Name:      Educated
Author:    Tara Westover
Rating:     4.5    This book challenged me. Yet, once I got past the Westover’s junkyard and herbal world, I was mesmerized by Tara’s journey.

Skip factor: 8%    At around 30% I called a friend and asked if the story improved. I did not like the junkyard or herbal lore at all. However, I hung in there and once I worked through that beginning section, I couldn’t put it down.

Who should read? Deep-thinkers, people inspired by education, hard-workers who themselves have risen out of poverty, and lovers of the English language—young and old.

Summary: This is the memoir of Tara Westover, the seventh and youngest child of Val and LaRee Westover. She was born in her childhood home which sat on the side of a mountain in Provo, Utah. The month of her birth was September of 1986, but the actual date is unknown. Her birth was unrecorded, as were most of her sibling’s births. She grew up in a Mormon family littered with racism and anti-Semitism. She worked in her father’s junkyard for much of her youth and often encountered dangerous, life-threatening tasks at his direction. She had no formal education until she was seventeen years old and received no home-schooling from her family. Her mother was well-versed in and revered for her herbal remedies and mid-wife expertise. Her father, along with her older brother Shawn, suffered mental illness and Tara and her siblings were often abused.

This is the story of a young girl’s metamorphosis, her rise from the ashes of her parent’s scrapheap despite all odds. Her father believed the end of the world was imminent and the government against him. His mental illness led to many hardships over the years, for not only him but his wife and children as well.

Inspired by a brother who left the family to attend college, she accepted a friend’s offer to teach her to read. She enrolled in college against all odds and was forced to choose between her family and her education. Despite her passion to learn and the education she eventually received, her mind sometimes led her back to the rudimentary fundamentalist viewpoint of her father, making her question much throughout her educational journey. She had never even heard of the holocaust until she was in college.

Characters: Lots of great books have unlikeable characters, and while I found myself rooting for Tara throughout the book, I wasn’t in love with any of the characters. I was shocked by many. Disgusted with others. Westover created very “real” people, but many confound me. I was baffled by them more than like them. Yet, they interested me. The characters that stood out the most to me were:

Tara: Of course, I rooted for her all the way, but I never felt close to her. She had an aloofness about her. Because of her upbringing, her personality held a protective emotional shield that prevented people from knowing her well—even, to some degree, her readers. Simply, I couldn’t get close.
Her mother: Simply put, I did not like her for the fact she sided with her husband, who had mental challenges, over her children. Period.
Her father: I couldn’t understand and felt no compassion for him whatsoever. Lots of people have a mental illness, but they are not as evil as this man. He hid his sins behind religion.
Shawn: The abusive brother I felt differently about. Although I adamantly disliked him at times for the pain he caused family members and women, every once in a while you’d see a spark of kindness. Confusing, as the results of mental illness can be.
Minor characters I liked: Brothers Richard and Tyler were compassionate. I was fond of both of them along with Tara’s Grandmother who offered to take her to Arizona and enroll her in school. I felt disappointed Tara didn’t leave with her. Just that she offered made me like her.
Other minor characters: I wasn’t drawn to any others, not one. (And especially not to her only sister, Audrey, who in the end hurt rather than helped her.) Because many of the minor characters were introduced to me through Tara’s eyes, they seemed impersonal. Toward the end of the novel, a softness seemed to develop in Westover. She looked at later roommates and people more compassionately, seemingly letting her guard down and consequently, I liked those characters a bit more.

Storyline: The story does come across as a bit unbelieve. I did read several online articles that stated fact-finding had been extensive. That the author herself included footnotes when her memory differed from one of her siblings, gave credibility to her story. That there is a Tara Westover, who was born without record, attended college, completed her master and doctorate degrees in England, further substantiates her story—at least in my mind it does. I’ll let the rest of you decide for yourselves.

Writing style: This woman’s writing is exquisite. Not much more to say. That she rose out of such poverty to champion the English language is remarkable.

Read this author again: Maybe. I’m not often fond of non-fiction, but Westover’s writing is superb, so I may attempt another.

Read on!
_________________________________________________
CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, and Dream Wide Awake and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a paranormal element. These last two novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads, BookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon.

House Rules by Jodi Picoult

Name:                 House Rules

Author:               Jodi Picoult

Rating:                3.5

General Rating:

This is my least favorite Jodi Picoult novel. Usually, I love her entire book, but House Rules is a slow start. I did not like the beginning, yet once I was into the middle there were times I could not put it down. I found myself laughing at Jacob’s take on life or words at times. (I would have enjoyed more of that.) I estimate a little over 50% of this book is page turning. I did not like the end at all. Hence my lower score.

Skip factor:

Despite this being my least favorite Picoult novel, skipping was minimal. I only skipped long speeches by attorneys toward the end and a few of Jacob’s involved descriptions.

Who should read?

Voracious readers will find this an easy read once they reach page fifty or there about. Readers who like action may not make it that far. Picky readers may not like. I believe people interested in Aspergers or Autism will enjoy. People with children who have those challenges? I’m not sure they will like. I have a friend, Rochelle, with two son’s. One has autism. Although she is a voracious reader, I advised her to skip this Picoult novel.

Summary:          This is the story of Jacob Hunt, a child with Asperger’s syndrome and the accompanying challenges for Jacob, his mother, Emma, and brother, Theo. The story is told from several character’s perspectives. Voices change with chapters. (Fonts change, too, which helps remind you a new character is speaking.) The people include:

Emma, the mother of an autistic son, also writes a parental column for a newspaper from home. Her entire life revolves around her autistic son. Jacob. She is divorced.

Jacob, relays his thoughts in an interesting way. At times he is comical, very smart, and other times you get lost in his logic. The author has done a great job helping readers see life from behind this challenging disability.

Theo is Jacob’s younger brother and is often caught between loving his brother and hating his brother’s Aspergers, and how his own life has been affected.

Oliver is the attorney thrust into the family situation.

Police Officers but to be completely honest, I wasn’t  sure these were needed. I never really understood why they were included.

Characters:         Picoult did okay with character development. Each character carries his or her own distinct voice. However, I did have a hard time connecting or loving any one individual person, and I never quite understood the purpose of the supporting characters (police officers/detectives.) Yet, dialogue between characters was good and they definitely had emotional depth.

Storyline:           The start fell short. The story had a good hook and was believable. The main conflict kept me turning pages, but at the risk of revealing too much, I’ll refrain from talking about resolving conflicts. Each of the main characters had purpose and goals, however here again, the minor characters fell short.

Writing style:    Simply, I love Picoult’s writing style. Narrative and dialogue was well balanced. Style exquisite. Voice great. Her writing flows well.

Read on!

_________________________________________                 Cyndie Zahner is the author of Dream Wide Awake, a paranormal novel that is totally fiction, but has been inspired by her own experiences. This is the first in a series of blogs about her inspiration behind the novel. Follow her on InstagramTwitterFacebookGoodreadsBookBubLinkedIn and purchase her books on Amazon.