EpicFehlReader
Review
3.5 Stars
Once Upon A Farm (memoir) by Rory Feek
Once Upon A Farm - Rory Feek

Raising their four-year-old daughter, Indiana, alone, after Joey’s passing, Rory Feek digs deeper into the soil of his life and the unusual choices he and his wife, Joey, made together and the ones he’s making now to lead his family into the future. Now two years after Joey’s passing, as Rory takes their four-year-old daughter Indiana’s hand and walks forward into an unknown future, he takes readers on his incredible journey from heartbreak to hope and, ultimately, the kind of healing that comes only through faith. A raw and vulnerable look deeper into Rory’s heart, Once Upon a Farm is filled with powerful stories of love, life, and hope and the insights that one extraordinary, ordinary man in bib overalls has gleamed along the way. As opposed to homesteading, this is instead a book on "lifesteading" as Rory learns to cultivate faith, love, and fatherhood on a small farm while doing everything, at times, but farming. With frequent stories of his and Joey’s years together, and how those guide his life today, Rory unpacks just what it means to be open to new experiences.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

Two years after the death of his wife and the close of his first memoir, This Life I Live, songwriter and "gentleman farmer" Rory Feek gives readers an update on where his life is today as a single father raising daughter Indiana, now four years old. 

 

The format here is a little different to his first book, much more loosely structured. Still, it works. Feek shares even more details of his life with Joey as well as pivotal moments in his life before and after her. Some of the big ones being around daily lessons he's taking in raising a daughter with Down Syndrome, and the moment his middle daughter came out as a lesbian and the less than admirable initial reaction he had to the news. 

 

Rory explains that while Joey was a master at traditional homesteading, his life experiences lead him to believe his personal strengths lie more in the idea of something he terms "lifesteading", or "growing love and life and hope in the place where you are planted." This struck me as simply implementing the French proverb "Bloom where you are planted" as a way of life... nonetheless, a cool way to go about living!

 

Image result for bloom where you are planted

 

Lifesteading is about planting yourself in the soil where you live and growing a life you can be proud of. A love that will last. And a hope that even death cannot shake. Like tending a garden filled with vegetables, it too requires preparing the heart's soil and planting the right seeds at the right time and watering them and keeping the weeds of this life and the bombardment of the culture from choking out what you're trying to grow. For us, the harvest has been plentiful. Beyond our wildest imaginations. Dreams that seemed impossible in years past materialized right before our eyes. That doesn't mean there hasn't been disappointments and surprises. Some a lot of people already know about, and some I share in the pages that fill this book. But just because something different than you had imagined has grown doesn't mean that it isn't beautiful. It is. 

 

Through this process, Feek chronicles his experiences and shares them with readers as a way to show others how to maybe find the extraordinary magic woven within moments and places of seemingly ordinary days. Once Upon A Farm also provides Feek a platform where he can give thanks to friends and family (by sharing their heartwarming stories) who have been so instrumental in his various joys and successes. 

 

We also get to see a little more into Feek's creative side, such as the time he enlisted a friend to help turn a former Girls Gone Wild bus into Rory's new touring bus. The story Rory is inspired to write, from the POV of the bus, is weirdly simultaneously hilarious and melancholy. 

 

 

Image result for our very own 2005 movie poster

Related image

*In this book, Rory mentions that the dog featured in 

Our Very Own (and on the poster) was actually

Joey's dog, Rufus. There's a whole story behind how Joey

trained him to ride on the roof like that.

 

 

 

The format of the book features short chapters, so the book as a whole has potential to be a good supplemental piece for daily devotionals. Feek's stories here are all about embracing the now, including who you are in the moment. His own examples: how he is unapologetic about his favorite color being white (*Yes, he points out, the trouble with this has been explained to him. Repeatedly. He doesn't care.) and his favorite day of the week being Monday. 

 

While the first memoir was more about just getting the framework of his life story out there, this one had a much more inspirational vibe to it. Feek's stories here do push for the idea of embracing the now, but he also encourages readers to make peace with their past as well, even our less rosy moments. Lessons we take from mistakes or even all out failures can show us how to move forward and teach us how to best love future loves. 

 

my favorite chapter header in the book

 

 

 

A new addition here that wasn't offered in the first book: an eight page insert on gloss paper of full color photographs. 

 

FTC Disclaimer: BookLookBloggers.com and Thomas Nelson Publishers kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own.

Review
3.5 Stars
This Life I Live (memoir) by Rory Feek
This Life I Live: One Man's Extraordinary, Ordinary Life and the Woman Who Changed It Forever - Rory Feek

By inviting so many into the final months of Joey’s life as she battled cancer, Joey and Rory Feek captured hearts around the world with how they handled the diagnosis; the inspiring, simple way they chose to live; and how they loved each other every step of the way. But there is far more to the story. This is the story of a man searching for meaning and security in a world that offered neither. And it’s the story of a man who finally gives it all to a power higher than himself and soon meets a young woman who will change his heart forever.

In This Life I Live, Rory Feek helps us not only to connect more fully to his and Joey’s story but also to our own journeys. He shows what can happen when we are fully open in life’s key moments, whether when meeting our life companion or tackling an unexpected tragedy. He also gives never-before-revealed details on their life together and what he calls “the long goodbye,” the blessing of being able to know that life is going to end and taking advantage of it. Rory shows how we are all actually there already and how we can learn to live that way every day. A gifted man from nowhere and everywhere in search of something to believe in. A young woman from the Midwest with an angelic voice and deep roots that just needed a place to be planted. This is their story. Two hearts that found each other and touched millions of other hearts along the way.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

I remember following the Feeks musical story years ago on the competition show Can You Duet. More recently, I read Rory's blog posts detailing his wife's battle with cervical cancer, a battle she ultimately sadly lost. Not too long ago, I was sent Rory's most recent book for review, but hadn't read this first one yet. In the spirit of honest reviewing, I figured it was only right to backtrack a bit and take the story from the very beginning. 

 

I am famous for loving my wife....All my life I have been anonymous. A nobody. Now I'm not just somebody. I'm somebody's. I am Joey's husband. Rory. And I am honored. So very honored to have been her husband. To have stood beside her at the altar and be standing beside her still when 'til-death-do-us-part became something much more than a phrase in our wedding vows.

 

This Life I Live does offer a behind the scenes look into the marriage of the Feeks, but it also offers readers a look at Rory before Joey. His hard-knock childhood being raised by financially struggling, emotionally immature parents; his stint in the Marines (enlisting for 4 years, getting out, then deciding to re-enlist to get money to buy a PA system); his battle with being painfully shy and how that affected his ability to be in healthy relationships as an adult; last name struggles; his failures and successes as a songwriter in Nashville. There's even portions on random topics he's got thoughts on, such as the concept of tithing... how his views on it changed and the benefits of incorporating it into one's life (even in ways outside of a church setting). Heck, there's a whole chapter here JUST on how he became such a devout wearer of bib overalls!

 

Medicine can't fix being rejected by a father. Only a time machine can unlock that door. Or an apology. And my father selfishly took that key with him to his grave. 

 

Rory lays it all out... maybe to the detriment of his public image. I know I certainly had a different idea of him by the time this book ended! Some of the stuff he fesses up to fall under my personal "hard to forgive" category: hitting rock bottom emotionally and financially leading him to nearly abandon his then very small daughters, sleeping with a close friend's wife, being unfaithful to his first wife (Joey was his 2nd), leaning on Joey to teach him about responsible money management and save his backside from irresponsible money choices over and over again, even with him being a good decade older than her AND with two kids from the first marriage. Also, him writing of his Native heritage then shortly after going into an "Indian Giver" reference was an automatic star deduction from me. Over and over again I found myself reading these stories thinking, "Dude, you should known better... c'mon!" Highly disappointing and honestly, it dampened my enthusiasm for the rest of the book... but I did carry on. And it did get better. 

 

I've said many times that I think I've spent too much of my life trying to write great songs and not enough time trying to be a great man. It's true. I thought success would bring happiness, but it's the other way around. True joy and happiness have a way of attracting good things into your life. And if you aren't already happy when you find success, it will make you more unhappy. It will amplify what's already there. It did for me, anyway...

 

I did the best I could... I did the best I could with what I had. That's not really true, though, for me... I could've done better. Made better choices. But I didn't. Something inside me kept me from making great decisions with my time, energy, and love, and something was a part of me. So, in a way, the old me couldn't have done any better. He wasn't strong enough. I forgive him. Me. I am disappointed in who I was. And I think about it and remember the mistakes I made and what they cost. Who they hurt. And I try, too, not to be like him. I am me because of me. No one else. My decisions brought me here, good or bad....

 

One problematic aspect of the writing though --- at times it feels like relevant details are skipped over / left out... details that would offer more chronological cohesiveness for readers. For example, there's a casual two page mention of him making a movie at one point ... but it was written in a sort of just-in-passing kind of tone ... where he describes a window of time spent writing & directing a Civil War era film... but nothing really about the inspiration of this film, what compelled him to start this project, nothing. Just mostly a "oh, we moved to Virginia for awhile.." Umm, seems like relocating the family for awhile to create a motion picture is kind of a major story... bigger than why one wants to wear overalls every day (like I said, THAT got a full chapter)!

 

Maybe that's how God's logic works. You have to be okay with not having something to be given it.. Give it away if you want to keep it... It doesn't really make sense on paper, but it works. And that's all that matters....

 

There were things I went through with other people... hard things... that were all for Joey. They were opportunities for me to learn something, so I could be ready when she came along. I didn't understand it then, but in time I would. 

 

Rory's story, in the end, DOES offer an important lesson. His journey encourages readers to become the kind of spouse they wish to have in life. From the start, this man is upfront that he did get a lot wrong and will probably continue to have major fails, but when Joey came on the scene, he did his best to learn how to become the husband she deserved, and now the father their daughter deserves. Whether or not I agree with his choices (and let's be real, it honestly doesn't matter if I do or don't), I can respect this side of him. But I still have to say, without Joey... he might have been much less likeable. 

Review
4 Stars
Cambridge by Susanna Kaysen
Cambridge - Susanna Kaysen

London, Florence, Athens: Susanna, a precocious young girl growing up in 1950s Cambridge, would rather be home than in any of these places. Uprooted from the streets around Harvard Square, she feels lost and excluded in all the far-flung cities to which her father’s career takes the family. She always comes home with relief—but soon enough wonders if outsiderness may be her permanent condition. Written with a sharp eye for the pretensions—and charms—of the intellectual classes, Cambridge captures the mores of an era now past, the ordinary lives of extraordinary people in a singular part of America, and the ways we can—and cannot—go home.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

Kaysen takes the confusing route and writes a novel featuring a protagonist with the author's name, so keep in mind when reading this -- the Susanna of this story is fictional (but kind of not...wow, I'm not helping here, am I? LOL)

 

At the novel's start, 1950s era fictional Susanna is the precocious, book loving daughter of an economics professor and a former professional pianist. The family relocates often, but wherever they set up home base always seems to be a house full of music, learning, and comedic matchmaking attempts among the house staff. Even young Susanna comments that home life is such a warm and fun environment, she dreads time spent having to attend school. Kaysen offers so many heartwarming interactions within this family, the reader almost begins to feel cheated they're not a member themselves!

 

Even though the child version of our protagonist clearly displays a dreamer's soul early on, full of curiosity about the world, part of her also longs for a stable, established place to call home once and for all. This yearning becomes the basis for her attachment to the college town of Cambridge, Massachusetts. But as she moves beyond childhood into adulthood, she comes to find that even such a town as this with, its picturesque exterior, is not guaranteed to have all the answers her soul craves. 

 

There's no clear-cut, linear progression, per say, to this novel's plot, more like  strung-together episodes of the character's remembrances over a lifetime. What this book does really well is illustrate that sense of nostalgia that people tend to develop when they become increasingly distanced from their memories over the years. Hard disappointments, given enough time, tend to morph into these glowing vignettes that have the older you smirking, "Those were the days."

 

There is something in Susanna (the character) that rings very relatable to many: boredom with school, struggles with math, a love of books. Readers even get a bit of a crash course in Ancient Greek history! There's one section I found especially charming, where little Susanna offers her nine year old perspective on things after her first experiences with reading Greek mythology. 

 

Where the story gets a bit bogged down is in the background minutiae ... great at first, but in some portions of the story the richness turns to overindulgence and ultimately "reader bellyache". Examples: Susanna's teen years -- the description of her first period went on for several pages. Then the environmental details. At first, it's lovely. Especially for any readers enamored with all the best of Massachusetts life: walks around Cambridge parks, vacations on Cape Cod, etc. But after so many pages of it with not much else going on, it can border on tedious. Though this could be argued as a case of reader preferences and what you're in the mood for when you dive into this book. 

 

Cambridge is not the easiest book to explain or class, and it might not be for everyone, but I'd argue there is a definite audience for it. There are for sure some great take away lines I was noting, such as a pessimist being "a disappointed optimist" or the Daria-esque "my long, agonizing apprenticeship in failure had begun." LOL  

 

University town setting, bookish references... a bluestocking's dream! The opening sequence alone -- that first whole page of an artistic deconstruction of the novel's first line -- just screams " word nerds unite!"

 

 

Review
3 Stars
Eve & Adam by Katherine Applegate and Michael Grant
Eve and Adam - Michael Grant, Katherine Applegate

In the beginning, there was an apple –

And then there was a car crash, a horrible injury, and a hospital. But before Evening Spiker's head clears a strange boy named Solo is rushing her to her mother's research facility. There, under the best care available, Eve is left alone to heal.

Just when Eve thinks she will die – not from her injuries, but from boredom―her mother gives her a special project: Create the perfect boy.

Using an amazingly detailed simulation, Eve starts building a boy from the ground up. Eve is creating Adam. And he will be just perfect . . . won't he?

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

Husband and wife Michael Grant and Katherine Applegate team up to write this YA sci-fi tech-y novel combining computer programming with DNA experiments gone rogue. 

 

Evening "Eve" Spiker survives a San Francisco streetcar crash... just barely. Eve is pulled from the crash site and is whisked away to Spiker Pharmaceuticals, her mother's research facility. Though Eve lives, she suffers a ruptured spleen, a severed leg and the necessary removal of a rib. She eventually heals physically but emotionally struggles to cope with her altered body. Eve's mother gives her project: using a DNA simulation program designed by Spiker Pharm, Eve is asked to create the perfect guy, literally. Part of what makes this ultimately largely bland sci-fi story worth reading is the characterization of Eve's ice queen mother. She comes off cold a lot of the time, but there's enough here to have the reader wondering sometimes, DOES she actually have good intentions toward her daughter? Or is Eve simply another worker bee to her? There are elements here that are similar to J.A. Souders' Elysium Chronicles series (but IMO Souders is the stronger writer).

 

So Eve jumps into developing this mythical perfect guy from the ground up. Once she has a prototype together she gives him the name Adam. In the background is Solo, mostly an office go-fer, dishing out coffee / donuts / bagels to the Spiker scientists, but he also finds opportunities to move under the radar and hack into computer files to see what secret projects Spiker Pharm has going on. What he discovers conjurs up some Dr. Moreau style freakishness. Solo's voice gets a bit over the top skater boi at times (I kept picturing the kid from A Goofy Movie lol).

 

"There is no always," I (Adam) say. "Nothing persists forever."

 "Nothingness persists," she says. She is testing me.

"No. So long as anything exists, nothingness is impossible. In fact, it's nothingness that cannot persist. Nothingness gives way to somethingness. The nothingness that preceded the Big Bang Theory was obliterated. Nothing became something."

 The woman nods. "Good. You've absorbed data well. Your intelligence is obviously fully functional. You sound like a college freshman taking his first philosophy course too seriously, but that's good. Eve will like that."

"I would still like to know how I came to be," I say. 

 "Consider it a mystery," Terra Spiker says. "Like the Big Bang Theory. One second there is nothing, and the next there is a universe."

 

It seems like the intent here was to go for a YA sci-fi thriller of sorts, but really it just ends up being kind of silly, especially in the beginning. The characters struggle to have a believeable voice --- they're meant to be teens (if I'm not mistaken) yet the "voice" of these characters runs the range from middle grade to teen up to late 20s. It's weird. Also, if this is meant to be YA, there are a number of references here that I doubt many teen readers here will identify with, such as Solo using the screen name Snake Plissken. And that conversation when the mother has the line, "Mixing home and work is like mixing single malt and sprite." I mean, as an adult liquor aficionado, I can appreciate that line, but how many teens are going to get the joke there, honestly? Again, it's just another layer of odd in a book that's marketed toward a teen crowd. But then again, maybe it's like when you watch Disney or Pixar movies as an adult and catch jokes you know there's no way the little ones in the crowd are going to understand. Maybe Applegate and Grant are playing the other side of the coin as well, knowing that a large percentage of readers in the YA market are actually full blown adults. Either way, doesn't change the fact that the writing as a whole was pretty muddled and weak... but still entertaining at points.

 

 

Yeah, it does get pretty good, comparatively, about 3/4 of the way through. Fun reading in parts, but largely forgettable after awhile... but I did find the closing moment a cute, comical one. 

 

 

---------

 

EXTRAS

 

Check out the book trailer for Eve and Adam that kinda looks like a Navy Recruitment ad ... or maybe an Olay Regenesist commercial LOL 

Review
3 Stars
Loyalty: The Vexing Virtue by Eric Felten
Loyalty: The Vexing Virtue - Eric Felten

When looking for love and friendship—the things that make life worthwhile—we are looking for loyalty. Who can we count on? And who can count on us? These are the essential (and uncomfortable) questions loyalty poses. Loyalty and betrayal are the stuff of the great stories that move us: Agamemnon, Huck Finn, Brutus, Antigone, Judas. When is loyalty right, and when does the virtue become a vice? As Felten writes in his thoughtful and entertaining book, loyalty is vexing. It forces us to choose who and what counts most in our lives—from siding with one friend over another to favoring our own children over others. It forces us to confront the conflicting claims of fidelity to country, community, company, church, and even ourselves. Loyalty demands we make decisions that define who we are.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

Eric Felten, a prize winning columnist for the Wall Street Journal, explores the subject of loyalty throughout the world, using as a basis various areas where this virtue is most strongly valued or illustrated:

 

* Examples throughout world history -- Felten puts a focus on the topic of loyalty as displayed in Greek history (Spartacus, Marcus Pacuvius) and mythology. WARNING: This book contains spoilers for the story of Pyramus & Thisbe from Ovid's Metamorphoses, Eurpides' Orestes, Sophocles' Antigone, and Aeschylus' Agamemnon.

 

* World Literature -- Felten pulls examples of the theme of loyalty from works of Mark Twain, George Orwell, William Shakespeare and 1001 Arabian Nights. WARNING: There are spoilers for Orwell's Animal Farm, Twain's Huck Finn, 1001 Arabian Nights, Shakespeare's King Henry V, The Caine Mutiny by Herman Wouk, and O. Henry's short story, "After 20 Years". Felten also gets into the sad story of Graham Green's youth. Now known for such classics as The Quiet American and The End of the Affair, Green's younger days were marked with heavy stress building from divided loyalties between his family (particularly his father, the headmaster of his school) and Green's school friends. The pressure got to be so much that at one point Green became convinced suicide was the only remaining answer. But as we now know, Green later overcame this dark period but actually went on to denounce the idea of loyalty altogether, at least outwardly. Elements of his work suggest that even in his later years he still saw value in the concept.

 

* Business --  Felten explores the psychology behind brand loyalty people develop for certain products and loyalty programs businesses implement to snag and keep customers

 

* Military / Law Enforcement -- how loyalty / codes of conduct in these environments are developed, in what ways it is important in these groups; when discussing law enforcement and more specifically prisons, gets into "prisoner dilema" and Reid Technique

 

 

Felten even looks at loyalty in regards to the entertainment industry, citing as one example the demise of the marriage between actress Sandra Bullock and motorcycle  manufacturing specialist Jesse James, after Bullock weathered a very public airing of James' adultery. 

 

What makes it one of the most highly regarded virtues and what dangers does one face when loyalty is misplaced? Loyalty in a person is undeniably admirable, particularly when it stems from an honest place without ill intent or ulterior motive. Having people in your life who truly have your back allows one to be more brave, pursue more dreams, attempt more daring feats and ultimately develop a more fulfilling life all around. But what to do, when society places a burden on a person to be loyal to someone who does NOT seem to have the other person's interests at heart? Some will follow orders and remain loyal to the figure anyway, even when the figure's actions move beyond being merely selfish into flat out immoral or illegal. Even so, their followers can STILL get caught up in that sense of loyalty, making it difficult to convince a person to separate themselves from the unhealthy person in their life. It's just one of those things that rarely catches on, at least right away. Here enters Felten's point on how loyalty can become "the vexing virtue... creating moral conflicts".

 

Felten's book pleads the case as to why loyalty is still an important virtue worthy of lifelong pursuit. He writes with an enjoyable humorous tone but the text itself does not remain riveting throughout. This little book only lightly delves into the topic and even there, Felten's points sometimes become repetitive, his main stance being (as you can guess from the title) on the vexing quality of loyalty... but he hits upon the "vexing" idea A LOT.

 

 

___________

 

EXTRAS:

 

* Here Eric Felten himself talk on the topic of loyalty in this short clip (book trailer of sorts?)

Review
3 Stars
Zoom: Surprising Ways To Supercharge Your Career by Daniel Roberts
Fortune Zoom: Surprising Ways to Supercharge Your Career - Daniel Roberts, Editors of Fortune Magazine, Marc Andreessen, Leigh Gallagher

With Zoom, Fortune magazine extends one of its most successful franchises, 40 Under 40, to bring you original insight on the best-kept secrets of top entrepreneurs, business leaders, and rising tech stars. Discover how Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh built a uniquely attractive corporate culture, how Under Armour founder Kevin Plank took on Nike, and what Marissa Mayer told herself before leaping from a safe post at Google to the high-risk top job at Yahoo. Zoom features the fascinating profiles of these and other young innovators and provides readers with tips to fast-track their own career success. Additional contributors include: Omar Akhtar; Katie Benner; Ryan Bradley; Erika Fry; Miguel Helft; Michal Lev-Ram; Pattie Sellers; Anne VanderMey; and Kurt Wagner. 

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Zoom offers an extended look at Fortune Magazine's "40 under 40" feature series. The book opens with a foreword by Marc Andreessen, a co-founder of Netscape who now sits on the boards of several major companies such as Facebook, Ebay. He is also an investor behind Twitter and Airbnb.

 

Daniel Roberts compiles success stories of some of the biggest names from business and entertainment industries, and incorporates pointers readers can use themselves. Some stories highlighted:

 

* Kevin Plank, founder of Under Armour athletic gear, is friends with Pete Wentz, frontman for the band Fall Out Boy. When UA was still a smaller company, Wentz would often blog about his love of the clothing, which got word out on the street and helped grow his friend's business. Later on, Jaime Foxx was seen wearing a UA jockstrap for some of his scenes in the football film Any Given Sunday. In another story, John Janick developed a friendship with Wentz, went on to become president of Interscope Records and signed Fall Out Boy. Once again, Wentz fell into blogging about the two of them and it helped grow not only the band's popularity but also the label's.

 

Robert's lesson here: Don't be afraid to network! Build street teams, encourage word of mouth endorsements, look for ways to get free advertising when you're just starting out. This is actually kind of ironic, because nearly everyone that Roberts interviewed for this book actually recommended to STOP networking, instead citing education as most important to their success. Several also named "mom" as their mentor. :-) But then that actually ties back to another of Roberts' key points -- don't assume everything's already been done. Research! 

 

That is one issue I had with this book though, Roberts' tips, the way he words them, can come off confusing, almost contradictory, at times. For instance, he encourages readers to always stay humble, patient, and resilient, but also says that it's important to have a confidence almost to the point of cockiness about your product. 

 

* When Target was developing their in-store cleaning product line, Method, the company prided themselves on keeping things weird and fun. Method headquarters offers a game room with ping pong and bean bag toss tournaments, the opportunity for employees to make up their own fun job title (ie. admin asst. changed to "Zookeeper", consumer response manager now "Chatty Cathy"), and spin the wheel door prizes as work incentives. Method put time and energy into developing eco-friendly products in cute packaging and went on to break $100 million in sales in 2012. 

 

Robert's lesson here: Keep your sense of humor about you and your business. Yes, take your work seriously but not TOO seriously. He points back the story of Under Armour and notes that Nike jokingly is not spoken of in UA headquarters, but when interviewed, Kevin Plank admits their competition is needed to keep things interesting. As Plank put it, "Luke Skywalker was a lot cooler because of Darth Vader."

 

Other stories covered: how Kevin Systrom developed Instagram and how some of the technology was later bought up by Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg; the professional path of Evan "Ev" Williams, co-founder of Twitter and Blogger; how Dolf Van Den Brink rose from a management trainee at Heineken to becoming their US CEO within 11 years. Roberts also looks at the saying "no such thing as bad publicity", using the story of Lebron James and his move from Cleveland Cavaliers to Miami Heat as an example. In the summer of 2010, ESPN aired a special on his team move titled "The Decision" following him as he decided whether to stay with Cleveland or move to Miami. After it aired, GQ Magazine deemed the show an "accidental mockumentary", Cleveland Cavalier fans burned jerseys in the streets and a flood of Lebron James hate Youtube videos quickly followed. But that fall, James still went on to make Fortune's 40 under 40 list. 

 

My favorite section was the bit featuring the rise of South African multimillionaire Elon Musk and how he wants his space exploration company, SpaceX, to be the first to colonize Mars within the next 20 years. Many have dismissed his goals and ideas as absurd, but isn't that how so many eventually successful invention stories tend to go? I like where Roberts ends this portion of the book: "Will his ideas save the world? Maybe not, but the real risk might be not trying at all."

 

"I'm not satisfied unless I'm doing a little bit more than I actually have time for." 

~ Seth McFarlane, creator of animated series Family Guy, American Dad, The Cleveland Show and the sci-fi series The Orville

 

 

 

At the very end of the book, there is a supplemental section where readers can look through the questionnaire Roberts posed to the book's contributors, in their own words revealing who their personal mentors are as well as hobbies, pet peeves (Instagram founder Kevin Systrom cites "lattes served in bowls" as his biggest peeve ... more irony! lol), time management tips and causes close to their hearts. 

 

Brian Deese's responses were my favorite. 

 

 

There's also a "Where Are They Now?" kind of follow up to 2012 (this book was published in 2013). 

 

All in all, a surprisingly FUN read with a largely light-hearted tone to the topic of working toward success. The backstories of the big names and how they got where they are now are cool and inspiring. You'll be surprised how quick you  "zoom" through this one.

 

Alright, I'll just see myself out now. 

 

 

 

Review
2 Stars
The Five Essentials: Using Your Inborn Resources to Create a Fulfilling Life by Bob Deutsch
The 5 Essentials: Using Your Inborn Resources to Create a Fulfilling Life - Bob Deutsch, Lou Aronica

As a cognitive neuroscientist, anthropologist, and entrepreneur, Bob Deutsch has spent a lifetime studying people. What he has found is that most of us set the bar too low in our lives, both personally and professionally. We choose not to pursue our greatest ambitions because we feel we are incapable of reaching them. But he has also found that we are each born with the fundamental abilities to live the full, creative, dynamic life we dream about. Filled with great stories and interviews with inspiring people, including Wynton Marsalis, Richard Feynman, and Anna Quindlen, The 5 Essentials opens the door to a way of being more alive than you have ever been.  In this compelling book, Deutsch shows us how to access and use our five inner resources -- Curiosity, Openness, Sensuality, Paradox, and Self-Story -- to open our lives to unimagined possibilities.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Deutsch has a background in cognitive neuroscience and anthropology and believes that everyone has 5 basic innate gifts that, when tapped into and nurtured, can help develop a truly fulfilled life:

 

* Curiosity --- That knowledge-craving bit of you that is always driven to ask "What's that over there?" 

 

* Openness --- How well you allow yourself to be surprised... do you HAVE to know the details of everything beforehand, or are you okay with surprises once in awhile? How well do you adapt to life's curveballs? Sometimes allowing for surprises leads to a better outcome to a situation than you might have imagined. Deutsch refers to this as "directed serendipity".

 

* Sensuality --- Not talking about sex here, or at least not solely... but more about how actively you engage your senses in general as you move through experiences. Do you note how the air smells in a moment? The particular nuances of flavor in the food you eat?

 

* Paradox --  basically how well you embrace the unexpected... somewhat along the lines of Openness, but also incorporating the idea of comfortably living in life's gray areas, being okay with some of life's questions being a mystery with no clear cut answer, rather than requiring everything to have a black and white explanation.

 

* Self-Story --- Deutsch calls this area "the driving force of your authentic self", the yin-yang compartment of your soul where light and dark, beauty and warts, all sides of your core self find balance. Deutsch explains that when one explores their self story, it "illustrates something fundamental about you."

 

Knowing what you are about helps you to be at the same time very clear about what you are not about. This allows for the possibility of extraordinary growth, because when a new opportunity comes along, maybe even something you've never considered before, your self-story gives you a way to judge if that opportunity makes sense in your very specific case.

 

Self-story also makes you resilient in ways you can't possibly be otherwise. When you truly know what you are about, you know it in an unassailable way. Having a vivid sense of your self-story protects you from being completely thrown off your game in the face of hardship. This doesn't mean that the hardships themselves will be less difficult to endure, but it does mean that you're likely to bounce back from them faster. Those who thrive tend to understand their self stories... at a cellular level, and because they understand what they are genuinely about, they can get back on their feet more quickly when things trip them up.

 

 

Deutsch also describes research he garnered from hours-long focus groups he put together where he challenged people to "go beyond stereotypical or cliched talk" and really delve into who they were as individuals, instructing them to "stop and focus", "own your narrative" (Why yes, there is a healthy dose of self help buzz language in here! What'd ya expect? :-P ). 

 

The idea of these focus groups and of this book, is to get people to work toward a more honest, real, stripped down version of themselves so that they can finally sift through the muck and excuses of daily life and get to a clear vision of the life they TRULY want to live. Deutsch describes this part of the process as "Always Be On Your Way Home".

 

I've developed a strong thesis about popularity.... I call this concept FAP (Familiarity, Appeasement, Power).

{Sorry, it just gave me a giggle that this guy attributes popularity to fapping.... }

 

Through this book, Deutsch gets into the idea of "decentration" (rather than concentration), the idea of forcing yourself to pause, step back, and take yourself out of an equation to properly evaluate it. Step away from the external noise so that you may listen to clues from your internal self / internal monologue. It's a concept whose origin is attributed to Jean Piaget, a 20th century developmental psychologist. 

 

At its heart, this book basically just urges readers to live a life beyond a mere surface-level existence. It's not a bad book necessarily, but it doesn't really cover much new ground or offer any real earth-shattering revelations. For the author being someone who studies the field of neuroscience for a living, I was hoping for something a little deeper but the bulk of what he offers most will have come across before in dozens of other books. Additionally, there was something about the overall "voice" of the book in general I found irritating. 

 

Review
2 Stars
The Solace of Water by Elizabeth Byler Younts
The Solace of Water - Elizabeth Byler Younts

After leaving her son’s grave behind in Montgomery, Alabama, Delilah Evans has little faith that moving to her husband’s hometown in Pennsylvania will bring a fresh start. Enveloped by grief and doubt, the last thing Delilah imagines is becoming friends with her reclusive Amish neighbor, Emma Mullet—yet the secrets that keep Emma isolated from her own community bond her to Delilah in delicate and unexpected ways. Delilah’s eldest daughter, Sparrow, bears the brunt of her mother’s pain, never allowed for a moment to forget she is responsible for her brother’s death. When tensions at home become unbearable for her, she seeks peace at Emma’s house and becomes the daughter Emma has always wanted. Sparrow, however, is hiding secrets of her own—secrets that could devastate them all.

With the white, black, and Amish communities of Sinking Creek at their most divided, there seems to be little hope for reconciliation. But long-buried hurts have their way of surfacing, and Delilah and Emma find themselves facing their own self-deceptions. Together they must learn how to face the future through the healing power of forgiveness. Eminently relevant to the beauty and struggle in America today, The Solace of Water offers a glimpse into the turbulent 1950s and reminds us that friendship rises above religion, race, and custom—and has the power to transform a broken heart.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

 

POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: This novel touches upon the topic of self harm.

 

 

After the death of their young son, Carver, African American couple Delilah Evans and her preacher husband, Malachi, decide to move the family from Montgomery, Alabama back to the small town community of Sinking Creek, PA near where Malachi grew up. Malachi gets to work settling in as the new preacher of a local church in the area, but he finds resistance in his congregation. When he sits down with a family member for perspective on the problem, it's explained to him that he's simply been gone from the community too long and people need their trust with him restored. 

 

Delilah blames Carver's death on her daughter, Sparrow, who was supposed to be watching Carver when tragedy struck. Right from the beginning of the story, it's obvious that Delilah takes out her grieving on Sparrow in cruel ways. Struggling with feelings of guilt and abandonment by her mother, Sparrow, over the course of the novel, turns to self harm to alleviate her inner pain, turning to things such as stinging nettles, glass, even a clothes wringer to leave marks on her physical body as a way to let off steam from inner turmoil. Sparrow comes to find comfort in the presence of Emma, a local Amish woman who knows a thing or two about loss herself.

 

She had this warm milk sort of way about her. A body just couldn't walk away from somebody like that. You just want to drink it in 'cause you don't know if you ever gonna meet anyone like that again.

>> Sparrow, on getting to know Emma

 

 

But once the interactions come to the attention of Delilah, both she and Malachi warn Sparrow that she should probably keep her distance. This novel is set in the racially tense times of the 1950s and interracial friendships (and relationships otherwise) play a big part in the novel's dramatic moments. Emma hears similar warnings from her Amish neighbors and even her husband, a head deacon within the Amish community. It doesn't concern them so much that their new neighbors are black, but simply that they are "Englishers", or non-Amish. In their own ways, both the African-American and Amish communities push on these characters the damaging idea that "we'll all do a lot better if we just stick to our own kind." But as we the readers know, the world doesn't really work like that. We either cultivate love, kindness and appreciation for a multi-cultural world, or our lives face potential implosion, just as the characters in The Solace of Water learn for themselves.

 

"Since when do you know them?" John asked (after he discovers Emma knows the Evans family)

 

"I met them when they moved in. They're a nice family."

 

"The bishop said to leave them all alone because there always seems to be trouble between them and the white Englishers. We aren't like either of them and need to keep to ourselves."

 

Within Emma, we see a vessel for change. She has a poet's soul, full of curiosity in the stories of others, a love of words and a desire for knowledge. But she struggles against the darker corners of her life that threaten to tamp out her light. Her husband's secret struggle with alcoholism, his dislike of her "fancy lines" (her habit of crafting her own bits of poetry) that he sees as a form of vanity, quite the sin in Amish culture. Emma is weighted down with heavy guilt from being an enabler for her husband's drinking. She knows it's not only wrong but dangerous as well. It's not addressed directly, but parts of Emma's story suggest that perhaps John turned to drinking as a way to cope with crippling social anxiety, but over the years his bouts of aggression seem to have escalated along with the amount of alcohol he needs to consume to feel able to function. 

 

Emma's teenage son, Johnny, has had years of spoiling from his father and is progressively drawing more and more toward English ways -- drinking, late night carousing, sneaking pornographic magazines, even befriending an out-and-out racist! What changes Johnny is the first sight of Sparrow, whom he describes as the prettiest, most interesting and different girl he's ever met. You can imagine the firestorm that develops for a man who simultaneously maintains a friendship with a racist AND secretly tries to court a black teenage girl!

 

**Sidenote: I wasn't all that impressed with Johnny as a character. I couldn't help but feel that he saw Sparrow as something exotic and interesting in his Amish life rather than someone he honestly wanted to have a deep loving friendship with... even if he does talk about running away together (I think that was more about "young man caught up in the moment" than anything) and tells his mother that "Sparrow taught me things I never knew before"... What? WHEN? Their interaction throughout the whole book added up to only a handful of rushed conversations in secret! I just didn't buy that his feelings ran as deep as he claimed.**

 

The novel is presented in alternating POVs, rotating between Delilah, daughter Sparrow, and Amish neighbor Emma. To date, the novel seems to have gotten solid 4-5 star ratings across the board but I just did not have the same reaction as so many others. To be honest, I actually struggled to get to the end of this book. I DID finish it but for a book this size (under 400 pages), it took me WEEKS to get there. Highly unusual for me, especially for a historical fiction novel -- one of my favorite genres! The pace felt molasses-slow... which is sometimes nice in a novel if the writer brings the right tone... but when you combine slow with a deeply depressing plot for most of the novel... that alone left me exhausted enough.

 

But then add in Delilah as a character. That woman had a personality that just came off as almost straight vinegar. Yes, it is explained later (through her conversations with Malachi and later, Emma) that much of her acidic demeanor is driven by a combination of fear and grieving, even fear that letting go of the grieving will somehow dishonor the memory of Carver. Full disclosure: I do not have children, have never personally experienced the loss of my own child. BUT, in my own circle of family and friends, there are a number of women who have had that experience in one form or another, whether through miscarriage, stillbirth, or tragedy. With that, I can say that none of the women in my circle have ever come anywhere near the unpleasantness of Delilah. They've known the sadness for sure, but they went on to live the best lives they could, full of love and appreciation for the people they still had around them. Delilah was just EXHAUSTING in the way she never gave anyone or anything a chance, she just assumed everything was more misery in disguise ... at least for a large part of the story.

 

So what kept me reading? Well, this is one of those stories that does have its important, moving moments, even if they are few and far between for some readers. But as I said, I stuck with it, and the plot's pace FINALLY picked up for me around the 250 page mark. But remember, the entire book is less than 400 pages. That's a long wait to a payoff. But readers who choose to stay with it do witness revelatory conversations, where women ask the important questions such as "Is that what you want --- to be separate?" and we come to realize that though the details and the POVs may differ, one commonality bonds these women together: they are all desperate for unconditional love and affectionate touch, something to remind them they are still important to others... yet their actions show just how scared all of them are to voice that need.

 

Aaron believed his arrival was a surprise, but I knew better. John's forgetfulness was getting worse the more he drank. His gentleness toward me was diminishing like dampness whisked away in a May breeze. And anytime he was gentle, I was filled with my own regrets and in my guilt I pushed him away. 

>> Emma

 

Good concepts for a novel, the problem for me mainly fell on the characters not having enough dimension for me to have much emotional investment in them.

 

 

FTC Disclaimer: TNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

 

 

Review
3 Stars
Forever With Jesus (Sea Kids #7) by Lee Ann Mancini
Forever With Jesus - Lee Ann Mancini

In Forever With Jesus, the sea kids learn that Jesus died for their sins, and that by believing in Him they will live in heaven forever. The cousins visit their grandparents for Grandma Pinky's 80th birthday. During their visit, their grandparents' neighbor, Mr. Higgins, passes away. Grandma reads the Bible and tells her grandchildren how wonderful heaven is and how there will be no more tears, pain, or suffering. The children understand that they do not have to fear death because their belief in Jesus guarantees they will live forever with Him in heaven.

Goodreads.com

 

 

 

The Sea Kids gang returns with another important life lesson to share with all young readers following their underwater adventures! Fish siblings Guy and Lena meet up with their cousins Luke, Zachary, Christopher and Isabella at their grandparents' house to celebrate Grandma Pinky's 80th birthday.

 

 

 

The day of the party is naturally a celebratory one, full of reunions, cake, playtime and sleepover fun. The next morning however, the kids wake to the sad news that their grandparents' neighbor, Mr. Higgins, has passed away.

 

Grandma Pinky uses the news as an opportunity to sit with her little blessings and discuss the topic of death and heavenly afterlife. She wants to assure the young ones that death is not something to fear, because Heaven is a place free of any kind of pain, suffering, or sadness. It's a place full of only love and light. 

 

 

The story here is a good one, approaching a tough topic in an age-appropriate way that will be easy for little ones to digest. As far as general excitement though... I mean, it's a story about death, so clearly it won't be quite as light in tone as the previous books... but just in general, the writing and engagement factor here fell a tad flatter than earlier installments of this series. Though it's always great to have books like this available to help open conversation for the sadder subjects of life, the execution here was just slightly repetitive. 

 

This series continues to be enhanced with the wonderfully colorful, movement-filled illustrations of Dan Sharp. There's not quite as much little detail worked into the scenes here as in some of the previous books, but Sharp is a master at delightful facial expressions for these characters (I love how the grandfather here has an almost Buddy Hackett look!).

 

 

As in all the other books, the spot-the-cross game is incorporated throughout all the illustrations and characters from previous Sea Kids books can be spotted in background artwork in the grandparents' home. Some also make an appearance as attendees of Mr. Higgins' funeral.

 

 

FTC Disclaimer: BookCrash.com and GLM Publishing kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

 

 

------------------------------

 

My reviews for the previous books in this series:

 

#1 Fast Freddy

 

#2 What A Bragger

 

#3 I'm Not Afraid! 

 

#4 A Servant Like Jesus

 

#5 God's Gift

 

#6 God's Easter Miracles

Review
4 Stars
A Love Made New (Amish of Birch Creek #3) by Kathleen Fuller
A Love Made New (An Amish of Birch Creek Novel) - Kathleen Fuller

It seems as if everyone is falling in love in Birch Creek, including Abigail Schrock. But when heartbreak descends on her already fragile world, she can’t help but feel that if she’d only been a little prettier, she could be on her way down the aisle. To make matters worse, Abigail’s two sisters have found love, and all Abigail can seem to find is the chocolate she has stashed away in the pantry. Asa Bontrager has never had trouble with the ladies in his Amish community—his good looks have always gotten him far. Which is why he’s baffled by the call he’s received from God to pursue Abigail, a woman who seems determined to turn him away. Can Abigail find the peace and joy she so desperately desires? Will she allow herself to stop running and melt into the embrace of unforeseen comfort? If she does, she may discover a love powerful enough to restore her hope in a promising future.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

This series has been following the emotional growth of three Amish sisters -- the Schrock ladies; Sadie, Joanna and Abigail -- after a personal tragedy. Abigail, the 22 year old less pretty middle sister is trying to heal from her own recent run-in with heartbreak. Though she gave her heart to Joel, he turned around and promptly dumped her for perky, petite Rebecca. 

 

Then in walks Asa Bontrager. Previously known as a bit of a ladies man (by Amish standards), the handsome charmer believes he is given a divine message one day to pursue lonely, hurting Abigail. But Miss Abigail is a little self-conscious about her recent weight gain from secret food binges and is not altogether certain she wants a new romance right now. Or so she says. But Asa has big plans on how to bring down her defenses and heal her wounded heart. His speech to help ease her fears about her weight gain were a good start, I have to admit:

 

"You need to stop cutting yerself down...I'm not going to judge you if you want donuts or a hamburger or a candy bar. It doesn't matter to me what you eat. It shouldn't matter to anyone else, either...You deserve someone who will treat you well and put you first in his life. Someone who will love you the way you are, for the rest of his life, who thinks you're perfect the way you look right now."

 

*Though part of me also thinks, it's sweet, but some of what he says to her toes the line between being supportive in a healthy way versus being an enabler to bad choices. 

 

Readers also get an update on Sol, who shows a noticeable temperament shift in this book.. is he becoming... likeable?! Thanks to a meddling mother with an itch for matchmaking, Irene Bailer is wrangled into working as Sol's assistant, painting his birdhouses. Irene proves to be a sweet influence on Sol, teaching him how to forgive himself for past indiscretions and struggles with alcoholism, loosen up and find his inner child again. 

 

As the reader, I sometimes struggled with how believable the romance between Asa and Abigail was --- nothing between them, I actually grew to like them together, but in the beginning it seemed like Asa's intensely deep feelings for Abigail came out of nowhere. I get that he got the idea to court her because he felt he was divinely inspired but guy had no chill at the start! Ease into things, son! Wouldn't a guy want to make sure he ACTUALLY had feelings for a woman and wasn't just doing something because God said so?! But as I said, he and Abigail do end up as a good match, IMO. I had a good laugh at Asa's utter SHOCK at Abigail's dislike for anything pickled. 

 

 

FTC DisclaimerTNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

 

___________

 

My reviews for the previous books in this series:

 

#1 A Reluctant Bride

#2 An Unbroken Heart

 

*Note: a fourth installment, The Teacher's Bride, is due to be released this December.

Review
3.5 Stars
Ghosting by David Poyer
Ghosting: A Novel - David Poyer

Dr. Jack Scales, a prominent neurosurgeon, is at the peak of his career. To celebrate, he decides to make up for lost time and buys a sailing yacht christened Slow Dance, for a family cruise to Bermuda. But the family is strained: Jack’s wife Arlen is secretly considering leaving the marriage; Rick, their bipolar twenty-year-old son, may need to be committed to a group home; Haley, a rebellious teenager, would rather be anywhere but trapped on a boat with her family; and Jack himself is not prepared for the challenge of the open sea. Day by day, the Scales face mounting dangers. A lightning storm nearly destroys the boat, Rick’s unstable condition worsens, and both Arlen and Haley realize that Jack is in over his head. Still, emerging from the storm, they find a fragile unity…until a man adrift on a raft leads them into danger against a terrifying gang of smugglers, who will stop at nothing to gain control of Slow Dance.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

 

POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: This novel includes scenes of gang rape. Also within this book are intense, emotionally raw scenes with a character who is struggling with schizophrenia and suicidal thoughts. 

 

Neurosurgeon Jack Scales may be riding a high professionally but over the years his personal life with the wife and kids has suffered. Now near the breaking point, with Jack's wife, Arlen, having an affair with a younger man, and his schizophrenic (or at least schizo-affective) son, Ric, hearing voices urging him to commit murder and self-mutilation, Jack thinks a family trip is long overdue. Also along for the journey is daughter Hailey, a dedicated swimmer who generally does what she can to avoid the whole family. Jack plans a family trip to Bermuda on the new sailboat he bought but has yet to actually sail. What could go wrong?  Oooh, just wait, readers. 

 

In the course of this short novel that clocks at just under 300 pages, we the readers witness: a stowaway that nearly dies, a lightning strike that damn near sinks the boat, Hailey walking in on brother Ric trying to shove a kitchen knife down his throat, a gang rape, AND the boat taken hostage by smugglers! Phew! At times it almost felt like some macabre, darkly comedic take on National Lampoon's Family Vacation, minus the scenes where I came to really feel for Ric with his dark episodes and internal struggles. Ric reminded me a bit of the character Andy Hoffstadt (the brother of Hank Azaria's character) on the short-lived tv drama, Huff. 

 

No surprise, there is a healthy dose of medical and boating jargon scattered throughout the story (author David Poyer himself is a sailor with 30+ years experience). But I got a chuckle at one point when Jack insists to his family that any complaining is to be done using correct boating terminology. The sex scenes though... I'm talking about the consensual ones here --- not so sexy. Maybe it's just a matter of personal preference, but having a guy bust out one or more "kiddo" during bed dancing just weirds me out. 

 

The plot, post-smugglers taking over the boat, gets incredibly intense. As noted in the trigger warning at the beginning of this review, this novel does include scenes of gang rape. Though painful to read, their existence within the story plays a powerful role in illustrating just how far a parent will go to protect their child, sacrificing themselves at all costs if it will me the offspring will stay safe. 

 

Recommended for: Fans of Corban Addison's The Tears of Dark Water.

Review
3 Stars
My Life In Middlemarch by Rebecca Mead
My Life in Middlemarch - Rebecca Mead

Rebecca Mead was a young woman in an English coastal town when she first read George Eliot's Middlemarch, regarded by many as the greatest English novel. After gaining admission to Oxford, and moving to the United States to become a journalist, through several love affairs, then marriage and family, Mead read and reread Middlemarch. The novel, which Virginia Woolf famously described as "one of the few English novels written for grown-up people," offered Mead something that modern life and literature did not. In this wise and revealing work of biography, reporting, and memoir, Rebecca Mead leads us into the life that the book made for her, as well as the many lives the novel has led since it was written. Employing a structure that deftly mirrors that of the novel, My Life in Middlemarch takes the themes of Eliot's masterpiece--the complexity of love, the meaning of marriage, the foundations of morality, and the drama of aspiration and failure--and brings them into our world. Offering both a fascinating reading of Eliot's biography and an exploration of the way aspects of Mead's life uncannily echo that of Eliot herself, My Life in Middlemarch is for every ardent lover of literature who cares about why we read books, and how they read us.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

Journalist Rebecca Mead uses My Life in Middlemarch not only as a platform to revisit George Eliot's classic novel, one that proved to be one of the pivotal reading experiences of Mead's teens and twenties, but also as a way to get better acquainted with the famous author herself. Because Mead provides a respectable amount of thoroughly researched material, though this work initially presents itself as a memoir inspired by a great writer, the biographical portions on Eliot are nothing to scoff at. 

 

A book may not tell us exactly how to live our lives, but our own lives can teach us how to read a book. Now when I read the novel in the light of Eliot's life, and in the light of my own, I see her experience of unexpected family woven deep into the fabric of the novel  -- not as part of the book's obvious pattern, but as part of its tensile strength..."The secret of our emotions never lies in the bare object, but in its subtle relation to our own past," Eliot wrote in Adam Bede. The bare object of a book -- of a story -- might also have a subtle relation to our own past. Identification with character is one way in which most ordinary readers do engage with a book, even if it is not where a reader's engagement ends. It is where part of the pleasure, and the urgency, of reading lies. It is one of the ways that a novel speaks to a reader, and becomes integrated into the reader's own imaginative life. Even the most sophisticated readers read novels in the light of their own experience, and in such recognition, sympathy may begin.

 

 

Born Mary Ann Evans (though she preferred going by "Marian" in her youth), George Eliot grew up in the rural region of southwest England. A whip-smart girl, she was already working her way through the works of Sir Walter Scott by the age of seven! Letters she penned during her teen years show a kind of forced maturity. Her opinions are markedly prudish, pious and judgmental. Surprisingly, she claimed to find dancing and novel reading silly frivolities. But Mead has a theory: she points out that at about the same age Eliot was when she wrote these bold opinions, Mead herself would also strongly preach on topics she actually knew little about -- sex, feminism, politics. Mead suspects that at this point in her life, Eliot was likely just a teen working through the standard growing up period of trying to figure out who you are exactly. Part of that means maybe sometimes making claims you might not necessarily whole-heartedly believe in, simply for the sake of trying the idea on for size. 

 

 

Mead might be onto something, as she goes to show that later on in life Eliot swapped out her religious fervor for an equally intense passion for pseudosciences such as phrenology. Around this point in the book Mead also throws in an interesting bit of relevant trivia: turns out the very term "agnostic" was coined in 1869 by a friend of Eliot's! Eliot goes on to settle into what we'd now likely view as a common law marriage with George Henry Lewes. They weren't officially married (by church standards) but cohabited and behaved as an established married couple would, and many a neighbor gave the two a heavy dose of side-eye for it. Eliot & Lewes were both described as being quite ugly by the times' standards (even Eliot's friend, Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev claimed she "made him understand that it was possible to fall in love with a woman who was not pretty"), but haters be damned, they had the ultimate swoon-worthy bookish beginning to their romance when they met in a bookshop!

 

Henry James on Eliot (in a letter to his father): "She is magnificently ugly -- deliciously hideous. She has a low forehead, a dull grey eye, a vast pendulous nose, a huge mouth full of uneven teeth, and a chin and jaw bone qui n'en finissent pas (never-ending)...Now in this vast ugliness resides a most powerful beauty which, in a few very minutes steals forth and charms the mind, so that you may end as I ended, falling in love with her. Yes, behold me literally falling in love with this great horse-faced bluestocking."

 

Mead's words on Lewes: Lewes, who was two years Eliot's senior, was "the ugliest man in London" according to one member of his literary circle. He was slight in stature, with a receding jaw, protruding teeth that were concealed by a bushy mustache, and dark, intense, intelligent eyes. Jane Carlyle unkindly called him "The Ape," though her husband gave testimony that Lewes was "ingenious, brilliant, entertaining, highly gifted and accomplished." He was quick and clever. The novelist Eliza Lynn Linton, who was not fond of Lewes and thought him coarse and vulgar, nonetheless said that wherever he went there was "a patch of intellectual sunshine in the room." Lewes' bohemian manners and radical precepts were partly inspired by (Percy Bysse) Shelley, of whom as a young man he had described himself as a worshipper, and whose biography he had tried to write when he was just twenty, a project that foundered because he could not get the approval of Mary Shelley, the poet's widow.

 

 

Image result for George Henry Lewes

Lewes & Eliot

 

 

Eliot hoped to find friendly support in her older, married half-sister Fanny Houghton, but Fanny -- having been displaced from her home as a child by their father when he took up with Eliot's mother -- ended up severing communication with Eliot altogether. 

 

Also incorporated in this work are some extra booknerdish gems where  Mead shares details on Eliot's literary friendships or at least run-ins with other greats of the era. Not only is there a discussion on Eliot's friendship (mostly through correspondence) with Harriet Beecher Stowe, but Mead also ties in connections to the works of Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte. here and there throughout the whole book. 

 

She (Eliot) was sometimes satirical, as in her secondhand report of Dickens' house on Tavistock Square: "Splendid library, of course, with soft carpet, couches, etc. such as become a sympathizer of the suffering classes," she wrote. "How can we sufficiently pity the needy unless we know fully the blessings of plenty?"

 

So yeah, not quite a full biography of Eliot, not entirely a traditional memoir for Mead, but somewhere in between. I will say it seemed to be closer to an Eliot bio than memoir, thought the title and synopsis would suggest something different. Mead DOES have her own personal connections in here, just maybe not as much as you might expect. Some reviews suggest this was a disappointment to a percentage of readers, but I myself wasn't hung up on that so much. Mead at least keeps things consistently interesting, which, for this book at least, was good enough for me.

 

 

 

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
4 Stars
When Mountains Move (Free #2) by Julie Cantrell
When Mountains Move - Julie Cantrell

In a few hours, Millie will say “I do” to Bump Anderson, a man who loves her through and through. But would he love her if he knew the secret she keeps? Millie’s mind is racing and there seems to be no clear line between right and wrong. Either path leads to pain, and she’ll do anything to protect the ones she loves. So she decides to bury the truth and begin again, helping Bump launch a ranch in the wilds of Colorado. But just when she thinks she’s left her old Mississippi life behind, the facts surface in the most challenging way. That’s when Millie’s grandmother, Oka, arrives to help. Relying on her age-old Choctaw traditions, Oka teaches Millie the power of second chances. Millie resists, believing redemption is about as likely as moving mountains. But Oka stands strong, modeling forgiveness as the only true path to freedom. Together, Bump, Millie, and Oka fight against all odds to create a sustainable ranch, all while learning that the important lessons of their pasts can be used to build a beautiful future.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

* WARNING: If you haven't read the first book in this duology, INTO THE FREE, there are spoilers below. 

 

 

So here we are in the second book and Millie has made a choice regarding a direction for her life. She remains unsure if it's the right choice, but it is a choice nonetheless. She knows she loves Bump, but does she love him enough to make it last forever? She's at least willing to give things a try. 

 

Moving forward as newlyweds, they relocate from Mississippi to Colorado, where Bump's Mississippi boss owns a ranch. Bump is hired as the ranch manager, his boss hoping that Bump's skills with  horses will turn the property into a thriving livestock business. In return, Bump hopes to set aside start up money for his own veterinary practice. The Andersons are getting the property to live on rent free, but the house on site is, to put it mildly, ROUGH.

 

While Millie is elbows deep in Suzy Homemaker mode, she struggles with a secret from her old life in Mississippi that she hesitates to reveal to Bump. Almost as if on cue, who makes a surprise arrival at the new homestead by Millie's Choctaw grandmother, Oka. Oka knows a thing or two about secrets and facing hardships head-on. Her presence becomes a much needed ballast for Millie while she gathers strength to face her fears and have that all-important but tough conversation with her husband.

 

To complicate things though, Bump seems to be a little too friendly (in Millie's opinion) with their new redheaded neighbor, Kat. Millie begins to wonder if Bump regrets his decision to start this new life with Millie, which once again leads her down the path of thoughts of whether she herself was too hasty in her own choices. 

 

Though this story is supposed to take place during the years of World War 2, it didn't have much of that feel for me. Minus the occasional mention of food rations, dreaded telegrams from the War Dept. or use of pickup trucks, this could easily be set a hundred years earlier. I was a little disappointed by this, as I'm a huge historical fiction junkie who looks forward to being immersed in the time period I'm promised as the reader, but in this case I could overlook it because of the good story and the important themes behind it.

 

Once again (as she did with Into The Free), Cantrell illustrates the power of having a good support system around you as you move through life, people who honestly believe in you and truly want to encourage you to pursue your dreams. With Bump and Millie, it's also a pretty honest look at the rougher edges of marriage. How do you hang in there when the rosy glow fades a bit and real life sets in? It's tough because Bump was pretty likeable in the first book, but here he gets progressively less so. When Kat comes on scene, Bump's actions get slyly more and more disrespectful toward Millie, the way he dismisses her hard work or knocks her cooking in front of others, just as an example. Meanwhile, Millie is silently showing / battling symptoms of PTSD... but when your husband gets to where he seems annoyed by your very presence, how do you talk about such things?

 

Millie hangs in there though and eventually finds the means to craft a moderately happy life for herself. Personally, I don't really buy what Bump has to say near the end of the book. I'd even go so far as to say she settled. And it irked me that Bump makes himself out to be so innocent and Millie ends up being the apologetic one... Sure, Millie has moments where she catches herself wondering about River, but looking at Bump... there are some scenes in this story that looked seriously shady from a wife's perspective. I do kind of get Millie's line of thought when she explains why she's made these choices, but I couldn't help but close the book feeling that there had to be something so much more fulfilling out there for her than what she ended up with.

 

* For book groups: the most recent edition of the paperback includes discussion guide and writing prompts. 

 

Something else to note -- while another of Cantrell's books, The Feathered Bone, has been packaged to match the new covers of Into The Free and its sequel When Mountains Move, I believe The Feathered Bone is actually not tied to Millie's story, but in fact its own separate story. 

 

 

 

FTC DisclaimerTNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

 

----------------

 

My reviews for Julie Cantrell's other books:

 

Into the Free (Free #1)

The Feathered Bone 

Perennials

 

 

!!! spoiler alert !!! Review
4 Stars
Into The Free (Free #1) by Julie Cantrell
Into the Free - Julie Cantrell

In Depression-era Mississippi, Millie Reynolds longs to escape the madness that marks her world. With an abusive father and a “nothing mama,” she struggles to find a place where she really belongs. For answers, Millie turns to the Gypsies who caravan through town each spring. The travelers lead Millie to a key that unlocks generations of shocking family secrets. When tragedy strikes, the mysterious contents of the box give Millie the tools she needs to break her family’s longstanding cycle of madness and abuse. Through it all, Millie experiences the thrill of first love while fighting to trust the God she believes has abandoned her. With the power of forgiveness, can Millie finally make her way into the free?

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

POTENTIAL TRIGGER WARNING: This novel includes scenes of domestic abuse, rape, suicide and violence towards animals. 

 

 

In Depression Era Mississippi, Millie Reynolds is a young girl dreaming of the day when she can escape her oppressive life with an abusive, alcoholic father and and a mother who refuses to stand up to him. Millie is of mixed race, her father being Choctaw, her white mother disowned by her well-off family for marrying him. 

 

For six years straight, Millie watches a band of Travelers roll through town each spring, but one year she plucks up the courage to actually speak with them. She ends up befriending River, a young man within the group. Millie grows increasingly drawn to him, especially his deep love for nature and literature. One day, River suggests Millie go with the Traveler group (most referred to as gypsies in this story, but see the note at the bottom of this review) when they get ready to leave again. Just as she's about to take him up on the offer, tragedy strikes and within just a few short months, Millie (still under age, btw) finds herself orphaned. 

 

"She's not crazy. She's just sad. You would be too. How would you feel? If they hauled you off. In a straight jacket. Just because -- you needed -- to cry -- for a little while?"

 

Though tempted to stay, River makes the choice to carry on with his group. Millie can't bring herself to go but hopes opportunity will arise soon to bring River back her way. In the meantime, Millie agrees to move in with Diana Miller, the nurse who looked after Millie's mother in the hospital prior to her death. Shortly after moving in, Millie is stunned to find that this one small choice proves pivotal in her finally finding answers to long buried secrets within her own family. Here, of all places! As one of the characters in this duology likes to say, no such thing as coincidence (or so it would seem)!

 

I'm  certain I have never seen such a perfect house in all my life. Everything in its place. No dust on the floor. No broken hinges, hole-punched walls, or mildewed windowpanes. I am intimidated by the sudden lack of chaos. Knowing that life could be like this. That home could mean something secure and safe. 

 

As Millie works through these discoveries and mourns the absence of River, she meets another young man, Kenneth "Bump" Anderson, a skilled veterinarian and horse breaker who worked the same rodeo circuit as Millie's father. Almost immediately, Bump seems enamored with Millie, but of course wants to play it cool. Bump places himself in Millie's path as an honest, reliable, caring friend who gets her a job at the same rodeo. Not only does she get a chance to work with the horses she loves and gain some free therapy out of it, but Bump has an excuse to be around her that much more! While his feelings for her intensify, she's just a big ol' emotional mess inside, unsure of what she really wants out of life anymore. Millie sees and appreciates Bump's steadiness and kind heart, but is that enough when compared to the fire River used to bring out in her?

 

If only we didn't have to go to church. It's the only time Diana lets me leave the house, and she insists I join their family every Sunday morning. At nine o'clock sharp, we all pile into the third pew to the right... It's the longest hour of my week. Sitting on the cold, hard bench, all dressed up in a fancy new dress, acting a certain way to impress the churchgoers. I do as expected and play the part of a "fine young Christian girl".

 

But everything about the sermons, the customs, the tithing -- it all seems so hypocritical. Especially when the preacher talks about Indians and how they worship false gods. Says they will burn in hell for eternity, as their ancestors have done before them. Same goes for Mormons, Jews, Catholics. Of course, he also counts unwed mothers and those who have divorced. Negroes, even if they do go to a Christian church. From what I can tell, anyone not white-skinned, baptized, married and putting money into this very offering plate every Sunday is destined to infinite torture. "Heaven must not be a very big place," I whisper to Camille. She laughs and Diana gives us a look. 

 

Of course, suicide results in eternal damnation. And consuming alcohol too. Dancing. Swearing. Even thinking of sin is as bad as committing sin, according to this guy. So, the way I figure it, with Choctaw blood, an alcoholic father, and a mother who used a secret stash of morphine to take her own life, I have no choice but to burn in hell too. Pretty dresses and shiny shoes won't help me.

 

Despite all that, some folks still hold out hope to save my soul. My name is on the prayer list every week, which means families like Diana's are talking about me over supper, lifting me up to the heavens. The rodeo-trash half-breed. 

 

Though the plot is tinged in sadness and deals with some heavy topics, there is still a pervasive warmth and sense of comfort to the overall tone of the story. Maybe it's Millie's hopefulness that one day all this craziness will make sense. Maybe it's the idea that family doesn't necessarily have to be blood-related. One just finds themselves matching Millie's emotions as they read: you feel for her, struggle with her, yet you can't help but feel optimism for her because it's undeniable that she's got a good support crew around her, even if she doesn't always notice them in the darker moments.

 

I don't want to end up like Mama, weak and submissive. I also don't want to turn out like Diana, with a lack of trust due to secrets untold. I sure don't want to follow Jack's course, abusive and aggressive, fighting against love and loss even after the chance for a fresh new start. And I don't want to spin out of control like Bill Miller, bitter and vicious because I didn't get my way. Maybe there is another choice... I am here. I am here for a reason. For something more than to just breathe, blink, swallow. I am worthy of happiness and love. Worthy of a good life filled with good people who love me in return. And no one, no one has the right to rob me of that peace.

 

 

Our main girl is an admirably, honestly flawed character. Her emotions run hot, she second-guesses herself pretty regularly, she has struggles with faith and gets frustrated with God. But through it all her heart is in the right place. She honestly cares for everyone in her life, even those who wrong her. Millie's story is an illustration of learning to never let anyone tamp out your inner light, steal your smile, etc. Through Millie's experiences, author Julie Cantrell also lightly plays with the topic of afterlife and the thin veil between those we've lost and how they continue to help us on this plane. An additional reminder to readers that you're never quite as alone as you might sometimes feel. 

 

* Note on the term "gypsy": At the end of this book, author Julie Cantrell includes a note which explains that while the term "gypsy" is actually considered derogatory throughout most of Traveler or Romany culture, for historical accuracy she decided to keep it in the text. 

 

* For Book Groups: the most recently published paperback edition includes pages of in-depth discussion questions, an author interview, and a "Just For Book Groups" section where Cantrell encourages groups to reach out to her (via social media) with requests for video chats / interviews.

 

Something else to note -- while another of Cantrell's books, The Feathered Bone, has been packaged to match the new covers of Into The Free and its sequel When Mountains Move, I believe The Feathered Bone is actually not tied to Millie's story, but in fact its own separate story. 

 

 

 

FTC DisclaimerTNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

 

_____________

 

My reviews for Julie Cantrell's other books:

 

When Mountains Move (Free #2)

The Feathered Bone 

Perennials

 

Review
3 Stars
Perennials by Julie Cantrell
Perennials - Julie Cantrell

Eva Sutherland—known to all as Lovey—grew up safe and secure in Oxford, Mississippi, surrounded by a rich literary history and her mother’s stunning flower gardens. But a shed fire, and the injuries it caused, changed everything. Her older sister, Bitsy, blamed Lovey for the irreparable damage. Bitsy became the homecoming queen and the perfect Southern belle who could do no wrong. All the while, Lovey served as the family scapegoat, always bearing the brunt when Bitsy threw blame her way. At eighteen, suffocating in her sister’s shadow, Lovey turned down a marriage proposal and fled to Arizona. Free from Bitsy’s vicious lies, she became a successful advertising executive and a weekend yoga instructor, carving a satisfying life for herself. But at forty-five, Lovey is feeling more alone than ever and questioning the choices that led her here. When her father calls insisting she come home three weeks early for her parents’ 50th anniversary, Lovey is at her wits’ end. She’s about to close the biggest contract of her career, and there’s a lot on the line. But despite the risks, her father’s words, “Family First,” draw her back to the red-dirt roads of Mississippi. Lovey is drawn in to a secret project—a memory garden her father has planned as an anniversary surprise. As she helps create this sacred space, Lovey begins to rediscover her roots, learning how to live perennially in spite of life’s many trials and tragedies.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Eva "Lovey" Sutherland and her estranged older sister Bitsy are asked by their parents to put differences aside and come together for the parents' 50th wedding anniversary.

 

As small children, Lovey and Bitsy were actually quite close, playing in the woods around their Mississippi home, catching fireflies, etc... you know, all the classic markers of a Southern childhood. That changed the year a new girl moved into the neighborhood and made one comment that forever after had Bitsy feeling self-conscious about possibly being perceived as "trash". From then on, it was all about appearances for her -- no more playing in the dirt, nails / hair / outfits kept obsessively pristine, even a run in the beauty pageant scene. But Lovey never wanted any of that for herself, so Bitsy grows to resent this embarrassment of a sister. Tensions come to a head one night when their mother's gardening shed catches fire. Lovey's friend, Finn, is pulled from the blaze, surviving, but physically scarred for the rest of his life. Bitsy immediately calls out Lovey as the suspected arsonist and from that point on Lovey is made to feel the redheaded stepchild of the family. 

 

By the age of 18, tired of being the scapegoat for all of Bitsy's bad behavior (as well as the target of her most severe bullying), Lovey hightails it out of the South, finding a new home in the arid lands of Arizona. Now in her 40s and a successful ad exec / part-time yoga instructor, Lovey gets a call from her father right in the middle of perhaps the most important advertising contract of her career, pressing her to rush back home and visit with her mother for a few weeks. Lovey hears urgency in his voice, but he's notably evasive about his reasons for asking for a rushed arrival, only claiming that Lovey's mother needs "emotional support" during the stress of the party planning. Lovey rightly assumes there's plenty not being said here but figures she can get the full story once everyone meets up face to face. After some juggling around with the staff, she manages to make time for the trip, though the decision puts her career on the line. 

 

"When it all comes down to it, it's the only real job we've been given," Mother continues. "Get this one spirit through to the end. And still be willing to love and be loved in spite of all the hurts we endure along the way."

 

Once home, Lovey finds that not much has changed, at least on the surface. Her mother is still ever the classic Southern Belle type, perfect posture, fine clothes, pristinely coiffed and draped in Chanel No. 5 and just crazy about her flower beds.  Lovey's parents still speak glowingly of golden child Bitsy, much to Lovey's annoyance. Adult Lovey is still struggling with barely processed, long-buried hurts from her childhood, hurts that seem to be resurfacing now that she's at the scene of the crime, so to speak. How can one family be so blind to the pain of a loved one directly in front of them, she wonders. They're either blind to it or blatantly dismissive! Lovey struggles with the realization of the truth of all these years, the core of the emotional lacerations: Her parents failed to defend / protect her from the evil of the world. They failed to protect their child. The bad people of the world who made her life hell were never held accountable. In fact, the blame was often placed on Lovey's shoulders, in some form or another. There are some pretty serious topics touched upon in this novel, but let me say, IMO they were addressed in a VERY mild manner. Still, I could feel for Lovey on this front, having gone through similar struggles myself with my own family. 

 

 

"She's been jealous her whole life, Lovey. You're bound to know that much." (Lovey's friend, Fisher / Finn's brother talking about Bitsy)

 

"Jealous of me? Oh, come on. That's ridiculous. She's the golden girl. Homecoming queen. You name it."

 

"She may wear the crown, but she's never had half the heart you have. That's why she tries to break yours."

 

 

Cantrell could've taken this story so much deeper, I think. So many of us are struggling with the familial strains she only lightly skims the surface of in this book. But because she only mildly skirted around these tensions, this novel didn't have quite as much punch as I was expecting. Some of the places where it fell short for me:

 

* I sometimes got a little bored with Cantrell's interpretation of New Age themes, though I will admit Marian, the Sedona yogi, does give the readers some gems of dialogue from time to time:

 

 -- "Just remember, Eva. The harsher the winter, the more vibrant the bloom come spring."

 

-- "It doesn't matter what people call me. Fact of the matter is, I'm all that encompasses this human journey, and change is constant. That can't possibly be summed up in one little word."

 

* I felt Bitsy's bitterness was carried out a bit over-long in the story. 

 

* The plot overall is a little predictable. That phone call between Lovey and her father at the beginning of the book -- the 1st time he hesitates when she asks him what the rush is about, I knew where Cantrell was likely taking the story (because it's where SO many authors in this genre tend to want to take family dramas nowadays).

 

Where this book DOES shine though:

 

* Cantrell's story illustrating the danger in thinking that there'll always be time later on to tell loved ones how special they are to you, time to resolve differences etc. We're all guilty of it, but this story reminds readers that there's no time like the present to say your peace and share the love among family & friends.

 

* Cantrell NAILS the "life is like a garden" type analogies. Seriously, some of the imagery she thinks up for her characters to speak had me like "Oh wow, that's good!"

 

 

"Think of it this way." Mother leans to pull one of her bright pink zinnia to hand. "When a flower blooms, its seeds will scatter. Right? Well, let's say some of those seeds land in a parking lot. Others land in a fertile field. Is that fair? No. Some will have real disadvantages, greater challenges."

 

"But they can all grow," Finn says. "As long as they find a healthy place to root."

 

"Bingo!" Mother points Finn's way, giving him the win. "Some may have to settle for a crack in the pavement. But once a seed takes root, it can find its way to the light. Become all it was born to be."

 

Bitsy looks at us with frustration, as if we still don't understand. "Don't you see? Even if the flower manages to bloom, some people will stomp it to bits just because they can."

 

"But others will go out of their way to water it," Fisher counters. Finn nods.

 

 

* I kept thinking this story could make a pretty good Southern drama movie, or at the very least an idea for a country music video LOL. There's even one scene in the book that illustrates how music can bring people together when nothing else will. 

 

* Cantrell shows some love for classic Southern literature: plenty of Faulkner references; as you can imagine, but I especially loved the Eudora Welty bits. Reminded me I need to get into some of her stuff again sometime soon! 

 

For book clubs --- or maybe garden clubs who also like to do reading on the side? -- there are discussion questions included in the back of the book, as well as an "Activity Sparks" page with prompts for creative projects inspired by scenes / characters from this novel.  

 

 

FTC DisclaimerTNZ Fiction Guild kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

Review
3 Stars
Under The Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer
Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith - Jon Krakauer

This extraordinary work of investigative journalism takes readers inside America’s isolated Mormon Fundamentalist communities, where some 40,000 people still practice polygamy. Defying both civil authorities and the Mormon establishment in Salt Lake City, the renegade leaders of these Taliban-like theocracies are zealots who answer only to God. At the core of Krakauer’s book are brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty, who insist they received a commandment from God to kill a blameless woman and her baby girl. Beginning with a meticulously researched account of this appalling double murder, Krakauer constructs a multi-layered, bone-chilling narrative of messianic delusion, polygamy, savage violence, and unyielding faith. Along the way he uncovers a shadowy offshoot of America’s fastest growing religion, and raises provocative questions about the nature of religious belief.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Under the Banner of Heaven investigates a true crime story that unfolded during the summer of 1984 within the Mormon Fundamentalist community. Brothers Ron and Dan Lafferty murdered a woman and her baby daughter, later claiming that they were ordered by God to do it. 

 

Krakauer uses this crime case as a basis for writing a behind-the-curtain look at Mormon Fundamentalist culture -- the history, the general belief system, even the "underbelly", if you will, where one will find a growing population of people struggling with various stages of mental illness. Severe depression is on the rise in this community and suicide attempts are no longer uncommon. Also to be found are increased reports of incest, molestation, and sexual assaults. It's believed that this particular problem is because the topic of sex / sex education is so strongly repressed within the community, especially among the female population. Even married couples seem to dance around the topic when it comes to trying to openly talk about it. Krakauer even manages to incorporate the Elizabeth Smart kidnapping case, looking at the creepy, tragic details of the crime and how her abductors (Mormons who turned Fundamentalist) were able to brainwash her into submission (In interviews in recent years, Smart has since come out and implied that her brainwashing was merely an act she put on to captors as a means to stay alive).

 

"We have the greatest and smoothest liars in the world."

~ Brigham Young

 

When Krakauer focuses on the Lafferty murder case, we learn that the Lafferty brothers grew up with a violent disciplinarian father, forced to watch him carry out violent acts on their mother or other children, at one point even beating the family dog to death. The father was also a believer in healing serious illness with fervent prayers rather than modern medicine. Or so Krakauer's research showed... but when Dan Lafferty himself was interviewed, he claimed he had a very happy, loving childhood. But even there, Krakauer later turns up evidence that Lafferty brought violence into his own marriage after reading a book on polygamy that claimed that women were to be looked at as "a subservient ox". It turns out Dan originally intended to take his oldest stepdaughter as his first plural wife, but later decided on a young Romanian immigrant who was working at Robert Redford's horse ranch nearby who claimed she was "open to new experiences". (Not the kind of thing people typically mean when they say that, but okay).

 

Brenda, the murder victim, was the sister-in-law of Ron and Dan, married to their brother Allen. She was also the only one of the Lafferty wives who was college educated. She was known in the community to be book smart with an independent spirit, not afraid to debate theology, and she would also encourage other wives in the community to stick up for themselves. Ron blamed Brenda for his own wife, Dianna, leaving him, taking their kids with her. A God-decreed murder, my foot! 

 

In addition to the true crime investigation, readers also get a look into the general history of Mormonism, all the way back to Joseph Smith & Brigham Young days, some of which might be new or forgotten info to today's readers -- such as the fact that Joseph Smith actually ran for President of the United States in 1844, but obviously lost to James Polk.

 

An earnest, good-natured kid with a low boredom threshold, Joseph Junior had no intention of becoming a debt-plagued farmer like his father, toiling in the dirt year in and year out. His talents called for a much grander arena. Although he received no more than a few years of formal schooling as a boy, by all accounts he possessed a nimble mind and an astonishingly fecund imagination... Gregarious, athletic, and good-looking, he was a regular raconteur whom both men and women found immensely charming. His enthusiasm was infectious. He could sell a muzzle to a dog...

 

In the beginning, Joseph Smith had emphasized the importance of personal revelation for everyone... he instructed Mormons to seek direct "impressions from the Lord," which should guide them in every aspect of their lives. Quickly, however, Joseph saw a major drawback to such a policy: if God spoke directly to all Mormons, who was to say that the truths he revealed to Joseph had greater validity than contradictory truths He might reveal to somebody else? With everyone receiving revelations, the prophet stood to lose control of his followers. Joseph acted fast to resolve this dilemma by announcing in 1830 -- the same year the Mormon Church was incorporated -- that God had belatedly given him another revelation: "No one shall be appointed to receive commandments and revelations in this church excepting my servant, Joseph Smith, Jr." But the genie was already out of the bottle... People liked talking to God directly, one-on-one, without intermediaries... Thus, even after Joseph told his followers that henceforth they were forbidden to receive divine commandments concerning church doctrine, many of these Saints quietly ignored the edict and continued to heed the voice of God, whether he was talking to them about matters of theology or personal issues.

 

 

 

We also get more examples of Joseph Smith's raging hormones and Emma Smith's long, losing battle with trying to keep her husband monogamous. William Law, Emma's friend as well as one of Joseph's counselors, urged Joseph to cool it down a bit with the ladies, but to no avail. Their friendship was later broken when Joseph kept making passes at William's wife.

 

Neither Emma's tears nor her rage were enough to make Joseph monogamous...neither were the prevailing mores of the day. He kept falling rapturously in love with women not his wife. And because that rapture was so wholly consuming and felt so good, it struck him as impossible that God might possibly frown on such a thing. Joseph wasn't by nature reflective of deliberative. He conducted his life impulsively, acting according to instinct and emotion. The Lord, it seemed to him, must surely have intended man to know the love of more than one woman or He wouldn't have made the prospect so enticing.

 

Between 1840 and 1844 God instructed the prophet to marry some forty women. Most were shocked and revolted when Joseph revealed what the Lord had in mind for them. Several were still prepubescent girls, such as fourteen year old Helen Mar Kimball. Although she acquiesced when the prophet explained that God had commanded her to become his plural wife -- and that she would be permitted twenty-four hours to comply -- Helen later confided to a friend, "I was young, and they deceived me, by saying the salvation of our whole family depended on it."

 

Joseph married Helen Mar Kimball in Nauvoo in May 1843, Earlier that same month, young Lucy Walker was also wed to the prophet after being similarly coerced...When the horrified girl balked at his proposal, Joseph explained to Lucy that if she refused she would face eternal damnation. "I have no flattering words to offer," he said. "It is a command of God to you. I will give you until tomorrow to decide this matter. If you reject this message the gate will be closed forever against you."

 

Throughout this period of frenzied coupling, Joseph adamantly denied that he endorsed plural marriage, let alone engaged in the practice himself. "When the facts are proved, truth and innocence will prevail at last," he asserted in a speech given to the people of Nauvoo in May 1844. "What a thing it is for a man to be accused of committing adultery, and having seven wives, when I can find only one. I am the same man, innocent as I was fourteen years ago; and I can prove them all perjurers."

 

William decided to try his hand at making his own branch of Mormonism, the Reformed Mormon Church. He even printed pamphlets denouncing Joseph, claiming him a fraud. William's printing press was destroyed by Joseph's brother, Hyrum and an angry mob was rounded up to drive William out of town. Joseph and Hyrum had charges brought against them for their roles in the destruction of William's property. While they sat in jail, a different angry mob burst in and killed them both in a hail of gunfire. Specifically, Joseph himself was shot, sent out a window, shot again and then bayonetted, dying at a mere 38 years of age. 

Sidenote: There's also a discussion in this book about the Mountain Meadow Massacre. John D. Lee was ultimately executed for his role in the murders but just prior to death was quoted as saying that if he was innocent, Brigham Young would be dead in six months. As it turns out, Young was dead five months and six days after Lee's execution, but the cause of death is presumed to be from a probable burst appendix.

 

 

So in a nutshell, I guess Under The Banner Of Heaven is, in a way, a collective look at the history of violence that's gone down over the years within the Mormon Fundamentalist community, though largely kept quiet and swept under the "God's Work" rug. I didn't find the book completely entralling start to finish, there were some dry bits for me, but then again it definitely had plenty of jaw dropping moments in there as well. Recommended if you're at all interested in either true crime cases or reading about the more taboo side of the Mormon faith. 

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