Wednesday, March 4, 2020

An Open Book: February Reads

It's time to look back on the books I read through the (somewhat) dreary days of February! While I mostly dove into non-fiction (I guess I did this instinctively because I read some heavy fiction in January), I did read two fabulous fiction novels. I'm linking up with Carolyn Astfalk's An Open Book, so make sure to head over there to see more book lists and reviews!

Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Pre-School Years, by Elizabeth G. Hainstock.
This was a very short, interesting guide with practical ideas on how to incorporate the Montessori method in the home. It was written in the 70s, so some of the presentations aren't something I'd personally do with my kids (like polishing silver). I really did appreciate that there are also instructions on how to make some basic Montessori materials on a budget, like sandpaper letters and a couple different models. This book was a fast read, but it was interesting and has some great ideas in here that I will try to incorporate into our homeschooling life!

The Calm Birth Method, by Suzy Ashworth.
Written by a hypnotherapist and founder of The Calm Birth School, Ashworth dives into some basics about using her "method" of hypnobirthing during pregnancy, childbirth, and the early moments of life with a newborn. While a few things were phrased in ways I hadn't heard before, a lot of this was stuff I already knew (Ina May Gaskin's books are very comprehensive). I read through this fairly quickly, picking it up here and there, and there were some nice reminders or bits of wisdom I hadn't thought of before. I did love the author's discussion of common "pregnancy and birth phrases that should be banned" with alternatives (ie: instead of saying "due date," say "guess date"), and I also really appreciated how she discussed medicated vaginal and cesarean births and how you can still have an empowering birth while still receiving interventions and medication. Overall, I thought this book was okay, but not great, and I have other pregnancy and childbirth books I would recommend over this one!

The Phantom Prince: My Life with Ted Bundy (updated and expanded edition), by Elizabeth Kendall.
Kendall (the author's pseudonym) first met and began dating Ted Bundy in 1969. Just a few years later, young women in her area began disappearing. This memoir, about her relationship with the man who would later be known as one of America's infamous serial killers, was fascinating. Looking at the story through the author's eyes was freaky, because as the reader, you know something that 20-something-year-old Elizabeth Kendall did not. This edition was just released in 2020, and it includes a new forward, afterward, and a chapter by Elizabeth's daughter (who grew up during their off-again-on-again life with Ted Bundy). I thought these new inclusions were very insightful as the author and her daughter were able to provide perspectives that they've gained over time as they've healed and grown. Kendall originally wrote this book just a handful of years after Bundy's conviction and sentencing (when she was still dealing with a range of feelings for him), so in her new sections she goes back to mention a couple sentences of the book that she cringes at now or would re-word. This book was riveting and not terribly graphic, which I appreciate.

A Gentleman in Moscow, by Amor Towles.
Somehow, I missed hearing all the hype about this book until now, a couple years after it came out. I picked it up, and I am so glad I did! This charming story follows the life of Count Rostov, a young man who returns to Russia after the Revolution and is condemned to a "house arrest" for the duration of his life in the Metropol hotel. Forced from his luxurious suite to an attic room, the Count's life takes a somewhat sad turn...until he meets a young girl who completely changes his perspective, and helps him experience a deep and tremendous adventure within the walls of the hotel. In parts, the topics of this book reminded me a little bit of Les Misérables (though much more lighthearted), the writing was fabulous, and the characters were great. This book is sometimes critiqued for not portraying Communism as harshly as it should, but I thought that was an interesting plot point as well: historically, the Metropol was a place where the government sought to show the West just how luxurious and good life under Communism was. So, the tone of the book worked really well, I think. I really enjoyed this one!

Strannik, by Catherine Doherty.
After reading Poustinia, I decided that I needed more Catherine Doherty in my life! Apparently, that book is the first in the trilogy, and Strannik is the final book (I still have yet to read Sobornost, the second book). Anyways, this book is really short and easy to read-less than 100 pages-but profound and beautiful with reflections about what it means to be a pilgrim. Doherty reflects on her experience of pilgrimage in Russia, and of the natural progression from poustinia (where you reflect on sobornost-which is unity) to active pilgrimage. I really liked this one!

Heartland, by Sarah Smarsh.
This is the author's story of growing up in poverty in and around Wichita, KS. Since I spent several years living in that area (and have many feelings and thoughts about Kansas) I was intrigued to read this book. A big focus of this book is poverty, and I thought the author did a fairly decent job pointing out how the U.S.A.'s economic system is flawed, and that historically, both major political parties have fallen short at times regarding economics and welfare. However, I thought that stylistically, this book was hard to follow at times-the author jumps around her story a bit as she presents different parts of her family's background and her own personal upbringing. Also, it is extremely bleak. I had heard this book is about "resilience," and I guess it is, but it's mostly just depressing. Throughout the book, the author references who she is writing the book to: the child she never had while in poverty. She'd write things like, I never wanted you to experience this poverty, so I made sure that you would never be born (paraphrase, but that's the essence of what she said throughout the book). I respect her opinion and perspective, but honestly, I thought that view was just so depressing. This book was interesting, but it just didn't strike me as something I really liked or loved; it didn't hit me in the same way as Hillbilly Elegy or Educated (if you want to read a "resilience" story, those two books are great).

Thanks, Obama by David Litt.
Written by one of the speechwriters for Obama's presidency, this book gave an interesting behind-the-scenes glimpse into working at the White House and the speechwriting process in general. While I was initially a bit uncertain of this book after it opened with a scene of the author and a woman driving naked after voting for Obama, I found it to overall be pretty fascinating. I enjoyed the funny stories about the author's time at the White House, and I appreciate how it opened my eyes to the process of speechwriting-that when people would get mad at something Obama said (or didn't say) in a speech, while yes, he was responsible for what came out of his mouth, some of that responsibility went back to the person who wrote the speech and prompts. This isn't a book I'd probably pick up again, but I enjoyed reading it! (also, as a note of caution-the author says some rather uncomplimentary things about members of the Republican party, so if you get very offended by those types of things, I recommend you pass on this book)

Mistborn: The Final Empire, by Brandon Sanderson.
This one has been on my TBR list for a long time, and I am so glad I finally read it! This fantasy novel is based in a world where, for 1,000 years, ash has fallen from the sky onto the bleak, dreary land, and Lord Ruler (who has basically placed himself as a god) oppresses the lower-class (known as ska). Also oppressed by the noblemen, the ska have no hope...until Kelsier, a man who escaped Lord Ruler's deadly Pits, begins to rally them as he seeks to dismantle the oppressive Empire. The characters were all interesting, and the worldbuilding was pretty cool. Kelsier, like some other characters, is an Allomancer-he can swallow bits of metal and "burn" (activate) those metals to Push and Pull different things (pieces of metal or people's emotions, for example). I really enjoyed this, and I am looking forward to diving into the rest of the trilogy!

Lost in the Cosmos: The Last Self-Help Book, by Walker Percy.
Percy's take on the "self help craze," this book is at times funny and is consistently deep. As it goes through numerous scenarios about mankind, it poses questions that probe us to think about how we act. I found myself wondering what Percy would say if he could see our culture now-so much of this book felt like it was written for today's society, though it was written in the 1980s. A big focus as the book goes on is the Self, and it was interesting and pretty philosophical, though I have to admit that I got lost sometimes with all the phrases like The Self perceives itself and knows itself...There were some solidly awesome nuggets in this book that I "got" and can reflect about, but I have to confess that Percy is brilliant in a way that I can't comprehend. This is the third Walker Percy book I've read, and while I understand some things, I can tell that he's doing a lot more in the text than what I'm comprehending-so I probably need someone to explain Percy's writing to me in-depth and also need to revisit his books later on in life, too.

It was a fun month of reading, and I am looking forward to some of the books that are adorning my shelf. I love to read a wide variety of genres, so if you have any recommendations for books I can add to my list, please let me know!


  1. As always, such a diverse group of books! I have a friend who really liked hypnobirth. I never really learned about it, but the bits I know sounded somewhat similar to The Bradley Method, which I used. Thanks for linking up with An Open Book!

    1. Thanks for hosting the link-up! Yes, there were some parts of the hypnobirth book that seemed very similar to stuff The Bradley Method talks about. I love reading childbirth books, but there's so much overlap at times that I just need to stop reading them haha!

  2. ooooh - you've got some good ones. And don;t knock polishing silver till you try it! It was one of my favorite activities as a kid. It's so rewarding to work and immediately see results.

    1. Thanks for sharing your experience with silver! I can see it being a fun thing to polish. I don't think we own anything worthy of polishing, otherwise I bet my preschooler would enjoy it too. When I was an Irish dancer as a teen, I did always love polishing my leather dance shoes-like you said, it's nice to see immediate results!