Wednesday, August 7, 2019

Open Book: A Summer of Reading

It's time for another installment of book reviews. Over the past month, I read a couple conversion stories, a couple memoirs, and a couple of classic novels. Don't forget to head over to Carolyn Astfalk's link-up for more discussions on literature!

Picnic in Provence, by Elizabeth Bard.

This was a lighthearted memoir about an American woman who moved from Paris to a small town in Provence, where she and her husband opened an artisanal ice cream shop. Interspersed with her musings on life, moving, motherhood, and France, she includes recipes for various dishes associated with each chapter. This book was decent, but honestly, this was not my favorite (for those curious, my two favorite "books about France written by expats" are Bringing up Bebe and French Kids Eat Everything).

Death Comes for the Archbishop, by Willa Cather.
This is classic fiction novel, but somehow I had never read it. In beautifully written prose, these vignettes illustrate the story of two missionaries in New Mexico. The descriptions were gorgeous, and it was just fascinating to read about situations that a priest and a bishop would have encountered in the 19th century. The story walks through the dramatic events, but also the little happenings. It was excellent, and I think I should definitely re-read it at some point.

Walking to Listen, by Andrew Forsthoefel.

With a backpack and a sign that stated "Walking to Listen," Andrew Forsthoefel-stuck in the awkward post-college transition-left his home to walk across America. He had decided that he would just walk West, until he hit the ocean or decided that his journey was complete, and that he would listen to the stories of everyone who wanted to talk along the way. Wound in this narrative, he also reveals the process of dealing with his parents' divorce and his broken relationship with his dad. I loved-and wholeheartedly agreed with-the author's emphasis on listening to others, and on paying attention to the human persons in front of us. I didn't agree with all of his views and life choices (or those of some of the people he interviewed), but I really loved sitting and learning about the honest standpoints of these individuals. (I think we could all do more of that as we strive to grow in empathy) By way of warning-there is a lot of strong language and some sex content. Still, it's a fascinating book, and I really enjoyed reading it!

Love in the Ruins, by Walker Percy.
Here's another classic Catholic novel that I had never read! This speculative fiction novel depicts America as it Could Be (or is?): people are wildly divided politically and religiously, sex is clinically studied, and the country is on the brink of destruction. In all of this mess, we meet Tom More: a doctor who has invented a device that can help diagnose the spiritual problems of the country (he also has THREE women in a motel, but that's another story). Dr. More's conversion forms a solid backbone of this book, and I found that-and all of the discussion of the soul (and how we let our lives be impacted by our beliefs) really interesting. There is some course language and sex references, but I do think they worked with the plot. This book is well worth reading again so I can dive more into it!

From Islam to Christ, by Derya Little.
This was the fascinating conversion story of a woman who journeyed from her upbringing in Islam to Atheism before becoming an Evangelical Christian and ultimately finding her home in the Catholic Church. Her perspective as a former Muslim was really interesting, and I liked seeing the ways in which God worked in different stages of her life. The writing style was not my favorite (though I did enjoy the smattering of geeky references throughout the text), but it was still a good book and an incredible story. 

Black Elk: Holy Man of the Oglala, by Michael F. Steltenkamp.
Drawing from numerous interviews with Lucy Looks Twice (the last surviving child of Nicholas Black Elk) and extensive research, Steltenkamp dives into the life of this famous former medicine man. In this book, the author particularly examines Black Elk's life as a Catholic catechist, a phase which has been overlooked by many biographers. This book was hard for me to get through at times, since it's more on the "dry and scholarly" front, but I found it really interesting. I especially thought it was good to read as I think about the intersection of Catholicism and traditional Native American beliefs (and their way of life). It's a fairly controversial topic, I gather, but one that definitely needs to be discussed. 

Super Sushi Ramen Express, by Michael Booth.
After learning a bit about Japanese cooking (and being told that the only real way to learn about Japanese food is to visit), the author of this book wound up travelling the country of Japan with his family for a few months. This travel/food memoir talks about the trip he and his family took, and it shows the depth and breadth of Japan and it's food. I love travel memoirs, and I love Japanese food, so I naturally enjoyed this! I learned some fascinating things and I now want to incorporate Japanese food into our meal rotations more often. I would have liked to hear about the whole "travelling with little kids for 3 months" part more, but I still liked reading this book. 

The Things We Cannot Say, by Kelly Rimmer.

This novel interweaves the lives of Alina, a young woman in Nazi-occupied Poland, and Alice, a wife and mother in modern-day America who is facing the impending death of her beloved grandmother and winds up in Poland, trying to unravel family secrets to help bring peace to her grandmother (who only has limited communication). I thought it was fascinating to see Alina's character develop and struggle, particularly since she didn't like dark enclosed spaces (I can relate!) and would have to hide in them. I also thought it was interesting that much of Alice's story revolved around her relationship with her husband and kids, one of whom was on the Autism spectrum. I really enjoyed this book, though it wasn't my favorite book about this time period. 

Hawkeye: My Life as a Weapon (Volume 1), and Hawkeye: Little Hits (Volume 2) by Matt Fraction and David Aja.

I grew really interested in the character Hawkeye when I saw Avengers: Endgame, and when I relative recommended this series, I knew I had to pick it up! These comic books follow Clint  Barton (Hawkeye) and Kate Bishop (Hawkeye). I LOVE their relationship; their sarcasm and care for each other is just delightful. I found these stories really wonderful and highly quotable (though I didn't get around to copying any quotes before returning them to the library). There is some sex content and partial nudity (particularly in Volume 2, which has some scenes at a strip club) but I found it easy to skip over those parts since I don't particularly like that kind of thing :) I enjoyed these a lot, and I'm excited to read the next volumes in the series!

Thanks for joining me in this literary discussion! 


  1. What a diverse selection! I just love, love, love Willa Cather's books and would like to re-read Death Comes for the Archbishop. I should get around to Love in the Ruins, too. Thanks for linking up!

    1. I honestly don't know how I missed out on Death Comes for the Archbishop all these years-it was wonderful! What other books by Willa Cather do you recommend?

  2. Thank you for visiting!
    Am glad you also enjoyed the Cather; and yes I found Kristin far less annoying in the second book.
    Have read some Walker but not 'Love in the Ruins' ~ will add to my TBR list.

  3. Such an interesting diversity in your titles, as usual! I read Death Comes for the Archbishop last year and honestly found it a bit confusing/hard to track the different characters. But I've heard such good things about it! And I've read a bit else by her. Maybe I need to re-read it one day too. I do like her style though, she's a talented author.