Wednesday, March 6, 2024

February 2023 Reads

Happy March, everyone! Since it's the beginning of the month, it's time to look back on the past few weeks to talk the books that crossed my path. In February, I read a mix of fiction and nonfiction, both adult and children's books. I was able to read quite a bit, because I was unexpectedly unable to use my laptop for an entire week--and since I don't have a smartphone, I was thus without any kind of online reading or social media. It was the perfect opportunity to pick up books! Incidentally, when I finally got my laptop in working order a week later, I discovered that I really did not miss anything. Anyways, let's talk books! 

[edited to add: make sure you head over to An Open Book for more reading recaps!]

Wired for Story, by Lisa Cron

In this book, the author (a literary agent, story analyst, and producer) brings together neuroscience and writing to explore how authors can write books that strike the brains of the readers in the best possible way. Cron also examines different writing myths, and talks about how certain techniques ("show, don't tell," use beautiful metaphors, etc.), when used incorrectly, lose the reader's attention and makes writing clunky. I really enjoyed reading this book, and filled it with bookmarks, so that I can easily reference different sections as needed. A lot of Cron's advice seemed really sound and helpful, and I recommend this book!

REREAD: Sun Slower, Sun Faster, by Meriol Trevor

I got this book as a child, and I figured it was time to reread it! In this historical fiction novel for children, two cousins, Cecil and Rickie, living in post-World War II England find themselves unexpectedly flung back in time to earlier periods of English history and then launching back to the present-day. At points, Rickie's eccentric tutor, Dominic, finds himself swept back, too. In a lot of the instances when the children are sent back in time, they get to observe the tension between Catholics and non-Catholics, even attending a secret Mass at one point. The prose really brings the story to life, and it's very engaging. However, I am not as well-versed in English history as I could/should be. So, there were a couple parts when the characters were talking about various historical figures and I got lost. Still, this was enjoyable! Also, on a parental caution note: this book clearly shows the beauty of the Catholic faith, and it also the corruption and sin that has always affected members of the church. There was one scene in particular where a (in the book's terms) "sluttish" woman was cuddling with a Franciscan friar. All of the characters know that's bad, and make that clear, but it still might be a good discussion for a parent and child to have. 

REREAD: Leisure: The Basis of Culture, by Josef Pieper

I last read this book about 5 1/2 years ago, and it was great to pick it up again. In this short but weighty book that he wrote shortly after World War II ended, Pieper takes a deep philosophical dive into the importance of leisure. He ponders the ways in which true leisure flows from our relationship with God, and notes that it's not just "doing nothing." He also explores the value of philosophy and engaging with wonder as we observe the world. It's a beautiful book, and while it is hard to get through at times when reading in a noisy house, it is well worth picking up!

I, Julian, by Claire Gilbert

This book is an imaginative, fictional memoir of the real-life woman, Julian of Norwich. Throughout this book, Julian dives into the joys and sorrows and struggles of life in 14th century England. She agonizes over the rampant disease and death, she wrestles with confusion in the Church, and she feels the strain placed on women in medieval society, especially as she begins to share the visions that she's been receiving. This book is beautifully written, and I loved the intimate portrayal it offered of an anchorite. It seemed like references to God's motherhood were sprinkled in more frequently than they needed to, but since that's one of the things modern authors love about Julian of Norwich, I was kind of expecting it-and I still really enjoyed this book anyway! (I think her panic attack in the anchorhold was one of my favorite scenes-it felt so vivid and real)

The Art of War, by Sun Tzu

This classic book is an ancient manual on Chinese military strategy, and it was fascinating! It dives into the different conditions that people need to consider before engaging in battle, and the various characteristics that generals and other leaders should exhibit. The Art of War itself was quite short, under a hundred pages, but the edition I picked up also had helpful commentary and essays that discussed the context and timelessness of this work. I really enjoyed this book, and found a lot of the statements in here applicable to my life, like the importance of seeking peace, of knowing your resources, and of choosing what battles and disputes to engage in carefully. 

Ashes, by Anthony Mancini

Set in 1949, this novel takes an intimate look at a priest, Fr. Anton Weiss, as he travels to Taormina, Sicily, for his retirement. All Fr. Weiss wants to do is clear his head and write his memoir. Yet, surrounded by the sin and corruption, lust and sensuality that fill the streets of Taormina (boys prostitute themselves to older male tourist so they can support their families), Fr. Weiss instead is brought face-to-face with his own sins and struggles. I thought it was neat that throughout the novel, he frequently considers St. Anthony of the Desert and the presence of spiritual warfare. I also appreciated the hope that shone through all the darkness of the novel. That being said, I did skim/skip over some parts of the book that were a little bit too graphic for me, and I'm not sure that I'm part of this book's intended audience. It was an interesting read, though!

Pinocchio, by Carlo Collodi

Although I'm somewhat familiar with the Disney take on Pinocchio, I had not read the actual novel until February-and I'm so glad I dove into it! In this story, Gepetto--a poor woodcarver--makes a puppet named Pinocchio. Pinocchio is mischievous and disobedient, yet Gepetto loves and sacrifices for him anyway. Pinocchio ultimately learns the importance of striving for virtue, sacrifice, and being obedient to his loving father. This is a beautiful, riveting, very dark story (at one point, some villains hang Pinocchio from a tree in an attempt to kill him) and I thought it was a very powerful reflection on a father's love for his son. As a parental note, the fantasy place that Pinnochio ultimately visits--where boys play all day and don't do any work--is called The Land of Boobies (presumably because some words in the 1880s had different connotations than today). Overall, I really loved this book and I hope to introduce it to my kids eventually! 

Murder at Penwood Manor (Harwood Mystery Book 5) by Antony Barone Kolenc

In this teen novel, Xan and his friend, Christina, travel to Harwood abbey--and chaos erupts shortly after, when a man nearby is murdered. Xan and his companions become immersed in this mystery and try to figure out who is responsible, and what is causing a recently-returned Crusader to undergo fits of madness and rage. Alongside all of this adventure, the characters explore the challenges of living out one's vocation and the sneaky way that the vice of envy tempts us. This was a really fun, adventurous book, and I enjoyed it a lot! I really liked the way that the story presented an exciting portrayal of life in medieval Europe against the backdrop of the Crusades. 

First Comes Love, by Scott Hahn

In this approachable, insightful book, Dr. Hahn explores what it means to experience life in the Trinity. He walks through covenantal theology as he describes God's faithful love for His people, the salvation that Christ offers, and the powerful presence of the Holy Spirit. Hahn then deftly moves into a discussion about the domestic church (our families) who imitate the life of the Trinity in our homes. Finally, he walks the reader, step by step, through the logical conclusion that following God and participating in the life of the Trinity includes our participating in the life of the Church. This book was fantastic, and I really enjoyed it. Not only would it be helpful for many Catholics to read, but I think this could be really helpful for Protestant Christians to pick up, too. Dr Hahn has this beautiful way of gently discussing God's Truth without watering it down. 

Thanks so much for joining me this month! If you have any recommendations, please drop them in the comments! I'm already pretty deep in nonfiction for the month of March, so I especially would love some fiction recommendations :) 


  1. Ooh, Sun Slower, Sun Faster sounds great! I don't usually like time travel books, but I do make an exception for *Catholic* time travel...

    1. Time travel definitely isn't for everyone, but I think it's pretty fun. I want to read more "Catholic" time travel books at some point. Do you have any that you recommend? (either for kids or adults)

    2. Actually, I do! Just for kids, as I haven't come across many for adults (yet...). I loved St. Patrick's Summer as a kid (by Marigold Hunt), and also A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley. Although that one isn't (as far as I remember) explicitly Catholic, the characters are involved in a plot to rescue Mary, Queen of Scots. :)

    3. Oh, awesome! Thank you so much, Samantha! I'm adding those to my list :)

  2. Thanks for linking to An Open Book! Wired for Story sounds interesting. It's been so long sine I've read a good book about writing. And Pinocchio. It sounds like there's so much more depth than you get from the Disney adaption. I've seen others highly recommend First Comes Love. I need to get a copy. We have many Hahn books (that I haven't read) here but not that one. My son liked Art of War, but I hadn't considered there was anything for me there. It sounds like it has broad application beyond the battlefield though.

    1. Oh my goodness. I went to Goodreads, and I read Pinnochio in 2018. I have no memory of it LOL

    2. I'm just going to stop looking because apparently I read First Comes Love in 2007. Apparently, I have memory issues. Orr reading retention issues.

    3. Haha! It's nice to know that I'm not the only one who forgets having read books in the past ;) I'm pretty sure someone in the CWG mentioned Wired for Story once, and that's how I heard about it-I hope you enjoy it!
      I think Art of War is definitely worth picking up (and it is short!); although some of it isn't really applicable to my life, a lot of it really resonated with me-there was a lot in there about interpersonal relationships, knowing your resources, etc. All sorts of things that seem to apply to anyone who lives i community with others.