True SistersTrue Sisters by Sandra Dallas

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In 1856 Mormon converts from Europe were encouraged to emigrate to Utah. Because most of the new settlers could not afford to pay $300 to outfit a wagon for the journey from the last rail stop in Iowa, they built handcarts and prepared to walk the 1500 miles to Utah.

The trip was a poorly planned disaster from the beginning. Neither the carts nor the proper materials to build carts were available when the settlers arrived. The delay made the last group dangerously late to leave resulting in them getting caught in the snow in Wyoming and leading to the death of 25% of the people.

This is the fictional story of several female travelers.

Polygamy pisses me off. I’m generally a pretty mild “live and let live” type of person but reading about polygamy always makes me mad when it preys upon the weakness of the women involved. Books like The 19th Wife or Under the Banner of Heaven always get me all riled up. Polygamy isn’t the main theme of this book but it is discussed because it was a concern of the women, especially as the men in their group started dying in large numbers.

This book also pushes my other hot button issue of stupidity in the name of religion. The town people who lived on the trail kept telling them that it was too close to winter to travel but they kept going because the religious leaders told them that they were just trying to lead the faithful astray. If anyone started ti  think that the umpteenth person who told them this might have a point, they were branded a weak-faithed heretic. People were told not to ride in the carts because if they had faith God would give them the strength to walk. It didn’t matter that they were starving to death because the church hadn’t set up the relay stations that they promised to restock food. Any road trip that requires you to dig a mass grave every night is not going well.

Don’t even get me started on the genius who decided that blankets were too heavy to carry and had them burnt so people wouldn’t try to go back for them.

The book is very well done. The different women gave many viewpoints on the trip from the non-Morman who was forced into the trip by her husband to the true believers who wanted to live in the Promised Land.

Learning to Breathe: One Woman's Journey of Spirit and SurvivalLearning to Breathe: One Woman’s Journey of Spirit and Survival by Alison Wright

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In 2000 photojournalist Alison Wright was riding on a bus in Laos when a logging truck collided with it.  Her seat was the main point of impact.  She broke all her ribs on the left side, broke her back, had numerous lacerations on her arm, and herniated all her organs into her chest.  Because of the remote location, it was 14 hours until she was able to receive any medical care and 24 hours until she reached a hospital.  Against the odds she survived and decided that she wanted to climb Mount Kilimanjaro on her 40th birthday – one year later.

This book is the story of her life as a photojournalist before and after the accident.  It is also the story of how her Buddhist faith and mediation practice sustained her in the hours after the accident when breathing techniques helped her dull the pain and in the years afterwards when she had to decide how she wanted to live the rest of her life.

The Virgin BlueThe Virgin Blue by Tracy Chevalier
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When Ella Turner and her husband move to France for his job, village life does not come easily. Ella feels that the people in the village are unexpectedly hostile. To have something to do, she starts to investigate her ancestors who once lived in the area. She begins to have nightmares that involve a particular shade of blue.

This book intertwines Ella’s story and the story of Isabelle, one of her ancestors. The book is part mystery but I don’t think that the whole mystery is ever fully explained.

AlexAlex by Adam J. Nicolai
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Ian Colmes can’t get to work on time because he is distracted by the sound of his 5 year old son Alex playing. But, Alex was kidnapped and murdered months ago. Soon, Alex is appearing to Ian and trying to tell him something. Alex can only say phrases that he said when he was alive so it hard to figure out what he is trying to tell his father but Ian believes he is trying to tell him something about his kidnapping.

This is billed as a horror novel. Ian’s mental state is breaking down as he is separated from his wife and now being followed everywhere by the ghost of his murdered child. It gets worse as Alex starts to show his father what happened to him in the time he was held. The book is very graphic about the abuse that Alex suffered. The ending was predictable to me but I still enjoyed it.