Honest Review of Colson Whitehead's Pulitzer Prize Winning Novel, The Underground Railroad
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Winner of the prestigious Pulitzer Prize, The Underground Railroad doesn't disappoint in its ability to weave a powerful tale of hardship, injustice, and also resilience.
The book follows the story of Cora as she escapes the confines of slavery thanks to the Underground Railroad...and also her sense of determination. Her journey begins in hardship and continues in hardship as she faces loss, obstacles, doubt, fear, and capture over and over. The book keeps you reading because there are so many twists and turns. It is a sorrowful read that will stick with you and remind you that so many lives have been filled with hardship and suffering. It really made me think about my own life in that sense.
Cora's character is one riddled with complexities. She is courageous but also, as any of us would, demonstrates fear and frustration. There are points of despair and hopelessness as well as extreme isolation. However, I admired her determination to not only survive, but to survive and find a life of freedom and joy. Living was not enough for Cora; she wanted to live with the power of choice and dignity, something that clearly every human being deserves.
This book was a harsh reminder of the cruelties of the American past. Whitehead displays not only the struggles and horrors of the time period, but also the many complexities that supported and promoted slavery at this time. He sheds a light on a particularly cruel part of history through a human lens. He, thus, paints the emotional and human side of slavery and escape from slavery, allowing the reader to feel every single emotion during Cora's trials. The book was a reminder that so many lives were not only lost during this time period, but also so many lives tainted by hate, prejudice, and a lack of dignity.
This is a poignant, difficult story about a harrowing journey to freedom that will remind every reader that life isn't about money, fame, or success as we define it: the true point of life is to live a life of freedom and conviction. In addition, it's about empathy for all of humanity and standing up for what is right.
Whitehead allows these messages to stand strong through the characters he created and the raw, gritty telling of their story.
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"This is so stupid. I’m not going to see him again. I got my new tattoo, I’m ready to start over, and I’ve accomplished one of my goals.
As I walk toward home, I notice I have a little more bounce in my step. Despite the burning sensation on my shoulder and the pain, I feel better than I have in months.
I tell myself it’s the new tattoo, and not the man who gave it to me."~Lindsay Detwiler, Inked Hearts
Inked Hearts, a sexy seaside romance, is releasing October 21st! Pre-order now for half-off and then get your invite to our exclusive Pre-Order party, happening October 20th. We've got giveaways, recipes, behind-the-scenes, and more.
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Fall Festivals and Small-Town Charm: The Author's Life
I'm a small-town girl with a heart for the small-town kind of world. Sure, I've been dazzled during trips to New York City. The rush of people and the constant thrill is exciting.
But I wouldn't want to live there... because I'm a small-town kind of girl.
I like the simplicity of walking down my empty street, waving at a few friendly faces. I like the sometimes humdrum pace of our town. I like walking for breakfast to a tiny cafe down the street, and ambling to a school event on a weekend. I love the friendly, familiar faces at our local haunts. I love the lack of traffic at intersections and the easy pace of our Pennsylvania town.
So, this weekend, when my husband and I were invited to a bookstore in a small town in Pennsylvania for the town's fall festival, I was thrilled. These are the kinds of places I feel at home.
And you know what?
It was one of my favorite author events so far.
It wasn't my favorite because we sold hundreds of books (we didn't) or because we had lines of people waiting to meet me (we also didn't). It was my favorite because of the atmosphere, the people, and the small-town charm that just made me feel at home.
Watching children laughing as they visited the petting zoo and ate way too much caramel corn. The smell of fried foods and the simple chatter around. The dog costume parade and scarecrow contests. It was an afternoon of warmth and simple, true fun.
Sometimes as authors, we lose sight of the journey. We are always wanting bigger, better, faster, more. We are always measuring our paths by how many books we sell or how much money exchanges hands. We try to collect awards and fame. We become so focused on these things that we lose sight of the simple fun, the beautiful memories, and the days like today.
Today, I'm thankful for a chance to meet new readers and to explore a new town. I'm thankful my author career has led me to new places and small towns all over our state. I'm thankful for an afternoon in the sun with my husband, laughing and having a simple, small-town adventure.
The author's life isn't always about big cities and huge tour stops. Sometimes, as I've learned, the best days and events are the ones that make us feel right at home, that remind us what genuine fun is all about, and help us see that the memories we make along the way are so much more important than anything else.
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One hundred more miles until I am the new Avery, the woman I’ve always wanted to be but was too afraid of. One hundred more miles until I’m a brand-new woman without a past to haunt her, without pitying stares and questioning looks. One hundred miles until I can shake off this coat of expectations and social requirements for my life. One hundred miles until I break out of the perfect square constructed for my life. One hundred miles until I start fresh with new people, with a new town, with a new life. Only Henry knows where I’ve been, and I don’t think he’s telling anyone anything.
And the first thing I vow to myself in this new version of life?
I won’t let a man change that again. I won’t let a man control me, own my heart. I’ll live for myself this time, wild and free, a girl of the unpredictable wind.
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Feisty Sophia never shies away from life. Playful, romantic, connected—her marriage was the thing of fairy tales. But when tragedy strikes, Sophia is left to pick up the pieces of her life.
After leaving the army, Jackson is ready to start afresh. But when he returns home, his life spirals out of control.As Sophia and Jackson find themselves in each other, they start to see redemption is possible.
Trying to piece together a new life, they must answer the question: Should they forge a life together and say goodbye to their pasts completely, or should they loyally go their separate ways to avoid heartache?
Once and for All by Sarah Dessen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
"You can't measure love by time put in, but the weight of those moments. Some in life are light, like a touch. Others, you can't help but stagger beneath."
Once and for All is a beautiful, engaging young adult romance about moving on, tragedy, and hope. I adored the overall plot and the beautiful weaving of two different timelines together.
Louna's mother and godfather run a wedding planning business, so she's grown up around love and talks of forever. However, because of a serious tragedy, Louna doesn't actually believe in forever. When Ambrose is hired by Louna's mother to help out with the business for a summer, however, everything Louna thinks she knows about life and love might change.
Louna's character is the perfect balance of quirky and hesitant. I loved how dynamic she felt and how she changed through the book. Although this is a young adult novel, I felt connected with her character because she felt very mature. This is probably because at a young age, she experienced tragedy most adults couldn't even begin to imagine. This maturity allowed me to connect with her even though she is in her twenties.
I loved the supporting cast of characters in this book as well. They are all well-developed and memorable. The story moves at a perfect pace, allowing you to languish in the beautiful prose but also to feel like the story is filled with events. Sarah Dessen incorporates flashbacks seamlessly that help explain who Louna is.
This is, by far, my favorite young adult romance because it has the depth and sincerity of an adult novel while dealing with the unique issues of teenage romance. Sarah's writing style is gorgeous and captivating. There are so many beautiful lines in the book.
I wish the bonus scene had been more in-depth because I wanted to hear more about the story and where it went. However, this book is definitely a five-star novel and, in my opinion, flawless.
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A Flash of Red by Sarah K. Stephens
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
"Not having noticed the warning signs, Anna now saw that she had become embalmed in her carefully constructed life."
A Flash of Red is a thriller about the perils that some marriages face, the difficulty of letting go of the past, and the harsh reality of mental illnesses. As a professor of Psychology, Anna Kline has devoted her life to teaching about mental illnesses and disorders. To her students, her life seems picture-perfect. However, behind the scenes she's harboring some difficult secrets--about her past, about her family, and, most of all, about her marriage.
When one of her students, Bard, learns about some of the realities she's harboring, their lives become intertwined. As the plot progresses, Anna and Bard must come to terms with their realities and with the notion that life isn't always what it seems.
I thought the psychological aspects of this novel were really well-written. I found myself constantly questioning whether or not I could trust each character. The depth of the relationships was also noteworthy. I liked that Stephens focused on the idea that marriage isn't always perfect. The behind-the-scenes look at a marriage in the midst of destruction was deep and thought-provoking. I liked the internal glimpse at both parties in a relationship about to detonate.
The tension was slowly built in the novel, which simmered over the course of the beginning of the story. At first, I was anxious for the pace to pick up; however, once it did, I realized how the slow simmer actually enhanced the events of the story and made the payoff greater.
The only thing I disliked was the ending simply because I could not agree with how it all turned out. However, everyone has their own opinion, and I can relish the fact that the ending did make me think and feel. This is the true mark of a well-crafted novel, regardless of whether or not you morally agree with what happened.
This is an excellent debut novel, and I look forward to reading more works by the very talented Sarah K. Stephens.
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Book Review: Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
Anna and the French Kiss by Stephanie Perkins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
"The whole school is as intimidating as it is impressive. It should be reserved for students with personal bodyguards and Shetland ponies, not someone who buys the majority of her wardrobe at Target."
Sent to a boarding school in Paris by her father, Anna is not happy about spending her senior year away from her home in Atlanta and her best friend. Adjusting to life in Paris isn't easy, especially since she doesn't speak French. Over the course of her senior year, though, Anna learns a lot more than just a new language...she learns about friendship, growing up, and most of all, love.
I really loved the character of Anna in this book because she is so easy to relate to and so funny. Perkins does an amazing job at incorporating elements girls and women can relate to. I liked the realistic feel of the novel which came from the well-developed characters. I also really liked the character of St. Clair, who is Anna's love interest in the book. He was fun and romantic, but still had enough flaws to make him feel real.
The setting was a perfect backdrop for this novel and helped create conflict. I liked how Perkins seamlessly created the story around the backdrop but didn't let it take over the entire novel. I felt like the characters carried enough of the story on their own to make it a perfect balance.
The only thing I would have changed is to have more tension as Anna deals with the major problem in the novel. I thought the problems she faces are well-planned, but they were solved fairly quickly. I would have liked to have seen more struggle in Anna so she could have shown more change and growth. I wish the conflict hadn't been resolved so neatly.
Overall, this is a sweet, light-hearted read perfect for the summer months. It will make you want to travel to Paris and redo your senior year. Most of all, it reminds you that life and love are sometimes foreign entities to us...but eventually, we figure out how to translate them both.
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The Behind-the-Scenes Reasons I Wrote Then Comes Love
No matter how old you get, every stage of life comes with anxiety about change.
This is something I learned while watching my mom care for my ninety-something grandfather as we packed up his home near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and moved him to an apartment complex in our hometown. As I watched my mom help him navigate the change that comes with moving from a house to a complex for those 55 and over, I started to notice something: a sense of community.
Visiting my grandfather and hearing my mom's stories, I saw a rich setting full of emotion. There were humorous moments and misunderstandings as my mom took on the role of caregiver, which certainly jostles the parent-child relationship. There was fear and difficulty as my grandfather adjusted to a new home, town, and life. There was friendship with the elderly living in the apartment complex, but also with their families. The community, as I came to learn, in this apartment building wasn't just about the people living there--it was also about their families.
And, above everything else, I saw something surprising: Love.
I would see men and women holding hands on the bench outside, talking about their date nights and talking about finding love in a later stage of life. It made me realize two things:
1. Love doesn't have an age limit.
2. Even though each stage of life is different, each stage is filled with the same complex emotions of the human journey.
It was from these facts that Then Comes Love was born.
I drew on the humor from the community my grandfather lives in. I drew on the complex emotions and interactions between the people living their and the interactions between their families. I saw an opportunity for a rich setting with complex characters and emotions.
I also drew on my own family and the relationship between the women in it. I thought about how women in the family from different generations could still really help each other because in their own ways, their feelings and fears would be the same.
Charlotte, Annie, and Amelia came to be from these facts.
Charlotte, 80, is dealing with change in her life. She's moving from her home she lived in for decades with her late husband to an assisted-living facility, Wildflower Meadows. Wildflower Meadows becomes the backdrop and community for all of the interactions in the book. As she navigates the change in her life, she has to try to adjust to the new community and new rules...but she also has to adjust to the fact that her heart isn't done with love just yet.
Charlotte's daughter, Annie, is in her fifties and dealing with a mid-life crisis. She's gone through a terrible divorce while also trying to be a caregiver to her mother. Caught in the middle of several lives, she, too, finds that Wildflower Meadows will lead her to a new set of possibilities.
Finally, Charlotte's granddaughter, Amelia, is in her thirties and quite the wild child. Not ready to settle down, she's lost in a stage of life where she doesn't know what she wants to be.
The three women come together through the Wildflower community in different ways, but all three learn that family sometimes helps us navigate the most difficult moments in life. Furthermore, all three find that love can come along at any time, even when we least expect it.
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The Glass Castle: A Memoir by Jeannette Walls
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Jeannette Walls' memoir is an eye-opening look at how the past often threatens to dictate our future... and how our roots can shape us but don't have to define us.
Jeannette's childhood was marked by two free-spirited parents, hunger, and a lack of directions. Jeannette reflects on her childhood in a manner that feels objective, allowing the reader to read between the lines and form their own opinion. Her observations of her family and a childhood marked by hardship and sacrifice really forces the reader to examine themes of loyalty, motivation, change, and happiness.
This book made me re-evaluate my definitions of family and success while also considering how many people I've made wrong assumptions about. From the very beginning of the memoir, Walls makes it clear that shame and guilt are a part of her equation when it comes to her family. As the memoir unfolds, the reader gets a glimpse into the complex emotional relationship she had with her family growing up and how she has had to figure out how to make these emotions a part of who she is.
This book also made me appreciate my roots and family. I have never known hunger like this author, and I've never really gone without. Jeannette makes our society with a penchant for consumerism realize that food on the table isn't a guarantee in every household. As a teacher, it has opened up the compassion in my heart for others and has made me really stop and think about the plight of others. It has made me realize that no one's life is perfect, but some are struggling with bigger demons that we can imagine.
I certainly felt bad for Walls throughout the memoir. However, her memoir is not marked with a need for pity. She is objective in her narration and doesn't paint on the emotional baggage or cry out to be painted as a martyr or hero. She simply paints her childhood as it was and emphasizes that even in the midst of suffering and treatment that was verging on abusive, there were elements of love in her life--which often seemed one-sided. I admired her strength as a child and as an adult to not only overcome her obstacles but also learn how to make peace with them. I applaud her ability to see the good in her parents, even though they arguably don't seem to deserve this kindness at points in the memoir.
Walls shows us that no one is perfect and that parents are certainly flawed. She shows us that the past certainly plays a role in who we become, but it doesn't have to dictate our entire life. Most of all, she makes us realize that we don't know everyone's story. She shows us, as her father pointed out, that demons lurk in all sorts of places.
Walls' story is one of sacrifice, suffering, and triumph. Most of all, it is a memoir that redefines what it means to overcome, to achieve, and to love.
I applaud the author for writing a brutally honest, open, and relevant memoir and for opening herself up to the world so we can all get a better idea of what others are enduring.
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