Category Archives: Book Reviews

Book Review: Women at Church by Neylan McBaine

Women at ChurchIn the Sunday morning session of General Conference this weekend, President Eyring told the story of how he traveled to a “small city far away” to confer the sealing power on a man whose “hands showed the signs of a lifetime of tilling the soil for a meager living.” The man’s wife sat in the room, weeping, and when President Eyring asked her how she felt, “She looked up and then said timidly that she was happy but also sad. She said that she had so loved going to the temple with her husband but that now she felt that she should not go with him because God had chosen him for so glorious and sacred a trust. Then she said that her feeling of being inadequate to be his temple companion came because she could neither read nor write.” President Eyring reassured her and spoke to her about her spiritual gifts, and her great faith in the gospel.

What struck me about this exchange was not just the kindness President Eyring showed, or his ability to discern that this sister had received personal revelations which she held dear, but the fact that her husband’s new church responsibilities highlighted her own feelings of inadequacy. While I don’t know enough about this woman’s life experience to even begin to guess whether her church experiences or experiences in her culture of origin helped shape this feeling, the anecdote highlights the fact that women in the church can struggle with feeling less than their male counterparts.  We see men on the stand every Sunday. Our boys pass the sacrament. Few women have the opportunity to work in church leadership. Our religious language is often gendered. There are so few female voices and role models and leaders for us to turn to as examples. As more women work closely with men in the workplace and work toward egalitarian relationships with their male partners, church may be one of the few places where women may feel limited by their gender. I’m not saying that every woman feels this way; many women feel that their membership in the church empowers them. I just want the church to be a place where every member can feel that she belongs.

But enough about me, let’s talk about McBaine’s important book, Women at Church: Magnifying LDS Women’s Local Impact. First, I want to talk about something the book doesn’t do– in a time when the ordination of women has been a hot-button issue, Women at Church doesn’t doesn’t address female ordination. Instead it’s a primer for what leaders and everyday members can do to capitalize on the talents of women in the church. McBaine lays out the mission of the book in the opening sentence: “This book is predicated on a single belief: that there is much more we can do to see, hear, and include women at church.” She continues, “I have written this book as an inducement toward greater empathy for those who feel unseen, unheard, and unused, and a strategic guide to improving our gender cooperation in local Church governance.” Continue reading

Book Review: Girls Who Choose God by McArthur Krishna and Bethany Brady Spalding

Girls_Who_Choose_GodDaniel and the lions’ den. Noah’s ark. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego and the fiery furnace. Nephi and the broken bow. What do these stories (and hundreds more like them) have in common? Well, for one thing, they all feature men who are faced with a moral dilemma. Children in Primary and Sunday School classes learn to emulate them. But as the mother of three young daughters, I often wish we knew the stories of women in the scriptures as well as we do the stories of their male counterparts.

Girls Who Choose God, a new picture book written by McArthur Krishna and Bethany Brady Spalding, illustrated by Kathleen Peterson, and published by Deseret Book, goes a long way to filling the gap. The picture book, which features a dozen women from the Bible, including Eve, Mary the mother of Jesus, Mary Magdalene, the prophet Deborah, and other, lesser-known women, follows a particularly effective format. On the first page spread, each woman’s story is introduced, including the moral dilemma she faces. For example, we learn that “Esther had a choice to make. She could keep her luxurious like as the queen, or she could try to save her people by telling the king she was also a Jew.” On the second page spread, Krishna and Spalding recount the choices the women make, then they ask readers to apply the story to their own lives. The Esther story concludes with the question, “When have you made a choice to stand up for others?” This allows readers to see that each woman faced a choice, and that it’s possible to make courages choices like they did.

The book is also beautifully illustrated. Peterson’s drawings brought me to tears at times– I particularly loved the Mary Magdalene and Eve drawings. The Miriam story features an Egyptian-style border that’s incredibly beautiful. Peterson’s work is currently featured in the “Practicing Charity” exhibit at the Church History Museum, and the illustrations are a real asset to the book.

I can envision myself using this book in family scripture study, for Family Home Evening lessons and for Sharing Time lessons. My third-grade daughter made off with it the night we got our copy, and read the whole thing from cover to cover before bedtime. It’s a book our sons and our daughters should read, because all readers, regardless of gender will benefit from the stories of these women.

As an added bonus, all proceeds from the book will benefit Interweave Solutions, a nonprofit dedicated to support educational and employment opportunities for LDS women around the world.

The Bishop’s Wife – by Mette Ivie Harrison

What does a knock at your front door early in the morning mean to you: curiosity or alarm? What if you knew a couple from church and one day the wife was reported missing, or her husband said she had deliberately left her husband and daughter the night before? What have you already decided?

So begin’s Mette Ivie Harrison’s contemporary exploration of the world of ward politics, judgements, snap assumptions and above all everyday people trying to make sense of the mess and joy of life, and each other.

I’m usually hesitant to read contemporary LDS fiction novels, as I have read too many which have been formulaic, stilted, in desperate search of a plot, or just painful or boring to read. Thankfully, The Bishop’s Wife suffers from none of these struggles; it’s an engaging read, with a compelling mystery that had me puzzling about the plot as I went about my day, and sneaking a couple of pages in at every opportunity. Continue reading

Book Review: This is How We Grow by Christina Hibbert

Title: This is How We Grow: A Psychologist’s Memoir of Loss, Motherhood, and Discovering Self-Woth and Joy, One Season at a Time
Author: Christina Hibbert
Enjoyment Rating: ****
Content Alert: none

Christina Hibbert was an LDS mother of three, working as a psychologist, when her brother-in-law and sister died within months of each other. Christina and her husband became their two boys’ guardians just a few weeks before she gave birth to a daughter, so the family grew from three kids to six in about a month. In This is How We Grow, Hibbert writes about the experience of how her family changed, how they processed their grief, and how they came to see themselves as joyful, whole people again.

I think This is How We Grow is a book where the strengths of the story are also some of the weaknesses. Hibbert kept a journal during this time in her life (now about six years past), and the book is largely sourced from the journal. This means that sometimes readers have to wade through the minutiae of her life. But I think that’s also kind of the point. Lives are often made up of minutiae and small, seemingly insignificant moments. And the life of a stay-at-home mom of six is sometimes a mind-numbing rotation of crisis management and wiping bums. She also does enough stepping back and taking a long-view look at the experiences to make them feel relevant. However, I wish the book had a different title, because I think I would have read it a lot sooner if I had known that it would be such a good mirror for my own experience.

Like Hibbert, I’ve also adopted two kids. They were both abandoned as newborns and lived for about a year in an orphanage. Then we adopted them and they gained a family, but they also lost everything familiar. A lot of times, I don’t think people (myself included) recognize how much loss in involved in adoption, and how much grief my little ones carry, and will have to process at some point in their lives. My experience parenting them is so different from my experience with my biological kids, and a lot of it comes from the grief and loss they have suffered. I think I highlighted more passages in this book than in any book I’ve read since college, and I was both pleased and surprised to find a book that recognized and reflected my own parenting experiences.

This is the first of a two-part conversation with Dr. Hibbert, who we’re pleased to have the opportunity to interview on Wednesday. So come back Wednesday to read the interview, and check out the book!

Mental Fairy Floss

I’m in my mid-semester uni break, and seem to be deficient in Vitamin Fiction. So I’m self-medicating with the (at last count) thirty-seven fiction books I have scattered around my bedroom. At the moment I’m glutting myself on magical, fantastical fare and while it’s not my usual preference, it is hitting the spot right now. Nothing serious, nothing challenging, just great reads and escapes, adventure and fun. What’s not to love about that?

I truly believe that while our brains and selves can hugely benefit from a healthy, varied diet of intelligent, thought provoking reading materials, there is also a time for a bit of sugary, light deliciousness. Continue reading