Wednesday, June 3, 2020

An Open Book: May 2020 Reads

Another month has rolled around, which means it's time for a reading recap! I'm linking up with Carolyn Astfalk's An Open Book, so make sure to head there for more reviews. 

In the first week of May, we had the joy of our public library opening curbside pickup. Let's just say...I got a little excited. We've gone at least a couple times a week now, we love talking with the librarians (one of the Children's librarians even surprised us by coming outside specifically to visit with my kids), and we have been keeping them (and the people who work at the service center) very, very busy :) Let's dive into the fiction and nonfiction that has been occupying my time! 

Don't Overthink It, by Anne Bogel. 
This was a solid discussion about the problem of overthinking, and how it zaps our energy and our life. The author also provides many practical ways to change ourselves and stop overthinking so much. I do wish there would have been a section on how to graciously deal with people who routinely create anxious-inducing situations by overthinking (and trying to get you to engage in their overthinking), but overall, I really enjoyed this book and found lots of helpful information that I need to put into practice myself ;) 

To All the Squirrels I've Loved Before, by North, Charm, & Renzi.
This is the final collection of Unbeatable Squirrel Girl comics, and I loved it. I laughed, I teared up, and I enjoyed how the story arcs wrapped up and brought in so many characters. This is such a fun series that I have loved reading, and my three-year-old has jumped into it, too. There are a couple parts scattered throughout the series (and in the final issue) where gender dysphoria-related phrases or elements are used--which I would rather the comic not include--but overall, these are delightful comics for a huge span of ages. 

Bright Island, by Mabel Robinson.
I don't know HOW I missed this book growing up, because it's wonderful. Published in the 1930s, this is a delightful coming-of-age story about a teenage girl named Thankful who lives on an island off the coast of Maine. She loves her carefree life sailing and swimming and roaming the island, but when her relatives conspire to get her an "education," she finds herself travelling into the mainland to attend a boarding school. She has to deal with people her own age, restrictive environments, and stuffy attitudes (though she does meet some rather lovely people). This book was so much fun to read, and it was also neat to see the growth that Thankful undergoes throughout the story. I loved this, and heartily recommend it, especially to people who like the characters and stories of L.M. Montgomery. 

The Well of Ascension, by Brandon Sanderson (book 2 of the Mistborn trilogy).
This book picks up a year from where the first book left off, and it focuses a lot on how the characters are still figuring out how to create a good form of government. Against this struggle, Vin is trying to figure out who she is-a lady who is romantically attached to Elend Venture, or a Mistborn and assassin?-and things only get more challenging when she meets another Mistborn. There are some fantastic developments in the story as the characters try to unravel the mystery surrounding The Deepness. More is also revealed about the kandra, and Sazed-the Keeper-is given some added layers of complexity. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this, and I look forward to the next installment!

The Gift of Failure: How the Best Parents Learn to Let Go So Their Children Can Succeed, by Jessica Lahey.
Backed with tons of research and anecdotes about her experiences as a teacher, Lahey's book dives into the importance of failure, and the benefits of letting our kids (and ourselves) fail. I thought she had some fantastic ideas, and I loved learning about how allowing our kids to fail in little ways builds resilience and responsibility and helps them over time. I wasn't entirely on board with how she stated some things in her chapter on friendship, but otherwise a lot of this book resonated with me and I loved it. 

The Railway Children, by Edith Nesbit.
This turn-of-the-century children's novel follows three kids who live in a nice house with their mother and father, until one day, their father mysteriously leaves and they move to a small country house. They become enamored with the local railway, and as their mom works away on her writing in the house, the kids roam the town and meet wonderful people, help others, and try to unravel the mystery of where their father went. I loved this book, and thought it was pretty precious. 

Meditations Before Mass, by Romano Guardini.
This is a book I bought in college and started to read years ago, but never finished. So, I picked it up, started from the beginning, and read it through to the end. The book is comprised of several short reflections that the author would present to his own congregation before Mass each Sunday. I love how these meditations are only a few pages long each, and how they cover different topics pertaining to the significance of the church building, our interior disposition, and on the act of liturgy itself. Directed towards lay people, they were easy to read, but had a rich profundity and depth. This book was written long before Vatican II, so it references the Extraordinary Form Liturgy, and I especially love the way the author talked about active participation as Mass (when many people do not associate that form of the Mass with "active participation"). This is a great book that I will go back to again and again, I think. 

The Sleeper and the Spindle, by Neil Gaiman.
An illustrated fairy tale aimed at adults, this is a rather dark and feminist take on "Sleeping Beauty." The illustrations were well done, and the story was interesting, but I honestly wasn't a huge fan of this book. Maybe it was the female-female kiss illustration (though it wasn't done in a sexual or romantic way), maybe it was the extreme feminist bend, I don't know. Female empowerment is important, and I do consider myself a feminist (of which there are many varieties), but this book just didn't do it for me. 

Seeds of the Word, by Bishop Robert Barron.
This is a collection of several short essays by Bishop Barron about finding God in various elements of the culture. The book was broken up into different sections pertaining to categories like movies, books, and politics. I had not read or seen many of the books and movies he talked about, but I still thought it was interesting to read his thoughts on finding elements of Truth in so many different places. I also just really like Bishop Barron's approach; whenever I've heard him or read his work, he's very strong in his convictions while still seeking common ground and meeting people where they are at. This wasn't my favorite work of his, but I still found it worthwhile. 

The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street, by Karina Yan Glaser. 
I loved this fun, heartwarming children's story about a family with five kids who--just days before Christmas--is informed that their landlord is not renewing the lease on their brownstone. Desperate to keep the home they love, the kids begin secretly concocting plans to befriend the illusive landlord and convince him that they need to stay. This was a joy to read, and it's one that I am looking forward to sharing with my kids when they are older! 

Mother Tongue, by Christine Gilbert.
This is one woman's story of embarking on an adventure to learn three new languages (Spanish, Mandarin, Arabic) in two years as she moved across the globe with her husband and toddler. She included lots of research that she did about language-learning and bilingualism, and she was very honest about her struggles in this endeavor. I thought this book was very interesting, and I was fascinated to learn about the different places she lived and the languages that she tried to learn. 

The Story of the Treasure Seekers, by Edith Nesbit.
This book follows the six Bastable children as they seek to restore the fortunes of the Fallen House of Bastable. Narrated by one of the children, the story unfolds the many schemes they employ as they try to earn money without troubling their widowed father-becoming newspaper editors, kidnapping the neighbor boy for ransom, and using a "divining rod" to find lost gold on their property. While the plot was super fun, something about the tone and way this was written was not my favorite. It was still nice to read, but I really didn't love it like The Railway Children, and I'm still not entirely sure why.

There's No Such Thing as Bad Weather, by Linda Akeson McGurk.
This is an interesting exploration into a Swedish woman's discovery of life and parenting in America. When the author first moved to Montana, she felt fairly at-home. However, when she settled in Indiana and had kids, she discovered that life here was very different from what she was used to. When her youngest daughter was in preschool, she was able to take her kids to Sweden for six months and expose them to Swedish parenting and a nature-centric childhood. This was a fun book to read, and I thought it was fascinating to learn about Swedish culture (also, it made me feel like such a wimp for not wanting to go outside in "bad weather"!). However, I wasn't a huge fan of the many, many citations and references to books like Free Range Parenting and Balanced and Barefoot. Both those books are great, but I've already read them, so maybe I should just stop reading these types of books if they keep quoting each other. 

The Happiest Kids in the World: How Dutch Parents Help Their Kids (and Themselves) by Doing Less, by Rina Mae Acosta  and Michele Hutchison.
Written by a British expat and an American expats (who have kids in different age groups) this book dives into the culture and parenting of Holland. I did not like the sex ed chapter and approach, and not all of the parenting strategies resonated with me (I wasn't a huge fan of the emphasis on negotiation with one's kids), but otherwise, I really, really enjoyed this book. It drew from lots of studies and personal stories, and the fact that the authors have kids with different ages gave it a nice diversity. 

Theology of Home: Finding the Eternal in Every Day, by Carrie Gress, Noelle Mering, and Megan Schrieber. 
This was a beautiful book that included both lovely theological reflections on "home" and gorgeous photos. This was such a joy to read and slowly page through. However, I do agree with some online reviews that more diversity would have been fabulous-not even just in showing homes of people who aren't clearly in the white middle-to-upper class, but also showing homes of people belonging to different rites or at the very least different cultural backgrounds (how cool would it be to have a photo of a Byzantine icon corner in this book?!?!) would have been nice, I think. 

Live Big, Love Bigger: Getting Real with BBQ, Sweet Tea, and a Whole Lotta Jesus, by Kathryn Whitaker. 
This book addresses some fears and obstacles that the author has had to face head-on in her life, and  how God brought her through them. While a lot of the anecdotes came back to the story of Whitaker's fifth child being born very prematurely in an emergency C-section, the chapters focus on other topics, too-like cultivating relationships with priests and religious sisters, handling technology in the house, and of course, the "BBQ pilgrimage" that the author and her family embarked on. This book was a fun read (with some very deep and somber moments), and the author's sassy tone was delightful. I think that this book could be hard for people who aren't moms to relate to, but for women wanting a "girlfriend chat" book, this could certainly fit the bill. 

From Scratch: Inside the Food Network, by Allen Salkin.
Drawing from the immense amount of research the author conducted, this book follows the wild story of Food Network's beginnings all the way to the present day. Reading this, I wondered why anyone would want to take on beginning a network, because it sounded like such an awful experience to go through! I gained so much more respect for people in the television industry. However, while this book provided some interesting tidbits about Food Network, I started skimming at some points. The author focused a lot on executives and management, and there were so many names thrown with business details and information that I started to lose interest. I think I would have enjoyed this more if it had focused on a couple of the Food Network Stars and not tried to talk about everyone who ever worked on or for the network. 

The Secret Diary of Elisabeth Leseur, by Elisabeth Leseur.
This is a collection of prayer journals that were kept by Elisabeth Leseur, a devoted Catholic woman who was married to an ardent atheist. After Elizabeth died (in her forties) her husband, Felix, happened to read her diaries and over time, wound up coming back to Catholicism (he was raised Catholic before falling into atheism) and became a priest. There were some lovely reflections in here, and I bookmarked tons of pages. I'm glad that, several years after hearing about this book, I finally picked it up! 

Thanks for joining me this month! Make sure to drop any book recommendations in the comments; I always love expanding my reading list! 


  1. Great selections! And I marked two books down to find for my daughter - Bright Island and The Vanderbeekers of 141st Street. Thanks for linking up!

    1. Thanks for hosting! I hope your daughter enjoys those!

  2. These look like some great reads! I admire how much you read despite having little kids. :-)

    1. Thanks! It seems that each month, I come across some duds, but I've found lots of fantastic treasures to read which always makes me happy. And I'm pretty sure that reading so much is one of the ways I stay sane as I stay at home with little kids ;)