. Shannon helps you do that with suggestions for “Going Deeper” at the end of each chapter. My favorite was her invitation to go back into my childhood to remember all the ways I enjoyed spending time back then, looking for clues to what I should be doing now: “The activities that absorbed us as children can speak to the unique and particular way our souls were formed.”

Writers and Lovers by Lily King

This was the one Georgetown book I did enjoy, although I don’t know if I’d read it again. It’s about an aspiring writer who is still reeling over her mother’s death and is working as a waitress and drowning in student loans.  The part that stressed me out was her having two boyfriends at once–and then I disagreed with which one she picked! If you have read it, let me know if you agree with me!

It Happened One Autumn by Lisa Kleypas

This was my fun read, second in The Wallflowers series of historical romances. I was a big fan of this genre as a teen, then I got bored. But these are different, with quirky heroines who take their destinies into their own hands, albeit within the rigid confines of the patriarchal society in which they live. I want to read the next one but my daughter says we have to wait until Winter, when it is set.

Of course, I was reading other books last month which I did not finish . . . which means I have already finished three in October, so I’ll have a lot to tell you about next month! In the meantime, I’m linking up with An Open Book–just click here for more great reads.

What I Read in July

Well, this was the first month I failed to meet my five book reading goal. I read parts of several other books that will show up in my August post, but  only completed four. It is getting harder and harder to preserve my dedicated reading time, and with school starting back up in August I am going to have to re-think my schedule.

I started The Philosophy of Tolkien: The Worldview Behind the Lord of the Rings years ago and did not finish it, so I started over. This is a very accessible look at Tolkien’s philosophy, and there is a lot on C.S. Lewis too!

I should have read Divine Mercy for Moms last year, when Faustina was my Saint of the Year (which is why I bought the book in the first place!) but better late than never!  This book is a nice intro to Saint Faustina’s story and spirituality, and comes with practical advice, a study guide for individuals and small groups,and daily reflections and prayers.

Upstream: The Quest to Solve Problems before They Happen is the last of the second quarter of Georgetown book club reads. It was a fascinating look at problem-solving. I liked its emphasis on analysis and concrete steps rather than just worrying about the future and succumbing to paralyzing anxiety. I feel myself thinking new thoughts after reading it.

Finally, The Pilgrim of Hate is the next installment of the Brother Cadfael books, which continue to delight me.  I drop everything else to read these when my daughter brings me the latest from the library. I am halfway through the series now!

As ever, I am linking up with An Open Book. You can find more great reads by clicking here. And please comment below with your own latest reads!