What I Read In December [from the book pile, 2016]

*Catching up on unfinished blog posts in my draft folder!

December is the time for cozy mysteries (except for that one for our reading group!)

December is the time for cozy mysteries (except for that one for our reading group!)



35  Bright Evening Star: Mystery of the Incarnation, by Madeleine L'Engle  (Shaw Books, 2001. 208 pages) 

Reading category: a book with a blue cover

This was a lovely way to begin Advent.  L'Engle specializes in childlike wonder - the main ingredients of Advent and Christmas.  In addition to wonder, she also writes from a place of questioning, and, then, accepting mystery.  This, too, is a kind of childlike quality that I always appreciate.

36  The Christmas Mystery, written by Jostein Gaarder, illustrated by Rosemary Wells , translated by Elizabeth Rokkan  (Farrar Straus & Giroux, 1996.) 

Reading category: a book based on a fairy tale (not quite, but close enough!)

This is an odd little Christmas story based on the age-old storytelling methods of time travel and fantasy.  A little boy, Joachim, living in Norway with his mother and father discovers a worn, homemade Advent calendar in a shop just before December 1st.  The calendar turns out to be magical, inviting Joachim into the tale of a merry band of travelers making their way to the Nativity.  This would have been fun to read years ago with my kids during the month of December.

37  Shepherds Abiding (Mitford Series), by Jan Karon (Penguin Books, 2004. 365 pages) 

Reading category: my mother gave it to me and promised I would enjoy it

As with the rest of the Mitford series, my mother was right.  A simple, enjoyable story involving quirky, small-town characters preparing for Christmas.  I especially enjoyed imaging Father Tim restoring the beautiful, neglected Nativity scene to surprise his wife.  The culmination of the story reminded me a little bit of the sweet gift-giving tale in O. Henry's The Gift of the Magi.

38  Winter Street: A Novel, by Elin Hilderbrand (Back Bay Books, 2015. 272 pages) 

Reading category: Christmas vacation fluff reading!

Just a simple, fluffy read that I especially enjoyed because - like many of my favorite Christmas movies - it's set in a New England inn.  Other than that, it was like watching a Hallmark movie, and I didn't mind one bit.

39  The Twelve Clues of Christmas: A Royal Spyness Mystery, by Rhys Bowen (Berkley, 2013. 352 pages) 

Reading category: my friend Amy recommended

The week before Christmas, I browsed the mystery section of our library and picked up every book that mentioned Christmas in the title (there's surprisingly quite a few!). For a few months now, I've been meaning to read a Rhys Bowen mystery, and thought this would be the perfect place to start. 

Here's the Amazon summary:

Scotland, 1933. While her true love, Darcy O’Mara, is spending his feliz navidad tramping around South America and her mother is holed up in a tiny village called Tiddleton-under-Lovey with droll playwright Noel Coward, Georgie is quite literally stuck at Castle Rannoch thanks to a snowstorm.
It seems like a Christmas miracle when she manages to land a position as hostess to a posh holiday party in Tiddleton. The village should be like something out of A Christmas Carol, but as soon as she arrives things take a deadly turn when a neighborhood nuisance falls out of a tree.  On her second day, another so-called accident results in a death—and there’s yet another on her third, making Georgie wonder if there's something wicked happening in this winter wonderland...  

Perfect, right?  Yes. (and I felt so smart when I started to put the clues together!)

40  Winter Solstice, by Rosamunde Pilcher  

Reading category: a cozy, seasonal re-read

From my original reading:  Modern day tale of love and grief in England and Scotland.  I kept thinking it'd make a great Christmas movie (anyone?).  Also, it's one of those stories where the food is described in simple, but yummy description that you want to make meals along with the characters.  (e.g., Shepherd's pie on a blustery Scottish winter afternoon)

41  Silence: A Novel, by Shusaku Endo

Reading category: Liturgy of Life reading group & (newly-formed) Apostles Reads group

I first read Endo's classic novel back in 2010 with the IAM Reader's Guild.  Before reading I'd never heard Endo's name before, and knew nothing about the history of Christianity in Japan.  I wasn't really prepared for the depth of suffering told in the story.  

2010 review for Reader's Guild

When we began a reading group for our church, I knew immediately that I wanted us to start with Silence.  It's the kind of book that fosters deep wrestling with themes of personal faith, religious institutions, Christian mission and martyrdom.  In addition, I knew the movie would be released in area theaters around January and I wanted some friends to join me!  While it's possible to see the movie without reading the book, I didn't want anyone to miss the opportunity to read Endo's exquisite imagining of characters within a historically documented era of his home country. Our group conversation went better than I'd hoped, and I was honored by the intentionality each person approached our first book.  Some experienced the book in a positive way, and at least one person called it "devastating".  We fell out in different places on what we felt our choice would be should we ever be asked, on pain of torture, to deny our faith.  In this time of increasing persecution against Christians across the globe, we felt closer to the idea than just a story from 17th century Japan.  

I recommend both the book and the movie, but would really recommend you read the book first.  There's so much in Endo's story that is internal and invisible conflict.  In the movie, Scorcese creates grand (and, often, horrifying) cinematic space for that ongoing conflict to play out in the gestures and postures of the characters (most notably, Father Rodrigues as played by an inspired Andrew Garfield).  Without reading the book, I might have not known what exactly to make of that cinematic space, and leave feeling with a sense of more ambiguity than I think Endo intended with the novel.  At the same time, through Scorcese's lens, I grew in compassion for some of the characters that I could barely stomach in the book.  As an example of this increased empathy, I left the film with a greater appreciation for the depths of grace and mercy represented by the continuous falling away of the Gollum-like character of Kichijiro.  I left the movie not perceiving him as, possibly, a Gollum redeemed, which feels personally familiar to me in an important way.

So many people have said so many wonderful things about Silence, the novel and the movie.  Here's a post collecting many of those links:  Scorsese’s “Silence”: Critical praise, interviews, resources via Art & Theology blog

This is a book I will read again and again because it requires both theological precision and deepening empathy.  It's a beautiful sort of devastation.

* This year, I'm part of two different reading groups made up of friends and sisters. You can find the lists here: Take Our Ultimate Reading Challenge / A Year of Reading the World, & Liturgy of Life reading group. *

**The Amazon links in this post are affiliate links. After blogging about books for ten years, I thought it might be OK to get a little help financing my reading habit. Thank you! **

Go to my Book Pile page to see my reading lists from 2016 and previous years.

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