Wednesday, August 4, 2021

An Open Book: July 2021 Reads

It's probably cliché to say this, but summer has been flying by! How is it August already?!?! Well, with the new month, it's time to link up with Carolyn Astfalk's An Open Book to chat about what I read recently! 

Lady Audley's Secret, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. 

Sir Michael Audley, a wealthy Englishman, has taken a wife 3-4 decades his junior, the lovely Lady Audley. George Talboys, a young man who has just returned from a six-year sojourn in Australia to make money, looks forward to seeing his wife and young child whom he left behind in England. Along with Robert Audley (a relative of Sir Audley), these individuals are all thrown together in a confusing mess of dramatic intrigue. Secrets abound in this "sensational" Victorian novel, and the Gothic-y atmosphere of it made me think of Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier. While some of the plot points in here seemed a bit predictable, I really enjoyed this! 

Hunt, Gather, Parent, by Michaeleen Doucleff.

Frustrated with the trials of parenting her young daughter, Doucleff embarks on a worldwide adventure to interview people from indigenous cultures about parenting. She notes that many popular parenting books focus on European parenting, so in this book she tries to take a different approach, which I appreciate (although I do love a good European parenting book!). I was very interested in learning about cultures that look so different from my own, and I drew some techniques from this book that seem to work well in my own home (though I've noticed that what I really pulled from this book is echoed my some elderly people I know, so parts seem to be general parenting-wisdom). The author did seem to imply that we can lift parenting strategies and lifestyle practices from these cultures and stick them in our own American culture, but I don't think that's how it works. The author's tone bugged me a little bit and it came off, in parts, as unprofessional, but overall I did enjoy reading this book. 

Cravings, by Mary DeTurris Poust.

This is a small (less than 200 pages) book, but it packs a powerful punch! The author walks through her own battle of weight and relationship with food and she brings in the stories of many other people as well (including someone who goes to my church!). I really loved a lot of what she said in here, and I was excited when she brought in the Desert Fathers and talked about what we can learn from them (and how we aren't necessarily supposed to live like them). I loved the questions at the end of the chapters. I think reading this book is helping me to shift my perspective on cooking, which is nice. However, I do wish that a note had been included on the Church's teaching about non-Christian Eastern spiritualities. The author brings in some notes from Buddhism, a yoga retreat, and Ayurvedic sources, and none of what she used contradicted Church teaching-in fact, it was all very good and reaffirms that worldwide religions will have elements of Truth as we all have a natural longing for God's Truth-but it could probably be confusing to some people out there. Parts of this book did feel a little repetitive, but there was a lot of really great stuff in here, and I enjoyed this. 

The Iliad, by Homer (Robert Fagles translation).

I slowly worked my way through this for a few months, and I felt such relief when I finished it! It's a very hefty work detailing the final events of the Trojan War and the battles between the Trojans and Achaeans and the meddling of the gods. It was really interesting epic, and I'm grateful that I read it. I found the worldview-of gods literally using the people as pawns-really fascinating, but depressing (it makes me appreciate God's gift of free will all the more!). I also was really fascinated by the deep conviction and perseverance of the characters in this poem-Hector, Ajax, Achilles, etc-who, while prodded by the gods at times, still launched into battle and fought for what they held dear. (it makes me realize what a coward I tend to be!) This epic also had me thinking about how radical Christianity is, that God came into the world with a message of peace and hope, when this poem exhibits extreme  brutality and violence. It was really interesting, and now I want to read The Odyssey-though that may not happen very soon, since I need a little break haha!

Egg and Spoon, by Gregory Maguire.

Elena is a poor peasant girl who lives in a village in the Russian countryside. Her brothers have been taken away at the Tsar's command, her mother lies ill, and nothing looks too promising about her life. Until one day, when a train of wealthy people (with food) comes to town. When Elena meets Ekaterina, a  young girl on the train, her life is changed forever. This YA novel was utterly delightful and so much fun! The author's writing was hilarious, and there was also a great message in the book about friendship and sacrifice. However, I have to say, the best part of the book is probably Baba Yaga. The nasty old witch of Russian folklore plays a huge part in this story, and she was wisecracking, sarcastic, and very funny. This book was a ton of fun, and I really enjoyed it!

Jennifer the Damned, by Karen Ullo.

Jennifer Carshaw, an orphan, has lived with an order of Catholic religious sisters for several years. She loves the sisters--going to their school and living at their convent--and though she is seen as a gawky, friendless dork, she still has a decent life. However, as her sixteenth birthday hits, life gets more complicated-because, unbeknownst to the sisters, Jennifer is a vampire, and her vampire puberty is beginning. This book was part angsty teenage vampire love story, part horror novel, and part spiritual memoir. It was brutal, bloody, horrifying, spiritually uplifting, hopeful, and riveting. The pacing was amazing, and there were many moments where I gasped out loud. While this book was a little bit more Twilight-y than I would have preferred (I'm not much of a romance novel person), I really enjoyed it, and this story has already been deepening my faith life and devotion to the Eucharist. (There is mature content and language in here, so this book won't be a good fit for everyone, but I think it's well done and fits with the story) Now I have to get through my current stack of books so I can re-read this one! 

The Street Stops Here: A Year at a Catholic High School in Harlem, by Patrick J. McCloskey.

McCloskey spent an entire year shadowing teachers and classes at Rice High School so that he could write about the importance of this school specifically when the majority of the student body was non-Catholic and/or a racial minority. Around this framing of a year at Rice, the author dives into a variety of topics like race, street culture, the history of Irish immigration, and the development of Catholic education in America. This book was really big and dense in parts, but I found it quite interesting and thought-provoking. I think the book also provides a nice wakeup call to Catholics, since the school featured in this book seemed to water down the Catholicism a bit (I skipped part of a scene that detailed a school dance, because of just how awful it was!). It really encouraged me to examine the ways I'm living my life and living out my Catholic Faith, and it also gave some good insights into the myriad of factors that affect countless youth and families today. 

Thanks for joining me! If you have any recommendations, please drop them in the comments!


  1. This is a great collection! The comparison of Lady Audley's Secret to Rebecca intrigued me. I'm going to check that out. Also Cravings, which I thinkI have a copy of here somewhere. I've been wanting to re-read The Iliad and The Odyssey and just need to make the time to do. Thanks for linking to An Open Book.

    1. Thank you for hosting! I always look forward to all the book chats at the beginning of each month :) I'm glad you liked reading through this; July was a fun reading month with a lot of variety.