Wednesday, September 2, 2020

An Open Book: August 2020 Reads

How is it September already? Another month means that it's time to join Carolyn Astfalk's Open Book link-up. In August, a main focus of mine was "classic Children's novels that somehow I missed when I was a kid," but I also read a couple of adult-level books, too. Let's dive in! 

The Enchanted April, by Elizabeth Von Arnim.
Mrs. Wilkins and Mrs. Arbuthnot, two rather dowdy and overwhelmed women, read an advertisement about a castle in Italy that is available to rent for the month of April. Weary from their humdrum lives, they decide to escape their suffering marriages and the toil of work by escaping to this Italian castle. To make it more affordable, they advertise and find two other women to come stay with them. The castle and the surrounding beauty work magic on these women, and they all undergo various transformations as the month goes by. This was a touching, lighthearted, lovely story, with some delightfully comic scenes as well. I enjoyed it immensely! 

Heidi, by Johanna Spyri.
This is a wonderful, classic story of a  young girl who goes to live with her crochety grandfather in the mountains. There's a lot in here about the beauty of nature, the importance of forgiveness and love, and the need to trust God. I grew up reading the abridged version of this story and watching the movie, and I greatly enjoyed reading the full children's novel. 

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry, by Gabrielle Zevin.
Even though I wasn't the hugest fan of the narrative's style, I couldn't put down this novel about a widowed bookstore owner, A.J. Fikry, a young adult whose life is profoundly changed when a toddler is left in his bookshop for him to take care of. There was a little bit of language and a couple sexual references (but nothing graphic), but overall I really enjoyed this is a rather quiet story that walks through several years in a small town. I loved seeing the growth that Fikry undergoes over the years. This book is also basically a love letter to small bookstores, which is nice :) It was a charming light read, and while I'm not sure that I'd re-read it anytime soon, I did enjoy it. 

Life Under Compulsion: Ten Ways to Destroy the Humanity of Your Child, by Anthony Esolen. 
Diving into some major aspects of modern culture, Esolen brings together excellent analogies, copious references to classic literature, and thoughtful discussions that make for quite an insightful read. I particularly was struck by his section on politics, when he compared and contrasted presidential speeches from a couple hundred years ago to modern-day presidential speeches. However, while there were some elements to this book that I enjoyed, there were parts that I did not enjoy so much. Some of the tone and phrasing comes off as fairly condescending, and this book seems geared towards people who already are "on the same page" as Esolen and don't mind putting down others with different viewpoints. This book also focuses a lot on the negative aspects of modern culture, and not too much on practical ways to change for the better  (other than what you can infer from the text-reading Shakespeare and other great authors of Western Civilization, that kind of thing). Overall, this book had some good stuff in it, but just wasn't my favorite approach to these issues. 

Daddy-Long-Legs, by Jean Webster.
An orphaned teenager, whose entire life has been consumed by her existence at the orphan asylum, receives news that a trustee of the orphanage wants to pay for her to attend college. This mysterious benefactor does not want to be known, and the only requirement is that Jerusha Abbott (the girl) write him regularly, detailing her education and college life. This novel is a series of her letters to her benefactor (who she calls "Daddy Long-Legs"), and it's really neat to see her personal development as she experiences life outside of the orphanage for the first time. This book was really sweet and fun to read, and although parts of the "mystery" were easy to guess, it was still super fun to read. I really enjoyed this classic children's novel! 

All of a Kind Family, by Sydney Taylor.
This is a charming children's novel about a Jewish family living in NYC in the turn of the century. With five stair-step girls, adventures are always to be had. I was completely engrossed from the beginning of the book, which features the tragic drama of an overdue/missing library book (I could relate so much to the character as she faced the horrors of this). I also really love how the Jewish faith and traditions are gently woven into the story. This is definitely a book that I look forward introducing my kids to someday!

Signs of Life, by Scott Hahn.
This book consists of short reflective chapters that ponder Scripture and Catholic tradition regarding various practices. A variety of of topics are covered in this book, from prayer posture to Confirmation to novenas. I really like that while this book focuses on Roman Catholicism, it does draw from parts of the Church's Eastern and Syriac heritage. Each reflection ends with a short excerpt from the writings of a scholar and/or holy person, and these are taken from every century, which provides a nice survey of Church teaching and devotion throughout the ages. This is a fantastic book, and I highly recommend it! 

Babe: The Gallant Pig, by Dick King-Smith.
As delightful as the movie (the original Babe movie seems to follow the book fairly closely), this story follows Babe, a young pig who winds up learning how to herd sheep for an English sheep farmer. This is a very quick read for an adult, and I'm guessing it will be a huge hit with my kids. Something that many parents (I'm guessing) would want to know before handing this book off to their first graders is that several times--particularly in the beginning of the book--the dog Fly (who has just birthed a litter) is referred to by the traditional terminology for an intact female dog. My kids recently watched the  movie Babe, and I think they will really enjoy doing this book as a read-aloud (and as an independent read, when they are new readers) someday!

Carry On, Mr. Bowditch
This was a wonderful children's novel about the real-life figure of Nathaniel Bowditch, a man who mostly educated himself in mathematics and science and is popularly known for his work on ocean navigation. This was an engaging story that was a quick read, but followed the first few decades of his life. I really like how it focused on the topic of seafaring in the period following the Revolutionary War, since I hadn't ever learned much about that particular aspect of American history. The story gives a very authentic portrayal of the challenges of life, and the ever-present reality of death in that time, but the story isn't bogged down in sadness. It's a very hope-filled, fun book that I enjoyed, and that I think my kids will enjoy down the road, too!  

The Book of Three, by Lloyd Alexander.
This children's novel, the first book in The Chronicles of Prydain, was delightful. Adventurous and fun, it followed Taran, an Assistant Pig Keeper, who goes out to find his charge (a pig seer, basically) and becomes embroiled in the battle of good and evil. At times comic, at other times exciting, and very engaging, I look forward to reading more in this series at some point in the future.

The Flatshare, by Beth  O'Leary.
Tiffy, an editor of DIY and crafting books, needs a place to live as she seeks to get away from her abusive boyfriend. She winds up reading about a reasonably-priced flatshare, and ends up taking it-Leon, the young nurse who lives there, works nights and sleeps during the day, so the idea is that he and Tiffy will never meet. Over time, they begin leaving each other Post-It notes around the flat to communicate about different issues, and they develop a deep friendship in this way-despite never having spoken to each other in person. This is a delightful book, and it was a great read during pre-labor and the immediate postpartum period. There are some sex scenes that I skipped, there's some coarse language, and I don't morally agree with the whole secular premise of having sex outside of marriage. All that said, it was still a very fun book to read, and I really appreciate that it addresses the trauma and healing process that people undergo when they escape from emotionally abusive relationships. 

Ember's End, by S. D. Smith.
The finale to the Green Ember series, this book was excellent. It's a bit dark and intense while still remaining very hope-filled and triumphant in tone, so I think many kids would be able to handle the intensity. This book really made me appreciate the entire series much more, and I love how the author tied things up. I also really like that a few chapters at the end show the aftermath and how life was once the battles were done and the bodies were buried, as different characters moved on. It's a fabulous book and a series well worth reading. 

Thanks for joining me this month! Make sure to drop any recommendations you have in the comments-I love adding to my reading list! 


  1. Thanks for linking up! We just started the Green Ember series, and the kids loved the first chapter. I'm looking forward to the rest. We read Heidi aloud a year or so ago; it was one of my childhood favorites, one of the few classics I had read. I didn't even realize Babe was based on a book, so I'll have to look that up. And, my daughter will probably enjoy Carry On, Mr. Bowditch.

    1. I'm so glad that you finally got to start the Green Ember! I think the series definitely gets better as it goes on. I hadn't known that Babe as based on a book, either-it was very fun to read, and then we showed our kids the movie and it was interesting to see how certain elements were added to build more tension in the movie.

  2. I'm so glad you enjoyed The Storied Life and the Flatshare! I have the Signs of Life, but it is on a dusty book shelf somewhere. I will have to go and find it and finish it!

    1. Thank you for recommending them!
      That's neat that you have Signs of Life. I know that Scott Hahn has written countless books, but I'm surprised I haven't heard this one mentioned more often-I think it has a lot of wisdom and insights to offer Catholics (and any interested non-Catholic Christians) of all stages of life.

  3. My family read All of a Kind Family aloud as kids and I have fond memories of it! I remember a treasure hunt for pennies or something around the house? Such a great family read for many ages.