Faith: Essays from Believers, Agnostics, and Athiests edited by Victoria Zackheim

Faith: Essays from Believers, Agnostics, and Athiests edited by Victoria Zackheim
Published by Beyond Words Publishing
Review copy provided by Netgalley

Twenty-four authors share their perspectives on faith in this diverse collection of essays. Zackheim chooses essays about having faith in God, losing faith, having faith that there is no God, and everything in the middle. Most people interested in the subject of faith will find something to take from this collection.

The writing in this essay collection is great. Zackheim clearly pulled out all the stops to get some authors who would contribute truly thoughtful, interesting, and beautifully written pieces. Of course I was more drawn to some of the essays than others (as is typical with any essay or even short story collection) but overall I found something to think about in each one, which is a success in my book.

Oddly enough, the essays that appealed to me the most were those from atheists and agnostics. I guess I never thought of atheism or agnosticism as a faith-based position, to me before reading this collection both those things mean the absence of faith. But I was surprised to find myself nodding along with a lot of what was explained in those essays – many of the authors have faith in their beliefs, too. Just because their belief is that my God doesn’t exist doesn’t make it any less valid of a belief. I think this would be a valuable read for any Christian who finds him/herself having difficulty understanding and/or dealing with atheists and agnostics in their lives. I personally learned a lot and found myself coming to a deeper understanding of what it really means to be atheist or agnostic.

I was most disappointed by the fact that there was nothing in here from people who believe in non-Western religions. I wanted to read not only about Christianity and Judaism, but about Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, anything other than my own religion. I didn’t find much of that, which was really disappointing in a book that was supposed to be about all kinds of faith (at least, that’s what I was expecting).

I liked this collection a lot but the absence of a lot of world religions made me ultimately not as excited about it as I wanted to be. It’s worth a read, though, and the essays really are very well thought-out and beautifully written.

This is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett

This is the Story of a Happy MarriageThis is the Story of a Happy Marriage by Ann Patchett
Published by Harper

From the publisher:

The New York Times bestselling author of State of WonderRun, and Bel Canto creates a resonant portrait of a life in this collection of writings on love, friendship, work, and art.

“The tricky thing about being a writer, or about being any kind of artist, is that in addition to making art you also have to make a living.”

So begins This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, an examination of the things Ann Patchett is fully committed to—the art and craft of writing, the depths of friendship, an elderly dog, and one spectacular nun. Writing nonfiction, which started off as a means of keeping her insufficiently lucrative fiction afloat, evolved over time to be its own kind of art, the art of telling the truth as opposed to the art of making things up. Bringing her narrative gifts to bear on her own life, Patchett uses insight and compassion to turn very personal experiences into stories that will resonate with every reader.

These essays twine to create both a portrait of life and a philosophy of life. Obstacles that at first appear insurmountable—scaling a six-foot wall in order to join the Los Angeles Police Department, opening an independent bookstore, and sitting down to write a novel—are eventually mastered with quiet tenacity and a sheer force of will. The actual happy marriage, which was the one thing she felt she wasn’t capable of, ultimately proves to be a metaphor as well as a fact: Patchett has devoted her life to the people and ideals she loves the most.

I don’t even know what to say about this gorgeous book of essays. First, I will say that Patchett was already one of my favorite authors (Bel Canto being one of my favorite books ever), but having now experienced her nonfiction as well as her fiction, she cemented her place as one of my favorites. I also closed this book and immediately had the urge to buy her entire backlist, as I wanted to experience more of her beautiful words and, in the case of her nonfiction, more of her life experiences.

There’s so much to love in this collection. Her musings on so many aspects of life will speak to just about every reader out there. She has something for everyone here – she talks about building and owning a business, the love she has for her dog, the time she spent as a caregiver for her grandmother, the mistakes she’s made in her career and in her personal life, triumphs in both her career and personal life, and the craft of writing itself, plus more. Patchett is a wise person but also a very real person, someone I connected to and wanted to keep getting to know even after I finished the book.

If you are a fan of Ann Patchett’s, you MUST read this book. If you are not, read it and become a fan. :)


Click: When We Knew We Were Feminists edited by Courtney E. Martin and J. Courtney Sullivan

Click: When We Knew We Were FeministsClick: When We Knew We Were Feminists edited by Courtney E. Martin and J. Courtney Sullivan
Published by Seal Press

This collection of essays features many prominent young feminists explaining that “click” moment – that moment when the light bulb turned on, when they understood with absolute clarity that they were feminists.

Most people identify with some kind of ideology – a religion, a political belief, a specific stance on something – and there is almost always a pivotal moment in a person’s life that makes that belief cement itself, that brings it to the forefront of one’s mind with perfect clarify. I personally have several things that I believe that are absolutely critical to my identity and sense of who I am, feminism being just one of them. So I appreciated this book, a book about women (and one man) who, just like me, at some point in their lives, came to the realization that feminism is where it’s at.

I liked how varied these essays are – the many contributors come from different backgrounds, educationally, racially, socially, in pretty much every way. So many of these authors came to feminism in nontraditional ways. I personally had my “click” moment in a college women’s studies class – so predictable – but many of these writers had theirs in such interesting and unique situations.

And everyone who contributed to this collection is a GOOD writer! I was engaged and interested in every single one of these essays.

I highly recommend Click for those who enjoy thoughtful essays and/or get why feminism is still important and relevant (hint: it is). This is a great collection edited by two smart and talented women.

Seriously … I’m Kidding by Ellen DeGeneres

Seriously … I’m Kidding by Ellen DeGeneres
Published by Hachette Audio

In this collection of short, humerus essays, Ellen shares with the listener her trademark witty commentary on a wide range of topics.

I love Ellen DeGeneres, I really do. She never fails to make me laugh and this audiobook was no different. She narrates herself which makes it all the better because she really performs to her audience. The subjects she chooses to talk about sometimes have a serious note, but she always goes back to making the essays funny. So the book is about 80% humor and 20% actual commentary on life.

There’s not much to say about this one. It’s short, which is great for those little spurts of time you can either read the print or listen to the audio. I think the audio is somewhere around three hours and it goes very fast.

If you are a fan of Ellen, like I am, Seriously … I’m Kidding is a must read. It is everything you’d expect from Ellen and I loved it.

The Heroine’s Bookshelf by Erin Blakemore

The Heroine’s Bookshelf: Life Lessons, from Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder by Erin Blakemore
Published by Harper Perennial, an imprint of HarperCollins
Review copy provided by the publisher in conjunction with TLC Book Tours

This delightful essay collection explores the literary heroines of our time as well as the female authors who created them. Scout Finch, Scarlett O’Hara, Jane Eyre, and the rest – each of these characters has something to teach us about our own lives, and their creators’ stories are just as important.

Can I just say how much I loved this little book? I tried to read it slowly, one essay at a time, but by the time I got halfway through I just devoured the thing! Each essay is such a gem – I honestly don’t know that I liked any one best, they were all so entertaining and surprisingly profound.

The way Blakemore chose to write these essays was just perfect. Each essay was focused on one literary heroine, but also on the author who created her. She showed how what the author was going through, personally and professionally, at the time she wrote the book reflected back onto her character. Each essay also has a life lesson, based on both the heroine and the author, that we can each take something away from. These lessons, to be honest, were actually very well done and I personally got a lot out of them.

Reading this book made me want to go back and revisit all the novels that Blakemore referenced! I highly recommend The Heroine’s Bookshelf, in fact I think it is a must-read for the heroine in us all!

Crush by Andrea N. Richesin

CrushCrush: 26 Real-Life Tales of First Love edited by Andrea N. Richesin
Published by Harlequin Nonfiction, an imprint of Harlequin
Review copy provided by the author

This fabulously romantic collection has twenty-six bestselling authors telling the reader about their first crushes. This book will have you delighting in these tales of first love, and also have you remembering with fondness your own first crush.

Essay collections can go either way for me. Sometimes I love the fact that I am reading short bursts of nonfiction, enriching my mind without really giving too much effort (sounds terrible, but it’s kind of true), but sometimes I feel the collection drags on without much purpose and I end up being bored. Thankfully, Crush was of the first variety for me. I loved getting a peek into these authors’ first crush stories and hung onto just about every word written here.

What I most loved about Crush is that Richesin got some really big-name authors to contribute to the collection. This was great for two reasons. First of all, it gives the reader a little peek inside a favorite author’s mind and life, and second of all, it makes for some very well-written essays.

I definitely recommend picking up Crush – it is sweet, funny, and reminded me what it felt like to have that first crush. I think it will have the same effect on you!

Giveaway of Crush edited by Andrea N. Richesin

Remember last year when I told you all about the essay collection What I Would Tell Her? I really enjoyed that collection of essays, edited by Andrea N. Richesin, written by a bunch of dads who love their daughters. Since I so loved that collection, I was thrilled when I was contacted by Ms. Richesin herself telling me she has a new book coming out, called Crush: 26 Real-life Tales of First Love. I haven’t finished reading the book yet, which is why you haven’t seen a proper review, but I’m partway through and I can already see that this is another awesome collection of essays. There are some amazing writers who share in this book about their first crushes – Jacquelyn Mitchard, Ann Hood, and David Levithan, just to name a few.

For those of you thinking, “wow, that sounds like an interesting book, I’d really love to read that” I have the perfect gift for you! A big thank you to Andrea N. Richesin for offering to give away one copy of Crush to one of my lucky readers! To make this giveaway a little bit more fun than your average contest, I’m going to ask for your crush stories. Whether it was your first crush or the crush you have right now, tell me about it! I will choose the winner with the best crush story and repost the story here when I announce the winner on Saturday, June 4th – which just so happens to be the 4-year wedding anniversary of my crush/hubby and I! I thought that was appropriate timing. :)

This giveaway also coincides with Armchair BEA‘s giveaway day! If you haven’t yet checked out all the happenings at Armchair BEA, please do! The coordinators of it have put together a fabulous event with tons of fun things going on. At the very least, head on over and check out what other giveaways are happening.

I can’t wait to hear all of your crush stories! Good luck!

EDIT: In order for your comment to count toward the giveaway, you must give me your crush story! I have had several readers enter without this, and you will be disqualified unless you tell me about your former/current crush! :) Thanks everyone!