Sunday, March 26, 2017

Book Thoughts - The Polygamist's Daughter by Anna LeBaron

The Polygamist's Daughter The Polygamist's Daughter by Anna LeBaron
published 3/21/17
272 pages

Synopsis - 

"My father had more than fifty children."So begins the haunting memoir of Anna LeBaron, daughter of the notorious polygamist and murderer Ervil LeBaron. With her father wanted by the FBI for killing anyone who tried to leave his cult--a radical branch of Mormonism--Anna and her siblings were constantly on the run with the other sister-wives. Often starving and always desperate, the children lived in terror. Even though there were dozens of them together, Anna always felt alone.She escaped when she was thirteen . . . but the nightmare was far from over. A shocking true story of murder, fear, and betrayal, The Polygamist's Daughter is also the heart-cry of a fatherless girl and her search for love, faith, and a safe place to call home.
My thoughts -

I feel like my heart was broken and stitched back together during the reading of this book.

Polygamy has been much in the news in the past few years, with the popularity of the TV show Sisterwives, and the widely-anticipated raid and subsequent imprisonment of cult leader Warren Jeffs. Memoirs of life inside these religious groups have been popular over the past years, and I've read a bunch of them. (In fact, last year I read The Sound of Gravel, a harrowing memoir by Anna's cousin, also raised in the same polygamist cult.) But I don't think I've read one that felt so deeply personal, and yet so universally hopeful.

I always find it difficult to read stories that include child abuse, and this book has it over and over again. As a mom, I find it difficult to understand how the adults in young Anna's life could have allowed such treatment to continue. I think it's impossible to read LeBaron's story without having your eyes opened - how often do I miss women and children who need help? How often do I cross paths with someone who just needs one little act of kindness to change their life?

The Polygamist's Daughter  reads  like a CSI case on steroids, and yet it's completely true - abuse, kidnapping, murder, all these were part of LeBaron's experience. And yet the author's ultimate message is freedom - it's not a story of how bad her life was, or how sorry we should all feel for her. It's a story of redemption - of overcoming - of walking a hard road, and coming out the other side truly free.

This is a hard, brutal, beautiful story. Don't miss it. Highest of recommendations.

Finished - 12/18/16
Source - review copy from publisher (Tyndale House) - but I pre-ordered my own copy because it's that good!
MPAA rating - PG-13. This is not easy to read.
My rating - 5/5

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Book Thoughts - Raising Stony Mayhall by Daryl Gregory

Raising Stony Mayhall Raising Stony Mayhall by Daryl Gregory 
published 2011
422 pages

Synopsis -

In 1968, after the first zombie outbreak, Wanda Mayhall and her three young daughters discover the body of a teenage mother during a snowstorm. Wrapped in the woman’s arms is a baby, stone-cold, not breathing, and without a pulse. But then his eyes open and look up at Wanda — and he begins to move.

The family hides the child — whom they name Stony — rather than turn him over to authorities that would destroy him. Against all scientific reason, the undead boy begins to grow. For years his adoptive mother and sisters manage to keep his existence a secret — until one terrifying night when Stony is forced to run and he learns that he is not the only living dead boy left in the world.

My thoughts -

This was, for me, quite a unique take on the zombie fiction genre. While it had a healthy dose of the blood & terror I expected, it also had a lighthearted sense of humor about itself that was really quite refreshing. Interesting musings on identity and discrimination and a setting in rural Iowa gave the book depth and value for me. I was pleasantly surprised by this novel, and I would definitely read more by this author.

Finished - 1/22/17
Source - my shelves
MPAA rating - R, because zombies
My rating - 4/5

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Book Thoughts: The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George

The Little Paris Bookshop The Little Paris Bookshop by Nina George
published 2015
392 pages

Synopsis -

Monsieur Perdu calls himself a literary apothecary. From his floating bookstore in a barge on the Seine, he prescribes novels for the hardships of life. Using his intuitive feel for the exact book a reader needs, Perdu mends broken hearts and souls. The only person he can't seem to heal through literature is himself; he's still haunted by heartbreak after his great love disappeared. She left him with only a letter, which he has never opened.

After Perdu is finally tempted to read the letter, he hauls anchor and departs on a mission to the south of France, hoping to make peace with his loss and discover the end of the story. Joined by a bestselling but blocked author and a lovelorn Italian chef, Perdu travels along the country’s rivers, dispensing his wisdom and his books, showing that the literary world can take the human soul on a journey to heal itself.

My thoughts -

Well, this novel was a delightful surprise. I received it as a Christmas gift, and guessed from reading the synopsis that I would enjoy it. I was certainly right about that.

This book feels VERY French. Now, I've never been to France, so I could be very wrong about that - but reading this book felt like taking a trip across the ocean and experiencing life in a Paris apartment, and in the countryside of Provence. There was just something about the pace - the tone - the language that was slower, more deliberate than an American novel. This book was about the experience of reading as much as it was the story, and I loved the experience.

This book is, of course, a celebration of the love of reading. It was such fun to read the references peppered throughout to various great books of history. It is also a book for readers who love the written word, and the way a story looks and sounds on the page. I found myself purposefully reading slower, to savor the time I spent in this world.

I had not heard of this book before my friend gave it to me, so I likely would not have found it without her. I am thrilled The Little Paris Bookshop found it's way into my life. It was a lovely, heartbreaking, and spirit-lifting experience. Definitely recommended.

Finished - 1/29/17
Source - my shelves, via Maria Z.
MPAA rating - PG-13
My rating - 5/5

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Book Thoughts - Soprano Trouble by Victoria Kimble

Soprano Trouble Soprano Trouble (Choir Girls, Book 1) by Victoria Kimble
published 2/3/17
76 pages

Synopsis -

Summer McKidd is a bright, compassionate 7th grader. She has a good group of friends, which can be a hard feat for someone in junior high. She and her friends love to sing in their choir at school, and this is where her trouble begins. At the fall concert, her friends drag her into a mean prank and Summer is soon sentenced to nursery duty at church. When she walks into the nursery, she sees that the victim of their prank is also a volunteer. Summer begins a friendship with this girl but soon sees that she will have to choose between her group of friends and her new friend. Can Summer do what is right and keep her friends?
My thoughts -

Well, this was just delightful! I'm always on the lookout for a good series for my daughter, who is just a touch younger than the target demographic here, but will be ready for it soon - and I think the Choir Girls series is going to be just perfect.

I'm always impressed when an author can write a book that really captures the essence of junior high - that self-absorbed yet truly seeking part of a young person's life. Kimble infuses this novel with enough fun to draw her audience in, yet remains thoughtful throughout, never talking down to or underestimating her readers. This is certainly a book about tweens, but the ideas of standing up for what's right and being brave enough to confront a friend when they are in the wrong are applicable far beyond those junior high years.

Kimble writes from a place of faith - Summer and her friends attend church, and there are references to the Bible and its teachings - but the novel never feels preachy or stuffy. I appreciated the way the author was able to convey the moral message of the story organically within the flow of the narrative.

I'm thrilled to have found this series, and I can't wait to read more! Definitely recommended for anyone looking for a light-hearted yet smart read for their mid-grade reader. I can't wait to get copies of the entire series for my shelves!

Finished - 1/18/17
Source - ARC from publisher (TouchPoint Press) - thank you!
MPAA Rating - G
My rating - 5/5

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Book thoughts - Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs

Library of Souls Library of Souls (Miss Peregrine's Peculiar Children #3) by Ransom Riggs
published 9/22/15
464 pages

Synopsis - 

The adventure that began with Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children and continued in Hollow City comes to a thrilling conclusion with Library of Souls. As the story opens, sixteen-year-old Jacob discovers a powerful new ability, and soon he’s diving through history to rescue his peculiar companions from a heavily guarded fortress. Accompanying Jacob on his journey are Emma Bloom, a girl with fire at her fingertips, and Addison MacHenry, a dog with a nose for sniffing out lost children.

They’ll travel from modern-day London to the labyrinthine alleys of Devil’s Acre, the most wretched slum in all of Victorian England. It’s a place where the fate of peculiar children everywhere will be decided once and for all.

My thoughts -

Oh, good gravy I loved this series. From the first time I picked up the first book I was hooked. And, for me, Library of Souls was a beautiful ending for these characters I've come to love.

As usual, Riggs has his motley crew struggle through a good number of harrowing situations, and Jacob and Emma must use all the wits at their disposal to figure out a way to rescue Miss Peregrine and save the world. I appreciated that a happy ending wasn't a foregone conclusion, and the author didn't tie up all the loose ends in a neat little bow. I feel like I spent the last 1/4 of the book just holding my breath, and didn't feel safe to let it out until the very last page. And what a lovely, meaningful phrase to end the series - "We have time."

I know these books won't be for everyone, but for me the combination of storytelling and pictures worked to make this series a unique and fully engaging reading experience. I know these will be books I return to, and I'm excited to introduce my kids to Jacob, Emma, and Miss Peregrine, and watch them take this journey too. Highly recommended.

Finished - 10/25/16
Source - my shelves
MPAA rating - PG-13 for some intense, scary scenes involving children
My rating - 5/5

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The State of the Stack - 1/26/17

Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake -

Picked this one up because of ALLLLLL the hype, and because YA fiction with strong female protagonists always sounds good to me. So far, so good.

Wild and Free: A Hope-Filled Anthem for the Woman who Feels Like She Is both Too Much and Never Enough by Jess Connolly and Hayley Morgan

Catching up on this for an online book club - honestly, what woman doesn't feel Too Much and Not Enough at some point in her life? Interesting so far.

Born a Crime: Stories from a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah

My current audiobook, this was gifted to me by a friend. Read by the author, Trevor Noah is someone I don't know a lot about, but this book is making me more and more curious. Very good so far.

Upstream: Essays by Mary Oliver

I've read Oliver's poems, but never her essays, so this seemed like a good time to start.

What's on your nightstand? Have you read any of these?

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Book Thoughts - Water and What We Know: Following the Roots of a Northern Life by Karen Babine

Water and What We Know: Following the Roots of a Northern Life Water and What We Know: Following the Roots of a Northern Life by Karen Babine
published 2015
240 pages

Synopsis -

In essays that travel from the wildness of Lake Superior to the order of an apple orchard, Babine traces an ethic of place, a way to understand the essence of inhabiting a place deeply rooted in personal stories. She takes us from moments of reflection, through the pages of her Minnesota family’s history, to the drama of the land and the shaping of the earth. From the Mississippi’s Headwaters in Itasca State Park—its name from veritas caput, or “true head”—she explores the desire that drives the idea of the North. The bite of a Honeycrisp apple grown in Ohio returns her to her origin in Minnesota and to pie-making lessons in her Gram’s kitchen. In the Deadwood, South Dakota, of her great-great-grandfather, briefly police chief; in the translation of her ancestors from Swedish to Minnesotan; on the outer edge of the New Madrid Fault in Nebraska; through the flatlands along I-90; at the foot of Mount St. Helens: Babine pursues what the Irish call dinnseanchas, place-lore. How, she asks, does land determine what kind of people grow in that soil? And through it all runs water, carrying a birch bark canoe with a bullet hole and a bloodstain, roaring over the Edmund Fitzgerald, flooding the Red River Valley, carving the glaciated land along with historical memory.

As she searches out the stories that water has written upon human consciousness, Babine reveals again and again what their poignancy tells us about our place and what it means to be here.

My thoughts -

I picked this book up because the author is a friend of a friend. I didn't know much about it - just that my friend Carolyn told me I'd enjoy it. She was right.

The author explores the effects that place can have on a person's development - the way the land, the water, the home that we return to impacts the way we see the world. As a concept, I would have found this interesting, and her writing compelling, enough to keep me engaged until the end.

But, then there's the kicker - this place of the author's is also MY place. The small Minnesota towns she writes about are the towns of my ancestors - the towns we returned to every summer, and still return to as a family, each year, even though our ancestors are no longer with us. Reading her thoughts about these SPECIFIC places made this book heart-stirring for me in ways that I didn't expect.

Standout essays for me include Roald Amundsen's Teeth, which talks about the idea of The North as a choice, a place people seek out as an escape; The River - 1997, about the flood of the Red River Valley; Grain Elevator Skyline, which had my favorite sentence of the whole book - "The homeplace is where you go to be reminded of what you know."; I-90, about road trips, and soundtracks, and the highways that become part of your heart.

I expect I will read this book many times, sometimes in its entirety, but more often in pieces. It feels comforting and embracing - for me, it feels like home.

Finished - 11/13/16
Source - my shelves
MPAA Rating - PG, less for adult content than adult musings
My rating - 4/5