Summer Reading, Part 1
I never got to a “Books I Read in May,” but here’s a look at the highlights I’ve read over the last several weeks.
The Sound of Gravel by Ruth Wariner
This one’s not an easy or encouraging read. It’s a memoir of someone who grew up in a Mormon cult, where she witnessed abuse of all kinds. This is a true story, and a look into how a woman can fall prey to a cult and tolerate abuse in her drive to try to meet her emotional needs. Eye-opening story, and ends with hope.
A Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner
I’ve already found that I enjoy historical fiction focusing on immigration to America, and this book was another great read. The characters were sympathetic and the plot engrossing. I guessed early on that this book was thoughtful and realistic enough that the ending was not going to be a predictable, and it wasn’t. There’s romance in the story, but more than that, it’s about a woman healing from a tragedy and coming into her own.
Two stories are told in parallel—an Ellis Island nurse recovering from the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire, and a modern-day woman healing from the trauma of 9/11.
My only complaint about this book was that the themes of love and truth were a little murky, as if neither the author nor the characters had clarified their worldview of life. But it’s a novel, not a sermon, so I’ll let it pass.
The Paris Architect by Charles Belfoure
I really enjoy WWII fiction, so I was looking forward to this novel about a Paris architect who helps hide Jews during the Nazi invasion. He begins motivated simply by a desire for money and the thrill of tricking the enemy.
This is a fascinating story about how different characters develop under pressure. The author has a dry, almost cynical humor. There’s description of torture and of extramarital affairs, as well as a fair bit of language. Few of the characters are very sympathetic. It’s definitely not a book I’ll be going back to, but it’s one of those stories where the insights into history and human nature may outweigh what is inappropriate in the story.
Scary Close by Donald Miller
This is the first Donald Miller I’ve read, and to me, he’s kind of like Brene Brown for Dummies—meaning he echoes a lot of her ideas about vulnerability and emotional wellness, but he does it in an extremely accessible and narrative-style writing. (Reading over that sentence it sounds like a criticism, but I mean it as a compliment—I really like Brene Brown, and I like how Donald Miller was such an easy read.) I really appreciated his thesis—that our true self can put up a false construct that is meant to impress people, but in reality keeps them at arm’s length. We can only achieve intimacy with other people by being our true selves and taking the risk of being vulnerable.
To be honest, I thought some of his writing style was a little weak, and there are some things I don’t agree with him about, but all in all I thought this was a great book, and helpful for someone like me who struggles with vulnerability and developing friendships. I also got the feeling reading the book that he and his wife would be great people to get to know in real life—authentic and kind.
Beatrice and Benedick by Marina Fiorato
Most of the books I read are recommended by friends on Goodreads, but this one I spotted at the library and picked up with no prior recommendation whatsoever. This made me a little hesitant and I was ready to put it down if it turned into a steamy romance or turned Shakespeare on its head.
But ultimately, I really loved this book. I was set director for my college’s production of Much Ado About Nothing, and the rich description of this novel brought back to me our color and design choices for that performance. I know the characters well, and I felt that the author of this book (a Shakespeare scholar herself) really captured the true characterization of both Beatrice and Benedick. Her novel also developed the themes I see in the play—the gender issues at work, and the contrast between true and superficial relationships.
Most of this novel focuses on what happens before the play actually begins, though the story of the play is told nearer the end. This novel also brings in some of Romeo and Juliet, as well the events of the Spanish Armada. It’s a truly fascinating historical fiction book, and I’m really glad I read it.
Dignity and Worth: Seeing the Image of God in Foster Adoption by April Swiger
I got this book free on Kindle and excitedly delved into it. I felt like it strengthened my Christian understanding of how foster care and adoption fits into our worldview—our understanding of God and of how He created people. This book was also full of practical advice on topics like responding to birth parents, avoiding adoption scams, adopting interracially, and respecting confidentiality.
I would highly recommend this book for any Christian, so that we can all together be more supportive of foster and adoptive families among us. And I would especially recommend it for any Christian who wants to foster and adopt.
This author struck such a chord with me (we have fostered three times, one placement being a baby boy whom we wanted to adopt but lost a week after his first birthday). I really wished I could sit down with her over coffee, so I did the next best thing—found her blog and emailed her—and got a long message back! Which made me really happy.
Be Frank with Me by Julia Claiborne Johnson
This novel explores the question: how does caring for a child change you? The twenty-something main character takes on the care of a ten-year-old special-needs boy so that his mother can write a book. I almost quit this book part-way through because the conversations were long and a bit boring, and I didn’t sympathize with any of the characters.
But I felt like the story improved as I became attached to the child character and saw how caring for him really could be a life-changing experience. The ending was a bit blah, though. Good, but not a favorite.
The Art of Mending by Elizabeth Berg
This novel tackles a difficult topic—how adult children address abuse in their past. The story is beautifully told, and the author is sensitive and sympathetic. I didn’t find the ending completely satisfactory, but I would still recommend it as an interesting read, especially for those who like novels about family relationships and appreciate stories that aren’t necessarily straightforward, but more nuanced and complicated.
Openness Unhindered by Rosaria Champagne Butterfield
This is a great book for anyone (all of us!) who are pondering the Christian response to the LGBTQ movement. Rosaria tells her story as a former lesbian who converted to Christianity. She’s an English Ph.D. and a Reformed Presbyterian and you can sure tell both—oh, my goodness. She is a deep thinker and not afraid to tackle and explore the toughest issues. The book is a bit heavy and reads at times like a college textbook—not a bad thing, but a lot to think through on a late night after a busy day with little kids. So I’ll be honest that I skipped over some of it.
I wish her writing was more accessible and narrative-style so that she would have a larger audience, because she has great things to say. But she’s also an awesome example of a Christian female intellectual scholar, and I think we only need more of those!