Friday, May 29, 2015

The Friday Four, Part 120


SpokaneFāVS turned 3 and we had a party!!

A few dozen of us met up at Boots Bakery, ate some yummy vegan appetizers and delicious mini-cupcakes, rubbed shoulders with other Spokanites interested in interfaith conversation, and just generally had a great time.

I am proud to be a part of SpokaneFāVS and I'm looking forward to another three years and another three and more after that!


Last week I linked to a series on Keepapitchinin about women's portrayals in Mormon history. And then Ardis announced that She Shall Be an Ensign is the title of her upcoming book, which will be "a history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, told through the lives of its women"! Ardis is hoping to have it published by Mothers' Day next year and I can't wait!

Learn more about this desperately needed project and donate to help make it happen at her Kickstarter. And go like the facebook page, too, to get updates. I love hearing the stories of women, especially in their own words, and learning from their wisdom and perspective. Women's voices have been largely absent in the telling of the history of the Church, and Ardis is the perfect person to correct that fault and bring this to fruition. I'm so excited!


I've linked to several of the individual "100 Years of Beauty" videos before, but here they are all in a single playlist on youtube! There are videos demonstrating a century of hair and makeup styles in India, Korea, the Philippines, Mexico, Iran, and two in the U.S., and then there are also some videos about the background research for some of the looks, too.  Fascinating...


This slideshow has 33 different maps of the United States or the world. From the highest paid public employee in each state, to the deployment of American troops around the world, to the most insanely gerrymandered congressional district, to the most popular website per state, each map reveals some interesting things about our nation.

And as a bonus, here's a map showing the most popular word using in online dating profiles in each state. Michigan and Ohio both like bonfires. Virginians mention the military. And Indianans like their Nascar. Washington and Arizona have the same word...who would have thought?

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Book Review: Sitting Still Like a Frog by Eline Snel

Life with three young boys is rarely calm and quiet. More often than not, their waking hours are filled with hollering, yelling, whoops of joy, cries of "It's not fair!" and lots of ambient noise. Sometimes it seems that their default volume is LOUD and escalates to REALLY LOUD without much effort at all.

On top of that, one of my boys has been diagnosed with ADHD, though I wouldn't be surprised if at least one more ended up with the same diagnosis down the road. All three have had trouble falling asleep at one time or another during their lives, sometimes for an extended period of months, with the resulting sleep deprivation affecting their personality, school work, and exacerbating the aforementioned ADHD symptoms. Anxiety also runs in the family and I've seen it take its toll on my kids already - "Mom, my head is never quiet!" one of them told me - so I'm constantly looking for ways to help them draw strength from within themselves, calm their over-active brains, and deal with the world around them.

After seeing Sitting Still Like a Frog recommended by a friend, I thought it was worth a shot. I've dabbled in meditation off and on for a few years and have appreciated the benefits; maybe, I thought, it'd work for my kids, too.

The book itself is short, and addresses basic mindfulness lessons in simple language that children, or beginners, can easily grasp. Snel quotes scientific studies and her own experience to show that after participating in a pattern of mindfulness exercises at school, "students and teachers...noticed positive changes, such as a calmer atmosphere in the classroom, better concentration, and more openness. The kids became kinder to themselves and others, more confident, and less judgmental." Who couldn't use that?

She emphasizes repeatedly that "mindful attention requires practice. It does not just happen. Like playing sports or a musical instrument, you learn by practicing frequently and thoughtfully." The exercises on the accompanying CD are short, anywhere from three-and-a-half minutes to nine minutes, some specifically designed to help take a brief pause during the day. Others are geared toward calming anxiety and worries, find places in their bodies where they are holding tension and relax them, strengthening empathy, and helping kids get to sleep.

Snel also draws helpful connections for kids to validate their feelings, own their responses, and empower them to take proper action, useful lessons for anyone.
Stopping and looking closely at the situation enables you to respond differently to different circumstances. Your response can then be less driven by frustration or automatic behavior and can thus be milder and more understanding. You can begin to see that it is not the situation that is causing the problems but your reaction to it.
While all feelings are okay, not all behavior is. We don't necessarily choose our feelings, but we can choose how to express them.
My boys have started requesting a track or two of the CD at night. After trying it out just a couple of times, they found it helps them go to sleep faster and sleep better. It's a bit early to be seeing too many other results, but even if that's the only good that comes out of reading this book and introducing my kids to basic meditation, it's been worth it!

Sitting Still Like a Frog Mindfulness Exercises for Kids (and Their Parents)
by Eline Snel
ISBN: 9781611800586
Buy it from Amazon here: (paperback, ebook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Book Review: The Polygamous Wives Writing Club by Paula Kelly Harline

Paula Kelly Harline has done something remarkable with The Polygamous Wives Writing Club. She has brought polygamy - a topic that few in the modern Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints are truly knowledgeable about or comfortable discussing - in from the "safe" distance provided by keeping it in realm of the theoretical and theological, and grounded it firmly in reality, warts and all.

In all, "Mormon participation in polygamous marriage averaged between 25 and 30 percent if men, women, and children in polygamous families are counted" and "an average of three in every ten Mormon women became polygamous wives." That is not a small portion of our forebears and they deserve to have their stories told - the good, the bad, the ugly, and everything in between.

Using the diaries and autobiographies of twenty-nine Mormon pioneer women who lived polygamy in the late 1800s and early 1900s in Utah, Harline has provided an intimate look at what living polygamy really meant for regular Mormon women, not the famous ones, or the ones married to Church leaders, but those down in the trenches from St. George to Smithfield. In each chapter she introduces two or three women, often from the same area, whose lives parallel each others' in numerous ways, highlighting the similarities and accentuating the differences in families that lived a polygamous lifestyle.

This provides an incredibly nuanced view of "the complicated response" of many women to polygamy. Simply put, in the words of one, "I believed that the principle of plural marriage was from God, but it was still hard--it nearly killed me." However, it was often "a way for women who were alone to become part of a family--although this did not always mean that they were well cared for" as "not infrequently polygamy made a family poorer instead of richer."

Most women profiled in the book express their strong dislike for sharing their husbands.  Even "some prominent polygamous wives married to men in the Salt Lake Mormon hierarchy--including some who participated in political rallies--privately acknowledged that they did not like polygamy." At best, some recognized the "gap between the ideal and what can really be achieved." Even Brigham Young stated that polygamy could create "considerable disharmony and financial strain" and acknowledged that for his family, it was "only a mixed success."

What I saw as one of the possible benefits or comforts of polygamy - friendship and support from one's sister wives - was actually rare in the lives of these women who often lived in separate households or resented having to share a home, especially if there was, they felt, an unfair division of labor. "Writers rarely provided evidence that they were friends with their husbands' other wives. Wives of the same husband generally didn't confide in each other or seek each other's company. Although most wives tried to get along, they were generally indifferent toward each other -- in other words, there was minimal female friendship in the same family." While there are some exceptions to that general rule, it stands that "polygamy thwarted female friendships in several ways."

There were some awful examples of coercion related to the practice of polygamy. In one situation, the first wife was opposed to her husband taking a second wife, "but the authorities advised him to do so anyway, saying that she would be reconciled." In another, a fourteen-year-old girl was married to her stepfather, the man to whom her mother was already married. She relates, "I whispered yes not noing [sic] what I was saying." When Catherine Rogers, a third wife, tried to explain to her husband that she didn't want more children than the five she already had, especially while they were living apart and she was having to support them on her own, he disagreed and she became pregnant shortly thereafter. Women tell how they were taught that "there was no way of getting into the Celestial Kingdom [except] by plural marriage." Uncomfortable echoes of what is still happening in fundamentalist sects today.

Even when relationships were not rocky and were entered into by free will and choice, there were often long periods of separation between husbands and polygamous wives, particularly when they were being hunted by law enforcement and had to go underground. And then the Manifesto, which was issued in 1890 to bring an end to new plural marriages, actually complicated matters significantly for many polygamous families of the time.

Using these women's own words really allows their personalities to shine through.  For example, Henrietta Williams, a first wife, was royally annoyed when friends congratulated the second wife, Electa Jane on having the first son born in polygamy because he "ruled the father's though the father was to turn imbecile and could not rule his own house." Her reaction is priceless: "what rubbish some people can invent, giving it for a principle of the gospel."

I appreciated the insights Harline provides into what the marriage relationship is like in polygamous situations and how it differs from our expectations today. Polygamous wives "had tried to reconstruct their understanding of marriage."
They tried to think of marital love differently: rather than 'finding one's soul mate,' they sought to accept 'a righteous person' who 'shared their beliefs,' and 'cultivat[ed] a love for that person.' They tried to move past the 'love-based marriage,' foster an environment of inclusiveness, and undo the assumption that their husbands were the center of their lives. One seasoned  polygamous wife, Vilate Kimball, reportedly advised an unrelated struggling wife not to think about what her husband was doing when he was away, to be pleased to see him when he came as she would be 'to see any friend,' to 'simply be indifferent' to her husband if she wanted to be happy, and to find comfort 'wholly' in her children.
Times sure have changed, haven't they?

Harline raises lots of questions, questions that these women themselves had, that have no easy answers. Questions like "What are reasonable expectations for a polygamous wife for her relationship with her husband?" "Should a commandment of God be so excruciating that it threatens the health of our minds and bodies?" "Was a good polygamous marriage superior to a bad monogamous marriage? Or is there something inherently wrong with polygamy that keeps it from falling short of its seeming possibilities?" "Were polygamous wives content with their sacrifice? Did the benefits of polygamous marriage for the Mormons outweigh the human toll it required and the embarrassment it continues to bring?"

Ultimately, The Polygamous Wives Writing Club doesn't come down on either the pro- or anti-polygamy side, but simply on the side of the women who have now been given a voice. These women deserve a voice, they deserve to have their stories told and their names known. Paula Kelly Harline has given them, and us, that gift. God bless her for that!

The Polygamous Wives Writing Club: From the Diaries of Mormon Pioneer Women
by Paula Kelly Harline
ISBN: 9780199346509
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcover, audiobookebook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Friday Four, Part 119


The Whitney Awards winners were announced last Saturday and I did pretty well with my predictions! Of  the four categories, I guessed two completely right and my pick for the third won the fourth instead.  Not bad!


Ardis Parshall runs a fabulous website called Keepapitchinin dedicated to bringing Mormon history to a wider audience. She recently started a series of posts called "She Shall Be an Ensign" about how women are portrayed in Church history. So far she has four posts (edited to add: five as of this morning!):

Women as Actors in Church History (and an addendum)
Wicked Witches
Damsels in Distress
The Princess in the Tower
The Heroine's Journey (added this morning!)

Photo credit

Ardis points out the dearth of women in the official Church histories, especially of women who are active participants rather than bystanders or caricatures, and then looks at some of the ways women who are included are portrayed as less than fully realized human beings. I'm really looking forward to the rest of the series!


Check out these maps of the most popular books, movies, and TV shows set in each state. Kind of silly, but fun!


I've never watched an episode of Mad Men, but I found this article - "How Mad Men Helped Me Understand the Anger in My Mother's Feminism" - fascinating. Some people have a stereotypical image of the "angry feminist" stuck in their heads and dismiss all of feminism without trying to understand why that anger might have been - might still be - justified.
I called my mother to talk to her about the show recently. She didn’t like it, she told me. It harkened back to an unpleasant and familiar time. It was then that I realized, this was what my mother came from. No wonder she was so angry. I was born 25 years later, by then, my mother and the women who joined her at the feminist retreats on the weekends had already accomplished much of the bitterly hard work to change the parameters for women. I was born into a time that felt so different precisely because of all that their mode of chest-beating feminism had achieved. I was lucky, I realized, that my mother’s breed of feminism felt so remote.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

2014 Whitney Award Predictions

I only discovered the Whitney Awards last year, but I'm thrilled to have a tool for finding interesting new LDS authors across different genres.  For whatever reason, my local libraries didn't have as many of the finalists this year as they did last year, so I limited my reading to the Middle Grade and YA categories - and even then didn't get to all the books in any group except Middle Grade! So here are my predictions in those three categories:

Middle Grade
Almost Super by Marion Jensen
The Shadow Throne by Jennifer Nielsen
The Time of the Fireflies by Kimberley Griffiths Little

As with last year, I was thoroughly impressed by the quality of all of the Middle Grade finalists, including two that were sequels to previous year's finalists. The one that stood out from the pack, though, is The Scandalous Sisterhood of Prickwillow Place. The delightful, tongue-in-cheek tone, the play on Victorian cliches, and the girl-power message set it apart.  The final installment of Jennifer Nielsen's Ascendance Trilogy, The Shadow Throne, is a very close second for me.

YA General
Death Coming up the Hill by Chris Crowe
Forbidden by Kimberley Griffiths Little
Kiss Kill Vanish by Jessica Martinez
Not in the Script by Amy Finnegan
On the Fence by Kasie West

First of all, I missed out on reading Amy Finnegan's Not in the Script. Of the other four finalists, Chris Crowe's Death Coming up the Hill, grounded in gritty history of the Vietnam War and all the tumult of 1968, is the most unique. The others were solid engaging stories - the exotic setting of Forbidden and the psychological depth of Kiss Kill Vanish in particular - but Death Coming up the Hill has had the most staying power in my brain despite its brevity.

YA Speculative
Cured by Bethany Wiggins
Dangerous by Shannon Hale
Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White
Remake by Ilima Todd
The Glass Magician by Charlie N. Holmberg

Again, I wasn't able to read one of the finalists in this category: The Glass Magician. The books I did read all excelled in world-building, in creating believable societies that differed from ours in important ways, but held enough familiarity to draw readers in. Illusions of Fate wins this category for me. The characters, the relationships, the depth of the historical, political, social and cultural world-creation without bogging down the story or making the narrative serve the message bring it to the top of the heap.

While I only read 13 of the 15 books eligible for Best Youth Novel my vote would go to Death Coming up the Hill. The haunting, affecting story of a teen struggling to make sense of a "world...gone nuts" packs a powerful emotional punch. The unique structure - being told in haikus - serves to highlight and focus the raw emotion, while still allowing room for character and relationship development.

The winners will be announced tonight at the Whitney Awards Gala in Provo, and when they've posted the results I'll link to them. Writing can be a thankless job, and well-deserved recognition slow in coming, so best of luck to all these authors!

Friday, May 15, 2015

The Friday Four, Part 118


I just discovered a new series on Netflix: Turn.  It's set in a small town on Long Island during the American Revolution and follows the intrigues of a handful of rebels each fighting for freedom in their own way. Having spent several of my formative years near Colonial Williamsburg, Mount Vernon, and other historical sites, I love that aspect of the show, as well as the reminder that people who lived long ago really weren't all that different from people today. They loved, hated, fought, laughed, cried, and lived through it all just as we do today.


Anita Sakreesian released a new video in her Tropes Vs. Women in Video Games series, and her second one focused on Positive Female Characters in Video Games.  Not being much of a gamer (at least of video games) I'd never heard of Jade from Beyond Good and Evil, but I appreciate a more rounded character who doesn't simply embody the stereotypes Anita's discussed in her earlier videos.

Jade dresses relatively practically, is from an economically disadvantaged background, uses her various talents to make her way toward her goals, and works as a partner with her companions to fulfill her altruistic desire to save her world.  Anita sums it up:
...we definitely need more games with warm, compassionate, multitalented characters who have realistic and relatable concerns, and more narratives in which taking a stand against corrupt systems of power is more important than personal gain or revenge.

A couple of weeks ago we got a new batch of baby chicks.  Here they are at about two weeks old, right after we got them:

Cute little fuzzy balls of fluff!

And here they are now, at about five weeks old:

Adolescence is an awkward stage no matter the species.
They're about half fluffy fuzz, half feathers, and all adorably awkward. And man, their little chirps are getting loud!


This cute video, from the same folks that did those hair and makeup styles by decade videos, tracks the reaction of an engaged couple to what they might look like 30, 40, or 50 years down the road.  It's awfully sweet.  I even got a little teary-eyed.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Book Review: On the Fence by Kasie West

Last year I read three books by Kasie West and was particularly drawn to her characters and the relationships she created between them.  While On the Fence is most similar to The Distance between Us, instead of starting with two main characters from completely disparate worlds, West starts this story with two main characters who are literally next door neighbors and have been friends since childhood.

Charlotte, or Charlie for short, is the youngest in a family with three older brothers, Jerom, Nathan, and Gage.  Their father, a police officer, has raised them as a single dad since their mother died when Charlie was about six and so Charlie has always been just "one of the boys." Braden, the next door neighbor, is as close as a brother, constantly coming over and hanging out with the four of them, at least partially to avoid his drunk jerk of a father.

Charlie's second speeding ticket in a month leads Charlie's dad to lay down the law - get a job to pay for the fine and the increased car insurance - so Charlie finds a job at a small boutique owned by an eccentric woman named Linda. This job requires that she start dressing in something other than sweats and crew-neck t-shirts, her standard "uniform" as "one of the guys", so knowing nothing about "girly" stuff, she simply takes Linda's advice on clothes. Then Linda asks her to be the makeup model for a demonstration of a new makeup line the store will be carrying - and of course, Charlie never wears makeup - so Linda convinces her to try it by offering her part of the profit from the makeup sales.

And then Charlie actually starts hanging out with *gasp* other girls! And discovers they're not totally shallow creatures she has nothing in common with. And maybe she might actually like some of this "girly" stuff.

Along the way, Charlie starts to realize she has strong feelings for Braden that go beyond friendship. Late at night, they'll often meet on either side of the fence that separates their properties to talk. The fence provides a sense of a "different reality" that allows them to open up and talk more freely than if they were face to face.

The ultimate message of the book is a great one: be yourself; if a guy doesn't like you for who you are he's not worth your time; it's okay to be open to new things. Linda says point blank at one point, "we can't let boys define how we feel about ourselves." All good, empowering messages for anyone to hear. But I have to admit to some annoyance in how the story worked through the process of getting that message across.

For example, at one point, Charlie, an avid A's fan, goes to a baseball game with this really cute guy and plays completely dumb as he explains the game to her in very simple terms.  You see, she's "letting him feel useful" because "guys don't want a competitor, they want a cheerleader." Now, one of the other characters tells her off for it, which I appreciate, but I have a hard time believing after hanging around her brothers that much that she's really that clueless about what guys want in a girl.

And there are tons of situations in the story that reinforce ridiculous stereotypes. Apparently, naming four types of makeup or two hairstyles is a hard question for boys, and every girl knows the author of Pride and Prejudice. And real girls don't play football with the boys - except that Charlie did until she decided she shouldn't because of what this one particular boy might think.

Oh, and Charlie's dad got all his advice on raising a girl from a book, including buying bras and having "the talk" when her period started. Really? There weren't any aunts or grandmas or cousins who could help out? He couldn't reach out to a friend or neighbor, a teacher at school or a woman at church to help Charlie through some of those sensitive topics?

The subplot about Charlie's mom wasn't very well-developed. Without divulging spoilers, I can't say much except that it deserved a more thorough treatment than it got all the way around: what Charlie's mother was dealing with, her father's decision to withhold the complete truth from Charlie, and how Charlie handled the revelation.

To sum up, great overarching message, characters I liked and solid relationships between them, but On the Fence really had some holes for me.

On the Fence
by Kasie West
ISBN: 9780062235671
Buy it from Amazon here: (paperback, ebook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Book Review: Death Coming up the Hill by Chris Crowe

At first glance, it seems like such a gimmick. A novel, composed entirely of haikus, exactly 17 syllables each. The text totaling 16,592 syllables in all, the number of American soldiers who died in 1968 due to the Vietnam War. Each chapter, a new week, boldly announcing the number of deaths reported in the past seven days.

But the strict scaffolding allows powerful images and simplicity to take center stage. Every extraneous detail is omitted and the story is stripped down to the barest essentials and the barest emotion.

Ashe is a seventeen-year-old high school student. His parents are complete opposites in every way - she's a anti-war peace activist, he's a conservative dogmatist - who got married when she became pregnant and only stay together out of their love for Ashe.  Ashe befriends a new girl in his history class, "gorgeous without trying" Angela. Angela's brother Kelly is in Vietnam but her "white peace signs and doves cover[ing] her tie-dyed tee shirt" reveal her as a hippie who "oppose[s] the war but support[s] [her brother] as much as [she] possibly could." Ashe sees in Angela's family the love he so desperately wishes existed in his own.

Finally, Ashe's parents' relationship hits the breaking point and Ashe has to make some hard decisions, brave decisions, even heroic decisions.

The constant tension at Ashe's home is mirrored by the tensions in society at large. 1968 is a tumultuous year not only for the deaths and protests related to the war, but also the racism and riots and the upending of so many status quos. "The world had gone nuts," Ashe observes.

It's a short book, and the haiku format makes it even shorter, so you can easily finish it in a single sitting, but I'd encourage you to read it at least twice to catch some clever foreshadowing and thematic repetition, as well as for the opportunity to read it more slowly, maybe even aloud.

In the historical note at the end, Crowe mentions that the title, and the final two haunting stanzas of the book, are based on an excerpt from a letter included in a Life magazine article published June 27, 1969. (The link is in the note as well, though unfortunately, there's a small typo in the edition I read. However, it's pretty easy to figure out that "amercan" is supposed to be "american" with an 'i'.) The Google Books link here takes you directly to the article, full of the minute details that make individual names and photographs of those who died morph into real people. Sobering.

Death Coming up the Hill
by Chris Crowe
ISBN: 9780544302150
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcover, ebook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Book Review: Kiss Kill Vanish by Jessica Martinez

Imagine being 17 and being head over heels in love. Valentina Cruz was living a favored life of opulence and ease in Key West. Her father's art dealing business provided them with all the necessities of life and then some, and his new employee, the handsome and charming Emilio, took her breath away, and miraculously (to her) reciprocated her interest. He even chose her over her two beautiful, fashionable, and popular older sisters. Even though her mother left them when Valentina was very young, life just couldn't be better.

Until she watches Emilio murder a man, shoot him in cold blood at point blank range, at her father's order.

Her life completely upended, unsure who she can trust, Valentina runs. Landing in Montreal, she scrapes together a living playing on the street with the mandolin she stole from Emilio. She learns how to do basic things - laundry, cooking, cleaning - that she'd never had to do before and gains pride in her self-sufficiency. She starts modeling for a local painter, befriends a local restaurant owner who allows her to practice her mandolin in the empty bar after closing, and finds a dingy apartment she can afford to share with roommates. "This is a cold, disgusting hellhole, but it's mine. I pay for it with money that nobody was murdered for."

Of course, that's not the end of it, and Valentina is dragged back into a criminal world of murder, intrigue, and suspicion.

Despite the rather extreme circumstances, Valentina's character rang true as a teenager who discovers that her entire life is a lie. Just about every time she turns around there's something else she learns that was kept from her, another person who withheld the truth or used her or isn't who she thought. She begins to look back and see the small details she ignored growing up that all pointed to the truth, "but when you've known something forever, you don't see the evidence against it, not even when it's sprouting all around you, blooming and strangling like noxious weeds. Really. You don't. It's only after, looking back, that you see the choking innocents [sic], and then you hate yourself." Confirmation bias is a powerful thing, but man, girl's going to have major trust issues for the rest of her life.

The beginning of the book is pretty slow-paced, more a psychological study than action novel.  The inner workings of Valentina's mind, trying to process the incredible betrayal and falsity of her life, were fascinating and engaging.  Martinez deftly navigated Valentina through a journey of rebuilding from the ground up, deciding who she wants to be and how to get there on her own. Themes of what integrity is worth, wealth and poverty, the ends justifying the means, running away versus facing problems head on, the pain that knowledge and truth can bring compared to the pain that comes from willful blind ignorance, are all dealt with through Valentina's eyes.

The action picks up about half way through, which is where I started liking it less. The plot twists get more and more fantastic and less and less believable, and Valentina starts making some pretty rash and ridiculous decisions, like sneaking across an international border and trying to take down a drug cartel and a corrupt FBI agent all by herself. Well, ok, not completely by herself, but with a recently-cleaned-up druggie she barely knows.

The strength of this book is the tension Martinez writes into the character of Valentina, her struggles to define who she is when everything she has known is ripped away from her and her determination to maintain her integrity on her own terms. I feel the action toward the end distracts from that, though I can see how others would read it as the natural, though far-fetched, progression of her journey.

Kiss Kill Vanish
by Jessica Martinez
ISBN: 9780062274496
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcoverebook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Monday, May 11, 2015

Book Review: Forbidden by Kimberley Griffiths Little

Sixteen-year-old Kadesh and her family live peacefully in the unforgiving Mesopotamian desert. Kadesh enjoys her life and loves her family. The one dark shadow is her betrothal to Horeb, the heir to a wealthy neighboring tribe. She has watched him become cruel and arrogant, different from the boy she once knew, and does not want to marry him. Unfortunately, their fathers have already agreed and it is a matter of honor, so she braces herself to accept her place, one for which many women in her culture would give anything.

And then everything goes wrong.

Kadesh's beloved mother, who danced at her engagement party only the night before, goes into preterm labor and dies in childbirth. One of the two twins born, her parents' first son, dies as well. The rest of their caravan has already departed for the oasis where they will winter and there is no one to feed her infant sister. Then a handsome stranger appears, badly wounded and wandering the desert, and the course of Kadesh's life alters forever...

Kimberley Griffiths Little did her due diligence researching the culture of Mesopotamia. Her descriptions of the clothes, ceremonies, travels, cities, and life in a desert caravan are detailed and evocative, immersing the reader in the sights, sounds and smells of the setting. Some of my favorite scenes were against the backdrop of religion, both that of the desert dwellers, and that worshiped in the temple in the city. The compare and contrast was fascinating, and I appreciated the balanced recognition of the good and bad to be found in each.

Kadesh is a likable character, one that I think Forbidden's target audience will relate to, but exotic enough to catapult them into another world. She chafes against the confines of her parents' and society's expectations, she falls in love with a mysterious stranger who is both wealthy and honorable, she acts courageously to save herself and those she loves. Her relationship with her sister is loving and supportive, but also fraught with the conflicting views and disagreements that any sibling will recognize.

Solid YA novel, especially recommended for those who prefer exotic historical settings.

by Kimberley Griffiths Little
ISBN: 9780062194976
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcover, paperback, ebook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Book Review: The Bishop's Wife by Mette Ivie Harrison

A few days ago I had the opportunity to be part of a discussion group about The Bishop's Wife as part of a women's retreat. I thoroughly enjoyed the lively conversation about the book and the topics it touches and have to credit several of the thoughts in this review to that experience.

Linda's husband has been called to be the bishop, or lay leader, of their congregation. This requires an enormous commitment of time and energy, and Linda feels the strain of supporting her husband and missing him at the same time.  Only the youngest of her five boys is still at home finishing high school, and she primarily fills her time with baking goodies and serving other ward members as "the mother of the ward."

When Carrie Helm, one of the women in the ward, disappears, leaving behind her husband and beautiful little girl, Linda is concerned, especially as she starts to get troubling glimpses into Carrie's marriage to Jared. Then both Jared's father and Carrie's parents show up, and the situation gets more complicated. In the middle of this, Linda reaches out to comfort another woman in the ward, Anna, whose husband is on his death bed and keeping a terrible secret.

First of all, I appreciate a novel geared toward a general non-LDS audience that's populated with real Mormon characters, not practically perfect, or thinly veiled evil, or naively clueless caricatures. While some of the characters, especially several of the men, could have had more depth to them, most of the women were, I thought, well-rounded and I loved the developing friendship between Linda and Anna.  Most of the time Harrison worked idiosyncrasies of LDS terminology and culture into the story unobtrusively, though occasionally her explanations dipped into didactic territory or jarred me out of the narrative.

The mystery itself I found less than plausible. And not even just because there end up being two fairly similar murders in close proximity to Linda. Some of her decisions seemed to be so far from what any normal thinking person would do in similar circumstances, and there were a couple of holes in the plot that were glaring to me.  In addition, I thought the second murder was wrapped up too neatly with a child's long-buried but spontaneously recovered memory.

Even with all that, I like Linda. She loves her faith and its people, but refuses to shut her brain off and turn a blind eye to their faults. "Turning a blind eye can be dangerous" she warns her son. She embodies a live-and-let-live attitude about her beliefs stating "who am I to tell other people their faith is wrong and foolish? If I believe in God even a little, I've already passed into the area of the unscientific." But she still chafes against those who claim her same faith but have vastly different values. Listening to another character's misogynistic tirade, she thinks, "This wasn't my Mormonism...This had nothing to do with my Mormonism."

She recognizes that life isn't black and white, but infinite shades of gray; that most people are a complex combination of both good and bad; that "the human condition [is] being stupid"; that no one - and no church - is perfect. Some tough topics come up including how some women feel like "lesser persons" in the church, inequality in temple sealings between men and women, the "second-class" status of singles in the church, even some historical issues, but I think Linda addresses them fairly if not apologetically or with rose-colored glasses. Seeing choices in dichotomous terms of good and evil might simplify life, but as Linda muses, "mostly I thought it was just an excuse not to have to do the work that seeing shades of grey requires."

Despite being the bishop's wife, or perhaps partly because of it, Linda doesn't have many close friends and often feels lonely. I could relate. In a frank self-assessment she says, "I had grown up with three brothers, and had learned to talk as bluntly as they did. That didn't seem to endear me to other women. But it was also true that my personality was prickly, and that I tended to offend people easily."

A major theme of the book is a caution against placing too much stock in our own perceptions. Several times during the course of the book, Linda makes assumptions about others based on her first impressions that turn out to be inaccurate, but she acknowledges her mistakes and limitations. Likewise, she relates several experiences during which she or others are so sure that they were having a spiritual prompting, only to question that feeling later when events don't pan out well.

A friend of the author who was in our discussion group mentioned that this book is meant to be the first in a series of nine books. I have no idea what mysteries Linda will stumble on next, but it'll be interesting to see where the series goes.

The Bishop's Wife
by Mette Ivie Harrison
ISBN: 9781616954765
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcover, ebook, audiobook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Friday, May 8, 2015

The Friday Four, Part 117


Last weekend I attended a women's retreat over in the Seattle area, Northwest Pilgrims. I literally had not met a single soul there, though I'd conversed with one online. For introverted me it was pretty scary to walk into that first room, but I had such a good, rejuvenating time! Great discussions, time to myself to write, a beautiful setting on the west side of Hood Canal, a few of us even snuck off one night to watch The Avengers: Age of Ultron. I met some amazing women from all walks of life and feel honored to have heard their stories. Can't wait for next year!


And I got to finally meet the fabulous Jana Riess in person!

I adore her book Flunking Sainthood and The Twible's pithy tweetables on each chapter of the Bible make me laugh. She also has a new book out called Flunking Sainthood Every Day: A Devotional for the Rest of Us that I'm excited to dig into. And I never miss a blog post of hers; they're always insightful.


The retreat ended by 1:00 on Sunday, but I heard that the amazing New Testament scholar Julie Smith was giving a fireside at the Seattle North Stake Center at 5:00, so I had to stick around for that. She blogs at Times and Seasons and I find her pieces thoughtful and thought-provoking without fail.

She recently released the second edition of her study guide for the Gospels titled Search, Ponder, and Pray, which I'm slowly working my way through. The interesting aspect of this study guide is that it almost entirely consists of questions. Julie uses her vast knowledge of the New Testament to help draw connections between Old Testament scriptures and New, to point out alternate interpretations of the Greek, to encourage reflection and personal application. She draws in parts of the Joseph Smith Translation, too. It's hands-down one of the best tools for immersion into the Gospels I've ever seen.

I'll get a full review up when I'm done - but I'm only halfway through Luke now, so it'll be a while yet...

And seriously, why does Seattle North Stake get all the cool firesides?


Just for fun, here are "15 Insanely Useful Diagrams for Book Lovers". I liked #5 - helping you determine which Shakespeare play to read next - and #7 - what to read after Jane Austen.

And #12 - a guide to selecting diverse picture books for your kids.

And #14 - how readers make the world a better place.  Yeah, I really like that one.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Book Review: Dangerous by Shannon Hale

I have thoroughly enjoyed many of Shannon Hale's previous books and looked forward to reading her first foray into science fiction. While it started off slow for me, Dangerous improved as it went along and had me on the edge of my seat by the end.

Dangerous introduces us to Maisie Danger Brown. (Can I mention how much I love her middle name?) Maisie is smart, particularly when it comes to engineering, mechanics and technology, but is a little socially awkward, in part because she is insecure about being born missing her hand and part of one arm. At breakfast one morning she notices a contest for entry into "Astronaut Boot Camp" on the back of a cereal box and realizing that it's sponsored by Dr. Bonnie Howell, a renowned scientist who had built a space elevator anchored to a space station on an asteroid in earth's orbit, decides to enter.

Of course, the space camp isn't exactly what it seems; it's actually a recruitment tool for an alien-token-enhanced team that will defend the world from the bad aliens coming to enslave Earth's population.

It's an intriguing premise: alien tokens discovered on an asteroid imbue teenage humans with various superpowers and a mental connection that allows them to function as a seamless unit with the precise skills needed to defeat the enemy. But something goes wrong, the team shatters, and Maisie is left to save the world herself. (And because it's YA fiction, there's a bit of teen romance angst in there, too.)

The beginning felt rushed to me. I wanted more time spent on character development and relationship building. I often re-read a page or two early on because I felt like I must have missed something that connected the dots a little bit more. While Maisie's relationship with her family and best friend Luther were pretty well established from the get-go, her friendships within her team at space camp weren't developed much before they realize the real purpose of their tasks and the action took off. Because those initial building blocks were truncated or rushed, I didn't feel emotionally connected to the rest of the team, which meant that (Spoiler Alert!) their later betrayals and deaths lacked a lot of the impact they could have. And I really didn't get Dr. Howell at all.  I think Hale was going for "brilliant-but-crazy-mad-scientist", but she just came across as awkward, odd and clueless.

Given that rocky start, I'm glad I plowed through because it got much better as it went along. Once the field of characters narrowed a bit and Maisie's family re-entered the narrative, the character development began in earnest and the action didn't stop coming. The alien invasion took an interesting turn, and the story finished strong with several twists I didn't expect.  Definitely worth the read and pushing through the spotty beginning.

by Shannon Hale
ISBN: 97801599901688
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Book Review: Remake by Ilima Todd

There’s an episode of the original Star Trek series in which Captain Kirk resolves a dispute between two warring factions, the Yangs and the Congs, thinly veiled stand-ins for Americans (or Yanks) and Communists, ending with a stirring speech about truth, justice, and freedom. I have heard a (probably apocryphal) tale that when Gene Roddenberry saw it, he is reported to have been displeased by the heavy-handed Moral that overwhelmed the actual story and said that the writers “sold their soul for a pot of message.” That pretty much sums up how I feel about Remake.

In the future, in Freedom Province - what we know as Australia - children are born in batches of ten boys and ten girls. As they grow, these twenty individuals do everything together, eat together, exercise together, learn together, watched over by an ever-changing staff of caregivers with no biological or emotional ties to them. They also are given frequent buzzcuts and hormone suppressants to make them as androgynous as possible. At the age of 17, each person finalizes their choice of name, gender, profession, hair and eye color, everything about who and what they want to be.

While many in the group have already made their decisions, Nine is torn. Her Remake Day looms closer and closer, but she doesn't have any idea what she will choose. Even though she is biologically female, she has somehow internalized a belief that women are weak, pathetic creatures (despite the fact that the Prime Maker, the supreme leader of the colony, is female and approximately half of the people in Freedom Province in all areas of trades and abilities are female) and is deeply insecure. Theron, who has been her best friend as long as she can remember, supports her, protects her from others in the group, and encourages her to make whatever choices will make her happy.

Finally, Nine chooses to become male because she wants to be more like Theron, whom she admires so much. On the way to the Remake facility, however, their transport crashes in the ocean and Nine washes up alone on the shore of a nearby island, Mahawai, where she's taken in by the family that discovers her. The population on this island lives a happy, idyllic, primitive (i.e., no electricity) life in their natural families: father, mother, biological children. No hormone suppression, no “equality”, everyone rejoices in his or her God-given gender and corresponding gender roles and they “accept it without a doubt.”

Without her regular hormone suppression injections, Nine begins to change. Kai, the oldest son of the family that has taken her in, is initially dismissive, angry, and aggressive towards her, but starts to soften as she develops a more womanly figure. Eventually, they fall in love or something like it. They return to Freedom Province when her tracker malfunctions for fear it will lead the bad guys to their peaceful village to destroy their idyllic life.

But I just couldn't care for the main characters. Nine is insecure and wishy-washy, easily swayed by whichever boy she happens to be standing next to. Kai is an absolute jerk to her until - hey! She looks like a girl now! So obviously I must fall in love with her! Theron is a really good guy that Nine leaves without a thought or any explanation when she realizes that he's been sterilized (forcibly and without his knowledge as part of the Remake process) so he can't participate in her new-found dream of having children. Cuz that's good payback for his lifelong friendship.

Mahawai is the embodiment of all that is good and right (though the portrayal of the islanders also felt like an offensive "happy savage" stereotype on several levels). Freedom Province is an extreme version of common mischaracterizations of those who don't buy in to gender essentialism; it's not only the epitome, but also the source of everything evil and wrong, and is trying to impose its approach on the entire world. The author ties every bad thing together in an unbreakable, reductive causal link: everyone's gender is up in the air, so of course families don't raise and care for children, of course everyone is promiscuous and without any long-term connections, of course they devalue human life so much that they enslave others to use as breeding stock, of course no one actually loves each other, of course society is an oppressive dictatorship that keeps people in the dark, and of course no one is truly happy. I mean, obviously.

Basically, everything in this story serves to emphasize that boys are boys (and must therefore be and act this way) and girls are girls (and must therefore be and act that way) and “equality” ("You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means." ~ Inigo) and “choice” (the author hit every code word, didn't she?) are bad. To serve this end, the book is chock full of false dichotomies, black-and-white thinking, blanket assumptions, and transphobic ignorance. There are no shades of grey, no middle ground, no nuance, no recognition that there might be people who don't fit neatly into the boxes provided and, in fact, very forcible rejection of that concept.

Now, perhaps my reading was colored by the fact that I recently read a horrific transphobic and ignorant blog post about gender on an extremely conservative, black-and-white, LDS blog, but I saw too many parallels between the pieces to ignore. I found it ironic that Mahawai is described as a place where people are “loved unconditionally” when it was very apparent to me that Nine was only deemed worthy of love by Kai once she conformed to his expectations of what a female is and does (learn to cook! take care of and love little children! cover up your tempting body!), whereas Theron extended truly unconditional love, respect, and acceptance to her, whatever her choices were.

While the message that accepting yourself for who you are and not trying to be someone else is important, the potentially interesting story in Remake crumbles under the weight of its primary message that boys and girls are Different in Certain Specific Ways and any other perspective is Wrong and will lead to Great Evil. It felt like a novelization of the paranoia and fear, arrogance and condescension I sometimes hear in rants about how the “world” devalues families and gender roles and how other people “aren't truly happy” because they don’t fit the mold some believe God requires of us.


by Ilima Todd
ISBN: 9781609079246
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcoverebook, audiobook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Book Review: Illusions of Fate by Kiersten White

There’s something about fantasy novels that allows authors to more gently explore sensitive subjects that might be too harsh for certain audiences in the broad daylight of realistic fiction. Somehow, removing a situation from familiar surroundings allows us to more closely examine it. That illusion of arms-length provides perspective and softens the blow. Illusions of Fate deals with class and race issues, colonialism, sexism, the politics of warmongering, and literal and figurative power imbalances while telling a smashingly good story.

Jessamin comes from the small tropical island of Melei, which has been colonized by the vaguely European country of Albion. Melei natives are looked down on as barely educated savages by the cultured Albion elite, though Jessamin describes a beautiful and complex culture, and though Jessamin studies hard and is at the top of her classes, her Alben classmates shun and ignore her. One evening, she is accosted in a dark alley on her way to the hotel where she works and lives, when a handsome stranger intervenes. After that, Finn seems to be everywhere she is, watching, smiling, charming her with his manners and kindness, until suddenly he humiliates her at a party attended by the city’s leading citizens, pretending not to know her.

And then Jessamin discovers not only that the world is far more treacherous and magical than she knew, but that she has unwittingly become a pawn in a dangerous game with incredibly high stakes.

I loved Jessamin! She is feisty and smart and capable; she works hard both at school and to provide for herself. She doesn't waste time waiting to be saved by others or lamenting the fact that she doesn't have access to the magical skills of the upper class, but uses her brain and the resources available to her to do what she can to outwit her enemies. Jessamin is compassionate as well as determined, brave, yet snarky and quick-witted. She acknowledges her mistakes, and owns her actions. Her relationship with Finn is a delight to watch as these two strong personalities learn to give and take, and grow and develop together.

As I mentioned earlier, White uses the setting to toss in pointed commentary on the Alben society's cultural limitations on women as well as the constraints on those from the "primitive" Melei, mirroring contemporary issues while never allowing those observations to overwhelm the story itself. The attitudes of different characters towards the possibility of war - and how it would affect their lives and bank balances - were enlightening and pertinent to us today as well.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and appreciated the frank look at serious and timely issues without disrupting the narrative flow. I hope we’ll hear more of Jessamin and Finn’s adventures!

Illusions of Fate
by Kiersten White
ISBN: 9780062135896
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcover, paperback, ebook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Monday, May 4, 2015

Book Review: Cured by Bethany Wiggins

Cured, a sequel to Stung and a Whitney Award finalist in YA speculative fiction this year, centers around a teenage girl named Jacqui Bloom.

Jacqui and her family have been living outside the wall for years. Denied entrance to the safety of the city during the worst of the epidemic and destruction, they've survived by being constantly on guard and bargaining for supplies and goods with those who come seeking her father’s skills as a dentist. 

Jacqui lives as Jack, a boy, to avoid the attention of the bandits who kidnap and rape women and girls, unable to leave the property and chafing at the restrictions and fear she lives with on a daily basis. A brief encounter in Stung with an old classmate Fiona starts the wheels in her mind turning.

When Fiona’s mother turned 55, she was exiled from the city as was the law under Governor Soneschen. She turned to Jacqui's family for help, as she and Jacqui's mother had been good friends. Jacqui's older brother, Dean, offered to help her reach the safety of a city rumored to be in the Rocky Mountains, but he never returned.

And Jacqui wants to know why.

Now that there is a cure, she sets out for the city to enlist Fiona’s help in finding her brother and Fiona’s mother. Fiona, her boyfriend Bowen, and her brother Jonah join Jacqui on the quest to track them down. Along the way they are betrayed by raiders, meet a vagabond who is more than he seems, and encounter more dangers than they could have imagined.

As with Stung the action is non-stop with one obstacle after another. The world building is well done, even if that world is misogynistic in the extreme. Again, rape is an ever-present threat for the women in the story and younger readers may need some discussion and context for that topic.

I’ll freely admit that I liked Jacqui more than I liked Fiona. She seemed scrappier, more capable, and while there was still a love interest, it developed more out of mutual admiration and affection than adrenalin and circumstance.

A great deal of the novel is told in flashbacks which I felt communicated backstory and motivation effectively without interrupting the flow of the narrative. There are sufficient plot twists that the story doesn't get too predictable or stale, and though it’s sometimes are to tell friend from foe, all comes right in the end.

Like Stung, Cured is a heart-racing, page-turning, action-packed entertaining diversion for an(other) afternoon.

by Bethany Wiggins
ISBN: 97808027341204
Buy it from Amazon here: (hardcoverpaperbackebook)
Find it at a local independent bookseller.
Look it up on Goodreads.
Check it out at your local library (find the nearest one here).

Friday, May 1, 2015

The Friday Four, Part 116


Last Sunday was the third annual Faith Feast with SpokaneFAVS!


We started the evening at Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox with an amazing spread of Greek appetizers including hummus, roasted red peppers, and olives with pita bread; dolma (deliciousness wrapped in a grape leaf), and incredible baklava.  Nick, the chef, claimed it was his first time making baklava ever, so it must come naturally with the Greek blood. ;)

Their sanctuary is gorgeous and colorful, full of fantastic stained glass and bold iconography. Father Stephen and Deacon Timothy commented that you never feel alone there!


The Spokane Central Seventh Day Adventist congregation welcomed us warmly at our next stop. They had impressive displays set up showing their many ministries including God's Closet, a TV station, a radio station, and humanitarian outreach in India and Nepal.

Their entree offerings were entirely vegetarian, including "meat"balls and "chicken" that were really good!

After a filling dinner, we moved up to their sanctuary, completely different from Holy Trinity, but beautiful and welcoming in its simplicity.


We ended the evening at Salem Lutheran Church. Homemade strawberry shortcake topped of the progressive meal perfectly.

Because we're still in the Easter season, their bright, open sanctuary is decked out in white.  I also love that they rearranged the pews so the altar is in the middle with seating all around, indicating a more central and involved congregation.

It was a fabulous evening full of wonderful food, listening, and learning, and I can't wait to do it again next year!