Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Title: The Handmaid’s Tale
Author: Margaret Atwood
Publisher: McClelland and Stewart
Paperback: 324 pages
Summary: (Taken from Goodreads)

It is the world of the near future, and Offred is a Handmaid in the home of the Commander and his wife. She is allowed out once a day to the food market, she is not permitted to read, and she is hoping the Commander makes her pregnant, because she is only valued if her ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she was an independent woman, had a job of her own, a husband and child. But all of that is gone now…everything has changed.

 

My Review:

I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this. Honestly, from my friends’ descriptions of the book I was expecting something completely different. I was expecting the world Offred lives in to be openly violent and brutal rather than one filled with subtle brutality, psychological warfare, and religious control. In my opinion, the world Margaret Atwood created is frighteningly believable.

There were many subjects dealt with in this relatively small book, and I think they were all handled skillfully. The Handmaid’s Tale deals with the power of religion, woman’s place in society, man’s place in society, and a struggle to reconcile personal freedom with the survival of people as a whole. It offers a lot of food for thought and, like I said, it’s relatively small; a little over 300 pages, which is amazing, considering all the subjects covered.

The best and most chilling part for me is that the narrator still remembers what it was like to live in the “old world,” where women could hold jobs, marry whomever they fell in love with, and be free. The flashbacks to her life as a free woman added a lot to the horror of how the world is now structured in the novel. My favorite part is “Historical Notes” added at the end (these are necessary to the novel — read them, don’t skip!), which gave the novel a hopeful tone. This, I appreciated, because it shows that humans are capable of rising above an overbearing, immoral government, no matter how hard they try to oppress people.

Overall, I would recommend everybody to read The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. I know quite a few people don’t like it, but I really do think that it offers interesting subject matter told in an entertaining way. This is one dystopia I’m definitely glad to have read.

Overall rating: 4/5


Book Review: The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier

Title: The Chocolate War
Author: Robert Cormier
Publisher: Knopf Books
Paperback: 272 pages
Summary: (Taken from Goodreads)

Jerry Renault ponders the question on the poster in his locker: Do I dare disturb the universe? Refusing to sell chocolates in the annual Trinity school fund-raiser may not seem like a radical thing to do. But when Jerry challenges a secret school society called The Vigils, his defiant act turns into an all-out war. Now the only question is: Who will survive? First published in 1974, Robert Cormier’s groundbreaking novel, an unflinching portrait of corruption and cruelty, has become a modern classic.

My Review:

I was not a fan of this book. Many people cite it as being too violent, which wasn’t the problem I had with it. It was definitely violent, but not to the extent that it made me like the book any less.When it comes down to it, I just didn’t like the story.

The message and the theme are worthwhile — individuality, peer pressure, violence. These are all issues that are still relevant today and that kids need to read about so they can learn to deal with them. I like that Cormier made all characters susceptible. It wasn’t only the students that were putting pressure on one another, it was the teachers as well. I appreciated that he didn’t made the teachers above immorality, since I don’t think they are.

However, the way Cormier told The Chocolate War just didn’t interest me. The characters were all over-the-top. They were caricatures rather than representations of real teens. For me, this hurts the book because I wasn’t able to engage in the message and the theme since I couldn’t connect to the characters. I also felt that the ending was forced. It didn’t seem natural, and it just seemed like another cartoonish type thing Cormier added to beat the message in.

With all that said, this is still a classic. It is still banned (I really don’t know why), which is a big reason why I wanted to read it. I do think there are better books worth spending time on, but some readers may get something out of it. It just wasn’t for me.

Overall rating: 2/5

Book Review: The Green Mile by Stephen King

Title: The Green Mile
Author: Stephen King
Publisher: Pocket Books
Hardcover: 400 pages
Summary: (From Goodreads)

At Cold Mountain Penitentiary, along the lonely stretch of cells known as the Green Mile, killers are depraved as the psychopathic “Billy the Kid” Wharton and the possessed Eduard Delacroix await death strapped in “Old Sparky.” Here guards as decent as Paul Edgecombe and as sadistic as Percy Wetmore watch over them. But good or evil, innocent or guilty, none have ever seen the brutal likes of the new prisoner, John Coffey, sentenced to death for raping and murdering two young girls. Is Coffey a devil in human form? Or is he a far, far different kind of being?

Overall Rating: 4/5

Stephen King should stick to writing these sorts of books. Don’t get me wrong, I love most of his horror stuff, but it’s this sort of subtle supernatural genre that I think really shows his talents as a writer and story-teller since the horror element isn’t overshadowing everything else within the novel.

The Green Mile is a little long, being comprised of 6 novellas and it is definitely slow-paced. That doesn’t mean it isn’t exciting, though! The slowness of the story really allowed me to delve into the characters and the story King has created. I felt like I got to know all the characters, especially Paul, whose first-person narrative it is. This made the action parts even better, since I had a connection with the characters and cared about them.

I liked how the narrative jumped from Paul as an old man living in a nursing home to Paul as a middle-aged man meeting John Coffey. I think it added a lot to the intrigue, as there were multiple mysteries you were trying to solve at once. The Green Mile has a great message and is a compelling story that will leave you in tears by the end.

I saw the movie before reading the book and honestly, if you’ve seen the movie, the novel won’t add all that much for you. The movie is very true to the book and captures the most important events. Naturally, the book has other elements that added to my appreciation of the story. The parallelism between the prison and Paul’s nursing home, for example, and a deeper understanding of the characters.

There were some things I didn’t like — like I said, the pace was too slow at times. But then again, King’s books always seem to drag just a little bit for me. I also didn’t like how at times the characters all laughed at something as if it were hilarious, and I didn’t think it was funny at all. Besides that, though, it was a good story and I enjoyed the read. I definitely recommend this.


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Book Review: The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde

Title: The Eyre Affair
Author: Jasper Fforde
Series: Thursday Next, Book 1
Publisher: Viking Adult
Hardcover: 374 pages
Summary: (Taken from Goodreads)

Welcome to a surreal version of Great Britain, circa 1985, where time travel is routine, cloning is a reality, (dodos are the resurrected pet of choice), and literature is taken very,very seriously. England is a virtual police state where an aunt can get lost (literally) in a Wordsworth poem, militant Baconians heckle performances of Hamlet, and forging Byronic verse is a punishable offense. All this is business as usual for Thursday Next, renowned Special Operative in literary detection, until someone begins kidnapping characters from works of literature. When Jane Eyre is plucked from the pages of Brontë’s novel, Thursday must track down the villain and enter the novel herself to avert a heinous act of literary homicide.

Overall Rating: 4/5

What I love about books is the mystery and the suspense. I love meeting characters who are more complicated and have more depth than some people I know in real life. And I LOVE good writing.

The Eyre Affair has it all.

Jasper Fforde is a genius, mixing the elements of a contemporary fiction/mystery story with science fiction to create a world that is at once familiar and strikingly different. It took me a while to get adjusted to this new world, where the Crimean war still rages on, and where forging Byronic verse is a serious offense and literature and art are highly prized by all. However, after 30 pages, I was fully involved in the story, flipping pages almost faster than I could read.

The characters are easy to relate to, and Thursday is everything I look for in a female protagonist. She’s funny, resourceful, and doesn’t let anybody boss her around or intimidate her. The fact that she seems to be way in over her head on this case makes it all the better. I like how she is forced to deal not only with hunting down a seemingly-invincible villain who has kidnapped her relatives and is about to change Martin Chuzzlewit and Jane Eyre forever, but also with her past and the death of her brother in the Crimean War.

The only problem I had with The Eyre Affair is that the ending is wrapped up a little too perfectly a little too quickly. After all that happened before, it just didn’t work for me. I’m a fan of nicely tied-up endings, but I like them to be realistic.

This is a book for book lovers (and who of us doesn’t love books?!). It makes more sense if you have some knowledge of history and classics in general, but it’s really not necessary. I definitely recommend giving The Eyre Affair a try.

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Audiobook Review: When You Are Engulfed in Flames by David Sedaris

Title: When You Are Engulfed in Flames
Author: David Sedaris
Narrator: David Sedaris
Publisher: Hachette Audio
Length: ~ 9 hours
Summary: (Taken from Goodreads)

Trying to make coffee when the water is shut off, David considers using the water in a vase of flowers and his chain of associations takes him from the French countryside to a hilariously uncomfortable memory of buying drugs in a mobile home in rural North Carolina. In essay after essay, Sedaris proceeds from bizarre conundrums of daily life-having a lozenge fall from your mouth into the lap of a fellow passenger on a plane or armoring the windows with LP covers to protect the house from neurotic songbirds-to the most deeply resonant human truths. Culminating in a brilliant account of his venture to Tokyo in order to quit smoking, David Sedaris’s sixth essay collection is a new masterpiece of comic writing from “a writer worth treasuring” (Seattle Times)

My Review:

I have never laughed so hard in my life than when I listened to this.  Seriously, whenever I’m having a bad day or I know something stressful is coming up, I listen to these essays. Sedaris takes weird stuff that happens in life and turns them into hilarious and insightful pieces that entertain and give a whole new look at the absurd situations life frequently contains.

It’s hard to give a long review of this, because they’re composed of non-fiction essays, so there isn’t really a long plot line to critique or character development to discuss. I will just say that this collection will have you laughing out loud and will make you look differently at weird situations that arise in your own life.

Note: The reason why I put the audiobook information down is because I highly recommend listening to his essays rather than just reading them. Hearing them in Sedaris’s own voice with his intonations really sets the tone and adds to the comedy.

Overall Rating: 4.5/5

Book Review: Young Miles by Lois McMaster Bujold

Title: Young Miles
Author: Lois McMaster Bujold
Series: Vorkosigan Saga
Publisher: Baen
Paperback: 827 pages
Summary: (Taken from Goodreads)

Washed out of the Barrayaran Military Academy for being overly fragile, Miles Vorkosigan’s natural–if unorthodox–leadership qualities quickly allow him to acquire a fleet of ships and 3,000 troops, all unswervingly loyal to him. In short order, he foils a plot against his father, returns to and graduates from the academy, solves a murder, thwarts an interstellar invasion, and rescues the Barrayaran Emperor.

Overall Rating: 5/5

This is easily one of my favorite books ever. Honestly, I didn’t think it would be. My college roommate hyped it up like crazy, so when I finally got to reading it, I was expecting disappointment because it didn’t seem like it was going to be as good as she promised.

But it was.

This particular edition consists of two novels and a short story that all revolve around a young man named Miles Vorkosigan who has a birth defect (not congenital, he frequently assures others) and because of that is fragile. His bones break under the smallest pressure and he’s less than five feet tall. The problem is that he was born on a militant planet to a very important family. When he washes out of the military academy, he has to find his own path to greatness — and find it he certainly does.

What impressed me the most about this book (and the rest of the series) is the level of characterization. Firstly, I love Miles. He is practically a cripple, but he doesn’t let that stop him, because while his body is weak, he is a genius. I appreciate that Bujold has created a character that doesn’t go into situations and use his strength or extreme fighting prowess to save the day; instead, he thinks about solutions and launches schemes to achieve his goals.

Secondly, all the characters are written in shades of grey; she shows the softer sides of rampaging killers and the darker sides of sheltered researchers. This is achieved through ingenious storytelling. With adventure, mystery, suspense, and plot twists that give you whiplash, I kept turning the pages and the characters kept evolving and growing. All this, combined with in-depth universe (not world) building and fascinating cultures, this book made me want more and more and more.

And don’t think it’s all just running around and doing brave deeds — though there is a lot of that — Bujold adds a lot of humor to these books and I found myself laughing aloud quite often.

I really can’t recommend this book strongly enough. It’s SO good! And I don’t think it’s just for science fiction fans; there is plenty of material for all kinds of readers to find something they like.

Book Review: Magic Slays by Ilona Andrews

*WARNING: Spoilers for those who haven’t read books 1-4*
Author: Ilona Andrews
Publisher: Ace
Series: Kate Daniels, Book 5
Pages: 308
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)
For Challenge: 100 Books in a Year

Plagued by a war between magic and technology, Atlanta has never been so deadly. Good thing Kate Daniels is on the job.

Kate Daniels may have quit the Order of Merciful Aid, but she’s still knee-deep in paranormal problems. Or she would be if she could get someone to hire her. Starting her own business has been more challenging than she thought it would be—now that the Order is disparaging her good name, and many potential clients are afraid of getting on the bad side of the Beast Lord, who just happens to be Kate’s mate.

So when Atlanta’s premier Master of the Dead calls to ask for help with a vampire on the loose, Kate leaps at the chance of some paying work. Turns out this is not an isolated incident, and Kate needs to get to the bottom of it—fast, or the city and everyone dear to her might pay the ultimate price . .

Overall rating: 5/5

I always worry when a series goes longer than four books. In my experience, very few can go past that point and still keep the magic that made the first books so incredible. Characters lose their edge, relationships lose their spark, and the plot runs around in circles.

This series definitely doesn’t have any of those problems and can handle at least two more books, if not many, many more. Kate is as hilarious and kick-ass as ever. Curran is as possessive, adorable, and of course kick-ass as ever, and their relationship is certainly not losing any sparks. The plot is progressing nicely and I am SO excited for Book 6.

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Book Review: Blackveil by Kristen Britain

Title: Blackveil
Author: Kristen Britain
Series: Green Rider, Book 4
Publisher: Daw Books
Hardcover: 664 pages
For Challenge: 100 Books in a Year
Summary: (taken from Goodreads)

“Once a simple student, Karigan G’ladheon finds herself in a world of deadly danger and complex magic, compelled by forces she cannot understand when she becomes a legendary Green Rider — one of the magical messengers of the king. Forced by magic to accept a dangerous fate she would never have chosen, headstrong Karigan has become completely devoted to the king and her fellow Riders.

But now, an insurrection led by dark magicians threatens to break the boundaries of ancient, evil Blackveil Forest — releasing powerful dark magics that have been shut away for a millennium.”

I love the Green Rider series. I fell in love with it six years ago when my best friend handed me Green Rider and  told me that I would probably be done with it the next day. She was right. Blackveil, however, just wasn’t up to par for me.

What I liked:

The suspense is terrific and I am greatly enjoying how the overall storyline is progressing. Once again, Britain creates a world that I can just grab onto and completely immerse myself in. Blackveil is deliciously horrific and I am glad she held nothing back when it came to making it the scariest forest you could possibly imagine.

One of my FAVORITE parts about this book was that we got to learn a little bit more about Kariny, Karigan’s mother. She is a character I have always been interested in, and I think the wait was worth it. Even though she’s not alive in these books, she is still a complex character that I find myself caring for very much.

What I didn’t:

I said I liked the progression of the overall storyline, however, the storyline of the individual novels is getting a bit formulaic — there’s danger, Karigan dives into it headfirst, and then almost kills herself.

Also, for me, this book was drawn out. It was one of those novels where when it’s good, it’s really good, but getting to the good parts takes some effort. One of the things I disliked the most was all the indirect inner dialogue. What I mean by that is that we got a lot of “Bob was sure Nancy did that because (insert reason here).” I don’t like being told characters’ motivations very much, especially when they’re through a different perspective. Did Nancy do that because of that reason? Maybe not. Bob thinks so, but it may not be true. Honestly, I don’t think this sort of information adds anything to the story. It’s much more interesting to incorporate Nancy’s background and characteristics throughout the story, have her do the action, and then leave it up to the reader to decide why she did what she did. It’s more of a creative process for both the reader and writer and allows for good discussions and debates to arise, which is one of the joys of reading.

Conclusion:

Do I recommend this book? For fans of the series, I certainly do. However, if you haven’t read it yet, I suggest waiting and reading some other books on your “to read” list. This book has a ridiculous cliffhanger and considering that there was a 2 year gap between the third book and this book, answers aren’t going to be coming anytime soon.

Will I continue reading? Absolutely. I still love the characters and the world Britain has built. I just hope it ends soon, because I’ve pretty much had enough of Karigan getting herself into trouble. If it isn’t wrapped up by the sixth book, I’ll probably quit this series.

Overall Rating: 3.5/5