Monday, December 31, 2018

On the Bookshelf: Literature to finish off the year

Hi there and Merry Christmas! It is end of 2018 (how did that happen????), so I want to jump in here with one final literature post for the year. 

I have read tons of fascinating books over the past year; according to my count, I read about 90, though I also re-read many of the Little House and American Girl books, plus I'm pretty sure I read one or two others that I forgot to mark down. Needless to say, I read quite a lot over the past year! Anyways, today I've got some non-fiction and fiction books, and the topics range from ravens that live at the Tower of London to a lighthearted and morbidly humorous Christmas mystery. So let's talk literature!

Building the Benedict Option, by Leah Libresco. In this book, Libresco talks about the importance of reclaiming love in our relationships with others, and how to build community where we are. She discusses her journey to implementing the Benedict Option in her life, and gives tips for hosting your own "BenOp" gatherings. I really liked this book-I love how Libresco debunks the myth that the Benedict Option is all about "heading to the hills," but that it's instead about drawing people in, in the midst of your cities and daily lives. I also really liked her discussion on how we need to reclaim affectionate love and sacrificial love, and not just sexualize every aspect of love. She has lots of good ideas in here for helping gatherings with others go on a deeper level, and I am excited to use some of her ideas sometime! As a former Atheist, Libresco also talks about the different ways to approaching prayer in a group when non-Christians are present, a topic that I thought was really interesting to read about. I recommend this book! And honestly, even though Libresco is Catholic, she draws from non-Catholic sources in this book and a lot of what she says is very applicable to people of any faith who want to build community.

I Am Half-Sick of Shadows, by Alan Bradley (A Flavia de Luce novel).  Eleven-year-old Flavia is plotting to learn the truth about Father Christmas by laying a trap for him: a sticky substance that she has cooked up in her laboratory and will pour near the chimney on the rooftop. However, her devious plans are interrupted when a film crew arrives at her family's home to make a movie. When one of the cast suddenly is murdered, and as a raging storm traps everyone inside, Flavia takes it upon herself to solve the mystery. I thought this book was DELIGHTFUL. Utterly delightful. However, it is not for everyone. Flavia, with her gleeful obsession with poisons, chemicals, and death, had me thinking of the old ladies in Arsenic and Old Lace. It's a funny book, but morbidly so. If you're into dark, rather morbid humor and want an entertaining holiday book, pick this up! But if you want an inspirational, heartwarming story, then you should leave this one at the library.

The Ravenmaster: My life with the ravens at the Tower of London, by Christopher Skaife. Did you know that there is a tradition of keeping ravens at the Tower of London? I had no idea-somehow, I guess all of my childhood history lessons skipped over this fascinating part of English history. In this book, Christopher Skaife-Yeoman Warder of Her Majesty’s Royal Palace and Fortress the Tower of London (how's that for a job title?)-spills all as he dives into his time as a soldier, how he got a job at the Tower of London, and what caring for ravens day in and day out is like. Skaife gives a little bit of the history behind the Tower and behind the ravens, but he's a really good storyteller, so it's easy to read. And all of his little hilarious tidbits about the antics of ravens were so fun to read about. I highly recommend picking this up!
Nine Coaches Waiting, by Mary Stewart. Linda Martin takes a job as a nanny in France, caring for a young boy who is heir to an estate while his uncle (his guardian) is away. Linda received the job on the basis of being English...but wait! She actually used to live in France and speaks French fluently. As Linda gets to know her new home, she begins to see that there are odd happenings there at the de Valmy estate. Most notably, her young charge is nearly killed...twice. Servants, relatives, strangers, and secrets all swirl around, and-not knowing who she can trust-Linda needs to find out what is happening so that she can keep the young Philippe safe. This book felt a bit Gothic-y, what with secrets, darkness, intrigue, and a little bit of romance thrown in the mix. It took me about a third of the way to really get into the book, but one the action got going, it was hard for me to put down. I enjoyed it!

Dear Mrs. Bird, by A.J. Pearce. Emmy, a young woman in London during WWII, desperately wants to be a Lady War Correspondent. When she spots an advertisement at a paper for a position, she eagerly applies and is accepted-but to her chagrin, she finds that her new job involves working for the Editress, Mrs. Bird, who receives countless letters from women asking her advice. When Emmy discovers that most of the letters consist of Unacceptable Topics (and, as Mrs. Bird directs, are to be disposed of) she decides to secretly reply to some of these women. This novel was utterly wonderful. It was lighthearted and so hilarious in parts, but also heartbreaking, because this is a war novel. The image of Emmy and a young man dodging bombs as they scampered through the streets to have a grand ol' evening with friends was so fascinating-that kind of picture typically isn't what we think of when we imagine war-torn Europe. This novel has a lot to say about friendship, and it was just so lovely and entertaining-I highly recommend it!!

Ninja: 1,000 Years of the Shadow Warrior, by John Man.
This is a very interesting dive into the history of ninjas. Man is a wonderful storyteller, who draws from his own experience travelling to Japan and meeting with people. He also pulls from historical accounts, legends, and lore to find the truth and historicity of ninjas, as well as the origin of the "ninja myths" that have created our modern vision of what a ninja is. He also talks about a school that educated "shadow warriors" (similar to a modern-day ninja of sorts) during WWII. This book was well done, and I enjoyed it. I did struggle with following all of it, because there is a lot of ancient Japanese history covered here (the U.S.A. is such a young country, it's mind-boggling to read up on the centuries upon centuries of history over in Asia!), with lots of long complicated names. It was sobering to read just how war-torn and bloody so much of Japanese history was (and about the persecution of Catholics-which I already knew about, but still is sad to read about), but I did find it all fascinating. A lot of people probably wouldn't be into this book, but for people who love history and/or are interested in ninjas, I recommend it!

Unplanned, by Abby Johnson.
So, even though I've been involved in the pro-life movement in some capacity for pretty much my entire life, and even though I once heard Abby Johnson speak in person, I never got around to reading her book until now. And I only thought of it because the film about her is coming out in 2019, and the library happened to have this book. Anyway! I am SO GLAD that I read this! Abby Johnson started volunteering with Planned Parenthood when she was a college student, and eventually became Director of her local PP. BUT, after working at Planned Parenthood for nearly a decade, she witnessed an abortion being done over ultrasound and left the organization. She now seeks to help people who want to leave professions that involve abortion, and she speaks on pro-life matters quite extensively. Her story is so powerful, and I appreciate how lovingly she talks about the people she worked with at PP. I've noticed that sometimes, pro-lifers can fall into a sad trend of dehumanizing those who perform or assist with abortions, and Johnson does a great job reminding the reader that these abortionists or assistants are people. Often compassionate, kind, gentle people. In this book, Johnson also does a great job talking about the good things that the pro-life movement has done, and the things that closed her off from it (such as abortion opponents being aggressive and hateful). No matter where your beliefs land when it comes to abortion, I highly recommend that you read this thoughtful, insightful, loving book!

Redeemed by Grace, by Ramona Trevino. This is a fascinating memoir in which Trevino relates her spiritual journey and how she went from being a girl that wanted to be a nun to the director of a Planned Parenthood. Trevino vulnerably and honestly shares about her struggles growing up, becoming pregnant at 16 and living in an abusive marriage. She takes us along as we see her meet her wonderful husband, and as she begins working at Planned Parenthood, largely oblivious to the pro-life/pro-choice debate. Trevino also talks about the gradual process by which she realized that she no longer wanted to be at PP, and how she received God's mercy in her life. This was a beautiful story, and I love how we can see the hope and joy in Trevino's story-and that no matter what someone has done, he or she can always be redeemed and life live abundantly. I also loved how Trevino emphasized the danger of contraception, and what the contraceptive mentality can lead to. This was a lovely book, and I highly recommend it! 

I hope you enjoyed hearing about my recent reads! As always, please let me know of any recommendations that you have-I love finding out about new and wonderful books. 


  1. Around 90 books! Wow! That's a whole lot of reading! I think I ended up with around 50 for the year which is pretty low for me...I wasn't at home this year as much as before, with being in the learning center most days...that definitely keeps me up and about rather than sneaking moments to read!

  2. The Ravenmaster sounds SO good! Can't wait to get my hands on it. Dear Mrs. Bird and Unplanned are two of the best books ever! Loved them both in very different ways.

  3. I am so impressed. I just finished loading up my 14yo at the library with books I've previously read and loved: The Prizewinner of Defiance Ohio, The Hired Girl (this one is YA,) and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

  4. Such interesting reads, AnneMarie! Unplanned is pretty great (I can't wait to see the film), and I liked Building the Benedict Option too. Are you on Goodreads? And 90 for the year? That's awesome!