Book Reviews, Bookworm Blogging

Mini-Review Compilation #17

The Abyss Surrounds Us

This was a fun book! Sapphic pirates and sea monsters galore. I had a fun time with it overall and really appreciated that the power discrepancy in the romance was explicitly acknowledged. There were some bits that could have used some more fleshing out or revision (stuff like, “she suddenly stopped paying attention to me” followed a page later by “she was spending more time with me to make up for not paying attention to me” with no reasoning or resolution?) but it is a debut novel. I’m hoping to get to the sequel soon!

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Buddhism without Beliefs

This was not a complete waste of time, but was close to it. The book detaches buddhism from religion and formats it not as a belief system, but a certain way of living. At first, I was really impressed with the ideas presented and felt I was getting a lot out of it. According to Dealing with “anguish” seems to be hinged on creating a perspective in which all is temporary: our “cravings” have not always existed, thus they will not always exist. It is turning our feelings into things we can watch ebb and flow rather than something that will overtake us entirely. Action is repeatedly emphasized as the key to dharma practice.

The formatting of the book seems to be without logical flow; it felt more like a general rambling than something coherently laid out. The chapters themselves confused me, as I felt like the author was talking himself around ideas and as soon as he began to approach what I thought was the point, the chapter would end unceremoniously. It was frustrating, since it started out explaining so many interesting ideas only to turn into something unstructured and unhelpful. It seems this may have made a better essay than an entire book. Also, the author is weirdly obsessed with someone they call S, who they refer to as their enemy and who apparently riles them up often. It was strangely distracting.

Rating: ⭐⭐

The Widow of Pale Harbor

After enjoying The Witch of Willow Hall, I was quite excited for this one. Unfortunately, it just didn’t live up to expectations. I had difficulty connecting with the characters and was completely unmotivated to finish. I finally decided to put it down in favor of reading something I’d feel more excited about.

Rating: DNF


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Lilli de Jong [review]

Lilli de Jong by Janet Benton
Published by Nan A. Talese on May 6, 2017
my rating: ★★★
Goodreads avg:
3.99 (as of 2019-10-08)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author Website

Pregnant, abandoned by her lover, and banished from her Quaker home and teaching position, Lilli de Jong enters a charity for wronged women to deliver her child. She is stunned at how much her infant needs her and at how quickly their bond overpowers her heart. Mothers in her position have no sensible alternative to giving up their children, but Lilli can’t bear such an outcome. Determined to chart a path toward an independent life, Lilli braves moral condemnation and financial ruin in a quest to keep herself and her baby alive.

Confiding their story to her diary as it unfolds, Lilli takes readers from an impoverished charity to a wealthy family’s home to the perilous streets of a burgeoning American city. Lilli de Jong is at once a historical saga, an intimate romance, and a lasting testament to the work of mothers. “So little is permissible for a woman,” writes Lilli, yet on her back every human climbs to adulthood.”


Lilli de Jong is the story of a young quaker girl who finds herself pregnant in a society where an unwed mother is a scourge and disgrace. I enjoyed the book at the start; not knowing much about quakers, I was intrigued to hear more about Lilli’s life. I also enjoyed the journal format, with Lilli speaking directly to the reader as if we were her diary. Which, in the narrative, we are.

How is it that shame affixes itself to the violated, and not to the violator?

Lilli is forced to seek shelter in a home for single pregnant women, and is lucky enough to be boarded and fed as she waits to birth her child. While the norm is to adopt one’s baby out and to continue life as though the pregnancy had never happened, Lilli stands her ground and decides that she wants to keep her baby. As expected, this leads to many difficulties.

So little is permissible for a woman—yet on her back every human climbs to adulthood.

I found it intriguing for quite a while, but over time the hurdles Lilli faced became tiresome. I’m sure the events were realistic to an extent, but it was difficult to suspend my belief when the worst seemed to happen at all times. As soon as things began turning around for Lilli, something even worse would happen. At first this was surprising and kept me on my toes, but I felt the author took it just too far. I was also quite frustrated at how Lilli behaved some of the time, she seemed to change her mind on a whim and had no idea how to make decisions that would actually benefit her. It’s likely because she was quite young, but still, it became irritating to read through. I will say that I had no issue with the writing itself. Benton knows how to create an atmosphere that will draw the reader in, and how to create interesting side characters to support her lead.

Did she go to the grave with painful secrets? Must every woman? Will I?

It was clear that Benton wanted to shed some light on the hardships women faced during this time period. As she mentions in the afterword, these girls’ stories went untold — I’m actually excited to read some of the books she used for her research. She also clearly wanted to show the deep bond a mother feels toward their child. In that respect, this may be more impactful to readers who enjoy reading about motherhood. Parts of it may be difficult if you do have a child — without spoilers, I’ll just say she and her daughter are put into some dangerous situations — but I think that would make it easier to relate to.

This knowledge is not a curse. Separation from the garden’s innocence is not a sin. It is a beginning.

Overall, while the book was well-written, I struggled with the seemingly endless tragedies the title character faced and got less out of this than I was hoping to.


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Rebecca [review]

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
Published by Little, Brown, and Company on December 17, 2013 (originally 1938)
my rating: ★★★★
Goodreads avg:
4.22 (as of 2019-10-05)
Spoiler-free Review

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Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again…

The novel begins in Monte Carlo, where our heroine is swept off her feet by the dashing widower Maxim de Winter and his sudden proposal of marriage. Orphaned and working as a lady’s maid, she can barely believe her luck. It is only when they arrive at his massive country estate that she realizes how large a shadow his late wife will cast over their lives–presenting her with a lingering evil that threatens to destroy their marriage from beyond the grave.

First published in 1938, this classic gothic novel is such a compelling read that it won the Anthony Award for Best Novel of the Century.


I’ve been intending to read Rebecca for quite some time now and after some insistence by, well, pretty much everyone around me, I finally did it! I found it to be quite intriguing and thought it would make for a really interesting study had I read it in school. And I almost wish I had, since there was so much I’m sure I didn’t pick up on. At its core, it’s the story of a woman who falls in love with a widower, only to find herself in the shadow of the late Rebecca.

No, I’m asking you to marry me, you little fool.

It’s clear from the start that our narrator can’t hold a candle to Rebecca herself — she speaks explicitly of it, but also implies it by leaving herself nameless. She obsesses over every difference between them, both real and perceived, down to the fact that the narrator must call Mr. de Winter “Maxim” while Rebecca called him “Max.” As she settles into her new life as Mrs. de Winter, she must adjust to others’ expectations of her as well. Instead of making her time her own, she adheres to the schedules and habits previously exhibited by Rebecca. Yet she still can tell that she is always being held to a standard she cannot meet. 

Rebecca, always Rebecca. I should never be rid of Rebecca.

The dichotomy between the two women is the main focus of the book. Where Rebecca was boisterous and well-loved, the young bride is cautious and shy. Where Rebecca was tall, dark, and beautiful, our narrator is small, plain, and compliant. It’s easy to hate the main character as much as she hates herself; as a reader, I wanted her to buck up and make an effort instead of tiptoeing around everything. It’s difficult not to agree with her that Rebecca was better in every way. 

I knew now the reason for my sense of foreboding. It was not the stranded ship that was sinister, nor the crying gulls, nor the thin black funnel pointing to the shore. It was the stillness of the black water, and the unknown things that lay beneath.

I can’t get much deeper into the plot without spoiling the mystery, but there is truly mystery abound here. There are slow bits, but once things creep up on you, you’ll find yourself flying through the pages to get to the end. And the end itself is quite shocking. Honestly, my only complaints really are those slower pieces (honestly, just cutting a bit out would have cured this) as well as the lack of spine in the main character. She’s quite boring at times, but it also serves a purpose for her to be the way she is.

It doesn’t make for sanity, does it, living with the devil.

Overall, I’m quite glad I ended up reading this. It was an interesting book and great for those who love gothic reads.


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What Doctors Feel [review]

What Doctors Feel: How Emotions Affect the Practice of Medicine by Danielle Ofri
Published by Beacon Press on June 4, 2013
my rating: ★★★★
Goodreads avg:
4.16 (as of 2019-09-27)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author Website

Physicians are assumed to be objective, rational beings, easily able to detach as they guide patients and families through some of life’s most challenging moments. But doctors’ emotional responses to the life-and-death dramas of everyday practice have a profound impact on medical care. And while much has been written about the minds and methods of the medical professionals who save our lives, precious little has been said about their emotions. In What Doctors Feel, Dr. Danielle Ofri has taken on the task of dissecting the hidden emotional responses of doctors, and how these directly influence patients.

How do the stresses of medical life—from paperwork to grueling hours to lawsuits to facing death—affect the medical care that doctors can offer their patients? Digging deep into the lives of doctors, Ofri examines the daunting range of emotions—shame, anger, empathy, frustration, hope, pride, occasionally despair, and sometimes even love—that permeate the contemporary doctor-patient connection. Drawing on scientific studies, including some surprising research, Dr. Danielle Ofri offers up an unflinching look at the impact of emotions on health care.


What Doctors Feel explores how doctors’ emotions impact both their own lives and the lives of their patients. This isn’t a non-fic where you’ll find yourself getting bored. Dr. Ofri writes conversationally and includes specific examples from her years as a doctor to get her point across. The only downside being that you’ll have to be someone who can stomach hearing about some less-than-pleasant things. I didn’t feel myself losing interest at any point while reading, and found this to be quite a compelling read. I was expecting there to be more of an academic focus, but Dr. Ofri relies fairly heavily on anecdotal storytelling. Make no mistake: she always specifies whether her assertions can be backed up by solid research or whether they are yet unexplored hypotheses. This combination helps the reader learn while also being able to tie everything discussed to real-life situations.

High empathy scores predict which students will excel in their clinical clerkships, who will be nominated by their peers for exemplary professionalism, and who will be ranked as highly empathic by residency program directors and by patients themselves.

One thing I found quite fascinating was the differences medical students can experience during their third year of med school. This is the time students spend in clinic, following interns and residents around while learning all they can. This third year can be a roll of the dice and make or break the student’s education as well as influence their path moving forward. Medical students also adjust to the humor used by physicians and in doing so can begin using phrases that phase out empathy — by making jokes about drug addicts, for instance, instead of empathizing with their difficulties. Indeed, there is a documented decline in empathy at this point in a medical student’s education. While Dr. Ofri is clear to caution that these results are preliminary, studies have shown that patients of doctors with higher empathy scores experience things like better medication compliance, higher quality of life, and even less severe colds.

When continuing into residency, Dr. Ofri shares how there is little to no time for clinicians to process emotional situations. She shares specific instances of doctors who witnessed traumatic deaths without so much as blinking, only to break down later on in the throes of PTSD. Additionally, doctors are driven to strive for perfection. It makes sense after all, patients can die from mistakes. But there is often a dichotomy perceived: either you are a perfect doctor or you are a failure, no grey areas allowed. In the medical field, it is difficult to learn from one’s mistakes without feeling an overwhelming sense of shame and self-doubt — and shame can prevent someone from coming forward to admit their mistake. Coming forward may be the right thing to do, but studies have also shown that acknowledging and discussing such errors leads to changes in clinicians’ behavior that prevent future mistakes.

Fear, like all emotions, is neither good nor bad; it is simply one of the normal states of being. Overwhelming fear can be incapacitating, as I learned during my first code. But appropriate fear, as I witnessed in my obstetrician, can be crucial for good medical care, especially during critical situations.

Overall, I really enjoyed this read and recommend it to anyone interested in the inner workings of the healthcare industry, particularly where the impact of emotions is concerned.


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Pet [review]

Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
Published by Make Me a World on September 10, 2019
my rating: ★★★★
Goodreads avg: 
4.30 (as of 2019-09-23)
disclaimer: I received an advanced copy of this book from NetGalley and the publisher in exchange for review consideration. All of the opinions presented below are my own. All quotes have been taken from the advanced copy and are subject to change upon publication.

Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

Pet is here to hunt a monster. Are you brave enough to look?

There are no monsters anymore, or so the children in the city of Lucille are taught. Jam and her best friend, Redemption, have grown up with this lesson all their life. But when Jam meets Pet, a creature made of horns and colors and claws, who emerges from one of her mother’s paintings and a drop of Jam’s blood, she must reconsider what she’s been told. Pet has come to hunt a monster, and the shadow of something grim lurks in Redemption’s house. Jam must fight not only to protect her best friend, but also to uncover the truth, and the answer to the question–How do you save the world from monsters if no one will admit they exist?


After absolutely loving Freshwater, there wasn’t a question in my mind of whether or not I’d pick up Pet. I was actually lucky enough to grab a copy off Netgalley! Pet tells the story of a black trans girl named Jam, who lives in a utopian society where all “monsters” have been vanquished. The problem is, an otherworldly creature crawls out of a painting created by Jam’s mother and insists that there is a monster, and that it has come to hunt it.

But unpleasant things must be done for unpleasant purposes out of unpleasant necessity.

I found that I loved a lot about the characters in this novel. As far as I remember, none of the characters were white. Jam herself is trans, which was just a fact of life and not the source of any kind of conflict, and is also implied to have selective mutism. She speaks sign language with most of the people around her, who have learned it so that she can communicate more comfortably. Jam’s best friend Redemption also has parents who are in a polyamorous relationship, which I was thrilled to see!

I found the message of the story to be quite important: that monsters are often hiding in plain sight, and that we must be willing to look for them. The problem with this utopian society was that in believing all of the monsters were gone, they no longer kept their eyes open and were blind to the reality in front of them. While it’s scary to realize that we’re not as safe as we think, it’s important to look out for red flags and to protect everyone around us. I thought this was really well-done and hope that this story can reach children and young adults — and even adults — who need to hear this message.

One of my only complaints was that I struggled to pick apart most of Redemption’s family. They all sort of blurred together for me, save for his uncle Hibiscus and brother Moss. I think this is less that they don’t have distinct personalities and more that not enough time is spent with them for those personalities to feel fully developed. It didn’t cause much trouble for me, but did occasionally get a bit confusing.

The truth does not change whether it is seen or unseen, it whispered in her mind. A thing which is happening happens whether you look at it or not. And yes, maybe it is easier not to look. Maybe it is easier to say because you do not see it, it is not happening. Maybe you can pull the stone out of the pool and put the moon back together.

Overall, this was definitely a solid read and I’m glad that Emezi is able to spread such an important message.


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The Wolves of Winter [review]

The Wolves of Winter by Tyrell Johnson
Published by Scribner on January 2, 2018
my rating: ★★★.5
Goodreads avg:
3.75 (as of 2019-09-18)
Spoiler-free Review

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Forget the old days. Forget summer. Forget warmth. Forget anything that doesn’t help you survive in the endless white wilderness beyond the edges of a fallen world.

Lynn McBride has learned much since society collapsed in the face of nuclear war and the relentless spread of disease. As the memories of her old life continue to haunt, she’s forced to forge ahead in the snow-drifted Canadian Yukon, learning how to hunt and trap and slaughter.

Shadows of the world before have found her tiny community—most prominently in the enigmatic figure of Jax, who brings with him dark secrets of the past and sets in motion a chain of events that will call Lynn to a role she never imagined.


I tend to enjoy plague dystopians, but this one was a little different in that it didn’t really focus on the illness itself. It did feel a little different, a little more realistic than most: the “end of the world” really came through a culmination of believable factors rather than one big bad thing. The Wolves of Winter follows one family who has escaped to the great white north in the aftermath of society’s downfall. They are almost entirely cut off from humanity, and live like survivalists until the day a Mysterious Stranger happens by.

Snow is the quietest kind of weather.

As much as I enjoyed this, a lot of it was a bit heavy-handed. The twists are hinted to generously, and are easy to see coming. Lynn’s grief for her father felt overdone and less than genuine. It certainly had its place, but I often felt more annoyed by the repeated references to his death rather than feeling sympathetic or saddened. Aside from Lynn, her parents, and Jeryl, the other characters all sort of blurred together for me. Jax, Ramsay, and Ken didn’t feel like they had much in the way of personality other than just being men — Jax was really only easy to tell apart as the outsider.

My stomach stirred like I was hungry. But I wasn’t hungry. I didn’t like the feeling.

I will say that I did like Lynn, but she was sort of the stereotypical one-of-the-boys-and-stubborn-as-nails heroine. My favorite character was probably Jeryl, just because he felt the most lifelike. Thinking about it, though, pretty much all the characters were kind of stereotypes in their own way. The plot itself is also kind of formulaic and I didn’t really end up getting caught by surprise much, although I wasn’t able to predict all of the details and thus was interested in finding out “the truth” alongside Lynn.

“And nothing can happen more beautiful than death,” Walt Whitman says. Fucking liar.

Overall: this wasn’t anything groundbreaking, but it was a fun read and I wouldn’t be opposed to picking up more by this author!


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Everything I Never Told You [review]

Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
Published by Penguin Press on June 26, 2014
my rating: ★★★★
Goodreads avg:
3.85 (as of 2019-09-16)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author Website

Lydia is dead. But they don’t know this yet.

So begins this exquisite novel about a Chinese American family living in 1970s small-town Ohio. Lydia is the favorite child of Marilyn and James Lee, and her parents are determined that she will fulfill the dreams they were unable to pursue. But when Lydia’s body is found in the local lake, the delicate balancing act that has been keeping the Lee family together is destroyed, tumbling them into chaos.

A profoundly moving story of family, secrets, and longing, Everything I Never Told You is both a gripping page-turner and a sensitive family portrait, uncovering the ways in which mothers and daughters, fathers and sons, and husbands and wives struggle, all their lives, to understand one another.


I wasn’t sure what to expect going into this, but I found myself hooked within the first fifty pages. This is the quietly beautiful examination of a family as they struggle with the loss of one of their children. The middle child of an interracial couple, Lydia is the dream girl, everything her parents couldn’t be. Losing her finally upsets a balance that had no business continuing as long as it did, and the family must come to terms with what they’ll discover, or risk losing everything.

At its core, this is really the story of secrets gone wrong. There are so many tipping points at which, had the characters chosen to act differently, a divergent outcome could have been triggered. James, the father, has rejected his background as the child of Chinese immigrants, wanting nothing more than to fit in. Marilyn, the mother, regrets allowing motherhood to overtake her dreams of medical school. Nath, the oldest son, feels unloved and forgotten. Lydia is pressured by both her parents to fit in and to succeed where they could not. Hannah, the youngest daughter, watches quietly from the background and notices what the others are too preoccupied to notice.

There is so much that is deeply explored here, and it is difficult to point fingers and place blame. One must come to terms with the fact that everyone in this book has made mistakes, and that their silence has come at a cost. Each of the characters is deeply sympathetic in their own ways and all of their stories are equally important. Don’t come into this book expecting an exciting thriller, because the who of Lydia’s death is less important than the why, and what will happen afterward.


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Mini-Review Compilation #16

The Night Sister

Jennifer McMahon has been a little hit-or-miss for me. I absolutely adored The Winter People but felt The Invited wasn’t quite what I was looking for. Fortunately, The Night Sister put her writing back on track for me. This is a creepy little novel that takes place in Vermont, where a mystery is unfolding over three different generations, all tied closely to The Tower Motel. 

I thought the time jumps were handled quite well and I suffered minimal confusion with them. I also quite liked most of the characters, although I felt the relationship between Piper and Amy was a little queerbait-y and wished there had been more to it (this was also something I struggled with in The Invited, but that may just have been my reading of it). The horror itself was handled well, it was spooky but not terrifying. And the way the plot unfurled was great, I didn’t see the twists coming and wasn’t sure how things would end until they did.

Overall, it was definitely an enjoyable book and a quick read. I’d definitely recommend it and will be reading more of McMahon’s work in the future.

Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐

The Good People

This novel follows Nóra as she grapples with the grief of losing both her daughter and her husband. Left alone to care for her grandson, Micheál, who at four years old is no longer able to walk or talk, she takes in a maid named Mary to help her around the house. The book focuses quite closely on Irish superstition with particular attention paid to changeling lore. While the townspeople as a whole are quite superstitious, Nóra experiences a psychotic break of sorts that leads her to believe her grandson has been changed and is a fairy. She funnels her rage toward the boy, desperate for a cure.

What this book suffers from most, in my opinion, is it’s length. I felt like it took far too long to pick up its pace and was far too drawn out near the end. The content is difficult and this should have been a much more difficult read than it was, but I struggled to connect emotionally to any of the characters. There were a few parts where I felt some anxiety and really wanted to know what happened next, but for the most part I was just trying to get through it.

Rating: ⭐⭐.5

A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing

This book and I just didn’t get along well. I can see why others would get something out of it, but it is a difficult read. I felt like I couldn’t fully comprehend the story and the message due to my struggle with the writing and it didn’t feel fair to halfheartedly finish this only to give it a poor rating because it was a bad fit. And, honestly, some of the content is harrowing and I’m really just not in a good place to push myself through that as well.

Rating: DNF


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The Only Girl in the World [review]

The Only Girl in the World by Maude Julien
Published by Little, Brown, and Company on December 12, 2017
my rating: ★★★★
Goodreads avg:
3.72 (as of 2019-09-02)
Spoiler-free Review

Goodreads | IndieBound | Author’s Website

For readers of Room and The Glass Castle, an astonishing memoir of one woman rising above an unimaginable childhood. Maude Julien’s parents were fanatics who believed it was their sacred duty to turn her into the ultimate survivor – raising her in isolation, tyrannizing her childhood and subjecting her to endless drills designed to “eliminate weakness.” Maude learned to hold an electric fence for minutes without flinching, and to sit perfectly still in a rat-infested cellar all night long (her mother sewed bells onto her clothes that would give her away if she moved). She endured a life without heat, hot water, adequate food, friendship, or any kind of affectionate treatment.

But Maude’s parents could not rule her inner life. Befriending the animals on the lonely estate as well as the characters in the novels she read in secret, young Maude nurtured in herself the compassion and love that her parents forbid as weak. And when, after more than a decade, an outsider managed to penetrate her family’s paranoid world, Maude seized her opportunity. 

By turns horrifying and magical, The Only Girl in the World is a story that will grip you from the first page and leave you spellbound, a chilling exploration of psychological control that ends with a glorious escape.


This was such an interesting and bizarre read that I found myself inhaling it in what amounted to essentially one sitting. Maude Julien’s parents raised her to be “superhuman” and did so through “trainings” that most of us would recognize as nothing short of abuse. Just one example of many is that Maude’s father would have her drink alcohol to excess whilst maintaining her composure and walking along a straight line.

I found the tone of the book quite interesting, as it borders on impassivity. Maude is writing this many years removed from the scenarios she describes and explains everything she endured quite matter-of-factly. Not only had Maude never experienced anything different — she had never even seen anything different than the life she was living. Instead of presenting the circumstances as she views them now, she is careful to present them as she viewed them then. For instance, she discusses her father’s telekinesis and telepathy as straight facts rather than clarifying that it was something he merely believed he could do. I felt that this served to really put the reader into the world as she lived it instead of just describing her youth.

Can an animal teach a person about happiness? In the depth of my despair, I am fortunate to have this incredible source of joy.

The thing that struck me most about this book was Maude’s relationship to the animals on their property. It was heartbreaking to see the abuse the animals endured alongside her, but also incredible that she was able to find love and comfort in some form. I was amazed at how Maude was able to truly become her own person even while so firmly held within the grasp of her parents.

I was also intrigued by Maude’s later life, after she leaves her family, and wish she would have given some more depth to that period of her life, but also understood that this book serves only to describe her childhood and her eventual escape. The reader is given a bit more information in the epilogue, but I’d argue that a second book could be written about her adjustments to “normal” life as well as her journey to truly freeing her mind.

My father hammers into me that fear is the ‘indulgence of the weak’. But however hard I try, I am terrified all the time.

Overall, this was quite an interesting read. It may be a little intense for some, due to the extensive abuse portrayed, but if you think you would be able to handle the material I do recommend it.


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