February 23, 2022

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, by Joanne Greenberg


I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, by Joanne Greenberg

4 stars: Painful but revealing.

Deborah Blau is severely mentally ill, in a time before mental illness was truly recognized or able to be treated effectively. Her desperate parents take her to an asylum, but they can hardly stand to leave her there. Nevertheless they do, and her treatment begins. 

Most of the book is from Deborah's perspective, living in the asylum and meeting with her doctor. There are occasional glimpses from the doctor's perspective, her parents', and even her little sister's. With the help of her doctor, Deborah claws her way back to reality, from the fictional world she has built for herself inside her mind. It is not pretty or linear, but slowly, healing begins.

* * * * *

I was struck by a couple of things in particular: the insistence on telling the absolute truth to those suffering with mental illness. This was mentioned several times throughout the book. Deborah felt such a relief when the doctor told her that she was very sick. Finally! Deborah knew she had problems her whole life, but had constantly been told she was fine--i.e., lied to. It was so validating to her for her doctor to acknowledge her illness. Complete honesty also helped later on, when Deborah was closer to coming back to the real world. This is where the title comes in--it's a quote from the doctor to Deborah. Being cured or achieving mental health is not all happy and easy.  

Another thing was the difference in treatment between then and now. At least from this book, it seems back then there were many physical treaments used--from shock therapy, to isolation, to the wet bedsheet treatment, but the only medication available were the sedatives. They of course, also had talk therapy as well. Now there are medications specific to the illness--I don't know how effective they are, but hopefully at least it's another tool that can help.

Finally, her descriptions of looking out on those in the "normal" world were poignant. Just the feeling of otherness, and bewilderment. How do they manage day to day? They make it look so easy, when everything to her was such a big struggle. I've heard addicts say the same thing, when they're in the midst of their addiction. 

Along with that, Deborah's feeling of being invisible, even though she joined the church choir and another group--that no-one spoke to her or even seemed to see her, once she was trying to become a part of society again. So different from the top floor of the asylum, where she didn't have to pretend to be someone she wasn't, and she was seen for who she was.   

Content: For adults. Quite a bit of language, including some crude sexual references. Self harm and violence.

February 18, 2022

Safecracker: A Chronicle of the Coolest Job in the World, by Dave McOmie

This book was one I found browsing the nonfiction shelves at the library. It just seemed interesting, so I grabbed it. I'm glad I did! It was a good read. My 14 year old read it as well and also liked it.

Safecracker: A Chronicle of the Coolest Job in the World, by Dave McOmie

4 stars: Enjoyable, fast read.

 Dave McOmie's job is to break into safes and bank vaults. If the combination goes missing or has been forgotten, if the time clock gets wound too tight or something gets stuck, Dave gets a call and off he goes. He spends a lot of time travelling to his job sights, as most of them are far enough away to require an airplane flight. He has to bring his tools with him--drills, lots of extra bits of various sizes, and expensive scopes to look into the holes he has made. It's often a timed or high pressure situation. 

Between jobs, Dave is a dedicated family man and a philosopher at heart.

* * * * *

I found this fascinating. His job is one that rarely crosses my mind--but then again, I have never needed a safecracker. The book takes the form of "A Week in the Life," going day-by-day through the jobs required. He also tells stories of other jobs he has done, people he has worked with and for, and throws in some philosophy here and there. I enjoyed getting a glimpse into his life and perspective.  

Content: A little profanity, plus a couple of the safes had x-rated contents, which were mentioned but not graphically described.

February 15, 2022

Three Pennies, by Melanie Crowder

 My husband and I have talked about fostering children for a very long time. We have just finished the initial set of training classes! We're excited and (at least for me) a little nervous. We know that this will be a big change for our family. 

This is one I just pulled off the shelf while browsing a few weeks ago. I was pleasantly surprised to find this book was about a girl in care. I would love to make a list of fiction featuring foster children and their families--both biological and resource or adopted. 

Three Pennies, by Melanie Crowder

4 stars: Wistful, revealing, and ultimately, hopeful.

Marin has been in foster care since she was small. She doesn't know why her mom left and she's never known her dad. Now there's an opportunity for her to be adopted, but she is positive that if she could just find her mom and talk with her face to face, that this misunderstanding can be worked out. Surely her mom will want her, at the very least will be unable to say no to her in person. She takes readings from her copy of I Ching to help her make decisions, but it's going to take more than the enigmatic answers from her book to guide her this time.

Lucy is a doctor with a child-sized hole in her life. She wants very badly to love a child and be a mother. Her life circumstances make it unlikely that she will be able to have one of her own, but she is open to adoption--if only there's a child that would fit.

And then there's an owl. A philosophically trained, very wise old owl. 

* * * * *

The book alternates points-of-view between Marin, Lucy, the owl, and a few other characters. I did not find it jarring, as the switch happens per chapter. It is written as narrative poetry.

From the very beginning I was pulling for Marin and Lucy. Also feeling for Marin, as I would guess her speculations and feelings about her family of origin echo those of many children in care. Everyone wants to feel loved and wanted and safe. When the very foundations of her life get shaken up--literally and figuratively--Marin finds a way to cope with her past and move into her future.

Content: Clean.


February 10, 2022

Educated, by Tara Westover

So, I just now got to this book. I know. It has been around and talked about so much since it came out. I have wanted to read it this whole time, just not so much that I persisted in seeking it out. Then at our last library visit, there it was sitting on an end cap. Yep, now is the time. Snatched it right up! 

As much as I use my Kindle and read online now days, there's a serendipity, a found delight, about going in person to a library that a virtual experience just can't replicate. 

I am a shelf browser by nature. Sometimes I have specific books that I am looking for, but even in that case, I always just happen to see 3 or 4 others nearby that come home with me.  I always check the displays and the "New" bookshelves, too. 

Sometimes I don't even know what I want, so I just wander and see what catches my eye. Then when something does--it's free to take home! Just not the same on Amazon.

Anyway...to the review!

, by Tara Westover

4 stars: Sad, disturbing, inspiring. So many things to think about with this one.

Tara's experiences growing up in rural Idaho, the youngest child in a family of far-right survivalists. She was "homeschooled," which included very little actual book learning and a whole lot of working for her dad in the junkyard. Her parents didn't believe in doctors, so even ghastly injuries were treated at home with herbal remedies. They believed the government was evil, and guns were good.

This is her journey toward breaking free from the constraints of her upbringing and coming into a new and different understanding of herself, her family, and the world.

* * * * *
So many thoughts about this book. Lots to unpack here. I should start by saying that I've got a lot of family in the little towns in Idaho that she grew up in and near, including my parents, plus aunts, uncles, and cousins on both sides. I did not grow up there but have visited countless times over the years. That connection made Westover's experiences extra interesting and poignant to me. 

In addition, I am also a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I could relate in that way to her story, though not all of the doctrine as she talks about it matches up with what I believe or was taught. She was homeschooled. I am currently homeschooling our 4 children. They were survivalists. We consider ourselves to be prepared, but I wouldn't go so far as to call us preppers. However, there were some similarities there.

One way we diverge widely from her family is belief in government and the medical establishment. They feared and resented both. We do not. My husband is a doctor! We don't love the government, but we do what we must to get along with it. Along those lines, some of those injuries--wow. The doctors I know--including my husband--don't claim to have all the answers, but they do use proven methods and medications. How many problems could have been taken care of if their various ailments and injuries had been treated? First and foremost, her dad's mental illness. That alone could have changed the whole trajectory of all of their lives.  

Her father rules over the family. It was hard to read about him claiming to have received revelation for his family but with ideas that led them further into extremity. For instance, at one point he decided that dairy products were evil, so they got rid of all of theirs (Tara would slip down the hill to her grandparents' for cold cereal and milk in the mornings.) The shootout at Ruby Ridge was a story told over and over to the children and they felt a real sense of fear: if it could happen at Ruby Ridge, they could be next. So many decisions based on fear, but under the cover of faith.

Tara also recounts physical abuse at the hands of her older brother, and another brother who got out and went to college against all odds. When she finally did make it to college--also against great odds--her ignorance and different upbringing made so many things hard for her. Her family vehemently denies (to this day, according to my mom), that any of this happened the way she said it did.  

I thought her account was even handed. She tried to show the good as well as the bad, even as at times she doubts her own memory. It sounded like neither set of grandparents believed the same way Tara's family did. Her one grandma-down-the-hill tried to take her away with them to Arizona for the winter, to go to public school there. Even her abusive brother protected her sometimes and saved her life from a runaway horse at one point. 

Her observation towards the end, of the chasm that has split their family--between her and 2 brothers who left and the ones who stayed--was especially telling. Those who left all have PhD's, none have returned to live in Idaho, they are mostly estranged from the others. Of those who stayed, none have a high school diploma, the boys and son-in-law work for their dad in the junk business, or for the mom in her essential oils business. Back at home, the drama and dysfunction goes on, while Tara and the other 2 seem to have found a measure of peace away from it all. 

My recurring thought throughout the whole book was: how was this allowed to go on? How did these kids slip through the cracks? Obviously, homeschooling had a lot to do with that--there were no teachers checking up on them or calling CFS--but these are warm, close-knit communities. How did no-one in her church ward notice what was happening? Or maybe they did or made attempts to help but she just didn't include that? Or her parents were just really good at putting on a good face, maybe? So many questions. They were pretty much estranged from most of the extended family, it sounds like, with strained relationships between her parents and grandparents on both sides. I don't know. How? That's what boggles my mind. 

Finally, having read this book, I can understand my mom's hesitation when I told her we would be homeschooling our kids! If this type of homeschooling was all I had ever heard about, I would be very concerned as well. 

Now I need to go call my cousins. 

Content: A few cuss words, plus some very graphic descriptions of horrible injuries. Seriously, they would keep me up at night if I let them. 
(January 2022)

February 8, 2022

The Least of Us: True Tales of America and Hope in the Time of Fentanyl and Meth, by Sam Quinones

 This one is by the bestselling author of Dreamland, which I have not read. 

The Least of Us: True Tales of America and Hope in the Time of Fentanyl and Meth
, by Sam Quinones

4 stars: Eye opening.

Quinones details the drug scene in America, from the early 2000's, where heroin and cocaine were the biggest drugs on the streets, to now, with the rise of meth. He also talks at length about the Mexican drug cartels and when they made the switch from farmed drugs, like opium to lab-made, synthetic drugs which encompasses fentanyl products and meth. 

Along with all of that, he shares personal stories from several people who have been affected by drugs, and what a few communities are doing to fight back.

* * * * *
Wow, this book really brought things to light that I did not know about. The picture it paints of America is sobering, to say the least. Depressing, even. Drugs and cartels and synthetic chemicals made in China and shipped to whoever wants to make their own drugs to sell from home. It's a lot. 

I'm glad I read it, though. This is happening. In my town, and in yours, whether the families being affected have broken through the shame to talk about it or not, it's happening. We're all seeing the aftermath of it--although it's not really aftermath, because it's ongoing. Just the havoc, I guess, is the better way to put it. Kids flooding foster care because parents are too doped up to take care of them. Homelessness exploding, drug overdoses killing more people than covid in the first half of 2020.

He doesn't just leave it there, though, which is the strength of this book. He shows a way forward. Communities coming together to treat addicts. Judges and policemen keeping them accountable and giving them the push towards sobriety. Safety nets in the form of counseling, rides, help finding jobs, and more, coming into play. 

Sometimes it's not enough. Drugs are strict taskmasters, and the new forms of meth and drugs mixed with fentanyl are worse than they've ever been: more potent, more addictive, more deadly, more brain-damaging. I felt a determination to find solutions. As he says several times in the book, (paraphrasing here), no longer can we wait for addicts to hit rock bottom to seek help. In these times, rock bottom is dead. 

Definitely not a light read, but an important one.

Content: A little bit of language, descriptions of drug abuse and violence.

 (February 2, 2022)

February 3, 2022

A Wish in the Dark, by Christina Soontornvat

 After reading All Thirteen by this author, I was eager to see what else she has written. So I was excited to find A Wish in the Dark. Then when I found out it had ties to Les Miserables? All in!  

A Wish in the Dark
, by Christina Soontornvat
2021 Newberry Honor

5 stars: Original fantasy with connections to one of my favorite books. Outstanding!

Pong and Somkit live in a Namwon Prison. They aren't criminals--they were born there, and have since become orphans. They have to stay until they age out of the system--4 more years. Unless they can escape. Not that they have made any plans or anything, but one day when the opportunity presents itself, Pong takes the chance. He gets out! Alone. He left Somkit behind. 

Now Pong must make his way in the world without getting caught and taken back to prison. Now if he goes back, he will be a criminal, just for escaping. Chances are not good that he would escape twice. 
However, it's a big world out there. The governor controls the light that the people have. 

After a big fire in Pong's grandfather's time, no-one wishes to use fire anymore, ever. Then the governor came with light inside of him that they learned to hold inside of glass globes. Brighter lights for the wealthy, as it has turned out, and dimmer colors for the poor and middle class. They have even discovered how to power boats and machines with their lights. 

Pong can't worry about all that, though. He just has to survive another day without being caught. Little does he know how his own life will be connected with the future of the city, his people, and the light.

* * * * *
This was such a satisfying read. I enjoyed the setting in a Thai-inspired fantasy world. The characters were well done and believable. The threads and connections back to Les Miserables added another layer. It was a great experience!

This is one I will encourage my children to read. Strongly encourage. :) 

Content: Clean.

January 27, 2022

96 miles, by J.L. Esplin

I came across this book just browsing the middle grade fiction stacks at the library. I was highly interested in it, once I saw what it was about. I've read quite a bit of survivalist fiction, but none geared towards kids until now. I can relate to these kids. I wouldn't say we have gone full-on prepper, but we are working toward being prepared for both short-term and longer-term emergencies. Peace of mind means a lot.

96 Miles
, by J. L. Esplin

4 stars: Kept me reading to find out what was going to happen!


For John and Stew, this was supposed to be like every other work trip of their dad's. They would spend most of the time home alone, but would make sure to check in daily and spend at least a few hours over at the neighbor's as well. It's not like they couldn't take care of themselves. 

Then the power went out. Not just at their house. Everywhere--at least, everywhere that they have been able to find out about. According to these same news sources, this is not going to be fixed quickly. It could days, maybe weeks. 

They aren't too worried, though. Their dad has always been prepared, and then some. They should have plenty of food and supplies to just hunker down until things come back online. Their biggest threat will probably be boredom. 

And then the men come in the night. Suddenly, their choices look very different. In order to survive, they're going to have to start walking. They have 96 miles to go.

* * * * *

As with most survivalist fiction, this book poses a big "what-if" question, then spends the book answering the question. What if you were just kids, left home alone during a widespread disaster? What decisions would you have to make and what steps would you have to take in order to survive? 

I thought it was well done. You get bits and pieces of the story as you go along, which keeps up the suspense. Some things that don't make sense at first fall into place by the end. 

I enjoy these types of books that go into scenarios. They have some suspense, and at the same time I'm thinking the whole time about how I would handle this or that, or in this case--how would kids do it? Food for thought.

My 12-year old daughter read it and we had a good discussion about it. I think it would be a great pick for a teen book club. In addition to the plot points, there are several moral questions that you could discuss.

Content: Clean.