Wednesday, October 03, 2018

Immigrant Tale Poignant, Thoughtful

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

"We're the unknown Americans, the ones no one even wants to know, because they've been told they're supposed to be scared of us and because maybe if they did take the time to get to know us, they might realize that we're not that bad, maybe even that we're a lot like them.  And who would they hate then?" (237)

After falling off a ladder in her native Mexico, 15-year-old Maribel Rivera is left with a traumatic brain injury that changes everything for her and her family.  Desperate to get their daughter the medical care she needs, the Riveras start driving across the border.  They end up in Delaware, where Arturo finds work at a nearby mushroom farm and Alma tries to make sense of a new language and culture.  When beautiful, vulnerable Maribel catches the eye of Mayor Toro—a bullied Panamanian-American high schooler who lives in their apartment building—the Riveras worry about their budding romance.  Mayor only wants to prove to their parents that his intentions toward Maribel are honorable, but when he unwittingly causes a panic in their neighborhood, Mayor sets in motion a chain of events that will have terrible, tragic consequences.

The Book of Unknown Americans, a slim but poignant novel by Cristina Henriquez, takes a sharp and affecting look at what it means to be an immigrant in The United States.  While it doesn't offer a lot in the way of plot, the story features strong prose, interesting characters, and enough conflict to keep the tale chugging along.  While the novel is definitely thought-provoking, it's also sad and depressing.  Overall, I didn't love The Book of Unknown Americans.  I didn't dislike it either.  In the end, I just feel ambivalent about what turned out to be only a so-so read.  

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  Can you?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for strong language, violence, and sexual content

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

     

Friday, September 28, 2018

The Elizas Tells a Strange Little Tale

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Eliza Fontaine has tried to commit suicide several times, so no one's all that surprised when her unconscious body is fished out of a hotel swimming pool.  When the 22-year-old comes to in the hospital, however, she claims she didn't try to kill herself this time.  Someone pushed her.  With no witnesses or security camera footage, there's nothing to prove her story true except her own memory.  It soon becomes clear, however, that her recollection is the last thing she can rely on.  With some major holes in her memory, Eliza's not sure what to believe.  

Things become even more confusing when Eliza's associates—her family, her agent, her editor, etc.—keep mixing up scenarios from Eliza's about-to-be-published debut novel with the events of her own life.  Her book is pure fiction.  Right?  The more perplexing her life gets, the more uncertain she becomes.  If she can't trust herself, who can she trust?  Will Eliza ever know what really happened the night she almost drowned?  Is someone trying to kill her or is her own damaged mind playing a cruel, cruel trick on her?

I'm still not quite sure what to think about The Elizas, a thriller by Sara Shepard.  It's an odd little tale with a heroine who's strangely intriguing but not all that likable.  Alternating between Eliza's story and chapters from her book, it's got a compelling setup, although I'm not sure it worked all that well in this particular novel.  The Elizas gets confusing and far-fetched, although it's also twisty and entertaining.  Overall, then, I'm kind of on the fence about this one.  On the whole, I found it to be just okay.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of The Weight of Lies by Emily Carpenter)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for language, sexual content, violence, disturbing subject matter, and depictions of illegal drug use

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Kilpack's Newest Another Sweet, Uplifting Regency Romance

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

At 27, Julia Hollingsworth is an old maid, but at least she's a free one.  Although she's currently without a position, she's determined not to go back to living with her overbearing mother.  Julia may not have her own household, but she certainly has her own ideas about how she wants to live her life.  So, when a handsome widower hires her to watch his two young daughters, she jumps at the chance.  As the two bond over Peter's children as well as his canine husbandry business, they become much closer than any master and servant should be ...

Worried about her daughter being taken advantage of by a man who's way above her station, Amelia Hollingsworth will do anything to get her daughter away from Peter Mayfield.  Thirty years ago, the man's uncle broke Amelia's heart and she will not allow Julia to be hurt in the same way.  In an effort to save her daughter, Amelia confronts Elliott Mayfield, only to find that a lot has changed in the years they've been apart.  Is it possible that the family, including its patriarch, is not quite as untrustworthy it seems?

As the Hollingsworth women become entwined in the affairs of the Mayfield men, tempers flare, secrets are exposed, and romance blossoms.  Can Julia, Peter, Amelia, and Elliott untangle all the knots that complicate their lives in order to find unexpected happiness?  Or will they let their complicated pasts stand in the way of their promising futures? 

While Promises and Primroses, the newest proper romance from Josi S. Kilpack, doesn't offer a lot in the way of originality, it does tell a sweet, clean, uplifting story.  The characters are likable (even if the mother/daughter dual love story is a little odd), the story is interesting enough (though totally predictable), and the plot moves along swiftly (albeit a bit anticlimactically).  Kilpack's prose is solid and overall, Promises and Primroses makes for an enjoyable read.  Romance isn't my genre—occasionally, though, a light story with a guaranteed HEA like this one is just the ticket.  

(Readalikes:  Other Regency/proper romances by Josi S. Kilpack as well as those by Jennifer Moore and Sarah M. Eden)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for mild innuendo and subject matter most suitable for readers 12 and older

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Promises and Primroses from the generous folks at Shadow Mountain in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you!



Tuesday, September 25, 2018

TTT: The Ones That Got Away

I don't know about you, but I have a hard time picking favorites.  Of almost anything.  Naturally, then, I have a lot of favorite authors.  A lot.  Between these many writers and my lengthy TBR pile mountain mountain chain, I don't get through as many books as I'd like to, even those penned by my most-loved authors.  This includes tons of series, which I love but tend to get stuck in the middle of. Today's Top Ten Tuesday is all about the ones that have gotten away, at least temporarily.

Before we get to that, though, I want to encourage you to join in the TTT fun.  It's easy peasey.  All you have to do is click on over to That Artsy Reader Girl, read few a few guidelines, make a list of your own, share it, then start visiting other blogs.  It's a great way to find new blogs, add great-looking reads to your own TBR mountain chain, and just spread the love around Ye Ole Book Blogosphere.  It's a good time, I promise!

Okay, here we go with Top Ten Books By My Favorite Authors That I Still Haven't Read (not including books in series—mostly):


1.  J.K. RowlingHarry Potter is one of my all-time favorite series, but I've never read any of the books by Rowling's alter ego, Robert Galbraith.  I've seen mixed reviews, so I haven't rushed to check them out.  I will though.  Eventually.


2.  Maeve BinchyI adore this Irish author who died in 2012.  I thought I'd read all her books except the last three:  Minding Frankie (2010), A Week in Winter (2012), and Chestnut Street (2014).  Turns out, she's also written a half dozen non-fiction books.  Who knew?


3.  Liane MoriartyWith the exception of Truly Madly Guilty, I've loved everything I've ever read by Moriarty.  There are a few on her backlist that I still need to get to: Three Wishes (2013), The Last Anniversary (2005), and The Hypnotist's Love Story (2012). She also has a children's series, but I'm not sure it's really my cup of tea, so I'll probably skip it.


4.  Jodi PicoultI've long been a Picoult fan, but I haven't read all her books yet.  What's missing?  Sing You Home (2011) and The Storyteller (2013), plus the two she wrote with her daughter, Samantha van Leer: Between the Lines (2012) and Off the Page (2015).


5.  Jacqueline Woodson—I love Woodson's books, but there are plenty I have yet to read by the newly-crowned National Ambassador for Young People's Literature.  I'm especially interested in Harbor Me (2018).  I also heard her read her newest picture book, The Day You Begin (2018), at the National Book Festival earlier this month and I'd love to re-read it.


6.  Rae CarsonI adore Carson's Gold Seer trilogy, but I have yet to give her Fire & Thorns series a go.


7.  Neal ShustermanWith the exception of Scythe, I've loved everything I've read by this prolific author.  He's tough to keep up with, though, so I have lots of catching up to do with him.  I'm not even sure where to start.  What's your favorite of his?


8.  Julia KellerI read every Bell Elkins book as soon as I can get my hands on it, but I haven't given Keller's newest series a try yet.  The Dark Intercept series has a futuristic/sci fi setup, which isn't my usual thing.  Still, I'm going to give it a whirl one of these days.


9.  Susan MeissnerMeissner's gentle dual-timeline novels are right up my alley.  I've read all of them from 2011 on.  The author's got a fairly extensive backlist, though, and I'm definitely planning to check it out.  I'm especially interested in The Shape of Mercy (2008), a novel about a college student whose studies of the Salem Witch Trials go a little too deep ...


10.  Emily CarpenterI just discovered this author and while I'm not sure I can call her a favorite yet, I have been enjoying her twisted psychological thrillers.  Her newest (which sounds amazing) doesn't come out until March 2019, so I have plenty of time to read the only one of hers I haven't delved into yet—Burying the Honeysuckle Girls (2016).  It's sitting on my Kindle, just waiting for me to open it up.

There you go, all (well, some) of the books I still need to read from some of my favorite authors.  Have you read any of them?  Where should I start?  How about you—which books are you missing from your favorite authors?  I'd love to know.  Leave me a comment and I'll gladly return the favor on your blog.

Happy Top Ten Tuesday!

LDS Hollywood Romance Upbeat and Real (with a Giveaway!)

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

When Evie Jennings eloped with her boyfriend two years ago, she thought she was making a fresh start with the man she loved.  Then he abandoned her, divorcing her through the mail.  Evie hasn't seen Q since their hurried nuptials.  Her friends and family urge her to move on, but to what?  It's humiliating enough to be a 24-year-old divorce√©, let alone living with her parents and attending a Young Single Adult (YSA) ward.  She's enrolled at UCAL, but she's not even sure what she wants to be when she grows up.  Evie's confused—about past mistakes, present decisions, and what kind of future she could possibly have when she's so messed up and broken.

After receiving scathing reviews on his forthcoming movie, Hollywood golden boy Ridge Dashly is starting to worry about his future, too.  With his career on the line, he reluctantly agrees to an image re-boot, which includes enrolling at UCAL.  Surrounded by starry-eyed co-eds, Ridge longs for someone who can see past his Hollywood heartthrob image and appreciate his true self.  A chance encounter with Evie Jennings convinces him that she could be a true friend, if not a whole lot more.  Soon, the two are exchanging flirty texts, swapping secrets, and stirring up enough gossip in their singles ward that even the paparazzi takes notice.

Evie and Ridge both know that Hollywood romances are more about marketing than marriage, so why are they fooling themselves?  Drawn together despite all the obstacles standing in their way, can the two of them fight for a future together?  Or will their checkered pasts, tumultuous presents, and uncertain futures keep them apart forever?

It took me a minute to realize that Love Unscripted—Tiffany Odekirk's sophomore novel—is actually a companion novel to her debut, Love On Pointe.  It's not a sequel but a story concerning the same family, just a different member.  With Emmy Jennings' HEA on the horizon, it's her twin's turn to find love.  Although Evie's constant wallowing bugs, she's a sympathetic heroine and likeable enough that I wanted a happy ending for her as well.  Ridge is a little too perfect, but it's also easy to desire good things for him.  Their story has a fun premise, unoriginal and predictable though it may be.  The tale's got religious undertones, but it's not overly preachy or sappy which makes it an appealing read for anyone who enjoys clean, upbeat contemporary romance.  What I appreciate most about Odekirk is that she presents members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in a realistic way.  Her characters make mistakes, treat each other in ways that aren't always kind, have doubts, struggle with their testimonies, question their Church leaders ... in short, they reflect real LDS people.  Her story people—like IRL Mormons—are imperfect people striving to be better.  Overall, then, I enjoyed Love Unscripted and will certainly read Odekirk's next effort (which I'm hoping will concern the mysterious Drew Jennings).  

(Readalikes:  Love On Pointe by Tiffany Odekirk; also reminds me of contemporary romances by Melanie Jacobson [especially Perfect Set], Brittany Larsen, and Jenny Proctor)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for discussions of subjects (pornography, spousal abandonment, premarital sex, etc.) that may not be appropriate for readers under 12

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Love Unscripted from Covenant in exchange for an honest review to be posted during the book's blog tour.  Thank you!

--


Interested in more opinions of Love Unscripted?  Follow along on the blog tour by clicking the links below:

*Sept. 24thhttp://mybookaday.com/

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Friday, September 21, 2018

Light, Funny MG Story Not Without a Lesson or Two

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Living like a pioneer is not quite what 13-year-old Genevieve Welsh had in mind for her summer break.  Trudging around the prairie in a long dress (and petticoats!), growing her own food, slaving away at chores that can easily be done by machine, living with her family in a tiny, rustic cabin—nothing about Frontier Family History Camp sounds like a vacation at all.  What are her parents thinking?  Living without modern distractions might bring her family closer, but it's also going to make Gen completely insane.

Camp isn't completely awful, especially considering there's a cute boy to practice her flirting skills on.  Still, Gen finds plenty of drama to rant about in the texts she sends to her friends on the forbidden cell phone she snuck into camp.  When Gen's pals turn her messages into a blog and that blog goes viral, attracting national media attention to her plight in the Wyoming wilderness, Gen starts to wonder just what she's done.  Has she managed to ruin what's turning out to be the best worst summer she's ever experienced?

Little Blog on the Prairie, a middle grade novel by Cathleen Davitt Bell, tells a cute, uplifting story about learning to appreciate the simpler things in life.  It's an easy read that's funny, upbeat, and entertaining, albeit totally predictable.  While it feels contrived and far-fetched at times, it's still a fast, fun read that will appeal to anyone looking for a light, laugh-filled story that's not without a lesson or two.  I enjoyed it.

(Readalikes:  Hm, I can't think of anything.  Can you?)

Grade:  


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for violence and scary images

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

TTT: FALLing for Autumn Reads

It's been some time since I've participated in Top Ten Tuesday, my favorite weekly meme, but I couldn't resist this week's topic.  The seasonal TBR posts are the ones I look forward to most, so I couldn't miss out.  You shouldn't either.  Join in the fun by heading over to That Artsy Reader Girl to read a few guidelines then making and sharing a list of your own.  After that, all you have to do is hop around the book blogosphere and load up your TBR list with even more great recommendations.  It's a good time, I promise!

Here we go with the Top Ten Books on My Fall TBR List:


1.  A Spark of Light by Jodi Picoult (available October 2)—I'm a big Picoult fan and I'm excited to read her newest, even though it deals with a subject on which I have strong opinions: abortion.  The novel begins when a shooter walks through the doors of a women's reproductive health services clinic and goes from there.  Should be a compelling read that will no doubt be interesting and discussion-worthy.


2.  The Winters by Lisa Gabriele (available October 16)—This haunting thriller about a recently married woman whose posh new lifestyle is not all it appears to be sounds intriguing.


3.  Leave No Trace by Mindy Mejia (available now)—This novel, about a boy who's been raised in the Minnesota wilderness and the therapist who's trying to help him, sounds intriguing.


4.  Love Unscripted by Tiffany Odekirk (available now)—On the lighter side, this is the sophomore novel by a delightful author whom I've had the privilege to meet.  I enjoyed her debut, so I'm excited to see what Odekirk does with this romance about a woman who meets a Hollywood heartthrob in need of her help.


5.  Squint by Chad Morris and Shelly Brown (available October 2)—I loved Mustaches for Maddie, so I'm excited to read the duo's newest, Squint.  The middle grade book is about a young comic book artist who's frantically trying to finish a piece he wants to enter in a big competition before he completely loses his eyesight due to a damaged cornea.  He's bullied at school, but one girl reaches inside of herself to find the courage to get to know him ...


6.  The Winter Soldier by Daniel Mason (available now)—This historical novel, about a young medical student who enlists in WWI and finds himself trying to make a difference at a frozen, forgotten makeshift hospital in the Carpathian Mountains, sounds intriguing.


7.  The Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris (available now)—Another historical, this one is based on the true story of a captured Jew who is put to work tattooing numbers on the arms of his fellow prisoners. A love story and a survival story, it sounds excellent.


8.  Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty (available November 6)—After loving several of Moriarty's novels, I found her last one to be a big flop.  I'm hoping Nine Perfect Strangers, a novel about a group of women stuck together at a resort that may be more damaging than healing, is as entertaining as some of her earlier books.


9.  Go To My Grave by Catriona McPherson (available October 23)—I love a mystery/thriller featuring an old house hiding juicy secrets.  This one, about a group that gathers at a bed and breakfast where something horrible happened years before, sounds like a perfect Fall read!


10.  The Glass Ocean by Beatriz WilliamsLauren Willig, and Karen White (available now)—This dual-timeline novel features a dramatic story set on the doomed ocean liner RMS Lusitania.  I'm in.

There you have it, ten of my most anticipated reads for Fall.  Do we have any in common?  What are you looking forward to reading in the months ahead?  I'd love to know.  Please leave a comment on this post and I will gladly return the favor.

Happy TTT!

Monday, September 17, 2018

Easy Copycat Recipes Bring Favorite Restaurant Dishes Home

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

I've long been a fan of Six Sisters' Stuff, a website that features family-friendly recipes, crafts, product reviews, and more.  Maintained by—you guessed it!—six sisters, the site offers a lot of great, free content.  Because I love SSS so much, I get especially excited every time they come out with a new cookbook.  I own most of these glossy, colorful treasure troves, and have enjoyed everything I've made from them.  No lie.  I've never made a SSS recipe that didn't turn out well.

Their newest offering, Copycat Cooking, just might be their best.  It contains over 100 recipes for popular dishes from restaurants like Cafe Rio, The Cheesecake Factory, Panera, and Applebee's (even Disneyland) that you can make at home, including many of my personal favorites.  With only a couple exceptions, the recipes require fewer than ten ingredients and don't take a whole lot of time to prepare.  With bright, mouth-watering photos and clear, easy instructions, Copycat Cooking makes it easy to enjoy the restaurant food you love without having to leave your house.

I don't like to review a cookbook without trying a recipe or two.  In this case, I couldn't resist—I picked three!  Actually, my kids chose them since my oldest daughter's favorite appetizer is Panda Express's cream cheese rangoons, my son's #1 fast food meal is orange chicken (also from Panda's) and my youngest can't get enough of the lava cake at Chili's.  Thus, our dinner/dessert menu was born.  Because my 9-year-old just could not wait to bake, we worked on dessert first.  Although the prep was a little messy (probably because said 9yo wanted as little supervision as possible), our lava cakes turned out divine.  My husband said they tasted just like the Chili's version.  I actually think they're better since they're smaller and not quite as rich.  Next, came the rangoons.  My 16-year-old Panda's lover made these herself.  Although the wrapping and frying was a little time-consuming, her rangoons turned out really well.  Again, we thought the copycat recipe better than the original since ours tasted more flavorful.  The orange chicken also took more time than I thought it would, but it came out well.  All of us thought Panda's was better, but we agreed that the SSS version was a fine substitute.  Like I said, I've never had a Six Sisters' Stuff recipe not turn out and these were no exception—even with kid cooks.  There are a bunch more scrumptious-looking dishes in Coycat Cooking I can't wait to try.

I'm not going to lie, most (perhaps all) of the recipes in Copycat Cooking are available for free on the Six Sisters' Stuff website.  However, this is a great cookbook to have in your kitchen or to give away as a gift (believe it or not, Christmas is coming up fast).  It's sturdy, fun to look through, and convenient to have on hand.  At around $20 (it's only $15.50 on Amazon right now), it's totally worth the buy.  I love it already!

(Readalikes:  Other Six Sisters' Stuff cookbooks, including Celebrate Every Season; Dinner Made Easy; A Year with Six Sisters' Stuff; Sweets & Treats; etc.)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished copy of Copycat Cooking from the generous folks at Shadow Mountain in exchange for an honest review as part of the book's blog tour.  Thank you!

  

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Engaging, Readable LDS Church History Book Free for All

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

In 1820, a time when religious fervor was sweeping the country, a young farm boy began to wonder.  All the churches in his small New York town claimed to be God's true church, but how could that be?  If they all preached different doctrine, which one was correct?  Directed by a promise in the Bible (see James 1:5), 14-year-old Joseph Smith knelt in a grove of trees and asked his Heavenly Father to help him know which church to join.  The answer changed Joseph's life.  

Young Joseph saw God the Father and Jesus Christ in a vision.  He was instructed by them to join none of the churches.  Instead, he was commanded to translate an ancient record called The Book of Mormon and organize a church based on its teachings, plus the revelations Joseph would continue to receive from God and Jesus.  As overwhelmed and inadequate as this modern-day prophet must have felt, Joseph nonetheless did as he was bid, knowing the Lord would provide a way for Joseph to accomplish everything that had been asked of him.  Despite constant persecution that ranged from name calling to libel to false imprisonment to physical violence and even to his eventual murder, Joseph never wavered in his faith.  To the end of his life, he did everything the Lord asked of him, even sealing his testimony with his own blood.  

Many people across the world were drawn to the infant church, receiving burning testimonies of the Gospel.  Making great personal sacrifices to gather and worship together, the early Saints persevered—through persecution, in-fighting among church leaders, financial crises, forced evacuations, mob violence, controversial revelations, doubt, a tribulation-laden trek to Utah, and much more—to prove their faith and willingness to let God direct their paths.  From those very humble beginnings grew a global church that today has more than 16 million members spread over dozens of different countries.  Like their forebears, modern Church members strive to walk in faith and righteousness, despite continuing persecution and everyday trials.

Whatever your opinion of Joseph Smith and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, theirs is an incredible story.  Saints: The Standard of Truth is the first installment in a planned four-volume series about the Church's rich, intriguing history.  Purposely written in an easy-to-read narrative style, the series is geared toward readers of all ages, all backgrounds, and all degrees of familiarity with Church history/doctrine.  Despite its simple style, the book has been painstakingly researched to ensure accuracy.  As evidenced in this first installment, the series explores its subject with a forthright and refreshing honesty that has been somewhat lacking in previous histories.  In fact, The Standard of Truth discusses some of Mormonism's most troubling historical issues—polygamy, pride and power-mongering among Church leaders, Joseph Smith's treasure-hunting, criticism of the prophet, spiritual crises, etc.  Sharing personal, intimate stories of many of the Church's early leaders and followers, the book makes it clear that although the Saints were faithful people doing their best to obey God's will, they were filled with the same human frailties and weaknesses as are we all.  

Although the paperback version of The Standard of Truth weighs in at a hefty 586 pages, it's actually a fast, easy read.  It moves quickly and offers plenty of compelling stories, some of which will be very familiar to members of the Church, others of which will not (even to "lifers" like myself).  The book is available for free online (read it here or download it from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Deseret Book, etc.).  The print version is chunky and a bit unwieldly, but it can be purchased for less than $8 at store.lds.org, BYU Bookstore, Deseret Book, and other retailers.  Whether you're a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints or not, now is the perfect time to learn more about its history.  You won't be disappointed in this very readable and informative volume.

For additional stories and information from Church history, check out https://history.lds.org/saints as well as the Saints podcast, which you can find here:



(Readalikes:  The Church has published other histories in the past, but I haven't read any of them.)

Grade:



If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language and violence (including mention of rape)

To the FTC, with love:  I received a finished paperback copy of Saints: The Standard of Truth from the generous folks at The Church Historian's Press.  Thank you!

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

O.U.R. Founder Offers Hope, Action Against Human Trafficking Plague

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Although slavery was officially abolished in the U.S. more than 150 years ago, human beings are still bought and sold here every day.  Thousands of these are children, trafficked to satisfy the perverted sexual proclivities of our fellow Americans.  Globally, around 20-30 million people (about 6 million of whom are kids) are enslaved, most forced into the commercial sex trade, a 150 billion dollar enterprise (34).  The numbers are astounding.  Against such a tsunami of evil, what can possibly be done?  How can I, a single person dog paddling against the overwhelming tide, help stop this ever-growing plague?

Timothy Ballard is one person who is making a difference.  A former special agent for the CIA and Department of Homeland Security, he founded Operation Underground Railroad (O.U.R.) in 2013.  Made up of other former operatives from government agencies and the military, the group's mission is to rescue and rehabilitate victims of human trafficking and bring the perpetrators of such crimes to justice.  O.U.R., Ballard assures, is not a vigilante group.  It works within the laws of the countries in which it operates and in cooperation with foreign governments to stop the plague of human trafficking.  With a number of successful rescue operation under its belt, O.U.R. is proving to be an unstoppable force in the fight against human trafficking.

In his new book, Slave Stealers, Ballard discusses the inspiration behind O.U.R. and how his organization uses lessons from the past to guide its day-to-day operations.  Although he talks about some of O.U.R.'s rescue missions, his focus remains mostly on the original Underground Railroad.  He discusses historical leaders and heroes, some of whom are well-known (Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, etc.) and many whom are not (Harriet Jacobs, Levi Coffin, Robert Smalls, Cornelia Willis, etc.).  Despite the disturbing, overwhelming nature of his subject, Ballard emphasizes hope.  He insists that if good, ordinary citizens of all creeds, colors, and backgrounds can unite against the evil that is human trafficking, the plague can be eradicated.  Just like the battles of the past, this fight will require courage, cunning, compassion, and bold, well-planned action.  As has happened before, this war can be won.  

It's difficult not to feel bolstered by Ballard's optimism, especially considering the evil, heart-wrenching crimes he's seen with his own eyes.  His faith, his courage, and his positivity shine through everything he writes in this book.  While Slave Stealers is not overly graphic, its subject matter is as disturbing as it gets.  In spite of this, Ballard's tone is upbeat, making this volume an inspiring call-to-action that offers undeniable proof that when humans combine their individual sparks they can ignite a righteous bonfire that can spread light into even the darkest of corners.  As Ballard says to the children he seeks daily:  Your long night is coming to an end.  Hold on.  We are on our way.

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of other books about slavery and the Underground Railroad, although no titles come readily to mind.  You?)

Grade:


If this were a movie, it would be rated:


for brief, mild language (no F-bombs), violence, disturbing subject matter, and references (not overly graphic) to rape, kidnapping, child abuse/neglect/abandonment, etc.

To the FTC, with love:  I received an ARC of Slave Stealers from the generous folks at Shadow Mountain in exchange for an honest review.  Thank you! 
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