Wednesday, September 6, 2023

An Open Book: August 2023 Reads

 It's time to chat about literature! I started off August with some really deep books and then hit a complete slump where I was struggling to get into anything-I kept trying books from the library and returning them unread (even books that had been recommended!). So, I finished off a children's book series that I started last summer, and finished up a couple more books that I had been slowly working on. I'm linking up with An Open Book; let's dive in! 

I Live Again: A Memoir of Ileana, by Ileana; the Princess of Romania, Archduchess of Austria

In this book, Princess Ileana briefly walks through her childhood, marriage, and motherhood (she had six kids) and then focuses on the events surrounding World War II and the Communist takeover of Romania. She talks about her work with the underground resistance as well as her diplomatic negotiations with the Communist authorities. It was so interesting! Her writing was gorgeous, and she gently wove her beautiful faith in God into the story. I really enjoyed this book, and I'm intrigued to learn more about Princess Ileana in the years that followed the book's publication-she eventually founded an Orthodox Monastery for women, which is fascinating to me!

The Invisible Child: On reading and writing books for children, by Katherine Paterson

Funnily enough, I've never read any of Paterson's novels (I stayed away from them as a kid since some of them were controversial) and after reading this book, I'm not sure if I'd enjoy her children's novels. But, I loved this book of her lectures! It was so, so, so good. She imparts beautiful wisdom and honestly, it was so sad for me to see her words vs. what's currently being published for kids today (Paterson specifically talks about how we shouldn't try to push agendas in kids books and write to fit certain fads). I underlined my copy quite a bit and this is one I know I'll be going back to again and again. 

REREAD: Jennifer the Damned, by Karen Ullo

I picked up this book as a bedtime reread, and it was so fun! The story follows Jennifer, a teenage, orphaned girl who lives in a convent with nuns...and unbeknownst to the nuns, Jennifer is a vampire who has suddenly began lusting for blood. It's a fantastic premise and a great story. This time, I found myself skipping/skimming a couple of really gritty and dark parts that I can't stomach as well anymore. But, I really enjoyed rereading this book! 

Heaven to Betsy, by Maud Hart Lovelace

In this novel (part of the Betsy-Tacy series), Betsy and Tacy begin high school in Deep Valley. They make mistakes, navigate high school life, and completely obsess about boys. Interestingly, there's a side plot in this book about Betsy wondering if she isn't meant to be a Baptist and deciding if she wants to become an Episcopalian-it isn't done in a "preachy" way, but is casually part of the story. It was neat to see that plot develop! The only part I wasn't a huge fan of in this book was another side plot of the characters doing superstitious games and activities and the Ouija board. Otherwise, this was a fun book, and neat to see Betsy continue to grow!

Betsy in Spite of Herself, by Maud Hart Lovelace

Now a sophomore, Betsy, feeling dissatisfied, decides that she wants to date the suave Phil Brandish in order to be happy. When visiting a friend in Milwaukee for Christmas, Betsy decides to transform herself into a new persona. As can be expected, this does not go well, but Betsy learns from the experience and continues to grow. However, as much as I enjoyed this and other Betsy-Tacy books, I did get very annoyed with Betsy's obsession with boys throughout the high school years. 

Betsy was a Junior, by Maud Hart Lovelace

Enamored with her older sister's description of university life, Betsy decides to start a sorority with other girls in her high school. A lot of this story revolves around Betsy's shenanigans in this realm, and her trying to find her place in the world while avoiding schoolwork. It is really hard to see how far Betsy falls at times, but like always, she grows and learns from her mistakes and it's refreshing to see her become more mature. 

Betsy and Joe, by Maud Hart Lovelace

Betsy is in her senior year of high school, and finally it looks like she will "go with" Joe, the boy that has always been there (the boy you've been wanting her to date this entire time). The only problem is, another longtime friend of hers (who has been more like a brother) suddenly becomes affectionate and not brotherly. A lot of this book is wound around this conflict as Betsy grapples with being a senior, but it ended on a pretty good note. 

Betsy and the Great World, by Maud Hart Lovelace

I was super salty when I started reading this book and discovered that Betsy apparently lost a ton of the wisdom that she had gained in the preceding novel. This book picks up a couple years after Betsy and Joe, and I guess we need to thank Lovelace for sparing us the painful years in between Betsy and Joe and this book. Anyway, in this book, Betsy travels to Europe on a solo tour as she works on her writing career. I didn't like this book as much as the others (I missed Deep Valley and all of its inhabitants, also because I was so annoyed from the beginning of the book) but it was really interesting to see how things developed as World War I began during Betsy's time abroad. 

Betsy's Wedding, by Maud Hart Lovelace

In this finale to the series, Betsy gets married, learns that Tacy is expecting a baby, and they scheme to get Tib in a relationship. It was a lot of fun to see Betsy as a married woman, and the creative ways in which her and her husband sacrificed for each other and pursued their dreams together. The storyline about Tib was pretty fun, too. I enjoyed this book a lot, and it was a very satisfactory end to the series. 

REREAD: Strannik, by Catherine Doherty

This book builds on Poustinia and Sobernost as Doherty reflects on what it means to be a pilgrim. She talks about the essential nature of growing in sobernost (deep unity) from one's experience in the poustinia (desert) and how that leads us to become pilgrims--both on physical journeys and on interior journeys. This is a beautiful book with a lot of profundity and it was a joy to re-read. 

Following God's Pedagogy: Principles for Children's Catechesis, by Sr. Mary Michael Fox, OP

In this book, Sr. Mary Michael brings together decades of experience in teaching and catechesis to discuss how we teach children about the Faith. Drawing from a tremendous amount of research, she walks through different phases of catechetical approach in America and honestly looks at the good and bad elements of each approach. She observes the unique needs and strengths of children, and she addresses how the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd program meets the unique needs of children's catechesis. This book is easy to read, but it's pretty academic so it took me a while to read. I'm very grateful that I read it, though. While I don't have to be convinced of Catechesis of the Good Shepherd's merits (it's an amazing approach), I found Sister's insights very valuable. I also was fascinated to see how she laid out the different phases of catechesis in the U.S.A. This is a great book, and I recommend it! 

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


  1. I had no idea the Betsy-Tacy series went on that long. I think I only read the first 2 or 3 books (maybe that's all my library had). "Jennifer the Damned" was excellent, and I do NOT read horror. But if anybody was going to get me to read horror, it's Karen. I can't wait until her next novel comes out.

    1. Isn't Karen an amazing writer? Right from the first page as I reread this one, I was blown away by just how gorgeous her writing is-let alone her intriguing plotlines. I bet her next novel will be great!
      And the Betsy-Tacy series is interesting-the first few books definitely have a much different feel to the rest of the books. Although it felt like some of the high school drama in the later books dragged on, it was neat to see Betsy grow and change over the course of her life throughout the series.

  2. I had no idea Betsy-Tacy went on that long either! I read a couple of them to my oldest when he was young.

    I'm not familiar with Katherine Paterson, but it sounds like she has a lot of wisdom regarding children's literature! All of the agenda-driven books are robbing children of simply learning and enjoying stories for their own sakes.

    Thanks for linking to An Open Book!

    1. That's so neat you read some of the Betsy-Tacy books! It wasn't my favorite series, but I had a lot of fun reading it.

      I completely agree on your point about the agenda-driven books today! I recently tried out one YA book that had been recommended to me and didn't finish it because pretty soon, it became apparent that the entire book was simply a platform for certain agendas. The initial plot had promise, but it was getting swallowed up in all the politics. So annoying.