After many years, I have finally started reading books for myself again! Honestly I just didn’t feel like I had the time or brain space to read for a while, so many little kids and lack of sleep. At the end of last year I completed a book and decided that I would make a goal to read 24 books this year. We still have quite a few months left and I’m already at 20, so I think I shall reach my goal. I’m always interested in finding new books, so if you have any recommendations feel free to share. I tend to like memoirs the best (as you will see by my list) and especially stories about survival. I’m not sure why, but I love reading about how humans have been so low and some how come out on top and made their life better. So without further ado, here is what I have read so far this year. We also started using goodreads so that I could try and at least somewhat keep track of how many books the older two were reading. They book read a lot. Greta is still the most prolific reader in the house and since I have started keeping track towards the beginning of the year she has read 178 chapter books (I can’t possibly keep track of the picture books or other material she reads). I’m sure that doesn’t even include them all because it requires her to tell me she completed it and she doesn’t always remember. Eloise has read a solid 87 chapter books so far (far better than me).

My books can be grouped into a few categories:
1. Escaping North Korea
2. Scientology
3. Polygamy
4. Escape/living in from war torn countries

North Korea
1. The Girl with Seven Names

I think was my favorite from my category here, but it does offer quite a different picture of North Korea than the next book. The star of this book grew up much better off than the next girl. I love that Hyeonseo is smart and uses her smarts to get herself out of North Korea for good and eventually helps her to get her mother and brother out as well.

2. Stars Between the Sun and Moon: One Woman’s Life in North Korea and Escape to Freedom

This book is definitely hard to read at points, especially all the horrors that she lives through. After reading these books I’m still surprised how North Korea is still doing these kind of horrific things right now.

3. Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West

This book was definitely a different perspective since Shin is the only known person born in a North Korean prison to successfully escape. I just didn’t like Shin nearly as much as I liked the women in the books above, likely because he has had a much different life than the others and didn’t really learn anything about compassion or how to treat others. I hope that all three (an the many others) are able to adjust and have a semi-normal life now that they are free from North Korea.

1. Beyond Belief: My Secret Life Inside Scientology and My Harrowing Escape

It seems to be a theme that the first book I read on a topic is my favorite. I liked Jenna’s account of Scientology the most of the three books I read. I think this is partly because she was pretty much born in Scientology (her parents joined the Sea Org, the clergy when she was two years old). It seems so odd to me that the way the families are treated and separated at such young ages is still happening right here in our country. From a very young age she has very little contact with her parents because they are serving the religion. I also didn’t realize that those children who are so involved at a such a young age don’t attend traditional school in any sense. Their schooling is their religious education. Definitely an eye-opener.

2. Ruthless: Scientology, My Son David Miscavige, and Me

This book was written by the current head of Scientology’s father, who brought his son to the religion at a pretty young age. At times I felt like he was just attacking his son and I almost gave up on this one. They only reason I continued to read it was to find out how he managed to get out of the organization despite his son being the head.

3. Troublemaker: Surviving Hollywood and Scientology

I wanted to read a different prescriptive of Scientology since both of the previous books were about people who were in the Sea Org. Leah was a public scientologist, meaning she did not work for the church as her job. Her prescriptive revolved a lot around Tom Cruise and really I just don’t care that much about him. It’s interesting to see how much power celebrities do have in the organization and how little they seemed to know about the inner workings of the Sea Org (based on what I read in the other books).

1. The Sound of Gravel: A Memoir

All of these books are about the Lebaron family. The first three are written by a woman related to one of the three brothers who held a high position in their church. This one is definitely the hardest to read and Ruth suffers much more than some of the others (at least it seems to me). Her life is filled with tragedy, but she somehow survives. All of these books are definitely easy and pretty quick to read.

2. The Polygamist’s Daughter: A Memoir

While reading these books it was a little hard to figure out how everyone was related. I didn’t read them all in a row and so sometimes forgot who was related to who (they are all from LARGE polygamist families), so I definitely spent some time googling to remember who was who. Anna is the daughter of Ervil Lebaron, who breaks away from his brothers and does some pretty terrible things in his life, which result in him ending up in prison, thankfully.

3. Shattered Dreams: My Life as a Polygamist’s Wife

Irene married one of the Lebaron brothers, so wasn’t born into the Lebaron family and in fact was recommended not to marry into the family, since they have a history of serious mental illness. But she does and she tells her side of the story here. Her struggles in this book are mostly how she wishes her husband could give her more attention and how she desires to have a husband who loves her.

4. Cult Insanity: A Memoir of Polygamy, Prophets, and Blood Atonement

This book tells a lot of the back story of the Lebaron family and helps to put everyone in their place in the story. It is written by Irene Spencer, who wrote the above book as well and so it is still from her perspective. It definitely helped me fill in some of the blanks. It’s completely foreign to me how Ervil’s commands could go on for so long before being caught.

Many years ago I read another book by one of Irene Spencer’s sisterwives, called His Favorite Wife: Trapped in Polygamy. I may go back and reread it since I can’t remember the details and want to hear her side of the story again.

Escape/living in war torn countries
1. A Hope More Powerful Than the Sea: The Journey of Doaa Al Zamel: One Refugee’s Incredible Story of Love, Loss, and Survival

This is a powerful story about a Syrian woman who endures such terrible things in her journey to freedom. It really puts a face and story to all the horrors that are happening over there right now. It definitely was difficult to read at times and there are scenes in the book that still flash through my head and give me chills. It makes me want to make a difference in the lives of refugees, since there are so many people who are taking advantage of them all over the world.

2. The Dressmaker of Khair Khana: Five Sisters, One Remarkable Family, and the Woman Who Risked Everything to Keep Them Safe

This book was just ok, not nearly as powerful as many of the others I have read. It is about a family that survives in Afghanistan. It is written by a journalist and some of the details seem to be exaggerated or not quite the way it really happened. I did like reading about what Afghanistan was like while the Taliban were in charge.

3. Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust

While I knew many of the above situations existed and knew a little about them before hand (Syria, Afghanistan, North Korea), I really knew hardly anything about the Rwandan Holocaust, maybe because I was so young when it was happening and as the author mentions not much news coverage was dedicated to it at all. This is amazing story of one woman’s survival during a time when just about all of the Tutsi people were destroyed very horrifically (over one million people in a 3 month period). What I love most about this is how much her Catholic faith helped her during her time in hiding and afterwards. Immaculee is truly a survivor and her story is definitely one everyone should read. There are definitely some very graphic scenes in here, but this was a book that I couldn’t put down. I borrowed it from the library and really wanted to find out how her life paned out after this book was over, so I went and bought the next book (below) since our library didn’t have it.

4. Led by Faith: Rising from the Ashes of the Rwandan Genocide (Left to Tell)

This is a continuation of Immaculee’s story and it is powerful as well. I didn’t love it as much as the previous book, but I really like to know what happens after people escape their horrific tales, and so read this one rather quickly as well. She discusses her faith in greater detail here and I learned more about Our Lady of Kibeho: Mary Speaks to the World from the Heart of Africa (which lead to me reading her book about that as well).

Phew, did anyone read all of that? It took way longer than I thought it. I’ll come back and write about the other books I read that didn’t really fit well into these categories. What are you reading and enjoying these days?

All links are amazon affiliates links.