Book #129 of the year was Code Name Verity, by Elizabeth Wein. This is riveting World War II spy fiction with twists you won't see coming.
I can't link you to book #130, because it isn't yet published. Little Flower was written by a friend, Ted Oswald (here's his Amazon author page). Ted is in my writing group, and he shared the beginning of this book with us a few weeks ago. We wanted more, so he sent us the manuscript. The story is set in Calcutta, and, to quote Sister Immaculata, one of the Missionaries of Charity living there, it is "a mystery, simple yet boggling: Of untold Joy wrapped in staggering Sadness; Of Weak Lions and Crafty Lambs; Of Miracles - approximately 141. I mean, 142; Of Deaths - approximately 5, few natural; Of the Sacred and Profane laying down side by side, often several times a night, always for a pittance." As soon as this is available, I'll update this post with a link so you can get it, but in the meantime, read some of Ted's other work. Most of his books are about Haiti, and they are atmospheric and full of the experience he's gained from living in this country. (Update: You can now buy the book, Little Flower, here, so go buy it!)
Book #131 was Emma: A Modern Retelling, by Alexander McCall Smith. If you're a regular reader of my blog, you know I can't resist Jane Austen retellings, sequels, and all forms of fan fic. They are pretty well always a bit of a disappointment, but I can't stop reading them anyway. This was just okay.
Book #132 was A Watershed Year, by Susan Schoenberger, a touching read about loss and healing.
Book #133 was the third of historical romance novels published by a grad school friend. Tempting the Earl, by Rachael Miles, contains some of the same characters from the previous two novels, Jilting the Duke and Chasing the Heiress. All three books have independent-minded, entertaining heroines, and twists and turns galore. There's a lot going on in these stories, and it's fun to read Miles' author notes at the end detailing some of the research that went into them. Her blog is also very interesting.
Book #134 was The Solitude of Prime Numbers, by Paolo Giordano, the story of the friendship of Mattia and Alice, both of whom have suffered trauma in childhood. None of the characters is very likeable, but somehow I found this book compelling, and the lives of quiet desperation it describes believable.
My reading speed has, of course, slowed down considerably in the fall, now that I am back teaching full time. Part of the reason I've been reading less is that I have been re-reading some books. Here are three of them:
Life of the Beloved, by Henri Nouwen, was book #8 of the year. I reviewed it here. I received a recommendation for this book in a blog comment, and since I read it that first time, I've probably read it five or six more. It has been a huge gift to me in the struggles I've faced this year. Nouwen says that "Becoming the Beloved is the great spiritual journey we have to make." He discusses four words: "taken," "blessed," "broken," and "given," to explain how we can learn to live in the truth of our belovedness and believe that we are beloved by God even when we are rejected by human beings.
How to Be Here: A Guide to Creating a Life Worth Living, by Rob Bell has been another touchstone this year. I know that Rob Bell is controversial, but there's something about the way he writes that has spoken to me deeply. It was book #34 of the year, and what I wrote about it then wasn't so much a review as an expression of my intention to re-read it. I've done that at least three times, plus dipped into it several more without reading the whole thing. I don't know that there's anything brand new in the book, but for whatever reason, it has kept me going many times when I wanted to stand still.
How to Survive a Shipwreck, by Jonathan Martin, got a bit better treatment from me when I first read it back in October - my review is in this post. It was book #128 of the year, and I'm only on my second time through it, but I know not the last. This is so beautifully written and so very accurate in its depiction of what it's like to go through crisis. Like both of the other re-reads, this book reminds me again and again that the answer to difficult times is to go on, to be in this present moment and do the next thing.
"God can only be known and experienced in this moment - right here, right now," Martin writes. "If we will attend to this moment, God will attend to us. Trying to find a way to attend to the moment myself, in that season where every step in every direction felt excruciating, I wrote this prayer as a way of tethering myself to the grace of this moment. I hope it can help you find the grace in whatever moment you're in right now:
I do not ask
for some future bread.
I do not ask
for some lofty thing.
I ask for nothing more,
I ask for nothing less,
than primal provision.
For this, and this - only this.
I do not ask for then.
I do not ask for there.
I do not ask for that.
Only this meal - this moment.
For this day, only
for this, and this - only this."
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