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!

 

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 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!

What I Read in June

I did not read as much in June, but I did meet my goal.  Here’s the breakdown:

Call Down the Hawk is the first of a trilogy that follows the Raven Boys series, which I loved. My adult daughter loves young adult fantasy and I am grateful for the ones she recommends to me.  This was a re-read in preparation for the second book coming out.

I’ve been reading Only Love Today for awhile, bit by bit during my evening prayer time. It’s perfect as a once-a-day read, and it contains valuable and affirming lessons written in an engaging and accessible way.

Mister Impossible is the aforementioned sequel, which I got my hands on at the beginning of vacation, once my daughter had finished with it. There’s not much I can say about this series without giving things away so I’ll just say I had  hard time putting it down.

I read The Vanishing Half for one of my Georgetown book clubs. It’s the story of Black twin sisters who are separated when one disappears to pass for white, and all the repercussions that follow into the next generation. I found the ending mildly disappointing but I was absorbed by the story.

Another Georgetown selection, The Pull of the Stars 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.

Secrets of a Summer Night is my guilty summer read. It’s obviously a romance novel, and first in a series about a group of wallflowers who set out to help each other find husbands before they are hopeless old maids. I discovered this author when I ran across one of her books at Goodwill. I was mildly intrigued by the blurb on the back of the book and my daughter and I enjoyed the book so much that we ended up reading the whole series.  If you ever enjoyed romance novels but grew tired of them, give these a try. There’s a freshness to them that makes the genre fun again.

And that’s it!

As ever, I’m linking up at An Open Book. Click below for more great reads.

When You Became You: A Scientifically Accurate Celebration of Human Beings

I have an article published in the Spring issue of Celebrate Life Magazine.

Brooke and Christiane worked with a New York Times best-selling illustrator for four months, providing guidance and ideas for the illustrations. According to Brooke: “The illustrations truly capture and enhance the essence of the book’s scientifically accurate celebration of our shared humanity, in terms of human development. The illustrator [who was advised by her American partners to omit her name from the book due to its “controversial” nature] took great care to make the artwork engaging and beautiful while keeping the science at the center of the story.”

These beautiful illustrations are inspired by the Carnegie Stages of Human Embryonic Development and by actual images of preborn human beings at various stages. In addition, the illustrations “incorporated abstract DNA strands, the infinity symbol, the Earth, the solar system, chemical symbols, elements from the periodic table, etc. to reinforce the message that we are introducing children to important science about when a human being . . . begins to exist.” 

You can read the rest here!

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’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.