This month was an excellent month for me reading as I read a blend of full-length books, Christmas novellas (and novels), and Audible originals. I didn’t meet my Goodreads goal for the year, but I came close and had fun trying to catch it this month. Without grad school or educating the kids the last two weeks of the month, I really had time to relax into reading in a way that I haven’t in months.
- Books Read: 33
- Re-Reads: 2
- Goodreads Challenge Progress: 197/200 (3 books behind schedule)
- New Books vs. Backlist:
- New Books: 21
- Backlist: 12
I started this month with a short story that I read with my daughter (but it has a Goodreads entry, so it totally counts as a book!). “The Interlopers” is an older story and a quick read, probably taking only about 10-15 minutes. It’s about two men who are bitter rivals, seeking to destroy each other. I thought it was masterfully done. Emalee thought it was crazy, and perhaps, a little meaningless in the end.
The next book I finished this month was The Star-Crossed Sisters of Tuscany. This book is about two “second-born daughters” who are cousins and are attempting to break the curse on second-born daughters in their family. This book has some romance, some family history, sibling relationships, sousing relationships, and so much more going for it. It’s predictable, but an enjoyable journey. I found it to be a leisurely read, and the chapters are super-short.
Then, I turned to another book with very short chapters, Christmas at the Island Hotel. This is the fourth of Jenny Colgan’s Mure novels. It’s a little confusing if you, like me, are making this your first Mure novel because there are continuing plot lines from the previous book. However, the main storyline is easy to follow and charming. The setting is also great, and I loved the secondary romance very much too. I plan to go back and read the first book in this series at some point in 2021. The main romance, by the way, is rivals to lovers trope, but it’s gentle.
While I was reading romance and Christmas stories, I picked up Written in the Stars, a f/f Christmas romantic comedy. This is a fake dating to real dating trope. That’s a trope I’m always a sucker for, so I enjoyed this romance very much. One of the main characters, Darcy, has a brother who plays a huge role in this novel, and I’ve already preordered the book telling his story (which comes out in May) because I loved his character so much. This one is completely open-door, so if you’re avoiding that, this probably isn’t the book for you.
The next book that I read was a book for professional development, 12 Essential Skills for Great Preaching. This was a required book in a grad school class that I’m taking this semester. I found the book helpful in sermon planning, especially long-range planning. The actual planning with all the worksheets and everything that the book proscribes though is a really clunky method, not one I would consider feasible for weekly planning unless sermon planning was your only pastoral duty.
Then it was back to romance. I read The Hating Game because they had discussed it on Fated Mates, and I had it sitting on my shelved unread. After picking it up and reading it, I can’t believe that I left it on my shelve unread for so long. This was an enemies to lovers trope, and it was just perfect. There was so much to love about this book with the witty dialogue, strong emotions, sexual tension and great interactions. I also loved how in her head Lucy (the narrator) was, and I felt that the present tense narration really added to that. I don’t usually like present tense narration, but it worked here. This was totally a five-star romance.
The next book I picked up was A Christmas Carol. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I have never actually read the book, even though I have watched several variations on the story. It was so good! The prose was more concise than much of the overwrought Dickens prose that I have read before, and the story is short and uplifting. So many scenes were familiar from the movie adaptations, but the book had so many heart-warming details. I’m glad I read it, and I plan to have my teens read it this time next year.
Then, I had to get back to grad school reading, and I read Creative Bible Teaching. It mixes educational psychology with the church environment. The results are mixed. My undergrad degree is in education, so I’ve had a bunch of educational psychology. This book doesn’t really add anything new to what I had already learned in those classes. However, despite wanting to use educational psychology, Richards and Bredfeldt are skeptical about it’s validity, making the book tug back and forth between biblicism and educational psychology. I found this rather tiresome. I think I would have appreciated this book a few years ago, but it’s not the book for who I am today.
The next book I finished was The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue. It’s really been making the rounds on Instagram over the past few months, and I received it in my October Book of the Month box. I had been thinking about putting off reading it because buzzy books sometimes turn into big letdowns for me. This was not the case with this book as I really ended up loving it. In fact, it’s a strong possibility for my top ten list of the year. It also raised several issues that I really want to think through, so I find myself remembering this book often.
Next, I read an essay collection by C.S. Lewis called Present Concerns. This collection was a grouping of articles that Lewis had published in various magazines over a twenty year span. Some of the essays seem really relevant and helpful. Others are hopelessly dated and refer to times and personages in British history that I do not truly have a reference for. This is a great historical artifact, especially for those interested in his World War II era articles. However, it is a mixed bag.
Another short selection I read this month was The Lady or the Tiger? which is a short story by Frank B. Stockton. This story was part of my 14-year-old’s English composition curriculum, and it was a really interesting read, revealing much about human nature. My 14-year-old found it compelling and exciting, but the end was so frustrating. After we read that story, every conversation we had for the rest of the day came back to the story and the moral dilemma it presents. For me, this is the sign of a great work of art.
I continued finishing up reading books for my homiletics class with Teaching the Next Generations. This book was an essay collection that covered multiple themes and areas of Christian discipleship education. I felt like this one was a really helpful collection, one that I plan to keep on my shelves and turn to when I’m actively teaching again.
The next book I read was Naomi Novik’s A Deadly Education. It’s the first book in a new YA trilogy Novik’s writing. There was a little controversy about racist language or stereotyping in her book when it first came out. I didn’t feel that Novik had any intention of racism as I read her book, but she was clumsy with some of her inclusion. The book moves at a good pace and has a great deal of action. It was a really enjoyable read, and I passed the book on to my 14-year-old daughter because I know that she’ll really enjoy it.
Next, I read Gift from the Sea. This is a classic work of essays from Anne Morrow Lindbergh, written during her midlife in the 1950s. It’s clever. She takes various seashells from the beach and compares aspects and stages of her life. This really spoke to me, and I put three pages of notes into my reading journal as I read this. I think it was a case of right book at the right time. This is a quick read, and I read it over the course of a couple of hours.
Since I’m trying to manufacture some Christmas spirit, I’ve been watching Christmas movies and reading Christmas books like I would never usually do in December. My next attempt to find the right Christmas read was Christina Lauren’s In a Holidaze. This one is Groundhog Day meets a big family gathering. Lovely family with lots of amazing characters. I enjoyed the premise, and I loved the Christmas time ability to go back and wish that you could fix things. This is my fourth Christmas themed book for December, but not my last!
My next pick was a Christian living book that caught my eye when it was a Kindle deal back in the Spring. Practicing the Present: The Neglected Art of Living in the Now discusses eight ways that we tend to live in either the past or the future rather than truly embracing the now. These might be through worries, regrets, hurry, procrastination or any number of other issues that we face. This book is written for church leadership, and many of his examples are ones that will be mostly relevant for pastors. Still the information is good, and there’s so much from this book I want to go back and think about more deeply.
Then, I went back to reading Christmas romances by reading A Wedding One Christmas. This book is a fake-dating to real-dating book that takes place over the course of 24 hours at a wedding. I really enjoyed the lead character, really felt like Angie was fun and that she and Ezra had good chemistry. Unfortunately, I also felt that this book had a pacing problem. It drug a little in the middle and I didn’t look forward to picking it back up in the middle chapters. Beharrie is also handling a lot of emotional baggage on the part of the main characters, mostly through either interior dialogue or through long conversations about their feelings. I found that to be more than a little exhausting, kind of like when one of my teenagers starts dithering about whatever their emotional drama of the day is.
I also did a buddy read this month of a group of short stories called You Think It, I’ll Say It that I have been meaning to get to for quite some time. The stories were uncomfortable to say the least as Sittenfield turned an unflinching eye towards some awkward and cringeworthy human behavior. If I were to be asked if I liked the book, my honest answer would be no. Yet I learned about myself reading it, and I think I am glad to have read it.
After reading a difficult book, I turned towards Christmas-themed erotica, with the plans of mostly reading romance for the rest of December. Sometimes our brains just need to work a little less hard. This one, The Naughty List, is almost a porno disguised as a romance novel. The romance part is a little cutesy, but the sex was pretty hot all the way through. I’ve never actually read a Santa Claus themed romance either. It seems a little naughty!!
Next, I continued with the Christmas romance theme with Sweet on You. This Filipino romance follows coffeemaker Sari and baker Gabriel as they have competing next door storefronts. They go to war against each other–a prank war that begins turning into a real relationship. Loved these characters, their big families, and the fun atmosphere. I definitely want more from this author and more from other characters in this series. The descriptions of food and coffee were also amazing. I also found myself looking up Christmas customs because I am completely unfamiliar with the Philippines.
I kept up the Christmas theme with the erotic novella Breath on Embers. Thea is mourning the death of her husband and thinks that her relationship with Ronan is based on meaningless sex. Ronan has caught feelings, however, and believes Thea has too. He goes to great lengths to show her that he’s right about this. This was a beautifully done, emotive erotica, and I found myself caught up in the story as much as in the sex. It’s hard to do both well, but Calhoun really has done it.
I decided that I wanted to listen to some Audible originals, short works that would help bump up my reading totals. I had been wanting to read some anyway, so the end of the year provided a good excuse. I decided to start with the Out of Line collection, a group of stories that are focused on women taking control of their lives. The first story I started with was Graceful Burdens. It focuses on a dystopian society where people are basically put into castes based on whether or not they are considered worthy to procreate. Gay shows the story from both sides–women who want babies and can’t have them, and women who do not want babies but are forced by society to have them. This was a tightly drawn and interesting story. I really enjoyed it.
The next book I was drawn to was The Telling. This short story tells the tale of a teenager who has an unexpected pregnancy. The options she has and how she chooses to deal with this pregnancy reverberate through the rest of her life. This was a small story, and so well told. I found myself thinking about the agony that a teen goes through in making whatever reproductive choice that she makes. I feel like, no matter what choice she makes, the results will be in her private thoughts from time to time. We see that in Geraldine’s story.
The next book, Sweet Virginia, is a longer story in this collection. This one is a richly-textured and relatable story of a woman struggling in her role as wife and mother, wishing for more in her career, and dealing with a fraught relationship with her mother. The book takes a hard left turn into dystopia, but I rolled with it and I really enjoyed it.
The next book, The Contractors, tells of two women in different countries, working for the same company and with the same name. A clerical error sends them both the same email, and they connect and are filled with envy about each others’ lives. I think Ko does a great job here of showing that the grass is not always greener.
The next Amazon Originals that I read was a David Sedaris essay that talks about some of this findings and goings on from his most recent book tour. He collects jokes, makes some summations about men and women, and finds himself on a mission to give away $50 bills. Very low key (and at times low brow). I found myself, as usual with Sedaris, laughing aloud a time or two.
I went back to the Out of Line collection with Halfway to Free. Miriam is a woman living in a slightly future society where childbearing is taboo. However, she longs for a child, and when when finds a likeminded man, she has to make a decision over whether the longing for a child is enough to overcome the social ostracism of having one. I enjoyed this story, but I didn’t connect with it in the same way that I connected with some of the other stories in the series.
Then I listened to Bear Witness. It was a tale of a rape trial, seen through the eyes of the rapist, the victim, and a juror at the trial. It was difficult as a read. The premise was interesting. Perhaps if this had been developed into a longer format I would have liked it better. However, I struggled to differentiate between the the victim and the juror in perspective, so I felt like I had difficulty understanding the story as a whole.
The final story in the Out of Line collection was Shine, Pamela, Shine. Pamela is a retiring teacher who is in the middle of a divorce and has two adult children who are completely unpleasant. She’s trying to navigate life and the dating field again at this transitional stage of life. I fin that depressing. Then, the story gets a little weird, and I’m still not sure whether or not I like it.
Once I finished the Out of Line collection, I moved onto the Faraway collection. I was kind of excited about it because it’s all fairytale based. The first story in the series is The Prince and the Troll. A man loses his cell phone. A woman under the bridge tosses it back to him. He starts bringing her coffee and an unlikely friendship forms. Then, there’s apparently some sort of environmental crisis, etc. I didn’t really get it. This is one that might have been better suited for a long format.
The second story in the Faraway series was called Hazel and Gray. It’s a Hansel and Gretel retelling, and it was perfection to me. I didn’t actually ever think that I could enjoy a Hansel and Gretel retelling as it’s not one of my favorite fairy tales, but everything about this story worked. It made me excited to read more of Stone’s writing as well.
Next, I read Barack Obama’s A Promised Land. It’s a beautifully written presidential memoir, and I gave it a good, relaxed, leisurely reading, sinking into the words and story. It’s highly detailed though, so if you’re not interested in history or politics, it might not be the read for you. Sadly, this book just covers through the end of 2010 and the beginning of 2011, so there’s still most of his presidency to be chronicled. I’d love to know when to anticipate a second volume.
I ended up binge watching the whole first season of Bridgerton on Christmas night, and it reminded me that the Bridgerton series is one of my favorite romance series. So, I decided to go back and re-read The Duke and I. It was so good. There were some aspects that I felt like the show handled better (like the rape scene), but overall I really enjoyed being back in the Bridgerton world (in fact, I might re-read more of the books in 2021). I forgot just how crisp the family is, and just how good all the dialogue is as I went and just enjoyed sinking myself into a good romance novel.
The Book of the Month for me? Practicing the Present by John Koessler. It was exactly the reminder to live in the present that I needed in this uncertain time.