Year 13, Book 56

56. Blood & Ivy: The 1849 Murder that Scandalized Harvard by Paul Collins

Dr. George Parkman was a prominent Bostonian who mysteriously went missing in 1849. As detectives try to follow many varied leads to try and find out what happened to them a janitor at Harvard Medical School begins to suspect that Parkman never left the building after he was last seen there. This book didn’t do much for me, but I imagine if you a fan of historic true crime books this one would be up your alley. I give it a 6 out of 10.

Year 13, Book 55

55. In the Shadow of 10,000 Hills by Jennifer Haupt

Shortly after the Rwandan genocide as the country is trying to come to terms with what happened and rebuild itself, Rachel Shepherd decides to travel there to see if she can locate her long missing father. He left her as a small child. Now after the death of her mother and multiple miscarriages she feels compelled to find the only family she has left. Her last known connection for him is through a woman named Lillian who runs an Rwandan orphanage. The story weaves together their stories across the past and present and finally revealing what happened to Rachel’s father. I really loved this book. My only complaint about is the love story that felt shoe-horned into it. It was barely there which made it a little less annoying but also made me wonder why the author felt the need to throw it in there at all. It was not all something this book needed. Other than that though it’s a really well-written novel with great characters and an interesting story. I give it a 9 out of 10.

Year 13, Book 54

54. Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself by Kristin Neff

Psychologist Kristin Neff talks about how the idea of promoting high self-esteem actually does little for our psychological health. Instead she discusses the idea of self-compassion providing examples of it through many different lenses. There are helpful exercises at the end of the chapters. I found this to be a really useful book. I’m still trying to employ some of the exercises in it on a regular basis, though I probably don’t do them as frequently as I should. Because she talks about self-compassion across a variety of contexts you might not think the book is for you at first if you don’t see yourself in the types of people she’s describing in the early chapters. I didn’t at first and figured the book was going to be a waste of my time, but about mid-way through I really started identified with what she was saying and found it very helpful until she started talking about parenthood. So although you may not find the entire book relevant to your life, I think the parts of it you do are really useful. I give it an 8 out of 10.

Year 13, Book 53

53. Inspired: Slaying Giants, Walking on Water, and Loving the Bible Again by Rachel Held Evans

Rachel Held Evans examines the Bible according to all of the genres it’s composed of pointing out how it is not one static book but many different types of documents written at many different times and brought together. Through some of the Bible’s most popular stories she looks at how the type of document each book is informs it’s message and makes the Bible the living, breathing book it is today. This was an excellent book. As always Rachel Held Evans’ writing helped restore my faith in the face of so many things in “cultural Christianity” that work to destroy it. I give it a 9 out of 10.

Year 13, Book 52

52. Kitchen Yarns: Notes on Life, Love, and Food by Ann Hood

Kitchen Yarns is a memoir about Ann Hood’s life centered around food. She talks about how food has been important through all the points of her life and has influenced who she is. Each chapters ends with at least one recipe. If you like food memoirs this is a good one to read at least. I didn’t try to make any of the recipes. I give it a 7 out of 10.

Year 13, Book 51

51. The Little Book of Mindfulness: 10 Minutes a Day to Less Stress, More Peace by Patrizia Collard

This is a short little book that contains a variety of mindfulness exercises designed to take between 5 and 10 minutes. The exercises are good and it’s a handy little compilation of them. The extra added stuff like poems and little sayings and a few short passages that are added to try and turn it more into a book don’t really add anything. Anyone steeped in mindfulness probably won’t glean much from this, and ultimately you could probably find most of these in a list on some mindfulness website, but I think it’s a handy little compilation and writing this review is reminding me I need to get back into using it. I give it a 7 out of 10.

Year 13, Book 50

50. Why Religion?: A Personal Story by Elaine Pagels

Elaine Pagels is a well known writer about religion. In this book, which is in many respects a memoir, she examines her own religious life as a jumping off point to look at what purpose religion serves and why people still turn to religion. She examines her own religious experiences, her skepticism about religion, her religious research, and how she experienced religion during the traumatic loss of her son as a young child followed by the unthinkable death of her husband only a year later.

I first read Elaine Pagels during a course in college when I was questioning my own religious beliefs, so it only seems fitting that her personal story of faith resonates with me. There is very little in our lives that mirrors each other, but I can certainly identify with seeming push and pull she experiences with her intellect and all the hateful things done in the name of religion telling her one thing but her personal faith experiences telling her another. I give it an 8 out of 10.