At the beginning of the year, I decided that I wanted to commit to reading more this year (I guess you could call it a New Year’s resolution). I used to be a HUGE reader; flying through whole series in a week as a kid. High school and university pretty much killed my enjoyment of and time for reading (classic story) and I’ve just never had the desire to really start picking up books again. But another resolution of mine was to stop watching so much Netflix, so I figured books could substitute some of that Netflix time. My goal was to read 2-3 books a month, which might seem like a lot to some but honestly I read books so fast. I compiled my list from bestsellers, friend’s recommendations, celebrity reading lists (thanks Reese & Barack), or books I’ve been wanting to read for a long time but haven’t. Although there is a wide variety of fiction/non-fiction, and all different categories/topics; I am focusing a bit on books written by women or people of colour. I’ve been posting my book reviews to Instagram, but figured it might be nice to save them here too! I’ll add my new reviews at the end of each month.
The Broken Ladder by Keith Payne (4/5)
This is a book about inequality and poverty, but not in the way you’d expect. Although it has a good chunk of economic principles in it, it is written by a psychologist who focused not just what being poor does to a person but what FEELING poor does. It creates an interesting social commentary then on the way (mostly western) governments work (or dont) and provides a new perspective on”the poverty trap”. The author also comes from a background of poverty, so it isn’t just some rich white man telling you why people are poor. Read this if you’re looking to better understand American poverty, inequality, human behaviour, or how to make the world a better place. It left me feeling more compassionate towards others and with a new understanding about the psychology of inequality.
Everything’s Trash, But It’s Okay by Phoebe Robinson (2/5)
First of all, Phoebe, I am very sorry for the low rating, I really wanted to like this (but I didn’t even finish it). The biggest problem for me is that she is a podcastor and it’s written like reading a podcast. Slang, tangents, acronyms – it’s fun but its a mess. I think I would’ve WAY preferred to listen to her podcast or even do the audio book version of this. That being said, she is funny, but I was hoping for something a bit more… revolutionary? I think I just generally went into this with the wrong expectations. Read this if you want some funny short stories about being a single, 30-something, black woman, who is a comedian and a feminist. And if you can read a book written with Cardi B style acronyms, sounds, and random made up words.
Born a Crime by Trevor Noah (4/5)
I had NO clue about Trevor Noah’s backstory and it is MUCH different than your average celebrity. His perspective on race and growing up during the South African apartheid is unique and fresh. If you think that “not seeing race” is a thing, this book will rock your word. It is an autobiography but it reads more like fiction – he is a great writer. Only dislikes, I wish the storyline was a bit more linear and I wish he talked about how he went from a life of crime on the streets of South Africa to hosting a talk show in LA (but to be fair, it’s supposed to be about his childhood). Read this if you want to learn more about race/racism, South African history, inequality, or just a cool story. You will end up loving both Trevor and his mom.
We Were the Lucky Ones by Georgia Hunter (5/5)
Let me just start by saying, I do not like historical fiction, especially from “war time eras”. I just don’t like reading about wars? That may sound bad but just not my thing. However, Queen Reese Witherspoon recommended this book to me (not personally) so I was like okay I’ll read it and it was GOOD. Despite not liking the genre at all, it was a pager turner and I enjoyed reading it. Great story and great characters; which are ACTUALLY BASED OFF OF THE AUTHORS REAL LIVE GRANDPARENTS/GREAT GRANDPARENTS AND THEIR STORIES. So essentially this is the book I want Mark to write about his own family history but that’s beside the point. I gave this book a five because I have no complaints, because I liked it even though I normally wouldn’t have chosen it, AND it gave me a new appreciation/perspective on what Jewish families went through during WW2. You can always trust Reese.
Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (2/5)
The whole time I was reading this book I was just thinking, “man my Gr.12 English teacher would’ve loved this book”. And that was pretty much it. It felt like the type of book that your English teacher just finds endless symbolism in but isn’t too exciting to actually read. The ending however, was more interesting but honestly made me feel uncomfortable. Essentially white western missionaries come into their African community and destroy relationships/people/culture. Hard to read when you ARE a “white western missionary” – but hard truths about how colonialism negatively impacted so many communities that can’t be ignored. These are things I am truing to learn more about, even when it’s uncomfortable. This was not the reason for the low rating – I just didn’t love the book! However, it was one of Barack Obama’s top reads from last year so I feel like that praise matters more than mine.
Emboldened by Tara Beth Leach (4.75/5)
I think this book is pretty much a must read for everyone (male or female) in Christian leadership. It describes itself as “a vision of empowering women in ministry” and it is; it is not angry or argumentative, it is big dreams and kingdom vision. Tara Beth is inspiring (and not just because she is a 34 year old woman who is the senior pastor of a mega church) but because she has a vision of what the church could look like when everyone was empowered to use the gifts God gave them. The ONLY thing I think she missed was an acknowledgement of race. Yes, it is harder for a woman to be in a position of leadership than a man, but I would imagine it would be 10x harder for a woman of colour, or even an man of colour. I wished she had just acknowledged this or maybe even recognized how her race still gives her a leg up on some others? This is something I’ve been thinking about recently, so I think it was just on my mind, and therefore noticed it missing. Still loved it and a recommended read for all in Christian leadership, especially young women wondering how they fit in.
Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey (5/5)
I’ve just finished this book and already want to re-read it. This book isn’t just about feminism (and whatever that word means/looks like to you). This book is about Jesus. This book is about the Kingdom of God. This book is about what I want my life to look like. There are so many good things in here that stretch way beyond advocating for women’s rights; because although that is important, the goals of the Kingdom are bigger! This book is FULL of love and grace and gentle wisdom and encouragements. It is a call to think bigger and to dive deep into the things God is calling you into. It is a challenge to the status quo and weaknesses in our churches. it is a call to justice, and radical love, and Jesus. She also admits that she does not have all the answers, and that there are no step by step easy solutions. Like I said, this book reminded me of what I want my life to look like (in all the big ways and the boring little ways too).
Commonwealth by Ann Patchett (3/5)
My biggest (and perhaps only) complaint is that this book has 10 main characters and they all tell pieces of the story from their own points of view over the course of 60-ish years and that none of it is in order. Ahhhh! Not to mention, there are so many marriages and divorces and remarriages and step-siblings and step-children that I actually considered writing it down to keep track of who was who. I do tend to scan when I read but there were lots of times when I had to reread and try to remember who was who and what had happened and how it fit together. Oh boy. Other than that major inconvenience, it was well written lol. It’s basically about families and how they’re complicated. The characters are well written and the author has depth but it wasn’t necessarily exciting and it was unnecessarily confusing. Had some beautiful little bits about family relationships but overall, meh.
Factfulness: Ten Reasons We’re Wrong About the World – and Why Things Are Better Than You Think by Hans Rosling (5/5)
Bill Gates said, this book is “one of the most important books I’ve ever read – an indispensable guide to thinking clearly about the world”, and he was dead on. Guys, I minored in International Development in university – taking courses in economics, global politics, geography, etc. so I thought I already *knew* a lot about the state of the world. I was wrong! And you are probably wrong too! This book reveals all the false narratives we believe about the world, how “the others” live, “developing countries”, global statistics, etc. and it does it clearly, humbly, intelligently, and with compassion. it shows us how things can be bad and better at the same time, and how most things (education, peace, health, poverty, etc) are really better than you think – while also not leaving any room for the excuse of letting up because things are “good enough”. An essential read for anyone interested in politics, world issues, journalism, life, hope, or actually knowing what’s going on, AND one of Barack Obama’s top book picks for 2018. (If you are not convinced, the author was a medical doctor, a professor, an advisor for UNICEF and WHO, and listed as one of Time magazine’s 100 Most Influential People. He died in 2017 right before this book was completed by his children, who have won awards for data analysis and work for Google’s international data team. These people know what they are talking about and they talk about EVERYTHING in this book; vaccines, coral reefs, poverty, terrorism, nuclear war, education… I basically just did a second review in brackets so you should probably just read it).
Educated by Tara Westover (4.75/5)
I’m sure you’ve probably heard of this book. It was on every bestseller list last year when it came out and on tons of celebrity reading lists. It deserves it. If somehow you haven’t read it, add it to your list too. A unique perspective on family, finding yourself, and figuring out the world. A beautifully written story, made more meaningful and surprising because it is a memoir. The type of book that requires some reflection and processing; you’d probably want to read it while curled up with tea instead of by the pool. I think there is only one memoir on my reading list this year that has a shot at surpassing this one (for me) and it’s coming next month 😉
Where The Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens (5/5)
I feel like this was the book that I was waiting for, or maybe that I wanted others to be. I have never leaned much towards general fiction, preferring a bit more mystery or excitement. This book had a wonderfully thoughtful and interesting story – a girl finding herself, raising herself, discovering love and the hardships of life, while also being a MURDER MYSTERY. Yaaaassss. A page turner (I read it in an afternoon – not a humble brag but a testament to an engaging story); both because you want to get to know the main character Kya more, and also because you want to find out what happened the night Chase fell to his death. If you just want a good book – this is the one.
Becoming by Michelle Obama (5/5)
A BEAUTIFULLY written book. I already liked Michelle Obama (with thoughts like “she seems cool and like she’s doing good things” as she was the First Lady), but after reading this book she has become someone I deeply respect and admire (and not so secretly wish I could be real life friends with). I love her perspectives on parenting, mentorship (something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately but WOW what power there is in investing in someone), marriage, leading as a woman, empowering others, staying true to what you believe in, and believing in what is possible. I also don’t think I’ve ever heard someone diss trump with as much grace. This book is more than just a memoir written by a big name in politics, this is a heartfelt story of resilience and grace. This book is astoundingly well written (it shouldn’t come as a surprise that she’s a good writer because she’s always been well-spoken but what was surprising is that she might be the BEST writer I’ve read this year in terms of how she tells a story, her word choice, and wisdom) and I didn’t want it to end. (Michelle if you’re reading this, can we like, hangout some time?) Read this if you want to be inspired, want to grow a killer vegetable garden, or want to lead with both the grace and power of a First Lady like Michelle Obama.
Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race by Reni Eddo-Lodge (5/5)
Full disclosure: I actually haven’t finished this book yet but I feel like I have a good enough grasp on it to share my thoughts with you. For a while, I’ve been trying to learn more about black history, white privilege, race relations, cultural racism, etc. and have honestly felt overwhelmed. I’ve followed insta accounts, read articles, watched videos, but still felt like I was missing a lot of the bigger picture and didn’t know where to start. This book is where to start. Once I finish it, I’ll probably read it again to be honest, just to let some things soak in and let my perspective continue to shift. Read this book if you want to learn more about what is going on in our society today, if you really want to understand your own privilege and what that means, and the pain of years of racial injustice. It’s just a starting point but honestly this book is THE starting point.
Still Lives by Maria Hummel (4/5)
I think in general, my favourite genre is mystery. In case you hadn’t noticed from my reviews, general fiction “thoughtful” type books aren’t really my thing haha. This book has all the essentials of a good mystery. Good character development, secret motives, a twist, but nothing to really make it stand out from the crowd. Its theme of violence against women and art is supposed to be a commentary on our society I think, but it kind of made me feel creeped out (and not in a good scary way but like, life is scary for women type way). A good summer read if you’re into mystery. Don’t read if you have any history or trauma related to violence against women or stalkers. I gave it a four because it was a good read but like if you were only going to read one book this summer don’t pick this once.
Women Talking by Miriam Toews (3/5)
This book would have been much better if something actually happened haha. Like, the whole book is spent discussing a plan, but you never get to see that plan carried out which I think would’ve made for a way more interesting story. Still lots of thought provoking themes and an interesting dilemma they work through but severely lacking in action.
Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows by Balli Kaur Jaswal (4.5/5)
This book turned out to be way better than I expected and pretty much has everything in it you could ever want. A general fiction novel that also snuck in some mystery and romance (you know how I love me some good mystery), plus it worked through patriarchal structures, feminism, cultural and generational differences, and growing up with TACT. And it had an actual murder mystery that they SOLVED (okay gurl yes just throw that in there). Also, it does actually include some erotic short stories (which, based on the book’s description I actually wasn’t expecting, despite the title_ but they are uniquely framed, as the book works through what happiness in a relationship looks like as well as what can happen when women feel empowered. Still, I would say 18+. A great summer read that is both interesting and fund; perfect for reading by the pool or at the cottage.
The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris (4/5)
I’m having a really hard time trying to review this book because how do you comment on how much you like or dislike someone’s story of how they survived WW2? Generally, I’m not into history and I don’t like “war romance novels” but there is a different weight to it when you realize that this is a true story of someone’s life. It makes me feel like I should read every single story like this to try to have a small glimpse of understanding of what they went through – and that the entertainment value is not at all the right question. So while not being my favourite book, or even type of book, I feel like these are important stories we all should be reading and never forget.
Girls Burn Brighter by Shobha Rao (3.5/5)
This is a sad book but a beautiful book. A story of hardship, friendship, and resilience. Not a happy poolside read, but a deep and beautiful story that is well-written and draws you in. Warning: there is a LOT of hardship – like I’m talking rape, sexual slavery, abuse, pretty much every horrible thing you can imagine. But in the midst of all of that is the story of two friends trying to find each other and their own resiliency. Rated low because it was a hard read, not even enjoyable at times (because of the storyline not because of bad writing), but still a book that you wanted to finished and hoped for a good conclusion. So like, I wouldn’t really recommend you read it haha but if it’s too late and you’ve already started it then stick with it all the way to the end.
Searching for Sylvie Lee by Jean Kwok (2/5)
I loved this book and hated the ending. Honestly the ending ruined the book for me enough that I actually wouldn’t recommend it (still mad about it tbh). The book itself was a wonderful story about finding yourself as well as discovering that people aren’t who we picture them to be; a really great book about self discovery in lots of ways PLUS MYSTERY (which I love). But the solution to the mystery was sad and felt out of character (but I guess it IS about people not being who you think they are). Like a solid 4+ rating until the ending. So much potential for this book to have had a better ending too (either a better mystery/crime or a better story of overcoming a really rough patch of life). The more I think about it, the more disappointed I am with how it ended. It makes me want to rewrite it haha #sorrynotsorry
Something in The Water by Catherine Steadman (4/5)
YES GIRL THIS IS WHAT IM TALKING ABOUT. THE KIND OF BOOK THAT WILL MAKE YOU STAY UP PAST YOUR BED TIME! The first chapter opens with the main character digging a grave in the forest to put her dead husbands body in (this is not a spoiler, this is literally the first chapter). It then goes back in time to lead up to that moment but the whole time you’re like WHAT? DOES SHE KILL HER HUSBAND? WHY? HOW? WHEN? It’s brilliant usage of the timeline/ plot reveal AND even though I think I am very good at seeing things coming, I only guessed like 25% of the ending. This is the type of book you want to read on your vacation. But don’t read it on a boat.
The Au Pair by Emma Rous (4/5)
A couple chapters in, I thought I had the whole thing figured out. I DID NOT. Phew the author throws like the most complicated but juicy ending at you that is like daaaang okay. Almost too much to be believable but also strangely gratifying. A good tale of summer romance and family secrets. There is a mystery that goes UNSOLVED which I do not appreciate. It weakens the ending for me. But again, a great book to keep you turning the pages while on vacation.
I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness by Austin Channing Brown (5/5)
In my review for “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race” I said that it was *the* book to start with. I’d like to pair it with this book, “I’m Still Here: Black Dignity in a World Made for Whiteness”. This book is a must read for every white person as Austin graciously shares what it is really like to live as a black person in a white society. It challenged me to think about how I act or exist in my world, without thinking or analysis; and that this experience of the world is very different for people of colour. Austin has hope, grace, and wisdom – that both wraps you in a hug and shakes you to do better. She also is a Christian leader in a non-profit, so I really appreciated her insight and critic about race within the Christian church and ministries (where we often brush over it / ignore it, and just say Jesus loves everyone and so should we… without doing any of the hard work of critiquing and transforming these spaces). I love how she points to Jesus as the ultimate example of just anger, great mercy, and radical transformation. Friends, (especially white ministry leaders) put this book at the top of your reading list!!
Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton (4/5)
I read this book for a work project but I still wanted to include it in these review. This is a GREAT and IMPORTANT book for anyone involved in any sort of ministry, missions, compassion projects, service trips etc (both local and global). Answers questions like: are missions trips worth it? when does aid become dependency? has foreign aid inhibited countries own growth? should you give money to homeless people? The author focuses heavily on reflection on your own motivation, and doing the harder, longer, more complicated work of relationship building and empowering self agency, instead of just “feel-good” projects for those of us who are privileged and want to help the “less fortunate”. As someone who runs an international volunteer program for a religious organization, this kind of stuff is always on my mind. Though I think our program is good and our organization has a great international reputation for building relationships and empowering local leaders, I think we can keep doing better and am working on developing this MORE into our training curriculum. So if you want to read this book and chat with me about your thoughts – I would LOVE that.
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert (5/5)
This was a lively and lovely book. My favourite thing about it was the way it was written, the sign of a good good author who sees beyond just the plot but the way the plot it TOLD. Earlier this year I said Michelle Obama’s “Becoming” was the best written book I’ve read this year, but this one bypasses it. It’s okay though, because one is a biography and one is a beautiful work of fiction. About the plot: it’s almost tangibly juicy and colourful. The New Yorker called it “incandescent” and that is absolutely the right word. What’s it about? Like lots of books I’ve read this year, it’s about a woman growing up and finding herself, love, and belonging. It is told a bit like Titanic (an older woman retelling the story of her youth) and this adds elegance and wisdom to it. Plot wise, not for the conservative or the young’uns… there is a lot of “going out on the town” shall we say. But if that doesn’t bother you, everything else this book has to offer will leave you feeling satisfied as you turn the last page.
Recursion by Blake Crouch (3/5)
This feels like one of those sci-fi movies Netflix made like ten years ago before Netflix movies were good. Like that one random time travel one with Justin Timberlake? It’s like that. Watchable but not winning any oscars and you’re probably not going to recommend it to your friends. 🤷🏻♀️ Also, you can only “go back in time to redo what you just did” so many times before reading it starts to make you dizzy. I don’t know. It’s an interesting premise I guess but also like meh. Basically a low budget movie about time travel that would keep you entertained if you were bored.
Seven Fallen Feathers by Tanya
I wish this book was written a bit better so that more people would read this important story (but it takes me back to the argument of should these kinds of stories really be enjoyable to read?). I had a hard time reading this book for a lot of reasons but it’s an important one to read. Often the “trials” (such a weak word to use to describe it all) of our First Nations community seem so distant (geographically or in time) but this is the recent true story of an Ontario community. An important read for Canadians about something we cannot ignore (as we regularly do).
Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin (5/5)
This is the sweetest romance that is honest, heartwarming, and endearing. Perfect for fans of Pride and Prejudice, this love story follows two modern Muslims in Toronto (which is just the icing on the cake). A page turner, because you just want them to admit they like each other – and that they’re falling in love with each other as much as you’re falling in love with them! I wish they were real people so I could drive into Scarborough and hug them. Of course there’s good family drama, conflict, self discovery etc but it’s also just such a perfect love story. 100% PG. 100% enjoyable. 100% sweet without being sickly sweet.
Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi (5/5)
I LOVED IT. It’s like Hunger Games meets Divergent meets Lord of the Rings? Actually, not at all. But if you liked any of those book series (before the movies), then you will like this. It feels reminiscent of those because it’s in the same genre… “YA Fiction” – which like, what even is that? When is something young adult fiction vs. adult fiction? Looked it up and one of the main distinctions is the age of the protagonist and okay that makes a lot of sense. But it’s classic “YA” vibes. A group of people excluded. Bad government. Youth revolt. Main character goes on unexpected journey. Gets unexpected team on journey. Magic powers. Special skills. Stronger than she knew. All the good stuff. But all this “classic” stuff in a way that feels FRESH. As soon as I finished it I Googled to see if there was a sequel and it’s a TRILOGY. Except the next book doesn’t come out until next year. Boo. Read if you like magic, a good adventure, fantasy/dystopian books with 18-year-old ish protagonists LOL. All the stars subtract one because it’s an unfinished trilogy and I have to wait to read the rest and finish the story.
The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh (2/5)
Eh. It feels very Margaret Atwood-y but honestly just go read Margaret Atwood. There’s a ton of abuse and trauma and brainwashing etc. all to not make much of a point. Could’ve been better if there was more realization and overcoming from the girls, or if we got more information about what the world outside was really like. I don’t know – I know everyone raved about this book a year or two ago but it’s really not worth it. There are better books to read.
Talking to Strangers: What We Should Know about the People We Don’t Know by Malcolm Gladwell (3/5)
It’s possible I was just in the wrong mood to read this book. It was interesting. All about how we radically improperly judge people, even when we think we’ve got it all figured out. Apparently humans suck at detecting lies (EVEN if you are a cop or profession where you should have it figured out). I really liked the notion about how we think of ourselves as very complicated but don’t extend this same grace to other people. Interesting for sure, but for me (right now) kind of meh.