As often happens, nearly every book in today’s roundup evoked mixed opinions: a little to love, a little to loathe, and plenty in the middle. On a positive note, these inconclusive reactions make for much more compelling reviews. Let’s get to them!
My Sister, the Serial Killer, by Oyinkan Braithwaite: Korede and Ayoola are two Nigerian sisters who couldn’t be more different. Korede, the older sister, is plain yet responsible, and accustomed to looking after those she loves. Carefree, beautiful Ayoola is the sister everyone adores, the one every man wants to be his. Unfortunately, Ayoola has a nasty habit of murdering the men in her life . . . and then relying on Korede to help her dispose of the bodies and keep her secret.
After years of cleaning up blood and hiding the bodies of her sister’s dead lovers, Korede has grown tired of Ayoola’s antics. When Ayoola sets her sights on Tade—a doctor at the hospital where Korede is a nurse, and a man Korede herself has been pining after—Korede must find a way to save the man she loves while also remaining loyal to the sister she feels duty-bound to protect.
This book is advertised as witty and darkly comedic, but I found nothing humorous about the story or the telling. The premise is indeed intriguing, and I was interested in the Nigerian setting and the corresponding insights into that culture. However, I grew increasingly frustrated with the characters: I despised Ayoola for her entitled attitude, narcism, and disregard for human life, and while I wanted Korede to be someone I could root for, I grew tired of her unwillingness to stand up for herself and for her complicity in her sister’s actions.
This is a very quick read, and perhaps if the story had been fleshed out a bit, I would have liked it more. As it stands, it felt incomplete and not at all satisfying. I’m surprised by so many positive reviews.
My Rating: 3 Stars.
Winterhouse, by Ben Guterson: In this Harry Potter read-alike, orphan Elizabeth Somers is being raised by her unkind aunt and uncle who have decided to ship her off to the ominous Winterhouse Hotel for the Christmas holidays. When Elizabeth arrives at the hotel, she realizes that her time at Winterhouse will not be the punitive experience she’d anticipated: the young book lover and puzzle solver is delighted by the hotel’s massive library and by the rooms (and people) teeming with puzzles to be solved.
As Elizabeth and her new friend Freddy dive deeper into the hotel’s secrets, they discover a book of puzzles that holds the key to unlocking a mystery involving Norbridge Falls, the hotel’s eccentric proprietor. Elizabeth soon realizes that Norbridge and Winterhouse are under a curse—one that only she can unlock.
This is a delightful middle grade book filled with fun word puzzles, enchanting characters, and some intriguing mysteries. The story didn’t quite hold my attention the way some similar titles have (most notably Harry Potter, but also and The Story Collector and The 39 Clues series), but I have no doubt it would be loved by young fans of fantasy and mystery, and I myself am eager to see what’s next for this trilogy.
My Rating: 4 Stars.
The Secrets of Midwives, by Sally Hepworth: After loving The Mother-in-Law, I couldn’t wait to dive into Sally Hepworth’s backlist and eagerly picked up this novel about three generations of midwives and the secrets they keep.
Neva Bradley is a third generation midwife, now pregnant with her first child and set on keeping the identity of the baby’s father a secret. Her mother, Grace, refuses to let the secret rest, determined that her grandchild grow up knowing a father, a privilege she never had. Upon learning of her granddaughter’s pregnancy, Floss feels as though she is reliving a sixty-year-old secret of her own, one that she has kept from Grace and Neva for decades and that has the potential to tear their family apart.
I am fascinated by obstetrics and childbirth (even when I’m not pregnant), so I loved the midwifery element to this novel and the accompanying birth stories. The personal lives of the three women held less interest for me. I didn’t find any of these three midwives particularly likable and felt their secret-keeping was unnecessary and a bit melodramatic. I would have liked to see more character development, as well as a touch more intrigue. Unlike The Mother-in-Law, which had some wonderful literary elements, this book reads much more like simple chick lit. That said, there were more than a couple of touching moments that tugged at my heartstrings . . . I just wish those sentimental moments had had more depth to them.
My Rating: 3.5 Stars.
Introverts in the Church: Finding Our Place in an Extroverted Culture, by Adam S. McHugh: As anyone who has attended an evangelical church knows, today’s church setting is not exactly introvert-friendly: the music is loud, members are encouraged to socialize with numerous strangers, and personal growth often happens in a large group setting. And let’s not forget the “evangelism” component that gives these churches their name!
In Introverts in the Church, Adam McHugh (a pastor, spiritual director, former hospital chaplain, and introvert) addresses the extroverted nature of today’s churches and how they can leave introverted individuals feeling marginalized and out of place. After spending some time defining and explaining introversion (concepts that will be familiar to those who have read Susan Cain’s Quiet), McHugh makes a case for why introverts are a vital part of a church community and how our unique qualities equip us for church leadership, service, and even evangelism—it just might look different for introverts than it does for extroverted Christians. McHugh outlines specific spiritual practices that are well-suited to the introverted temperament, and he makes suggestions for how today’s churches can accommodate the needs of introverted members. Throughout the book, McHugh validates the personality traits of introverts (who are not broken or flawed, just differently wired) and empowers us to live out God’s calling on our lives.
As a Christian and a personality enthusiast, this book was totally up my alley. I’ve often felt that churches could make better use of personality profiling to determine members’ giftings and help them find their sweet spot within the church body. I appreciated McHugh’s encouragement of introverts and his reminders that we don’t need to act outside of who God made us to be in order to be used by Him. I am a huge fan of the contemplative practices that McHugh discusses, and I agree that introverts are the perfect individuals to introduce these alternative worship and communion styles to the wider church.
While I liked a lot of what McHugh had to say about personality, many of his thoughts on church didn’t sit well with me. McHugh seems entirely opposed to the evangelical model itself, and I found it unfair to discredit an entire church denomination because it doesn’t perfectly suit the needs of many introverts. For the record, I have attended evangelical churches my entire life, and even as a fairly hard-core introvert, I have had little problem with many of the aspects McHugh finds troubling (such as long conversational sermons and an encouragement to participate in community groups). The church has not always been an entirely comfortable place for me, but I don’t know that it is MEANT to be comfortable: the church is intended to build up the body of believers, and this often entails some stretching and discomfort as we grow. I don’t believe that our utmost comfort should be the church’s top priority; there is no way to accommodate every worship style and personality difference, and attempting to do so distracts from the ultimate goals of sanctification and equipping.
This is an excellent resource for extroverted pastors hoping to understand the introverts within their congregation (likely half of their church body) and for introverts who have felt out of place within the church environment. But I would treat this more as an informational book, and not a guide for changes that MUST be made.
My Rating: 3.5 Stars.
The Lady from the Black Lagoon: Hollywood Monsters and the Lost Legacy of Milicent Patrick, by Mallory O’Meara: I’ve never seen Creature from the Black Lagoon, let alone heard of Millicent Patrick, but I heard the author of this book on a recent podcast episode, and the premise of her book intrigued me! Millicent Patrick—a woman of many names and professions—was one of Disney’s first female animators, and a Hollywood costume designer credited with creating the monster in Creature from the Black Lagoon. As a young woman in the horror film industry, Mallary O’Meara was fascinated by the legacy of this trailblazing woman and set out to learn more.
Because of her numerous name changes and the unconventional nature of her career and her life, Patrick’s trail was largely buried. But as O’Meara began to piece together the puzzles of this enigmatic woman’s life, she learned of Patrick’s formative years growing up in the shadow of Hearst Castle, her remarkable contribution to special effects, her lackluster efforts as an actress, and her lifelong struggle to be taken seriously in a world dominated by men. At times, O’Meara’s discoveries left her disappointed with her hero and role model, but she also grew to admire Patrick’s lifelong pursuit of pleasure and fulfillment and her refusal to cater to society’s expectations.
Though technically a biography, this is more the story of Millicent Patrick’s impact on the life of the author than an exploration of the artist herself. There is still much that is unknown about Millicent Patrick, so instead O’Meara spends page time outlining her research process and formulating hypotheses to fill in the gaps. As a writer, I found this interesting but was disappointed by the lack of solid information. O’Meara’s hero worship and personal comparisons to Patrick grew tiresome, as did her endless feminist rants: while she paints a painful but likely accurate picture of Hollywood’s chauvinism and discrimination against women, she takes the victimization too far to be taken seriously. O’Meara is too emotionally invested in her subject, which transforms the book from an insightful portrayal of a Hollywood role model into a personal vendetta.
My Rating: 3 Stars.
Have you read any of these titles? I’d love to hear what you thought!