Monday, February 19, 2018

Educated by Tara Westover (Review)

Release date: February 20th, 2018
Author links: Goodreads - Twitter - Website
Publisher: Random House
Pages: 352

Description (from Goodreads):

An unforgettable memoir in the tradition of The Glass Castleabout a young girl who, kept out of school, leaves her survivalist family and goes on to earn a PhD from Cambridge University

Tara Westover was seventeen the first time she set foot in a classroom. Born to survivalists in the mountains of Idaho, she prepared for the end of the world by stockpiling home-canned peaches and sleeping with her “head-for-the-hills bag.” In the summer she stewed herbs for her mother, a midwife and healer, and in the winter she salvaged in her father’s junkyard.

Her father forbade hospitals, so Tara never saw a doctor or nurse. Gashes and concussions, even burns from explosions, were all treated at home with herbalism. The family was so isolated from mainstream society that there was no one to ensure the children received an education, and no one to intervene when one of Tara’s older brothers became violent.

Then, lacking any formal education, Tara began to educate herself. She taught herself enough mathematics and grammar to be admitted to Brigham Young University, where she studied history, learning for the first time about important world events like the Holocaust and the civil rights movement. Her quest for knowledge transformed her, taking her over oceans and across continents, to Harvard and to Cambridge. Only then would she wonder if she’d traveled too far, if there was still a way home.

Educated is an account of the struggle for self-invention. It is a tale of fierce family loyalty, and of the grief that comes with severing the closest of ties. With the acute insight that distinguishes all great writers, Westover has crafted a universal coming-of-age story that gets to the heart of what an education is and what it offers: the perspective to see one’s life through new eyes, and the will to change it.






Educated by Tara Westover was one of my most anticipated releases of 2018 and it definitely did not disappoint.

Tara Westover's memoir is filled with interesting family stories, heartbreak, resilience, strength, and much more. It is both touching and thought-provoking, personal yet universal. 

Tara Westover, Ph.D, was seventeen years old when she first set foot in a traditional classroom. Educated in an unconventional homeschooling system (unconventional in the sense that there really was no encouragement for her to study in the first place) Tara never really imagined her to be a person who would fit into a traditional school environment.

Her future felt very pre-determined for her -- marrying early, giving birth to children, assisting her mother with her midwife-business or her father with his many business endeavors. When one of Tara's brothers moves away from home to attend university against their parents' wishes, Tara begins to think that there might be a possibility for her to escape her pre-determined future as well.

It was so interesting, yet kind of terrifying, to read about Tara's childhood and the things that she has to witness living in a family that does not believe in government organized education or in the assistance of trained physicians and nurses. Seeing her mother suffer from brain injury and not getting help from the doctors or seeing her brother burned and scarred leaves a mark that she is probably never able to fully erase.

Tara's father is one of the most interesting "characters" to read about. The synopsis calls him survivalist, which I guess is true to an extent since he does prepare for the end of the world. I find it interesting, though, that the synopsis does not really mention the religious aspects of Tara's father believes at all.

Maybe the publisher thinks a mention of religion could drive some readers away. I personally had read about this book from elsewhere and knew about the religious content before picking this one up.

Tara's family attends church services at the local Mormon church but according to her father, they seem to be the only true believers in their community. His religious believes are the reason he doesn't want his children to go to a government-owned school or to a hospital. If an accident happens, according to him it was the wish of God.

I am not a religious person at all which is why I find it extremely difficult to understand Tara's father's reasoning. His decisions made me consider how I would act in situations the family finds itself in and though I did not relate to Tara's father in any way, I found it extremely intriguing to read about him.

His decisions and actions definitely have left a mark not only on himself but on all the members of his family as well. 

The violence Tara has to witness and personally go through in her home was angering and heartbreaking. The status of women in her community is horrible and painful to read about. Getting to witness how Tara's perception of herself and what she has gone through changes as she spends time away from home is extremely interesting and brilliantly executed.

The more time she spends away the more she starts to realize that what has happened to her since her childhood is not normal or deserved. It is the result of toxic masculinity and age-old gender stereotypes.

Tara's educational journey is so inspirational and highlights her personal strength. The way she is able to, slowly but surely, get acclimated to this whole new world for her is described brilliantly.

I constantly found myself rooting for her and wishing for all the best. Finding her areas of academic interest and questioning things she has been taught in her home takes time, but once she gets a chance to make her own mind it is proved that her ideas are original, brilliant and worth examining.

All of the academic research she mentions in the book sounds like something I would love to get my hands on. 

Westover is a strong writer and is able to piece her story together in a way that makes the reader want to keep turning the pages. Though I was not able to relate to her family background, her struggles at university and finding her way in the academic world were issues which made me think about my own university years.

While I believe those who can relate to Tara's family and educational background are in minority within the readership of this book, I believe her universal story about the struggles of growing up in an unconventional environment, finding her way on her own, and making decisions against her parents' wishes are issues many readers can identify with.

I highly recommend Educated to everyone and hope that this was only the beginning of Tara Westover's writing career.

Rating:

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Waiting on Wednesday (#62) - Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli


Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme started by Jill over at Breaking the Spine and hosted by Tressa at Wishful Endings. For more information, click here

The book I am waiting for this Wednesday is...

Leah on the Offbeath by Becky Albertalli

Leah on the Offbeat by Becky Albertalli

Leah Burke—girl-band drummer, master of deadpan, and Simon Spier’s best friend from the award-winning Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda—takes center stage in this novel of first love and senior-year angst.

When it comes to drumming, Leah Burke is usually on beat—but real life isn’t always so rhythmic. An anomaly in her friend group, she’s the only child of a young, single mom, and her life is decidedly less privileged. She loves to draw but is too self-conscious to show it. And even though her mom knows she’s bisexual, she hasn’t mustered the courage to tell her friends—not even her openly gay BFF, Simon.

So Leah really doesn’t know what to do when her rock-solid friend group starts to fracture in unexpected ways. With prom and college on the horizon, tensions are running high. It’s hard for Leah to strike the right note while the people she loves are fighting—especially when she realizes she might love one of them more than she ever intended.

NOVEL OF FIRST LOVE AND SENIOR-YEAR ANGST


AN ANOMALY IN HER FRIEND GROUP


SHE'S BISEXUAL


HER ROCK-SOLID FRIEND GROUP STARTS TO FRACTURE IN UNEXPECTED WAYS


SHE REALIZES SHE MIGHT LOVE ONE OF THEM MORE THAN SHE EVER INTENDED


Let me know in the comments which book you are waiting for this week!

Friday, February 9, 2018

The Secret History by Donna Tartt (Review)

The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Release date: September 5th, 1992
Author links: Goodreads
Publisher: Knopf
Pages: 745 (Finnish translation)

Description (from Goodreads):

Truly deserving of the accolade Modern Classic, Donna Tartt's cult bestseller The Secret History is a remarkable achievement - both compelling and elegant, dramatic and playful.

Under the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality their lives are changed profoundly and for ever.




Book Review banner

This book has been around for almost as long as I've been alive but only one of us has been slated as a "modern classic."

Donna Tartt's debut is so hyped and acclaimed that I felt very hesitant picking it up. When the page count of a book goes over 400 I usually start to hesitate. I have a very hard time giving up with books, even if I don't enjoy them, which often leads to me not reading at all if I am in the middle of a book I don't care for at all.

I am so happy that I made the decision to pick Tartt's debut novel up from my TBR pile because it was awesome! 

The Secret History is intriguing, intelligent, interesting, and more. Most of the characters are quite unlikable yet I couldn't help being interested in what happens to them. The college campus setting fits perfectly to the story and I love how Tartt takes her time in establishing the surroundings the characters inhabit.

The discussions about literature, history, ancient Greece, and more challenged me and made me want to do more research. Though the characters feel like complete snobs they do not feel like caricatures -- having been a part of university community for a number of years I know there is always a group of people like the characters of The Secret History lurking around somewhere.

The Secret History, in my opinion, would make a perfect book club book or a class reading since it brings up so many questions about morality, class, status, and more. While reading it I wished I had someone close to me reading it too so I could discuss it with someone.

If I ever reread this one I will definitely make sure I am reading it with someone else.

I read the Finnish translation of this novel so I can't really comment on Tartt's use of language. The translation was really good and the way the story is narrated is done in a way that the suspense lasts to the very last page. For my potential reread I will definitely pick up the original edition, though, so I can experience this book in English.

Rating:

Rating: four hearts

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Waiting on Wednesday (#61) - The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row by Anthony Ray Hinton (March 27th by St. Martin's Press)


Waiting on Wednesday is a weekly meme started by Jill over at Breaking the Spine and hosted by Tressa at Wishful Endings. For more information, click here

The book I am waiting for this week is...

Cover for The Sun Does Shine: How I found Life and Freedom on Death Row by Anthony Ray Hinton

The Sun Does Shine: How I Found Life and Freedom on Death Row by Anthony Ray Hinton

A powerful, revealing story of hope, love, justice, and the power of reading by a man who spent thirty years on death row for a crime he didn't commit.

In 1985, Anthony Ray Hinton was arrested and charged with two counts of capital murder in Alabama. Stunned, confused, and only twenty-nine years old, Hinton knew that it was a case of mistaken identity and believed that the truth would prove his innocence and ultimately set him free.

But with no money and a different system of justice for a poor black man in the South, Hinton was sentenced to death by electrocution. He spent his first three years on Death Row at Holman State Prison in agonizing silence—full of despair and anger toward all those who had sent an innocent man to his death. But as Hinton realized and accepted his fate, he resolved not only to survive, but find a way to live on Death Row. For the next twenty-seven years he was a beacon—transforming not only his own spirit, but those of his fellow inmates, fifty-four of whom were executed mere feet from his cell. With the help of civil rights attorney and bestselling author of Just Mercy, Bryan Stevenson, Hinton won his release in 2015. 

With a foreword by Stevenson, The Sun Does Shine is an extraordinary testament to the power of hope sustained through the darkest times. Destined to be a classic memoir of wrongful imprisonment and freedom won, Hinton’s memoir tells his dramatic thirty-year journey and shows how you can take away a man’s freedom, but you can’t take away his imagination, humor, or joy.


BY A MAN WHO SPENT THIRTY YEARS ON DEATH ROW FOR A CRIME HE DIDN'T COMMIT


HINTON KNEW THAT IT WAS A CASE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY AND BELIEVED THAT THE TRUTH WOULD PROVE HIS INNOCENCE AND SET HIM FREE


AS HINTON REALIZED AND ACCEPTED HIS FATE, HE RESOLVED NOT ONLY TO SURVIVE, BUT FIND A WAY TO LIVE ON DEATH ROW


FOREWORD BY STEVENSON


SHOWS HOW YOU CAN TAKE AWAY A MAN'S FREEDOM, BUT YOU CAN'T TAKE AWAY HIS IMAGINATION, HUMOR, OR JOY


Let me know in the comments which book you are waiting for this Wednesday!

Monday, February 5, 2018

February Freebie: Desktop Wallpaper [English + Finnish]

February freebie banner

Recently I have fallen in love with Pinterest after years of inactivity. As a result of that, I have also grown interested in working on all sorts of graphics as you might have guessed from the increased use of graphics on my blog.

I love switching my desktop wallpaper monthly and usually find myself looking forward to selecting the new background to use. Though I love the selection available online I decided to try making my own wallpapers this year.

I was so pleased with the first wallpaper that I decided I would share it here. Feel free to download the background for your own use and let me know in the comments if you have any suggestions for improvements.

[Since I have a lot of Finnish followers on my blog I decided to provide the calendar design in Finnish as well!]

February 2018 desktop wallpaper




Helmikuu 2018 kalenteri taustakuva

lataa png - lataa jpg

If you want to see more content by me you should follow me on Twitter @milkamilka and on Instagram @avoraciousreader.

Books for Children (#1)


I became a Godmother a few months ago and since then have been avidly looking for children's books to add to my little Godson's collection.

I went ahead and requested a few books from Netgalley thinking that I would start posting my thoughts on children's books once in a while here on my blog.

As my Godson grows I hope we will be spending more and more time reading books, so the frequency of these posts will likely increase then.

But without further rambling, here is the first batch of books! If you have any recommendations, please leave them in the comments -- I would love to hear which books you've been reading with the little ones in your life.

Caillou Plays Hockey by Anne Paradis (adapted) and Mario Allard (illustrations) 

As some of you might know, ice-hockey is a BIG deal for me. Luckily, it happens to be quite a big deal for the mother of my Godson as well, which means that he will be raised to be a hockey lover. I even bought a hockey jersey for him as a christening present.

In Caillou Plays Hockey Caillou wants to play with the bigger kids but quickly realizes that the game is too fast for him. By teaming up with a kid of his own age Caillou practices his skills and develops into a much stronger player. 

The lesson is simple: do not compare yourself to others but rather develop your skills through practice. We are all different and that is what makes the world so wonderful. 

I loved that Caillou's father takes Caillou to buy hockey equipment from a secondhand store. Every page on the book has a purpose, so deciding to use the secondhand store as a setting clearly had a purpose. 

I will definitely be reading this one to my Godson once he gets a bit older and starts his own hockey career (yes, I am determined that he will be a professional hockey player.)

Polar Bear Postman by Seigo Kijima

Polar Bear Postman focuses on Mr. Milk, the Postmaster at the Polar Bear Post Office. When Mr. Milk gets a letter from red-crown cranes asking for his help in searching for their baby chick, Mr. Milk rushes for help.

The illustrations on this one are quite simplistic and yet they manage to be engaging in many different ways. The main visual complaint I have has to do with the stylization of the text. The text looks really simple and kind of plain and I while reading this one I kept thinking of all the visually interesting and engaging things that could have been done.

There is a clear dichotomy of the good vs. bad present in the book in the form of animals -- there are bad animals that don't help Mr. Milk on his journey to find the little chick as well as good animals that decide to offer their assistance. The lesson is, naturally, that good always wins. 

No One Else Like You by Siska Goeminne and Meryl Eyckerman (illustrator)

"People come in different colors, shapes, and sizes. There are people with wiggly toes or skinny legs, with freckles in the summer and goosebumps in winter, with short arms or very long ones that can reach anything."

I really liked this one. Especially the illustration following the quote above featuring people of different colors, ages, and sizes spending the day at the pool, left an impression on me.

"People are fragile. You shouldn't drop them because they might fall to pieces. They love a little care: food and drink, but also hugs and sympathy. Or pay them a compliment -- that makes them glow inside."

As you can probably sense from the title alone, No One Else Like You is all about our unique aspects and the fact that we are all different -- even just a little bit. The illustrations in the book are wonderful and I loved the approach it takes to simply, yet effectively, illustrate the fact that we should respect different beliefs, styles of dress, and so on. 

I am definitely ordering this one to my Godson with my next book purchase. 


Look for Ladybug in Plant City by Katherina Manolessou

Look for Ladybug in Plant City comes with more than 500 things to spot. 

Looking for the little details in the illustrations is fun and I can imagine they could ignite a lot of conversations with children. Also, a lot of time could be spent by asking the child to look for certain things, count certain things, and so on.

The colors on the book are beautiful and vibrant -- I read this one of my iPad and I can just imagine how impressive the detailed illustrations look on paper. 

The only thing I found kind of strange about this book was the ending as Daisy, the main character of the book, doesn't end up finding her ladybug. The ladybug is right next to them though, so maybe it is the task of the reader to realize that the ladybug was safe and close to them after all the search. 

Home Sweet Home by Mia Cassany and Paula Blumen (illustrations)

"Peek inside apartments, houses, and backyards as our friends lead you on a journey around the world. Where would you choose as your home sweet home?"

This one was definitely my favorite of the bunch! 

Home Sweet Home introduces different homes around the world through animals. For example, there's Dash, an old dog living in Cape Cod, a cat called Arun from Myanmar, and a cat called Mimi from Toronto. 

The illustrations are wonderful -- the style, the use of color and the clear distinctions between the different homes are impressed me. I also loved how many little details every single home includes since I believe those little details will ignite conversations with the little reader about different places, customs, and so on. 

Please share your children's book recommendations in the comments below! 

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Monthly Wrap-Up - January (Favorite Books, Movies, TV, Podcasts, and Songs)


The first month of the year is over and it is time for my monthly wrap-up! 

Books read in January 2018: 
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
Vihan ja inhon internet by Emmi Nieminen and Johanna Vehkoo
Everstinna by Rosa Liksom
Bloom by Beau Taplin
Educated by Tara Westover
The Reader on the 6.27 by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent
Akvarelleja Engelin kaupungista by Jukka Viikilä

The number of books read:

9

The number of pages read:

2402

Favorite book of the month:

The Secret History by Donna Tartt

I finally read The Secret History by Donna Tartt and it is definitely worth all the hype. I pick up long books very hesitantly, but I am happy that I was brave enough to pick this one up. It was the first book I finished this year and I have a high suspicion that it will make my top books of the year list. 

Least favorite book of the month:

Bloom by Beau Taplin

Bloom by Beau Taplin wasn't a bad book, it just happened to be the worst of a spectacularly good reading month. 

There were some really good poems here, but in general, it didn't leave much of an impression on me. I enjoyed it while reading it, but now that I look back I don't remember much about it. 

Favorite movie of the month:

Image from BBC's North and South adaptation featuring Richard Armitage

I didn't watch a lot of films this one, so I am going to cheat a little bit with this category and mention BBC's North and South miniseries as my favorite movie.

I have owned this miniseries on DVD probably since 2010 and I watched it a couple of times back then. Now, rewatching it again, I quickly realized the filming locations look VERY FAMILIAR! After some research, I found out that a lot of the outdoor scenes were filmed in Edinburgh, a city I lived in for four years. Looking out for familiar locations definitely made watching this a lot more interesting.

John Thornton is kind of a dick and yet he is sooooo damn charming. I have owned the novel this is based on since 2009 and I am determined to read it this year. 

Favorite TV show(s) of the month:

One Day at a Time, The Resident, Seinfeld

Favorite continuing show of the month: One Day at a Time (Netflix) - If you are not watching this show yet, stop everything you are doing and get yourself to Netflix. One Day at a Time is entertaining, touching, hilarious, and brave. It discusses issues important to the contemporary society, such as race, diversity, sexuality, and more and does it masterfully. The cast is so likable and I promise you, this show will give you ALL THE FEELS. 

Favorite new show of the month: The Resident (Fox) - My #TeamLogan loving heart has been over the moon about this show. Matt Czuchry is back on TV! He is playing a badass rogue surgeon and I can't wait to see how this show develops in the upcoming weeks.

Favorite rewatch of the month: Seinfeld - This show continues to entertain me time after time. These characters are so horrible, yet so entertaining and kind of relatable in many ways. George Costanza will always and forever be one of my favorite fictional characters of all time.

Favorite podcast of the month:

Atlanta Monster podcast

Atlanta Monster hosted by Payne Lindsay

Atlanta Monster is a true crime podcast about the Atlanta Child Murders. 40 years after the crimes, host Payne Lindsay tries to find answers to some of the questions that still remain about the dark events that took place in Atlanta.

Favorite song of the month:
 

Haven't Met You Yet by Brett Eldredge

This song gives me MAJOR feels. It is one of those songs that always puts me in a good mood (and kind of makes me hope that Brett Eldredge would be singing it just for me.)

This song would also make the perfect inspiration for a romance novel -- just think of two people who keep going to the same places but just miss seeing each other until they finally do and they instantly know they should be together. Swoon.

Please let me know in the comments what were some of your favorite things in January! Also, remember to connect with me on Twitter @milkamilka & at Instagram @avoraciousreader.