Thursday, December 31, 2020

What I Read in 2020


I got this idea from Sarah Reinhard. Why not keep a record of all the books I read in 2020? I often post about the books I read, but only if I think they are worth recommending and if I have time to write a blog post. The reality is that I read much more than I post about.

I'm dividing what I read into sections - Leisure Reading, Reading for Work (which doesn't mean that I didn't enjoy it), Great Books Project (I've been working on making my way through the syllabus of Thomas Aquinas College. I started this is the Spring of 2019. I have no idea how long it will take me.), and Books I Read with My Daughter. Not included are books that I have read to edit (due to client confidentiality).

I worked on this post throughout the year. At the start of the year, I never could have imagined that 2020 would be the year that libraries would temporarily close! As you read through, you'll see references to that. I think that in 2021's version of this I will also include the date I finished the book.

Leisure Reading

Yale Needs Women: How the First Group of Girls Rewrote the Rules of an Ivy League Giant by Anne Gardiner Perkins - I would never describe myself as a "feminist" due to the fact that the term is usually associated with being  pro-abortion, but this book reminded me of how much we do have to thank these brave young women who challenged the status quo.  Women have come a long way in 50 years and while feminists were wrong about reproductive choice, they did much to advance our ability to access education and work opportunities. On a related (if somewhat reverse) note, as an undergraduate at Elms College in the 1990s, I worked on the committee that recommended the school go from being a women's college to a co-ed institution. It is now a thriving school that educates both men and women.  Men and women have much to learn from each other's perspectives in both the classroom and the world.

The Unfinished Gift: A Novel by Dan Walsh - This is a Christmas story that I requested from the library which came in during January. I had high hopes as I began this work of Christian fiction. Early in the story, A Catholic priest was portrayed in a positive light - perhaps it would be Catholic friendly. Alas that was not the case. Instead several characters proclaim that they did not truly know the Gospel until they were educated by a Christian woman. Sigh. Overall, it was a good story set in World War II about a grandfather who must care for a 7 year old grandson he never knew. The Catholic grandfather was estranged from his son after his son married the aforementioned Christian woman (Unfortunately, this was often the case at that time). The young grandson's mother died in a car crash; his father is fighting in the war. It is a story about reconciliation and forgiveness.

The Bright Unknown by Elizabeth Byler Younts - Every once in a while I read a book where the writing is so beautiful that it makes my heart ache because I want to be able to write that well. This was one of those books. It tells of Brighton and Angel, two children who were raised in an insane asylum in the era immediately preceding World War II. It tells of their lives, the shameful treatment of the patients, and their struggles to escape the world they had been sentenced to. This was incredibly well-written and is highly recommended.

Love Letters by A.R. Gurney - This is a play that I had wanted to see for a long time. Seeing as that wasn't in the cards, I decided to read the play. It saved me some money since I now have no real desire to see it on stage. It was a bit too vulgar for my taste, although I could definitely appreciate the appeal of the epistolary style as I am quite fond of letters (and emails) myself. The story is about a man and woman who meet as children in 1937 and share letters throughout their lives, even as they both marry other people.

The Queens of Animation: The Untold Story of the Women Who Transformed the World of Disney and Made Cinematic History by Nathalia Holt - This was billed as a "Hidden Figures" for the animation world. It was a very interesting read about creative women who largely worked behind the scenes and without getting their names in the credits. Holt explores both their personal and professional lives. It covers the early years of Disney animation all the way up to 2018. I wish she had spent more time talking about the women who worked in the Ink and Paint Department, but I just saw that there is a book about them by a different author. I requested it at the library so that book might appear later in this list.

The Fifth Avenue Story Society by Rachel Hauck - I've read several of Hauck's works of Christian fiction and enjoyed them all. This one kept that trend going. It is about five people who receive a mysterious invitation to the Fifth Avenue Literary Society Library Story Society. Their lives end up intersecting in ways none of them could imagine and in the process of sharing their stories help each other heal.

Pleased to Meet Me: Genes, Germs, and the Curious Forces that Make Us Who We Are - Bill Sullivan.  Sullivan has a Ph. D. in cell and molecular biology. This was a fascinating look at how both our ancestors and the environment impact our d.n.a. It also discusses how gut bacteria affects our behavior and health. Unfortunately, Sullivan uses this information to argue that this means that there is no good and evil and no God. I, on the other hand, look at the complexity of how we become who we are and see it as the hand of God working in our lives.

Ink and Paint: The Women of Walt Disney's Animation - Mindy Johnson. This book came in at the library the day before the library was shut down for the quarantine. It is a hefty coffee table sized book that served as my leisure reading for three weeks. It features loads of photos and information. In all honesty, I didn't read every word of this book but I read many of them! If you are interested in animation or the history of the Walt Disney company, this is one book you would want to pick up. 

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder - Caroline Fraser. This is the last library book that I had picked up before they closed. I had seen it recommended somewhere and decided to pick it up. It was interesting, but a brutally honest biography especially in its portrayal of Laura's daughter - Rose Wilder Lane. I felt so bad for these women as I read this book which was portraying them in such an unfortunate light. I don't recommend this one.

Two Lives /One Passion: The Life and Work of William Julian Kaula and Lee Lufkin Kaula - Carol G.J. Scollans - I had bought this book at my local art museum in either 2018 or 2019 when they were doing a special exhibit on this couple's work. I loved their art work and was intrigued by this husband and wife duo artist duo who worked in Boston and New Hampshire. While this book sat neglected on my bookshelf for quite a while, I was happy to have the chance to finally read it and enjoy the beautiful art work and text.

The INFJ Writer - Lauren Sapala - Last year, I did lots of reading about Myers-Briggs Personality Profiles. I've consistently been an  INFJ since the first time I was tested in high school. For most of my life, that has just been a random piece of information. But, as I learned more last year, I came to appreciate it as a unique description of the way God made me. I also came to understand why it is I act like I do and why it is that I see the world differently than most people. This book has been on my radar for a while, and I was thankful to finally have the chance to read it.

The Absence of War - Amy Welborn - Welborn is well-known for her Catholic non-fiction. This was her first fiction that I've read by her. It was a short story about mothers and daughters and their experience with the Catholic faith. I really enjoyed it.

Leonardo's Brain - Leonard Shlain - My library opened up for curbside pick-up. So, I had to search for a book in the database that they had on their shelves without being able to browse. I was in the mood for some art so I picked this one on Leonardo. It was a combo of biography, art, and neuroscience, discussing what made Leonardo da Vinci so unique. It was interesting, although Shlain pushes the envelope a bit too hard in some areas. I think it is possible I read it before (a couple of passages seemed familiar). I wouldn't necessarily recommend it, but if you are big into Leonardo da Vinci, you might be interested.

Humble Pi: When Math Goes Wrong in the Real World - Matt Parker - I had requested this book from the library (which came in with curbside pick-up) for my math-loving son. He enjoyed it and told me I might like it, too. He was right. This was written by a math comic (who knew math could be fun?) and contains both informative and funny parts.

The Timepiece - Beverly Lewis - Once again, this one was from curbside pickup at the library. I had remembered seeing this one on the shelves before the library shut down. I enjoy Amish fiction and Lewis is one of the most well-known names. This was an enjoyable light read about an Amish family getting to know an Englisch family member they knew nothing about.

Art Quilt Collage - Deborah Boschert - I've been quilting for over 20 years. In recent years, I've gotten more into art quilting which varies a bit from traditional piecework. This book had lots of lovely pictures and was inspiring to look through and get ideas from.

The Nightingale's Sonata: The Musical Odyssey of Lea Luboshutz - Thomas Wolf - I saw this book mentioned in Catholic Library World. It had won some award that I no longer recall. It took me three weeks to get through this one. The author is the grandson of Lea Luboshutz, a famous Jewish Russian violinist who eventually came to America. It was interesting enough, and I did learn more about life for Russian Jews in the early 20th century, but I don't know that I'd recommend it to anyone.

Making a Life: Working by Hand and Discovering the Life You Are Meant to Live - Melanie Falick - This is a lovely book profiling makers around the world. It features lots of beautiful photographs. In reading it, I ended up feeling really bad that my life does not look like any of these people's lives.

Mrs. Lincoln's Sisters - Jennifer Chiaverini - I've been a fan of Chiaverini's work for many years, ever since her days writing the Elm Creek Quilt series. In recent years she's turned to historical fiction. I greatly enjoyed this book, her latest offering, focusing on the sisters of Mary Todd Lincoln and their tumultuous relationship with the First Lady. 

The Forgotten Letters of Esther Durrant - Kayte Nunn - I enjoyed this tale of three interwoven stories, one in the 1950s and two set in the modern world. They are connected by the person of Esther Durrant who was sent away in the 1950s for mental treatment after the death of her infant son. 

Art Quilts: A Celebration - Robert Shaw - This was primarily pictures, but offered much inspiration for making art quilts. The 400 quilts profiled were ones that have been exhibited at Quilt National in Ohio.

The Jane Austen Society - Natalie Jenner - This was a highly enjoyable debut novel about a group of people in 1945 Chawton, Hampshire, England working to preserve Jane Austen's legacy. I especially liked that, unlike many Jane Austen themed works, you don't need to be an expert in Austen to enjoy this story. It stands on its own. 

Ghosts of Harvard - Francesca Serritella - I had seen this book reviewed in my local paper. It definitely wasn't my usual fare, but I greatly enjoyed it. This debut novel was part mystery / part ghost story / part psychological exploration of mental illness. I guess technically it would be a YA book since the protagonist is a freshman at Harvard, but even as a middle-aged woman, I eagerly turned the pages. 

Art Quilt Workbook - Jane Davila & Elin Waterson - This was the last of the art quilt books that I had requested from the library. This one was more focused on technique (primarily with a sewing machine), but I still enjoyed looking at the pictures and getting ideas for art quilts. 

The Lost and Found Bookshop - Susan Wiggs - Secular fiction about a woman who inherits her mother's deeply-in-debt bookstore after her mother's death. I enjoyed the story, but its resolution seemed to push the bounds of being believable. 

The Christmas Boutique - Jennifer Chiaverini - a new (2019) book in the Elm Creek Quilt Series (one of my favorite series). It featured lots of backstory from previous books, but it was great to visit with old friends. 

St. Francis Society for Wayward Pets - Annie England Noblin - Maeve Stephens was adopted at birth. Many years later, her birth mother (whom she never met) leaves her a house, a car, and a cat. I enjoyed this secular novel about starting a new life.

The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma - Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. - It seems wrong to put this under leisure reading as there was nothing enjoyable about reading this book, but it doesn't fit in any of the other categories. It was recommended to me back in February by a friend. I requested it from the library and it came in during September. It offers a history of how trauma has been treated, new understandings of trauma, the relationship between trauma and physical illnesses, and various treatments for trauma. It was painful to read but is beneficial for anyone interested in understanding more about the pervasive effects of trauma on the body and mind. What it doesn't address is the spiritual aspects of healing from trauma which as a person of faith also play a part. What role does God play in helping people heal? 

The Book of Lost Names - Kristin Harmel - I loved, loved, loved this book about a young Jewish woman who worked as a forger during World War II in order to help people escape. It was such a good story. As an added bonus, a Catholic priest was portrayed in a positive light as one of the people helping people escape the Nazis.

The Return - Nicholas Sparks - I've been a Sparks' fan since The Notebook and have read all of his books. Some have been better than others. I truly enjoyed this romance/mystery, however when I attempted to describe the plot to someone else, I realized it did have a soap-opera type vibe. Ah well, it was a guilty pleasure.

The Midnight Library - Matt Haig - A woman suffering from depression decides to end her life. As she hovers between life and death she lands in a library where a caring librarian allows her to choose books of other versions of her life where she makes different choices. It is a lovely story about making the most of the life we are in and the choices we have made. I enjoyed it so much I requested another of Haig's books from the library. 

The Memory House - Rachel Hauck - I always enjoy Hauck's stories and this one kept me eagerly turning pages. It tells of two women - one in the 1950s and one today - who have both suffered great losses and are struggling to move forward with their lives. 

Something Worth Doing - Jane Kirkpatrick - This is historical fiction based on the life of early suffragist Abigail Jane Scott Duniway who campaigned for women in Oregon. It was a compelling story. Fighting for women's rights was this woman's passion, but it also cost her a great deal. Because it is based on a real woman's life, there isn't necessarily a happy ending, but Kirkpatrick did a good job of wrapping up the story and trying to end it on a positive note. 

The Noel Letters - Richard Paul Evans - Every Advent season I try to read the new Christmas book by Richard Paul Evans. This one was excellent. It is about a young woman who goes home after her estranged father's death and learns that perhaps everything was not what it seemed. It was a powerful story of forgiveness, healing, and parental love.

Truly, Madly, Deeply - Karen Kingsbury - This newest novel by Karen Kingsbury focuses on Tommy Baxter and his girlfriend Annalee Miller. They are seniors in high school with a bright future, but Tommy's decision to enter the police force doesn't sit well with his mother and Annalee is facing a health crisis no one saw coming. Kingsbury's Christian fiction stories are always enjoyable and this one continued the trend. 

How to Stop Time - Matt Haig - This was the book I requested after enjoying The Midnight Library. Tom Hazard looks 41, but in reality he's been alive since the Elizabethan era. He's part of a group of people who suffer from a rare genetic condition that makes them age more slowly. He's currently working as a history teacher, but the past keeps intruding on his present, and the one thing that keeps him going is his hunt for his daughter, who like him, may still be alive. This was a great read. 

The Gift of Christmas Present - Melody Carlson - I've read several Christmas books by Carlson over the years so I figured this was a safe bet as I searched the library catalog for Christmas stories. A woman adopted at birth goes in search of her biological grandmother and discovers more than she ever bargained for. 

Quilted by Christmas - Jodie Bailey - I'm fond of inspirational fiction that also features quilting! This story was about a second chance at love for a woman and her high school sweetheart who has returned after 12 years in the military.

The Christmas Swap - Melody Carlson - This was total Christmas cheese, but it made for some mindless enjoyable reading. A rich musician pretends to be a caretaker of the house he swapped for Christmas break and falls in love with one of the girls renting his house. 

The Christmas Tree - Julie Salamon - "The Christmas Tree" is my favorite Christmas movie of all time, but I had never read the book. I'm not a  "the book is always better" person. I have generally found that whatever I experience first - the book or the movie - is what I enjoy the most. This held true in this case as well, but I still enjoyed the book. 

Home, Hearth, and the Holidays - Melody Carlson - My last Christmas book for 2020. I didn't realize that this one was part of a series (book 3), so I didn't have the backstory (although the author did a good job of weaving it in) and it didn't have a firm ending because it leads into another book. It is about a woman caring for a child whose parents have died. She also has a deadline to find a husband in order to inherit her aunt's estate. It was unpredictable and a good story. 

Our Hearts are in England - Jordan Marxer - I've loved Victoria Magazine since I was a teenager. This coffee table book was published by them and features beautiful photos of England. It was made for a lovely armchair travel excursion.

Reading for Work

Rediscover the Saints by Matthew Kelly -  This is not a book of saint biographies. Instead, it invites you to consider lessons that the saints have to teach us. Read my full review here.

The Joy of Falling by Lindsay Harrel - quality Christian women's fiction about two sisters-in-law who set out to do an ultra-marathon in New Zealand in honor of their husbands' memories. (Read for a book review publication)

Writing Historical Fiction by Celia Brayfield and Duncan Sprott - I read most of this book and skimmed the rest. I was looking for a "how to write historical fiction" book. This had some of that but was more about the value of historical fiction and the reasons for writing it.

St. Gianna, Her Life of Joy and Heroic Sacrifice by Giuliana Pelucchi. - An interesting biography of a doctor, wife, and mother who always aimed to do the will of God. She ultimately gave up her own life for that of her fourth child. (Read for Catholic Library World)

A Beautiful Arrangement - by Beth Wiseman - enjoyable Amish romance that took some twists I didn't expect. I really didn't want to put this down. (Read for a book review publication)

The Complete Guide to Writing Biogrpahies by Ted Schwarz - I requested this book from the library and didn't realize until I got it that it was from 1990. Needless to say, some of the research methods are a bit dated. But, it was full of useful information, especially about writing biographies of people who are still alive.

Two Robots - by Mark Restaino - a charming picture book that tackles the topic of free will and why evil is in the world. You can read my review here.

The Best We've Been - by Beth Vogt - This is the third book in an inspirational women's fiction series about three sisters. It was a good story, but I recommend reading the first two books before this one. (Read for a book review publication)

Exalted: How the Power of the Magnificat Can Transform Us - by Sonja Corbitt - A verse by verse exploration of Mary's song of praise. Read my full review here.

Being Visual: Raising a Generation of Innovative Thinkers - by Bette Fetter - This was an eye-opening book on what it is like to be a visual thinker. I referenced it in an article on Today's Catholic Homeschooling.

Night of the Cossack  - by Tom Blubaugh - This was an interesting work of historical fiction designed for teens. It focused on the Russian Cossacks, which were people I had never heard of. It gave me the opportunity to learn about some Russian history. You can read my review on Today's Catholic Homeschooling.

Come Back to Me - Carolyn Astfalk - I was part of a blog tour for this book and really enjoyed reading this page-turning romance about a marriage on the rocks.

Let There Be Light - Hildegard of Bingen - This is part of the 30 Days with a Great Spiritual Teacher series. I enjoyed the opportunity to read and reflect on these passages. You can read my review here

Set Aside Every Fear - Catherine of Siena - This is part of the same series as the above book. Also a great book for spending some quality spiritual time with. You can read my review here

Someone Like You - Karen Kingsbury - I've read many Kingsbury books over the years for pleasure. I may have had a bit of a fangirl moment when I was asked to review this one for Publishers Weekly. It is a great book about a young woman who was adopted as an embryo and never knew. She reels from that knowledge and is determined to get to know her biological family. It also has some romance thrown in. 

Elements of Fiction - Walter Mosley - This is a brief book in which Mosley muses on the process of writing a novel. I was impressed by his ability to create a story and then manipulate the details to create different stories. I don't know that I'd recommend this one, but it was a quick read which made for a pleasant afternoon. One quote I liked from it is that "The blank page is the writer's friend. It is an invitation to discover the words that will guide you to the story." 

Joyful Momentum - Growing and Sustaining Vibrant Women's Groups - Elizabeth Tomlin - I read this for Catholic Library World. It is a good book about forming and supporting women's ministry within parishes. It is somewhat ironic that I was reading this while in semi-quarantine from the Coronvirus. 

An Appalachian Summer - Ann Gabhart - This is the second book I've read by Gabhart that focuses on the Frontier Nursing Service - midwives and support staff that helped out the families in Appalachia during the Great Depression. Her stories make for pleasant reading. (Read for a book review publication.)

A Gilded Lady - Elizabeth Camden -  This historical romance focuses on a woman who works as personal secretary to First Lady Ida McKinley. It also had some suspense thrown in. (Read for a book review publication.)

Afraid of the Light - Cynthia Ruchti - A sensitive portrayal of a wounded psychologist trying to make up for not being able to help her mother by helping her patients who suffer from hoarding disorder. (Read for a book review publication)

Love and a Little White Lie - Tammy Gray - an inspirational romance about an atheist who goes to work at a church and gets more than she bargained for.  (Read for a book review publication)

A Call to a Deeper Love: The Family Correspondence of the Parents of St. Therese of the Child Jesus - I read this as research for a project on St. Zelie Martin than I am working on. 

Vying for the Viscount - Kristi Ann Hunter - The title of this one sounds like a total bodice-ripper, but it is actually a Regency romance that reminded me a bit of Jane Austen's style. The climax was a bit over-the-top, but the book overall was entertaining. (Read for a book review publication).

The Mother of the Little Flower - by Sr. Genevieve of the Holy Face - more on St. Zelie.  It is a short overview of her life by one who knew her well - her daughter Celine.

Virgin, Mother, Queen: Encountering Mary in Time and Tradition - Robert L. Fastiggi and Michael O'Neill - a lovely book highlighting Marian apparitions (both well-known and lesser-known) and theological titles of Mary.  I reviewed it here.   

An Ivy Hill Christmas - Julie Klassen - I love a good Christmas story (even when I am reading it in June!) and this one was a delight, taking place in old England. Even better, it was a novella, which means you can enjoy it without a huge time commitment. (Read for a book review publication) 

Radical Saints: 21 Women for the 21st Century - Melanie Rigney - This was a book about modern saints - women who lived in the 20th century and were canonized in the 21st century. I greatly enjoyed learning about this holy women. I reviewed it here.

The Haunting at Bonaventure Circus -  Jaime Jo Wright - This was a mystery told in two different eras - 1928 and the present day, based in the life of a circus. It gave me chills and definitely kept me turning pages. (Read for a book review publication)

The Sowing Season - Katie Powner - a lovely story of intergenerational friendship between a teen girl and a retired farmer, both trying to find their place in the world. (Read for a book review publication)

Firefly Magic: Heart Powered Marketing for Highly Sensitive Writers -  Lauren Sapala - I read her book The INFJ Writer (under leisure reading) and decided to read this one as well since I really stink at marketing my own work. Turns out I am not alone. 

Undone: Freeing Your Feminine Heart from the Knots of Fear and Shame - Carrie Schuchts Daunt - A group of women bravely shared how God has worked in their lives and helped heal their wounds. (Read for Catholic Library World) 

Red Ribbon - Pepper Basham - Historical fiction about a young woman eager to confront the moonshining culture which caused her father's death set against the backdrop set against the backdrop of the Hillsville Courthouse Massacre of 1912. A combo of romance, history, and adventure. It was an interesting and well-written story, but not really my personal cup of tea. (Read for a book review publication)

The Names of the Stars - Ann Tatlock - In the early 1900s, a woman striving for stardom is haunted by the memory of a younger brother who was sent to an asylum because he was an "idiot". A book about the innate value of all lives. It is imaginative and enjoyable. (Read for a book review publication)

What You Said to Me - Olivia Newport - This story featured a genealogist trying to help a troubled teen who has been court-ordered to work for her. At the same time there is a story line of a mine-owner and his family who loses their money in 1893. (Yes, the stories are connected.)This is the 4th book in a series but works as a stand-alone. It was a quick, easy read. (Read for a book review publication)

Something New with St. Therese - Her Eucharistic Miracle - Suze Andres - Andres explores St. Therese's Act of Oblation to Merciful Love and encourages all of us to make that same act and trust in God's mercy and love. I reviewed it here.

The Promised Land - Elizabeth Musser - A follow up to Musser's book, The Long Highway Home (which I had read a few years ago), this story focused on four people of various ages walking the Camino pilgrimage and discovering themselves in the process. (Read for a book review publication) 

The Woman in the Trees - Theoni Bell - Excellent debut fiction about Belgian immigrants in 1800s Wisconsin and the apparition of Our Lady of Good Hope. I reviewed it here

Courting Misfortune - Regina Jennings - Calista York is a Pinkerton agent trying to find a kidnapped woman in 1898 Joplin, Missouri, but her meddlesome family and a new pastor in town complicate matters a great deal in this comedic romantic/adventure. (Read for a book review publication)

Bless My Grandchild: A Catholic Prayer Book for Grandparents - Julie Cragen - This is a lovely collection of prayers. It would be a great gift for any Catholic grandmother in your life. I reviewed it here
The Boy Who Knew - Corinna Turner - I loved this novel which introduces readers to Blessed Carlo Acutis. I reviewed it here

Curious Unschoolers: Stories of an Unschooling Family  - Sue Elvis - This book offers an in-depth look at Catholic Unschooling by an Australian homeschooling mom. I wrote about it here

The Red Canary - Rachel Scott McDaniel - This story is set in 1928 Pittsburgh. Part romance/part mystery, it is set in the time of gangsters, dirty cops, and prohibition. It had a very film noir feel to it. It was a quick read that I enjoyed (Read for a book review publication)

Reed of God - Caryll Houselander - This spiritual classic features thought-provoking reflections on Mary. I reviewed it here.

Faith's Mountain Home - Misty M. Beller - This romance was set in the mountains of 1867 Montana. The third book in the Hearts of Montana series, it features a kidnapping victim trying to heal and move on with her life. It was enjoyable, but definitely works better as part of the series rather than a standalone. (Read for a book review publication)

The Enchanted Hour: The Miraculous Power of Reading Aloud in the Age of Distraction - Meghan Cox Gurdon - A lovely book on all the benefits of reading aloud (even to people who can read for themselves).

I'm a Saint in the Making - Lisa Hendey - This is a lovely picture book that reminds both children and adults that we are all called to be saints and offers concrete ways to help us live the way God wants us to live. I reviewed it here

The Orchard House - Heidi Chiavaroli - Fans of Little Women will enjoy this dual time-period story in which Louisa May Alcott play an important role. (Read for a book review publication)

Theology of Home: Finding the Eternal in the Everyday and Theology of Home II: The Spiritual Art of Homemaking   These two books were both a visual and intellectual delight about the beauty and challenge of creating a home. I reviewed them here

Seeking Rachel - Josie Riviera - This is a Regency romance. Rachel Lockhart needs a husband but with no dowry, her prospects aren't bright. When she meets Captain Nash Browning, she falls hard but she is concerned he is out to harm her Romany friends. She also fears she isn't good enough for him. (Read for a book review publication)

Awaken My Heart: 52 Weeks of Giving Thanks and Living Abundantly - Emily Wilson Hussem - This is a powerful 52-week devotional for women tackling some of the areas in which women need to work on their spiritual lives in order to live more abundantly. (Read for Catholic Library World)
Brotherhood of Saints: Daily Guidance and Inspiration - Melanie Rigney - Learn about a variety of male saints, one for each day of the year. I reviewed it here.
Destined for You - Tracie Peterson -  In this inspirational historical romance set in 1869 Duluth, Minnesota, a couple united by grief get a chance at unexpected love. (Read for a book review publication)


Great Books Project

"The Lifeless World of Biology" - Charles DeKoninck - a chapter from the book The Hollow Universe - Philosophy meets science in this lecture on whether we can determine what it means to be alive, especially as we study the smallest building blocks of nature.

The Passionate Observer - Jean Henri Fabre -This was a substitution on my Great Books list. The syllabus called for Souvenirs Entomologiques by Fabre. Unfortunately, that was not available in my local library system. This book was. I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. It included several writings by Fabre about his life and his observations. 

On the Natural Faculties - Galen - Galen lived in the 2nd century AD. At age 17, he started studying medicine and became a surgeon to gladiators. He became known as a public demonstrator of anatomy. His works were well known in the Middle Ages. I am not very knowledgeable about anatomy and much of this book went over my head, but I appreciated these early efforts to observe and explain what is going on in the body. Galen made a concerted effort to both collect the work that had been done before him and to build on that knowledge. He had a high respect for Nature as a creative force that had a purpose for everything. He also treated organisms as a whole, rather than as a sum of their parts.

On the Motion of the Heart and Blood in Animals - William Harvey - Harvey lived in the 1600s and made the important discovery that blood is circulated in the body. This book is his treatise on the subject explaining how he came to that conclusion.

Systema Naturae - Carl Linneas - My Great Books project hit a speed bump with this book. I couldn't find an English translation online or in my library system (not that it would have mattered because the library ended up closing). I found what was clearly marked as an English translation on Amazon and waited three weeks for it to be delivered. When it came in, it was a poor facsimile of a Latin manuscript. After I posted my one-star review on Amazon, I took a closer look. The majority of the book was simply the Latin names for plants and animals. There was only about 10 pages of actual text that I needed to translate. So, I started typing it out - about a page a day - and putting it into Google Translate where I received a translation that could not be considered readable. I probably could have done better with a Latin-English dictionary and 100 hours of time. But, I don't have that kind of time (even during quarantine), so I count this as a valiant effort that will have to be good enough.

Linneas was a Swedish botanist, zoologist, and physician who lived from 1707-1778. He came up with the binomial Latin names we still use today to identify plant and animal species. As far as I could tell the ten pages of text were general observations on rocks, plants, and animals and some of the challenges he had with classification.

A Treatise on the Equilibrium of Liquids - Blaise Pascal. This was a chapter in The Physical Treatises of Pascal. Blaise Pascal (1623 - 1662) was a French mathematician, physicist, inventor, writer, and Catholic theologian. In this treatise, he explores the pressure and weight of water.

Archimedes - On Floating Bodies - This was a chapter from The Works of Archimedes. Archimedes (287 - 212 BC) was a Greek mathematician, physicist, engineer, inventor, and astronomer. He was one of the leading scientists and mathematicians of antiquity and came up with an accurate approximation of pi. In this treatise, he was explaining how certain shaped objects with certain weights behave in water. There were 10 propositions with their mathematical proofs. I understood a few of the propositions. All of the math proofs went over my head.

At this point in the project, I was looking at all the books I still have to read and was feeling rather discouraged. However, I decided that whatever I do read, I learn something from. It doesn't matter if I get through the whole thing, which I did realize was going to be a long haul when I started. It is the journey that matters, the whole brain-stretching exercise. And so, I will continue on.

Experiments on Plant Hybrids - Gregor Mendel. Mendel was a scientist, Augustinian friar and abbot of St. Thomas Abbey in Moravia. He is known as the founder of the modern science of genetics. I would venture that everyone who has ever learned about genetics has an acquaintance with Mendel and his peas. I could follow most of this work without too much difficulty although some of the math involved escaped me.

The Metamorphosis of the Plants - Johann Wolfgang von Goethe -  My previous encounter with Goethe was in high school reading Faust. This, however, is a poem about the homologous nature of the leaf organs in plants, from cotyledons to leaves, to the petals of a flower. I thought it lovely.

This ends the science portion of the 1st year plan of study. Next up is math. To say I'm dreading it would be an understatement. 

Euclid's Elements (Geometry) - It took five months, but I finished this book at the end of November. I can't say that I understood that much of it (math is not my strong point in life), but I wrote down all the propositions and definitions and drew the pictures. I am so happy to be done!

Agamemnon - Aeschylus - I am thrilled to be back to reading items that don't take 5 months! This is a Greek play that takes play after Troy has fallen to the Greek armies. Agamemnon returns to his wife Clytemnestra with his lover Cassandra in tow. Clytemnestra kills both of them and is proud of it! I really enjoyed the lyricism of the translation I was reading. 

Libation Bearers - Aeschylus - This was the continuing story of the above tale. Agamemnon's son Orestes returns to exact revenge on his father's murderer. 

Eumenides - Aeschylus - The third part of the trilogy. Orestes goes on trial for killing his mother.Oedi

Oedipus the King - Sophocles - The classic play about the most ill-fated man, destined to kill his father and marry his mother. 

Oedipus at Colonus - Sophocles - The tale of Oedipus continues. It is mostly about his search for a place to die and be buried. At the end of the play, his daughter Antigone decides she wants to return home.

Antigone - Sophocles -  Atigone returns home to find that her two brothers have killed each other. One is granted burial rites; one is not. She risks her life to bury her brother and then must face the consequences. I first read this play in high school, but was exposed to it again a few years ago when my sons' acting school put on scenes from it. There was a young woman there who completely embodied the role of Antigone and in my mind, I imagined her as I was reading this.

Books I Read with My Daughter 

Magic Tree House Winter of the Ice Wizard - Mary Pope Osborne
Boxcar Children The Woodshed Mystery - Gertrude Warner
Boxcar Children The Lighthouse Mystery - Gertrude Warner
Frieda B. and the Finkledee Ink - Renata Bowers
Stone Soup - Marcia Brown
My Grandfather's Coat - Jim Aylesworth
Boxcar Children Mountain Top Mystery - Gertrude Warner
MacBeth for Kids - Lois Burdett
A Little Princess - Frances Hodgson Burnett
A Journey to the New World - The Diary of Remember Patience Whipple by Kathryn Lasky
Tuck Everlasting - Natalie Babbitt
Big Bad Bruce - Bill Peet
Whittington - Alan Armstrong
Boxcar Children Schoolhouse Mystery - Gertrude Warner
Boxcar Children Caboose Mystery - Gertrude Warner
Boxcar Children Houseboat Mystery - Gertrude Warner
I Walk in Dread: The Diary of Deliverance Trembley, Witness to the Salem Witch Trials by Lisa Rowe Fraustino (We read about 3/4 of this one before it was due back at the library).
Chocolate Fever - Robert Kimmel Smith
Teacher Appreciation Day - Lynn Plourde
Ginger and Petunia - Patricia Polacco
An "A" From Miss Keller - Patricia Polacco
St. Catherine Laboure and the Miraculous Medal - Alma Power-Waters
Standing in the Light - The Diary of Catharine Carey Logan, 1763 - Mary Pope Osborne
The Children's Book of Angels - Jerry Windley-Daousi - Read my review here 
The Spider and the Fly - Tony DiTerlizzi
The Magical, Mystical Marvelous Coat - Catherine Ann Cullen
The Invisible Leash - Patrice Karst
The Bunyans - Audrey Wood
The Leprechaun's Gold - Pamela Duncan Edwards
Remembering Vera - Patricia Polacco
Red Dancing Shoes - Denise Lewis Patrick
In Enzo's Splendid Gardens - Patricia Polacco
Thank you, Mr. Falker - Patricia Polacco
Appelemando's Dreams - Patricia Polacco
Look to the Hills: The Diary of Lozette Moreau, A French Slave Girl (New York Colony, 1763) - Patricia McKissack
Saint Elizabeth's Three Crowns - Blanche Jennings Thompson
Kateri Tekakwitha - Evelyn M. Brown
Saint Therese and the Roses - Helen Walker Homan
Mother Teresa - Marlyn Evangelina Monge, FSP
Saint Rose of Lima - Mary Fabyan Windeatt
Andersen's Fairy Tales and Grimm's Fairy Tales - 1963 Grosset and Dunlap Companion Library Edition
Angel in the Waters - Regina Doman (one of my all-time favorite children's books)
The Children of Fatima - Mary Fabyan Windeatt
The Wonderful Wizard of Oz - L. Frank Baum 

The Adventures of Pinocchio - C. Collodi

The Jungle Book - Rudyard Kipling
Treasury of Aesop's Fables- 1973 Avenel Books edition
Little Women - Louisa May Alcott 
D'Aulaires' Book of Greek Myths - Ingri and Edgar Parin D'Aulaire
Little Men - Louisa May Alcott

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

Make the Most of Your Creative Gifts in 2021

About a month ago, I published The Work of Our Hands: The Universal Gift of Creativity which is about how God invites all of us to use the creative gifts he gives us to help shape the world. The four people who reviewed it so far enjoyed it (I had gifted them review copies). Here are excerpts of the reviews on Amazon:

I do not think of myself as creative or as having any creative gifts. Reading this book has given me much on which to reflect. My creativity is not in the areas I would have thought were creative before reading this book. I cannot draw, or paint, or sculpt. I can write a book review, but that is about as far as my talents in those areas lie. My real talents, my creativities, lie in the ability to take care of others and to organize. I highly recommend this little book as a tool for anyone struggling to see themselves as God sees them. It has the tools to help you on that journey.


Wow, I really needed this book right now! If you’re like me (after almost a year of increased exposure to the interior of your home…😉), and you’re in need of a lovely challenge to get your creative juices flowing, providing your mind and hands with some worthwhile, lasting work (rather than wasting your day staring at a screen!) this is it. Reading this book brought to mind a project that has been collecting dust in my attic for four years, so I pulled it out to get working on it. This book has me so motivated to get going!

The 31 reflections in the book are perfect for a do-it-yourself retreat. The author lives up to her promise--a book which invites the reader "into a deeper relationship with God" while helping to "cultivate a deeper appreciation of your own creative gifts." The Work of Our Hands not only nurtures the creativity within, but also serves to nourish our relationship with God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  


Patrice Fagnant-MacArthur shares her own gift to show us that we are all called by the Divine Creator to use our own gifts for the good of others, whether that is writing, painting, caregiving, cooking, etc. She also emphasizes the importance of rest and appreciated and caring for God's creation.


I can take some comfort in the fact that these four people thought my book had some value and that it benefited them in some way, but sales have been nonexistent (with the exception of one person who I offered to give a review copy to, but who chose to buy a Kindle copy). I know that I am not a big-name writer and my expectations for sales of my books are always low, but nonexistent is painful. Ironically, one of the topics covered in this book is "When Our Work Fails". I know God has His reasons (no doubt more lessons in humility. God seems to bludgeon me with a 2' x 4' with those). That doesn't mean that I didn't cry and tell myself I was worthless and a failure about 1000 times. It still hurts, but I have dusted myself off and regained a sense of perspective. I know in the big scheme of things, this doesn't matter to anyone but me, and even in my world, it is a small problem. 

But I still think that the book itself has value and that people might benefit from reading it. It has 31 reflections, so I thought I would post one on my blog for each day of January. I hope that you enjoy the posts and that you use whatever creative gifts God has given you to help make our world a better place in the coming year. 

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Get to Know the Brotherhood of Saints



As a woman, I often tend to turn to female saints when I need some help and inspiration, but I have my favorite male saints as well. What would I do without St. Anthony to help me when I lose something or St. Jude when I have a hopeless case to pray about? Pope Francis recently dedicated this liturgical year to St. Joseph. That makes it the perfect time to learn more about the men in the canon of saints. Brotherhood of Saints: Daily Guidance and Inspiration by Melanie Rigney is a great way to do just that.

Rigney, also the author of Sisterhood of Saints, highlights one male saint for each day of the year in a one-page entry. She offers a short summary of the saint’s life; a relevant quote from Scripture, the saint, or another spiritual source; and a challenge for our own lives based on the saint’s example.

All the big-name saints that you would expect are in these pages, but as is often the case in saint books, I appreciate learning about the lesser-known saints. Rigney has taken great care to include saints from all different cultures, time periods, and walks of life. One of the great things we can learn from reading the lives of the saints is that God calls us all to serve Him in unique ways based on our own talents and circumstances. There is a wonderful variety in the lives of the saints and we, too, are called to join their number in heaven!

Some of the lesser-known saints I was introduced to in these pages included Joseph Cafasso (January 15th) who was a spiritual director to St. John Bosco, Giovanni Antonio Farina (March 5th) who established a free school for girls and founded a community of teaching women religious (a radical idea at the time), Hugh of Cluny (April 29th) who served as a counselor to nine popes, Ephrem (June 9th) who is the only male Doctor of the Church not to be a priest or bishop, Peter Faber (August 3rd) who was a college roommate of Saints Francis Xavier and Ignatius of Loyola and was one of the first Jesuits, and Giuseppe Moscati who was an Italian physician whose research helped lead to the use of insulin in treating diabetes. One of the beauties of a book like this is that it makes you want to research more about the saints that interest you. With so many saints to choose from, there are sure to be some that speak to you and circumstances more than others.

Brotherhood of Saints is a wonderful introduction to some of our brothers in heaven. They each have an example to offer us in what it means to live our lives for God. Spending a few minutes each day reading and reflecting on one of these pages is a great way to learn something new and advance on your own unique spiritual journey. It would also be a great family activity to use during morning or evening prayers.

Making the Most of <i>Menopause Moments</i>

  When I unexpectedly got in a review copy of Menopause Moments: A Journal for Nourishing Your Mind, Body and Spirit in Midlife , I must adm...