Thursday, August 25, 2016

Book Review: The Sound of Gravel: A Memoir by Ruth Wariner

"The Sound of Gravel: A Memoir" by Ruth Wariner
First published in 2015
342 pages
My rating: 4 out of 5
Image from Goodreads

The Short Of It:
The author's story of growing up in a Mormon polygamist colony was fascinating, disturbing and surprisingly well-written for someone who's not an author by trade, but I was left with many questions that I wished she had answered, and I wondered what exactly she hoped readers would take away from the book.

The Long Of It:
A shack in a dusty, impoverished rural Mexican settlement. No electricity or running water. Beans for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Dozens of half-siblings. A mom who willingly shares her husband with several other wives. An abusive step-father. Religious fanaticism.

That's how Ruth Wariner grew up, in a tiny house full to bursting with nine of her full- and half-siblings in the Mormon polygamist settlement of Colonia LeBaron in Mexico, not far from the U.S border. Ruth's memoir details her unusual and hardship-filled upbringing -- as well as her escape from LeBaron at age 15 -- with honesty and aplomb, and her story makes for reading both interesting, heartbreaking, unsettling and infuriating.

The book is narrated by Ruth's childhood self, starting around age 5 and continuing up through her flight from LeBaron with her three young sisters in tow at 15. Telling a story from a child's perspective can be risky, but it really works here, and it was interesting to see how Ruth's views toward her family's lifestyle evolved as she matured.

What was missing for me was more insight into Ruth's thoughts now, decades distant from her terrifying run from LeBaron and her despicable step-dad, Lane. The book concludes with an epilogue and briefly mentions the fates of Ruth and her close siblings, but I wanted to know more about her views on religion and polygamy. At least one of her brothers carried on the polygamist tradition and I'm dying to know how she feels about that, and I want to know if she's still a member of the Mormon church (it's obvious from the epilogue that she's religious). I'm also very curious whether she thinks she would've left LeBaron at all if it weren't for Lane, his abuse and the way the colony reacted to it.

Despite the lingering questions I had, I enjoyed Ruth's memoir and found it to be well-written and gripping. And it gives readers an unflinching inside look at a polygamist sect, something we probably all wonder about when Mormon polygamists occasionally pop up in the news. What would it be like to share a husband? What on earth do the women get out of the arrangement? Why does the church encourage polygamy in the first place? How are all those babies taken care of? What would it be like to grow up in polygamist colony? (Many of the answers to those questions horrified and disgusted me.) "The Sound of Gravel" is about a lot more than that exposing the inner workings of Mormon polygamy, though. Things like survival, overcoming odds, courage, perseverance, forgiveness and love are the paramount themes in Ruth's tale, and I'm glad she decided to tell it.

P.S. There's an awesome photo gallery on Ruth's website that is super-helpful for putting faces to names.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Bout of Books Sign-Up + Days 1 & 2 Challenges

The Bout of Books read-a-thon is organized by Amanda @ On a Book Bender and Kelly @ Reading the Paranormal. It is a week long read-a-thon that begins 12:01am Monday, August 22nd and runs through Sunday, August 28th in whatever time zone you are in. Bout of Books is low-pressure. There are challenges, giveaways, and a grand prize, but all of these are completely optional. For all Bout of Books 17 information and updates, be sure to visit the Bout of Books blog. - From the Bout of Books team

So this Bout of Books thing... I always seem to miss the ball on it, and I've been hesitant to participate since it seems to be fairly Twitter-centric, and I don't use Twitter. But I've -- a bit belatedly -- decided to finally take the plunge and sign up for this week-long read-a-thon!

Since I'm not working yet (for those of you who are new here, my husband is in the military and we recently moved to Hawaii) and I have a major backlog of library books (I had SEVEN holds come in at one time and I've got four left to get to), I thought this was the time to jump in if there ever was one! The library books are all ones that I desperately want to read, and they almost all have requests so I'll be unable to renew them. Hopefully Bout of Books will give me the motivation to read my butt off this week.

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Yesterday afternoon I finished "The Invisible Library" by Genevieve Cogman, a super-fun fantasy novel that's the first in a series about alternate-world-hopping Librarians, and I'll be starting "Homegoing" by Yaa Gyasi today. My goal for Bout of Books is to get "Homegoing" and one other book completely finished, and be at least midway through a third by Sunday night. We'll see how the week goes!

One of the fun things about Bout of Books is the daily challenges. I'm already too late to link up for a prize in the Day 1 challenge, but it's a fun topic so I'll participate anyway.

Day 1: List your favorite and least-favorite book-to-movie adaptations. (Hosted by Writing My Own Fairytale.) This is a toughie! Even though they're often poorly done, I love seeing the movie versions of the books I've read!  I've learned to not watch the movie too soon after reading the book, which helps me avoid picking the film apart. I can't say definitively that these are my absolute favorites and least-favorites -- this post is pretty last-minute and I'm going off the cuff here -- but they fall squarely into the categories of really good and really disappointing.

Great Book-to-Movie Adaptations:
(The Swedish film version of "The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.")

Painful-to-Watch Book-to-Movie Adaptations:


Day 2: Mix 'n Match. Pick out 10-15 books from your shelf, any genre, any language, and any length. In each book, flip to a random page and pick the 1st word (articles such as "the", "and", "an", "or", etc. don't count as the 1st word). Use all these 1st words to try to create an actual sentence.

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My words:
-oil-smeared (The Invisible Library)
-pivoting (Morning Star)
-maze (Harry Potter and the Cursed Child)
-breakfast (84 Charing Cross Road)
-fucked (The Girls)
-grass (Meadowland)
-read (Allegiant)
-garden (Life After Life)
-only (The Likeness)
-thought (The Language of Flowers)
-all (The Art of Racing in the Rain)
-licking (Homegoing)

This was rather difficult with the above words and my wacky sentence makes zero sense, but here goes:

Licking breakfast in the garden while reading, the grass was pivoting, only it was an oil-smeared maze! All she thought was, "I'm fucked."

10 Books I've Been Meaning to Read For Over 5(!!!) Years


 The topic for this week's Top Ten Tuesday list hosted by The Broke and the Bookish is one that may be a bit of an embarrassment for some bloggers (like me): 10 books that've been on our to-read lists since before we started blogging. I wrote my first blog post in 2011 (May 14th, to be exact) and I didn't even HAVE a formal to-read list until I started using Goodreads regularly in the fall of 2013.

But I've been intending to read all these books for years, and in some cases years and years, and there's no particular reason they've remained unread. In fact, I fully expect to love most, if not all, of these books! (On second thought, I do see what the problem is: I own the majority of these books, and for some reason I have a ridiculously hard time choosing books already on my shelves over library books! It's a problem.) Have you read any of them? Is there one that deserves to be bumped up to the top of my to-read list?

A note on "A Dog's Purpose": This was a fantastic Christmas gift from my mom one year, and I was so excited to read it -- but then I never did. And of course when I finally did pick it up, it was exactly the wrong time -- when our beloved boxer dog, Conan, was battling cancer. I read one chapter and knew it was NOT the right book for that time period. And after he passed away, I couldn't bring myself to read another dog book until a few months ago, over 2 years later.


A note on "A Short History of Nearly Everything": My sophomore year of college I took a chemistry class that was geared toward liberal arts folks, and I had the coolest teacher ever: a wacky and brilliant elderly gentleman with flaming red hair whose hobby was sword- and fire-eating. He taught us stuff like how a car engine works and the science of laundry detergent. And Bill Bryson's "A Short History" was our textbook, but we were never tested over it and I had so much else going on -- not to mention I had no idea who Bill Bryson was at that point -- that I never read it. I kept it anyway, and ever since I read my first Bill Bryson book several years ago I've been meaning to finally give "A Short History of Nearly Everything" a try. (Though I do have to say, at almost 550 pages it's not exactly "short.")


Monday, August 22, 2016

Monday Musings

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My week: It was a pretty quiet week here. I read, knitted, baked cookies, sat outside, cleaned, finished the last bit of unpacking, ran some errands... On Saturday we ate a really late lunch and then, while out shopping, we had an amazing little impromptu dinner of malasadas (one of the best things about Hawaii -- I posted a picture of a haupia-filled malasada on Instagram a few weeks ago, which you can see and drool over here) and Starbucks. Pretty much the world's least-healthy dinner, but soooo good. We had planned to go to the beach yesterday, but Jarrod was on call at work and -- of course -- he got called in around lunchtime. Sigh.

Reading: I finished the dark Southern crime thriller "Redemption Road" by John Hart (review) and found it to be just ok -- too much going on to be realistic, in my opinion. Then I breezed through the fascinating and disturbing memoir "The Sound of Gravel" by Ruth Wariner, about her experience growing up in a polygamist Mormon colony in Mexico.

And now I'm reading a fun fantasy novel called "The Invisible Library" by Genevieve Cogman. It's about Librarians who retrieve certain books from alternate worlds, some of which are magical, some of which have creatures like vampires and Fae, and others that are very technologically advanced (think cyborgs and such). I've never read a steampunk novel before, but I think this would qualify, especially as most of the settings referenced seem to be odd versions of Victorian-era England. I'm enjoying it, but at 100 pages in I'm still grasping around for a handhold in this strange universe and I have a lot of questions that haven't even been broached yet. Hopefully they will be!



Knitting: I made some great progress on my Earnest cardigan -- which you can see in the photo with Lily above -- and then I ripped the whole damn thing out. In hindsight, I think that was a bit rash and I'm regretting it now, but starting over will give me a chance to fix the little errors that were bugging me (this cardigan has been unusually fraught with problems!). First I need to find a solution to my yarn problem. I didn't have quite enough yarn so I bought some from a fellow Ravelry user, but unfortunately the yarns are from very different dyelots. The two new skeins are MUCH lighter than the yarn I already had and I'm struggling to figure out a way to work it in. I really need to use it -- even with the extra skeins, I might only have enough for 3/4 sleeves.

Watching: I watched the first four episodes of the new BBC "War and Peace" miniseries. I've never read the book, and I don't know if I ever will, but I'm definitely enjoying the show. It stars some actors I love: Rose from "Downton Abbey," Sydney Chambers from "Grantchester" and Professor Slughorn from the Harry Potter movies. The story features three main characters -- all members of the Russian aristocracy -- during the Napoleonic Wars and has a little bit of everything: war, friendship, romance, angst, opulence, inheritance, manipulation... kind of like an early-1800s soap opera (though I suspect that's more the miniseries than the book).


Listening to: "My Number" by Foals.


Eating: The grocery store had strawberries on sale, so I decided to make strawberry shortcake (with homemade whipped cream, of course). Yum! Honestly, between the coconut cookies, the malasadas and the shortcake we haven't had a very healthy eating week!

Blogging: This week I started a new series on the blog called Book Chat, which will feature book-related discussion posts. I've been meaning to do this forever and I finally sat down and brainstormed some topics recently. My first entry is about favorite genres and why I don't really have one anymore. I'd love for you to read and comment on your favorite genre here!

Looking forward to: My mom is coming to visit in October and last week I reserved a beach cottage for us on Kauai for two nights during her trip! Kauai is our favorite island and my mom hasn't been there yet, so I'm excited to show her why we love it so much. The oceanfront military cottages where we're staying are amazing. There's nothing like falling asleep to the sound of the waves and waking up on a huge, pristine expanse of beach. Now if only we could fast-forward the next six weeks or so... My days are ridiculously boring and repetitive right now, and I could definitely use a little getaway (and a visit from my mom!).

I'm linking up with Kathryn of Book Date for It's Monday! What Are You Reading?

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Book Review: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

"Harry Potter and the Cursed Child" by J.K. Rowling, John Tiffany and Jack Thorne
First published in 2016
328 pages
My rating: 3 out of 5
Image from Goodreads


The Short Of It:
It's not possible for me to really dislike anything related to my beloved Harry Potter universe, but "The Cursed Child" -- while a fun little read -- was, overall, a bit of a disappointment.

The Long Of It:
I discovered Harry Potter in 2000, not all that long before "Goblet of Fire" was released, when a younger neighbor insisted I borrow the first three books because she just knew I'd love them. I was 15, still young enough to be completely immersed in the magic of the wizarding world and enjoy the delicious anticipation of four more book releases and eight movie releases.

I've dressed up as Hermione at work on Halloween, I knit myself a Gryffindor scarf, I had the best time ever at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, I own two complete sets of the books and I'm working on a third with the illustrated editions. The moment I heard about "The Cursed Child" I knew I'd buy the book, though I didn't feel any burning need to read it the day it came out. I was a little skeptical of the idea of publishing a play script, but I was willing to give it a shot.

And, as I suspected, marketing "The Cursed Child" as the "eighth book" was misleading. Reading a play -- or at least, this one -- is nothing like reading a novel; it's all dialogue and no prose, and I sorely missed the descriptive details and captivating atmosphere typical of Harry Potter. Something that makes the originals so special is the delightful depictions of the setting and the sometimes-wacky characters, which were all but missing here. I have no doubt that the play (which I would love to see) is amazing to watch in person -- and I did look at some photos from the performance after I finished the book, which helped me get an idea of how the story was intended to be taken in -- but I was left wondering if the only reason the script was published in book format was to rake in a shitload of money.

Other problems I had with "The Cursed Child" were the rather flimsy plot, which involves Harry's and Draco's young sons, Albus and Scorpius, heading off to Hogwarts for the first time where they're lonely outcasts; certain inconsistencies with the original books; the portrayals of the original cast of characters, particularly poor Ron as a ridiculously dopey idiot; the really, really short length (there's much less text in those 300 pages than you'd think!); questions raised but not answered; and some decidedly unrealistic happenings, which is perhaps what irritated me the most.

While the first seven books were written for kids (or kids who turned into grown-ups while reading the series) this latest installment feels much more geared toward adults -- and let's face it, I'm pretty sure there are now more Harry Potter fans over 18 than under. So, while the unrealistic bits of the original seven stories can be dismissed because, after all, the books are for children, the ridiculous and absurd things that happen in this new release can't really be excused that way. As well, it's a lot easier to look past plot discrepancies when you're absolutely engrossed in the story -- and I doubt anyone was that into "The Cursed Child," at least in book format. The story just seemed sort of dashed together and lazily written -- which brings me back to the thought that perhaps the script shouldn't have been published at all. Surely all the details that are missing from the book were endlessly hashed out to create a vibrant play production (though that doesn't account for the plot discrepancies).

All that said, it was still a pleasant read, and it was a treat to revisit Hogwarts and catch up with Harry, Ron and Hermione as adults and parents (even if I didn't always appreciate the portrayal). Many Harry Potter fans have probably already read it now, three weeks later, but any HP-lover who hasn't should find it an enjoyable little diversion despite its flaws -- and everyone is sure to fall in love with Scorpius Malfoy!

P.S. I'm flabbergasted by how controversial this book is (though I really shouldn't be, considering this say-anything-online, get-offended-about-everything age we're living in). While browsing Google the other day to see if I could get an idea of how much of a role J.K. really played in the writing of the script (because, honestly, it doesn't feel like her work at all), I read an article bemoaning the rampant sexism in the new story, and another about readers accusing the authors of "queerbaiting" -- a new-to-me phrase which apparently means deliberately making it seem as if Albus and Scorpius might have a romantic relationship to "reel in" certain readers. I'm sure there are plenty more issues with "The Cursed Child" that people have found to whine about, and this is in addition the controversy about casting a black actress to play Hermione. Just... ugh! People take the fun out of everything.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Book Chat: Do You Have a Favorite Genre?

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I had a fantastic library haul on Thursday -- look at all those beauties! Somehow a whole slew of my holds came in at one time, but that's ok because three of the books are brand-new, never-before-checked-out, and that is such a treat when it comes to library books.

There were so many exciting books in my library bag that I just had to take a picture for Instagram, and as I was lining them up, it struck me what a wide variety I had in my hands: we've got fiction, sci-fi, women's fiction, memoir, thriller and fantasy. And it got me thinking about genres, and how my tastes have expanded in the past couple years. I don't think I even have a favorite, or preferred genre -- a comfort zone -- anymore. I'm reading more non-fiction than ever (not as much as I'd like to, though), I've been introduced to the world of graphic novels, and every once in a while I'll even give a young adult book a shot.

Five years ago, my tastes were more clear cut: I mostly read general fiction, historical fiction and mysteries with some chick-lit here and there -- basically the New York Times bestseller list. Some authors have come and gone from my reading repertoire, but I still enjoy all those genres -- and more. In the past year or so, I've gotten into both science fiction and fantasy, and I feel like I've only brushed the surface. The more I read, the more I want to read! Non-fiction, graphic novels, horror, military fiction and classics also find their way onto my TBR list these days, alongside the sci-fi, high fantasy, urban fantasy and everything else.

I think the reasons for my expanding tastes are threefold. At 30, I've had plenty of time to explore what kinds of books I prefer, and it turns out I like a lot of stuff! Blogging has definitely helped introduce me to new authors and genres -- I never would have read a young adult book if it weren't for recommendations from other bloggers, and seeing certain sci-fi and fantasy books raved about definitely encouraged me to give them a try, kicking off my exploration of those genres. My library jobs have probably been the biggest influence on discovering new books to sample. Working circulation, I'd check out, check in and cart books all day long, as well as process new materials. I found some awesome 5-star reads just because I happened to scan the cover while getting them processed and ready for the new books shelf. And of course, hanging out with bookish people all day helps too, especially when we all had different tastes and chatty personalities.

So back to the question at hand: favorite genres. Several years ago, if pressed, I'd have probably said historical fiction. Now, while I may gravitate toward some a bit more than others (and romance and contemporary YA really aren't my thing), I'd say I no longer have a favorite genre. That's really no surprise since that describes a lot of my life. I love all kinds of music from country to rock to hip-hop to classical. Ask me to choose my favorite food? Mexican! No wait, Italian! But... burgers! Instead, I prefer a good blend of books, like in the photo above. Give me crime thrillers, psychological thrillers and spy thrillers, give me memoirs, give me WWII and aliens, art forgery and magic.

Obviously, though, all genres are not for everyone and that's just fine. I'm fascinated that so many bookworms are united by our love of reading, but that love manifests differently for everyone. For instance, I follow a fabulous Instagram account owned by a woman who reads almost entirely Scandinavian thrillers and mysteries. For me personally, though, I feel like my broadening tastes has given me a much richer reading experience, helped avert reading slumps and inspired me to be constantly excited about books.

So tell me: do YOU have a favorite genre or are you more like me, sampling a little bit of everything? What categories of books do you like and which ones do you stay away from?

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Book Review: Redemption Road by John Hart

"Redemption Road" by John Hart
First published in 2016
417 pages
My rating: 3 out of 5
Image from Goodreads


The Short Of It:

This gritty North Carolina crime thriller didn't live up to the hype. The plot was over-the-top and the writing was not nearly as good as I expected from reviews. This one was just ok for me.

The Long Of It:
I'd been craving a good mystery and I was excited to dive into Hart's dark crime thriller set in an unnamed North Carolina town, which features three different -- equally horrific -- subplots brought together by our protagonist, thirty-something detective Elizabeth Black. On top of that we pile Liz's disturbing past and a damaging and well-kept secret, which become important parts of the story.

Poor Detective Black seems to have the shittiest luck imaginable, and Hart tests readers' belief about just how many things can go wrong for one person (and not just where Liz is concerned; what are the odds of the same person being abducted twice by two completely different criminals?!). And I felt like there was too much going on -- a serial killer, a secret learned in prison, a secret from childhood, a despicable prison warden, rape, drugs, suicide, adultery, torture, kidnapping, embezzlement, religious zealotry, corrupt cops, more murder. And after wading through all that, the bad guy was the person I pegged from the beginning. Liz was an ok main character -- definitely a strong, intelligent woman -- but some of her decisions just didn't make sense, and she was so intense and rash that it was hard to relate to her.

From glancing at some reviews, I was expecting the book to be super well-written, but I actually found Hart's prose to be rather irksome. The sentences were at times choppy and odd with strange word choices. There were way, way too many commas. And Hart constantly reused the same phrases. I was ready to throw the book across the room if I read about "state cops" one more time.

Hart's thriller was a bit of a slow-starter, but eventually I was cruising through the pages to find out what happened and how all the various atrocities were resolved. And I did fall in love with one of the minor characters, an elderly and kindhearted firecracker of a lawyer named Faircloth Jones. As well, I definitely found the North Carolina setting -- woods, lakes, old farmhouses, small struggling towns -- refreshing. But as far as contemporary murder mysteries go, I found this one to be unexceptional and not worthy of the buildup it received.
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