Wednesday, February 2, 2022

An Open Book: January 2022 Reads

 Another month is here, so I'm linking up with An Open Book to chat about what I've been reading lately. I started off the year 2022 with a fabulous mix of nonfiction books and a couple fiction thrown in the mix, too. As I mentioned in a previous post, I'm really trying to re-read books this year as well, so I made sure to include my re-reads. Let's dive in! 

Dead Man Walking, by Sr. Helen Prejean

This is a powerful account of Sr. Helen's journey into Death Row, a place where she has now ministered for several years. This book is extremely thorough (she goes into all sorts of legal topics surrounding the death penalty) and well-researched, while also bringing in many of her personal stories. I particularly was touched by the focus on her work with the families of murder victims and how she learned to build relationships with those who vehemently disagreed with her about the death penalty. Sr. Helen is very honest about mistakes she's made in this process, and I found the complete honesty really refreshing. This was a really good read. 

The Anubis Gates, by Tim Powers

I really enjoyed this time-travel novel about Egyptian sorcerers who are trying to break open the time stream to bring their gods into 19th century England. While this plot is the backbone of the novel, the story itself focuses on Brendan, a scholar whose passion lies in 19th century poets and poetry. Brendan takes on a role as a guide to time-traveling tourists and becomes stuck in 1810, and craziness ensues. I particularly enjoyed seeing Brendan have to navigate the slums and underground of 19th century London. This was a pretty fun read. 

The Other Side of Beauty, by Leah Darrow

I enjoyed this memoir, which discusses beauty and its importance in our lives. Darrow shares intimate details of her life, which involved experiences with America's Next Top Model. She honestly talks about her struggles, failings, and the temptations she fell into. In all of this, she infuses her words with hope and joy as she shares how God brought her into a dramatic conversion experience during a lingerie photoshoot in New York City, and how God has continued to work in her life since. This was a good, inspiring, and practical read, and I could see this being a great discussion book for middle school or high school girls.

Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, by Pope Benedict XVI

This was a wonderful exegetical discussion of the Gospel's Infancy Narratives. Pope Benedict's clear, succinct style makes this book very practical and approachable, but at the same time, he puts some beautiful reflections in here that really made me stop and think. Reading this book was a great way to spend the Christmas season, and while I would have liked the book to go deeper into a couple topics, it really is fantastic. 

Mercy in the City, by Kerry Weber

This was a short, engaging memoir by a woman who decided to very intentionally live out the Corporal Works of Mercy for Lent one year. This book seemed very much informed by the author's life in New York City, which I found fascinating (I've never lived there, but I've visited a number of times). What sh said about the loneliness, poverty, and desperation of NYC echoes what I've heard from a missionary I know. I appreciated how honest the author was in her struggle to practice these works of mercy and figure out boundaries and protocol, too. I would have liked to see the book go a little deeper with historical context of certain traditions that were brought up, but overall, I enjoyed this book. 

Twisted: My Dreadlock Chronicles, by Bert Ashe

This was a pretty interesting memoir about one man's journey to get dreadlocks in the 90s, the history of dreadlocks, and his reflections on being a black man in modern America. His reflections kind of bounce around all over the place, so it was hard to follow at times, but I did find this book pretty fascinating. I had never before thought about what a big decision it could be when a man chooses to pursue dreadlocks, and I thought a lot of the history was pretty interesting--and it made me wonder why people become Rastafarian, and how that religion/group has continued to exist for all these years. 

The Book of Waking Up, by Seth Haines.

Haines provides reflections about our journey of "waking up" to the Divine Love of God. This book was very approachable--it's broken up into over a hundred reflections, some as short as half a page--so initially, I was skeptical, wondering if it could really be "that good." But, within those reflections, the author invites each of us to identify the "coping mechanisms" we each have and are addicted to in some way (be it alcohol, shopping, eating, etc.) and look for the root pain and triggers that those coping mechanisms are responding to. He has different questions for journaling throughout this book (which I didn't do this time around) and this book could be extremely helpful for many, many people. Even without journaling, it made me think a lot, and I'm grateful that I read it. 

REREAD: The Ordinary Princess, by M. M. Kaye

This is a favorite childhood "comfort read," all about Amy--a princess who, unlike her several older sisters--is extremely ordinary. So ordinary, in fact, that no one will marry her. Rather than see her life be controlled by her parents, Amy runs away from the palace and decides to have her own adventures. This is a fun, lovely story, and it really never gets old. 

REREAD: Dracula, by Braum Stoker (Ignatius Critical Edition, with introduction by Eleanor Bourg Nicholson)

This is another beloved book which isn't really a "comfort read," but it's always well worth my time. Jonathan Harker, who works for a London solicitor, is sent to Transylvania to assist Count Dracula, a mysterious personage who is acquiring property in England. While there, Jonathan sees and experiences some terrifying things, and his life--and the lives of other people in England--are consumed with mysteries, vampires, and violence. This story is told through the characters' journals and letters and it's excellent. I really enjoyed the introduction to this edition; in particular, I liked reading Nicholson's reflections on how, with all of its plot holes and inconsistencies, Dracula has stuck around for over a century. 

Thanks for joining me this month! If you have any recommendations, please drop them in the comments; I always love expanding my reading list! 


  1. The Ordinary Princess!!!! I read that too as a child and forgot all about it!!!!

    1. That's so wonderful that you read it as a kid too! It's such a delightful story, and I'm so excited to share it with my children sometime. In the meantime, though, I do love picking up beloved children's books as comfort reads for myself ;)

  2. OOOH - I've read three of these before! (Dead Man Walking, The Other Side of Beauty, Jesus of Nazareth). Sr. Helen came and spoke at my college - what a fascinating story. So tragic. It really takes you into the system and what it means to be on death row.

    1. Wow! That's fantastic that you got to hear Sr. Helen speak! She has done so much amazing work. If you are at all interested in learning more about that topic, another book that dovetails nicely with hers is The Sun Does Shine, by Anthony Ray Hinton-it's the memoir of a man who was on death row for a few decades for a crime that he did not commit. It is powerful, and he takes you right into the sights, sounds, and smells of what it's like to live there. It's also just a beautiful story of redemption and forgiveness-I highly recommend it.

  3. I've wanted to read Jesus of Nazareth for so long. I think I'll read it later this year as part of the Catholic Writers Guild's Reading Challenge. I ought to try another Tim Powers book. I think I read one and set it aside years ago. This one sounds good. Thanks for linking to An Open Book!

    1. This Tim Powers book was really fascinating-I particularly enjoy that time period in England, so I think that's one of the reasons why I enjoyed it so much. And that's a great idea for the Jesus of Nazareth book! I was glad that the Infancy Narratives one was short, I think that made it easier to pick up. I've also read the Holy Week one-it's excellent-but it's fairly big so it's a little more daunting.