Wednesday, March 1, 2023

An Open Book: February 2023 reads

February flew by, and between writing projects and my overall scattered reading life (I'm currently working through 3-4 books right now), I did not read quite as many books as I thought I would. I even had to return a book or two to the library unread! (I need to stop operating under the assumption that I can renew books infinitely haha!)

But, I did read some delightful books last month, so I'm linking up with An Open Book to chat about them. Let's dive in! 

Laurus, by Eugene Volodozkin and translated by Lisa C. Hayden

This is a gorgeous novel based in medieval Russia about a boy named Arseny. Arseny lives with his grandfather--a healer and herbalist. Areseny grows into a man and discovers that sin quite literally leads to death. He then embarks on a life of repentance and atonement, becoming a pilgrim as he seeks healing. Holy fools adorn the pages, and deep themes of humility, suffering, peace, and monasticism are all intertwined in this beautiful story. I loved it! 

REREAD: Emily of Deep Valley, by Maud Hart Lovelace

I'm still amazed that I didn't discover this book until adulthood, because it is now one of my favorite comfort reads. Emily is a young woman who, after high school graduation, stays in her town to care for her ageing Grandfather while her peers all leave for college. Emily grapples with feelings of depression as she tries to find her place in this new life after school--and eventually, she realizes that she needs to do the work of charting her own course. This story is wonderful, and I highly recommend it! 

Soundtracks: The Surprising Solution to Overthinking, by Jon Acuff

Since I am a big-time overthinker, I knew I needed to pick up this book! Acuff shares stories about overthinking in his own life and brings in studies and research to discuss ways that overthinking is harmful and how we can move past this practice. (He eventually works towards the point that a major way to overcome overthinking is by reciting an anthem to yourself in the mirror a couple times a day) This was a quick read, and some of the book seemed a bit repetitive. A chunk of the book was review from things I had already learned when going through therapy, but there was some new information (especially with different studies) that I thought was fascinating. This book is probably worth skimming or briefly reading through if you deal with overthinking at times, but it's not my favorite self-help-type book out there. However, I picked this up on the exact day I needed to read and review this topic, and it helped me when I needed it! 

Lovely War, by Julie Berry

A friend recommended this YA book to me, and I am so glad I read it! The book begins in the 1940s, where we discover the Greek goddess Aphrodite on "trial" for infidelity to her husband. Aphrodite decides to tell her husband stories of her work in love, and the bulk of this book consists of one of those stories-a story of love and perseverance of two couples, set in World War I. Some minor parts of the couples' love stories did not work for me because they seemed too contrived (I also don't read a lot of romance in general, and this book is definitely a romance), but I really enjoyed this! It was a ton of fun to see stories of WWI as narrated by different Greek gods, and I love how this book incorporated lots of important history and perspectives regarding WWI (like the work of African American troops who served, and the racism they endured). Also, it was very refreshing to read a romance novel that did not have any steamy and/or sex scenes-the characters kiss and caress, but the author does not go on endlessly about the details of their physical affection. This book wasn't perfect, but it was a lot of fun and I recommend it! 

First Farm in the Valley: Anna's Story, by Anne Pellowski

This children's novel tells the story of Anna, a girl whose parents were the first farmers in Latsch Valley, western Wisconsin, in the 19th century (there are more books in the series-which is based on an actual family-that follow later generations in Anna's family tree). Anna's family is Polish, and their Polish heritage and Faith are intertwined in their lives as they deal with the hardships and joys of life in a rural area. In fact, one of the things I appreciated was how the family's faith practices was just included as a normal part of the story--prayers like the Angelus were just there as part of life. This was a fun story, very much in the vein of the Little House on the Prairie books or Caddie Woodlawn. I didn't like it as much as those books (maybe because I didn't grow up with it?) but I still enjoyed it! 

Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley

This is a futuristic dystopian novel that was initially published in the early 1930s-it is set in London, and the story opens with a group of students touring the facilities that the government uses for incubating human beings. Society has reached a point where families and intimate relationships no longer exist; babies are grown in labs and then conditioned as children in the truths that the government wants the citizens to uphold. Initially, the book seemed a little unfocused, but then began narrowing in on the story of Lenina, a young woman who works with embryos, Bernard, a man who is beginning to question this world they live in, and John-a Native American man who enters the story later on as a stark contrast to "civilized life." While parts of the story were hard to follow, I still liked reading this book, though it was very sobering-here we are in 2023, less than a hundred years after this book was written, and a lot of the things Huxley wrote about are accepted as "normal" by many people. 

REREAD: Dan England and the Noonday Devil, by Myles Connollly

This story is narrated by a man who meets-and is intrigued by-Dan England: a writer whose booming joy and love draw a variety of people to his home. As the narrator tries to understand Dan, he winds up discovering that there is more to Dan than initially meets the eye, and he sees that Dan's Faith is not some superficial optimism, but involves a struggle for truly heroic charity. This is a fabulous book, very much in the vein of Connolly's Mr. Blue, except that it goes deeper and more intense. I love this book, although Dan England's struggle against acedia felt a little too personal and familiar ;) I highly recommend this! 

Thanks so much for joining me this month! If you have any book recommendations, please drop them in the comments! 


  1. What a great group of books! First Farm in the Valley sounds like something my daughter might enjoy. I don't know if I ever finished Brave New World, but I remember trying to read it multiple times. And Myles Connolly - been meaning to read some of his forever! Maybe someday. Thanks for linking to An Open Book.

    1. I hope your daughter enjoys First Farm in the Valley if she picks it up! I'm hoping to read the later books in the series at some point. It was a fun book!