Wednesday, January 6, 2021

An Open Book: December 2020 Reads

 Happy New Year! Last year was rough for so many people in many ways, but something good that came out of it was my reading stack! I managed to read 126 books in 2020, and a lot of them were fantastic. Let's link up with Carolyn Astfalk's An Open Book to chat about the books that took me through the end of 2020. 

A Bloody Habit, by Eleanor Bourg Nicholson.

Set in Victorian England just after the release of Dracula, this story follows a skeptical English barrister who becomes entangled with spiritualists, murders, Dominican friars, and vampires. I LOVED IT. This book is incredibly fun, with a rich spiritual depth, as well. Father Thomas Edmund Gilroy (the main Dominican character) is delightful, and when-at the beginning of the story-he talks about The Putty Incident in Dracula, I knew I was going to enjoy this book. Each chapter of this book begins with an excerpt from Dracula, so I recommend reading Stoker's novel before this one. 

How to be a Victorian, by Ruth Goodman.

From menstruation to sports to laundry to transportation, historian Ruth Goodman walks through the day-to-day details of life in Victorian England. This book is heavily researched and knowledge-packed, but Goodman makes it very engaging as she discusses Victorian life. Goodman has spent a considerable amount of time engaging in Victorian practices (The Victorian Farm is a wonderful documentary she participated in), so reading her thoughts and experiences on the historical practices was very insightful and interesting. I enjoyed this book a lot!

On Reading Well, by Karen Swallow Prior.

Pick up this book at least for the excellent introduction about "reading virtuously." In the intro, the author discusses the importance of Great Books, and the ways in which we can learn about virtues (ones mentioned in the ancient Greek, classical sense) through reading important classics. Each chapter of this book takes one work of literature (The Great Gatsby, Huck Finn, and Silence, to name a few) and discusses it in light of one of the virtues. I had never even heard of some of the books she discussed, but I still enjoyed reading about them and how one can "read virtuously" with those texts. 

Glitch, by Laura Martin.

Regan and Elliot are two preteens at an academy where they are training to be Glitchers: people who travel back in time to stop "Butterflies" from changing events that will impact the future. Regan and Elliot do not get along at all, but when Regan receives a mysterious letter, they are forced to work together as they fight to save the world that they know and love. Parts felt very reminiscent of Doctor Who season 5. I think what I loved most about this book was the way that the author addressed the complexity of history--that instead of trying to throw out or change every bit of history we disagree with, to instead see the importance of recording and learning from history. This is a middle grade book, but there's some great food for thought for adults in it. 

The League of the Scarlet Pimpernel, by Baroness Orczy.

This is a collection of fun short stories about the Scarlet Pimpernel saving people from the guillotine. I really liked this; it's basic Scarlet Pimpernel fare, but instead of waiting for tensions to build up over several chapters before seeing an awesome rescue occur, the short story format makes things a lot tighter. Although I love having a longer time for characters to develop, I liked this one. 

Ms. Marvel: No Normal (volume 1), by G. Willow Wilson.

Kamela Khan is a teenage girl who is obsessed with the Avengers, feeling stuck in a boring life, and struggles with finding her place in the world. One day, she is granted superpowers, and she begins her life as a superhero. Instead of being just a fun superhero story, this book also tackles deeper issues. Kamela is Muslim, and her faith and family culture--how to respect your parents and religion and save the city?--is a big part of the story. This book contains more "secular teenage culture" references than, say, Squirrel Girl, so I would recommend it for teens on up (though my four-year-old, since he can't read, loved sitting with me and looking at the pictures). I really, really liked this book (Kamela is so cool! And her costume is awesome!) and I'm excited to read more in the series! 

The Art of Spiritual Writing, by Vinita Hampton Wright. 

This book is a fabulous introduction to writing about spirituality. Geared towards beginners, it walks through several characteristics of spiritual writing and provides additional writing tips as well. Towards the end of this book, the author (who draws from her experience working as an editor at a Catholic publisher) walks through the process of working with an editor and crafting a book for publication. I really loved reading this book, and I highlighted most of it. I loved what the author said about authenticity vs. venting, and about the importance of distancing yourself from the work. I found all of her insights really helpful, have already been going back to the notes I took on this book! An established and experienced writer may not get as much out of this, but I thought it was fabulous and recommend it! 

Thanks for joining me! If you have any book recommendations, please drop them in the comments-I love adding to my reading list!


  1. Great selection! I guess I should read a Bloody Habit while Dracula, which I read for the first time last year, is still fresh in my mind! I've heard of the Art of Spiritual Writing recently as well. Sounds like a good book for a Catholic writer to keep on the shelf. Thanks for linking to An Open Book.

    1. This would indeed be the perfect time for you to read A Bloody Habit! And the Art of Spiritual Writing would certainly be a great addition to any Catholic writer's collection, even if only for reference and inspiration if one ever gets stuck in a writing rut.