Book Review: Style, Sex, and Substance: 10 Catholic Women Consider the Things That Really Matter by Hallie Lord

I’ve been thinking about what it means to be a Catholic woman and, using the Blessed Virgin Mary as a prototype, I just might have narrowed down the definition: A Catholic woman is hopeful in God’s plan for her; she lives according to that hope, serving the way God has asked her through friendship, marriage, motherhood, or all of the above. She tries her best to imitate Christ in joy and suffering, working and speaking with love and grace.

I know, I know – a tall order, right? It’s an idea that, though easily defined, is not as easily achieved, nor is it appealing to everyone.

In an age of feminism gone awry, wives, mamas and single ladies at large feel like they have to navigate faithful waters solo, uncertainly basing decisions on what might feel right, and unaware as to how accessible guidance and good company are; yet there are aspects of Catholic living we don’t know about, don’t think about, or maybe we just leave them alone because even deliberate ignorance is bliss. Catholicism is a fraction of our lives, but we might not let it infuse our identity because we don’t realize the joyful freedom that comes from it or, simply put, we don’t understand how to put it into practice.

We have questions about holiness – What is it supposed to look like? Will I lose my identity or even have fun anymore? We have questions about friendship – How do I handle conflict with friends? What do I do with a toxic friendship? Do my close friends challenge me to be a better Catholic woman?

And there’s the ever taboo topic of intimacy – Why does the Church have insight into something so private? How on earth am I supposed to talk about this with my husband? We’re done having kids – why should we suddenly be open to more?

Good news, girls – there’s a book that quite candidly discusses all of the above and more. Style, Sex, and Substance edited by Hallie Lord is a collaborative effort from 10 Catholic female writers who address the common hesitations of others with grace, humor and compassion. With each chapter taken by a different author, Style, Sex, and Substance is real reading on real topics that often go unmentioned, but linger in the backs of our minds.

I picked up this gem a couple years ago and enjoyed a few chapters on my own, and I really started to glean wisdom when my book club selected it for summertime reading. Each chapter concludes with discussion questions designed to help you consider your behavior and approach to the corresponding topic be it women’s contribution to society, pursuing friendship or lighting a holy spark in marriage; in answering these questions either within the secrecy of my soul or in the openness of my book club, I learned that God calls me to my own particular brand of holiness and that it is accessible and it isn’t boring.

This wouldn’t be a true book review, however, if I failed to mention my reservations. While any reader will be challenged and compelled by chapters 1-9, it’s chapter 10 that left a sour taste in my mouth. The general theme of Lord’s publication is “in the world, but not of the world,” yet the final section seems to absolve women from avoiding those aspects of the media that would lead us from what is good. The fact is that what we read and watch impacts what we think is acceptable and enticing; regardless of general appeal in music, movies and other media, we should guard ourselves from what is clearly not of God.

Overall, however, Style, Sex, and Substance by Hallie Lord is a read for both the curious and educated Catholic woman. Read it on your own, with a group of girlfriends or in your Bible Study or book club. No matter how you slice it, this book will both affirm and challenge you as a wife, mother, and most importantly, as a daughter of God.

This book is available at Barnes and Noble or online at

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