My appreciation for Jodi Picoult has grown in the last couple years. She takes difficult topics and invites readers to contemplate them in ways they might not have otherwise. This story takes a common issue that we tend to not notice. Looking at racism through the eyes of a black nurse on trial, a white nationalist putting that nurse on trial while grieving his son’s death, and the nurse’s lawyer who witnesses prejudice she didn’t realize existed I noticed we all hold more prejudice than we like to think. As the characters interact with each other, they gain deeper understandings of all; I also gained an awareness of my own blind spots and felt encouraged to deepen my empathy. Each person faces very real obstacles, and each person has room to grow. This applies to readers as well. Though tough to read at points, I’m glad Picoult examined such a full spectrum of experiences and urged readers to consider where their perspectives fall and where they may grow in empathy.
In her book The Beauty of Broken: My Story, and Likely Yours Too former MOPS International CEO Elisa Morgan shares her openly broken story. Morgan shatters the illusion that Christian leaders have perfect lives. Through vulnerable anecdotes and reflection, she encourages readers to go deeper in their lives. A reminder that we all face unexpected obstacles flows through the pages not as a doomsday warning but as a message of hope that we have strength, guidance, and community in God. I appreciate most her willingness to share where she can see she missed the depth of her or someone else’s experience but has now recognized and learned from it. She reflects how she didn’t understand the complexity of her son’s struggle and now can see his efforts to overcome it; she also acknowledges how we must be honest regarding forgiveness. That means not ignoring or brushing it off with an, “it’s okay,” but really looking at it for the pain and dirt it is yet still maintaining connection with that person. Morgan has experienced a lot and has learned a lot from those obstacles because she had a willingness to look into those times, recognize God’s guidance, and apply what she learned.
I received a copy of Dreaming with God: A Bold Call to Step Out and Follow God’s Lead by Sarah Beth Marr from BakerBooks in exchange for a review.
Sarah Beth Marr shares her story of becoming a successful dancer and learning to follow God’s lead no matter the obstacles encountered. Her experience yields examples of how to trust God when it seems like the path to which you’re called may be impractical or even impossible. Faith comes into play as we trust God’s lead with our dreams and callings. This particularly reminds me that I need to believe God has a plan for me and following His lead ranks higher than what society expects. Even if it contradicts the cultural norm, God has a path marked. Marr experienced numerous setbacks and odds seemed against her, yet she honored God’s calling on her life and glorified Him through her discipline and stage presence. May we all learn to develop greater trust and discipline to follow where God leads.
Morgan Matson’s young adult book Save the Date makes a quiet yet humorous and heartfelt story surrounding a family gathering for an upcoming wedding. Charlie faces numerous common adjustments many readers may find familiar, and she faces them with an expected trepidation yet also with strength. It gets off to a slow start but becomes better as the events unfold and more of Charlie’s character gets revealed through her reconsidering how she views and engages in her relationships. The themes of family bonds, personal growth and reflection, making adjustments, accepting change, and moving forward all made positive messages.
I received a copy of The Most Important Women of the Bible: Remarkable Stories of God’s Love and Redemption by Aaron & Elaina Sharp from Bethany House in exchange for a review.
Through simple yet insightful vignettes about numerous women in the bible, each chapter portrays a realistic picture of the character. They include historical and cultural context to give a good understanding of what the woman experienced. This makes the biblical narrative more accessible and the characters easier to see as models. Just like you, me, and everyone else, they do not possess perfection. Some stand pretty far from it. Yet they find redemption and love through connection with God. The message that we too can have that remains clear. It makes a good reminder that all the various struggles we see today have plagued women throughout history. Just as they did, we too can overcome.
I received How Joyful People Think: 8 Ways of Thinking That Lead to a Better Life by Jamie Rasmussen from BakerBooks in exchange for a review.
As simultaneously simple and complex as it sounds to write a book revolving around a single bible verse on a broad topic like peace, Jamie Rasmussen makes it work. He uses Philippians 4:8 to walk readers through a topic by topic route to adjust thinking patterns. Each “whatever” idea falls into everyday thoughts. Reading how to recognize them helped me see where I can stop negative patterns and improve them to better match a biblical standard. In turn, it increases the level of peace I experience throughout my days. While the suggestions felt a little clinical at times, the message maintains its importance. Everyone can benefit from using this book for reflection and instruction on their thought patterns, especially in today’s high stress way of living.
I read Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fire for a book club, and it blew me away with its insight into culture, religion, politics, and family. Adapting the play Antigone to novel form, Shamsie adds even more depth to the storyline. The two sisters and their brother find their lives separating as they follow their adult paths, a shaky family background underneath them. A boy enters their lives, adding a clash in politics. The London setting provides a realistic and modern backdrop for engaging insight into our times. This novel makes a great book for discussion on accepting, assimilating, and adapting cultures.
Sarah Dessen’s latest novel The Rest of the Story hit shelves just in time for summer reading. It even takes place at a lake during summer as Emma Saylor visits her maternal grandmother she hadn’t seen since early childhood. As she reunites with her mother’s extended family years after the loss of her mother, she starts to learn some background. Dessen tackles developing new family relationships, handling the risks of alcoholism, and first love all within the view of a North Carolina lake. The slowly budding romance brings both sweetness and depth as Saylor develops her identity. Though generally revolving around teens, the story delivers a reminder to readers of all ages that we can learn more about ourselves and family by acknowledging the details, flaws and all, rather than ignoring them.
I had the pleasure of reading the last part of this book set on a lake resort at a lake at a state park with my best friend. We read it together for our long distance book club, this time reading the final section and discussing it in person.
Tracie Miles writes an accessible starting point for adjusting perspectives and making life improvements in Love Life Again: Finding Joy When Life Is Hard. Each chapter covers a topic that includes an application the reader can make after reading. It makes a great discussion book to cover with a partner who wants to reach similar goals, and it may pay off to read only one or two chapters a week to give ample opportunity for applying the concepts. The content mostly stays at a surface level, making it a guide beneficial to anyone. However, for those with mental health issues I would suggest it as a starting point or supplement to licensed therapy. As someone who needs more I still find encouragement and direction from this work because each small step makes a different. It serves as a reminder for some of the everyday tasks I can maintain to keep up my mental hygiene as well as my Christian walk and relationship with God.
I received The Baker Compact Dictionary of Biblical Studies by Tremper Longman III and Mark L. Strauss from BakerBooks in exchange for a review.
This mass market paper sized dictionary makes a useful, non cumbersome addition to a theologian’s or person of faith’s shelf. It includes entries for important people, literary devices, historical periods and more. Easy to understand, each definition gives a starting point for understanding the context of biblical concepts. Sometimes it works like a dictionary giving a definition of a literary devices, and other times it has a longer paragraph moreso resembling an encyclopedia entry. I enjoyed reading through this to glean a little more information and learned a lot about various historical perspectives and movements regarding interpretation of the bible. I recommend it as an accompaniment for studying the bible.