So here are the books I did finish.
This might not really count as a book though it seemed to be booklength. ... 54 type-script pages, so I'm counting it as a book. I found a PDF version of the encyclical online and converted it to Mobi (Kindle) format using Calibre. I started reading it in January but just finished it, since I had to think a lot when I was reading it. Very encouraging. Pope John Paul II was very perceptive about the issues facing families and also the particular strengths and graces bestowed upon them by Our Lord. His sympathetic attunement to family issues is remarkable.
The Heir of Redclyffe by Charlotte Yonge. I think Charlotte Yonge will have to be my author of this year. For some reason I'd never really read any of her books before -- I was really missing out. With her attention to character and moral choices and her strongly religious outlook (I believe she must be a High Anglican), she is like a Christian George Eliot or Louisa May Alcott. Which sounds odd now that I've written it out, but if you have read this book perhaps you won't think it sounds so silly.
It's a romance in a sense, but it's really more focused on family life and relationships and spiritual growth. From the title, I had thought it was a Gothic romance, but though there is a family feud and a baronet's inheritance and all that, it isn't really Gothic at all.
A bonus -- there is quite a long section in the book where the main characters discuss The Betrothed which I blogged about a week or so ago. Isn't it funny how something like a book or name or idea comes to your attention and then you keep running across it everywhere!
It sort of brings Charlotte Mason type education to life, since the young adults read aloud to each other and sing/play music in the evenings or play word games for fun, and go for long walks, and sketch landscapes and portraits, or graft roses, and translate Latin or Italian together, or take up Euclid to occupy and discipline their minds. And the mother concerns herself with their character formation and spiritual growth. You don't really see that kind of thing much nowadays. The mother even teaches the youngest girl herself -- dictation lessons, etc, just like CM.
I know I never really review these books I am reading. I just talk about my reaction to them, which seems so self-referential. But I am always nervous about revealing "spoilers". If you want more details go to the Wikipedia entry on The Heir of Redclyffe. Apparently Charlotte Yonge donated the proceeds from her books to missionaries. I am so happy to have found a new author friend.
Oscar Wilde wrote (as you might well expect) of a condemned criminal he met in America:
"My heart was turned by the eyes of the doomed man, but if he reads The Heir of Redclyffe it's perhaps as well to let the law take its course."I will let him have the last word!