Breaking Bread with the Dead: A Reader’s Guide to a More Tranquil Mind by Alan Jacobs

This essay makes a fascinating observation of how we as people view the past and how it affects our present and future. The author argues that unless we broaden our reading to authors we might reject based on problematic content, we may miss learning some key things about ourselves, community, and humanity as a whole. This book is timely with all the banned book conversations going on.

He starts by the very accurate observation of information triage. The idea is that we get so much stimulation and consume so much information with the internet and content that is available at our fingertips, so when we have to make quick decisions on what to consume and what to reject. But in those rejections, we are missing out on valuable wisdom because of historical content that would be problematic today or not being able to fully relate to the author for one reason or another.

While the information was interesting, I had a hard time focusing and reading his writing. It wasn’t dry necessarily; he does bring humor into his writing, but it felt a little over explained for me. Perhaps that is part of the point he is trying to make, that we all just want to get the highlights because there is so much information to process.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading classics that might want to broaden their reading list. It definitely challenges readers to sit in the tension of books and writing they may not completely agree with.

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The Cartographers by Peng Shepherd

Part mystery, part fantasy, this book was a delight. It reminded me of The Secret History by Donna Tartt, in that, it’s a story of seven friends who are holding secrets, some deadly. It uses the very real use of phantom settlements, towns that are put in by the mapmaker as a way to copyright their work. Which also made me think of Paper Towns by John Green. In fact, both of those books use the town of Agloe in their stories. But this story has a little more magic to it.

The numbered chapters are written from Nell’s perspective, the daughter of two members of the group as she uncovers the mystery behind the old gas station map. This map cost her a job at the Map Division of the New York Public Library and estranged her from her father for seven years. It also includes short chapters in between from the perspective of the seven different friends, each named for the friend who is speaking to Nell, revealing more of the story that happened decades before. When her mother died saving her from a fire.

The plot is well-paced, and the POV chapters break up the story a bit, to allow for more context. Some of the plot twists were predictable, and there is a part of the story towards the end (no spoilers, no worries) that felt rushed to tie up loose ends. The relationship with Felix was also a little frustrating, though I do like how he and Nell end up at the end.

I would recommend anyone who enjoyed The Secret History or Paper Towns, or anyone who enjoys a good mystery with a little bit of magic.

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Do I Stay Christian? by Brian D McLaren

This is not a devotional book. This is not about the five steps to salvation. I wouldn’t even recommend this book to a new believer, but it is a book that is necessary.

Church attendance in recent years has been declining. People have been leaving the church and Christianity. There has been a lot of conjecture about why, and this book gives a broad look into that perspective. The author pulls from personal conversations he has had with people in ministry who left ministry or Christianity as a whole.

The book is broken up into “no,” “yes,” and “how.” Each chapter of no or yes explores a different reason why people left or stayed in Christianity. I have personally chosen to stay Christian, but I didn’t relate to every chapter in yes, and I understand a lot of the no’s reasoning. Some of the “No” chapters were a review for me because I had read other books that outlined in more detail those particular reasons.

The How chapters were the author’s “what’s next” answer. He speaks to both those remaining in Christianity and those who chose not to about community and remaining educated about the issues in our world and how we respond. He cautions people to stay grounded in reality, to not fear the headlines or put too much faith in the promises of politicians.

I would recommend this to people in the church or who have left the church or are in that limbo between the two. I would challenge those who don’t understand why people are leaving to read the “no” chapters with an open heart. I think it would go a long way to helping to understand what is going on in our society and move towards a better one.

A Man Called Ove

This book has been around for 10 years and has had so much hype around it. I wasn’t sure if it would stand the test time or live up to the hype, but it did.

Ove is a curmudgeon. He has lived on this street most of his adult life with his wife. But when a family moves into the neighborhood, his grumpy ways are challenged in the best way.

This book will send you on an emotional roller coaster. Laughter and tears are sentences apart. The dialogue is so well done. The plot twists and reveals are excellent. Without any kind of spoilers, which is hard to do with this book, it is both a light and heavy read at times. There are some trigger warnings with attempted suicide and pregnancy loss and grief in general.

My favorite theme from this book is community and how it shapes us and how much we all need it. There are some outstanding scenes where people rally together to help one another, and it effectively ties into the end of the story so well. It is also a translation from Swedish so while the book feels like it could take place anywhere, there are definitely some references to the Swedish culture.

I would recommend this book to anyone who hasn’t read it yet, which I feel like is a small population in the reader community. Anyone who enjoys contemporary fiction with a strong character and plot development following the themes of grief and community should read this book.

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The Witch’s Daughter by Paula Brackston

This first book in a series follows Elizabeth Hawksmith as she settles near the town of Matravers in England. She befriends a teenage girl and relays her stories throughout history. Because Elizabeth is a witch and immortal.

I really thought I would like this book. It has a lot of the elements I enjoy in a story. Magic. Historical Fiction. Even a little romance. But the book just wasn’t for me.

The writing was a bit convoluted. The sentence structure was mostly passive verb tense, which always somehow takes me out of the story. Also, there were long paragraphs of description that I found myself skimming a lot. There is a difference between using the scene as a separate character and just talking a lot about every corner of a room.

The historical fiction part of the book, set in the 1600s during the Black plague, the 1800s during Jack the Ripper, and the early 1900s around World War 1. I felt like they were just used because they were popular points in English history instead of a dive into the actual history, itself. There were some historical names used, but they aren’t more than just setting, themselves.

Overall, it’s just not a book for me, but if you like well-described scenes and brief historical fiction that is more for the fiction than the history, this might be a book for you. The idea of this book, the premise, is a good story, one that I’ve read in similar books like The Discovery of Witches and The Invisible Life of Addie Larue, but I prefer those books more.

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The Making of Biblical Womanhood by Beth Allison Barr

This book is one part memoir, one part history, and one part social commentary. It opens on the heartbreaking situation her family went through when her husband was fired over women’s role in the church. This event brings her to contemplate over the Church’s history with women in the church and how patriarchy has played a destructive role.

I liked how informative it was, how every opinion and reflection was backed my historical data. Towards the end of the book, she shows how patriarchal values can be a danger to women and marginalized people. She used the #metoo movement to exemplify the dangers of having one people with power over another. It was interesting because I see us even farther down the dangerous road she describes.

The medieval history was fascinating, as well as the reformation, how they compare to present day. There were cycles that showed up even during the early church with the Roman empire’s culture of patriarchy. She showed how these cycles, while maybe a little different in creation, still maintained a lot of the problems of the previous cycles because patriarchy still played a major role in society.

The mixture of theology and history was informative. I don’t think this should be the only book on one’s shelf when it comes to reflecting on the current hierarchy of the church and the problems it brings. But it should definitely have a voice in the discussion. I would recommend this book to any church leader or someone who likes to learn about church history.

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Stand All The Way Up: Stories of staying in it when you want to burn it all down by Sophie Hudson

First of all, to be perfectly fair, I thought this was a different kind of book. I had never heard of this author, though she has written other books as well. I got this book because of an Instagram recommendation and the title of the book. I thought this was a book about social justice and the evangelical church because those have been one of the types of books I’ve been seeking lately in my nonfiction reads. But this is not that book.

That doesn’t make this a bad book. Each chapter is an essay with funny, light anecdotes and scripture references. It reminded me of the speakers at Ladies day luncheons at church growing up. It’s definitely entertaining, just not the depth that I thought there would be.

Except for the last chapter which touches on the things going on in the world (and this was published in 2020 so it was written before the pandemic). The author makes a point about not being consumed with anger and rage and instead fight for the things that are important in your community and among your neighbors. It ends on a reminder to bring Jesus with you whatever you are, whatever you are doing. Which, honestly, does get lost in the fray on social media, politics, and our every day lives lately.

Overall, it’s definitely a book I would recommend to women who are trying to navigate all the harshness of life and the world as is it is now, while continuing to be in a more traditional, evangelical church setting. I hope the author writes another book that reflects more of what has happened in the last few years with the church and our country as a whole, and how she has navigated the complexities there.

Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

This novel is a contemporary fiction that takes place in the marshes of North Carolina. It follows a girl, Kya, who is abandoned by her family to grow up by herself. While she is alone for a lot of her life, she does have community found in Jumpin’ and his wife, Mabel, who she trades with for food and other necessities. She also learns how to read from another local who lived in town. But this book follows her resiliency and intelligent bravery as she survives in the wild.

Nature is a character in the story. Kya learns a lot of life through what she observes in nature and how it interacts with her and itself. The author also adds a lot of descriptive language, making nature more anthropomorphic. Kya also feels more connected to nature than she does the people in her world, which highlights her lonely and alone feelings.

There is also a murder mystery. The book jumps back and forth in time through about half the book before the two timelines meet to play out the story. One timeline is Kya’s life as she is abandoned and then figures out how to survive. The other timeline begins by uncovering the dead body of a kind of golden boy of the local town. The plot twists and turns until all is revealed finally in the end.

The story is beautiful, haunting, and heartbreaking. There are trigger warnings of sexual assault and abuse throughout the book. I would recommend this to anyone who likes a good murder mystery with a plot twist, as well as books that wrestle with prejudice and survival in harsh circumstances. There is also a friends to lovers romance, but it is not really the main story, but it does play a part in the plot.

Lessons in Chemistry by Bonnie Garmus

This book was smart and witty and said a lot about women in the 1960s (as well as today), especially in the workforce. It follows Elizabeth Zott, a beautiful, intelligent chemist who struggles in her career simply because of her gender. She encounters obstacle after obstacle but remains hopeful that she can go further in her career based on her merit.

It’s also a love story found in chemistry and followed in unexpected heartbreak. It’s about being a single mother and making hard choices while also creating space for your little one to grow. It’s about finding community in the unlikeliest of places and empowering others by simply being yourself.

Science and faith seem to intertwine despite Zott’s ambivalence towards religion and God. This book is so strong with characters that are easy to root for. There are plot twists and big reveals that are teary and sweet and heartbreaking.

Overall, it’s a fun read, one that might make you a bit mad at the patriarchy. I would recommend this for any woman who might be lost in the world, unsure of where they are meant to be. Also, for people who love science, a little romance, and an amazing, tidy ending.

The Body is Not an Apology: The Power of Radical Self-Love

This beautiful book. I’ve already recommended it to friends before I even finished it. This author’s work is both challenging and edifying. I really appreciate everything she does to lay out the history, statistics and personal perspectives in this book in order to show how our bodies have been abused and misrepresented.

Her writing vacillates between hard facts and humor. It’s like I was taking a class in radical self-love. There are questions throughout the chapters and challenges to have conversation with other people. One of the biggest points was that we can’t radically love ourselves in a vacuum, it has to be done in community, both in how we treat and view ourselves and others.

There are also practical examples which are perfect for my learning style. She reiterates points throughout the book so you aren’t just given a whole lot of information but instead are able to process it from different sides and facets. It is only 130 pages but pretty dense, and it references the workbook that I will be definitely looking into soon. I would recommend this to anyone with a body and who desires building a community where we love and celebrate who we are and how we are made.

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