I hope you’re ready for some great book reviews! (The “great” there is in reference to the books, not necessarily the reviews—I won’t make any claims as to the quality of those!). I’ve got eighteen books to share with you this week, beginning with six today.
That Kind of Mother, by Rumaan Alam: Rebecca Stone is a poet and diplomat’s wife living in Washington, DC, in the late 1980s. After giving birth to her first child, Rebecca is overwhelmed and finds comfort and reassurance with Priscilla, the hospital La Leche League consultant who eventually agrees to come home with Rebecca to be her son’s nanny. Rebecca is white, Priscilla is black, and their relationship opens Rebecca’s eyes to her own white privilege. When Priscilla dies unexpectedly while birthing a child of her own, Rebecca steps in to raise her friend’s son. Rebecca quickly learns that, while her love for her two sons is colorblind, the world is not so quick to embrace their unconventional family.
This is a challenging book, digging deep into the prickly issues of race and adoption. It’s also a timely read; though set three decades ago, the issues are ones only now being openly addressed in popular culture. I doubt that this book could have been written, let alone well-received, during the years in which it takes place, and I’m glad that society is finally beginning to face these topics head-on.
Though very much an “issues” book, this is ultimately a tale of motherhood. While he obviously isn’t a mother himself, Rumaan Alam captures a mother’s experience with exquisite poignancy. His main characters (all mothers) are complex and relatable and their experiences gave me a great deal to ponder. Not as well-written or engaging as read-alike Small Great Things, but a strong read, and a much more positive one than my last reading challenge book.
My Rating: 4 stars.
Adamant: Finding Truth in a Universe of Opinions, by Lisa Bevere: I’d never heard of Lisa Bevere until listening to her interview on God Centered Mom. I was blown away by her ideas and convictions and couldn’t wait to get my hands on her most recent book. The book’s title refers to the original meaning of adamant: an ancient mythical stone that was indestructible and immovable. Lisa explains that in a world “where truth slips and slides according to the latest popular trend and current culture,” Jesus is our Adamant, our Rock, our Truth. We are secure in Christ, our Cornerstone, who enables us to be adamant as we speak and live the truth.
Throughout the book, Lisa unpacks what it looks like to be adamant: in love, hate (this section is especially eye-opening), truth, holiness, transformation, and more. Lisa’s tone is compassionate, but she does not mince words and is not afraid to speak uncomfortable truths; her statements are fully backed by Scripture, unswerving in the face of cultural expectations or norms. Lisa reminds us that love is unafraid to speak the truth, even when that truth is not politically correct.
This book reads like a series of sermons, and while it packs a powerful punch, I didn’t find the writing style particularly engaging: there are many long passages of Scripture, followed by analysis and extrapolation, which made for tedious reading. I would recommend taking this one in in small bites. However, I definitely do recommend reading it, especially if you are a believer seeking a better understanding of how to live a life that is both loving and holy. I know that I personally needed to read this book. It’s easy as a Christian to fall prey to the world’s lies; books like this one draw me back to the Truth.
My Rating: 4 stars.
Grace Not Perfection: Embracing Simplicity, Celebrating Joy, by Emily Ley: Our culture is at a weird place right now, where we are surrounded by apparent perfection (hello, Pinterest and Instagram), yet it’s increasingly evident that we are striving after an unachievable image. Perfectionism is equally glamorized and vilified—we love it nearly as much as we love to hate it—and many of us are left feeling unsure of where to turn. As a lifelong perfectionist, I’m no stranger to this struggle; with my word for 2018 in mind, I have been focusing on loosening my grip on “perfect”. This is the core message of Emily Ley’s book, so when I claimed “grace” as my word for the year, I made plans to read this book at some point in 2018.
Emily Ley is a young mom, business owner, and creator of a popular line of planners. In Grace Not Perfection, she shares her personal journey towards learning how to prioritize, embrace the good things in her life, and hold herself to a standard of grace rather than one of perfection. The book is divided into three parts: Grace for Yourself (learning how to plan, how to give up control, how to create margin); Grace for Others (investing in your family and community); and Grace in Your Calling (letting go of mom guilt, pursuing your dreams). Emily offers suggestions for streamlining and simplifying your life, with an overarching theme of reminding moms to go easy on ourselves in this busy time in life.
I love the message of this book, and I appreciated the connections Emily made between grace and simplification. These two definitely go hand in hand, and it’s rare to see conversations that address both the spiritual and practical aspects of grace, rest, and prioritization. It was helpful to see how things like morning routines can connect us to our core purpose and pave the way for grace and abundance.
Though the themes of this book are strong, the writing is not. The book is filled with clichés, and the advice (while true) wasn’t very different from messages I’ve read in many other books. (Erin Loechner, Shauna Niequist, and Lisa TerKeurst have all written eloquently about this topic. Each of those women is a little further ahead in their motherhood journey and have more life experience to build on.) While Emily seems very sweet, I struggled with the discrepancy between her advocacy for messiness couched within the perfect image the book portrays of herself and her life.
While the earliest chapters were not amazing, I had takeaways from each one. However, I had a very difficult time with the chapter on Mom Guilt. I agree that mom comparisons are unhealthy and that we moms carry a lot of unnecessary guilt; however, I find that blanket statements such as “you’re a great mom” and “you’re doing a great job” are not helpful. (I have SO MUCH to say on this subject, but for now I’ll restrain myself from launching into a rant.) On this particular topic, I believe that Emily lost sight of the message of grace and replaced it with a feel-good message that left me feeling not so good.
If you are a young mom looking for some light inspiration, this might be the right book for you. If you’re looking to go deeper into the ideas of homemaking and grace, there are plenty of better books to turn to.
My Rating: 3 stars.
Sunburn, by Laura Lippman: It’s the summer of 1995. In the small town of Belleville, Delaware, Polly and Adam meet in a local tavern. What seems like a chance encounter is anything but. Polly just walked out on her husband and 3-year-old daughter; what that husband doesn’t know is that she’d been playing him for a long time. Adam is the private detective hired by someone Polly would prefer to forget. Against all odds, the two fall into a hot summer romance. But both have secrets pasts that they are desperate to keep hidden, and as they become more entangled in their webs of deceit, their own conjoined story turns deadly.
With this novel, you’re better off jumping right in with as little information as possible, so I won’t share more about the plot. But wow, was it a good one: multifaceted, and suspenseful from start to finish. Lippman is a superb writer, maintaining narrative drive while also delving deep into the psyches of her characters, who are flawed but intriguing in a brilliant-but-sick sort of way. (I felt similarly about the protagonists in Gone Girl.) The evocative setting is a prominent character within the novel (gotta love those 90s references), and Lippman’s palpable imagery drew me into the book in a way that few thrillers can. The story does falter a bit towards the end, but as a whole, this was an excellent way to kick off my summer reading.
My Rating: 4.5 stars.
Two Girls Down, by Luisa Luna: Two young girls disappear while out running errands with their mother in their small Pennsylvania town. Their heartbroken family hires an eccentric bounty hunter named Alice Vega to find them, and Vega enlists the help of Max Caplan, a private detective with a scandal in his past. Together they embark on a breathless investigation filled with numerous red herrings and plenty of unsavory characters, all in an effort to find the girls before it’s too late.
As I’ve matured as a reader, I’ve become harder to please in the mystery department, but I’m still not above reading a good thriller. (See Sunburn above!) And when it comes to thrillers, plot nearly always reigns supreme. But the high point of Two Girls Down is actually the characters. Vega and Cap are both complicated and compelling, and they have a wonderful dynamic. Vega is focused and insightful; she’s a strong woman, but can be prickly. Cap, a divorced father, is the softer of the two; I particularly enjoyed his relationship with his teenage daughter, Nell. And I liked seeing Vega soften as she witnesses the tenderness between Cap and Nell. I anticipate this book will be the first in a series, and I’d like to see more of this dynamic pair of detectives.
As for the novel’s plot, it’s just okay. The story takes some turns I wasn’t expecting, but the path to the finish line is a little too windy and weighed down by story fillers. I also had a difficult time with the extreme amount of obscenity. I’m no stranger to books with foul language, but the number of f-bombs in this book was way more than I’m comfortable with.
My Rating: 3.5 stars.
The Path Between Us: An Enneagram Journey to Healthy Relationships, by Suzanne Stabile: I’ve been a student of the Enneagram for several years now, and for most of that time, others had no idea what I was talking about when I would bring the Enneagram up in conversation. That’s changed in the last year, though; suddenly everyone is talking about the Enneagram, and while part of me misses being one of the few people “in the know”, I love that I’m getting to learn people’s numbers and have these deeper discussions. There are also quite a few new podcasts and books coming out on the Enneagram, and you’d better believe I’m consuming them as fast as I can!
The Path Between Us comes from the coauthor of The Road Back to You, the Enneagram book that’s taking the Christian world by storm. This book is different in that it focuses on the Enneagram within relationships (romantic, friendship, and professional). Suzanne gives a brief overview of each type, then spends most of her time outlining how these types show up in relationship. She explains how each number can harness their strengths and attend to their weaknesses in order to present their best self in relationships, and she offers insights as to how other numbers should approach each type. Suzanne incorporates stories from friends and family members to give flesh to her advice, and (most helpfully) describes the relational dynamic between every number pairing.
This would not make a good introduction to the Enneagram, but as someone who is already very familiar with the model, it provided a wealth of new and helpful information. I was particularly impressed with her assessment of Type 1’s (that’s me); given her masterful understanding of my type, I’m assuming that her explanations of other types are just as accurate. My only qualm with the book (and with most Enneagram or other personality books) is that it incorporates very broad generalizations; I think we all know that no person will resonate with every aspect of their type, but it would have been helpful for Suzanne to clarify this point; instead she takes the opposite route, making many blanket statements about the types. I also wish that the book had dug deeper into wings and stress/security points, an area that seems lacking in most discussions of the Enneagram.
My Rating: 4.5 stars.
Have you read any of these books? I’m dying to know what you thought!