The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett

Tom has a dream.  He wants to build a cathedral.  But work is hard to come by in 12th century England.  His family is starving as they wander the countryside looking for a job.  Aliena is the daughter of a nobleman arrested for treason who now has to find her way in the world without protection.  Prior Phillip has been charged with revitalizing a decrepit monastic community.  All of these people come together in Kingsbridge, where a cathedral is supposed to be built.

Yeah, ok, so I’m probably about the last person around to have read this.  I’ve had it on my iPad for a long time.  I started reading it about a year ago.  I remember reading it in a pizza place near my old job on my lunch break.  It is funny how my brain associates books with places where I was reading them.  There is one stretch of road that always reminds me of candy because I was listening to an audiobook about independent candy makers while driving on it one day.

I quit reading this before because it was too depressing.  The opening is pretty sad with all the starving children and wandering about looking for work.  Once I got past that this time I got engrossed in the story of political intrigue and church politics.

A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband “Master” by Rachel Held Evans

Rachel Held Evans was raised in an evangelical household.  She had heard about Biblical Womanhood all her life.  Now she decided to see what the Bible really says about how to live as a woman.

This type of experiment has been done before but this time it looked at what the bible says about women. I love reading blogs from women who hold to strict biblical interpretations like the ones at Raising Homemakers, mainly because I disagree so much. I particularly liked this book’s interpretation of Proverbs 31. This is a poem listing the attributes of a godly woman. A lot of Christian women see this as an absolute list of what they should live their lives like. This author looks at it as a list of things that women can be good at and should be celebrated for. She uses it as a jumping off point to celebrate the achievements of women around the world instead of a yardstick to measure the failings of women who don’t do these things exactly.

The Bromeliad Trilogy: Truckers, Diggers, and Wings by Terry Pratchett

Macklin is a nome. Life is getting rough. There are less and less of them each year. Food is harder to find since a road went in beside the burrow. He makes a plan. His family will get on a truck and move somewhere else. They all think he is crazy but what choice do they have? They end up at The Store, home to thousands of nomes who live in the walls and who no longer believe that there is anything outside The Store. Outsiders showing up does not fit into their worldview – neither does the news that The Store is going to demolished.

This was a Christmas present. This is a children’s series that I hadn’t read before. I loved it. The nomes have a strict religion based on the idea that Arnold Bros. (est. 1905) is a benevolent deity who made The Store to provide for nomes. Sure it is infested with humans during the day but they are too slow and stupid to really worry about. Moving out because their home is about to be demolished is a huge blow.

The Secret History of the Mongol Queens: How the Daughters of Genghis Khan Rescued His Empire by Jack Weatherford

Genghis Khan was raised by women. He believed in a strict balance between male and female in all things. When he divided up his empire to some of his children, he gave four sons control over the armies that were still conquering territory. He gave four daughters ruling power over conquered areas. These four daughters controlled the Silk Route and by standardizing rules and rates along the way made it into the international trading route made famous by Marco Polo.

I’ve always been interested in Genghis Khan and I’ve read a lot about him but I’ve never heard about this aspect of his life. He put his daughters in positions of power by marrying them to the rulers of conquered tribes and then sending their new husbands off to battle with his armies until they died. His daughters were able administrators. His sons didn’t have self-control and destroyed the areas that they ran. They were jealous of the sisters and attacked women after Genghis’s death. This cycle repeated itself several times in the next centuries. A woman would rise up to make the country stable again and then men would increase the persecution of women as a reaction. It is a brutal history but interesting. The book ends with the story of Manduhai, a teenaged widowed queen, who united the tribes by marrying (and raising) the last male descendant of Genghis when he was about 7.