Wednesday, May 1, 2024

An Open Book: April 2024 Reads

Another month has rolled around, so I'm linking up with An Open Book to chat about what I read in April!  As usual, it wound up being a great mix of fiction, nonfiction, and a couple children's books. Let's dive in! 

The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, by Sela Lagerlof, illustrated by Lars Klinting

As this children's chapter book begins, a young boy in Sweden named Nils decided to skip church and cause some mischief. When he tricked a gnome, Nils discovered that as a punishment, he was turned into a gnome. Wanting some adventure--and to delay having to explain things to his parents--Nils decides to join a flock of geese on their journey throughout Sweden. Along the way, he experiences triumphs and failures and learns how to love and care for others. According to a note in the book, the author wrote this book for children in elementary schools, and she tried to make it both an exciting story and include the geography of Sweden, so that the children could learn about their country and heritage. I think the author did an amazing job; this story was very fun and delightful, and it had a beautiful sense of place as I was immersed in the Swedish countryside. The illustrations were great, too! My seven-year-old also enjoyed reading this one. 

The Funeral Ladies of Ellerie County, by Claire Swinarski

Esther is an elderly widow who works on a team of "Funeral Ladies"--women who make huge funeral dinners for a couple churches in their small Wisconsin town. One day, Esther learns that she and her friends need to prepare for the funeral of a woman who grew up in the area and moved away. The woman's estranged celebrity chef husband, his adult son, and teenage daughter all come for the funeral. When they unexpectedly need a place to stay, Esther gets her granddaughter, Iris (who is single), to rent her air bnb to this family. Yet, while this story has all the makings of a cozy romance, deep drama and tension threatens to rip the characters apart. Internet scams, anger, bitterness, and the effect of PTSD in relationships all make their appearance in this story as the characters work towards growth, healing, and forgiveness. Although the language was a bit coarse and excessive for my liking, I really enjoyed this book and particularly loved how Swinarski addressed complexity and brokenness within romantic relationships.  

All We Were Promised, by Ashton Lattimore

Set in 1830s Philadelphia, this story follows three different young women: Charlotte, who escaped slavery in Maryland with her father (who began passing as a white man) and now lives as her father's maid in Philadelphia; Nell, a Black woman who was born free in Philadelphia and lives in an upper-class family but spends her days working for the abolition cause; and Evie, a girl who is trying to escape slavery before her mistress takes her to the Deep South. Their lives and destinies become intertwined in this pre-Civil War story, which according to the author's note was partly inspired by Les Miserables. It was well-written and engrossing and I loved it. 

D' Aulaire's book of Norse Myths, by Ingri d'Aulaire and Edgar Parin d'Aulaire

In this gorgeously illustrated book, the d'Aulaires tackle Norse mythology. They walk through the origin story and various figures of Norse mythology in short, accessible chapters. Norse myths are really weird (Loki is wild!) and it was a lot of fun to read this, especially since I'm not super-well versed in Norse mythology. My seven-year-old raced through this one even faster than I did, and it was a lot of fun to talk with him about it as I finished it! 

Beauty in the Word: Rethinking the Foundations of Education, by Stratford Caldecott (forward by Anthony Esolen)

In this exploration of education, Caldecott dives into the Trivium (Grammar, Dialectic, Rhetoric) and reframes them in light of the Trinity, as well as different ways to approach them with children. He then unpacks what a Catholic education looks like, and the importance of making the Eucharist and liturgy central to a Catholic education. He draws from a few different educational philosophies and authors like Tolkien, as well. I really enjoyed a lot of this book, but the beginning of the book seemed a little unfocused. For example, he spent some of the opening pages criticizing different educational methods but didn't come back to that later in the text, so I'm not entirely sure why he went on that tangent. Still, this book had good parts, and I really found his reframing of the Trivium very helpful once he got to that section of the book! 


REREAD: Brother Wolf, by Eleanor Bourg Nicholson

Set in the early 20th century, this gorgeous novel follows Athene Howard, the daughter of an atheist philosopher, who encounters a small group of mysterious individuals on a boat trip from America to Europe. Her life becomes intertwined with theirs, and before she knows it, Athene finds herself spending time with these "Papists" who work closely with an order of Franciscan friars that rehabilitates werewolves. Eventually, the beloved Dominican vampire hunter from A Bloody Habit (a sister novel to this book) makes an appearance as well. Curses and mythology and supernatural phenomenon all combine in this delightful book, and it is just as good-if not better-when reread! 

Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library, by Chris Grabenstein

Kyle is a twelve-year-old boy who loves games. So, he's ecstatic when he learns that he was selected as one of a small group of twelve-year-olds who get to experience the town's new library--which was designed by a famous game maker--at a lock-in. Once Kyle shows up, though, he learns that more is in store than he imagined. The doors are locked and the children are told that, if they are willing, they can participate in the challenge of figuring out how to escape the library by completing a series of puzzles. It's the ultimate escape room, and Kyle and his friends have to learn how to work together so they can figure out how to escape--and be the first ones to do it. This book felt like a combination of The Mixed-Up Files of Mrs. Basil E Frankweiler, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, and The Westing Game. It was a lot of fun, and although the ending seemed a little rushed and unresolved, I enjoyed it! 

The Messy Lives of Book People, by Phaedra Patrick

Liv is in her early forties, is married, has two adult children, and lots of financial strains. So, she works as a maid to help their family stay afloat. Liv's great joy is working as the housecleaner for a famous, reclusive author, Essie. Over time, Essie eventually forges a type of friendship with Liv, but then suddenly dies--and as her dying wish, desires Liv to finish Essie's final novel (and keep her death a secret). Liv, reeling with grief at this woman's death, a strained relationship with her husband, and the pressure of writing a novel, throws herself into learning as much as she can about Essie...and she winds up learning far more than she bargained for. This was a really engrossing novel, and I mostly enjoyed it. Liv doesn't experience negative ramifications for some of her very irresponsible actions, and that felt pretty unrealistic to me. There was some stuff in the ending that also didn't work for me. Overall, though, it was good. 

A Place to Hang the Moon, by Kate Albus

Set in 1940, this children's novel follows three orphaned children experience the death of their not-beloved grandmother, who was acting as their guardian. Since it's hard to find a new guardian in the midst of World War II in London, the grandmother's solicitor offers a "preposterous plan" to the children: take advantage of the wartime evacuation to the countryside in order to be placed with a family. Eventually, then, the children can ask that family (if it is a good one) to become their permanent family. So, the children are moved to a village, where they jump from one billet to another as they experience lots of hardships and unfriendliness. However, they do find a lot of solace in the comforting walls of the village library. This novel was extremely delightful and heartwarming, and I really, really enjoyed it! It's definitely one that I would love to share with my kids sometime. 

Thanks so much for joining me this month! If you have any recommendations, please drop them in the comments-I'm always on the lookout for good recommendations. 


  1. Finally tackled Brideshead Revisited thanks to Well Read Mom. Definitely needed the resources and commentary on it but once I got it, I was deeply touched by it and pondered it several days after finishing! Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is our read next month, I'm looking forward to that. Thank you for sharing yours, I always enjoy them!!

    1. Congratulations on reading Brideshead! I'm pretty sure it took me three tries before I actually read that book all the way through. And once I did (and, like you, read some good resources), I loved it! Each time I reread it, I appreciate the story more.
      Thanks for mentioning Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. I hadn't heard of it, but I just looked it up and now I really want to read it!

  2. I recognize a bunch of these! :) I do think "The Messy Lives of Book People" sounds interesting, despite your reservations about that one -- I'm going to go looking for that.

    1. I hope you enjoy "The Messy Lives of Book People"! I thought the premise was fascinating, and even with my quibbles I thought it was really enjoyable.

  3. The Wonderful Adventure of Nils sounds just delightful! I want to fly over the Swedish countryside too.

    My older kids loved the Norse mythology books and the oldest is still fascinated by Norse myths and folklore. The D'Aulaire's books are great.

    I also want to check out Escape from Mr. Lemoncello's Library for my daughter. I think she'll enjoy it!

    Thanks for linking to An Open Book. I always enjoy seeing what you're reading.

    1. Thank you for hosting! I love participating in the linkup :) I hope you're able to pick some of these up and that you enjoy them! I'm so grateful I came across a recommendation for The Wonderful Adventures of Nils (and that our library system had it!). It was really fantastic.
      Apparently, the Mr. Lemoncello's Library book is the first in a series, so I'm interested to read the next one sometime!