Educated by Tara Westover

EducatedSummary:

Tara Westover was 17 the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her “head-for-the-hills bag”. In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father’s junkyard.

Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent.

Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty and of the grief that comes with severing the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes and the will to change it.

My take: 5 looks ***SPOILERS***

The above summary, taken from Goodreads, is so complete that the hard facts of this book are already in front of you. However, to read this book, for me, was to feel on a visceral level a mere fraction of the feelings that Ms. Westover experienced. To read this book for insight on the mentality of doomsday prep, anti-government sentiment, fundamental Mormonism, and militia ideology is to miss underlying truths of human nature, as well as asking questions about what sets some apart, and not others. 

The first thing that struck me was the slow and steady descent of mother and father into a more fundamental and primitive way of thinking and living. In the beginning, they were just like “everyone else”. Nothing about their early days together were out of the ordinary in a Mormon life. The father, thought to suffer from both bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, isolated his family more and more as his mental health deteriorated. In fundamentalist fashion, the mother followed him without question. There were moments of strength for her, like when she told Tara not to give up her goal of going to college, but other times she chose to remain maddeningly silent, like when Shawn was hurting Tara in the next room. While there was never a mention of the mother having mental illness, it seems to me that this was probable. I don’t owe it to her accident, either. I think she would have made these toxic decisions regardless. 

The idea that caused me to close the book and ponder, though, was what set Tara apart from her peers in college. She obviously excelled, despite having no formal education until her acceptance to BYU. What was it about her papers, the style of her writing, the topics she chose and the way she presented them that caused her instructors to be so enamored? One paid her tuition and expenses to keep her in school. What did they see about this young lady that was obviously absent in others? The fact that she was first rejected for Cambridge leads me to believe that her background gave some of these professors an inclination to favor her. If you simply saw her application, essay, and admission criteria, she didn’t make the mark. However, if you met with her and got to know her … well, that made the difference. All of the instructors mentioned in the book are men, and I think they invested themselves in her success, as well as feeling a strong sense of protection for her.

This is NOT to say that Westover was handed her academic honors and degrees out of pity. She is obviously extremely intelligent, and spent much time studying and overcoming that which she had been denied growing up. She showed an innate hunger for knowledge, desire to overcome ignorance, and an unrivaled work ethic. She worked extremely hard and earned all of her accolades, once she got her foot in the door.

And all of this while remaining emotionally stunted. Years and years of returning to those who abused her, failed to protect her, and showed little-to-no concern for her well-being. Her deep and seemingly unseverable ties to her past, even in light of her increased knowledge and understanding in her new life, never really left her. What was that something buried so deeply within her that kept compelling her to return the the mountain she had called home? Why would someone so enlightened continue to go to a place where she is constantly sabotaged? Why would she struggle so when she finally can no longer lie and submit to her mother and father’s outlandishly harmful threats and accusations?

In the end, I can understand why Audrey behaved as she did. She was firmly entrenched in the family, with no real desire to leave, and seemed very easily persuaded. I found Erin’s email to the mother very confusing, in light of her conversation with Tara. I was pleased that Richard and Tyler remained stalwart brothers.

As for Tara, I saw glimpses at the end of the potential of a strong woman, with the desire to live life, finally, on her own terms. However, her past behavior and insistence on making amends with her family over and over again, leave me with little confidence that she will be able to leave that part of her life behind completely.

There is so much more to this book than the themes I have detailed. My advice? Read it!

The Masterpiece by Fiona Davis

The MasterpieceSummary:

Fiona Davis takes readers into the glamorous lost art school within Grand Central Terminal, where two very different women, fifty years apart, strive to make their mark on a world set against them.

My take: 3 looks

In the late 1920’s, Clara is the only female art instructor at the Grand Central School of Art. She is a talented artist in her own right, but as an illustrator, as well as a woman, finds it difficult to break into the male-dominated art world of New York. All traces of Clara, her art, and her life disappear in 1931. 

Years later, newly divorced Virginia takes a position in the information booth at Grand Central Terminal. When lost one day, she stumbles upon the many-years-closed art school, and a wonderful piece of art done by the mysterious artist Clyde.

So sets the groundwork for this fun and easy read. Bringing history into the narrative is well done, showing the heyday of Grand Central through to the efforts to save it as as an historical landmark. Davis penned such a strong character in Clara that I actually looked to see if she were a real person. Virginia’s story line was a bit slow for me, but the addition of her daughter and brother perked up the story a bit toward the middle. 

When these two paths started to converge, I felt that it may have been a bit rushed, hitting the conclusion nicely, but without much background, support, and narrative. I liked where it ended, but I wanted to know more about the path everyone took to get there. There was such wonderful detail in the majority of the book, I just wanted more toward the end. With that said…

It is a wonderful summer read, and I recommend it.

The Librarians TV Series

Librarians, the - Season 03Did you know about this??

The Librarians is an American fantasy-adventure television series developed by John Rogers and broadcast on TNT, which premiered on December 7, 2014. It is a direct spin-off of The Librarian film series, sharing continuity with the films.

EGAD! I am going straight to streaming media and see what is is all about!

Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty

Nine Perfect StrangersSummary:

Nine people gather at a remote health resort. Some are here to lose weight, some are here to get a reboot on life, some are here for reasons they can’t even admit to themselves. Amidst all of the luxury and pampering, the mindfulness and meditation, they know these ten days might involve some real work. But none of them could imagine just how challenging the next ten days are going to be.

Frances Welty, the formerly best-selling romantic novelist, arrives at Tranquillum House nursing a bad back, a broken heart, and an exquisitely painful paper cut. She’s immediately intrigued by her fellow guests. Most of them don’t look to be in need of a health resort at all. But the person that intrigues her most is the strange and charismatic owner/director of Tranquillum House. Could this person really have the answers Frances didn’t even know she was seeking? Should Frances put aside her doubts and immerse herself in everything Tranquillum House has to offer – or should she run while she still can?

It’s not long before every guest at Tranquillum House is asking exactly the same question.

My take: 3 looks

Ever the page-turning author, Moriarty does it again with a book that is almost finishable (I know, it’s not a real word) in one seating. Beginning with “Big Little Lies”, I grab a book by Moriarty as soon as it hits the “New Releases” section at the library. True to fashion, she didn’t let me down here. 

One thing that I can count on with this author’s books is that the characters all seem very real, very relatable, and I am always immediately invested. The almost-washed-up romance novelist, the newly-rich young couple investing in things that will never last, the family of three still grieving over a death in the family, the fat man who looks very familiar, the  spa-junkie, and the tired, washed out mother of three. They were all present and accounted for. Their backstories were compelling, realistic, and I agreed that they all needed ten wonderfully transformative days at the remote, impressive, and mysterious Tranquillum House.

We met the enigmatic Masha at the beginning of the book, where she has a live changing event, and her trajectory is forever changed. And therein lies my one fault with the book. I wanted to know more and more and more about Masha and how she arrived at the place where she desired to transform others’ lives. Moriarty is not known for series or sequels, but there is definitely a prequel here of Masha’s former life. She is compelling, mysterious, and a pro at reinvention. To get to know her in her formative years would be a fixating read. As the vision, plan, and power behind this very expensive ten day transformation, she is able to key in on the very elemental needs of her guests. I want to know the path her life took to get her there. 

With that said, read the book. It is a few hours you will spend between the pages, only to find yourself thinking about it days after the cover is closed. 

Recommended.

National Library Week: and that’s a wrap

Libraries = Strong Communities, Celebrate National Library Week, April 7-13, 2019, American Library Association, ALA Library Champions, Libraries Transform

As National Library Week 2019 wraps up, my mind dwells on the the changing face of the public library in my lifetime.

A community public library is one of the only places in existence where anyone, regardless of background, income level, education, or physical or mental considerations can come. For free. 

The library has always offered warmth, openness, acceptance, and safety. And all of this while helping to increase knowledge, gain education, answer questions, and help with quests. 

I am of the generation who used the paper card catalog, periodical index, and microfiche to write a five page paper, double-spaced on an IBM Selectric typewriter.

Now, we have the internet, electronic books, magazines, and newspapers, all available on our numerous mobile devices. Simply type a few key words into the search bar, and you have a number of sites from which to choose for your information. 

We have truly come a long way.

So, does that make the public library obsolete at worst, and stale at best? 

No way! While it’s true that the library is not the only way to write a term paper these days, it is much more than a depository for books. The library is a meeting place. A place where we tell our stories, listen to others, and support one another through education and understanding. In this way, libraries connect and support communities, strengthen understanding and compassion, and all of this builds a solid foundation for becoming impassioned and active in growing and bettering our communities. 

Join me today in showing support for this vital community resource, and patronize your library.

Elevation by Stephen King

Elevation

Summary:

The latest from legendary master storyteller Stephen King, a riveting, extraordinarily eerie, and moving story about a man whose mysterious affliction brings a small town together—a timely, upbeat tale about finding common ground despite deep-rooted differences.

My take: 3 looks

Scott Carey and his friend, retired doctor Bob Ellis, are trying to figure out how and why Scott is losing about 2 pounds per day, but looking no different physically. At this rate, Scott determines that he will be weightless by the end of March.

Throw in a gourmet vegan restaurant owned by a married lesbian couple, borderline hate speech and total lack of support from a very conservative Castle Rock, and an upcoming (and very competitive) 12K, and you’ve got yourself an interesting novella. 

This seems to be geared to a YA audience since it lacks the normal King profanity, sex, and out-and-out terror. More along the lines of “The Green Mile”, as opposed to “Gerald’s Game”. At a light 147 pages, I read this in a few hours at a local coffee house. The book has some very good elements for a teen book discussion: alternative lifestyles, tolerance, hate speech, community, sacrifice, and death. That’s a lot to pack into a novella, and only an accomplished author like Stephen King could pull it off.

Recommended.

The Only Woman in the Room by Marie Benedict

The Only Woman in the Room

Summary:

Hedy Kiesler is lucky. Her beauty leads to a starring role in a controversial film and marriage to a powerful Austrian arms dealer, allowing her to evade Nazi persecution despite her Jewish heritage. But Hedy is also intelligent. At lavish Vienna dinner parties, she overhears the Third Reich’s plans. One night in 1937, desperate to escape her controlling husband and the rise of the Nazis, she disguises herself and flees her husband’s castle.

She lands in Hollywood, where she becomes Hedy Lamarr, screen star. But Hedy is keeping a secret even more shocking than her Jewish heritage: she is a scientist. She has an idea that might help the country and that might ease her guilt for escaping alone — if anyone will listen to her. A powerful novel based on the incredible true story of the glamour icon and scientist whose groundbreaking invention revolutionized modern communication, The Only Woman in the Room is a masterpiece. 

My take: 3 looks

I had heard about the scientific accomplishments of Hedy Lamarr a few years ago, so when I saw this book on the “New Releases” shelf of my local library, I grabbed it. A fan of historical fiction, I try to keep in mind the nuances and literary license that an author must take to round out the story, or make it compelling to the reader. In this novel, I was interested in the relationship Hedy had with her mother, which was a bit contentious, formal, and cold. Her father was exactly the opposite. As an only child, and very close to my mother, this was a bit heart-wrenching for me. I enjoyed this aspect of the storytelling.

The majority of the novel was taken with her first, and very short, marriage to a wealthy munitions manufacturer during the Nazi invasion of western Europe. Even though it was crucial in setting the stage for the basis of her knowledge of the inner workings of the war, as well as the vulnerabilities of the enemy, I felt that there was a bit too much time devoted to this section, at the expense of the rest. In hindsight, I would have preferred more time devoted to the development process of fluctuating frequency, the experience of trying to sell the idea to the government, and the dichotomy of Lamarr’s beauty and brilliance in the 1940s and 50s Hollywood.

All-in-all, this was an entertaining book, gave a nice foundation of the background on Lamarr, and sets up the reader to be hungry for more research and information on this amazing woman.  

Recommended.