Wednesday, January 1, 2020

December 2019 Books

Happy New Year! A lot of life has happened lately, and I personally am awed at all of the bloggers who are publishing "end of year update" posts because this time of year just seems to full to me! Rest assured, some updates will come that will probably include rambles about how glorious it was to see the Pacific Ocean for the first time in 12 years ;) 

In the meantime, let's do a quick reading update! In December, I wound up reading more than I had anticipated. I picked up mostly nonfiction, but a couple of novels wound their way into the mix as well: from a thriller to a World War II memoir, it was a nice variety that kept me enthralled!  

The Case for Christ, by Lee Strobel.
This was a fascinating investigation into the historicity of Jesus Christ and the Gospels. Drawing comparisons to his various jobs as a journalist, Strobel systematically walks through the process by which he interviewed various biblical scholars to determine if Jesus is who he said he is. I did find it odd that after a book where he dove into Scripture, Church Fathers, and Tradition (including the historicity of Baptism) Strobel seemed to wrap the book up pretty quickly with a call to a "believer's prayer" of sorts. It just felt a little rushed and incomplete to me. Otherwise, I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it to all Christians or those who are intrigued by Christianity.

To Shake the Sleeping Self, by Jedediah Jenkins.

Finding himself stuck in a sleepy rut of a "status quo" American life, the author chose to cycle from Oregon to Patagonia once he turned 30 years old. Accompanied by his weed-smoking, philosopher/conspiracy-theory friend Weston, he spent several months encountering the gorgeous world and the beauty of humanity. He recounts the challenges and discouragements of cycling (and, when necessary, hitchhiking) thousands of miles. He grapples with being a white person exploring a country that faced a lot of suffering and destruction at the hands of European explorers. He questions Christianity and tries to reconcile the beliefs of his upbringing with his homosexuality. While I disagreed with many of the opinions the author expressed, I thought it was fascinating to have this look into his mind and heart and try to wrap my mind around his belief (or lack of it). Learning about other people's belief systems has long interested me, so I thought this was interesting (though it was sad to see him falling away from a belief in God). I have to confess that I did not like the drug and sex anecdotes (why does it seem like so many travel memoirs involve at least one trippy drug experience???), and the language is pretty coarse. Still, I'm glad I picked this up and I found it to be a thought-provoking read. 

A Secret Sisterhood, by Emily Midorikawa and Emma Claire Sweeney.

This non-fiction book dove into the female friendships that authors Jane Austen, Charlotte Bronte, George Eliot and Virginia Woolf had with their contemporaries. Parts of this book seemed overly speculative to me (since many personal letters from the authors have been destroyed or because families didn't keep thorough records of these friendships) but it did look like the authors put a lot of research into this book and I thought it was pretty interesting. I also appreciated that while there was a little bit of romantic stuff with Virginia Woolf (which I expected) the book mainly focused on non-sexual intimate friendships between women. One thing this book really opened my eyes to was the significance of a person's biographer-the authors of this book found that these female authors weren't entirely how they were portrayed by their first biographers, as certain details were omitted or glossed-over to give a different image for the general public. I don't think I'd necessarily re-read this, but I'm glad I picked it up!

Something in the Water, by Catherine Steadman.
A newlywed couple goes scuba-diving on their honeymoon, and what they find in the water changes their lives completely. This was a delightful psychological thriller, and even when I thought I knew what was going to happen, certain elements still surprised me. Aside from a hefty dose of f-words and some brief sex content here and there, I really enjoyed this one-it was hard to put down! I thought it was fascinating to see how one spontaneous decision can lead to a spiral of bad decisions if you let your curiosity take the lead. I definitely recommend this to fans of Karen Cleveland's Need to Know, or for anyone who enjoys these thriller-type books.

Preparation for Death, by St. Alphonsus Liguori.
I started this book in Lent 2019, loved it but put it down for a while, and figured that Advent 2019 would be a great time to finish it. Through several short reflections, St. Alphonsus reflects on the graphic reality of death (the book begins by inviting us to meditate on the physical decay our bodies will undergo after death) and sin, as well as the tremendous mercy of God and the glory of life with God in Heaven. I marked many, many parts of this book, and there are a lot of good thoughts in here for further reflection. 

Winter Garden, by Kristin Hannah.
This novel follows Meredith and Nina, a pair of estranged sisters who are brought together with their father's death. Faced with their father's dying wish, the sisters try to unpack the mystery of their mother-a woman who has long shut herself off from them, and only comes to life when she retells Russian fairy tales. Intertwining the mother's fairy tale with the modern-day struggles of the Whitson family, this story was gripping and really enjoyable.

Poustinia, by Catherine Doherty.

Social activist and Russian Orthodox-turned-Roman Catholic, Catherine Doherty wound up in Canada as a refugee. Her work with the poor and marginalized was extensive, but she also presented a bridge between the Christian East and West. In this book, she draws from her Russian upbringing to discuss the topic of "poustinia," the "desert" that Russians would enter into for solitude, prayer, and penance. Reflecting on her own meetings with poustiniks (people who were living in poustinia), she talks about bringing this practice to North America and includes reflections from her time spent in the poustinia. This book reached my heart on many levels, and one part I really liked was how she talked about poustinia not being an escape or something that people do for themselves, but that it is an offering they are making for others as they encounter God with uplifted arms of prayer and penance. I loved this book, and highly recommend it, especially to people who enjoy learning about Easter Christian practices!

The Toll, by Neal Shusterman.
The conclusion to the Scythe trilogy, this book picked up in the years following the cliffhanger of the previous installment and gave an even deeper look into the world before coming to a conclusion. I mostly liked the conclusion, but I was not a fan of the romantic storyline concerning a new gender-fluid character and I was annoyed by the attitude towards gleaning at the end. This series wasn't my favorite, but it still was interesting and brought up some fascinating food for thought. 

They Called Us Enemy, by George Takei.
I finished this book less than two hours before 2019 ended, and wow. What a way to end the year. This black-and-white graphic novel is a memoir of the author's childhood in America as a Japanese American. It specifically covered the four years he spent as a kid living in two of the internment camps here in the U.S.A. and it continued to show the effects of these camps throughout the following decades (including how rulings that upheld the Japanese internment were not officially overturned until 2018!). I honesty can't even remember if Japanese internment was discussed in my high school history classes-if it was, it was a very small part of what we learned; yet, it is an awful part of our nation's history that we need to know. Takei's story is defintely worth listening to as we seek to understand the experiences of those who live around us. 

Thanks for joining me in this literary update! As always, please drop your reading recommendations in the comments-I love expanding my list, and I love to read a wide range of authors and genres! 


  1. I read Winter Garden this month too! A bit depressing at times but still gripping, and it left me reflective as well as searching Google for the history of that time period and place!

    Might try Something in the Water since you recommended.

    1. That's neat that you read Winter Garden as well! The time period and setting were fascinating, and, I thought, perfect for wintertime. I hope you enjoy Something in the Water if you pick it up!

  2. The Poustinia sounds fascinating. I enjoyed The Case for Christ while I was in college.

    1. Poustinia was really cool-I've found that it's so easy, as a Roman Catholic, to forget about the wealth of wisdom and knowledge upheld in the Eastern Catholic (and Eastern Orthodox) churches. It was neat to read about, and I just got a couple more books by Catherine Doherty on loan, so I'm excited to keep learning about the rich Eastern tradition :)

  3. I am always so fascinated seeing the variety and number of books you read! If I ever get through my bookshelves (LOL), I know where I'm coming for recommendations!