Wednesday, October 2, 2019

An Open Book: Comics, Novels & Games

Happy feast of the Guardian Angels! Another months has begun, so that means I'm linking up with Carolyn Astfalk's An Open Book! Over the past month, I read a huge variety: from Jane Austen graphic novels to an account of a chess tournament, to a classic Catholic novel. Let's dive in!

Consider This: Charlotte Mason and the Classical Tradition, by Karen Glass.
This is a short book, but rather thought-provoking as it dives into what really is at the heart of a Classical education, and how much of Mason's work integrates elements of the Classical tradition. It talks about how people often summarize a Classical education through various components-reading Great Books, learning Latin and Greek-but how these little parts are useless without the heart of education being the pursuit of virtue. I took lots of notes from this book, and I enjoyed it a lot. Even if someone isn't particularly attracted to Charlotte Mason's methods (while I like many of her ideas, I don't consider myself a full-on Charlotte Mason method person and disagree with her on some things), I still recommend this as a nice discussion of Classical education.

The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl Beats Up the Marvel Universe, by Henderson and North.
Delightful graphic novel-Doreen gets cloned in a machine, and at first she's excited that there are two awesome versions of her...but then she discovers that the cloned version is not so awesome. Doreen & her friends set out to save the world from the alternate Squirrel Girl, who is systematically defeating all of the Marvel villains and heroes and taking their powers. It was fun, lighthearted, and hilarious, and I enjoyed it!

Pride & Prejudice, adapted by Nancy Butler and Hugo Petrus (Marvel comic).
I was so excited to read my beloved P&P in comic book form, and the cover of this volume made me really excited (the cover is done in the style of a women's magazine). I liked it, and I enjoyed seeing how the comic format helped draw my focus to certain elements or bits of dialogue that reading I may not notice as much in the novel format. However, I personally found a couple parts of this too wordy-there were a couple of text boxes and word bubbles here and there that I think could have been omitted. Also, I wasn't a fan of the artwork. It just seemed too modern. So, I'd say this was good, but not great.

Northanger Abbey, adapted by Nancy Butler and Janet K. Lee.
Now this was pretty great. The artwork was cartoony, and I thought it was fun and worked really well. The already-hilarious and melodramatic story fit well with the comic book format, I think. From the gothic-inspired cover to the whimsical drawings, I thoroughly enjoyed this adaptation of one of Austen's most (in my opinion) under-appreciated works.

Crocodile on the Sandbank, by Elizabeth Peters.
When her father dies, Amelia Peabody, a forward-thinking Victorian woman, decides that that she will go explore the various locations that he studied during his scholarly life. After acquiring a companion for the journey-and with her strong parasol in hand (which she effectively uses many times to prod men into action)-Amelia travels to Egypt. She comes into contact with excavators and a mysterious mummy who begins appearing at night. I thought it was pretty easy to figure out parts of the "mysterious mummy" mystery, so I wouldn't necessarily read this book as a mystery. However, I highly recommend this book. It is hilarious, delightful, and so utterly British in some ways. I am so looking forward to reading more books in this series!

The Curse of the Pharaohs, by Elizabeth Peters.
This second installment in the Amelia Peabody series was so much fun to read, with the added enjoyment of seeing a married Amelia at work with her husband! They travel to Egypt and find themselves investigation a mysterious murder...and then another one...and then another one! Surrounding the ancient tomb that they are excavating is a whole cast of colorful characters, including an American, and Irish reporter, and one middle-aged woman who sweeps about the grounds wearing ancient Egyptian dress while making outlandish claims that in a past life, she was married to so-and-so. This was so much fun to read, and it made a delightful follow-up to the first one! 

It's all a Game: The history of board games from Monopoly to Settlers of Catan, by Tristan Donovan.
This was an engaging, entertaining volume that walks through the history and significance of several different board games. From chess and Scrabble to Trivial Pursuit and various Eurogames, the author shows how cultural influences have impacted the development of games and various points of history. I particularly enjoyed reading about American games vs. Eurogames (it helped me realize exactly why I love the different Eurogames I've tried, whereas our many version of Monopoly have sat unplayed for a long, long time). I wasn't a huge fan of a small section on adult sex games, but other than that, I thoroughly enjoyed this book! 

Macbeth, adapted by Gareth Hinds.
This graphic novel adaptation was beautiful, horrifying, and really well done. The illustrations are rich with meaning, and I loved reading the section in the back of the book where Hinds talks about various aspects of the illustrations and their meaning. With a couple of sections (that the author notes) the text is faithful to Shakespeare's actual script, and it's neat to see how the lines Hinds pulled out from the script convey the story of Macbeth and his wife. I once went to an adaptation of this play where the Weird Sisters were wearing metallic-ish, tacky-but-almost-pretty dresses, which I wasn't a fan of. This book, however, shows that these ladies are witches, from a couple Wiccan symbols the author inserts into their scenes to the gruesome items that go into their cauldron. They were creepy, but they weren't the only ones...the Ghost of Banquo was terrifying. So, all that to say, this is a play with dark subject matter to begin with, but in the illustrations, Hinds does an amazing job bringing it to life and helping you see the dire effects of Macbeth's actions. If creepy and gory stuff creep you out, pass on this. But if not, I highly recommend this! 

Pride, by Ibi Zoboi.
In this "Pride and Prejudice Remix," we meet seventeen-year-old Zuri Benitez and her passionate family. Proud of her 'hood, Zuri and her sisters are initially excited when they see that the shack-turned-mini-mansion across the street is occupied by a black family with two good-looking sons. However, Zuri is soon filled with disgust as starts to become acquainted with her new neighbors and she encounters the arrogant Darius Darcy. I wasn't a huge fan of the subplot of the girls' beloved friend (a Voo Doo priestess) who lives and works from their building's basement, but otherwise I really enjoyed this P&P-inspired novel. I particularly like how it followed the story and characters of P&P but felt fresh and different and stood on its own feet story-wise. I also like how it tackled huge themes like race, gentrification, and family. This was a fairly quick read, and really fun and thought-provoking. I even recommend it to people who aren't fans of P&P but want a lighthearted story that helps them dive into some deep discussions. 

A Time to Plant, by Kyle T Kramer.
When he was in his twenties, Kyle Kramer bought a piece of land in Indiana so that he could begin a small organic farm. He didn't entirely know what he was doing, but with the help of family, friends, and neighbors, he began to cultivate the land and build a barn. As he discusses this journey into farming, he also reflects on prayer, spirituality, and love (particularly as he meets his wife and they have children). This was a beautiful book, and it simultaneously  made me think of the writing styles of Shannon Evans and Tyler Blanski (so if you like them, you'd probably like this!). Also, Wendell Berry, who the author references several times. Although the author talks about his conversion to Catholicism and Catholic things a little bit, I think this book would even appeal to non-Catholics, as he keeps things very much in a common-ground sort of area. I enjoyed this one a lot! 

The Bookshop on the Corner, by Jenny Colgan. 
Nina, an English librarian who loves to pair people with the right books, finds herself the victim of a changing urban landscape and library system. Jobless, she winds up in Scotland where she converts a big ol' van into a mobile bookstore. The town is utterly charming, and the story is adorable. She meets a man who works on a train and they begin corresponding by leaving messages on a tree. There are sheep, kilts, and gruff Scotsmen in the pub. I kept telling my husband HOW MUCH I LOVED THIS BOOK as I read it, even if it was a bit on the Hallmark-y side of things. HOWEVER, if you read this, do yourself a big favor and put it down when you're about 40 pages from the end. Because right around that point is when the story suddenly goes from quaint and cutesy to paragraph after paragraph of sex scenes. I don't like reading that stuff, so I skipped a bunch and saw that a couple of non-sex things do happen towards the end of the book, but even then, I wasn't a fan of what the story's resolution was. So...I have mixed feelings about this one! 

The Sunny Side, by A. A. Milne. 
I grew up with Winnie-the-Pooh and never knew, until recently, that A. A. Milne wrote for a satirical magazine for adults! This book is a collection of short stories and essays that he wrote for that magazine. Some of them didn't "click" with me as much, but some of them were hilarious. I was laughing out loud quite a few times as I read this. If you are a fan of British humor, then this is worth picking up. I particularly recommend "The Way Down," an essay about putting letters in the mail chute. 

The Grandmaster, by Brin-Jonathan Butler.
In 2016, Magnus Carlsen and Sergey Karjaken sat down for several days of intense games in the World Chess Championship. The author of this book really brings to life the setting and the intensity. He talks about the people he met there, and he does a great job showing the drama of the chessboard. While being about Carlsen and Karjaken, this book also delved into the history of chess geniuses and focused on the ways in which many of these people have gone completely insane. Which this was interesting, it seemed like the author was a little preoccupied with that. I also wasn't a fan of how political this book got. Overall, this was fun to read, but I'd like to look around for a more balanced book about some of the game's famous grandmasters; one that isn't so obsessed with tragedy and politics.

The Diary of a Country Priest, by Georges Bernanos.
In this novel, Bernanos presents a priest who is trying to understand and minister to the people of his parish in the French countryside. Told in the form of the priest's diary-including small excerpts of conversations that he recounts, this novel slowly (admittedly, at some points I found it tough to stick with the pace) through the struggle that the priest has with his people and with himself. There have been myriads of beautiful analyses written on this book, so I can't do it justice here, except to say that this book will be well-worth revisiting again and again as time goes on. Several popes and theologians have recommended this, and I recommend it too!

Thank you so much for joining me in this literary discussion! As always, I LOVE getting recommendations from others, so please feel free to drop a title (or two) of a book you think is worth reading :) 


  1. Great mix of books! I have been wanting to read The Diary of a Country Priest for years. I've never been able to find it at the library, but I see it's 99 cents on Kindle now, so I just bought it! The history of board games sounds really interesting too. Thanks for linking up!

    1. Yay! That's awesome that you finally were able to get a hold of The Diary of a Country Priest! That one had been on my reading list for years, too-but I never got around to it until I happened to pick up a cheap copy at a used book store :)

  2. Ohhhh - history of board games! Sign me up! What a great list. I am so glad you enjoyed Amelia. The audiobook is fantastic - British accent and all.

    1. Thank you for recommending the Amelia books! That's awesome that the audiobook is well done. It's tough for me to do audio books with my rowdy boys, but if I'm ever in a place where audiobooks are easier, I will keep that in mind :)
      I hope you enjoy the board game book if you pick it up! It was so fun to read about the different games, and it was so fascinating to see how the culture was reflected in the games of different decades.

  3. I basically think the same thing about all of your book posts: this is such an interesting collection, you read a ton, and I want to read more! I love seeing your taste and hearing your reviews.