Tag Archives: Pope Joan

The Best Books of 2011

The last couple of years I hadn’t been reading very much.  Here and there I’d start a new book, but it would take me forever to read it and I usually just watched movies instead.  For 2011 I was determined to read more.  I vowed to read 2 books a month, and I ended up reading 28.  I enjoyed all of them, but here are the creme de la creme of books I read this past year.

Pope Joan by Donna Woolfolk Cross

Based on the historical legend that a woman disguised herself as a man and became one of the most influential popes of the Vatican’s history.  Pope Joan is both a historical drama, suspense novel, and romance.  As a young girl, Joan learned to read and write, an education forbidden to women in 800 AD.  The author definitely did her research finding the few facts we know about Pope Joan.  Of course, the Vatican denies her existence, but because of this, the story of Pope Joan is all the more intriguing.

The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls

This book was a complete surprise for how raw and open the author was in this memoir of growing up.  The book begins with her in a cab watching her own mother pick through a dumpster.  Now that’s a scene that will evoke emotion in a reader.  The Glass Castle is really about a family, their ups and downs, the realities and the truest form of magic that exists in Walls’ phenomenal storytelling.  A must read for any author considering writing a memoir.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen

This might have been my favorite book of 2011.  I am both immensely impressed with the amount of research this author did on early circuses and her story in general.  She was haled by critics for her ability to write an elderly character’s voice and her characters created for the traveling circus were priceless.  Water for Elephants is a romance and a tale of finding oneself.  It sets you in a world of mystery and hard work.  It inspired a road trip to the Circus World Museum, a place where Gruen began some of her research!  This was a book I could not put down!

The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe

I read this book in my book club and we had such a fun time discussing the themes of spirits, witches, and magic.  The synopsis of this book, which was inspired by the author’s doctorate research, is a graduate student who discovers an ancestor’s physick book, or medicine book, or book of magic.  As Connie uncovers more about her own family, she’ll learn more than she wants to about the powers within it, but she has to do so before her professor takes matters into his own hands.

The Help by Kathryn Stockett

I guess I like books with stories behind the stories.  I love looking into how the author’s do their research, and for Stockett, she began this book after September 11th.  She needed to hear a voice that was comforting again, and the voice she thought of was the maid that raised her when she was young.  Thinking about what life must have been like for her is the premise for the story of The Help.  Set early in the civil rights movement, The Help takes on a variety of voices, from the soft spoken and ethical Aibileen, to the no holds barred Minny, and the idealistic, coming of age Skeeter.  Everyone I know who’s read this book has loved it.  If you haven’t, what are you waiting for?

The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins

Um.  Ok, The Hunger Games.  They ruled.  What more do you want me to say?  The movie comes out in March and I’ll be there.  I’m Team Gale.  I do not condone the growing trend of naming your kids Bella or Katniss.  But I Love These Books.

The Doctor’s Lady by Jody Hedlund

I had read Jody’s blog before, but not her books.  I won this title in a contest and I couldn’t put it down!  I would’ve never pegged myself as a christian historical romance reader, but I was swooning by page three over Eli Ernest, the rough rider doctor who sets foot towards the new west crossing the Oregon Trail.  And Priscilla White is no weakling, prairie marm.  She may have lots to learn, but she will prove herself to be a tough and strong-willed companion.  I can’t wait to read to Jody’s first book, The Preacher’s Bride this year!

There you have it!  My favorite reads from 2011.  What books were your favorite?  What’s next on your “to read” list?

By the way, the winner of my Life List Club blog post and receiver of an I-Tunes Gift Card and chance to guest post or interview here is Marcy Kennedy!   Congratulations, Marcy, be contacting you soon!

Pope Joan, Rome’s Female Champion

Did you know that in the 800 AD’s we had a female pope?!  I had no idea either!

Published as fiction, author Donna Woolfolk Cross spent seven years crafting a legend into a full life novel.  So who was Pope Joan?  There is enough historical fact leftover to prove she did indeed exist, and depending on which version of the Liber pontificalis, or Book of the Popes, you read, you may just find out that she was in fact the pope.  Dressing in men’s clothing, Joan defied the times and became educated.  Spending several years as a monk and priest, she also became a great healer.  Eventually her skill and altruism towards the people elected her to the thrown of St. Peter.

Largely criticized as a mere myth, historians have battled The Vatican for years.  The Catholic church admits that documents from the time period Joan would have reigned were destroyed, but also claim that Pope Joan never existed in the first place.  There is, however, evidence proving that other women of the time spent their lives in disguise as a man in order to achieve greater education and life opportunities.

How is this possible you ask?  Well, that’s where fiction starts to blur the lines.  Most people in the 800’s were illiterate, so the number of records from that time, even about the male popes, is shoddy at best.  Cross has researched the time period, right down to the discovery of blue cheese, and narrated for us the imaginary, though possible, life of our story’s heroine.

After a terrible attack by Norsemen, Joan takes her brother’s clothes and dons them to escape.  Her interests are always in conflict, born of a canon father and saxon mother, she is learned of God, and also of her mother’s “heathen” gods and goddesses.  Cross depicts our lady as the utmost champion of debate, a woman who can argue her way out of anything.  Hmm, that sounds about right.

If you’re interested in checking out more of her legend, the article The Lady Was a Pope from the US News, Mysteries of History is an interesting one.  And, on author Donna Woolfolk Cross’ site, she has a nice summary in her FAQ’s.

I highly recommend this book if you enjoy historical fiction.  It reads very much like The DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons by Dan Brown, minus the mystery solver professor replaced with an early feminist in disguise!  Alright!  Make sure you add Pope Joan to your reading list!

What books are currently on the top of your recommending list?  I always love new titles.  And I know many of you have resolved to read so many books a year, how’s it going?  I’m happy to report my goal of one per month is turning into two a month!  Yay!  Happy reading everyone!

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