Tuesday, January 8, 2019

What I Read: December

Here's a little secret about me as a reader, I don't like to read book jackets or reviews of books before reading them. I hate reading a preview of a book and finding out they gave you information that you wouldn't have found out until half-way through a book. I'm kind of like the person who plugs their ears when they hear you talking about a movie they haven't seen yet. I hate the thought of a book being ruined for me and don't want to know anything that happens! Due to this I often read books simply based on the title, the cover, a recommendation, or a book list I see some where. Sometimes that works out wonderfully and other times I bumble into real stinkers. I'm actually pretty lucky with how many great books I come across without knowing exactly what they're about before I read them! This month I read a lot of great ones and really enjoyed some Christmas-themed books! It would seem I read a lot more than normal this month, but I really just ended up reading shorter books for the most part. Most the Christmas books tended to be shorter than books I would typically read. I also had more runs where I was able to get out in the daylight so I was able to listen to my audiobook while I ran.

  • The Last Founding Father: James Monroe and a Nation's Call to Greatness by Harlow Giles Unger- I was a little bit bored by the beginning of this book since I had already read books about George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. The first section of the book discussed events I had already read about when reading about the previous presidents. Things became more interesting when Monroe went to Paris to negotiate the Louisiana Purchase as I got to read about that from a different perspective. It is interesting how one event call be told in different ways depending on who you are focusing on. It has made me realize what a simplified version of history we learn in school and how everything is slanted in a nationalistic way to make America sound good with other countries in the wrong. When I finished this book I was excited to read about John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson next. That's what's fun about reading the biographies in order, they build on each other and one stokes my interest in the president(s) to follow. The next ones won't be as redundant at the beginning since Monroe was the last founding father so they won't go into detail about the Revolutionary War and the Constitutional Conventions. I was surprised to realize when reading this book that Monroe reminded me more of Washington than Jefferson since he was Jefferson's protégé. Washington tried to rise above partisan politics whereas Jefferson more or less developed the Republican party. Monroe was more in line with Washington, wanting a government with no political factions.
  • Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb- I added this to my December book list because it had the word Christmas in the title and it was described as being similar to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. It was similar in that the story unfolded through letters written to and from different people. It was set in World War I rather than World War II which I thought would be interesting because I've read so many books set in World War II but none set in World War I. I was a little disappointed there wasn't more historical information about the war included in the book but it was still a lovely story. There was a bit of a twist toward the end that made me thinking I'd been wrong about something throughout the entire book but I really hadn't. That was emotional for me and about had me sobbing until I turned the page and realized it was a false alarm. This book wasn't on the amazing level of the Guernsey book but I did enjoy it and flew through it because it was all I wanted to read!
  • The Deal of a Lifetime by Fredrik Backman- I saw this novella on a winter reading list and immediately put it on hold at the library. I loved A Man Called Ove. It would definitely be in the top 5 books I've read in the past few years so I definitely wanted to read another book by Backman. And the cover had a beautiful picture of a Christmas tree on it which obviously grabbed my attention. The book was not at all what I expected but it was interesting. I really didn't like it at first and thought it would be predictable, but it wasn't. When I got to the end I was shocked and it definitely made me stop and think. This was one novella I actually enjoyed even though it was a bit strange.
  • Why We Can't Wait by Martin Luther King, Jr.- I feel like this book was mostly written in response to people at the time criticizing the Civil Rights Movement about their timing and asking whey they decided to act when they did or why act at all, why not wait to see how legislation affected things. My favorite part of the book was his Letter from the Birmingham Jail. It was also interesting to read his take on the three presidents he dealt with and their commitments to civil rights. It was interesting to read how although their beliefs may have been in line with the civil rights movement they may not have been willing to make any moves politically to enact change. It made me think of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson who both morally believed slavery was wrong but neither was willing to take any steps towards abolishing the practice, although Washington did free his slaves in his will. He also shared the reasoning behind the nonviolent method and I loved how he said, "The Negro turned his back on force not only because he knew he could not win his freedom through physical force but also because he believed that through physical force he could lose his soul." He discussed the church's inaction and said, "Yes, I see the church as the body of Christ. But, oh! How we have blemished and scarred that body through social neglect and through fear of being non-conformists." That felt very true for our current day situation as well. Oftentimes the church and being a "Christian" is a guise to be hidden behind. So many people worry more about the title than about the act of behaving as Christ would have us behave.
  • Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom- I'm pretty sure we either listened to this book as an audiobook or my mom read it aloud on a car trip when I was a kid. I didn't remember much about it and I saw it at the Labor Day Library Book Sale so I threw it in my bag. I was waiting on a book to come in at the library and this was short so I read it while I waited. It was so good! My favorite quote in the entire book was when he asked Morrie if he was worried about being forgotten after he died. Morrie said, "I don't think I will be. I've got so many people who have been involved with me in close, intimate ways. And love is how you stay alive, even after you are gone." That really resonated with me. It was something I'd seen posted before, "Love is how you stay alive, even after you are gone." I love that and it is absolutely true
  • Becoming by Michelle Obama- I put this book on hold right when I found out about it, before it had even been released. It took months to get it and I finally got it a few days before Christmas. Then, to my surprise, Jeremy got me the book for Christmas! I was able to return the library's copy, I'm sure to the delight of the 249 people waiting to get the book after me! I loved this book and the perspective it gave not just on campaigning and life in the White House, but to the world and life in general. One of my favorite quotes from the book is one she attributes to Barack which he borrowed from a book he read, "Doe we settle for the world as it is, or do we work for the world as it should be?" I loved that and found it so inspiring! The way Michelle described being pregnant was so exactly how I felt when I was pregnant. She talked about how she was never alone, never lonely, because the baby was always with her. That's exactly how I felt and what I miss about being pregnant! I also appreciated her honesty about miscarriage and how difficult that can be. She discussed how hard it is being a woman in politics and how people and the media judge you completely differently than they do a man. She has such a way for describing things so acutely. She said, "I'd been mocked and threatened many times now, cut down for being black, female, and vocal. I'd felt the derision directed at my body, the literal space I occupied in the world." That really made me stop and think, having it described as the space she occupies in the world. My favorite thing she personally said was, "Kids wake up each day believing in the goodness of things, in the magic of what might be. They are uncynical believers at their core. We owe it to them to stay strong and keep working to create a more fair and humane world." Now those are beautiful words to live by!
  • The Mother of All Questions by Rebecca Solnit- This was a book of essays by the same author as Men Explain Things to Me. This was my favorite of the two. There were so many sections where I was surprised or shocked to learn something new. I wasn't surprised that Oklahoma along with North Carolina was the last state to make raping one's spouse a crime. I was shocked to learn they didn't do so until 1993. That's amazing to me. I am often naïve enough to have the sense that most of the terrible things in society happened before I was born, but here I was looking at something despicable still being allowed in our country when I was 7 years old! Something I had never thought about was that rape is the most common form of trauma, but the bulk of PTSD research is directed toward war trauma and veterans. I believe that is something that should be talked about more and brought to people's attention. To me, when I hear PTSD I automatically think of veterans, I think it is important to talk about this and broaden the focus so we can offer help to more people who need it. There were also some interesting statistics on female characters in movies. I found it interesting that in G-rated movies 32.4% of speaking characters were female and then the numbers dropped from there with 30% in PG-rated films, and 27.7% in PG-13. I find that particularly interesting because I remember talking to parents when the movie Frozen came out who were surprised their sons liked the movie since it had a female lead. It is odd that we expect females to enjoy movies with male leads but are then surprised when males enjoy a movie with a female lead. Like people think women are so boring their lives and therefore characters could be of no interest to men.
  • Zealot: the Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth by Reza Aslan- When I saw Aslan wrote a book about Jesus after reading God: A Human History, I knew I wanted to read this one. I figured December was the perfect time to read a book about Jesus. I didn't enjoy this one as much as I did the other. Part of it may have been because I read it as an ebook rather than an actual book, some books just aren't the same when read as ebooks. I think it was mostly because there are so many conflicting stories about Jesus' life within the Bible that it's hard to get a good sense of who he actually was. It was a fascinating book and changed my view on the historical Jesus in many ways
  • The Mistletoe Inn by Richard Paul Evans- Last year my friend, Sara, recommended Richard Paul Evans books. Most of his books are set at Christmastime so I added them to my December reading list. This was the perfect book to read as an ebook because the chapters were super short and I could read an entire chapter while brushing my teeth or putting my shoes on before a run. It got a little overboard in the middle with the man being rich and spending a ton of money on the woman, but I got past that and loved the rest of the book. I'm not big on the white knight riding in and saving the struggling heroine, but I am a sucker for Christmas books and I like love stories so I already have another book in this "series" downloaded as an audiobook. Honestly just seeing the gorgeous cover of this book makes me happy! I also liked the realness he brought to depression and the perspective of suicide he showed. As a writer with a large fan base, I'm glad he's trying to help people understand mental illness. It is frustrating to me that people take physical illness seriously but act like mental illness is a choice. I liked how the father in the book compared his cancer to the severe depression her mom dealt with. On a different note, my favorite quote in the book was, "They say love is blind, but it's not. Infatuation is blind. Emotional neediness is blind. Love sees the fault-it just sees beyond it as well." After writing this I read Sara's post where she said this was her least favorite Richard Paul Evans book and I agree, it was the one I liked the least of the three I read.
    See how gorgeous the cover is?!

  • Winter Solstice by Elin Hilderbrand- I saw this book and it looked fun and had the word winter in the title and was set at Christmas-time. It wasn't until I was already into the book that I realized it must be a part of a series. I looked it up and it was book #4 in a series all following a family through the Christmas season of different years. I still enjoyed the book and I didn't feel like you had to have read the other books in the series to enjoy this one. I may read the other 3 books in the series over the next few Christmas seasons. I actually kind of liked that I came in on book 4 otherwise the ending probably would have been more emotional as I would have been more invested in the characters.
  • Falling Together by Marisa de los Santos- I don't have a whole lot to say about this one. It was interesting with many different twists and surprises. I enjoyed it but it isn't one I would recommend to someone looking for a great book to read. Some parts of it dragged out a little bit but for the most part I enjoyed it.
  • Holidays on Ice by David Sedaris- I've had this on my reading list since last spring. I wanted to read it in December so I added it to my list and waited. I loved listening to Me Talk Pretty One Day as an audiobook because it was read by Sedaris himself. I chose this one as an audiobook for the same reason and it did not disappoint. The first essay called Santaland Diaries was my favorite. It had me cracking up the whole time. I just loved his description of what it was like to be one of Santa's elves at a department store. It was amazing. If nothing else, I'd recommend reading just that essay, it was a delight. I recommended this book to Thomas and he loved the Santaland Diaries and was appalled by the second essay in the book, so I will edit my recommendation to the Santaland Diaries and then urge you to proceed with caution. There were a few odd essays in the book for sure.
  • Three Things About Elsie by Joanna Cannon- This book initially got my attention because the name Elsie is close to Elise and the cover was beautiful. It took me a little bit to get into the book but once I got into it, I loved it. There was a surprise at the end that I had already figured out pretty early on in the story but there were enough twists and turns throughout the book that surprised me that I didn't mind. She was also able to make me question what I was predicting almost until the end of the book. I loved the light she shone on elderly care and how often we diminish the elderly and take away their voices. My eyes have been opened while delivering Meals on Wheels on how many ways people's independence can be taken away without their consent. I keep feeling called to advocate for the elderly in some capacity and this book did a great job of brining some of those issues into the light without being preachy about it. My favorite quote from the book was, "I think the hardest part of losing anyone is that you still have to live with the same scenery. It's just that person you were used to isn't a part of it anymore and all you notice are the gaps where they used to be." That is such a perfect description of what it feels like to lose someone you love.
  • The Christmas Box by Richard Paul Evans- When I first saw this book I thought I had already read it last December so I looked it up after reading the book description because the plot wasn't familiar. I had actually read The Christmas Jar. I was disappointed with this book, especially with how good it's reviews were. It felt really forced to me and was super predictable. There were no surprises and it left me wanting to finish it just to get it over with rather than because I wanted to know how it ended and it was less than a 2 hour audiobook! It had a sweet storyline, it just wasn't for me.
  • Saint Mick: My Journey from Hardcore Legend to Santa's Jolly Elf by Mick Foley- This book showed up on Hoopla as a suggested read while I was searching for something. The cover was very festive and I found myself wanting to read it each time I got on to download something so I finally did. I absolutely loved this book! I didn't know who Foley was and ended up looking him up later so I could see what he looks like. I loved everything I learned about being Santa's Ambassador aka dressing up as Santa Claus. I had no idea there were clubs and a hall of fame and everything. I just loved this book so much.
  • The Mistletoe Secret by Richard Paul Evans- This was one of the three Mistletoe Romance Novels by Evans that I wanted to read this December. The premise of the story reminded me of a new age version of Sleepless in Seattle because the main character falls in love with a woman by reading her blog and then goes in search for her. When I told Ty about the book and compared it to the movie, he said, "Yeah, but creepy." I told him only because it was a man searching for a woman instead of a woman searching for a man that made him feel that way and he stopped and thought about it. It is interesting how something can be considered romantic if looked at through the lense of one sex and creepy if viewed from the opposite sex. I enjoyed this one a lot more than Mistletoe Inn. I noticed it was set up differently from Mistletoe Inn in that the main character didn't have a diary. I thought that was because the main character in the other book was a writer, but then the main character in The Mistletoe Promise also had a diary. That made me wonder if he chose not to give this main character a diary simply because he was a male and that irritated me a little bit.
  • The Mistletoe Promise by Richard Paul Evans- This was by far my favorite of the 3 books in this series. The books are from the same series in that they are all "mistletoe romances" but they don't have the same characters and don't need to be read in order. I think this actually may have been the first one in the series and it was by far my favorite. I told Ty I don't know if he was more pressed with time as the series went on and didn't write them as well or if I just was more in the mood for sappy romance novels by the time I got to this one, but I loved it! It was still predictable but I realized by this book that he meant them to be that way. His trick was that he gave obvious clues to help you figure out the "twist" but then tried to trick you into thinking that wasn't the twist. It was fun. I liked that the premise of this book was the premise of the book his fictional author was working on in Mistletoe Inn, that was a fun touch! Something I like about him as an author is that he brings really tough subjects into his books. Things that people don't often talk about. In this one both his characters had accidentally led to the death of someone innocent. The woman accidentally left her child in a car when it was hot. I've always felt people are way too quick to judge someone who makes a horrible, lifechanging mistake like that and I liked that he brought light to the human aspect of it. I actually even wrote a post about that a while back, read it here.


  1. I'm pretty sure I am going to read some of the Christmas books you recommended in January or February. :-)

    1. I love that you read Christmas books throughout the year! You make me feel a little like a Grinch, though, haha!

    2. If it makes you feel any better, I am not a big fan of Christmas decorations or music! ;-)

    3. I love all of it but once January rolls around I'm done. I don't know exactly why.