Wednesday, August 2, 2023

An Open Book: July 2023

Summer is flying by, so I'm grateful for the chance to pause and look back on the books that accompanied me through some hot summer days. I mostly dove into fiction, but I did have a couple of fascinating nonfiction books that I began reading (and will hopefully finish in time for next month's linkup!). I'm joining An Open Book, so make sure to check over there for other literary discussions :) Let's dive in!

Arabella of Mars, by David D. Levine

This was such a fun way to kick off the month! This novel follows Arabella, a young woman who is living in the English colony on Mars. However, her mother decides that Arabella needs to live in civilized England, so she takes her daughter back to Earth. When tragedy strikes, Arabella finds herself racing back to her beloved Mars as she fights for her life and the lives of those she loves. I LOVED IT! It was so fun to read this swashbuckling, historical, steampunk adventure story with a subtle, clean romance on the side. 

From the Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler, by E. L Konigsburg

Claudia is a young girl who wants to feel appreciated and loved. So, she decides to run away to the Metropolitan Museum of art--and she brings her brother, Jamie, along. While hiding there, they become fascinated with a mystery surrounding a statue, and they devote themselves to solving this mystery. This was a fun story, and it was neat to see how creative the kids got when figuring out ways to secretly live in the Met. However, I don't know when I would let my own kids read this book. It's one thing to read this as an adult, and to be able to gloss over a half-page long conversation about drugs or look critically at the bad behavior of the kids to each other and their surroundings. I'm not sure that this book would be all that edifying for young kids to read, and even if it was fun, I think there are lots better books out there. 

The Indigo Girl, by Natasha Boyd

Set in 1739 South Carolina, this novel presents Eliza Lucas, a young woman who lives on a plantation and seeks to help her family crawl out of impending financial ruin through the production of Indigo. Eliza Lucas was a real person, and it was incredibly interesting to learn about her life and work, and also to peek into pre-Revolutionary War America. I didn't entirely care for the pacing at parts of the book, and a romantic plotline was a bit creepy and gross (even if it was true, it still weirded me out!) to me. But, overall, this was an enjoyable book!

The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way, by Amanda Ripley

Armed with statistics about testing scores across the world, Ripley tracks a few American students who travel to other countries. Bringing together all these experiences and data, she discusses ways that other countries have succeeded at helping students become well-educated. This book seemed like it had a limited scope, but it was still fascinating! It was sobering to read about the student who hearkened from rural Oklahoma, because from what I know, the education scene in parts of Oklahoma has not substantially improved in the ten years since this book was written. In fact, I think it would be neat for this book to be updated, especially with the impact that Covid has had on education. It was a pretty interesting read!

The Great Brain, by John D. Fitzgerald

J.D. is a young boy, living in a small town in Utah, and he looks up to his big brother Tom, who (at 10 years old) is a fount of intelligence--to the extent that J.D. calls his brother "The Great Brain." The Great Brain spends a lot of this book as a young con man, of sorts (he seems fairly similar to Tom Sawyer). Some of his tricks and cons are genuinely funny, and others are pretty terrible and objectionable. The boys of this small town operate under the assumption that they need to engage in fistfights, especially to earn respect from each other. And the whole last chapter of this book includes some very detailed suicide attempts. So...I will not be handing this book to my kids anytime soon. Parts of it were enjoyable, but a lot of this book had me wondering how it has managed to endure in the hearts of so many people. 

The Edge of the In Between, by Lorelai Savaryn

Lottie is a young girl who lives in Vivelle, a magical town full of color and light. However, when her parents suddenly die, Lottie leaves everything she knows to go live with a long-lost uncle, who lives in the space between the Land of the Living and Ever After. As she navigates through her grief, she tries to find answers, hope, and purpose. This magical, slightly creepy Secret Garden Middle Grade retelling was gorgeous. I was in tears by the end. Even if the author hadn't included an excerpt from The Great Divorce (by C.S. Lewis) in the front of the book, I think it's easy--for people who have read Lewis, that is--to read this story and see the Lewis-ish aspects to the story. I loved this book, and I highly recommend it! 

Winterset Hollow, by Jonathan Durham

In this modern, urban fantasy (with some splashes of horror mixed in), a group of young adults wind up on an island together as they pay tribute to a beloved novel and its author. However, as time goes on, these people begin to discover that the "fantasy" novel they loved had more truth in it than they anticipated...and they find themselves running for their lives. This story was engrossing and fascinating and I really, really enjoyed reading it! It was very horrifying in parts, but none of the gore felt particularly gratuitous to me. Parts of the story reminded me of The Hunger Games, Lord of the Flies, and The Walking Dead tv show. I'm glad that I read it, and surprisingly, there was not nearly as much profane language in here as I thought there would be-and there were some interesting conversations about exploitation and colonization. 

Thanks so much for joining me this month! I really need to focus on finishing the couple books I currently have going, but if you have any recommendations for what I should read after those, please let me know!


  1. Indigo Girl was so strange for me. I hated parts of that book and loved parts. It won me over when I realized she was a real person and it was a true story.

  2. I added a couple here to my tbr list - Arabella of Mars and Winterset Hollow, the latter of which really intrigues me and is so outside of my normal genres. I've had The Edge of In Between on my Kindle since before it was released, but your review really makes me want to pick it up. Thanks for linking to An Open Book!

    1. I think you would really enjoy Arabella! I hope you like Winterset Hollow-it's terrifying, but really interesting to see the story play out.
      And it's neat that you already have The Edge of In Between! I hope you are able to pick it up sometime-it's a lovely book.