She’s Come Undone by Wally Lamb

Warning: There are many triggers in this book for victims of many types of abuse, as well as those with mental illnesses. I won’t list the types because I don’t want spoilers, but if you think you are interested but have these types of triggers, please be advised.

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She’s Come Undone is one heck of an emotional roller-coaster. Main character Dolores takes us through her life, from one catastrophic event to the next. First, her parent’s abusive relationship. Then the death of her baby brother. Then her mother goes into a mental hospital. And her father cheats. Then her parents divorce. She eventually is moved to her grandmother’s home, away from the one friend she had made, and is forced to endure the teenage years alone. All of this is just the base of which Dolores builds her life, and as you can guess, it’s a rocky foundation. She’s depressed, she’s consoling herself with food and television, and she’s isolating herself from everyone with harsh defensive mechanisms. Taking place between the 1950’s and 1980’s, there is very little support for the circumstances and situations that Dolores is dealing with, and what support she does find comes with the price of a negative connotation.

It seems like it would be easy to pity or empathize with Dolores, but to me, for most of the book, she is an unlikable main character- which I believe is exactly what Lamb wanted his readers to think. Every time something bad happens to Dolores, she acts or lashes out, sinking into her depression and the mindset that she is alone, unloved, and unworthy. Even when someone helps her and shows her differently, she pushes them away. Parallel with the story, when Dolores lashes out, Lamb pushes away the reader intentionally- but just when you think that you’ve had enough of this book, something else keeps you reading.

It’s complex and I’m not sure if I’m explaining it eloquently enough, but to me, that’s where the power in this book is. It’s an excellent account of someone who has struggled their whole life with mental instability, with abuse, and with self-worth. It’s raw, turbulent, and emotional. Somewhere in the middle of the book, I turned my dislike for Dolores around, and was silently hoping that she would be able to stand up for herself by the book. By the end, I was smiling at the pages, glad that Dolores learns how to love and be loved.

However, I still don’t think I loved this book. Even though it was powerful, I still struggled overall with the read. I personally resent the amount of disgust shown for Dolores’ weight, and the comparisons to a beached whale. I get that that adds to her difficulties and kicks the girl when she’s down, and that it represents a lot of what our culture thinks and says about fatness, and I realized that this book was written way before the body positivity movement- but it still managed to tick me off many times. If you want a reason why, shoot me a message and I’ll get into it there.  I also hated that once she was skinny, it made her more worthy of love. I also know that Dolores’ mental issues, the whole “come undone” part of the title, was a struggle that the reader went along for the ride with, but I just felt so uncomfortable there with her, like I shouldn’t be witnessing what I was.

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In conclusion, I would recommend this book to others, but only if I really knew the person I was recommending it to, and I don’t think I’ll be rereading it. I understand why so many people recommended it, because it is so powerful, but can’t say that it became a new favorite.

Warning: There are many triggers in this book for victims of many types of abuse, as well as those with mental illnesses. I won’t list the types because I don’t want spoilers, but if you think you are interested but have these types of triggers, please be advised.

 

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I Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

I’m almost at a loss of words when it comes to this book. How could anyone read it without their heart shattering?

I guess to start, I’ll be the first to admit, politics are not my favorite subject. I’ve never liked confrontation, and I rarely paid attention to international conflicts. On September 11, 2001, I was a terrified fourth grader who didn’t understand what was happening in the world- but I was mollified by the promise that American soldiers were going to protect me from the terrorists. Growing up, I realize and confess, I was put in a privileged American bubble and only heard scraps of information about the war on terrorism and the conflict in the Middle East, mostly because I didn’t seek out information.

Now, as an adult (who is still working on adulting) I’d realized that I needed to wake up and pay attention to what is going on in the world. I read the headlines every day from various media outlets (because contrary to popular belief, just because it is on the internet doesn’t mean it must be true), and form educated opinions about current events. I still keep many of those opinions to myself, but I’ve come to enjoy discussing what is happening in the world- although at times (especially under our current administration) it tends to get me down- with family and friends.

At any rate, I Am Malala has been on my TBR for a long time. I knew it was a must read, and I had heard about Malala in the news, so I was somewhat familiar with her story… or so I thought, anyway. Reading Malala’s story in her own words not only educated me on the adversity in Pakistan and it’s turbulent history, but also the culture of a woman’s life under the reign of the Taliban.

Malala introduces herself and her family, starting from the day of her attack and working backwards. Her grandfather was a traditional Islamic man who was known for his ability to give amazing speeches in their community. He raised his son to also be a strong man of faith, and despite troubles with a stammer, helped to make him a renowned public speaker as well. As Malala’s father was also a fierce believer in children’s education, and eventually started his own school despite financial and economic hardships.

When Malala was born, her father rejoiced despite the common belief that boys were more prized than girls. Malala grew up in her father’s school and loved the educational environment. She would listen to the teachers tell stories, and when old enough, became a devoted pupil. She was interested in politics and history of her country, and intrigued by human rights. In Pakistan, females were not encouraged to go to school for both religious and economic reasons, with the common mentality being that education was meant for males, and a waste of resources and money on females. There was also the traditional belief to practice purdah, where the females of the household are completely covered and hidden from males that aren’t close family. Malala’s family was more modern in this context. Her father wanted education available to girls, allowed Malala to not cover her face, and encouraged her to speak out for the right of female education.

When the Taliban took over Swat (the area where Malala lived), extreme politics overturned the government, and Malala and her father became a target for speaking out against them. Their school was repeatedly told to shut down and disallow girls, and fined for absurd reasons. The town was terrorized by militant groups raiding homes in search of forbidden property like DVDs, CDs, and TVs- anything that could counter the propaganda being promoted by the leader of the Taliban. Anyone found- or accused- of speaking against the Taliban was targeted and either killed or flogged in public and left to die in the streets. Everything was done in the name of Islam, stating that the reasoning could be found in the Quran- yet many were uneducated and couldn’t read the original Arabic text, therefore relying on the translations and interpretations. Eventually, war came to the area, displacing millions of people in Swat- including Malala and her family. Through the tragedy, Malala and her father stayed true to their beliefs that peace, not violence, was the answer, and that education should be available to everyone.

When the Taliban was driven out of Swat and Malala’s family returned home, normalcy was still difficult to find, and everyone was still living in fear. However, Malala put on a brave face and continued to speak out- reaching locally and internationally- advocating for female education, ignoring the threats on her life. Though she was only fifteen, she was wise beyond her years and had faith in the Islam she knew, not the one projected by extremists. Then, one seemingly normal afternoon, Malala was shot.

As Malala tells her own story, I struggled to fight the heartbreak. This teenager lived in a paradise that she watched transform into a living hell, and survived the nightmare of it all, not losing an ounce of her faith or giving an inch in her beliefs. She is an absolute inspiration, and I was both in awe and shock as she recounted her short 16 years on earth. I personally would go to bed at night after reading a few chapters and have nightmares just from what I had read. As I said before, I live a privileged life, and even my imagination can’t handle what Malala went through.

I absolutely think I Am Malala is a must-read. We owe it to her, and to those who went through, and continue to go through, the fight on terrorism and the fight for basic human rights.

Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

I’m pretty sure I started to read this while I was in middle school and couldn’t get into it, so I decided to give Speak another go.

It’s a rather quick read (I read it in a day) about a high school freshman named Melanie. Her school year starts off terribly as she finds herself friendless with a tattered reputation, and she begins to emotionally recede. Her anxiety leaves her almost speechless, and yet her inner turmoil is a constant stream of quick witted (and at times fearful) thought. As the story unfolds, we learn that Mellie became the class outcast because she had called 911 during a popular party over the summer, yet her reason behind the call goes unexplained for a long time.

In the meantime, Melanie is struggling in school. Her grades have tanked with the exception of her art class, and her parents and teachers don’t understand why. The only place she feels contentment at school is an abandoned janitorial closet that she cleaned up, and in her art class with Mr. Freeman, as she works on her yearly assignment- trees. Coached by her teacher, she tries different mediums to make her trees speak, and as the year goes on, she finally realizes the parallel between her tree’s expression and her own. When the epiphany takes hold, she decides to take action about her depression and the beast that haunts her.

Halse Anderson’s writing style throughout the book is broken into small thoughtful paragraphs straight from her main character’s mind, and instead of chapters, the book is broken into marking period quarters. I think this is what turned me off the first time I attempted to read this book, but I find it very clever now. This sets up the story timeline in a creative way, allowing the reader to understand the passing of time but without having it stated in the inner thoughts of the main character. I also was surprised at Mellie’s inner dialogue- though it’s a YA book, the content is, for the most part, mature. And when there are paragraphs of immaturity, it’s exactly what you would expect to come from a teenager. I thought I’d feel a little too old to be reading Speak, but Halse Anderson did a great job making Melanie’s story relatable and understandable for all ages.

As an aside, the copy I own is the platinum edition, so it came with a Q&A from the author, which I always love to read, and I found out that there is a movie version of Speak. After a little research, I found out it came out in 2004, starring a young Kristen Stewart. If you’ve seen it, what do you think? I think if the library has it, I’ll watch it and see how it compares.

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Overall, I would definitely recommend Speak. I know it’s an old YA book at this point, but it had a strong plot and main character that makes it still relevant to today.

January Wrap-Up (with book tags and other fun tidbits)

We made it through the yuckiest winter month here in Kentucky, and I’m hoping you all are having a warmer winter than us! It’s been the chilliest winter we’ve had in years (I think my first year here was *maybe* this cold), and I’ve been drinking a ton of tea (trying to cut back my coffee intake) and hot cocoa and mostly attempting to hibernate. Spring can’t come soon enough!

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Over the course of the month, I’ve posted the following reviews:

  1. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
  2. Shiver by Maggie Steifvater
  3. Divergent by Veronica Roth
  4. Insurgent by Veronica Roth
  5. Allegiant by Veronica Roth
  6. Someone Like You by Sarah Dessen
  7. The Pilot’s Wife by Anita Shreve

I also did one giant booktag post, and since I’ve got a few more to do, I’m going to do them here!  Keith from Sink into the Ink tagged me on Instagram for another couple of fun tags- #winterreads and #bythebook! And, I’ve been sitting on The Harry Potter Tag which I kinda stole from Jenny @ Jenny in Neverland, waiting for a good chance to do it! I’m going to keep the answers short since there are so many.

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#winterreads Tag

  • Hot cocoa & marshmallows (a nostalgic read): Gone with the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell
  • Snow drift (a book you binge read instead of going outside): Haha I’ll read anything so I don’t have to go outside in the winter!
  • Gloomy skies (a sad read): Sarah’s Key by Tatiana de Rosnay
  • Holiday spirit (a book that made you excited for the holidays): I don’t really read holiday books- although I did read One Christmas in Winter by Bell Renshaw.
  • Bah humbug (a book you didn’t finish):The Poet of Tolstoy Park by Sonny Brewer

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#bythebook Tag

  • Book on your bedside table?  Girls Like Us by Sheila Weller
  • Last book you read? The Pilot’s Wife by Anita Shreve
  • Bookshelf organization? Singles by color of the rainbow, some by author on one shelf, some by series on another.
  • Book that disappointed you? The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood by Rebecca Wells
  • Type of story that grabs you? Fast paced, likeable characters, with humor, thrills, or mystery.
  • Books you intend on reading? I’m gonna cheat this and say I plan on reading 50 books… which I know is not really what they’re looking for but I HAVE SUCH A LIST.

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Harry Potter Tag

  • What house are you in? HUFFLEPUFF, whoot whoot!
  • What is your Patronus? A tonkinese cat
  • What is your wand? Hawthorne wood with a phoenix feather core, 12 1/2 inches, slightly yielding.
  • What would your boggart be? Just like Molly Weasley, mine would be with my loved ones dead or dying around me.
  • What position would you play in Quiddich? Keeper if I made the team. Otherwise, an uber fan, haha.
  • Would you be a pure-blood, half-blood or muggle born? Half-blood. Dad’s definitely a muggle (he doesn’t care about the wizard stuff), but mom was always a fan of Bewitched… haha.
  • What job would you want to have after leaving Hogwarts? Definitely something to do with the care of magical creatures… probably specializing in Unicorns.
  • Which of the Deathly Hallows would you choose? The invisibility cloak, of course.
  • Favourite book? Deathly Hallows or Prisoner of Azkaban.
  • Least favourite book? Meh, I can’t chose. They all range on a level of amazing and mind blowing.
  • Favourite film? Sorcerer’s Stone (the nostalgia!) or Half Blood Prince (the drama!)
  • Least favourite film?Deathly Hallows, both parts. It’s like they never checked the book for the details at the ending and decided to improvise. Ugh.
  • Favourite character? Molly is my kin, Remus makes my heart ache, and Fred and George as a duo always made me LOL until… I don’t wanna talk about it.
  • Least favourite/most hated character? Freaking Umbridge. Which is sad because she’s not even the ‘bad guy’. But Voldemort is a very very very close second.
  • Favourite teacher at Hogwarts? MCGONAGALL IS QUEEN.
  • Least favourite teacher at Hogwarts? *see least favorite/most hated character*
  • Do you have any unpopular opinions about the series? How could anyone?! It’s the most magical, amazing, extraordinary series ever!

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Phew! Now that those are done,  I have two more tidbits of news! First, I decided to give my blog a little facelift (I hope you noticed!), and am going to hopefully start incorporating more original artwork. I’m not much of a graphics person, but I want to challenge myself to it! Second, drumroll….. this month, I got nominated for the Blogger Recognition Award!! I am still so chuffed about it, because I’m just blown away that my little blog got noticed! So thank you all again for reading and commenting and enjoying my posts! Y’all make me feel so special!

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The Pilot’s Wife by Anita Shreve

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I picked this one up on one of my compulsive thrift hauls, sitting on my shelf since sometime this past fall. I was curious to see if Shreve would leave the same impression on me, as this is my second Shreve novel (the other being Testimony, which I read back in 2011). I found them similar in that they were slow to start but packed a punch by the end.

For me, The Pilot’s Wife took a little while to get into because of Shreve’s writing style between chapters. There isn’t much awareness between the present moments and the change to past memories, with the exception of a chapter break and the punctuation of dialogue, which changes from quotations to em dashes. The first few chapters, the present tense would hook me into the plot, and then the flashback chapters would confuse me. It was almost as if I should be looking for clues in the flashbacks, but I had no idea what to look for. This slowed the pace, and I’m not a fan when the author controls my pace, haha. I want the action! This was similar in Testimony, so I’m going to guess that this is Shreve’s style. (Fans of hers, am I correct?) The other similarity I picked up on was how the plot is revealed. At first, there’s a lot of detail, background and setting and character relationship information. This bogs me down, but Shreve uses really beautiful language and there was enough interesting tidbits within that made me want to continue reading, not quit.

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Right from the very first chapter, Shreve introduces her main character, Kathryn, who is awoken in the middle of the night by a man knocking on her door. Her daughter Mattie is asleep down the hall, and her husband Jack, an airline pilot, was overseas in London and due back around lunchtime. When she finally answers the door, a man named Robert, a rep from the airline union, gives her the worst news: Her husband’s plane had exploded over the Atlantic, and there were no survivors.

Kathryn, now a widow, is faced with the aftermath, including varying rumors that the accident was Jack’s fault. Trying to help her daughter and herself come to terms, Kathryn attempts to prove Jack’s honor, but ends up finding seemingly insignificant details coming together to prove that Jack had something to hide. When Kathryn pieces everything together, the reader is left to wonder how the pilot’s wife will continue on with the newfound knowledge.

I’ve just recently found out that there is also a movie of this novel, so I’m curious to see how it will compare, but I always think the book is better so I guess it doesn’t matter too much. The Pilot’s Wife has Oprah’s Book Club seal of approval, and if you’re in for an intimately gripping read, I’d give Shreve’s novel a chance.

 

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Allegiant by Veronica Roth

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Oh. My. Heart.

For those of you who haven’t read Divergent and Insurgent, you know what to do…

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Read them? Good, because there is no way I can write about Allegiant without spoilers. I’ll try to leave out what I can, but there is just SO MUCH TO TALK ABOUT.

Let’s start with a quick summary. At the beginning of the book, the Factionless have taken control of the city, declaring that there will be no more faction system. Tris is under arrest for treason, for trying to help stop the attack on Janine- which was done only to help release information that has been hidden for years. Tobias and Tris were at odds, since he was working with his mother and not with Tris, until the very last minute, when Tobias helped release the hidden information behind his mother’s back. The information contained a message from one of the original settlers of the establishment, revealing that there was life outside the city limits and why the establishment was originated.

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Now, as the novel continues, the point of view switches between Tris and Tobias every chapter. This was a little tricky for me, because for the last two books, I’ve been completely inside Tris’ head, and then getting into Allegiant, I had to start thinking like Tobias as well. There were a couple of times where the pace got fast, and as chapters whipped by, I had to go back and double check who’s point of view I was reading from. I disliked having to do that as it slow my pace, but at the same time, it was interesting to get the multiple points of view. I believe it made sense for the story to split the views, and come the end of the book, it was definitely necessary.

As the novel goes on, the reader finds out what is beyond the city establishment, and the whole story of how the economic structure came to be and how the ongoing genetic reconstruction experiments occurred completely redefine the lives of the main characters. As layers of the truth are revealed, you can predict an uprising coming from Tris and Tobias, but how it played out completely astounded me. This revelation complicates the fierce relationship problems between Tris and Tobias. One minute, they are on the same team, ready to fight, absolutely absorbed by each other. The next, they’re racing against each other, throwing the harshest dagger-like comments at each other, and barely speaking. Add the additional character’s conflicts, and you can see why this novel packs a punch. Basically, your heart is the punching bag, and Roth knows how to hit it- and even if you saw it coming, it still hurts.

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I don’t want to give the ending away, but I have to talk about that ending. The minute that the rebel group decides to send in a certain someone to set off the “reset” serum, I knew Tris wouldn’t let that happen. When she makes it through the first set of doors, I was thrilled that once again her Divergence won out. But then I knew that when you-know-who showed up, it was over. And I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe that Roth would do that to her readers. And I fought back tears because I was both sad AND angry. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book where this situation occurs, and I wasn’t expecting it. At least there is resolution, and I guess in retrospect, one of the themes running through the series is moving on despite the past.

So, with that in mind, I’m moving on from this series a little battered, but with no regrets. It was captivating and exhilarating, and I’m crushed that this is the end. Well, at least until I get my copy of Four, but even so. Despite the ending, I completely recommend the read.

Also, I’m gonna leave you with this, in hopes that you giggle.

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Insurgent by Veronica Roth

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I tried to read this in two days but the real world kept interrupting me. When I opened up Insurgent, I was just as absorbed as the first in the series. If you haven’t read Divergent, do that first… I’ll wait.

Done? Didn’t take you long, did it? Okay, good, because it’s hard to write a review of a second book in the series without spoilers of the first.

The book starts with Tris and Four seeking refuge at the Amity headquarters after the Dauntless, under a simulation transmitter serum, attacked the Abnegation sector and killed innocents. The faction system as they know it is shattering after Erudite and traitor Dauntless members have teamed up to hunt Divergents and they will sacrifice anyone that gets in their way of finding a serum that will control the Divergents. Leading the pack in Janine Matthews, creator of the control serums and mastermind behind the attacks.

Tris and Four try to seek help from Amity, but they refuse to offer their aid, as they seek only peace in their faction. Knowing that conflict will have to occur, Tris and Four try to plan a way to take down Janine. When the Erudite seek them and other refugees out in Amity, a few select rebels are lead by Tris and Four into the city, to rendezvous with the Factionless. After this meeting, Tris learns more about Four’s past, and they have problems trusting each other. After some time and circumstances, Tris decides that the best way to save Four and aid in the revolt is to turn herself in to Janine- leaving her life as her parents did, as her origins taught her in Abnegation.

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It’s a complete roller coaster of action and emotions. Like before, Roth does an excellent job putting you inside Tris’ head, allowing the reader to see the action and process it as Tris does. I also don’t think I pointed it out on my last review, but Roth is very acute with her details, never letting them fall through the cracks. If someone was shot, she continually displays that ailment, for instance. I find that those details really impact the story, making it more realistic to the reader.

Being as that Insurgent is left on a bit of a cliffhanger, I’m going to keep this short and say, obviously, that this is an entertaining and absolute must read. Now, I’m going to go bury my nose in Allegiant… see you in a few days!

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