Wednesday, August 5, 2020

An Open Book: July 2020 Reads

July flew by, so here we are with another round of Carolyn Astfalk's An Open Book! I did not read quite as many books as I though I would, mainly because I got hooked on the show Psych (SO FUN!). But, I still did pick up some fascinating fiction and non-fiction books in spite of my new television obsession! Let's dive in. 

Ember Falls, by S. D. Smith.
I enjoyed this one a lot more than the first book in the Green Ember series, as the story becomes more complex. It follows the rabbits Heather and Pickett as they become more involved in the war against the evil Lords of Prey, traitor-rabbits, and the struggles of the good rabbits who are working to defeat evil. This is still not my favorite series out there, but definitely a good one and I am excited to read this out loud with my kids when they are just a little bit older! 

Catch and Kill, by Ronan Farrow.
In this fascinating piece of investigative journalism, Farrow rights to uncover the stories of women who were sexually a bused by Harvey Weinstein. He details the lengths he went to in finding these women, and the process they took in vulnerably opening up to him. I did skip or skim quite a bit of this book because I couldn't handle all of the the graphic incidents of horrific abuse that these women suffered, but I was still very much engaged by this book. It also touches on predatory behaviors exhibited by other famous individuals (including Donald Trump) which I thought was both chilling but important to discuss. It was VERY creepy to learn about a modern journalist in America being followed and having to live in a "safe house" just so he could have a little peace of mind while piecing together this story.  This was a really interesting book, and definitely worth reading.

Parenting Without Borders, by Christine Gross-Loh.
In this book, the author covers several different topics-from infant sleep to education and household chores-and discusses how we do things in America, and how different cultures around the world handle these issues. I thought it was neat that the author provided such a broad, worldwide perspective, and I also appreciate how she seeks to point out that there is good in American parenting, and that we shouldn't give an overly-rosy, idealized glow to other cultures, but that we can learn from the good and bad in each culture. Taking all of this information, we can challenge our own preconceptions as we seek to become better parents. I really enjoyed this book, and out of all of the (many) foreign parenting books I've read, I think this may be one of my more favorite ones. 

Heaven in Stone and Glass: Experiencing the Spirituality of the Great Cathedrals, by Robert Barron.
Before he ever became bishop, Fr. Robert Barron wrote this book (there is a great photo of a young Robert Barron in the back!). He takes about a dozen elements from Gothic cathedrals and discusses them briefly, helping to point out the spiritual significance of these elements, the ways that Scripture formed Gothic cathedrals, and how we can enter into our own spiritual journeys when we physically enter Gothic cathedrals. He also touched on some of the anti-Semitic artwork that is present in some European cathedrals, which I appreciated. This was a quick, easy read, but also quite insightful. I enjoyed this book, and could easily see this being great to use for a high school class.

The Last Year of the War, by Susan Meissner.
This story begins with an elderly woman, named Elise, who has recently been informed that she is dying from Alzheimer's. As she faces the reality that her memories are being swept away, she embarks on a journey to reunite with her childhood friend, Mariko. Elise and Mariko had become friends when they were both being detained with their families at an internment camp in Crystal City, Texas, during World War II. Diving into the past and the present, this story casts light onto the experience of those interned at camps during WWII and as these people tried to pick up the pieces of their lives after the war. I really enjoyed this touching novel. 

Miss Buncle Married, by D. E. Stevenson. 
This story follows Barbara and her husband as they move to a new town and become acquainted with a lively cast of characters. She's mistaken for another woman--and thus comes into secret information that she never should have known--and lots of time is spent with the budding romance between her nephew and a woman in the town. There were lots of lively interactions with neighbor kids and their parents, and the varied cast of characters is quite colorful. This was enjoyable, but not nearly as good as the first book of the Miss Buncle series. The story wasn't as tightly written and I didn't care for some of the characters as much. Still, this was fun to read and I definitely want to see what happens next! 

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, by Ian Fleming.
The Potts family is not very rich, since the father is a rather unsuccessful inventor, but they are happy. However, one day, he manages to sell an invention and the family decides to use these earnings to buy a car. This car, which they name Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, turns out to have a mind of her own (they decide it's female). Soaring through the air and rumbling down the road in their magical car, the Potts family becomes involved with one adventure after another (which often put them in MORTAL DANGER). This children's novel was incredibly delightful, and I am very excited to introduce my kids to it when they are older! 

Prairie Fires: The American Dreams of Laura Ingalls Wilder, by Caroline Fraser.
This was an interesting historical exploration of Laura's life and the political climate of the country during her lifetime. I mostly wanted to read this to learn about the process of her and her daughter fictionalizing the Ingalls family's life for the Little House series, which the book covered in the final third or so. My main complaint about this book was that the author seemed to include everything. It was long, parts were fairly dry, and I definitely lost interest in some sections. I would have liked to see the issue of racism discussed more (it was only briefly mentioned), but this is still worth picking up. 

The Porn Myth, by Matt Fradd.
This is a non-religious look at the harmful nature of pornography, and it addresses several myths about porn in short, easy-to-read chapters. The book includes very helpful appendices (including resources for parents) too. I enjoyed this one, and found it really worthwhile-a good mix of scientific research, personal stories from people who formerly were addicted to porn, people who worked in the industry, and some common-sense ideas. I do have to confess, though, I wasn't sure how I felt about the author quoting a couple of religious figures in this "non-religious" discussion. The very few times this was done, the quotes were great, and very much in accord with natural law (and not specifically religious), but  I also felt like that could be a turnoff for some people. 

Ember Rising, by S. D. Smith.
As Heather navigates life as Morbin's captive and Pickett becomes more deeply involved in the battle against the Lords of Prey, intensity builds. This book was a lot more exciting and quite a bit on the darker side (one of the plotlines involved young children being rounded up to be eaten by the villain), and I enjoyed it! 

Here and Now: Living in the Spirit, by Henri Nouwen.
Armed with Scripture and his personal experiences, Nouwen compiled this book of reflections on the spiritual life. The way that he worded things simply, profoundly, and beautifully was wonderful. I really loved his short section on marriage, and I also loved his reflection on leaving your father and mother for the Kingdom of God (and how physically leaving does not necessarily mean that we have "left"). This was a fantastic, short, approachable book of reflections, and even though Nouwen wrote from his experience as a Catholic, I think this book could be a fruitful read for Christians of any denomination. 

The Fix, by David Baldacci.
Amos Decker is walking by the FBI building when he sees a man first shoot a woman and then shoot himself. Amos and his team are swept up into the mystery of who these people are and why this woman was murdered--and who else was involved with these two. I found the storyline in this book really fascinating, and I loved seeing layers of espionage and secrets become unraveled. 

Thanks for joining me in this literary discussion! Make sure to drop any book recommendations below-I always love adding to my reading list :) 


  1. What an interesting bunch of books! Thanks for linking up. I've had The Green Ember on hold for a while at the library - still waiting. I'd also like to read the kids Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. I saw the movie adaption decades ago.

    1. Thanks for hosting the linkup! Hopefully you get The Green Ember soon!
      I only barely remembered the movie Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (we had a copy with our Betamax movie player when I was really little), so I was excited to read the story. I hope you and the kids like it!

  2. Wow, there are so many books that look worth reading on this list! Thanks for a great compilation! I'm especially looking forward to reading the parenting book.

    1. I hope you enjoy these! I thought it was interesting how the parenting book challenged some of my own ignorant misconceptions of other cultures. I've found it so helpful to learn from worldwide perspectives in different areas!