Carolyn Astfalk hosts the Open Book linkup: Share what you're reading and get recommendations from other readers.
Welcome to the July 2020 edition of An Open Book, hosted both at My Scribbler's Heart AND Catholicmom.com.
An Open Book is all about what my family is reading this month, from the adults down to the little kids.
Share what you're reading by linking up your blog post below. Simply write about what you're reading. You can make it personal or, as I do, extend it to the whole family. Your post can be as simple as a few lines about the book or as in-depth as a 700-word review. That's entirely up to you. You can even forego writing all together and record a video or simply post cover photos.
No blog? No problem. Please share what you're reading in the comments.
I’ve been squeezing in a lot of short reads lately, so let’s get right to it!
Science fiction isn’t usually my thing, but I heard about The Machine Stops by E.M. Forster on The Catholic Reading Challenge podcast and downloaded a copy. In this dystopian future, humans exist entirely in their government-assigned apartments, interacting with others only via button and screen. Sound familiar? The thing that most gave me pause about this story is that it was written more than 100 years ago!
The Boden Birthright by Mary Connealy is a novella prequel to The Cimarron Legacy series, which I plan on reading soon. It provides an introduction to some of the characters in this Texas ranch series. While I think understanding this bit of back story will enhance my enjoyment of the books, I found it a little lackluster.
Sarah, Plain and Tall by Patricia MacLachlan is a children’s classic I never read. I had no idea it was so short — and deceptively simple. It paints a lovely portrait of frontier life told from a young girl’s point of view as her widowed father welcomes a mail order bride of sorts into their family. I think my daughters will love this one.
The Lost Letter is the second book I’ve read by Mimi Matthews. It was a perfect distraction on a beautiful Sunday afternoon when the world was going crazy. Well-developed characters and a second-chance Victorian romance tugged on my heart in the best way.
I immediately switched to The Matrimonial Advertisement, also by Mimi Matthews, the first book in the Parish Orphans of Devon series. This shares some superficial similarities to The Lost Letter (mainly a wounded veteran of an Indian (as in India, not American native) uprising), but this story amid the rugged seaside cliffs with its dilapidated abbey drew me in. With a touch of the Gothic, the quality of this Victorian romance ensured I’d be reading the remaining books in the series.
I won Ladies of Intrigue: 3 Tales of 19th-Century Romance with a Dash of Mystery by Michelle Griep in a Goodreads giveaway, and I’ve been tardy in reading and reviewing it. I love the author’s novels, and these stories were enjoyable, even if not as moving . Length is a factor here. These were quick reads, though, with well-developed characters and a good sampling of the author’s style. I enjoyed the mystery aspect in each of the stories, particularly the first story, “The Gentleman Smuggler’s Lady.”
Courting Morrow Little by Laura Frantz came recommended to me on several fronts, and I’ve been meaning to read it for quite a while. Still looking to immerse myself in something other than current events, I dove in, loving the lush Kentucky wilderness world that the author created. The sweeping romance delves into the simple lives of late-18th century Americans complicated by the competing interests of natives, pioneers, the British, and the French –not to mention the threats of disease and deprivation. The romance between a Kentucky pastor’s daughter and the half-native man whose life has been intertwined with hers since childhood is tender, heartfelt, and passionate.
I zipped through two novels by Catholic author Janice Lane Palko in a few days. St. Anne’s Day, set in Pittsburgh, was a little like visiting home with its casts of characters that speak and act like the people I was surrounded by growing up, from their down-to-earth frankness to their uniquely Pittsburgh quirks and cultural Catholicism. There’s a lot of levity to this book even though it deals with some grave topics. The romance is between a fallen-away Catholic/avowed bachelor bar owner and the visiting nurse tending to his ailing, aged mother. Their path to a happily ever after is anything but straight.
The sequel, Our Lady of the Roses, is hard to put in a box. Is it a comedy? Yes. Does it deal with serious spiritual matters? Yes. Is it Christian fiction? Yes. Does it fit the Christian Booksellers Association mold for Christian novels? No. And a little diversity among my Christian fiction is good, I think. The story follows superficial, promiscuous Janetta to Rome as she accompanies boring Bob, a salon client, on a business trip (with a side pilgrimage). Bob is the steady, honorable guy Janetta needs but doesn’t think she deserves.
The Runaway Bride by Jody Hedlund, second in the The Bride Ships series, takes place at the same time as the first book as a ship of prospective English brides arrive in British Columbia. I like the prodigal son aspect of this story as developed in the hero, Pete. A lowly baker, Pete sets his sights on the aristocratic Arabella, running from what all but certainly would’ve been an abusive arranged marriage. I’ve seen others refer to this story as involving a love triangle, but there never seemed to be any real competition in that regard, at least not one I couldn’t see easily resolved, so I didn’t classify it that way.
My teenage son enjoyed listening to the audio drama Dooku: Jedi Lost by Cavan Scott, which chronicles Dooku’s life as a Jedi before he turned to the Dark Side, while taking his daily walk. It was like listening to a movie, he said. It’s now one of his favorite Star War books.
My middle-school daughter is working her way through Theresa Linden’s West Brothers series, most recently Life-Changing Love. I’ve read the book myself, but it was interesting to see it through my pre-teen daughter’s eyes as she discerned the good and bad relationship choices the characters were making. What a great opportunity for her to see real-life consequences in a fictional setting where no people are harmed!
She also enjoyed a book I’m going to read as well: Beneath Wandering Stars by Ashlee Cowles, which I think I first saw recommended by Catholic Teen Books author Leslea Wahl and made part of my summer reading list. Honoring a vow to her wounded soldier brother, Gabriela walks the Camino de Santiago with her brother’s best friend, whom she despises.
Across Five Aprils is a historical novel set during the Civil War that I saw recommended on an An Open Book post and knew immediately would appeal to my daughter, who loves American history. It follows young Jethro Creighton, starting in 1861, through the Civil War as his family is pulled into the conflict between North and South.
I read two stories from Heavenly Hosts: Eucharistic Miracles for Kids to my now-third grade daughter, in bed each night. She enjoyed listening to the stories set in various centuries and throughout the world. The fictional details Kathryn Griffin Swegart adds to the true miracles make them more interesting and engaging for young readers. A few editing details could be cleaned up in the text but didn’t detract from my daughter’s enjoyment.
This is the third child in the household reading the Origami Yoda series, and she is currently reading The Secret of the Fortune Wookiee by Tom Angleberger. These are fun books for my Star Wars fans, who usually ending up grabbing paper and attempting to make little origami creations.
After purchasing books through a recent online Usborne party, my two youngest are re-discovering the Shine-A-Light books they enjoy. The new favorite seems to be Secrets of Winter by Carron Brown. If you have young kids in your life and you haven’t discovered these, they are such fun! Hold a flashlight behind the page to reveal a hidden part of the illustration.
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Copyright 2020 Carolyn Astfalk
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