Wednesday, February 7, 2024

An Open Book: January 2024 Reads

Another month has arrived, so it's time to link up with An Open Book! I'm very excited to share the books that took me through the first month of 2024. Fiction and nonfiction titles hit my shelf, and courtesy of a teething toddler, I even managed to get through a 700+ page biography! Let's dive in. 

The Spectacular, by Fiona Davis

Set in 1950s New York City, this novel follows Marion-a nineteen-year-old girl who, facing job loss, engagement to a man she isn't sure she wants to marry, and stifling home circumstances, decides to audition for the Rockettes. As her life becomes immersed in the dance troupe, she winds up becoming entangled with the Big Apple Bomber: a serial bomber who has been targeting high-profile locations across NYC. This novel was amazing and I LOVED IT! Not only were there tons of fun tidbits about the Rockettes, but the plot was suspenseful and the story was inspired by an actual NYC bomber. This novel was the perfect way to start off my year of reading! 

Blue Collar Cash, by Ken Rusk

Drawing from three decades of blue collar work and experience as a mentor, life coach, and entrepreneur, Rusk presents an engaging dive into the world of work. He makes a case for the trades and talks about the gift found in blue collar work. More than that, though, he talks about the value of charting your educational and work path (and finances) with intention and joy. In fact, this book seemed to be more about finding fulfillment in your work than in a specific type of work. As I read this, I kept thinking that it would be the perfect book to go through with high school kids-maybe freshman or sophomores, before they are swept up in college applications. Rusk brings up a lot of really great points to consider, especially in light of the burden of student debt. Parts of the book felt very life coach-y in tone, and I could see that not going over well with some people. However, I think this book could be very worthwhile for teens and parents to read together. 

The Reluctant Dragon, by Kenneth Grahame 

In this delightful short story/children's book, a farming family discovers that a dragon is living in a cave nearby. Initially, the dad is terrified-but his son, who spends his days reading fairy tales and natural science books, reassures him that he'll deal with it. The boy discovers that the dragon likes poetry and simply wants to enjoy his peaceful life. Soon, however, St. George arrives at the village, and the villagers all beg him to go fight the dragon (because that's what St. George does). But does St. George really need to kill this particular dragon? How will he appease the villagers? Although my kids didn't get into this story, I thoroughly enjoyed it. The prose was perfectly expressive and beautiful without being too wordy, and the characters and conflict were very fun. 

Rough Stone Rolling, by Richard Bushman

This 700+ page biography of Joseph Smith, founder of the LDS Church, had been on my radar for a while-it had been mentioned in a podcast I heard where an LDS-turned-Catholic man was sharing his story. I love reading about religions/religious beliefs, and I also love reading about the religious climate in 19th century America. So, this book was a fascinating deep-dive into history for me! It is heavily researched and explores the political, social, and religious atmosphere of 19th century America before moving into the Smith family. Bushman, a practicing LDS member, covers an array of topics surrounding the Smith family (including their practice of magic and treasure-hunting) before centering on Joseph. He explores the way that Smith founded the LDS church, the various doctrines, and the controversies that ultimately led to Smith's death. This book took me a while, and a couple parts were tough (so many names and historical facts!) but it was incredibly interesting. I was also fascinated to see an LDS member give this "warts and all" approach to Joseph Smith; even though the author's bias comes through at a couple points, he does a pretty good job showing the non-rosy parts of Smith's life and legacy. 

Rebels at Sea: Privateering in the American Revolution, by Eric Jay Dolin

When I think about the Revolutionary War, I usually think of the battles on land. However, Dolin argues that American privateers were a crucial element to winning the war. In this book, he examines the people who worked on privateers, the various privateers that came into conflict with the British, and the economic impact of privateering. This book was a little hard for me to get into, since it's very deep in research, but I thought it was an interesting topic. I was particularly interested in (and disgusted by) learning about the prison ship where the British officials kept captured American privateers. 

What Happened to Rachel Riley? by Claire Swinarski

This middle grade novel follows Anna Hunt as she starts out her eighth-grade year at a new-to-her middle school. For her Social Issues class, she needs to do a big project-and she decides to uncover what happened to Rachel Riley; a girl who had been popular and beloved but suddenly, everyone seems to hate. Anna quickly discovers that this one question ("What happened to Rachel Riley?") leads to a significant story about sexual harassment. This wasn't the type of novel I normally go for (there was lots of talk among the middle school characters about body parts, social media, etc. that just wasn't part of my middle school experience) but I thought it brought up some great conversations, even if I thought parts were a tad bit unrealistic. It was cool, too, to see the main character reference her Catholic faith in a couple of parts, not in a "let me preach" kind of way, but more like a "hey, there's a crucifix on the wall" kind of way. 

Fast Like Girl: A Woman's Guide to Using the Healing Power of Fasting to Burn Fat, Boost Energy, and Balance Hormones, by Dr. Mindy Pelz

In this fascinating book, Dr. Pelz dives into the hormones that rise and fall in the female cycle. She talks about how diet and fasting can, when used properly, optimize hormone levels to help a woman be healthy and energized-Dr. Pelz has even worked with women who, after being unable to get pregnant, go on her 30 day fasting protocols and get pregnant within just a few months! At the end of the book, Dr. Pelz includes recipes that women can enjoy in at different parts of the month. This book was really interesting and very worthwhile to read. It is secular, and in a short paragraph where she talks about oxytocin-boosting activities she mentions some that don't align with morality, but otherwise this book is great. Dr. Pelz also talks about how women who are on birth control or no longer have normal cycles can benefit from her fasting protocols. I highly recommend this book for any woman-not even to read, necessarily, but to pick up and look through and learn more about your hormonal health. 

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


  1. The Spectacular sounds right up my alley! And the book on Mormonism. I am mildly obsessed with Mormonism as a whole. I find their belief system and transitions fascinating (if not sad, too).

  2. Thanks for linking to An Open Book! That's such a great recommendation for The Spectacular that I have to add it to my to-read list!

    Mormonism is very curious, so that sounds quite interesting as well.

    1. I learned about The Spectacular from Barb's post last month, and I'm so glad that she mentioned it. It was really enjoyable!
      Rough Stone Rolling was very, very interesting. Since it's huge and has lots of footnotes, academic research, etc. it was slowgoing at a couple points, but I'm glad I stuck with it.