As the days get warmer and the evenings longer, its time to reflect on what I read during the winter months. This winter I found myself reading in spurts. Three or four books a week followed by weeks reading nothing at all. One of my very favorite times to read is the week between Christmas and New Years. The world seems to slow down and I always give myself permission to curl up with a book or put together a puzzle while listening to an audiobook. It really sets the tone for the longer, bleaker months of winter that follow.
The Good Sister by Sally Hepworth
Format: Audiobook; Length: 8 hours
I read Hepworth’s previous book The Mother in Law and found it thought provoking in the way it captured the nuance of family relationships. The Good Sister follows in that same vein while offering a slightly more twisty plot centered around the narrative of two sisters and the secrets they hold from childhood.
The Christmas Bookshop by Jenny Colgan
Format: Audiobook; Length: 11 hours
Cute, cozy and thoughtful. The Christmas Bookshop was just what you’d expect from Jenny Colgan and just what I was in the mood for at the time. A failing bookshop hires a young woman whose life is not quiet together. In the process she builds community and as sense of herself.
The Judges List by John Grisham
Format: Audiobook; Length: 12 hours
I used to read Grisham voraciously in my early 20’s but haven’t read any of his books in a decade or more. The Judges List was Grisham doing what he had to do but nothing more. I think if you set bar below Street Lawyer or or A Time to Kill you should be ok.
The Last Chance Library by Freya Sampson
Format: Audiobook; Length: 336 pages
Don’t let this cozy story fool you. Beneath the plot of a rag tag group of library patrons fighting to keep their local library branch open in the face of tax cuts, is a delightful story about community organizing, mutual care and activism. The Last Chance Library delivers warm and fuzzy with a side of retirees staging a sit and teaching younger patrons how to advocate for themselves and for their community.
The Witch Haven by Sasha Peyton Smith
Format: Audiobook; Length: 14 hours
I started The Witch Haven around Halloween but the library took it back before I was done and I had to sit on a wait list until December. Perhaps that’s the reason this book’s details are hazy. A young woman with sudden magical powers is whisked off to a magical finishing school for girls but all is not as it seems.
Sankofa by Chibundu Onuzo
Format: Audiobook; Length: 9 hours
One of the highlights of my winter reading, Sankofa follows a middle aged woman who facing divorce goes on a journey of self-discovery as she searches for her absent father. Traveling to Africa, this story is as much about what it means to find a long lost father as it is to be an African living in England.
The Ramblers by Aiden Donnelley Rowley
Format: Hardcopy; Length: 385 pages
The Ramblers was a subtle story set over the Thanksgiving holiday in New York City, a rotating point of view between three 30-somethings that each find themselves at a point where adulthood has disappointed them and they are left wondering not only what’s next but can they overcome past experiences to build a life they can be content in. I resonated with the themes around who you want to be once you’ve lived enough life to know some paths are not for you.
Set My Heart to Five by Simon Stephenson
Format: Digital; Length: 448 pages
I have never laughed so hard while reading a book. Set My Heart to Five is a tale about a robot who suddenly develops feelings despite being programed not to have emotion. Although the astute observations and witty reflections on humans and pop culture had me laughing out loud curled up on the couch, the last third of this book struggled to deliver on its potential and the end felt a little flat.
The Awakening by Nora Roberts
Format: Audiobook; Length:
I read this on a recommendation that it was “fantasy for people who like one foot in the real world,” which sounded right up my alley. The Awakening is the first book in a trilogy about a woman who discovers her Irish and magical heritage. It was good enough that I read the second book, The Becoming, and will read the third when it releases but it didn’t knock my socks off. Just a good reminder that a middle of the road book that does what it needs to do has value.
Girl One by Sara Flannery Murphy
Format: Harcopy; Length: 368 pages
Excellent read if you are fans of Naomi Alderman’s The Power or The Oracle Year, with its quick pacing and supernatural elements. I read Girl One in about 36 hours because the pacing was well done. The mounting urgency as it builds a story connecting 12 girls with supernatural abilities who were conceived without fathers had me turning pages.
Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour
Format: Audiobook; Length: 9 hours
A satirical piece of contemporary fiction, Black Buck tells the story of a young black man who gets his chance to work at an ambiguous tech start up. I had a hard time with the description of this as satire because all of the scenarios Askaripour puts his protagonist in are not only believable but common in corporate America. It felt so accurate as a reader you feel indicted with complicitness every time you cringed.
The Personal Librarian by Marie Benedict & Victoria Christopher Murray
Format: Audiobook; Length: 10 hours
I loved this historical fiction book about a white passing African American woman who worked as the acquisitions librarian for the Morgan Library during the 1920’s and 30’s in New York City. Not only did I learn about a historical figure I knew nothing about, it was a moving story about ambition, passing, class, family and building the life you want. Months later and I’m still thinking about The Personal Librarian and its nuanced dynamics.
Crossroads by Johnathan Franzen
Format: Hardcopy; Length; 580 pages
I owe every book I didn’t read while I slogged through Crossroads, an offensively under-researched book centered around a progressive pastor and his family, an apology. It will be a long time before I can forgive myself for wasting my time with this family drama in which no one transforms or grows and everyone behaves increasingly worse. If you read it, be warned it has tons of #churchtoo triggers.
Arsenic and Adobo by Mia P Manansala
Format: Audiobook; Length: 9 hours
A delightful culinary cozy mystery that orbits around a family owned restaurant. I loved Arsenic and Adobo for its specificity–the family the book centers around is Philippino American so the story is peppered with culturally specific language and dishes that make the book immersive and delightful. If you loved With the Fire on High by Elizabeth Acevedo for its immersive experience with culture and food, this delivers the same feeling but with a mystery and sassy aunties thrown in.
The End of the World Running Club by Adrian J Walker
Format: Digital Book; Length: 466 pages
A post-apocalyptic story about a lousy husband and dad who gets separated from his family and discovers he can do hard things. If I am totally honest, I read The End of the World Running Club after Crossroads and was probably harder on this book than I should be. It was enjoyable but there is something about it that felt very much like it was written by a man.
Anatomy: A Love Story by Dana Schwartz
Format: Hardcopy; Length: 338 pages
Anatomy was an absolute delight of a historical fiction book about a young woman who longs to become a surgeon in Edinburgh. Schwartzs manages in less than 350 pages to layer in a mystery, romance and coming of age story tightly. Don’t avoid this book because it’s labeled YA. It reminded me of The Impossible Girl, one of my favorite books from a few years ago.
No Cure for Being Human: And Other Truths I Need to Hear by Kate Bowler
Format: Audiobook; Length: 5 hours
I deeply appreciated Kate Bowler’s Everything Happens for a Reason and Other Lies I’ve Loved, thus No Cure for Being Human was a book I knew I wanted to spend time with. I listened to it on audiobook and found myself re-reading section not because my attention drifted but because I really wanted to soak up what she was articulating. Some of this book was harder to stomach–Bowler sits from a profound place of privilege having access to trial treatment and occasionally it feels as though she takes for granted this particular location. So I do not recommend this book to anyone for whose grief is tied up in a loved one’s lack of access to advanced medical care.
Rediscovering the Lost Body-Connection within Christian Spirituality by Edwin M McMahon & Peter A Campbell
Format: Hardcopy; Length: 261 pages
This book was one I read for my spiritual direction course work and I found the biases and broad generalizations of the authors about Christian spiritual practice and understandings of the body distracting. Despite that hurdle, I was able to glean some gems of wisdom from Rediscovering the Lost Body-Connection within Christian Spirituality to carry into my spiritual direction practice.
Supervision of Spiritual Directors: Engaging in Mystery by Mary Rose Bumpus
Format: Hardcopy; Length: 199 pages
This manual is so helpful for spiritual directors and it is one I reference off and on as part of my growth and development. Its not really written for non-directors so if you are in the process of becoming a certified spiritual director, I recommend it. Otherwise, its not really for everyone.
Everyday Connections: Reflections and Practices for Year C by Heidi Haverkamp
Format: Hardcopy/Digital ARC; Length: 568 pages
I am quite biased about this book after interviewing author Heidi Haverkamp and after using it in sermon preparation and as a tool for scriptural reflection for the better part of this year. It incorporates Lectio Divina in a way that feels appropriate for daily use.
Taste: My Life through Food by Stanley Tucci
Format: Audiobook; Length: 8 hours
This book was surprising, in that for a memoir you would have no idea that Tucci was an actor. His acting is not mentioned at all in this journey through Tucci’s life with food. From childhood meals that were robust centers for community life to his travels as an adult, Taste: My Life Through Food is worth a read if you love food, but be warned if you just love Stanley Tucci.