02. Ancient Mediterranean 03. Early Europe & Colonial Americas 04. Later Europe & Americas Art & Humanities Central & South America Christianity England Europe Greece Hinduism Islam Judaism Lifestyle Mexico Religion Teaching Travel Vatican City

2019 Book Reviews

December 30, 2019

I made a New Years’ resolution to not buy any books in 2019 because I have way too many books in my personal arsenal that I haven’t read yet. While I DID (mostly) keep to my promise, I also found a loophole by borrowing books and checking them out of my library as audiobooks. 🙂

 This post contains affiliate links, meaning if you click on items for purchase I can receive some compensation.

Paul: Journeys in Greece 

I borrowed this book from a coworker in preparation for my trip to Greece this past spring break as a school chaperone. We were visiting a few sites that Paul had preached at, most notably Ephesus, so I was grateful to learn more about Paul and his travels in general.

A Tribe Called Bliss (audiobook)

A good group of girlfriends who wanted to go through the self-help (I hate that word) book about creating your “tribe” (aka a small group of women who meet every 2 weeks to help each other kick ass). I’m going to be totally honest here, I hate the self-help idea but this process was pretty awesome. I had a great time and a wonderful journey, I think my friends made the journey worth it!

IMG_5242

In-Flight Greek & Travel Talk: Greek (audiobooks)

Neither of these books was “for pleasure” more just to make sure I could a) say hello and b) find the bathroom while in Greece. One of those two phrases I mastered…I’ll let you guess which one. lol

 

IMG_6478
The Geek Feminist Revolution by Kameron Hurley (audiobook)

I literally have no idea how I stumbled upon this book! I can’t say I liked it, in fact I really didn’t like it, but I couldn’t put it down (or in audiobook speak turn it off). It’s one of those books that you know will make you a better person for reading it and you’re glad you got through it, but you had to struggle to get through it the whole time. Soooo read it…I guess???

Judaism by Dr. Geoffrey Wigoder (audiobook)

This book didn’t really teach me much new about Judaism (because I have already done a lot of study on it) but it was a great review of the historical development of Judaism from the rabbinical age to modern day. Overall, a good introduction for a beginning researcher.

East-west Jesus'
Orthodox & Roman Catholic Christianity by Dr. Jean Porter (audiobook)

I read (listened to) this book before going to Greece in the hopes of learning more about the differences between these two great branches of Christianity but it was more about Catholicism than Orthodoxy so that was a bummer. Not a bad book overall but they should probably change the name and drop the Orthodox part of the title.

The Tea Girl on Hummingbird Lane, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan & Peony in Love by Lisa See

OMG! These books were some of my favorite this year. I love Lisa See’s writing style. It is not difficult of a read but so well researched. All of the books I have read so far are about China but come from very different time periods (China in the 1990s vs Qing dynasty) but they all deal with the struggle of young women coming of age. The author also did a great job with her research, and as a history teacher, I was constantly googling to learn more about the cultural tidbits she brought up. Highly recommend!

Prince Lestate and the Realms of Atlantis by Anne Rice (audiobook)

I’ll be honest, I was super skeptical when I downloaded this book. I love Anne Rice but I was wary of the Atlantis reference here. However, as always she pulled through. Yes, this book is about Atlantic (sort of) but it is incredibly well done. There were parts that I questioned, but it all tied in together at the end. My only regret is that I have read the Vampire Chronicles wayyy out of order so there are tons of spoilers in this book. Oh well.

TheLiteraryMedicineCabinetCover-600x776
The Literary Medicine Cabinet: A Guide to Self-Care through Books by Haley Stewart (ebook)

Although this is technically a book, it read more like a brief conversation with the author in which she tells you her favorite books. I actually really liked it because I love lists & it gave me some new thoughts on how my favorite (& least favorite) books have affected my life. Overall, cute idea.

Read more at the blog Carrots for Michaelmas: “Good Reads”

The Story of English in 100 Words by David Crystal (audiobook)

So you might think a book about words would be like reading a dictionary from beginning to end but it’s not! This book (& others by the same author) are so funny while also being intensely informative. I just love his style of writing. I learned all about the origin of words like “cunt” (yep, I wrote that & it’s in the book), “dilly dally,” “bread,” and 97 more! 🙂

David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants by Malcolm Gladwell (audiobook)

Loved this book! It was recommended to me by a coworker and he definitely knows my type of nonfiction. It was a book on the sociology of the underdog and there were so many “hmmmm” and “ooooo” moments. I 100000% recommend this book, even if you don’t love nonfiction. It just explains so much that we take for granted or are surprised about. And the author uses well-recognized historic figures to illuminate his theories (like the non-violent anti-segregation movement in the American South or the Biblical story of David and Goliath).

IMG_6527

Holocaust through Visual Culture Reading List

This is not a book per se but parts of lots of books that I had to read for my National Endowment for the Humanities summer institute: Holocaust through Visual Culture. Add them all up and you can certainly consider it more than “a book.” Overall, these were pretty difficult to get through. The writing is quite academic (like upper level to master’s college level reading) and the topic certainly is difficult and emotional, but I think it’s a good thing to *force* yourself out of your reading comfort zone. Especially as a high school teacher, I need to always expand my academic horizon.

Like a Mother: A Feminist Journey through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy by Angela Garbes (audiobook)

This was a big fat NO for me for MOST of the book. I felt like I was being yelled at the whole time (probably more the audiobook’s fault rather than the book) but I just disagreed with how the message was being related. It’s not the feminist part, I am a damn feminist (that leans pro-life) it was the “no one should tell me what to do ever, including doctors” bit that I didn’t love. The only redeeming factor was that I learned a lot about the placenta and weird postpartum stuff I never could have imagined so that was cool.

P.S. No, Will & I are not pregnant in case you are wondering.

haleycover2-1-600x750
Burning Bright, Not Burning Out: Notes from a Decade of Surviving Motherhood by Haley Stewart (ebook)

This book was the perfect balance I needed after listening to Like a Mother: A Feminist Journey through the Science and Culture of Pregnancy.  It’s not these books were opposites of each other, they actually attacked the same problem in two very different ways. They’re essentially both about reclaiming the joys, sorrows, challenges and importance motherhood but I preferred Hayley’s style more. It’s a quick read (only took me like 45 minutes) but it made me feel at peace.

Around the Year with the Von Trapp Family by Maria Von Trapp

This book was just plain adorable and a quaint view into a different way of life. I don’t know that I will incorporate a ton of the Catholic liturgical traditions presented here because a lot of them don’t jive with my way of living but I love learning about historic, religious culture throughout the world. However, if you are looking for a more modern & practical catholic cultural living guide Kendra Tierney’s book, The Catholic All Year Compendium, is PERFECT!

img_6662

Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Super athletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen by Christopher McDougall

This was part of my Summer Book Swap with my husband (what is that you ask? Read HERE). I am not a runner but I have been faithfully going nearly every Tuesday since September and now it’s become habit. This book is certainly inspiring; as I flipped the pages I became convinced that I too could run a 50k (for context I usually only run a mile to a mile and a half…so laughable). I am not about to sign up for a 5k, let alone a 50k, but this book has given me new insight into how to enjoy the act of running a little bit more. And the anthropologist in me loved learning about this semi-secret tribe, the Tarahumara, who are essentially on the verge of cultural extinction in the canyons of Mexico.

Blood Communion & Prince Lestate (from the Vampire Chronicles) by Anne Rice (audiobooks)

Didn’t love either actually, which is a real shocker for me because I love all things Anne Rice but both of these books just felt like fillers into the world of the Vampire Chronicles. Embarrassingly enough halfway through the book Prince Lestate I figured out I had read it already. 🙂 I’m glad I listened to them, but I truly don’t think they are her best work in character/plot development

The Checklist Manifesto: How to Get Things Right by Atul Gawande

This book was recommended to me by my cousin in Texas. The book title sounds boring but it’s actually a fascinating sociological look into how simple checklists can make a difference in how we fun society. The book is written by a medical doctor who at first doesn’t think a checklist can make a dent in hospital efficiency and safety but beings to change his mind as he learned how people use checklists in the aviation industry and construction. The book traces his journey through various industries to learn about how checklists work as fields get to be more and more complicated. Personally, I am a huge fan of the satisfaction of a checklist but this book isn’t here to admonish your personal checklist use, instead it is about explaining how society can be improved with them.

Dimensions of the ME books

Dimensions of the Middle East Reading List

Like the Holocaust reading list, this is not “a book” and this list is much, much shorter and easier to get through. I really enjoyed getting to reading about the modern Middle East because so much of my background is in the foundation of Islam yet I really need to bulk up my knowledge of 20th century global affairs for AP World History!

E-Mails from Scheherazad by Mohja Kahf

I first encountered the poems of Mohja Kahf on another summer institute, A Reverence for Words, and I loved their modern short style with global feminist focus. The poems are short and easy to read but invite rereading and reanalyzing as you go through them. I hope to use some of these poems with my AP World History students after we cover 20th century global feminism.

Every Sacred Sunday (Year C 2018-2019)

This is sort of a book…it is the Bible sections with reflection space of the Catholic readings for the holy days of obligation. So I guess I technically read this every Sunday at mass but this book provided me with time and space to read, reflect, and write in the book. Technically I only read from the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity to the Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, King of the Universe (about a third of the book).

A Column of Fire by Ken Follatt (audiobook)

I love, love, love Ken Follatt’s Kingsbridge series (currently 3 books are out). If you love English medieval history (I mean, come’on who doesn’t!?) then these are the books for you. This book takes place a few hundred years after the last two, after Henry the VIII’s break with the Catholic Church. One of the things I especially love about his style of writing is that he takes you through the entire lives of his characters, from teenage to death, which creates a wonderful arc of history. Plus, he weaves in actual historical events without feeling hookey.

Devil in the White City book

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America by Erik Larson

OMGGGG this book got me through the week our tiles were being laid in our house. I was hungrily devouring the pages desperate to read what was happening next. This book marries a detective story, with the history of Gilded Age America, art history, and fantastic writing. You do not have to be “in to” history or architecture to dig this book, but you will learn a lot along the way. The book is incredibly well researched and is historical nonfiction written as a narrative.

Letter to a Suffering Church by Bishop Barron

This book was given to us by our church for free! I really appreciate the gift, especially because it deals with the Catholic priest sex abuse scandal. In essence Bishop Barron argues (& our priest does too) that what those priests who abused children are absolutely deplorable and the cover up of those pedaphilic acivities even more disgusting BUT it’s not a reason to stop being Catholic. This is a feeling I shared even before reading the book, because “the system” (all human systems) are inherently flawed but that’s not a reason for me to abandon their ideals. In the same way that I don’t abandoned American democracy just became I hate Trump. So if you’re Catholic and disgusted with our Church, I suggest this book. It won’t make it immediately better, it won’t make the problem go away, but it hopefully makes you want to fight for a better Church in the future.

Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives by Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) (audiobook)

I don’t exactly remember why I picked up the book but I’m so glad I did. The book just laid out the Biblical and historical context for the early life of Jesus in such an easy to digest manner. Although it is obvious a  “Catholic” book, written by the pope emeritus, is doesn’t read as a “Catholic” book; meaning that I think anyone, Christian or not, can get something from it. I am a practicing Catholic that prefers the well-researched historical article and this book filled that desire while also deepening my faith.

The Pope: Francis, Benedict, and the Decision that Shook the World by Anthony McCarten (audiobook)

I picked up this book because I had seen a ton of Catholic chatter about the role of pope, especially Benedict XVI and Francis, in these tumultuous times for the Church. Growing up, I never really “liked” Benedict, that’s not to say I didn’t respect him, I just didn’t get him. Reading this book has shifted my deep respect and empathy with the life, struggle, and reign of both of these esteemed men. The book, I came to find out shortly after finishing it, is being made into a movie! I am definitely seeing it now!

Religion in the Handmaid’s Tale: A Brief Guide by Colette Tennant

So this is actually a Christmas gift for a friend that I decided to read before wrapping. 🙂 I found the writing style a little unpolished and the sentence structure a bit simple, however it wasn’t a book I was going to for its beautiful prose. I am a cultural historian, especially one of religious history, so anything that explains and breaks down the religion of past & fictional worlds is right up my alley! This book explained this so well, especially for those without an in depth knowledge of Old Testament scripture. I loved The Handmaid’s Tale & I cannot wait to read the sequel, The Testaments!

Read more: Book Review! The Red Tent

Classical Religions & Myths of the Mediterranean Basin by Dr. Jon David Solomon (audiobook)

I didn’t think I was going to learn that much from this book but I certainly did! The author did a fantastic job of weaving the stories, myths, and heros of multiple ancient religious traditions into one cohesive historical narrative. I’ve never really looked into how the migrations of people into the Mediterranean Basin would influence the religions practiced there. One fun fact I really liked from the audiobook was the origins of the word “Jupiter”: deus – zeus – jus = god + pater – piter = father. Jupiter is the equivalent of Zeus in Roman mythology and is the most high god, aka “father god.” BOOM! Mind blown!!! That’s my new party trick. 🙂

Hinduism by Dr. Gregory Kozlowski (audiobook)

Just like the previous book I also did not think I was going to learn a ton from this book, anddddd I was wrong again! I would say this book is NOT for beginning learners of Hindu religions because it goes through the deep history and development of the religion over time which might be a lot for someone who doesn’t even know who Shiva is. But if you are looking for an understanding of how Hinduisms (yes the “s” is there on purpose!) has developed over the millenia, I highly suggest this decently quick read!

The King and the Catholics: England, Ireland, and the Fight for Religious Freedom, 1780-1829 by Antonia Fraser (audiobook)

I have obviously been on a religious history kick this past year and this book proved to be a wooper in intricate religious history. This book took me months to get through because it is so historically dense. Not complaining! Sometimes it’s good to do something more academically stimulating every once in a while, especially as a history teacher. However, this book can be quiet dry and stuck in minutia, I much prefer Antonia Fraser’s other book, Marie Antoinette: The Journey, than this one.

Theology of the Home: Finding the Eternal in the Everyday by Carrie Gress, Megan Schrieber, & Noelle Mering

I follow a variety of Catholic “influencers” on Instagram and in the span of one week this book was everywhere! It seemed that everyone I follow got a free copy to review. lol And welp I bought it (or asked for it for Christmas since I made a “no buying books in 2019” rule). Ever since we started on this crazy house renovation project I’ve been craving that feeling of home. And now that we are putting things back together, we are trying to make intentional decisions about how we want our home to feel, look, and work. This book was just a nice reminder about how homes are our daily sanctuaries and they should reflect that. This book is not a DIY manual nor is it a theological treatise on religion in the home, but it is a fantastic reminder, for anyone really, on what our homes can mean to us.

Read more: Catholic Culture: Liturgical Living

The Tipping Point: How Little Things Can Make a Big Difference by Malcolm Gladwell (audiobook)

A friend recommended another book by Malcolm Gladwell earlier this year and I am now searching to reading everything he writes! Sociology is a branch of humanity I have always neglected but the more I read and research history, I realize that sociology is a key study into understanding how and why things occur. What I love about his books is that they are NOT meant for the erudite learner, but your “average” person interested in learning how people and society ticks. This book is about the “tipping point:” what is that one singular event that takes something ordinary into the extraordinary.

JMF

    Leave a Reply

    %d bloggers like this: