Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

Seven months ago now, my friend Christina and I started a book club. The point of that book club was to read what I was needing to read for school, but that failed pretty quickly (my friends are supportive, but most aren’t that supportive). Since then, it has changed and morphed into a science fiction book club, which is more or less just an excuse for us to read fun books and hang out with some of our closest friends.

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A Breathe of Eyre by Eve Marie Mont

A Breathe of Eyre

by Eve Marie Mont

(Cover from Goodreads)

I’m not really sure why I bought this book. It was a Kindle Deal of the Day, but I bought it before I ever read Jane Eyre. I waited until I read the classic before diving into this one. That said, I read it in one sitting (and stayed up until 5am doing so!).

This book has both good and bad points.

At first, I loved the character. A typical outsider, Emma loves to read, has few friends, and is socially awkward. A true loner with really no friends, I was interested to see how the novel would play out. However, within the first few pages, she suddenly has a love interest and two new best friends who stick with her through thick and thin. Great for the character, but not very realistic. She is today’s heroine, the girl every little girl wants to be, who magically finds best friends and acceptance with little effort.

In fact, there is a great deal of suspension of disbelief in this novel. A lot of it is highly unlikely (how many high schoolers do you know who almost drown, get struck by lightning, get knocked unconscious in a burning stable while trying to save horses, and then almost die saving a friend from an attempted suicide, all in one year’s time? Yes, all of this does happen in this novel.) Plus, this is yet another tale written about a girl in boarding school where the boarding school sounds a little unreal.

Yet, if you can get past all of that, it’s actually a pretty good book. In spite of how unrealistic Emma is, she is pretty lovable. She has great internal conversations and she grows as a character, finding courage both through her friend Michelle and her adventures being transported into her new favorite book,

Jane Eyre.

Yes, this lucky little girl does indeed get transported inside her favorite book, but what happens there is a great (perhaps not so) new take on a beloved classic.

Which leads me to the only point about this book that actually ticks me off: if Charlotte Bronte were alive, I’m pretty sure she would sue for copyright infringement. While Mont has re-written the story from Emma’s perspective of being trapped inside her novel, once Emma starts to lose track of herself and truly become Jane, Mont is basically just retelling entire chunks of

Jane Eyre.

I, having read through that story once (in the much better written original version), decided I didn’t really want to read those sections again, so I skimmed. Perhaps the retelling is necessary for readers who haven’t read

Jane Eyre

, but really, who would read a novel entitled

A Breathe of Eyre

if they haven’t read

Jane Eyre

? It seems sort of like cheating to me and looks sort of like plagiarism. I mean, if this was written for a creative writing course I was teaching, I would probably fail her for using so much straight from the original. Not okay.

But, if you skip those parts and accept the suspension of disbelief, it’s actually a great young adult novel. A great protagonist, a rocky romance, and family secrets—it includes all the makings of a great weekend read for when you need to relax. This is my version of a guilty pleasure kind of book and, in spite of the aforementioned weaknesses, I’ll probably read it again.

And, if you’re a fan of

Jane Eyre

, so should you.

I give it 4/5 stars.


A Breathe of Eyre

is apparently one of a series. I haven’t read the others, but it seems that in the second novel, she finds herself in

The Scarlet Letter

and in the third novel, in

Phantom of the Opera

. I’m sort of tied between wanting to


this character falling into her favorite books all the time and being glad that I don’t have to deal with the drama of being stuck in these particular books!

The Lion in the Lei Shop by Kaye Starbird

A while back, I read the book

The Lion in the Lei Shop

by Kaye Starbird. It was recommended by Modern Mrs. Darcy. It happened to be one of the Kindle deals of the day, so I read it on my kindle. 

I think this was a hard book for me to read because, in many ways, it hit strangely close to home. It was a novel that was written from two perspectives, telling the story twice. The two characters are mother and daughter and the story explores the question of perspective and how the perspectives of adults and children differ.

Marty is five years old when her home in Hawaii is thrown into chaos by the attack on Pearl Harbor. Her mother, April, who is pregnant at the time, reacts with the dutiful obedience of an army wife and helps organize the women, including her sister, Liz, who is also pregnant and farther along than April. Yet, in the midst of the chaos around them, neither woman seems to communicate with or even pay attention to their children. And that, friends, is the theme of the story.

Starbird tells of how Marty and April travel to Boston to live with April’s parents before ending up buying a small house out in the country. Throughout the story, Marty is expected to take more and more responsibility, all the while April apparently ignores her daughter in her distress. The different perspectives are interesting because you hear Marty’s honest, childlike version of what happened, and then you hear her mother’s version, which rarely matches up with what Marty thought happened.

The story is really good, but the storytelling becomes really infuriating. The characters waver between enchanting and annoying as Marty becomes obsessed with a lion in her nightmare and April spends a good portion of the novel ignoring her daughter (and after the second baby is born, daughters) and the obvious problems she is having adjusting to life after the bombing. Typical of family life in this era, there is no communication between the mother and her daughters, leaving the little ones confused and angry.

This is a hard book to rate because the story and writing are so good, but the characters so infuriating at times. I don’t think I would reread this one, but I will give it

3.5/5 stars. I think it would be a good book for a book group or discussion.

The Recipe Club by Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel

I was recently in Barnes and Noble. When I was browsing the bargain section, I found this lovely little novel,

The Recipe Club

by Andrea Israel and Nancy Garfinkel.

At first, I was primarily drawn to the beautiful cover. The best of 1970’s hues in kitchenware, the book simply looked beautiful. Then, picking it up and reading the back cover, I read this: “Loyalty, loss, and the ties that bind: These are the ingredients of

The Recipe Club

, a ‘novel cookbook’ that combines an authentic story of friendship with more than eighty delicious recipes.”

Now, for those of you who don’t know me, you might not be aware that I’m completely addicted to cookbooks and food-related stories. So, obviously, I had to pick up a copy.

I have to admit that, at first, I was a little disappointed in this novel. The first few pages were not particularly alluring or well written. But, as I persevered, I got hooked on the story of these two very different little girls who were best friends and rivals all at once, whose relationship revolved around food, and who were the only members of the Recipe Club and therefore, each letter that the girls wrote the other included a recipe (all of which sound delicious, by the way).

The basic plot is that Lilly and Val have been lifelong friends. The novel begins with an adult Val writing an email to adult Lilly to tell her that her mother, who loved Lilly as well as her own daughter, has died. The reader quickly learns that these two women, who the back cover asserts as lifelong friends, haven’t spoken in years. The  story continues a bit, then stops after another fight. Then, the  book takes us back to the 60’s when, as children, their relationship grew mostly through writing letters after Val’s family moved to another part of New York City, away from Lilly and her own family.

The writing is not masterful, but the story is good and the characters intriguing. I have to admit that before I even got five pages into the older letters, I turned the pages to the back section that took up the modern day again to find out if my hunch about a major plot twist was right. It was. So, I’m guessing most readers anticipate the same plot twist I did. It was, however, a good one.

One thing that makes this book stand out against other similar fiction made of letters is that there are two authors, and therefore the letters have a distinct feel to them that makes the character more real.

So, while the writing style is less than stellar (acceptable, given that both authors are cookbook writers who have never done fiction before), I love the characters. I love the story, too, and the aforementioned plot twist is one that explores much about childhood, friendship, and the role that secrets can often play in families. Mental illness, teenage rebellion, and loyalty are other themes that are explored.

While I don’t think this book could be seen as life changing, I do think it is a decent book and a good read. I give it three stars. If you like food literature or books about long enduring friendship, check this out (and if you’re near a Barnes and Noble, you might be able to pick up a copy for $5!).

Sensible Shoes by Sharon Garlough Brown

The following is an excerpt from a review I have published in Spiritual Uprising Magazine

Almost two years ago, my friend Lorna told me that I just had to read this book called Sensible Shoes. I added it to my list of books to read, but I never got around to it. So, I was pleasantly surprised when, as a part of a wonderful “PhD Survival Kit,” she gave me a copy. When I was packing to go on my retreat, I slipped the book into my bag without really thinking about it. I figured, why not? It might be a good read.

It was so good that I couldn’t set it down.


To read the rest of this review, download the June issue of Spiritual Uprising Magazine. The e-magazine is available for free! You can find it at http://www.up-ministries.org/current-issue.html

Twelve Apostolic Women by Joanne Turpin

Twelve Apostolic Women by Joanne Turpin

This review was originally published in Spiritual Uprising Magazine's May 2014 issue and is reprinted with permission. I encourage you to check out Spiritual Uprising at www.up-ministries.org/spiritual-uprising-magazine.html

I started reading Twelve Apostolic Women by Joanne Turpin as part of my Providence Circle. The goal was that we would read the book chapter by chapter and then get together to discuss. While we haven’t been able to meet as often as we would like, I have read the book on my own.

I think that this book has great insight. For those Christians who are bothered by the seemingly male-dominated quality of Christian history, reading a book about twelve women in the New Testament and learning about their role in the Apostolic era is eye-opening.

Turpin’s writing is good. You can tell in reading her work how much she has studied the Apostolic era—the research she has done into ancient Christian tradition (most of which have been forgotten by all but the academics in the Church) is phenomenal. Most Christians know little about Salome, Mary, the wife of Cleopas, or Tabitha. Most of us have never even heard of Prisca or Lydia. Turpin tells the stories of these women with devotion and full belief.

My primary critique of this book comes from her lack of citations. She will say something and cite it in tradition, but usually never mentions which text to find the story in. She puts complete faith in obscure texts that the Church has never claimed to be true or infallible. Like many Catholics, she tries to get rid of the discomfort of mystery by giving credence to unsubstantiated traditions. Yet, her work allows the reader to connect with scripture in a whole new way. In addition, while some of the traditions she cites might be suspect or have been completely cast off by most Christians (the stories of Mary’s childhood, for example), she also uses finds from modern archaeology to help her tell the story—and that works beautifully.

Turpin’s book is not only educational, but spiritual. She includes great discussion questions that are useful both for a group reading and a personal reading. Each chapter ends with a prayer, making it a great choice for spiritual reading.

In the end, while I would caution readers new to the study of Biblical History to not take everything Turpin says as fact, I would definitely recommend this book as a great read for a group or personal spiritual reading.

Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry

 (I’m having a hard time writing a review for this book because nothing I can say will do it justice. Please, just read the book.)

For the Triduum + Easter, I made my retreat this year by reading Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry. Just as with Jayber Crow, Hannah’s story involves a great deal of reflection on scripture, but especially involves reflection over the line, “Thy will be done,” from the Lord’s Prayer.

Yet, again, it is not a book strictly about theology or faith. This is the story of a woman named Hannah Coulter, told by her as an old woman. She remembers the moments of her life, treasuring them as an old woman sitting alone in her rocking chair.

Berry’s writing is profound. Through Hannah, we experience loss, grief, and the guilt at loving again. We experience acceptance and the healing power of community.  Hannah’s thoughts and reflections over the events of her life made her the perfect companion on my Easter journey this year.

Reading Hannah Coulter was lovely for multiple reasons, not least of all hearing more stories about the characters I fell in love with in Jayber Crow. I long to enter into the books, to take part in the daily life of Port William—a place as real to its readers as the world in which we live and breathe.

Hannah’s story is that of a farm wife, a hard working woman who has known the pleasure of a well-lived life and the pain of children falling away from faith and family. Her story can touch anyone—she is so utterly relatable. I think everyone should read this book.

I give this book 5.5 stars—because 5 stars just aren’t enough.

Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

Jayber Crow is probably one of my favorite books of all time, if not my very favorite book. Reading it was like spiritual reading and prayer and rest all at the same time. The line that will probably stick with me longer than any other is when Jayber says, “The Resurrection is more real to me than most things I have not yet seen.”

Jayber’s reading of scripture and his belief in every line of the Lord’s Prayer make up a constant theme running in the background of the novel. Yet, do not be misled: this is not a book about religion or spirituality. The full title is Jayber Crow: The Life Story of Jayber Crow, Barber, of the Port William Membership, as Written by Himself. This is a book about the life of a man named Jayber Crow, told from his point of view as an old man looking back at the life he lived with joy and sorrow, pride and shame. He tells the story of his life with this belief: “I am a pilgrim, but my pilgrimage has been wandering and unmarked.” The pilgrimage he speaks of is not one with marked roads like on el camino, but the pilgrimage of life in which one makes his own way.

The story begins with the tale of how Jayber ended up as a child at an orphanage, then tells of his time there and the time after, during which he thought he was to become a preacher. Then, he ends up (as you knew from the very beginning—it’s the subtitle of the book) in the small township of Port William, acting as their barber.

Jayber’s tale is told with care—with the wisdom of an old man telling his story. Berry’s writing is, as always, masterful. There is an element of the story telling that reminds me of Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried. He tells the story, but often out of order and sometimes two ways.

Jayber writes, “I have raked my comb over scalps that were dirty both above and beneath. I have lowered the ears of good men and bad, smart and stupid, young and old, kind and mean; of men who have killed other men (think of that) and of men who have been killed (think of that).”  Yet, he loves them all—or almost all.

The connections that Jayber Crow makes with the people of Port William define him. They form and shape him. He tells about the old men, farmers who sit and tell stories or bring out their instruments and sing, “I loved to listen to them, for they spoke my native tongue.”

Jayber’s story is about community, about love, and about belonging. I think Jayber’s story can speak to us all. Berry’s expert storytelling gives us an old man that is lovable and relatable, wise and yet, through his reminiscences, in need of wisdom. There is much to learn from the old barber, Jayber Crow.

I recommend this book with all my heart. I give it a sold 5/5, maybe even a 5.5. Read it.

Some favorite quotes:
“The University… was preparing people from the world of the past for the world of the future, and what it was missing was the world of the present, where every body was living its small, short, surprising, miserable, wonderful, blessed, damaged, only life.”

“I became a sort of garden fanatic, and I am not yet over it.”

Of Miss Gladdie Finn: “When she got tired of some of her stuff, she would gather it into her apron and hike off among the neighbors to trade for stuff that they were tired of.”

Of WWII: “What had caused it? It was caused, I thought, by people failing to love one another, failing to love their enemies.”

Of Cecilia Overhold: “Of courses, Cecilia held some secret doubts about herself; you can’t dislike nearly everybody and be quite certain that you have exempted yourself.”

Of Roy Overhold: “Roy lived too hard up against mystery to be without religion.”

“I feel a little weary in calling them “the dead,” for I am as mystified as anybody by the transformation known as death, and the Resurrection is more real to me than most things I have not yet seen.”

“As I buried the dead and walked among them, I wanted to make my heart as big as heaven to include them all and love them and not be distracted. I couldn’t do it, of course, but I wanted to.”

There is much, much more, but for fear of spoiling the story, I will refrain!

The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis

The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis

This review was written for CatholicFiction.net

If you’ve read my book blog before, you know that while I praise Lewis as one of the greatest writers of the last century, I generally avoid doing book reviews of his work. This is primarily because I feel unworthy of writing such a review. As one of my primary influences both in literature and theology, Lewis is one of my heroes. You cannot give an objective review of your hero.

That being said, I want to share with you my thoughts on The Horse and His Boy. Now, The Horse and His Boy is either my first or second favorite of the Narnia series (it goes back and forth between THaHB and The Last Battle).

Unlike most of the books in the Narnia series, The Horse and His Boy is a story of its own, with few references to England and only a small number of hat tips to previous adventures. Fans of the Pevensies get to see King Edmund and Queens Lucy and Susan in their glory (well, Lucy and Ed are in their glory—Susan is silly as ever). A few encounters with the Pevensies as more-or-less grown adults with little memory of their true identities are the extent of direct references to the earlier and later stories. The Horse and His Boy is able to stand alone; yet the story takes place almost entirely in Calormen and Archenland, not in Narnia, which also gives shape to the series as a whole.

The story follows two main story lines. The first is that of Shasta, a young boy who finds out that the fisherman who raised him is not his father when he hears the fisherman plotting to sell him to a Tarkaan. The Tarkaan’s horse, Bree, turns out to be a talking horse from Narnia. Bree, knowing that he cannot escape alone, asks Shasta to be his rider:

“If you can’t ride, can you fall?”
“I suppose that anyone can fall,” said Shasta.
“I mean can you fall and get up again without crying and mount again and fall again and yet not be afraid of falling?”
“I—I will try,” said Shasta. (p.209)*

The other storyline follows a young Tarkheena named Aravis who has escaped her father’s house after finding that her father is giving her as a wife to a much older man. First she planned to take her own life, but was stopped when her own horse, Hwin, reveals that she is also a talking horse and stops Aravis from finishing the act, persuading her to flee instead.

The two storylines collide when the children and their horses meet in the dessert, running from lions. Although they are wary of each other at first, they learn to be friends in the end. They have several short adventures together, trying to get to Narnia where they, and their horses, will be free.

As they are traveling through the capital city and making their way towards Narnia, the two become separated and each child has their own adventure and their own secrets to discover. These adventures in Tashbaan are crucial to both the plotline and the character development for the children. Shasta is given the first hint of his true identity and destiny while Aravis learns that she is made of different stuff than other Calormines and will never be happy among them. Together, they learn things (by listening to conversations that they were not meant to hear) that reveal their quest.

While I have read some complaints on review sites that Aslan does not feature well into this story, I think that is a silly thing to say. As in life when we can look back and see the actions of God in guiding us along, in this book Shasta and Aravis are given the opportunity to see where Aslan gently (and sometimes not-so-gently) guided them, guarded them, and helped them do what they were meant to do. Aslan walks into their lives and brings them to their vocations without them realizing it. In fact, they cannot realize his presence because they do not know. They were not raised learning about the lion who so intimately knows his people, instead they were raised learning about a distant god called Tash and practically worshipping the great Tisroc, their version of a king. They are not like Lucy Pevensie, who always recognizes Aslan before her siblings are able to: Aravis and Shasta must first know who Aslan is before they can recognize him. When they do come to know him, they come truly to know themselves. It is the same for Bree, who is embarrassed by his vanity when Aslan comes before him, and Hwin, whose response to Aslan is perhaps best of all:

Then Hwin, though shaking all over, gave a strange little niegh, and trotted across to the lion.
“Please,” she said, “you’re so beautiful. You may eat me if you like. I’d sooner be eaten by you than fed by anyone else.”
“Dearest daughter,” said Aslan, planting a lion’s kiss on her twitching, velvet nose, “I knew you would not be long in coming to me. Joy shall be yours.” (p. 299)*

Shasta as a character lacks complexity. I think that Shasta could be characterized as a classic shy introvert: he is awkward and doesn’t know social norms, but he is aware of his lack of knowledge, making him even more awkward. Bree, on the other hand, is exactly what you would expect from a showy warhorse. He is prideful, yet honorable.

If you are looking for a strong female character, look no further than Hwin and Aravis. Where Bree (the male horse) tires out and is prone to cowardice, Hwin gives all she can and is remains the strong, practical voice for the group. Modern readers will also be delighted to encounter Aravis—a strong young woman, capable of taking care of herself but not so independent as to refuse to work with others. She recognizes her faults (admittedly, sometimes after the fact) and is given equal importance to Shasta. Her courage and quick thinking often save the day.

In addition to being a strong female character (neither the first nor the last in this series), I think that Aravis is an extraordinary character in this series for her faith perspective. She is not from Narnia, and therefore not a child of Adam and Eve—meaning she is not part of the sacred lineage that Lewis makes so much of in his other works. Yet, Aslan still appears to her, still corrects her when she is wrong, still loves her gently and fiercely. Aslan’s mercy is also found in another even stranger place: his willingness to forgive and pardon Prince Rabadash, a very flat character who never outgrows his flaws of greed and pride. Aslan’s mercy and love are not limited to what could be called the faith community of Narnia and Archenland—two nations devoted to following Aslan. They extend to all the beings who inhabit the world he created. 

Another thing to note is that while Tash is a false god opposed to Aslan, Aslan is able to work miracles even through the temple of Tash. Lewis is saying here the same thing he repeats in The Last Battle: there are many names for God, there are many ways we recognize him, we cannot limit his power to be simply that which we expect from him. Aslan can work in ways outside of the expectations of his own people. He is, after all, not a tame lion.

I dearly love this book, but in each reading I learn something new—often gaining a deeper insight into what I think Lewis was getting at in writing a book so unlike the others. Ignoring the differences, however, we find that the story is yet another adventure story whose deep theological veins connect with the whole work that is The Chronicles of Narnia.

I give The Horse and His Boy  a 5/5.

*Quotations are cited based on the page numbers in the all-in-one version (978-0-06-623850-0)

When We Were on Fire by Addie Zierman

When We Were on Fire

by Addie Zierman

I received this book for free from 

Blogging for Books

 for this review.

In her memoir about life as an evangelical teen in the WWJD-ridden church of the ‘90s, Addie Zierman reminds us all that sometimes you don’t have to be in a cult to experience a brain-washing, manipulative, and abusive cult-like atmosphere.


When We Were on Fire

, Zierman is open and honest about her past. Her writing goes back and forth between telling her story in first person and setting up the scene in the second person, making the reader feel like they are Addie in the story. An unusual but well employed writing style, Zierman helps the reader to relate and identify with both the painful and wonderful experiences about which Zierman writes.

While it’s hard to write a review about someone’s memoirs, I can say that I think this book is brilliantly written. Zierman puts her soul into it, openly sharing the pain and joy of her life with the reader.

I relate to a lot of what she writes. While the Evangelical Church of the 1990’s is well known for brain-washing, no faith tradition is completely free of that experience. What stuns me about her story is how deeply Zierman’s wounds impact her later life. Her memoir is like a combination story and warning: “Find a way to deal with this before you find yourself in my shoes. Work it out. See a counselor before you’re drunk and tempted to cheat on your husband because Church People are coming between the two of you.”

The one thing that really gets me about Zierman’s writing is that she holds nothing back. She is blatantly honest about driving drunk—no apologies, no self-defense. She just states it, the same way she states that as a child sanctity was measured by how many WWJD bracelets you wore. It is a brutal honesty, an honesty that, in my humble opinion, should be forgiven and loved rather than judged. This book is her confession in a sense—and it ends as all Christian stories should end, in hope and resurrection.

For more information about this author, see her website at



To read the first chapter of this book for free, visit http://www.convergentbooks.com/book/when-we-were-on-fire/

I give

When We Were on Fire

a solid 4/5.

Girl at the End of the World by Elizabeth Esther

Girl at the End of the World by Elizabeth Esther

I received this book for free to review through the Blogging for Books program.

Last night, I read the book Girl at the End of the World by Elizabeth Esther in its entirety. The only bad thing I have to say about this book is the day on which I chose to read it. It was the night before a busy day and I meant only to read a chapter or two, but I became so immersed in her story that I realized I was only a few chapters from the end and it was 2am. I literally could not put it down.

I think that my reaction to this book, from a spiritual perspective, is at first a little odd. Reading EE’s (as she calls herself on her blog) words, it was as if I related to some of the brainwashing experience— but of course, I didn’t actually grow up in a cult and I don’t consider myself brainwashed (every time someone told her that asking questions is a sin, I wanted to call my youth minister and thank him for encouraging questions—faith is so much more real when its your own and not imposed). It’s like she is able to capture so much in her writing that she makes the experience tangible, makes it real. Yet, looking back at the reading experience, I feel like there were many experiences she had that remind me of problems in my own faith tradition, albeit significantly worse. The Assembly seems to me like an extreme version of the already extreme right wing of the Church (the ones who considered themselves more Catholic than the pope when Benedict XVI was still on the throne—many of whom have found their groups being censored by Rome). I find the parallels slightly terrifying, but that’s for another blog.

EE not only grew up in The Assembly, a homegrown, fundamentalist Christian group; the founder of the group, George Geftakys, is her grandfather, giving her at a unique perspective and insight into The Assembly from an early time until its demise. A small Christian sect that easily fits into the “cult” category, The Assembly used brain-washing and mind control tactics (essentially making all members terrified to disagree with anyone in the hierarchy) in addition to abusive corporal punishment on their children in the same line as the Pearls’ (in the book, EE even indicates that she thinks her grandfather’s church was worse than what the Pearls were known for). The Assembly was, along with many similar cults, guilty of misinterpreting scripture to make women submissive in the extreme, blaming every sin of the man on the weakness of the woman.

The interesting thing about memoirs of young people escaping from cults is that you already know the end when you pick it up: they get out. Otherwise, they wouldn’t be writing the story to begin with. With Elizabeth Esther, it’s a little different. Even though I certainly baulked at the things that she was taught in The Assembly, you can tell from her storytelling how intensely she believed the flawed theology that her parents and grandparents passed on to her, how much it hurt her to leave the community that she had been with since birth. You cry with her and agonize over the decision that she must eventually make: to leave The Assembly. It is easy to understand, and empathize with, her reasons for doing so. Yet, it is heartbreaking.

Elizabeth Esther is a phenomenal writer, especially given her past. The opportunity to walk with her on her journey is an opportunity to share sacred moments in her life. Her courage in writing this book and doing the work she does with survivors shines through in her willingness to share intimate and personal details about her life: spiritual, family, everything. She holds little back and it makes the story that much more touching.

If you want to read this book, you can check out the first chapter here. You can find more information on the publisher’s website and on Elizabeth Esther’s page.

I give Girl at the End of the World a 5/5—a rare honor, but deserved.

Note: This book, while wonderful and touching, is an emotional roller coaster. At some points, I sobbed reading it. At other points, my hand was clenched into a fist. I don’t recommend reading this book when you’re already feeling emotionally drained or depressed. It’s a great book, but the same writing that makes it so great also allows you to experience some small piece of the agony with the author, making it dangerous if you’re in an already emotionally unhealthy state.

Pray for Me: The Life and Spiritual Vision of Pope Francis, First Pope of the Americas by Robert Moynihan

Pray for Me: The Life and Spiritual Vision of Pope Francis, First Pope of the Americas by Robert Moynihan

This book was provided to me free of charge as part of the Blogging for Books program.

When I started this book back in November, I was eager to learn more about our new pope. Unfortunately, the book (through no fault of its own!) somehow ended up at the bottom of my reading pile. Now, a year after Pope Francis’ historic election, I have picked it up again.

Pray for Me has three distinct parts. The first part delves deeply into the first few days of Francis’ papacy, from his election to his Palm Sunday Mass. The second reveals some of the elements that have had a deep impact on him and have formed him into the man he is. The third is a collection of his own writings, revealing even more about the man who has succeeded Peter.

The first part goes deeply into those first few days, all the more important to me because during the first five days of Francis’ papacy, I was on mission without access to technology or information about what was going on in Rome. Even now, one year later, these events feel new and eye-opening to a traditional Roman Catholic. In reading this book, have been reminded again and again of the novelty of Francis and of the gift that the Holy Spirit has given our Church.

In the first part, Moynihan’s writing is clear and authentic. He gives us his own take on those first few days and lets us experience with him all that we, on the other side of the world, missed out on. Hearing his experiences talking with other reporters and journalists is also intriguing, it gives us an honest and unique vision of what was going on in Rome at that time.

Part two goes into his family background and his spiritual background, explaining events of his childhood, his calling, and listing five of his “spiritual guides,” (Jonah, Mary, Ignatius of Loyola, Don Luigi Guissani, and, of course, Francis of Assisi). I think that the range of these guides can tell us a lot about the dynamic spiritual life that Francis lives and encourages us to be less narrow-minded in our vision of Heaven. The Catholic Church is supposed to be “universal,” after all.

Part three is illuminating in the writings of Pope Francis, helping us to know him better and understand more fully the remarks he has made since those early days of his papacy.

While I am sure that there are many books out now about Pope Francis, I think that Pray for Me can give a unique perspective on the beginning of this papacy, important now and possibly, more important in the future. I give this book a solid 4/5.