Wednesday, May 6, 2020

An Open Book: April 2020 Reads (Hoopla Edition)

A new month has rolled around, which means it's time to join in Carolyn Astfalk's An Open Book link-up! Towards the end of March, I faced a dilemma: I heartily dislike e-books, and I still had a couple physical books laying around I hadn't read-but I wanted some completely new material. Something fresh and exciting, and with all the libraries closed down, I needed to find a solution. After seeing yet another e-mail from the library advertising Hoopla, I decided to take a breath and try out an e-book. And another...and another. 

Guys, I now love Hoopla. 

Not only is it a very convenient resource, but the site includes some books that I have wanted to read for YEARS, but have been unable to find print copies of in libraries or local stores. There are some fantastic books on there, and now my Hoopla TBR list has at least a couple more books on it. E-books still are not my favorite method of reading, but especially in those long weeks of the library being closed, they were a huge blessing. Our library just began curbside pick-up a couple days ago (!!!!), so I have been reading ALL the books that I put on hold months ago, but I still have a huge list on Hoopla that I will gradually work through.  

So, let's get to the books! All of the titles on this list (except for one, which is noted) are available on Hoopla (if your library is connected with Hoopla, check it out!) or are free kindle downloads on Amazon (I think one was part of the Prime Reading library). 

The Secret Garden, by Frances Hodgson Burnett.
I missed out on reading this gem when I was a kid, and I am so thrilled that I picked it up! I loved this book so much, and Susan Sowerby (the mom of one of the main characters) is now my parenting role model. The story follows a little spoiled girl who is orphaned, so she moves in with her cranky uncle in England. Left to her own devices, she winds up exploring the gardens outside and her life is transformed. I have many thoughts on this book, and I am so excited to introduce my kids to it someday! 

In This House of Brede, by Rumer Godden.
This is one that I've wanted to read for years, because it seems like all the "literary Catholics" rave about it. The novel follows Philippa Talbot, a widow who leaves her professional office job to join a cloistered Benedictine order of nuns. While the story does focus a bit on Philippa, it also dives into many of the nuns there-it captures their life, their work, their prayer, as well as the reactions that other people (including some non-Catholics) have towards their way of life. This book had so much wisdom about prayer, contemplation, and living a hidden life, AND the author did an excellent job portraying the nuns as real people-with faults, strengths, joys, sins, struggles, and quirks. This book is fabulous, and I highly recommend it. It is definitely one that I need to buy my own copy of and routinely re-read and highlight. 

Lord of the World, by Robert Hugh Benson.
Published in 1907, it's almost frightening how relevant this apocalyptic novel is to our modern world. The story follows Fr. Percy Franklin, a Catholic priest, as well as Mr. and Mrs. Brand, a staunchly non-religious couple who enthusiastically embraces the secular humanism that is sweeping the world. As relativism reigns, people fall away from their religious practices at high rates and join behind a mysterious politician, Julian Felsenburgh-a man who becomes leader of the world. The story bounces between the Brands and Fr. Franklin as they all deal with the state of the world in different ways, and it was really interesting (and, like I said, a little eerie just how current this book seems). The style felt a bit like Walker Percy, but I did not find it nearly as difficult to approach as Percy's novels. I recommend it, and I think I need to re-read it a few more times just to absorb the various themes and events of the book. Also, at least a couple popes have recommended this book, so I'm not the only one out there who thinks that it's worth picking up ;) 

A Man of the Beatitudes, by Luciana Frassati.
This was a really interesting biography of Pier Giorgio Frassati, a fairly well-known 20th century "blessed" who loved being in the mountains, helping the poor, and devoting his life to God. It was written by his sister, which was a really neat way to learn intimate details about life in the Frassati household. I learned a lot of new things about PGF, including a pretty terrible home life, and that his family didn't have much of an idea about the tremendous work he did with the poor until he died, and tons of poor people started showing up to the house! This was a fun, quick read, and while I'm not sure I'll be re-reading it anytime soon, it's nice to reference it for details about his life (and later on, I can share it with the kids). It definitely gave me more of an appreciation for Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati! 
(note: this one is not available on Hoopla, I just had a copy laying around for years that I never read until now)

Mudhouse Sabbath, by Lauren F. Winner. 
The author is now an Episcopal priest, but she used to be a practicing Jew. In this short and simple book, she walks through several different areas where she thinks Christians could learn from the Jewish observance of these practices. Covering topics from intentional eating to death to marriage, she explores her experience in Judaism, and then contrasts it with how these topics have been observed or discussed in Christianity. This was an interesting and quick read, but I honestly would have liked to see a little more of her discussion on the history and development of the main topics regarding the various branches of Christianity-particularly from the East. 

Dan England and the Noonday Devil, by Myles Connolly.

For years, I have loved Mr. Blue, also by Myles Connolly, and I've wanted to read this novel. WELL, I must admit that I may even love this book more than Mr. Blue. Aspects of the story are similar: it's narrated through the eyes of a secular character who has become acquainted with a vibrant, rather odd, and devoutly religious Catholic. Yet, while Mr. Blue keeps things on the lighter side, this book definitely becomes more intense-Dan England (the rather odd, lovable, colorful main character) ponders the theme of forgiveness and betrayal in this book, and the story was a bit of a gut-punch, especially at the end. Also, there is a string of several paragraphs that is one of my favorite descriptions of the Church EVER. This is a short, quick, easy read, but it gets deep and I highly, highly, highly recommend it. 

Balanced and Barefoot, by Angela Hanscom.
Written by a pediatric occupational therapist who founded the TimberNook program, this book explores different problems that today's youth are facing, and presents ways to address-and help prevent-these problems by allowing kids to have "free play" in nature. I thought the scientific research and information on child development-and how activities like tumbling, spinning, and rolling down hills are extremely beneficial-was really interesting, and I also found the book very encouraging (and yes, this book was what motivated me to finally have my preschooler have naptime outside on nice days). Parts of the book were repetitive and there was some overlap with other books I've read (Free Range Kids, Last Child in the Woods) but there were some great insights in here. I did wish that the author covered more ways to give your child outside play time if you don't happen to have several acres of woods in your backyard (like she does), but there are still quite a few good takeaways in this book. 

The Mass Explained to Children, by Maria Montessori.
This was a short, simple, beautiful book about the Mass. Since it was written by Montessori, it addresses the Mass and objects in church in a profound way that reaches what children can comprehend, but what adults can really learn from, too. I honestly think this would be extremely helpful for anyone who has never attended an Extraordinary Form liturgy but would like to learn about one and possibly attend-this book, written in the pre-Vatican II era, really breaks down and puts into simple terms what the priest does in that form of the Mass, and why. This book is a very quick read, and I recommend it! 

Yesterday, Today, and Forever, by Maria Von Trapp.
Written once Maria Von Trapp was living in America with her husband and kids, this book follows her family's exploration into the life of Christ. In those days, before internet, they would collect postcards from friends, read books by scholars (like Flavius Josephus), and scour encyclopedias to learn information about Israel at the time of Christ. She emphasizes the importance of digging into the "real" life of the Holy Family, instead of merely thinking of them as a two-dimensional, glossy holy card image. She then interweaves her own family's personal experiences, and about how they united themselves to Christ through various events they went through (being refugees, for example). She ends the book with meditations on Heaven as it is discussed in Scripture. This is a short book, but it was really interesting, and I LOVED the chapter on how Jesus revolutionized the way that women were treated at the time. 

Sarah, Plain and Tall, by Patricia MacLachlan.
This was a lovely, simple, short children's story about a "mail order bride" who leaves Maine to spend a month with Jacob, a widower, and his young children Anna and Caleb. While this story is very simple, it touches on big topics like grief, resilience, and love against the backdrop of the gorgeous prairie. I grew up watching the movie adaptation of this story, and reading this was such a nice bit of nostalgia (it seems really similar to what I remember from the movie). Plus, it's just a good story and would make a great read-aloud with the kids someday. Now I just need to read the rest of the books in the series!

The Day the World Came to Town, by Jim DeFede.
This book unpacks what happened in Gander, Newfoundland, on September 11, 2001. Gander has a large airport, so when the U.S.A. airspace closed after the terrorist attacks, several planes that were in the air were re-routed to Gander, where the passengers were stuck. The area's population nearly doubled when the passengers and crew arrived, and this book follows several of the passengers and locals who worked together during this time. It was truly beautiful to see how the people of Newfoundland came together to shower love and support on their unexpected visitors in so many ways-everything from inviting them into their homes to shower, scrounging up kosher food for the 3 Orthodox Jews who arrived, and supporting the passengers whose son was a NYC firefighter. This was really interesting to read, and it's also a beautiful and well-written piece of creative nonfiction. I also found it very appropriate and encouraging to read during a worldwide pandemic, where once again, we are seeing so much goodness spring forth between people.

Thanks for joining me this month! As always, please let me know if you have any recommendations-I love adding to my list. 


  1. I wish my library had Hoopla! We have Libby, which is nice, but Hoopla has many more resources. Can't tell you how many times I've read "Brede." It's so good!

    1. I'm sorry you don't get to reap the benefits of Hoopla-maybe someday your library will jump on that bandwagon? One can hope! That's fantastic that you've gotten to read "Brede" so much. I can definitely see it as one of those books I'll keep coming back to. There's so much depth, complexity, and richness in that novel!

  2. Oh, Hoopla is the best, isn't it? I mostly use it to listen to audiobooks, but I read the occasional ebook there too. Your list this month is excellent! So many that are already on my to-read list, including This House of Brede. Thanks for linking up!

    1. I hope you enjoy Brede! And yes, Hoopla is the best. I'm currently reading The Betrothed by Manzoni on there-yet another excellent book that I've never found in print at the library (I'm moving through it pretty slowly now, though, since I have an abundance of physical library books that I also want to read).

  3. I remember loving Sarah Plain and Tall as a kid! I need tor read it again because I barely remember the story. I’ve been wanting to read The Day the World Came to Town! Glad to hear you enjoyed it.

    I’m with you on ebooks. I’m glad they’re a thing, but I will always prefer a physical book. However, I’ve been reading on my kindle while nursing and it’s been life-changing. I’ve been reading through the Mitford books and they have been a balm to my soul.

  4. Woo-hoo! I've read four of yours this month! And I just put Lord of the World on hold. I would highly encourage you to listen to the soundtrack of Come From Away, the musical based on The Day the World Came to Town. It is EXCELLENT! I listen to it for free on Spotisfy (there is a bit of language.)

    1. Thank you for the soundtrack recommendation! That sounds awesome. And thanks for recommending that book-it was such a lovely read (though quite emotional, since I'm pregnant and thus crying at everything, plus it's just a touching story to begin with). I hope you enjoy Lord of the World! I am interested to hear what you think about it!

  5. I've been using Hoopla for a few years now and it is wonderful! I find tons of books in it that my library doesn't have print copies of.
    Our library also began curbside pickup earlier in the week. My husband went to get our books on Monday and sent me a video of the line. It was so long! He had to wait 20 minutes. I was pleased to see so many people eager to get books.

    1. That's so great that you have access to Hoopla! And that you also have curbside pickup! It sounds like lots of people in your area have been making use of it, which is great :) This whole experience is making me even more grateful for our amazing librarians who are adapting to a new routine and working so hard to bring books to us! (It's also just been really nice to see our librarians again and talk with them from a distance when we go to pickup books-we've missed them a lot)