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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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?
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.
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!
I’m having such fun with this book club I joined. Our book for June was The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane by Katherine Howe.
Connie, a graduate student trying to survive her oral exams, inherits (of sorts) a dusty, dirty old house that belonged to her grandmother. She moves to the house in the summer to clean it up and sell it, but what Connie doesn’t know is that this house will unlock a secret in history dating all the way back to the Salem Witch Trials.
The book is a fascinating read, imagined by the author through her own dissertation work at Boston University. Every day she would walk her dog on the trails between Salem and Marblehead, Massachusetts, the cities the book takes place in. Howe states the characters in her book are not autobiographical, but they are well developed nonetheless, and she herself is descended from two Salem Witch historical figures: Elizabeth Proctor, who survived, and Elizabeth Howe, who did not. Spanning the Witch Trial days and the decades that followed in conjunction with present day, she webs together a cunning woman of the 1600’s with a 1990’s stressed out student!
Last summer, I vacationed in Boston, MA, and took a day trip to Salem with my boyfriend. If any of you have upcoming vacations that way, plan to stay overnight! All the good graveyard and witch tours happen at night! As it was, we weren’t in on that loop, so we had to catch our train back to Boston, but we did spend a full day in Salem. Salem is a beautiful, seaport town with a mix of past and present in its streets. The locals you’ll meet are just as diverse covering the full spectrum of love/hate for the tourists that flock to its city, especially at Halloween. The city offers such tourist and historical attractions like the Witch Dungeon Museum and the Pirate Museum. Plus, almost all its shops offer psychic readings, tarot readings, palm readings, and a vast array of magical potions and herbs if it interests you.
We toured the Salem Witch Museum. The main room is set up like a theater, and you sit around the edges with its “stages” encircling you. The lights go up on various scenes to reveal still models in period dress, each depicting a moment during the Salem Witch Trials as the audio narrates. The role of Tituba in the Salem Witch Trials is not widely known, but she was a servant in Reverend Parris’ house. A slave from Barbados, Tituba would entertain the children with magic tricks and scary stories. Her name was the first name cried out from the “afflicted” girls. After that, many more women were accused of the craft. The most shameful accusation was that of Rebecca Nurse, a respected, God-fearing, elder member of the community. It is suspected her plea of guilty came more-so out of fear and misunderstanding than anything else. Historians say she was questioned twice at trial, but she was old and hard of hearing, causing her to nod in reply than speak up. She was one of the 19 people hanged during the Salem Witch Trials.
The hangings weren’t the only punishments given during during this time of suspicion and fear. A man named Giles Corey was actually pressed to death, with logs and boulders stacked upon him as a torture method to make him name additional suspicious townspeople. His last words are reported to have been, “More weight.”
In addition to the 20 deaths following the trials, many of the accused “witches” spent months in prison awaiting a suitable judge to arrive to port. And even those that weren’t hanged suffered a life in prison. At the time, if you were imprisoned, it was up to your family to pay for your imprisonment and upkeep. If you could not pay, which many of the lower class families could not, you rotted in jail for a lifetime to pay off your debt.
Many of the leading figures of the Salem Witch Trials make an appearance in Howe’s book, giving it a rich historical setting, and new perspective on its haunting past. The book is full of several mother-daughter relationships, providing great discussion at book clubs, if you’re looking for a new read. And since the main topic is uncovering Deliverance’s physick book, also called a spell book, receipt book, Book of Shadows, you can count on a little magic sneaking its way in.
As for Howe’s writing style, it was said by several book club members that the beginning is a little slow. I agree, at times the description of Connie’s actions or internal thoughts dragged on, but this is absolutely a book to stick with, unanimously liked by each member, especially the ending! It brought up a lot of interesting conversation about character development, gender then and now, how our perception of the world is based on the world we grow up in, and of course, witches! Do you believe in witchcraft? How has the term witch changed over time?
What do you think? Do you believe in magic, or is it all a bunch of hocus pocus?
Also, what’s a great next read I should tell my book club about?