Wednesday, February 1, 2023

An Open Book: January 2023 Reads

Happy February! I am curled up inside this week, cozying up with books and staying out of the cold. So, it's a perfect time to link up with An Open Book to chat literature! I read some wonderful fiction and non-fiction books in January, so let's dive in! 

Bogoroditza, by Catherine Doherty

This fabulous book gathers together Doherty's writings on Mary, the Mother of God. With simplicity and tenderness, Doherty reflects on the life of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus in Nazareth, and the role that Mary continued to play in Christ's life and in the Church. She also brought in her fabulous perspective, as a Russian. I particularly appreciate her candid remarks on how devotion to Mary is like breathing, and how instead of dividing people or being an obstacle, Marian devotion should bring people together and closer to Christ. She also talks about her initial reservations to St. Louis de Montfort's Preparation for Consecration and how she and her husband overcame those. This is a small book, but there is a lot of beautiful wisdom in here to reflect on, and I loved it. 

Vacuuming in the Nude, by Peggy Rowe

This was a super fun memoir on writing and ageing. Peggy Rowe shares small parts of her story, of how after many decades of getting rejections, she became a bestselling author at the age of 80. As she shares her stories and experience, she offers encouragement to people to pursue their passions and keep persevering. She is hysterical, and I laughed several times while reading this. I skipped over one rather explicit part (that the author warns about) but really enjoyed this memoir on writing and on ageing. 

The Club of Queer Trades, by G. K. Chesterton

This volume features a selection of short stories that follow different individuals who belong to the Club of Queer Trades. As members of this exclusive club, they each earn a living by a unique, rather odd, occupation. These stories are loosely connected, and they are a lot of fun. Even though this isn't Chesterton's deepest or most well-known work out there, I really enjoyed it! 

Jane Austen's Genius Guide to Life, by Haley Stewart

In this book, Stewart dives into each of Jane Austen's complete novels and focuses on the presence (or absence) of virtue in the characters. She draws from her own experiences and from different works on virtue and theology to bolster her discussion. I really enjoyed this book, though I do have a rather superficial, nitpicky critique-there were several exclamation points throughout the text that I found rather jarring (I love enthusiasm, and I have also employed exclamation points many times in my writing, so I understand the inclusion-I just wish there would have been fewer). This was a fun and insightful book, and it is making me want to re-read some of Austen's novels, which is not a bad thing ;) 

A Mother's Rule of Life, by Holly Pierlot

This classic book on Catholic motherhood has been recommended to me over the years, so I finally decided to pick it up (also, it fits in with some research that I'm currently doing). Pierlot walks through her own story of religious conversion and her adventure of motherhood, and how she found solace in crafting a Rule of Life. This Rule brought order to her days and was/is spiritually fruitful. She discusses the principles and parts of her Rule of Life and provides lots of steps and reflection questions for women who want to create their own Rule of Life. Some parts of this book really resonated with me (I loved her discussion of mental health) and I appreciate how she dives into the heart of living an ordered life. However, I really did not like how some of the elements were handled. I also think that the closing chapters of the book, which were full of encouragement, should have been moved to the front of the book; the book starts out with all of her structured lists and schedules and how she has several hours of time to herself each day, and I think that could seem overwhelming to some moms. I'm glad I finally checked this book out, but I don't think that it fits my personal priorities and preferences. 

READ ALOUD: The Iliad, by Gillian Cross

My six-year-old has been studying the ancient world this year, and when we reached the section in his history book on Greece, he really lit up as we read about the myths. So, I picked up this wonderful retelling of the Iliad, and we thoroughly enjoyed reading it together! It is action-packed and has awesome illustrations, and it includes the brutality of the original material without being too graphic. The illustrations are pretty great, too. We both loved it and are hoping to start Cross's Odyssey soon! 

REREAD: In This House of Brede, by Rumer Godden

It's been nearly three years since I first read this novel, and I'm so grateful that I picked it up again! The story follows Philippa Talbot, a young-ish widow who enters a cloistered monastery of Benedictine nuns. Here, she faces an intense spiritual journey, and we also receive an intimate picture of what life in cloisters really looks like-that the nuns are all different, with their own struggles and triumphs, joys and sorrows. This novel is incredibly rich and well-written, and I highly recommend it. 

Viper's Tangle, by Francois Mauriac

This classic portrays Louis, an ageing, sick lawyer, who knows that death is near. So, he chooses to write an account that delves into his life of hatred and the estrangement that sprang up between him and his wife, Isa (he plans to leave this reflection for her to find and read after his death). Louis spends his days overhearing the plotting of his children and grandchildren as they wait for him to die, and he ponders how he can prevent them from receiving any the wealth that he accumulated during his lifetime. While this may not sound like a very uplifting premise, this novel is an incredible reflection on sin, resentment, forgiveness, and renewal. In fact, it was downright uncomfortable to read at times, as reading an in-depth examination of a character's life of bitterness can lead to self-reflection on the part of a reader. This book would be perfect material for Lenten reflection. I loved this book, and I'm excited to re-read it sometime and probe even deeper into the text! 

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


  1. Great list, thank you for sharing!! I appreciate you being willing to gently criticize Haley Stewart's writing, lol...sometimes she seems so idolized by her 'followers.' I also appreciate your candid review on Rule of Life-- another idolized book!!

    I recently finished East of Eden by John Steinbeck with my Well Read Mom group...never would have finished it on my own and almost hated the first half, but wow was it all deeply meaningful and redemptive in the end!

    1. I'm glad you appreciated this review post! I think it's interesting that you bring up criticisms; when I was younger, I had this weird hangup about criticizing things-like if I criticized something, I wasn't enjoying it or appreciating the good that a book or movie was doing. But, I think especially as I recognize my own flaws and shortcomings--and as I read lots and lots of books--I've been trying to observe that none of us are perfect, and that it's OK to notice when we don't like or agree with something, even if it comes from an excellent author and devout Catholic ;)

      And that is awesome that you stuck with East of Eden! I was told that the local Well Read mom group over here was very divided about East of Eden when they read it recently. It's a tough read, but has such a beautiful resolution!

  2. Thanks for linking to An Open Book! You're one of two readers/writers who frequently share Catherine Doherty books, and I think I really need to make reading something by her a priority. I also really need to read In This House of Brede, which comes so highly recommended. I've been family with A Mother's Rule of Life for a long time but have never read it. The authors several hours a day to herself would've probably had me dismissing the whole thing as unrelatable. LOL When my children were younger, I'd be lucky to have several hours like that in a month!

    1. Oh I hope you are able to pick up Catherine Doherty! Her books are marvelous-and short! Bogoroditza was very approachable and beautiful, so that would be a great one to start with, I think! (Poustinia, which is probably her most famous, would be another great starting point) In This House of Brede is a rather thick novel, but it is well worth the investment of time to read it. The image of religious life in an enclosure is so rich and real, and it portrays the struggle for holiness in a powerful way :)

      Haha, yes, I'm glad that I read A Mother's Rule of Life now, and not when I was pushing through the long days of newborn life with my first or second child. I am guessing that the author put that glowing image in the beginning of the book as a motivation ("look at how good things can get when you adopt a Rule of Life!") and perhaps this approach is helpful for some people...but definitely not for all! (reading it now, while mothering a 5-month-old in my arms, I had to keep reminding myself to focus on what is good for me and my family, and to not get stuck on what the author practices or recommends in the book, because the temptation to discouragement was definitely knocking!)

  3. Im curious about your history book for your 6 year old. I am going to get the Illiad adaptation for my girls, 6 and 7 yrs. We have been listening to Phillip Campbell's "Story of Civilization" as pir history and they just love it. VOL 1 on the ancient world seems best suited for their age. But i do wonder if there is another history series that would be similarly exciting and rich yet appropriate for their ages.

    Also i really loved Elizabeth Kantor's book on Jane Austen. It is very scholarly and also readable and her analysis made alot of things make sense for me personally in relationships.
    I am sure the author is a Catholic but she, I believe, teaches at a big public university.

    I read Haley Stewart's book and while i did love her blog back in the day, i have found her books to be not so deep or so polished as i would wish for the trouble of writing and editing. The Kantor book does the same thing much better and without all the hyperbole.

    1. We also are using Campbell's Story of Civilization! My 6yo liked it on some days and barely tolerated it on other days, UNTIL we got to the section on Greece. So, we've set that book aside for now as we take a deep dive into mythology-after the Iliad, we read D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths, and now we're in The Odyssey. When we finish that, we'll step back into Campbell's book, and I think/hope my kids will be more interested. I'll have to see! At some point, I do plan to supplement our learning with a couple chapters from Susan Wise Bauer's "Story of the World" volume 1, since that covers some aspects of ancient history that Campbell's book does not cover (the Americas, for example). Bauer's series seems very similar to Campbell's; it's not from a Catholic perspective but it does provide more of a global view (from what I've seen) so that's why I'm using Campbell's book as our spine.

      And thanks for the book recommendation about Jane Austen! That title and author sound so familiar, but I don't think I've read that one. I'll add it to my list! (if I have read it, clearly it's time to revisit it!) I always love hearing about books that are scholarly and approachable. As I muddle my way through my own creative projects, I'm definitely discovering how difficult that balance can be to achieve; especially with our often-limited attention spans in modern American culture, that make it hard to embrace more scholarly works.