Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Book Review: Women at Church- Magnifying LDS Women's Local Impact

Women at Church: Magnifying LDS Women’s Local ImpactWomen at Church: Magnifying LDS Women’s Local Impact by Neylan McBaine
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is a great read! I wish I could give a copy to every man and woman in the church today. It's a faith based practical guide to fostering gender cooperation within the LDS church. The author is also the creator of the Mormon Women Project which highlights stories about Mormon women throughout the world. She is a practicing member of the LDS church and is supportive of our current leadership.

The author does a great job of making her position clear that while she hopes that there will be changes to gender relations (i.e. women in leadership positions, priesthood, patriarchy, etc) that she is operating within the belief that the system we have now is the system that will be in place for the near future. However, even within our current, mostly male leadership system, there are tons of things that we as a people can be doing to build Zion between men and women.

She brings in a lot of great quotes from general authorities to talk about better communication and participation in our ward councils, family councils, ym/yw programs, etc. She addresses many of the issues effecting women in the church today: not having a voice, meeting with bishops without another woman present, double standard modesty lessons, losing some of our stewardship that was given to us during the restoration, etc.

She then uses ideas and examples that other wards and groups have used to address these issues. I am grateful for the many excellent examples that were given of men and women working toward Zion. In many of her examples she uses interviews with the actual participants so that we can hear the point of view of the stake president, the relief society president, the speakers, the attendees, etc. It helps it really hit home that these examples are real, and that they can work, and that many different types of people with different personalities and callings have been able to enact great changes in the lives of many.

The ideas include many things like not always having the man speak last in sacrament meeting, honoring the YW for their Personal Progress awards in a similar manner to the YM when they receive their eagles, having wives of high councilors speak with their husbands on assignments, giving the stake women auxiliaries more opportunities to speak, including single women in our presidencies, listening to women in the ward councils, inviting the women leaders to PEC meeting, having a stake Q&A session with the women and the stake presidency so that they can know the women's concerns, having women speak at priesthood holders' meetings (we have men give their perspective on women's issues all the time...so shouldn't women give their perspective on men's issues), not using the term "The Priesthood" to mean the men (there's a difference between the priesthood and the priesthood holders), discussing in talks and lessons the many talents/skills/contributions that women have in addition to being mothers, and many many more.

Whether you have felt this pain or not, this book is a great read. If you are interested in understanding better why some women in the church today are in pain this is a great resource. If you are interested in helping women to feel more included and loved at church this is a great read. If you are interested in building a Zion people where there are no poor among us this is a great read. If you are in a leadership position and are looking for better ways to include the female community this a great read.

I believe that while Heavenly Father has given men and women different gifts he also created us with many things the same and he expects us to respect and value all people equally. He also created each person uniquely and we need to remember even within one gender there are going to be a lot of different ideas, points of view, personalities, etc. No gender is less than and as we use the talents of men and women we will be able to create more beautiful communities and lives. As we include the perspective of women and men we will see a more complete and perfect view of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

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Thursday, February 22, 2018

Book Review: Everything We Keep

Everything We Keep (Everything #1)Everything We Keep by Kerry Lonsdale
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

So this was the first of the my black friday dollar books that ended up making me want my dollar back ;) I guess my lucky steak of picking out random good books had to come to an end at some point.

Based on the fact that the plot sounded similar to other books I've enjoyed in the past I picked this up on the cheap during black friday. I was mostly just looking for a quick escape type book to rest from some of the heavier reading I've been doing lately and thought this might fit the bill. When I first started ready I was struck by the complete overuse of cliche's and monotonous dialogue but was a little excited by the promise of a mystery to solve (the book starts at her fiance's funeral and a mysterious woman telling the main character that her true love isn't really dead!). Overall it had all the makings of a good book but didn't follow through. It felt like the author was trying to maybe imitate Liane Moriarty or Jodi Piccoult but it really missed the mark.

Sadly, the mystery/twist was not to be. The plot and "big reveal" are pretty absurd. The writing is terrible. It didn't keep me turning the page. The first half of the book is the main character deciding if she should go on a trip or not and takes forever to get started. It was all build up and no payoff. The characters weren't likeable. And while there are two love interests in the book I wasn't really rooting for her to end up with either. About half way through she starts throwing in language and sex out of nowhere that don't really fit in with the feel of the rest of the book. I'm really pretty surprised that it has such a good rating on goodreads...and that there are two follow ups...

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Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Book Review: A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women's Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870

A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women's Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870A House Full of Females: Plural Marriage and Women's Rights in Early Mormonism, 1835-1870 by Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Most people know that the first Mormon settlers in Utah practiced polygamy, but what is less known is that those same saints also gave women the right to vote 50 years before the 19th amendment, had some of the best divorce laws of the time for women, and that many of those women were political activists who rallied with Susan B. Anthony and the like!

While their marriage system may seem in complete opposition of the women's rights movements they maintained that polygamy actually gave women freedom to choose who she wanted to live with, who she wanted to have children with, saved women from prostititution, and gave women a bigger support system which gave her more resources to pursue her own goals and talents. While for some women polygamy certainly seemed to achieve these goals, there are also many stories from women for whom polygamy left them feeling unloved and lonely, struggling with depression, living in poverty, relying on their children and extended family for financial support, and more.

More than looking at women's rights, or polygamy, this book gives us a more complete look at the women who helped found the LDS faith. Much of the history that is commonly talked about circles around the male pioneers with women's names popping in and out of stories here and there. Maybe we've heard about Emma Smith or Eliza Snow but even then it's only in stories where they are interacting with Jospeh Smith or Brigham Young. Not to mention there are so many other strong and dynamic women to learn about. What were these women’s lives like day to day? What were their thoughts on revelation, priesthood, marriage, and women’s rights?

At first I thought that we didn't talk about women's history because we just didn't have as many resources about the women. But the truth is we have notes, letters, journals, and pictures of the women. After reading several books about the lives of women I've concluded that we often don't talk about the women because we can't talk about them without acknowledging the parts of history we don't like to talk about as much like: polygamy, secret and exclusive societies in early mormonism, babies dying, saints disagreeing on things or even hating one another (like Brigham and Emma), the fact that women used to give blessings for the sick, that some of the notes from the first relief society meetings were altered by church leaders and have now been changed back, and even just the fact that pioneers sometimes complained or doubted. The author also mentions this idea. She says that some feel that the women's voices tell the other side of the story and that for some it takes away from the dominate narrative of miracles, and priesthood power, and faith unwavering. As LDS we do like to focus on the faith promoting views of history but we sometimes don't realize that the whole picture, including the failures and disappointments, can help us relate and empathize with the historical narrative and that can be just as faith promoting.

These women lived amazing lives. Many gave up money, status, stable homes, and health to travel across the country and build a community up in the middle of nothing. Their husbands were often gone on missions leaving them responsible to maintain the house, gardens, land, children and earn the money to support the family. Even when their husbands were home they were often doing the jobs in the spotlight and receiving much of the praise while the women do the quiet behind the scenes work. While many were happy with these roles, others were not. It's fascinating to read about their different accounts. This book will give you access to their actual words and thoughts through their letters and journals. Even more interesting were the letters they wrote but never sent. The grief they had to hold in, the anger that ebbed and flowed, the doubt they tried not to feel. I loved realizing that they struggled with those things too.

The author also uses their husband and leaders journals, letters and speeches to help us see that sometimes the men and women would see the same history quite differently. Although dealing with much different issues than we do today, it was interesting to see the dynamics between the genders in family life, church and social gatherings. While it was often hard to read some of the teachings going on at that time in regard to gender (such as women cannot be saved without a man, Women should have no say in the leadership of their family or they will incur the wrath of God, Men can’t help but wanting more than one woman, the higher up your husband’s calling the better chance you have for salvation, the more wives you have the higher up your exaltation, and that men should try not to love their wives too much) it was also very touching to read how much some of these men did love their wives and how they were often just as confused and hurt by the polygamist system as the women.

The author does a good job of using many women's voices too so that we get to see the diversity among the women of that time. We often see them all in black and white pictures and they tend to look the same and we combine that with one or two quotes from from Eliza Snow and we begin to think they all thought the same way too. But they were diverse in their thoughts and feelings. This book lets us see how they used that diversity to build a community, form organizations and committees to help with education, health, women’s rights, and spiritual improvement. Using voice of well known women (Eliza, Emma and Zina), notable women (such as Phebe Woodruff, Mary Richards, and Sarah Kimball), and many women who I previously had not heard of (Augusta Cobb), the author is able to help us see how these women interacted with those who agreed with them and those who didn’t. How they were able to come together and also what sometimes held them apart.

It was also very interesting to read about the women’s rights movement happening all around the country at the time. It was interesting to read about Susan B. Anthony and Amelia Bloomer. Even thought these women were advocating for a very different life for women that what the Utah polygamist wives were advocating. They were on some points able to unite in their common goal of giving the women the right to vote so that each woman could have the right to pick the type of life she wanted and have a voice in local and national politics of the day. How wonderful it would be if in today’s world we could focus more on the things we have in common in order to get things done instead of refusing to work with people whose political leanings seem so different from our own.
If you have any interest in LDS history or the history of women’s rights this is a great read!

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Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Book Review: The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness at the Fair That Changed America

The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed AmericaThe Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book started out slow but really picked up steam throughout. The ending was intense and seriously creepy. The author does a good job of letting you feel the tension mounting and unraveling the story faster and faster as the book moves forward. I am seriously amazed at how little I knew about the history and events covered in this book. At the end of each chapter I found myself asking, "How have I never heard about this before?"

The book tells two main stories and for the most part alternates between the two every chapter. The first story is that of the Chicago World's Fair and the second is of H.H.Holmes, a seemingly wealthy and charming business owner/hotel manager/fraud/bigamist/murderer/psychopath who lives in Chicago during the fair.

I'll be honest that in the beginning of this book the two stories seemed pretty unequally yoked and I found myself rushing through the chapters detailing the conversations and business meetings leading up to the fair so that I could find out what crazy pants Holmes was going to do next. However, while the business details of the fair were slow and tedious at times to follow, the descriptions of the construction and exhibits of the fair itself were amazing. The descriptions of beauty and innovation sometimes seemed other worldly. It reminded me at times of the Night Circus only it is something that actually existed. It was interesting to read about the construction that was fraught with terrible weather, freak accidents, construction deaths, etc. I also enjoyed reading about the exhibits- the ferris wheel, modern electricity, shredded wheat, and more. I was also stunned to learn that an assassin ruined the closing ceremonies...again, how have I never heard about this?

The history of H.H. Holmes was insane. Often referred to as the first american serial killer he built an apartment building (also used as a Hotel during the world's fair) full of secret passages, air tight rooms, secret chutes to the basement and torture chambers. He killed friends, family, strangers, business partners, etc. Sometimes to collect insurance money, sometimes to cover up other lies, and mostly just for the thrill of it. Sometimes he cremated the bodies himself and other times he sold the bodies to medical schools as cadavers or skeletons.

While he's doing all of this he somehow finds the time to get married to several different women and have two children. He even lets two of his wives live. The scary part is how he manages to commit these horrendous crimes while still playing the part of normal, successful, charming business man and husband. Amazingly as girlfriends, secretaries, and acquaintances go missing he is questioned several times by family, neighbors, police, and private investigators and is still never suspected. Everyone seems to just keep believing him when he says they went back to live with their parents, or they eloped with another suitor, or they were hiding from ex-lovers.

He also cheats and steals from others using several different aliases and businesses owned by the different aliases. When people come to collect money he simply blames the debt on one of his other aliases to divert the attention and punishment away from himself. He is finally arrested on a charge of fraud against an insurance company who believes he faked the death of his business partner. During the investigation they find out that he actually murdered his business partner for the insurance claim and that his partners three children are now missing. As the investigators search for the three children they uncover all of his horrific secrets.

The scariest part for me was in the end that he really believed he was the Devil and that many of the people who helped bring him to justice seemed to be cursed afterward. A very creepy ending to an already creepy story. That again left me thinking "How have I never heard of this before?".

While this book was definitely not one I would have picked up on my own it had some fascinating history and I'm excited to discuss it for book group.

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Friday, December 1, 2017

Book Review: The Four Tendencies

The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better (and Other People's Lives Better, Too)The Four Tendencies: The Indispensable Personality Profiles That Reveal How to Make Your Life Better by Gretchen Rubin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a quick look at how we set and accomplish goals and what motivates us to accomplish them.

The theory behind this book is that each of us falls into one of four tendencies. Upholders-motivated by internal and external expectations, Questioners- motivated internally, Obligers- motivated externally, and Rebels- Do what they want, not motivated by internal or external expectations.

Once you take the quiz at the beginning of the book, she breaks down each tendency into sections such as what motivates each tendency, strengths and weaknesses of each tendency, and how to deal with a spouse, coworker, medical patient, and child with each tendency.

There's also a section about different relationship pairings. I'm a questioner leaning toward rebel and my husband is an obliger leaning toward rebel. Which was really surprising! We are both quite stubborn but in different ways and for different reasons! When I rebel it's because I think that I know better than everyone else and my husband rebels because he doesn't want people to tell him what to do. So as you can guess that can be an interesting dynamic in a marriage! haha!

While it was an interesting premise I wasn't totally sold on each of us fitting into one box and staying there our entire life. I really felt like in certain situations I could be motivated in different ways. However, I did fall under questioner and leaned toward rebel so that could have something to do with me questioning the validity of the test. It was funny because as I was having these thoughts the book itself even validated that questioners would be the most skeptical about their results.

There were a lot of things that rung true for me as I read about my questioning tendency. I'm definitely "crackpot material" like she says and I definitely like to research things out before I leap. I sometimes get bogged down in analysis paralysis but I also get things done on time when I need to. I do find myself questioning authority quite a bit and I really hate arbitrary or inefficient rules or the answer of "that's the way we've always done it". I feel like it's super important to understand "why" you are doing something, especially when you are recommending others do it too. And I'm sure that I exhaust people (including myself at times) with my endless list of questions. I didn't really identify with the part where she said questioners don't like to be questioned. I enjoy debates a lot and love philosophy discussions, etc. I do feel frustrated when in a debate with someone who I don't feel has done enough research though so maybe that's what she means by not liking to be questioned.

I identified quite a bit with the rebel mentality also. Which I was surprised by since I live a pretty conservative life. However, I enjoy doing things differently than other people and surprising others by defying their expectations of what I might say or do next. I don't like being told I can't do something and motivate myself quite often by thinking of people who want me to fail. Like before I ran my half marathon I had someone tell me they didn't think I could do it because of my weight and my want to prove him wrong was more motivating than visualizing the finish line or anything like that! I have no problem breaking rules (especially arbitrary ones-see questioner).

I also change what I do for hobbies or jobs quite a bit. I do preschool, now I'm a runner, now I'm decorating cakes, I'm going to write a book, etc. When something becomes an expectation I find it a lot harder to do things. Like when I made cakes for fun and for free I never felt stressed and could do several a day. Once I started getting paid for cakes and was stuck to a baking schedule I suddenly felt a lot of anxiety about it! I also find it easier to help someone when I just think of doing it on my own as opposed to someone asking me. And on occasion I've not done something that were in my best interest just because someone else told me to do it. However, I think a lot of this still falls in the questioner category because a true rebel doesn't like anyone telling them what to do but I'm fine with some people telling me what to do if they have researched it out, explained why I should and I trust them as an authority.

Although I definitely saw myself within her framework I didn't feel like it was super spot on or revolutionary. I've definitely read other personality type books that seemed to peg me a little better. I also didn't feel like it necessarily gave much insight into how to use your strengths to make your life better or how to overcome weaknesses. And there were definitely some major biases on the part of the author. It was pretty easy to tell which of the tendencies she thought were good and which needed some work. She was an upholder and pretty much defended every choice ever made by an upholder and didn't really seem to do that for the others. But that's just my perception and as a questioner/rebel I'm probably biased against upholders a little bit. Sorry Ms. Rubin!

I am so excited to discuss this with my book group though. Excited to hear what others thought and what groups they are in. I think it will definitely have a great discussion!

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Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Book Review: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-TimeThe Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I really wanted to like this book. I really though I was going to. I'd read several good reviews and had a couple people recommend it.

The book is unique in that the main character and narrator, Christopher, is Autistic thus giving us a look at what it might be like to view the world through his eyes and mind. Christopher can't be touched, he loves animals but has trouble relating to people, and is gifted in memorization and mathematics. I enjoyed the main characters humor, his self awareness as he's writing the book (he often says things like my friend said not to put this in but I"m going to anyway), and the fact that each chapter is counted by only prime numbers.

However, even with the neat things this book has going for it, they weren't enough to redeem the fact that there isn't much of a plot happening. The book felt a lot longer than it was and ending is pretty anticlimactic. The only real peak in the story happens about half way through and then you're left with 80 more pages to describe one trip on a train.

It also felt like in a few places that this book was written with the sole purpose of trying to win awards...which it did. I also pretty much hated all the other characters other than Christopher and Siobhan. All the adults were angry and self absorbed. Every stranger he met says the f word every other word. Other than Christopher every other character was basically the same character, not fleshed out at all. Maybe that is supposed to be because Christopher has a hard time reading people or connecting emotionally? Or maybe it's just lazy writing on the part of the author.

I also think a lot of people read this book and felt like maybe they had learned more about autism when really this is a fiction book written by someone with very little interaction with or knowledge on the subject. The author in interviews and on his blog has even talked about the fact that he's been asked to speak about it several times and has to decline because he didn't really research it that much and isn't an expert. While this voice may ring true for some people with autism, it's important to remember that within the autistic population each person is unique (as are we all) and that this isn't representative of how they all see and interact with the world.

Save yourself some time and skip this one. There are better books out there!

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Saturday, November 4, 2017

Book Review: Wintergirls

WintergirlsWintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is haunting. The writing is beautiful and bleak at the same time. The author delves deep into the world of eating disorders in a fictional narrative that explores the thoughts, feelings, history and compulsions behind addiction in many forms.

It is written from the viewpoint of a teenage young woman dealing with anorexia whose best (and also estranged) friend has just died. We are kind of dropped into the middle of the story at this point and must wait to find out how her friend died, why they are estranged, why the main character is anorexic, how that applies to the death of her friend, etc.

As I read the viewpoint of this teenage girl and the things she believes are truth and the way she views her parents and family I was really haunted by what things I might unintentionally be doing or not doing that could eventually lead my children to have some of the recurring negative thoughts this young woman has. As we get glimpses of what leads to her eating disorder, and friend choices, and decision to cut herself, we begin to see the entire tapestry of what leads people to make certain choices. It made me think about the things that have affected my own tapestry but also how I affect others.

The complexity with which the story is told leads the reader to realize there is no easy or quick fix to these problems. It also shows us the inseparable connection between our mental health and our physical health. It challenges our perceptions of the world and helps us, for a few hundred pages, to perceive the world from the viewpoint of someone who is in a very dark place. It is hard to convince someone that they are not seeing truth. It's hard to convince someone who is stuck in darkness to believe there is light out there. Or someone who is stuck in winter that Spring will come.

Beyond the plot of this book I also really enjoyed the actual writing style. The main character becomes so alive for the reader as we get to hear her every thought. And why she thinks that. And the story behind why she thinks that. The author manages to do this without being boring or bogging us down with lengthy descriptions of past events. There were many parts where I could feel exactly what the main character was feeling or see the world the way she wanted us to.

The writing is also very poetic. While she does use a basic narrative style for some of the story, it is interspersed between sections of beautiful poetry. There were many paragraphs that could stand alone and be discussed at length without the surrounding book text. I think that is the mark of a gifted author.

Can't wait to discuss it at book group!

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Book Review: Women at Church- Magnifying LDS Women's Local Impact

Women at Church: Magnifying LDS Women’s Local Impact by Neylan McBaine My rating: 5 of 5 stars This is a great read! I wish I could give...