Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Beyond Belief

Author: Jenna Miscavige Hill

One-sentence summary: Jenna, the niece of Scientology leader, David Miscavige, details her childhood as part of the Sea Org and how she escaped with her husband.

B.A.D. Girls Book Rating: 7

Our favorite thing about it: SO interesting to learn more about Scientology from the inside. What really goes on, what they believe and practice and why.

Our least favorite thing about it: Too many details.

Main Topics of Discussion: Cults, Religion, Family, Child Labor, Power/Money

Our favorite quote: “The problem is that Scientology is a system that makes it nearly impossible for you to think for yourself.”

Notes: A good summary of our thoughts about this book: really, really interesting/eye-opening, but should have been streamlined better. We felt that the editor left in far too many details and stories that were the same as ones already detailed and could have been left out without harming the information presented or the story as a whole. As interesting as this tory was (and it really was), we still got bogged down in the repetition and minutiae. Some other thoughts:
  1. We all noticed (and laughed about) all the acronyms in Scientology. They seem to literally have one for everything. It’s humorous and annoying at the same time.
  2. There is no other way to describe Scientology other than as a cult.
  3. We talked about the parallels of Scientology with Christianity and some of the pitfalls religion can easily fall into.
  4. We all agreed that any religion/organization that actively and openly tries to separate you from your family (especially spouse and children) even while you are both/all still part of the religion/organization, is definitely no good.
  5. Public Scientologists and especially celebrity Scientologists only get the glossy cover view of Scientology. They do not really see or hear about all of the terrible exploitation, cruelty, and sometimes imprisonment that happens in the Sea Org.
  6. We found it really amazing that Jenna’s parents didn’t try to convince her to leave after they did. They wisely let her come to that conclusion on her own since she was already a teenager.
  7. It was so much harder for Jenna and her husband to both get out than it would have been for just one of them to leave. Bravo to them for both managing to do it, stay together, and reconnect with their families.
  8. As appalled as we were by the inner workings of the Sea Org and Scientology, we are relieved that the veil is being lifted by brave authors like Jenna and other influencers like Leah Remini. This stuff needs to be known.
  9. We wonder how people do not see that all the money they pay to Scientology to get clear or cross the bridge goes directly to David Miscavige. They are paying to be part of a cult.
  10. It’s amazing and horrifying how far the henchmen and women of the Sea Org would go to prevent someone leaving. That is another red flag to us.
  11. The things that cause Jenna to leave are the same things we kept thinking over and over as we read. But we tried to put ourselves in her shoes…she was raised from birth with this mindset, and that must have been so hard to overcome. And so hard to leave everything she’s ever known.

Memorable Meeting Moments: Eating dinner out at a fun new restaurant with fun cocktails!

What We Ate: Christina treated us to dinner at The Heritage Table for our Friendsgiving meal this year. We all shared Butternut Squash Fritters and the Cheddar Fries for appetizers. We each ordered different things: Grilled Salmon, Chicken Pot Pie, Fish Tacos, Mac n’ Cheese, and Chicken Noodle Soup. We finished our meal off at Christina’s house with Rachel’s Pecan Cheesecake Pie and ice cream.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

The Polygamist's Daughter

Author: Anna LeBaron

One-sentence summary: Anna details her childhood inside a polygamist cult and also her escape from that life and the aftermath.

B.A.D. Girls Book Rating: 7

Our favorite thing about it: The story is just mesmerizing and also offers a lot of hope.

Our least favorite thing about it: Probably just having to learn about everything Anna went through. It’s rough.

Main Topics of Discussion: Polygamy (of course!), Religion, Power, Misogyny, Counseling, Child Labor

Our favorite quote: “I was starving. But that physical hunger paled in comparison to my hunger for someone – anyone – to care for me and want me.”

Notes: We’ve read books about polygamy before (actually, one by Anna’s aunt), but this was the first one we have read from the perspective of a child and not a wife. Anna was able to escape before she was married off as a wife of a polygamist. So, while all stories like this are fascinating, hers was a new perspective for us and we really enjoyed it.

One of the unique things about her story is that she details how her life unfolded after she was able to get out of the polygamist cult. There were so many things about this part of the story that would not have been complete had she stopped when she got out. Continuing relationships with family, fall-out after Ervil’s death and remaining orders to his followers, her family and children. They all played a part in her whole story.

Equally as important is her details about her childhood. We all talked about how we could completely believe that she remembered all of these details because they were traumatic. Some parts were hard to read and it’s hard to believe they really happened and still probably happen in some form or another to children.

Probably the most wonderful thing about Anna’s story is her overcoming all of this tragedy in her life. She talks about getting counseling and addressing the PTSD that she suffers still today from all of these events.

Finally, it was such a treat to speak with Anna herself – in person! She lives just 30 minutes from us and came to our meeting. She was really personable and answered all of our questions with candor. Honestly, she addresses so much in her book and in the Q&A at the end, that there were few questions we had, but she still filled in with insight, hope, and details. She is such a strong, faithful example and just a delight to have as our guest. And we are always thrilled when we get to speak with authors!

Memorable Meeting Moments: The most memorable thing about this meeting was that we got to meet Anna in person! She came to our meeting and talked to us about life and her book for hours. It was so unique and fun and insightful. The other major memorable thing was that we celebrated Lindsay’s 40th birthday!

What We Ate: We took Lindsay to Frisco’s Rail Yard food truck park for her birthday dinner. We all got different things, but several had empanadas, and the sweet and spicy shrimp. We had dessert chocolate chip cookies back at Rachel’s house (along with some cheese and crackers, wine, and veggies – in honor of Lindsay!).

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

Author: Arundhati Roy

One-sentence summary: The lives of several characters in India interweave as the country and their personal lives encounter crushing violence and upheaval.

B.A.D. Girls Book Rating: 5

Our favorite thing about it: Roy crafts sentences beautifully and uses recurring imagery ingeniously. Sometimes whole paragraphs were just begging to be reread and highlighted because they were so well done.

Our least favorite thing about it: The story lacks cohesiveness. We felt like it was all over the place and that hurt the overall narrative.

Main Topics of Discussion: Eastern culture/wars, Imagery, Transgenders, Hindu vs. Muslim, Caste System, Relationships

Our favorite quote: “Enemies can't break your spirit, only friends can.”

Notes: We wanted to like this book more than we actually did. There were snatches of brilliance, but overall, the flaws in character development (or lack thereof), and in the narrative arc were too distracting to overcome. Here are some things we discussed:

  1. The digressions and rants water down the overall message.
  2. We found the language barrier difficult – there were Indian phrases or words that we didn’t understand. Sometimes context would help, but not always. It was pretty hard for a Western reader to understand. Not just the language, but the culture/history of India as well.
  3. Some of the imagery we appreciated and talked about: lost/recovered children, sacrifice/self-denial, transgressing social boundaries
  4. We found it poignant (and also weird) that they made a home in a graveyard. Lots of imagery there. They named it Jannat (paradise), which indicates a new kind of Eden. Life intersects with death here.
  5. Hijiras, the Indian term for transgenders, are traditionally and legally accepted as a third gender, BUT they are still marginalized. We found that interesting for such an ordered social system.
  6. Parts of the book were incredibly vivid and sharp – tales of war, cruelty, pain. One such instance that highlights this is how the reader gets dragged along in the deception that plagues the social worker in America. Then we find out the truth and it highlights the dichotomy.

Memorable Meeting Moments: Dara and Amberly captured a “slow pour” of the very tasty sparkling Rose wine. We also celebrated Dara’s birthday month.

What We Ate: Zuppa Toscana soup, bread with olive oil and balsamic for dipping, baked ziti and salad, and pumpkin dump cake for dessert.

Monday, August 28, 2017

Killers of the Flower Moon | August 2017

Author: David Gann

One-sentence summary: Osage Indians begin to be murdered at an alarming rate in the 1920s after becoming rich from oil rights; the FBI is able to solve at least a few of the murders and uncover a conspiracy against the Indians for their money.

B.A.D. Girls Book Rating: 7

Our favorite thing about it: The history we learned about the Osage tribe as well as the prejudices of the time and the intricacies of fighting for justice at this time in American History.

Our least favorite thing about it: Sometimes too much detail and back story, which bogged us down and made the book too long/not as concise as it could have been.

Main Topics of Discussion: Marriage Relationships, the 1920s in America, Corruption, American Indians and our Government, Guardianship of Oil Money, Injustice, Discrimination

Our favorite quote: “The world’s richest people per capita were becoming the world’s most murdered.”

Notes: We enjoyed the history about this time period and the history of the Osage tribe as well as the beginnings of the FBI. We do wish that a little more editing had been done to the book so that the story was “tighter” and not so bloated with facts that, although interesting, were further removed from the main plot. Other things we discussed:

1. We thought there were a lot of characters and some of us had trouble keeping them all straight.
2. The discrimination that the Indians faced at this time in our history was staggering. Just hearing the specific details about how they were treated was eye-opening. The one that made our blood boil was the guardianship that the government placed on full-blood Osage so that they were not in control of their own money.
3. We found it crazy the lengths people (white men, usually) would go to in order to get their hands on the extreme wealth of the Osage. Marrying an Osage, having children with them, and living with them for more than a decade. Or killing them in cold blood and paying off countless people to cover the tracks. It was all pretty shocking.
4. We felt the helplessness of the Osage when they were not able to get justice for so long and lived in literal fear for their lives. What a terrible injustice.

Memorable Meeting Moments: We got to admire Amberly’s new sofa and got our green “Girls Just Wanna Have Sun” tanks.

What We Ate: Amberly made stuffed Cornish hens for each of us along with Pioneer Woman’s mashed potatoes and roasted brussels sprouts with bacon. She also had a peach, mozzarella and avocado mix with balsamic. We had macarons in various flavors for dessert.

Monday, July 31, 2017

The Girl With Seven Names | Lake House 2017

Author: Hyeonseo Lee

One-sentence summary: A young girl escapes from North Korea and begins a harrowing journey to defection while helping others to escape as well.

B.A.D. Girls Book Rating: 8

Our favorite thing about it: The glimpses into daily life in North Korea were fascinating.

Our least favorite thing about it: The truth of the injustices still happening.

Main Topics of Discussion: Indoctrination, Education, Government, Family, Sacrifice, Drugs, Corruption

Our favorite quote: “To know that your rights are being abused, or that you are abusing someone else’s, you first have to know that you have them, and what they are.”

Notes: All of us liked this book and found it so very interesting. We wanted to read this book since very little information gets out about North Korea. Consider our eyes opened. We admired Hyeonseo’s persistence and determination so much. Some other things we discussed:

1. We were all surprised by the circumstances of Hyeonseo’s departure from North Korea. No spoilers – but we expected something different here.

2. Not surprisingly the Kim’s keep their power through fear tactics. While the nature of their power was not surprising, some of the specifics still were. Threatening families of defectors or disobedient citizens is apparently very effective in keeping everyone in line. It’s not just that you yourself can come to harm if you try to leave; the larger point seems to be that they will kill your family if you do.

3. The amount of obstacles in the way of Hyeonseo truly defecting for good with no danger of being returned to North Korea was staggering. There were so many times when it would have been easy for her to give up, but she persisted. And successfully brought her brother and mother over as well.

4. It was so interesting to read about what life is like for those that do escape. Because of their extreme brainwashing, they have such a hard time living anywhere other than North Korea. Everywhere else is just so different. It reminded us of prisoners who get out on parole and find it very difficult to assimilate back into normal society.

5. We should have assumed the teaching about the United States would be extremely negative, but we were actually surprised by this a bit. Students are taught not just to dislike or distrust Americans, but to vehemently hate them as ultimate enemies. That is not an exaggeration. Students are taught from an early age that Americans are out to kill them. Plain and simple.

6. We were also fascinated to learn about the spin the Kim’s place on the history of the Korean war…most notably that South Korea started it!

7. Having grown up in America it was so foreign to us that people would not even know what human rights are. But North Koreans don’t even know what they are missing out on. They are literally shut out from the rest of the world.

8. Other interesting things about education: the education that North Korean children receive is largely propaganda about their own government. It amounts to no education at all in terms of academics.

9. It was shocking to us that it is widely accepted to make and sell drugs for money. That is what the government does for money and they see nothing wrong with this. 

10. It was heartening to learn of Dick, the Australian, and the fact that people exist who will help strangers in a BIG way. He changed Hyeonseo's life most definitely. 

Memorable Meeting Moments: We had our meeting outside, down by the lake at the lake house. We watched the sunset while we had our discussion.

What We Ate: Probably our beef tacos and cookies!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

A Gentleman in Moscow

Author: Amor Towles

One-sentence summary: A Russian aristocrat is sentenced to confinement in the Metropol Hotel in Moscow during the Bolshevik Revolution for the rest of his life.

B.A.D. Girls Book Rating: 6

Our favorite thing about it: The beautifully crafted writing.

Our least favorite thing about it: Not as much story as we were expecting. Not a big story arc.

Main Topics of Discussion: Bolshevik Revolution, Russia, Classes in Society, Change, Etiquette and Courtesy, Human Nature

Our favorite quote: “It is of interest of times to change, Mr. Helecki. And it is the business of gentlemen to change with them.”

Notes: Most of us liked this book well enough but thought that it didn’t have enough of a story to hold our attention. Things happened, but there was not a driving plot that kept us wanting to come back to find out what happened next. Aside from that, the book was enjoyable. And it had some of the best writing and beautifully crafted sentences. Other things we noted/discussed:

1. There were cliffhangers surrounding Nina and her outcome. We were slightly bothered by not knowing what had happened to her after she dropped Sophia off at the hotel. We recognize that this was just part of the times in Russia and it served to illustrate how tenuous thing were, but it also just bugged us.

2. We thought the political discussions, thoughts, ideologies, and tensions were fascinating. Whether it was Mishka, Osip, or the Bishop, the author used these people to illustrate what was going on in the country and in the minds of those who were setting up Russia for its communist years. And the Count’s thoughts and experiences of Tsarist Russia were interesting as well.

3. The theme of community at the expense of individuality was one aspect of the political landscape we discussed and found fascinating. Especially as it foils the polar opposite track of America where individualism reigns supreme, sometimes to the detriment of community. The issues of loss of identity also came into play here and brought up questions about erasing identity for the common good…and is that actually good at all?

4. It’s interesting that this author’s other book is called The Rules of Civility, because we found the Count’s own rules of civility to serve him quite well and we saw how the loss of that civility and courtesy can erode relationships and also a nation especially when it is not valued by leadership.
5. We loved the time period and were glad to read a book about Russia during this time – we did not thing we had read another book occurring during this time period so it was nice for a change and interesting to dive into.

6. The theme of Change was a big one and explored at length through all the changes (big and little) that occurred in Russia, the hotel, and in the Count’s life. This could almost be called the main theme of the book and watching how the aristocratic lifestyle was dismantled from the perspective of the Count was wonderful (albeit sad in places) and insightful.

7. The ending was not surprising to us, but it was interesting to note how much the Count had to have changed (mostly because of Sophia) to leave his beloved Russia after putting up with so much thus far. He came back DURING a revolution and stayed despite being in danger, but decided to leave for her sake in the end. We found this both believable and a satisfying end to his tale.

Memorable Meeting Moments: We met at Rachel’s house and made our own dinner…personal pizzas.

What We Ate: Cheese and crackers with wine, Pizza, and Peanut Butter Pie

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Monday, May 08, 2017

This Is How It Always Is

Author: Laurie Frankel

One-sentence summary: A couple with 5 boys discovers that their youngest child is more comfortable being a girl, and their entire family has to deal with the trials and triumphs associated with that.

B.A.D. Girls Book Rating: 8

Our favorite thing about it: The very interesting way the author let you “peek in” on a family dealing with a transgender child and all that encompasses.

Our least favorite thing about it: Some of us found the Grumwald fairy tale very annoying! And also certain aspects of Penn and Rosie.

Main Topics of Discussion: Parents and Children, Family Dynamics, Transgender issues in society, the Role of Culture, Fear of “Other”, Either/Or/Both

Our favorite quote:You tell your story. That is what we all must do.” “That’s not magic,” said Grumwald. “Of course it is,” said the witch. “Story is the best magic there is.”

Notes: There are two notable things about our particular discussion of this book:

1) We had some widely varying opinions on the same things in the book
2) We had a LOT to say about this book.

Overall we all really liked the book and were fascinated and empathized with the challenges Rosie and Penn faced in their unique parenting situations. We felt it was such an interesting topic to explore and very timely for our culture right now. As parents, we appreciated reading the book through the perspectives of the two main characters – who were speaking as parents. Some of the things we discussed:

As mentioned above, some of us really did not like the story-telling and fairy tale that Penn made up throughout the book. Some of us thought it was cheesy. Interestingly, almost all of us were confused as to the real meaning of the fairy tale at various points. That was universal. Some of us thought that it was a great metaphor for life and appreciated the symbolism of story.

Sometimes Penn and Rosie were annoying, but we couldn’t quite point to why. We mostly liked them and definitely identified with them as parents. But maybe they were a little too perfect?

Seemingly in contrast, we sometimes had a hard time identifying with the family. Again, maybe they were a little too perfect. We did acknowledge that sometimes families have to choose certain kids to focus on and make major decisions about – like Rosie and Penn had to do for Poppy – but we still didn’t like where that left the other children.

As specific as some of the scenarios were that the author presented as you moved through the narrative, the ending was almost irritatingly ambiguous. We got very little of what it would mean for Poppy in the future and how exactly they would tackle things to come. However (and that’s a big however), we DO acknowledge that that was sort of the point. They were going to be okay with the unknown and living in the middle for Poppy. And also, they would tackle things as they came.

Some of the themes we discussed: story, secrets, fear

Dr. Tongo was also an annoying character to us. We could appreciate that the author was trying to show someone who, like a child, was simply not bothered by many of the intense issues that Penn and Rosie brought to him to discuss because he was fully accepting of all genders and types. BUT, he came across really flippant at times and dismissive of the real and tangible suffering that Poppy and her parents were having to endure. Many times he spoke the truth into the situation and it’s what they needed to hear, but when he calls difficulties “joys,” it also comes across as annoying.

This was not listed as our favorite quote because it was actually in the author’s notes at the end, but when she says that what the world needs is a “wider range of normal.” We felt like that perfectly summed up the way we feel about all of this.

Memorable Meeting Moments: We had our meeting outside by Christina’s new pool!

What We Ate: Moscow Mules and White Sangria, Crackers and Cheese Dips, Cucumbers with tomatoes and cheese/ranch topping - all for appetizers. For our main course we had grilled steaks with herbed butter, loaded baked potatoes (also with herb butter!), and sautéed zucchini and yellow squash. For dessert we had blueberries and strawberries with whipped cream.

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