Wednesday, April 6, 2022

An Open Book: March 2022 Reads

It's a new month, so I'm joining An Open Book to chat about the books that I've been reading! In March, I wound up exploring quite a bit of non-fiction and historical fiction, and although a lot of the books had heavy themes, I enjoyed them and had a good time :) Let's dive in! 

Sobornost, by Catherine Doherty

In this short but insightful book, Doherty reflects on sobornost, the Russian word for "unity." Rather than referring to a superficial unity, it instead indicated a deep, absolute unity: the unity of the Trinity, which we are all called to. Doherty meditates on the Little Mandate (the mission of her life, and by extension, of the lay apostolate she founded), the life of the Trinity, the Eucharist, and the small ways in which the devil insights disunity within us. Building on her book Poustinia, this volume is very powerful and gave me a lot to ponder-and it also made me love Catherine Doherty's writing and spiritual wisdom even more :) 

The Story of the World, Volume 1: Ancient Times, by Susan Wise Bauer

This survey of ancient history was fascinating, and I enjoyed it a lot. It had many similarities to The Story of Civilization; it was engaging, included lots of details to bring history to life, and involved stories (both historical and fictional). There were a couple of notable differences, though. SoC is Catholic, and even before hitting very Catholic-specific elements towards the end, comes at things from a definite Christian worldview. SotW talks about Judaism a bit towards the beginning, then discusses Christianity at the end, but there doesn't seem to be a huge focus on it. However, SotW covers different ancient religions and philosophies, which I thought was very interesting (I've always enjoyed reading about world religions). SotW, as its name implies, really seeks to cover world history-not just a handful of ancient civilizations-so the book even has a chapter dedicated to ancient cultures in the Americas. There are also some chapters dedicated to India and China. Another element that I appreciated from this book was that it wasn't terribly graphic in discussing violence, and it glossed over a lot of the conflicts that the early Romans had, while still discussing major battles. After reading from both SotW and SoC, I wonder if I should simply read chapters from both with my children, since there were different elements from each that I enjoyed. (of course, this also depends on what my kids respond well to!)

I must betray you, by Ruta Sepetys

Cristian, a seventeen-year-old boy living in Romania in the 1980s under the dictatorship of Nicolae Ceausescu. He's blackmailed by the secret police to become an informer, and the story follows him through his experiences as an informer, his "typical teenage life," and the intense pressure he and his family faced in an environment where everyone is under constant surveillance. The book continues to the historic revolution of December 1989, and after the story ends, there are photographs of Romanians from that time period. It was fascinating, it's written at more of a teenage-reading level so it was not dense, and it was highly engaging. I highly recommend it, and it makes me want to learn more about that period of history-I am sadly very ignorant of a lot of post-World War II history that took place in Eastern Europe. 

The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck

Faced with a lack of prospects as the Dust Bowl rages and large corporations tear apart their lives in Oklahoma, the Joad family decides to make the trek to California, in hopes of finding work and a better life. I LOVED THIS! Steinbeck's writing is really dark and gritty, but man, he finds a way to inject hope and life in even the darkest situations. Even though the final scene had been spoiled to me many times in the past (sometimes by people who were utterly scandalized by it), I still thoroughly enjoyed this book. The prose, dialogue, and characterization are all gorgeous, the plot is compelling (and parts struck me as very relevant for our modern society) and it was great. This book will not be for everyone, but for those who aren't opposed to giving Steinbeck a try, I wholeheartedly recommend it. 

REREAD: The Happy Hollisters, by Jerry West

My five-year-old finally reached the age, interest level, and attention span to begin doing read-alouds with me on a regular basis! Since we keep loaning our Happy Hollister books to other homeschool families, I figured we could start with these. I loved these books as a kid; they follow the detective adventures of the Hollister family: a married couple with five children. In this first book, the Hollisters move to a new city and discover that all of the toys were stolen out of the moving van. So, as they deal with the transition to their new life, the local bully, and their dad's new job, they decide to hunt down suspects and befriend the local police force. These books were written in the 1950s and it shows; they give a very rosy, Leave it to Beaver-ish image which does not seem realistic at all. And there are a couple stereotypes here and there that we get to discuss. However, my firstborn is enjoying them immensely, and it's been really fun to read and talk about them with him! 

REREAD: The Happy Hollisters at Snowflake Camp, by Jerry West

The Hollister family becomes intrigued when they hear about a man and his missing Husky dog, and the kids take matters into their own hands when they travel to Canada to visit their grandparents. A lighthearted adventure that my son really enjoyed, this book was a fun read (though really, it's a whole other experience reading through these as an adult haha!). 

The Nazi Officer's Wife, by Edith Hahn Beer with Susan Dworkin

This is the memoir of a Jewish woman who, after time in a labor camp, managed to slip under the radar of the Nazis in Austria and live as an Aryan...even to the point of marrying a member of the Nazi Party! This was absolutely fascinating. It was really engaging, and it was interesting to read a memoir from a Jewish woman who did not become imprisoned in a concentration camp. I was also intrigued to see what happened to her after the Nazis were defeated, and how other Jews (who were imprisoned in the camps) felt conflicted about her-since she was dining with the enemy while they suffered. I definitely recommend this book to anyone interested in World War II history! 

Urodivoi: Fools for God, by Catherine Doherty

In this small book of spiritual reflections and prayers, Doherty meditates on what it means to be a "fool for God"--and on her own frustrations in the pursuit of holiness and healing. She reflects on war, violence, hatred of neighbor, and the need to preach the Gospel to others. This book was pretty rambly, but beautiful and a good follow-up to others in the series. 

The Woman They Could Not Silence, by Kate Moore

This was a fascinating dive into the life of Elizabeth Packard, a housewife in the nineteenth century who--after voicing religious views that differed from her preacher-husband's--was forced (by her husband) to live in an insane asylum. As Moore relates Elizabeth's story, she touches on some of the general attitudes and realities that women of that time period had to deal with, though the focus of the book primarily rests on Elizabeth's life and legacy. Parts of the author's commentary came off as a bit on-the-nose, unnecessary, and even a little slang-ish at times, so I could have done without those. Otherwise, this is a wild story with some great twists and turns, and parts kept me guessing! I was also really impressed to learn about Elizabeth Packard's life as a writer, and also her political work-she was truly a force to be reckoned with. 

From the Depths of Our Hearts: Priesthood, Celibacy, and the Crisis of the Catholic Church, by Benedict XVI and Robert Cardinal Sarah

This was a good, thoughtful discussion on the history and importance of celibacy in the priesthood. The two men co-wrote the introduction and conclusion, and there is an essay by Benedict XVI followed by an essay by Cardinal Sarah. The Benedict XVI essay goes into Biblical exegesis on the priesthood, and Cardinal Sarah's essay focuses on some of his personal stories and perspective. Admittedly, I would have liked to see some references or citations brought in from Eastern Christian sources, since Cardinal Sarah mentions some trends in the East but doesn't elaborate. Also, in part of his essay, Cardinal Sarah just quotes Benedict XVI at length, but since I had just read an essay by B16, I kind of wanted more from the Cardinal. Anyways, a lot of the points these two authors made really resonated with me, and I liked reading this. However, I do wish that the book could have included a perspective from the married priesthood, since that is a reality in some parts of the Church, and it wasn't dealt with quite as thoroughly as I wanted it to be (though perhaps that's just a topic for another book). Overall, though, this was a good book and insightful discussion! 

Thanks for joining me this month! Please drop any recommendations in the comments! 


  1. My oldest brother owned the entire Happy Hollister collection (which I read many years later). At some point after I was done with them, my mother donated the set to our parish grade school library. I'm not sure if my brother ever got over that. LOL. We have some of them around here that my older daughter was enjoying, and this is a good reminder to bring them out for my two youngest, who can still enjoy them. Thanks for linking to An Open Book.

    1. That's so neat that your brother owned the collection! I'm sure the school library appreciated the donation, but yikes, that would be tough to let go of those! The collection that I have was actually a hand-me-down from some friends of my parents; years ago we stayed at their house and I discovered the books in their home library and started reading them, and a few years later they shipped the books to me. They are definitely one of my prized possessions :) I hope your youngest enjoy them! And thank you for hosting the linkup! I always enjoy seeing what everyone is reading.

  2. I’m glad you loved I Must Betray You! It’s been a few months since I read it, but I still think about it frequently. I also loved Grapes of Wrath! I didn’t know anything about it and remember crying at the last scene. So incredibly moving.