The Reading List

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It’s hard to believe the summer is drawing to a close. Between work adventures and out of state trips to see friends, it has been an absolute whirlwind for me—and while that has wreaked havoc on my posting schedule, surprisingly, it has not wreaked the same havoc on my reading. Thanks to some lovely audio books, some very poorly timed traffic jams, and a surprise gift from a dear cousin, I’m actually within range of meeting my goal this year. So without further ado, here are the books that have been keeping me entertained and educated over the past few months.

In a culture that strives for happiness and perfection, depression and mental illness are often surrounded by stigma, misunderstanding, and endless questions. In Silent Souls Weeping, bestselling author and nationally-recognized journalist Jane Clayson Johnson hopes to change the LDS dialogue and cultural stigmas surrounding mental illness. She vulnerably shares her own experience with depression along with the experiences of many other Latter-day Saints, offering support to those suffering and understanding to those loving someone with depression.

Silent Souls Weeping

Author: Jane Clayson Johnson
Genre: LDS / Non-Fiction / Psychology

I have several loved ones who deal with chronic depression and I deal with some anxiety myself. I actually received a very strong prompting that I should buy and read this book, and I am so glad that I obeyed. The stories, studies, Conference talks, and other resources shared in Silent Souls Weeping helped me feel more empathy for those who struggle with depression and mental illness. The book is very well-researched and well-written, and treats sensitive issues with a balance of compassion and honesty. This is a must read for anyone who has depression or cares for someone who does. I’d also recommend it for church leaders who may need to provide support and counseling for those who deal with mental illness. I truly believe it is an inspired book.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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When 14-year-old Tory and her younger sister, Sara, arrive at their grandparents' farm, Tory can't wait to spend the summer with their cousin Elijah. But their rebellious 16-year-old cousin Rennie is there, too, and determined to torment Tory and Elijah. Then a ghostly mystery unites the three, and this time it's Sara who's left out. Her eagerness to be included leads to a tragedy no one could have predicted.

Rimwalkers

Author: Vicki Grove
Genre: YA / MG Fiction

This was my faaaaaaaavorite book when I was in middle school, and I thought it would be fun to read it again and see if the magic is still there. It absolutely is. It was funny to see how much of my life is in this book: my love of abandoned places, small tows, and farming. Even, at times, my writing style. I had no idea just how much of an impact Rimwalkers really had on me.

I also caught more nuance this time, especially as Tory deals with the emotional aftermath of the incident at the heart of the climax. There are no easy answers, no quick redemption packaged in a nice, tidy box. You can have memories that fill you with both joy and regret.

Brava, Mrs. Grove. You gave us such a gift, and I love it still.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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There is a movement of women stepping into their God-given gifts to make money doing what they love. If you're ready to join them, this is your handbook that will take the ideas in your head and the dream in your heart and turn them into action.

Business Boutique

Author: Christy Wright
Genre: Entrepreneurship

I wish I’d had this book before starting my business, but I still got so much out of it. It is the best resource I have ever read about starting a small business—and as one who has taken entrepreneurship courses through the SBA, LDS Employment Services, and BYU’s business school and did paranoia-level research before she started her business, that’s saying something. I’m 100% positive that this book has more value than most online “solopreneur” coaching has, combined. Christy’s way of explaining the ins and outs of starting and running a business is clear, concise, and straightforward. She gives you everything you need to be successful.

And she’s inspiring and uplifting, too. I feel so empowered, and I appreciate her acknowledgment of God’s influence in our lives, goals, and business endeavors. A few key takeaways for me:

  • God uses my talents and dreams to work good in the world.
  • There is room for all of us in the market. We can support others who have businesses like ours without sabotaging our own dreams and goals.
  • It’s important to say no to maintain a healthy work/life balance.
  • I need to protect my priorities.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is even thinking about the possibility of starting a business. To all my entrepreneur friends, you need this book in your arsenal. Brett got this for me as a gift, and I feel totally spoiled.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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Is the way that women evaluate their own worth affected still by the biblical story of Mother Eve? Author Beverly Campbell suggests, “In much of the literature and in most of the histories referring to women there is an undercurrent of apology, as though there is something not quite 'all right' about being a woman. In looking for the source of this unease, I came to recognize that it could be traced to accounts of the Creation and to the ever-prevalent and negative characterizations of Eve.”... This compelling book may change forever your perception of our first parents and the choice they made.

Eve and the Choice Made in Eden

Author: Beverly Campbell
Genre: Religion (LDS)

This book gave me an even greater appreciation for the temple and the role the creation story plays in temple ordinances. I’ve always been fascinated by Eve and knew there was more to her story than the limited details we get in the standard works. Campbell combines scriptures, the words of modern church leaders, and historical context to present a more complete picture of Mother Eve, Father Adam, and the choice to partake of the forbidden fruit. She argues (convincingly) that chronic oppression and mistreatment of women throughout the ages comes from an incorrect understanding of the Fall and Eve’s role in it. Campbell also celebrates both men and women and their divine differences in a way that is refreshingly different from the divisiveness the world wants us to subscribe to. While I did feel the narrative made a few leaps, overall, I found it enlightening, empowering, and uplifting.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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In this gripping memoir of a young man, a wolf, their parallel lives and ultimate collision, Bryce Andrews describes life on the remote, windswept Sun Ranch in southwest Montana. The Sun’s twenty thousand acres of rangeland occupy a still-wild corner of southwest Montana—a high valley surrounded by mountain ranges and steep creeks... Andrews recounts marathon days and nights of building fences, riding, roping, and otherwise learning the hard business of caring for cattle, an initiation that changes him from an idealistic city kid into a skilled ranch hand. But when wolves suddenly begin killing the ranch’s cattle, Andrews has to shoulder a rifle, chase the pack, and do what he’d hoped he would never have to do.

Badluck Way: A Year on the Ragged Edge of the West

Author: Bryce Andrews
Genre: Memoir
Content Warning: Brief strong language

Badluck Way is both beautifully written and thought-provoking. The Sun Ranch focused on conservation ranching, so my ag-loving heart was drawn in by their wildlife-friendly, sustainable practices. It cheered my hear to read of such a ranch working so hard to balance profitability with regenerative agriculture. It was my dream written out in beautiful, evocative prose, and I ate it up.

And then the wolves came.

Andrews did an excellent job of avoiding both romanticizing and vilifying the wolves. They are just animals, neither inherently moral nor inherently evil. And when the wolves start preying on the cattle, Andrews does a great job presenting the dilemma and ethics of killing an apex predator to protect a livelihood that many good people rely on. It’s a very thoughtful, balanced view of the controversy, and one that every rancher and conservationist should consider. In an interview, the author said he hopes “that people will understand that this is a book containing great sympathies, both for the wolf and for the rancher.”

The last 1/4 of the book did drag on a bit for me and I found myself zoning out a lot (I listened to the audio version), but otherwise, it was a good read.

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

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Every January 1, a quirky crowd storms out across North America for a spectacularly competitive event called a Big Year—a grand, expensive, and occasionally vicious 365-day marathon of birdwatching. For three men in particular, 1998 would become a grueling battle for a new North American birding record. Bouncing from coast to coast on frenetic pilgrimages for once-in-a-lifetime rarities, they brave broiling deserts, bug-infested swamps, and some of the lumpiest motel mattresses known to man.... Here, prize-winning journalist Mark Obmascik creates a dazzling, fun narrative of the 275,000-mile odyssey of these three obsessives as they fight to win the greatest—or maybe worst—birding contest of all time.

The Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession

Author: Mark Obmascik
Genre: Non-Fiction

I really enjoyed the movie version of The Big Year, so I was excited to learn that it was a book first. It was well-written and fun, and it kind of made me want to do a big year. (But in reality, I think I’ll just stick to backyard birding…) Mostly, I just really enjoy stories about people following their dreams—the quirkier, the better. There were a few parts that were a little dull (I could have done with slightly less than a complete history of North American bird watching…), but so long as the story centered on our three protagonists, I found it engaging and enjoyable.

(Also, a note on the audiobook: I found the narration a bit grating at times. I would recommend the print version over the audio version.)

3.5 out of 5 stars (3.5 / 5)

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An unflinching, darkly funny, and deeply moving story of a boy, his seriously ill mother, and an unexpected monstrous visitor. At seven minutes past midnight, thirteen-year-old Conor wakes to find a monster outside his bedroom window. But it isn't the monster Conor's been expecting - he's been expecting the one from his nightmare, the nightmare he's had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments. The monster in his backyard is different. It's ancient. And wild. And it wants something from Conor. Something terrible and dangerous. It wants the truth.

A Monster Calls

Author: Patrick Ness (inspired by an idea by Siobhan Dowd)
Genre: MG Fiction
Content Warning: Mild language

A Monster Calls is a super quick read, but that doesn’t mean it’s an easy one. Despite the simple writing, it packs some heavy punches. It is beautiful in that simplicity and perfect in its execution. The characters are unexpected. The monster is vivid and mysterious and unique. Conor is a worthy protagonist, and he will break your heart.

Read this with a fresh box of tissues.

5 out of 5 stars (5 / 5)

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Keturah follows a legendary hart into the king's forest, where she becomes hopelessly lost. Her strength diminishes until, finally, she realizes that death is near. Little does she know that he is a young, handsome lord, melancholy and stern. Renowned for her storytelling, Keturah is able to charm Lord Death with a story and thereby gain a reprieve but only for twenty-four hours. She must find her one true love within that time or all is lost. Keturah searches desperately while the village prepares for an unexpected visit from the king, and Keturah is thrust into a prominent role as mysterious happenings alarm her friends and neighbors. Lord Death's presence hovers over this all until Keturah confronts him one last time in the harrowing climax.

Keturah and Lord Death

Author: Martine Leavitt
Genre: YA / Fantasy

Oh, Keturah, I would have loved you. Although you got off to a bit of a slow start for me, you quickly warmed my heart. You were lovely, well-written, and engaging. You kept me turning the pages, eager for news of your beloved village and friends. Storyteller you are, indeed.

But your final choice made no sense to me. I’ve read other reviews, and other reviewers seem to love the ending, so maybe it’s just me who felt your choice was a little… convenient.

This is a lovely book and I’m not hesitant to recommend it. I’d actually love to hear what you think of the ending. Does it work for you? Or did it leave you a little unsatisfied like me?

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

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Facing up to what he is, Callum has battled chaos and evil across four years of magical training at the Magisterium, eventually defeating the armies of chaos in an epic battle. It came at a cost. Now, triumphant and heartbroken, Callum Hunt has just about had enough, and is ready to complete his training. But the evil Callum faced has not given up just yet...

The Golden Tower

Author: Cassandra Clare and Holly Black
Genre: MG / YA Fantasy
Series: Magisterium #5

I really loved the first book of this series. While it was highly derivative of Harry Potter (outcast boy discovers that he’s a wizard and goes to wizard school, where he meets new BFFs—a boy and a girl—and despite the fact that he’s a child and there are plenty of capable adults around, he is the only one who can defeat an evil overlord who found a way to cheat death by moving his soul around…), I thought the twist introduced at the end of The Iron Trial (book one) was enough to make this series unique.

Now that I’ve finished the final book in the series, I can say that it’s… good. Not great. Not life-changing. It’s never going to be the phenomenon that Harry Potter was. But it is enjoyable. Clare and Black did an excellent job with world building. I love the culture of the mage community. I love the magic tied to the elements. I loved that they really explored what happens if you push magic too far. I love that Callum has father who cares really deeply for him. It’s a quick, easy read, and a delightful adventure to listen to while driving or doing laundry.

It’s a solid 3 stars for me, both for this book and the series as a whole.

3 out of 5 stars (3 / 5)

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What have you been reading lately?

What should I add to my reading list? Tell me in the comments below or over on my Facebook page!

Jess

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