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Bonnie Read a Book Today

Reader, writer, cat tamer, and Tiny Communist.

Currently reading

His Dark Materials
Philip Pullman
Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, and the Prison of Belief
Lawrence Wright


Triumph - Carolyn Jessop, Laura Palmer Triumph was a huge disappointment compared to Jessops first book, escape. I decided to read it because it was written after the big raid on the Yearning For Zion ranch in Texas which ended with over 400 abused children being returned to their parents. I was hoping there would be information on what happened after that, if the law totally abandoned those children, if things had gone back to business as usual at the YFZ.

The first half of Triumph told that story, but only as it applied to Carolyn Jessop. She wrote about her importance in the investigation, repeating on nearly every page (and I read it on Kindle and iPod, which means very small pages) how influential she was based on her 35 years in the FLDS, 17 of which were spent as the 4th wife of an important leader. She testified before the US Senate and interspersed accounts of her testimony with paragraphs about how very special and important she was to making the case. Her worry about the abused children was centered solely on her involvement with some of them, one of whom was her own natural daughter and eight others her stepchildren. Basically, everything the FLDS did was about her, and law enforcement would have been totally helpless without her.

That part was still interesting enough to keep me reading, there were just enough snippets of real information mixed in with her smug self-importance to give me hope that real progress had been made. But all too soon it was time for Part 2, How Carolyn Jessop Survived Her Marriage to Merrill Jessop by Being Better than Everyone Else. For real. How she took control of the chaotic household and her own life by being morally superior and always knowing she was right no matter what happened. It's broken into sections, each titled with a moral lesson about standing up for yourself or setting your own standards or something, and illustrated with self-serving stories about how everyone in the house, Merrill, his wives, and all of his children, were out to get her but she ultimately TRIUMPHED IN HER HEART by being BETTER THAN THEM IN EVERY WAY.

I sympathized with her anger at being accused, by every living person in the United States, apparently, of writing her first book, Escape, to make money. It was obvious reading that book it was a story she needed to tell and she did it very well. But this book? It was written for the money, no doubt. And, of course, to reinforce the overwhelmingly self-evident fact that she is BETTER THAN EVERYONE ELSE. I'm sorry I fed into that by paying her for my copy.

Growing Up Amish

Growing Up Amish - Ira Wagler Along the lines of repressive religious cultures, the Amish at least aren't as frightening as the FLDS. Girls grow up before marrying and everyone seems to get enough to eat. But, to borrow Wagler's simile, being Amish is like living in a box. And not in that cool danceable box from the early 90s (Imma living in a box! Imma living in a cardboard box!). It's a small, tightly hewn box, and every time you try to peek out, someone is there to slam it down on your nose. And tell you that you're going straight to hell if you even so much as lift that lid again.

And if you're thinking well, at least they have Rumspringa to explore the world, then you've been watching too much tv. Turn off ER, mail Devil's Playground back to Netflix, and read this book.

Not that it's actually anti-Amish, although the first 80% or so reads very much as if it is. The Amish life was simply not right for Wagler, and no matter how many times he left and returned, no matter how good his intentions were, it just wasn't a life he could live. Half of his siblings felt the same. The other half married and raised good Amish families. That's just the way it is.

Ultimately, Wagler declined to make one point that seems important to me. The Amish people's insistence on protecting themselves and their children from the evils of the outside world borders on obsession with that very world. It seems to be a belief system defined not by what it is but rather by what it isn't. And, in the end, it's just another way of controlling people with force and threats. Something I don't recall Jesus ever trying to do.

Stolen Innocence: My Story of Growing Up in a Polygamous Sect, Becoming a Teenage Bride, and Breaking Free of Warren Jeffs

Stolen Innocence: My Story of Growing Up in a Polygamous Sect, Becoming a Teenage Bride, and Breaking Free of Warren Jeffs - Elissa Wall, Lisa Pulitzer Stolen Innocence is one of the best books I've read so far on the subject of the FLDS. Forced at the age of 14 into a marriage she didn't want to a first cousin she'd hated all her short life, Elissa Wall fought for her freedom with maturity and grace for the next four years. Her trial, recorded here in detail, was the first of many against the Short Creek FLDS and it's "prophet" Warren Jeffs. Convicted on two counts of accessory to rape for forcing her to marry, both underage and against her will, Jeffs is now in prison largely thanks to this brave young woman and her determination to see justice served.

No one who hasn't lived it can really understand the power and pressure of the FLDS (not to be confused with mainstream Mormons), but this book more than most gives a thorough and nuanced view of the life, including praise for the good people she knew growing up. Unlike the story of Flora Jessop, which was one of grinding poverty and non-stop sexual abuse, Wall's early childhood was borderline normal. Even happy by FLDS standards. But when the "prophet" ordered her family separated and her mother placed in marriage with another man, it was the beginning of the end for Elissa. The unquestioning obedience to any and all irrational decisions of the "prophet" is at the heart of the FLDS religion and it's this frightening way of life that Wall exposes so clearly to anyone who cares to learn.


Elementals - Michael McDowell The Elementals is a true suspense/horror novel with more questions than answers, as is usual with McDowell, but he does give a little more satisfaction at the end than I'm used to. It's hard to say anything about the story without giving too much away, just read it if you love haunted houses, excellent writing, and mean old women getting what they deserve. Bonus points for a kickass teenage girl who does some stuff that's pretty much all spoilers.

One thing made the book a bit difficult in the beginning is the fact that the characters all refer to each other by they first names regardless of their relationships, and the families have intermarried. I'd have liked a quick family tree but we can't have everything.

For others like me, here's the rundown: Big Barbara McCray is the mother of Leigh and Luker, who is the father of India. Marian Savage is the mother of Darnley (deceased), Mary-Scot (nun), and Daughin Savage, who is married to Leigh Savage, nee McCray.

Now run right out and read this fabulous piece of awesome. Outside, in the bright sunlight. And not on the beach.

Church of Lies

Church of Lies - Flora Jessop, Paul T. Brown No matter how much I learn about the FLDS, every book brings new surprises. This one in particular, because it's not just one survivor's story, it's also the story of her tireless work to help other women and children escape lives of polygamous and abuse. One of the girls Flora Jessop rescued, first from the FLDS and then from the government agencies who insisted on returning her to her parents, was Fawn Broadbent. Fawn and her friend, Fawn Holm, ran away at the age of 15 to escape being married. One was promised to a first cousin, a common practice in Colorado City (Flora herself was married to a 19 year old first cousin at the age of 16), and the other to a man twice her age who had other wives and whom she hated. Fawn Broadbent's mother, Joyce, was interviewed for a National Geographic cover story in 2010 and was portrayed as an average, happy, loving mother who delighted in her lifestyle. No mention was made of her daughter or the many court battles that had finally resulted in her freedom. It was that Nat Geo article that made me pursue the issue more fully, as the writer painted an extremely positive picture of life in a polygamous cult. Perhaps the crew didn't interview anyone without a member of the "priesthood" present. Or maybe they just weren't aware of or interested in how deeply lifelong brainwashing can affect a person's POV.

Anyway, despite a rough beginning (some of Jessop's accounts of her own childhood abuse read too much like kiddy porn, but as I read I grew to understand her lack of objectivity on the matter), it became an excellent account of life among the FLDS and how unbelievably hard it is to escape. Even those who succeed too often give up and go back due to a total lack of understanding about the outside world, which they're taught from birth is purely evil. Because the girls often leave school between the ages of 10 and 13 and are immediately married off and impregnated, their emotional and psychological development stops, making it all but impossible to take up growing and learning as adults on the outside. That makes it all the more incredible that Jessop is able to do the work she does, as well as writing such a smart and readable book as this.

Cruise Confidential: A Hit Below the Waterline: Where the Crew Lives, Eats, Wars, and Parties. One Crazy Year Working on Cruise Ships (Travelers' Tales)

Cruise Confidential: A Hit Below the Waterline: Where the Crew Lives, Eats, Wars, and Parties. One Crazy Year Working on Cruise Ships (Travelers' Tales) - Brian David Bruns I really enjoyed this little memoir of crew life on a Carnival cruise ship. It's definitely a job that only a lovesick man in his twenties would undertake. The hours, the labor, the lack of a reasonable social life sound unbearable, but his sense of humor and relentlessly upbeat attitude left me wanting more. Especially since he left us hanging in regards to whether or not he's still with the woman he endured all this for. I'm hoping there's a sequel.

What made me rate it down a star was the way he talked about the women on the ships. Mostly they were beautiful, and that was always the first thing he mentioned. Women he didn't get along with were always ugly and their appearance always figured into any legitimate complaints about their behavior. That just didn't seem necessary. Although I did appreciate that, no matter what he was saying about any given woman, he never resorted to vulgarity. If we had to hear about how big some mean woman's butt was, at least he used the least offensive words possible*.

*This probably doesn't apply to readers familiar with Jamaican and/or Romanian curse words, many of which are no doubt extremely offensive.

Unraveling Anne

Unraveling Anne - Laurel Saville Laurel Saville's memoir of life with a once-famous and now drunk and abuse mother is both fascinating and hard to read. Her mother, Anne Ford, was a rising force in fashion design in the fifties until, according the majority of the book, she became disillusioned (or possibly downright lazy), and lives out the rest of her life on dead dreams and inheritances stolen from her children. It's a sad picture of a broken woman, written by a critical daughter who was apparently perfect in every way by the age of six. Much of it is pieced together from a distance as Laurel left her mother's home at the age of 13 and apparently only saw her again two or three times, for a few hours.

After beginning with her mother's horrific murder in the burned out shell of the family home where she was squatting during her final years and spending well over 300 pages tearing the dead woman to shreds, she generously gives the last four or five pages to a detailed explanation of Anne's life before children, which explains so much it should totally be the first chapter. It kind of comes off as an attempt to get readers completely on her side and hating the abusive, mentally ill woman who gave her life, and then in a passing gesture at fairness, casually mentions that she was abused herself and had very little chance of ever being anything other than what she was. Personally, I thought it was too little, too late.

Maybe that's partly because Laurel's writing style is also slightly pretentious, as if she can distance herself from her abysmal beginnings if she just crams in enough five dollar words. She can't help trying to convince us that she really is smarter and better than her parents (her dad was no prince, either). Unfortunately this means she uses a lot of big impressive words that, if you're actually familiar with them (or have a dictionary), you can't help noticing aren't really accurate. It's very subtle, but I came away with the feeling that she was much like her mother than she knew, even after eviscerating both of them all over the floor. In a way, that was the saddest part.


Bongwater - Michael Hornburg Not as bad as some of the other reviewers think, imo, but not a great work by any means. It had a pleasant familiarity because Portland was my party town during that time, but while I went to the same clubs, I never met these people. Bongwater is a despair ridden novel of the terminal boredom and manufactured drama that some people prefer to actual lives. It's not badly written, but suicide through boredom is in itself boring. Actual people who do nothing but leach and bitch are bad enough without having to read about fake ones.

The Night Strangers

The Night Strangers - Chris Bohjalian I had really high hopes for this story about a family who flees to a country house in New Hampshire after a devastating tragedy. In the basement is a door and behind the door is...something. Something that is possibly exacerbating the husband/father's already unstable mental status. But somehow it never came together for me. I couldn't really care about the characters, partly because everyone but the children were so poorly drawn, and everyone seemed to lack depth. Trauma and melodrama just aren't enough to make a boring person interesting. At least not for 375 pages.

The perspectives shift frequently, and everything from the father's POV is written in second person present, demanding that the reader walk in his shoes. (You climb the stairs silently, a knife clutched in your hand...) It was a mildly interesting tactic at the start, but as the book wore on it became just another irritation. In an attempt to build suspense, the author hides as much as possible about motives and personal histories, but all of it is so easily guessed that it would have been better if he'd found a way to spell it out in the first place.

And the wording. Oh my dog, the wording. Bohjalian really seems to have a problem with pronouns. A character referred to singly in one sentence will be referred to as "the woman" or "the man" in the next, as if we've forgotten already of whom he's speaking. Scenes with the cat, Dessy, are the same, only she's not even "the cat". Rather she is "the animal". Every page has some attempt at mystery or suspense, he truly never misses a chance no matter how slight, but after a few chapters they all fall flat. My biggest regret is that I read it on Kindle instead of a paper book where I could flip ahead to the end and quit. It was every bit as disappointing as I'd feared, btw. But at least I got it from the library so all I lost was two days that could have been spent re-reading The Red Tree.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close - Jonathan Safran Foer Not a book for the impatient or the timid of spirit, but it should go down in history as one of the finest post-9/11 novels. I wish I could give it six stars.

God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question-Why We Suffer

God's Problem: How the Bible Fails to Answer Our Most Important Question-Why We Suffer - Bart D. Ehrman Interesting insights into how the problem of suffering is approached by different writers in the Bible. I went into it hoping for a solid answer that I could take one way or the other--either see the problem as clearly as Ehrman does and reach the same conclusion, or else see that he was wrong and reach my own. But it's not that easy. Ehrman asks all the right question and then shows you how the answers don't work.

I can understand how that drove him into agnosticism and away from the church. But it's still going to take me a while longer. I'm just not the deep thinking that Ehrman requires, because not understanding the very nature of God does not, for me, automatically preclude the existence of God.

The View from Delphi

The View from Delphi - Jonathan Odell This saga of women's rights, race relations, and the intertwining of complex family histories is one of the best books I've ever read. The characters are rich and deep, the local dialect is applied--with appropriate differences--to Black and white alike, and Jonathan Odell is right up there with Michael McDowell when it comes to writing awesome women. This book is an emotional rollercoaster backed with an intelligent story that keeps it from being soppy or preachy. And the mysteries are sufficiently mysterious to keep you guessing til the end.

Cold Moon Over Babylon

Cold Moon Over Babylon - Michael McDowell I can't rate this book highly enough. Suspenseful, terrifying, full of strong characters one can easily relate to and sympathize with. McDowell may well be America's greatest male writer of female characters and his books deserve to be much better known. If you like horror but think that Stephen King is racist and anti-woman, do yourself a favor and read this, or any other, by Malcolm McDowell.

The Glass Inferno

The Glass Inferno - Thomas N. Scortia, Frank M. Robinson *Tiny Spoilers* I had to read this because I'm such a fan of the movie, The Towering Inferno. There are a lot of differences, as the movie incorporated another novel, and some of the things left out were surprisingly good. Not all of the "bad" guys were destroyed so righteously and fewer "good" guys were sacrificed. Even the tubby, middle-aged gay man had a happy ending, and they didn't even to trade off the cat. Totally worth the read.

Just Don't Mess With Us: Family Matters

Just Don't Mess With Us: Family Matters - Andrew Ashling Short, sweet, explicit and kinky. Perfect for a light afternoon of reading hardcore boy-love.


Katie - Michael McDowell Most excellent female killer ever! McDowell has a real flair for writing novels populated almost entirely by strong, awesome women and Katie is no exception.