What I Read in March

I read a lot in March! I am once again becoming the girl who always has a book in her hand, and I love it!

I was not expecting to read The Turn of the Key, which was a book Emily got for herself at the library.  But as she described the plot, I became intrigued.  It’s a mystery inspired by The Turn of the Screw, which I read in college.  I couldn’t put it down and it kept me guessing right up till the end.

Every Catholic woman (those who hang out online, anyway) is reading Falling Home this month it seems.  It’s a vulnerable, touching, and inspirational memoir. A couple of my favorite quotes: “[G]oodness doesn’t become any less good or valuable because it only lasts for a short time,” and “But she is full of hidden treasures! She must be! Isn’t everyone? . . . [E]veryone has marvels and miracles woven within them.

Here’s another book every Catholic I know seems to be reading this month: Consecration to St. Joseph The Wonders of Our Spiritual Father.  And I’m going to voice a super-unpopular opinion: I did not like this book and I would have stopped reading it very soon if not that 1) It was one of the things I planned to do for Lent and 2) I wanted to be consecrated to St. Joseph.  As it was, I admit I skimmed parts. I hate to go on at great length in a negative way about a book that seems to be bearing great fruit for so many people so I’ll just say that it was repetitive and simplistic, and a lot of the “theology” seemed to be the writer’s opinion, as far as I could tell.

Bookclub time! This month I was participating in the Fountain of Carrots readalong of The Reckless Way of Love. Having read a biography of Dorothy Day not long ago I was eager to learn more of her wisdom, like “The mystery of the poor is this: that they are Jesus, and whatever you do for them you do to Him,” and “Love and ever more love is the only solution to every problem that comes up.” I highly recommend this short and easy way if you want a quick introduction to the thinking of this holy woman.

I read Me and White Supremacy and completed the associated workbook as part of another online book club led by Leticia Ochoa Adams.  This is part of my ongoing anti-racism work, about which I plan to write more later. Anyway, reading this is hard and it’s work, but it is necessary work.

I continued my nostalgic revisit to the Anne series with the second installment, Anne of Avonlea, which primarily concerns Anne’s time as a teacher of the one-room schoolhouse she herself attended.  Here’s a lovely description of the heroine: “Anne was one of the children of light by birthright. After she had passed through a life with a smile of a word thrown across it like a gleam of sunshine the owner of that life saw it, for the time being at least, as hopeful and lovely and of good report.”

I don’t recall how I first came across Domestic Pleasures, but it was definitely by accident. I’ve never read any other books by the author, which I should probably remedy given how much I enjoy this one. This copy was a Christmas gift to replace the one I lost in the fire. It’s a tale of the intertwined lives and stories of Martha (ex-wife of Raymond); Charlie (Raymond’s divorce lawyer and now trustee of his estate); Jack and Phoebe, the teen kids of Martha and Charlie; Sophie (Charlie’s erstwhile girlfriend) and her unhappily-married sister, Connie; Patsy (Charlie’s ex-wife); and Gillis (Martha’s former lover and father of her toddler son).  At its heart it’s a sweet love story but philosophically it’s a reminder of how our lives are shaped both by random events and our connections.  It’s full of wisdom, for example: “Martha didn’t listen, because of course no one ever listens.

The Sanctuary Sparrow was another delightful visit to the medieval world of Brother Cadfael, former Crusader turned detective monk. These books never disappoint me and I am so glad that there are so many of them.

Did y’all count? That was EIGHT books so I surpassed my goal by three, and I read parts of lots of other things too, as you will eventually hear. Check out more books at the link below.

What I Read in January

I set a goal this year to read five books a month.  In truth, I thought it a modest goal, since I used to read that many every week, give or take.  But it was surprisingly challenging, perhaps partly because I am only counting books I finish each month even though I am reading others at a slower pace for various reasons. (And also perhaps because my kids–one in high school, one in college–started back to online school, and they require frequent assistance!)

I finished the Emily of New Moon series which I got for Christmas.  Much of Emily’s Quest is painful to read, honestly, but the payoff is worth it.  One of the elements of the Emily books that appeals to me is the hint of the supernatural therein which is not really a feature of the more well-known Anne of Green Gables series.

Chasing My Cure: A Doctor’s Race to Turn Hope into Action, is one of three books I read this month for various Georgetown University alumni book clubs.  We were supposed to read them over a ten-week period but I just cannot manage that when I get really interested in a book.  This one was a quick read because I wanted to find out what happened to the author in this story of how his medical degree and relentless, active hope were key to finding his own cure when he was stricken with a mysterious, incurable disease.

Ask Again, Yes–another Georgetown selection–was my favorite read of the month.  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.”

The Power of Habit was my final Georgetown Book Club read.  Its combination of science, anecdote, and self-help made it an engaging read.  I definitely filed away some of its insights to help me towards my goals.

The Leper of Saint Giles is the next installment of the Brother Cadfael mysteries, which I continue to love.  Everything about these books is pitch perfect–the characters, the history, the mystery, and the faith.  And there are so many of them that I will have the pleasure of reading them for months to come.

Coming up in February, I’ll be doing three book club reads, some spiritual reading, and at least two “just for fun” books!  I’m linking up today with An Open Book.  Click the picture to discover more great reads!

 

 

 

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.

Merry Christmas Gift Guide

Now, I am not one to start Christmasing early.  We celebrate Advent hard and save Christmas for its proper 12 days as much as possible in today’s world.  But part of having a peaceful Advent for me is doing my Christmas shopping in November.  If you want to get an early start too, I’ve got some ideas for you!

Many of the products below were created by folks I know, or were given to me to review in the past.  There are a few (very few!) affiliate links among them.  In many cases I have included links to my reviews so you can learn more.

Let’s start with Catholic gifts. 

I used to think my only option for Catholic gifts was the local Catholic book and gift shop.  It’s still a great option when I need something right away, but there is so much else out there, much of it handmade by Catholic artisans.

I love, love, love Pink Salt Riot products.  You cannot go wrong shopping for your favorite Catholic woman here!  My top recommendation is the design your own bracelet:I wear the one I created most days!

I also love my St. Peter bracelet from Kindred Forest Co.

Visit them for a wonderful product line geared toward helping you be friends with the saints!

I am crazy about SockReligious (especially the clever name!).  There are so many choices that I can’t pick a favorite.  Maybe these?

Stay Close to Christ is another source for all kinds of Catholic gifts, including these adorable tiny saints.  You can get one for free with your $10 purchase if you enter the code LESLIE at check out.

I found these and many other favorite Catholic products via the CatholicsOnline Directory.  Click on the logo to learn more.

The talent of the artisans listed is truly a gift from God and I have been blessed by the products I have purchased.

A couple of my favorite Etsy shops I discovered via Catholics Online are Saongjai (I have bought sturdy, beautiful rosaries there) and No Heart Untouched (love her style and my husband loves the coffee cup I bought for him!).

There are always books on my Christmas list

I’ve already written some posts on Christmas-themed children’s books.  And here’s a link to non-Christmas picture books I love.

The following are a few Catholic books I have reviewed and can recommend.  Links to purchase are in each post:



And here are links to a few that I have not reviewed:

Be Yourself: A Journal for Catholic Girls  (The boys’ version is coming out soon!)

The Gift of Invitation (this is one of a series of Stay Connected journals)

Becoming Holy, One Virtue at a Time (another of the above series, to pre-order)

Made for Greatness (a growth mindset journal for Catholic kids)

Now for a few secular options!

I love the ring I purchased from Mama’s Jewelry, which contains the birthstones of all my children.  There are lots of styles to choose from and they are surprisingly affordable!  

This is the best lipstick I have ever owned.  It’s no longer available from the seller in the linked review, but you can purchase it here.

This next one is a bit pricey, but Healtop health and wellness products are amazing.

Finally, for those-hard-to-shop-for-people-who-have-everything, visit Uncommon Goods.  Honestly,  I love almost everything they sell (especially the candles)!

Let me know in the comments if you found anything here for your Christmas list!

Books Worth Reading: Christmas Part II

I’ve written previously about our family’s Christmas book tradition and shared some of our favorites.  Just in time for you to order before Christmas, here are five more of our all-time favorites.

Who Is Coming to Our House

I am pretty sure this was the second Christmas book I bought for Emily, so it has been part of our Christmas for over a quarter of a century!  She loved it so much that she memorized most of it.  A big plus is that nowadays you can get it as a board book!

We Were There

Now, there are lots and lots of books that tell the story of the birth of Jesus from the point of view of the animals in the stable.  But there were other creatures present that you may not have thought of.  This book was–and is–a hit with our youngest two, who love all things creepy crawly; and it is a wonderful reminder that God made ALL creatures, not just the cuddly ones.

Santa and the Christ Child

From a literary standpoint, this one isn’t going to win any awards.  But I still love the story, and it reminds me of my favorite “Kneeling Santa” Christmas decoration.

Christmas Tapestry

We are big Patricia Polacco fans and several of our Christmas books were written by her, but I think this recent acquisition is my favorite.  Although it’s a Christmas miracle story, it’s also ecumenical and historical and heartwarming.

All Creation Waits

Maybe it is cheating a bit to include an Advent book but we got this last year and I cannot tell you how much we loved it.  We read one story every evening as a part of our Advent celebration.  I bought it for my son the animal lover but we were all enthralled and amazed by the beauty of God’s creation as revealed in these stories.

That’s all for this installment! Tell me about your favorites in the comments–I need some ideas for what to order this year!

 

They See a Family: Book Review

As a somewhat sheepish occasional reader of Christian romance novels, I have been wishing for years that there was a Catholic equivalent.  So when Catholic author Amanda Hamm asked if I would like to read her latest novel (for free, in exchange for my honest review) I was super excited.

That said, being used to the Protestant take on the genre, I wasn’t expecting a whole lot–a light read, something to wile away an afternoon with a hint of Catholicism thrown in.  I am delighted to tell you that They See a Family is so much more than that.
TheySeeaFamily
This is a sweet story that starts tragically, when the main character, Kay Donovan, learns that her sister and brother-in-law have died in a car crash while out for a rare evening alone, leaving Kay to care for two babies under the age of two.  Trapped in her apartment with her nephews and without their car seats, Kay immediately calls her friend William to help.

William is adorably awkward and has had a crush on Kay for awhile.  He instantly steps in and becomes an intrinsic part of Kay’s life as she leans on him for help with her new role.  Their friendship deepens and Kay starts to think of William as father/husband material.  But neither knows the other’s true feelings and misunderstandings abound.  Can they solve these problems to become a real family?

Well, of course they can because this is a romance and has to have a happy ending! But that doesn’t render the emotional resonance along the way any less real and rewarding.  I especially appreciate the many little homely details that are included starting with the problem of the car seats at the very beginning.  I also love the glimpses into William’s and Kay’s minds.  With their confusion and insecurities they seem very realistic, as well as likable.

As for the faith aspect, it’s more understated than in the Protestant romances I have read.  William and Kay are Catholic and talk about attending Mass together.  Eventually they seek the advice of a priest about their relationship.  They have a chaste courtship and their attempts to discuss sex are embarrassing for both of them.  I loved the subtle pro-life touch of William having a mentally disabled brother who is included in the story without making a big point about it.

They See a Family is available for pre-order on Amazon.   I’m so happy to have been introduced to Amanda Hamm’s work and am looking forward to reading more.

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!

All I Want for Christmas Is Books, Books, Books

Even when I was a little girl who still enjoyed getting toys for Christmas, I also looked forward to receiving books.  Then as a teenager I remember enjoying Christmas night, after all the festivities were finished, finally getting to lie on the sofa to read whichever book I was most excited about receiving.

Well, that hasn’t changed.  These days, if anyone asks me what I want for Christmas, I will have a list of books ready even if I cannot come up with anything else.  Usually these are the latest installment of favorite series that tend to appear in November.  I resist the temptation to buy them myself, eagerly anticipating receiving them as gifts.

I read very fast, so I’ve already finished most of my Christmas books, and am ready to share them with you!

This is the latest of Patricia Cornwell’s novels about Medical Examiner Kay Scarpetta, a series I have been enjoying and collecting for years.  Sadly, Cornwell seems to have peaked years ago, at least as far as this series goes.  Long gone are the detailed autopsies and absorbing stories I enjoyed.  While this one was better than some of her recent work, and I did enjoy it just because I care about the characters, I am tired of hearing about the same villain over and over again.  These days, all the attacks are against Kay and her family.  I’d like to see her get back to fighting criminals and being a voice for victims.  I’ll keep reading these, though.

Here’s another series and author I love, and was again disappointed with this go-round.  For one thing, I have been wondering for YEARS what the title of this book would be.  Ever since A is for Alibi Sue Grafton fans have tried to predict her titles and of course everyone could hardly wait to see how she handled this most difficult letter.  What an anti-climax.  She didn’t play by her own rules! I enjoyed the book–I still love the main character–but again it felt a bit like the author was phoning it in.  It seems like she has lost interest and is just trying to get to the end of the alphabet.  Even the way she peppered the story with unnecessary encounters with just about every one of the protagonist’s former love interests seemed forced, like a sop to fans.  Again, I’ll read the rest of these and hope that this was an anomaly because this is the first time I’ve felt disappointed in one of these.

I wrote about my desire to read this book in a very popular post last year.  While I have not yet put its principles into practice, it has definitely inspired me to declutter and tidy.  If I really end up following Marie Kondo’s method, I will let y’all know how it works out!  Unexpectedly, one thing I’ve enjoyed about it is small glimpses into Japanese culture (like offhand mentions of the problem of storing kimonos and items for tea ceremonies).  I do find myself talking about this book a lot, which tells me that parts of it resonate with me and I am being inspired to think about “things” in a different way.

Okay, so this one is a bonus.  This isn’t mine (it’s Emily’s) and it wasn’t a Christmas present (she bought it herself).  But I did read it, so I thought I’d tell y’all about it.  Now, I don’t expect a whole lot from movie novelizations.  The best part of reading them is finding little tidbits of backstory that were cut from the final script, and this does deliver on that score.  But oh my gosh, y’all, the purple prose!  The speechifying! The dialogue!  It was BAD.  Read the book if you loved the movie, by all means, but be prepared to laugh at what are supposed to be some solemn moments.

I’ve got two more Christmas books to read, which I will write about at a later time.  What have YOU been reading lately?