Glory Over Everything

Several years ago, I stumbled upon Kathleen Grissom’s debut novel The Kitchen House. I actually listened to the audiobook. And it was phenomenal. As in jumped into my Top 5 Books of All Time phenomenal. So when I heard her sophomore work was coming out this spring, I got REALLY excited. And then I had the opportunity to get an advanced reader’s copy through Net Galley.

Guys. This book.

Glory Over Everything is a stand-alone sequel to The Kitchen House. It follows the story of Jamie Pyke after he left Tall Oaks in Virginia. The story is his, though there are characters from The Kitchen House that make an appearance in addition to the new characters we meet from his life in Philadelphia. Glory is written in a similar style to Kitchen in that each chapter is written from the point of view and in the voice of one character. It is rare that an author can bring characters to life in the way that Grissom does.

What is even more amazing about her writing is how unbelievably human her characters are. In a way that stands in opposition to the period in which she writes in which humans were commodities. I’ve never had a better sense about slavery and the effects it had on people than after reading one of her books. I’ve also never felt more enraged at the injustices of slavery and the subsequent issues of civil rights in this country. Grissom’s writing is provocative in a way few others are.

My only complaint about this book is how abruptly some pieces of it end. For example (and without giving too much away), one character’s piece of the story comes to an end in one sentence–and I was left wanting more.

On the whole, this book is well worth the read–and, if you’re like me, you won’t want to put it down. It’s set to release on April 5. Run, don’t walk, to your bookseller and pre-order it. Right now. And if you’re in the Raleigh, NC area, Kathleen Grissom will be at Quail Ridge Books on April 28 at 7:00 PM.

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The 2014 Year in Books Post

Quick while baby is sleeping…here’s the rundown from last year (since I’m a couple days late on this one. Because baby).

I set out to read 20 books in the year and got to that mark quicker than I thought. (Late night feedings and a Kindle helped propel me forward a bit before I headed back to work.) So I upped the goal to 24 and ultimately came in at 22.

Before I get to the best of what I read, let me give you a glimpse into my goal for this year.

See, I was going to shoot a little lower (read 15 books in 2015) because of baby and work and all of the things. But then I saw THIS and decided to change it up. If you look at the scavenger hunt like list, there’s a total of 52 book reading opportunities (because of reading a trilogy). I’ll just go ahead and tell you right now that I’ll be double- (maybe even triple) dipping. Because baby and work and all of the things. And I’m not even sure I’ll finish the challenge…for those reasons and because it’s damn near impossible to find an author with the same initials as me. But hey, if you’re up to a different kind of book challenge or reading goal for the year, check it out and join me on this one.

And now, without further ado, the best of what I read in 2014.

Best Thriller: Persuader by Lee Child (This one also comes in as one of the best Jack Reacher novels I’ve read so far. If you aren’t reading Jack Reacher, get on it.)

Honorable Mention: A Spy for Hire by Dan Mayland. I first read Mayland’s books as a reviewer and he’s only gotten better with time.

Other thrillers: The Midnight House (because I also love Alex Berenson’s protagonist Jonn Wells), The Enemy by Lee Child, and Stalin’s Ghost by Martin Cruz Smith

Best Nonfiction: Einstein Never Used Flash Cards by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Roberta Golinkoff, and Diane Eyer. Play is the best way for young children to learn–and they learn so much through that medium. I cannot tell you how strongly I feel about the power of play and how much it teaches children about SO MANY THINGS. Don’t underestimate it.

Other nonfiction books worth your time: Girls Will Be Girls; NurtureShock; Swagger: 10 Urgent Rules for Raising Boys in an Era of Failing Schools, Mass Joblessness, and Thug Culture; and Lean In…if you’re into that sort of thing.

I also read a lot of baby kinds of nonfiction, so if that’s up your alley this year, let me know and I’ll let you know what I thought was the best of that bunch.

Best (and only) YA Novel: Spirit’s Key by Edith Cohn. I don’t typically read YA fiction (though I have some I should get to), but when you know the author and she debuts in 2014, you buy the book and read it. So I did. And then I ordered a copy for my niece for Christmas. It was SOOOO good. Just so good.

Best Children’s Book: (not included in the total count but worth a mention) Shark vs. Train. People. It’s laugh out loud funny and I definitely bought multiple copies for the little people in my life. Buy it. Read it. Read every. single. word. All of them all over the page. Totally worth it.

Best Fiction Book: This is Where I Leave You by Jonathan Tropper. I BLEW through this book, it was so good. Just so…so good. I love that it’s now a movie and, when I have a second, I’m gonna watch that too. On the whole, hands down best book I read in 2014.

What I Read in 2013

I’m a little overdue with this post…much like I’m a little overdue on a lot of things these days it seems. 

But better late than never, right?

I only read 22 books in 2013. By comparison to 2012, I was a literary slacker. I did make up for it in other ways, though. 

I think. 

Anyway…without further ado…here’s what I read and loved in 2013.

 

I cranked out a lot of nonfiction and some of it might just make people uncomfortable. Some of it you may not even care about. And, looking at the list, it covered a varied range of topics. So, in no particular order, here were the nonfiction reads from 2013:

1. Sugar in My Bowl: Real Women Write About Real Sex by Erica Jong. 

This book is a collection of essays that explore what it is that women want, female desire, our fascination with sex, and our attitudes about the same. It was an easy read and includes a variety of contributors including Jennifer Weiner, Naomi Wolf, Eve Ensler, and Gail Collins. 

2. Why Have Kids?: The Truth About Parenting and Happiness by Jessica Valenti

It wasn’t my first trip through the pages with Jessica Valenti, and I appreciate her thoughts about sexuality and becoming a parent. I picked this one up when I was very much on the fence about do we keep trying to have a baby or not? Do I really want to start parenting from scratch (now that the kids who live in my house are kind of emerging into adulthood)? And if parenting is making most of us in this country unhappy, why even do it? As usual, Jessica Valenti explores some great questions, incorporating research, stories from the field, and her own experience as a new parent. In the end, she moves beyond the typical “mommy wars” topics to a reality that is filled with joy, ambivalence, guilt, and exhaustion.

3. The Hormone Cure: Reclaim Balance, Sleep, Sex Drive and Vitality Naturally with the Gottfried Protocol

Y’all, I have struggled with the ways in which my body seems to hate me, and sometimes my reading leads me down the road of trying to find a solution to some things. This one is chock full of interesting information about different types of hormones and the ways they affect our bodies…and how to eat and exercise to address having too much or too little of those boogers coursing through our veins. 

4. Mending Broken: A Personal Journey Through the Stages of Trauma & Recovery

I read and reviewed this one for SpeakEasy earlier in the year. It was a brave work that incorporated personal story and information regarding trauma and healing from it. It also was an accessible read that is helpful for someone looking for a deeper understanding of what causes trauma and how people navigate moving through their experience to a new kind of wholeness on the other side.

5. Wheat Belly: Lose the Wheat, Lose the Weight, and Find Your Path Back to Health

This was a popular read for a lot of people last year, and I hopped on board…partly to see if there was new information (yes) and partly to see if losing the wheat from my own diet would make a difference (maybe?). Written by a cardiologist, this book explains the benefits of removing wheat from our diets…and makes quite the compelling case for doing so. It’s certainly worth the read.

6. Obsessed: America’s Food Addiction–and My Own by Mika Brzezinski

I’ll admit it. I like watching Morning Joe. Usually it only happens a couple of times a week when I’m on a treadmill in the morning, but I really do like Mika. So when the book came out and she described the subject matter, I hopped on board. I appreciated Mika’s honesty (and that of her co-author) about her own struggle with food…and accepting her body at a healthy weight. This book also was an act of bravery and contributed to the larger conversation about why America’s eating habits need some serious overhauling…while at the same time recognizing that it’s not just in the hands of the consumers.

7. Answering the Contemplative Call: First Steps on the Mystical Path

I read this one for a SpeakEasy review as well. This book broke down mysticism and contemplative living in a way that is accessible to anyone interested…with some practical suggestions for those just starting out and for those already on the path. It was a helpful read that invites us on the adventure of a more contemplative path and call.

8. Pretty in Plaid: A Life, A Witch, and a Wardrobe, or, the Wonder Years Before the Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smart-Ass Phase by Jen Lancaster

Y’all. If you haven’t read anything by Jen Lancaster by now, you should. Like right now. She is so freaking hilarious and writes about her live with such humor and candor. This one was her first memoir, describing how Jen developed the hubris that seems to keep her in trouble. It was the precursor to….

9. Bitter is the New Black: Confessions of a Condescending, Egomaniacal, Self-Centered Smartass, Or, Why You Should Never Carry a Prada Bag to the Unemployment Office

Jen Lancaster had the perfect life…until she didn’t. After going from six figures to an unemployment check, she finally stops to consider her attitudes and values…and how she wants to live a little differently.

10. The Evangelicals You Don’t Know: Introducing the Next Generation of Christians

This one also was a SpeakEasy read and review. Having grown up in a moderate but still evangelical context, I was intrigued by this notion of what evangelicalism looks like now. Because let’s face it, “evangelical” is a dirty word for most people…and most of us refuse to use it as an identifier. After reading this book, however, I’m much more inclined to reconsider its use–as long as this brand of evangelicalism becomes mainstream at a level the previous version enjoyed. 

11. Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution–and How it Can Renew America

I so appreciate Thomas Friedman. I’m glad I finally got around to this book (it came out when I was in the thick of grad school). Honestly, I wish this book were required reading for everyone working in our government. Friedman outlines the global threats to the environment and why we should do something to address it. Then he outlines incredible technologies that can provide a viable, sustainable solution to at least some of the issues. It will make you think very differently about how you use your resources but also about how our policies and politicians should be operating in a different way.

12. Warrior Girls: Protecting our Daughters Against the Injury Epidemic in Women’s Sports

For the most part, this book addressed knee injuries (typically ACL tears) that have become something of a given among young, female athletes. It’s a book that is easy to read, teaches you a lot about ACL tears and the process to healing, and why the injuries keep happening. The author provides great research regarding tears and surgery–as well as ways that have been proven to prevent these types of injuries in the first place.

13. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck

One of my administrators recommended this book to me and so, well, I read it. Of course. Dweck’s research, spanning 20 years, indicates that our mindset is not a personality quirk–it’s defines our whole mental world. Our mindset makes us an optimist or pessimist, shapes our goals, affects our attitudes toward work and success, shapes our relationships and how we talk to children (ours or the ones we teach/interact with). Our mindset, it turns out, is a great predictor in terms of whether or not we fulfill our potential. And it was an interesting read from start to finish.

14. We Beat the Street: How a Friendship Pact Led to Success

Three boys growing up in the ‘hood in Newark, New Jersey, a place where few African American males make it out alive if they make it out at all. These three boys easily could have followed the same trajectory into drugs, gangs, and prison. But one presentation at school made them aware of options beyond their neighborhood got them thinking…and promising one another that they would make it out and be successful. Only to return home to provide hope and healing to the very people around which they grew up. 

 

Shew. That was a lot of nonfiction. No wonder that by the end of the year I was ready for a steady diet of spies and espionage.

Here’s my smattering of fiction reads from the year, again in no particular order.

1. Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend

A co-worker recommended this one to me and I’m so glad I read it. This was a great story but also provided some insight into the ways in which a young boy with autism views the world. Charming, sweet, gripping, and beautiful, this book was well worth the time. 

2. The Leveling

When this second book in the Mark Sava series was set to go to press, Dan Mayland, the author, contacted me and offered me an advanced reader copy to review if I so chose. I jumped on that–and wrote a review. This second book was 10 times better than the first and an incredible romp in the far Middle East. I’m looking forward to more from Dan Mayland and Mark Sava.

3. True Blue

I think this is my favorite David Baldacci book to date. He intentionally set out to write strong female characters–and succeeded within the context of a story that made me want to cuddle with the book until I was done…and even after. I’m hoping these characters will make a return in the Baldacci repertoire. 

4. Echo Burning

This was a Jack Reacher novel…and the first one I had a hard time getting into. But because it was Jack, I persisted. And it picked up about halfway through. Reacher finds himself in a small town in the middle of nowhere Texas being asked by a woman trapped in an abusive family to help her kill her husband who was due to get out of prison in a few days. The driving question was whether Jack would do it or, if not, how would she survive an angry, abusive husband and his just as angry family? 

5. The Panther

Y’all know I love Nelson DeMille and his main protagonist John Corey. These two always team up for a thrill ride full of snark and suspense and I love the combo. This book was a little heavy on detail that didn’t always move the story along…and was probably the slowest of the John Corey books I have read. But I just can’t help myself when it comes to this character and author. 

6. Split Second

This was my other Baldacci book from the year…the first of the King and Maxwell series. We actually did the audio version of this one and it was very well done. Two secret service agents come together after failures at work link them in a way nothing else would. They end up working together to get to the bottom of both failures…and work to find a way to redeem both of their careers.

7. Without Fail

I managed to squeeze in a second Jack Reacher novel this year as well…and I’m so glad I did. This one also was an audiobook and well worth the listen (though the paper version would be just as good). Jack Reacher gets hired to assassinate the Vice President before the inauguration. And then the story flies from there. As always, Lee Child writes a thriller that has you hooked from the beginning.

8. The Silent Man

Y’all. Alex Berenson writes one hell of a spy novel. His protagonist John Wells is a badass who can’t quite give up the job and can’t quite face all of his demons enough to move forward with the woman he loves. This was the third book in the series and another one that hooked me from page one. 

 

I’m not sure how much reading I’ll get done in 2014. I’m trying to finish a couple of nonfiction bits I’d started last year but haven’t quite finished. After reading over this list, I finally figured out why I’ve been jonesing for fiction so much lately…so maybe I’ll get on that. I do have a variety of books I’d like to get to this year including: Wild, Lean In, Gone Girl, some more Jack Reacher, John Wells, and Gabriel Allon, and other things related to professional reading. Hopefully, I’ll hit the 20 book mark by the end. 

Happy reading in 2014!

The Evangelicals You Don’t Know: A Book Review

I have long struggled with the evangelical label–especially having grown up in an evangelical context. Thankfully, my foundational church experience was more moderate, and I never really considered myself one of “those” evangelicals. Even so, any time my religious background comes up in conversation, I feel the need to quickly explain that I am different than the preconceived idea about being Baptist in the South and everything with which THAT is loaded.

Thankfully, Tom Krattenmaker presents us with, for lack of a better term, the “new” evangelicals. He identifies as a person of faith, although more theologically liberal, and writes for the religion section of USA Today. In The Evangelicals You Don’t Know, Krattenmaker provides one example after another of how today’s evangelicals are more than meets the eye–and should be approached less with suspicion and more with the possibility of partnership. These evangelicals have become more progressive in their desire to address complex social issues such as the environment, abortion, sexuality, politics, human slavery and trafficking, and the broader contributors to poverty at home and abroad. These are the things that are making these evangelicals pro-life and prompting a desire to make the world a better place–indeed more like the Kingdom–for everyone. And so it means working alongside of people with different beliefs, or none at all, in partnerships that work to make communities stronger…without the requirement of a conversation about where you would go if you died tonight. These evangelicals are committed to partnerships for the greater good, honest conversations with those who want to have them, and their own theological positions–even if they differ from someone else’s. What Krattenmaker reminds us of in the end, is that both sides of the religious spectrum–as well as those with and without religion–should be more gracious with the other side, more willing to have honest conversations and meet in the middle, and more willing to work for the greater good, putting our theological differences aside. Because in the end, it’s more about what we do for our brothers and sisters than how solid our theological presuppositions might be.

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Note: Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

 

The Leveling: A Book Review

I had the opportunity to read and review Dan Mayland’s The Colonel’s Mistake last year and enjoyed his debut work. I was looking forward to its follow-up, and lo and behold, Dan himself contacted me directly (so surely that puts us on a first name basis?) to offer an advanced reader copy–signed–as a way of saying thank you. He asked only that I read it if I so chose–and writing a review was optional. After I swooned a little, I immediately said YES, I received said copy of The Leveling in the mail soon after. I have to apologize to Dan, since it was no longer an advanced copy by the time I got to read it and now write this review. I’m pleased to report that The Leveling is available for your reading pleasure.

The Leveling is a follow-up to The Colonel’s Mistake–primarily in that the lead characters, Mark Sava and Daria Buckingham, were the leads in that book. Although there are references to events in the previous book, the plot here is self-contained enough to where you don’t have to have read the first one. Mayland once again takes us to the fringes of the Middle East with which we are more familiar, setting this novel primarily in Turkmenistan and Iran. Mark Sava has left the spy game behind and become a professor in Azerbaijan. However, after becoming persona non grata by the government (and asked to return to the U.S. by the CIA) and then learning of the kidnapping of his friend John Decker, Sava heads for a different border. He teams up with Daria, crossing the border between Turkmenistan and Iran, looking for Decker and being chased by members of Chinese intelligence. Meanwhile, Iran and the US are on the brink of war brought about by a secret conflict over oil.

This book surpassed its predecessor in so many ways. The characters were deeper. The plot was tighter. The suspense was built well. The ride was a bigger thrill. (In fact, all I wanted to do was read this book. Unfortunately, I had to keep putting it down to be a responsible adult for a few minutes here and there.) Well done, Dan Mayland. I can’t wait to see what’s next for Mark Sava and company.

 

Answering the Contemplative Call: A Book Review

Being an introvert, I’m often drawn to quiet and solitude. When I was in divinity school, it’s a large part of the reason I was drawn to mysticism and contemplative spirituality–and there I found somewhat of a home. Sadly, it’s not a home I have tended for much of the past decade. My faith has become more cerebral and, in many ways, more active than contemplative. So when the opportunity came along to read and review Carl McColman’s Answering the Contemplative Call: First Steps on the Mystical Path, I was happy to do so.

This book provides an excellent introduction to a contemplative life in a way that is accessible and practical. McColman pulls from an interfaith, but largely ecumenical base, citing well known mystics of old–and not so old. He provides an invitation to join the contemplative journey, and uses journey as the extended metaphor for the book as a whole. McColman provides a road map with suggested resources (travel agents, if you will), practical steps, and advice from those who have walked before. He boils it down to two core practices: meditation and contemplative (i.e., silent) prayer.

Embedded among the suggestions for cultivating the space, silence, and simplicity for a contemplative life, what I appreciated most about this book was the reminder that there is a rhythm to the contemplative life just as there is a rhythm to the everyday life, and we should be patient–and gracious–with ourselves as the process, or journey, unfolds. Although much of this book was a review for me, it truly is a beautiful and well done introduction of the contemplative life for those who are unfamiliar with such practices.

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Note: Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.

Mending Broken: A Book Review

One of my longstanding professional interests is trauma and working with those who have experienced trauma. So, when SpeakEasy offered up Mending Broken by Teresa Pasquale, I was quick to request a copy.

Pasquale is a therapist who is trained in working with people who have experienced trauma. As is often the case, therapy (from the point of view of the therapist) is often self-discovery, and it is clear that Pasquale’s own work as a therapist–as well as a survivor of trauma herself–has informed her own healing as well as how she works with others to find the same. This book seems to come out of that work as well.

Pasquale’s writing is easy and accessible–especially the technical parts regarding trauma and how traumatic experiences affect our brains. She makes it less technical and more metaphorical in a way that is incredibly understandable. She then weaves in her own experiences of trauma in a way that the reader understands where she’s coming from but not in a way that is over the top or turns off the reader. Pasquale presented a self-developed (based on her experiences and the shared experiences of others) stage model for recovering and healing from trauma–based primarily on her own experience as opposed to tying the model to research. It is clear that the ways in which Pasquale integrated her experience of trauma with a variety of contemplative and faith-based practices was instrumental in her ability to move forward.

Beyond the primary subject of the book, the thing I appreciated most were Pasquale’s statements about being a wounded healer and the reminder that “we cannot repair in others what hasn’t been repaired in ourselves.” However, when those broken places are mended, we have a gift that can be made available to others–the gift of understanding what it’s like to sit in that lonely, dark place and being able to articulate the experience for others in a way that makes sense…and often assures them that they are not crazy.

Although I have not experienced trauma to a level that leaves me experiencing the disorder that is associated with it, the parts of this book that resonated with me included the ways in which a person integrates faith into the healing process and the ways in which we can take the lessons we’ve learned in our own healing processes and give those away to others.

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Note: Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.