The reviews in today’s “Quick Lit” post are not at all QUICK, so I’ll skip the longwinded intro and let you dive right in!
Let’s All Be Brave: Living Life with Everything You Have, by Annie F. Downs: Annie Downs is, by her own admission, not a naturally brave person. But her life as a single woman, author, podcaster, and public speaker has been marked by courageous acts. In Let’s All Be Brave, Annie shares her journey of overcoming fear to do big things for God. From leaving her job as an elementary school teacher to pursue writing full time, to moving away from her home state of Alabama to live in Nashville, and later Scotland, Annie has followed God’s calling, even when it hasn’t been easy. In addition to sharing her own testimony, Annie draws upon Scripture, inspiring her readers in join her in stepping out with bravery as we trust the Lord with our stories.
I’ve been listening to Annie’s podcast, That Sounds Fun, for several months now and Annie has quickly become one of my favorite leaders within the Christian space. She is fun, funny, down-to-earth, unafraid of tackling difficult issues, and firmly grounded in her faith. This was the first of her books that I’ve read, and although I didn’t get as much out of it as I do from her podcast (or even her Instagram posts), I fully embraced her message and enjoyed learning more about her life. She is transparent with her story, without indulging in unnecessary navel-gazing; everything she writes is shared for the purpose of pointing her reader back to God.
I admire and am inspired by Annie’s unique brand of courage, and I love that she recognizes that courage and calling are different for every believer. Hers is just a single story, and in sharing it, she is helping others find their own.
I listened to the audio version of this book, which was NOT narrated by Annie—that was a huge disappointment, and I wish I’d read rather than listened. I’m looking forward to reading her more recent book, which I will definitely read the old-fashioned way. I’m also SO EXCITED to meet Annie in person this fall!
My Rating: 4 stars.
Happiness is A Choice: Lessons from a year among the oldest old, by John Leland: “Happiness” and “old age” are not two subjects that I would naturally pair together, but in Happiness Is a Choice You Make, award-winning journalist John Leland has done just that. In 2015, Leland went on assignment for the New York Times to write about the “oldest old”—those over the age of eighty-five (which happens to be America’s fastest-growing age group). Leland anticipated the series would focus on the struggles that aging entails, from memory loss and deteriorating bodies to loneliness and a sense of purposelessness. But during his year with the six elderly individuals selected for his piece, Leland discovered that their experience was not a negative one. The backgrounds and present lives of these six men and women looked very different, but all had managed to find contentment and joy in their old age.
Happiness Is a Choice is a collection of lessons Leland gleaned from his elders. His cast of mentors were not extraordinary in any way, but they accumulated remarkable wisdom and perspective in their extended lives. Leland shares their stories with empathy and humor, weaving them together to form a larger narrative of the aging process. Through their journey he demonstrates that old age isn’t something to be dreaded, but anticipated and, once in it, relished. He deftly extrapolates their hard-earned lessons for a younger audience, so as to inform our present lives (and his). Among my favorite takeaways:
“We can focus on what we’ve lost or on the life we have now.”
“We forget and we remember because we need to. This means there can be quality of life even with memory loss.”
“They don’t have time for delusions, including the delusion that you have time. They’re too busy loving like there’s no tomorrow, because for any of us, there might not be.”
“The lesson was to find happiness not in the absence of pain and loss, but in their acceptance.”
I have to be honest: getting old, and witnessing the aging of those around me, is terrifying to me. I don’t fear death, but I dread the side effects of age, even the minimal ones I’m experiencing now. (Creaky bones and crow’s feet, you are NOT welcome here!) I was encouraged by this book and inspired to savor the benefits of getting older rather than resenting the drawbacks. I also deeply appreciated the book’s respectful view of one’s elders, who are not portrayed as helpless or pitiable, but as valuable individuals who still have a great deal to offer. This was a breath of fresh air in a world that glorifies youthfulness and disregards the elderly as irrelevant and burdensome.
My Rating: 4 stars.
Wild at Heart: Discovering the Secret of a Man’s Soul, by John Eldredge: This book took the Christian world by storm when it was released more than a decade ago. I didn’t read it at the time, though I knew I’d eventually like to. The book came to my attention again last month at our community group, where a couple of the women mentioned that their husbands were reading it together in their guys’ group. These girls weren’t thrilled with the ideas being presented (I believe the term “toxic masculinity” was thrown around) and I knew I needed to read the book for myself in order to form my own opinions.
The premise of the book is that men were designed by God to be warriors, with a heart for danger and adventure. Men, according to Eldridge, are meant for pursuing passions and taking risks. But these intrinsic desires have been suppressed by the modern church, which squelches their authentic masculinity by reshaping them into gentle “nice guys.” Consequently, men (especially Christian men) have grown passive, risk-averse, and purposeless.
Eldredge begins by outlining what it means to be a man, explaining how men embrace masculinity by proving they “have what it takes” and thereby becoming image-bearers of God. He then spends some time identifying the wounds that have attacked each man’s masculinity (these usually result from a poor relationship with the man’s father) and explains how to find true healing through Jesus rather than worldly methods (such as engaging in pornography or presenting a macho image.) Finally, Eldredge addresses man’s three core desires—a battle to fight, a beauty to rescue, and an adventure to live; if these are not satisfied, a man will fall into despair or addiction (or both). Eldredge concludes by walking men through the soul-saving work of pursuing these desires.
I’ll be honest: I really wrestled with this text. There was a lot to love, but also a lot that didn’t sit well with me. Let’s start with the good: Eldredge’s writing is strong, filled with bold imagery and nods to the adventurous spirit he hopes to spark in his readers. I’m not a man (obviously) but I can see how his writing style would appeal to his male audience. He also does a great job at incorporating his own journey as well as those of many Biblical figures. He offers numerous scripture references to support his stance, and many of his ideas are valid. I wholeheartedly agree that masculinity has become minimized and practically demonized by our culture, Christians included. After years of oppressing women, the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction, and instead of acknowledging the beauty of both femininity AND masculinity, we’ve moved towards a gender-neutral society, which causes us to miss out on the benefits that come from acknowledging our God-given differences. Wild at Heart helps men understand that being a good Christian man doesn’t mean becoming a pushover, and that it’s okay—necessary, even—to embrace their inner strength and sense of adventure. The book also does an excellent job of guiding men through addressing heart wounds and dismantling the false self.
Where Eldredge goes wrong is with his narrow interpretation of masculinity. Elderedge believes that being a man necessitates becoming wild, outdoorsy, and dangerous. True, this is part of the genetic makeup of many men, but Elderedge is quick to make broad generalizations without taking personality nuances into consideration; despite the Biblical examples Elderedge offers up to prove his point, I just don’t believe that a guy needs to love hunting and motorcycle rides to qualify as a true man. Elderedge puts a lot of stock in the image of a Warrior God while dismissing the power and courage that are found in a compassionate, tender spirit and a quiet dedication of one’s family. I don’t agree with Elderedge that a “domesticated” man has abandoned his masculinity.
I also struggled with Eldredge’s depiction of women as passive companions to their warrior husbands. Yes, every woman wants to be swept of her feet, but we don’t want to be dominated by a wild man, and that dynamic is NOT one that mirrors Christ’s relationship with His bride, the Church. Eldredge denies the existence of the woman’s own journey and disregards the notion that women, too, have a heart for adventure and a God-given desire to participate in a greater purpose, beyond accompanying her husband in his.
I truly believe in the spirit behind Eldredge’s message, and trust that his book has steered the church in some good and necessary directions. Unfortunately, a lot of what he has to say can be easily misconstrued, resulting in men who interpret his message as a criticism of their own brand of masculinity, or who take his advice as a license to literally run wild. That said, Wild at Heart did give me a better understanding of the men in my life (especially my husband and son); I’m looking forward to hearing Luke’s thoughts once he has read the book!
My Rating: 3.5 stars.
Lie to Me, by J. T. Ellison: Sutton and Ethan Montclair have a seemingly idyllic life, but all is not as it appears. (Goodness, I feel like SO MANY of the book summarys I’ve written lately have started with this same premise!) Sutton and Ethan are both authors who have been experiencing their share of writerly problems, from writer’s block to public criticism of their work and even defamation of their characters. Their professional woes and subsequent financial trials, combined with additional marital struggles and the recent death of their infant son, has resulted in a highly volatile home life. When Sutton goes missing without a trace, Ethan becomes the immediate and obvious suspect. But as the police investigate, they discover that both Sutton and Ethan have plenty of skeletons in their closets. The only party who isn’t lying is the anonymous third narrator—an admittedly evil individual who claims to know what has happened and has plenty of shocking details to offer.
If you’re thinking the setup of this novel sounds an awful lot like Gone Girl, you would be correct. I spent the first half of the novel wondering how Ellison could have gotten away with so blatantly copycatting the novel that has come to define modern domestic noir. Like Gone Girl, Lie to Me features a game-turning twist midway through the book that (thankfully) followed a very non-Gone Girl trajectory that I definitely didn’t see coming. There is quite a bit of suspended disbelief required, but the outcome is incredibly satisfying.
This is a cleverly plotted novel filled with fascinating characters and breathless twists. It definitely ranks among the top psychological thrillers I’ve read this year (and there have been quite a few of them!). The plot takes center stage, but the brooding tone and sharp inner dialogue are equally noteworthy. Much of the story is built upon the notion of misperception and false impressions, which is a pet favorite theme of mine. This was the first book I’ve read from J.T. Ellison, but it certainly won’t be the last.
My Rating: 4.5 stars.
Party Girl, by Rachel Hollis: For years, Landon Brinkley has dreamed of becoming an event planner. After working her way through college, saving every penny earned from her job waitressing in her parents’ restaurant, this Texan girl has made her way to L.A. where she’s landed a coveted internship with Selah Smith, a celebrated event planner to the Hollywood Elite. Within minutes of arriving at her new job, Landon realizes that this dream job isn’t quite so dreamy. Landon, with her big hair, brightly colored outfits, and bubbly personality sticks out like a sore thumb amid the chic employees, whose black clothing matches their bleak moods. Landon (known as Brinkley around the office, where only last names are used) is devastated to learn that Selah is the world’s cruelest boss, an irrational task master with little regard for the wellbeing of her hardworking employees. Though she refuses to compromise her values or relinquish her nice girl persona, Landon is determined to stick it out in order to make it big and prove to everyone that she has what it takes to succeed.
My MOPS book club read this as our June selection, and I’m so glad that we did because it’s a “guilty pleasure” title that I would not normally have gravitated to, but one that I definitely enjoyed. Let’s get the demerits out of the way: the writing is pretty amateurish and the plot is predictable and poorly paced (the ending really drags). BUT overall, this book is pure fun. Landon is a spunky and endearing character, and I admired both her work ethic and her commitment to her personal values.
I especially loved getting a behind-the-scenes look at the lifestyles and parties of the rich and famous. The book is largely based on Rachel Hollis’s own experiences as an event planner to the stars (which she writes about in more detail in Girl Wash Your Face, our previous Book Club pick), and her descriptions of party planning are where the book shines. Her vivid outfit descriptions are also quite scrumptious; reading this book felt like paging through a fashion catalogue!
Party Girl is definitely edgier than I’d expected, knowing that Hollis is a Christian, but it’s pretty tame compared to other books within the Chick Lit genre, and even the seedier behavior is portrayed in a negative light, with Landon’s strong character standing out above it all.
I’m looking forward to reading the other two books in the series, which follow two of the most intriguing side characters in Party Girl.
My Rating: 4 stars.
The Perfect Mother, by Aimee Molloy: Winnie, a single mom to 6-week-old Midas, is struggling through the early days of motherhood along with the other May Mothers, a group of young moms (and one SAHD) living in NYC. On the night of July Fourth, the moms head out for their first night away from their babies. Winnie reluctantly leaves Midas in the care of a friend’s nanny; before she returns home, her baby is missing, gone without a trace. The police launch an investigation, but three of the other moms in Winnie’s group believe the officials are putting forth a halfhearted effort, and they grow determined to help find Midas themselves. As the search continues, the mothers encounter various challenges and fears of their own. Past secrets are uncovered and they realize how their tight knit group, bonded by circumstance and life stage, hardly knows each other at all.
The abducted baby storyline is hardly an original one, but this book stands out from similar thrillers in that it focuses more on the characters than the mystery: Midas’s disappearance is background to the primary stories of new moms adjusting to motherhood. From missed milestones and difficulties with nursing, to nonexistent sleep and questions about returning to work, they’re issues that any parent will recognize. Having passed through this stage not so long ago myself, their stories were frighteningly familiar, which added to the terror of of seeing one of their own babies disappear.
Reading this novel felt like watching an episode of Parenthood (or some similar drama) with various scenes focusing on unique struggles within the same life stage. I was completely captivated by each of the mothers’ stories, and the New York setting added an interesting perspective, as I’ve always wondered what it would be like to raise a baby in NYC. And while the mystery doesn’t take center stage in the novel, it ties the stories together and maintains the novel’s fast-paced suspense. We are made privy to one shocking revelation after another, leading to a jaw-dropping conclusion that I would NEVER have predicted.
My Rating: 4.5 stars.
I am linking up with Modern Mrs. Darcy to share what we’ve been reading lately. If you’re here from the linkup, thanks so much for stopping by! You can find Part One of this week’s Quick Lit posts here:
And you’ll find Part Two right here.
What have you been reading lately? Anything good? Please share your recommendations with me!