Yes, More Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood is going to have a big year.

I feel confident that I am not alone in thinking this. While her 1985 novel The Handmaid’s Tale is experiencing a revival thanks to our political climate and a Hulu television series, Atwood is also busy with lots of other projects. She had cameos in both a mini-series called Alias Grace and The Handmaid’s Tale, her latest novel The Heart Goes Last is becoming a TV series, and her children’s book Wandering Wenda is also slated for television. “Why everything now? Who knows?” Atwood asks on her website. For me, the answers to those questions aren’t hard to figure out once you’ve read her work. Her mix of science fiction and speculative fiction reveal truths we need to pay particular attention to right now. Whether it’s urging readers to be cautious of using religion to shape policies that deprive women of their rights (The Handmaiden’s Tale) or how corporate greed and consumerism can lead us down a strange and frightening path (The Heart Goes Last), Atwood’s work remains cautionary and relevant.

After reading The Handmaid’s Tale, I was curious to read more of Atwood’s work. When I saw that The Heart Goes Last, published 2015, was available from my library, I decided to give it a chance.

Goodreads says:

Living in their car, surviving on tips, Charmaine and Stan are in a desperate state. So, when they see an advertisement for Consilience, a ‘social experiment’ offering stable jobs and a home of their own, they sign up immediately. All they have to do in return for suburban paradise is give up their freedom every second month – swapping their home for a prison cell. At first, all is well. But then, unknown to each other, Stan and Charmaine develop passionate obsessions with their ‘Alternates,’ the couple that occupy their house when they are in prison. Soon the pressures of conformity, mistrust, guilt and sexual desire begin to take over.

I’m not sure that I would have totally bought into this book, except that I had recently watched an episode of Adam Ruins Everything, where he reveals the truth about how private prisons make money. Pairing that video with Atwood’s book made for a terrifying combination!  

Jocelyn sighs. “You don’t honestly believe this whole operation is being run simply to rejuvenate the rust belt and create jobs? That was the original idea, but once you’ve got a controlled population with a wall around it and no oversight, you can do anything you want. You start to see the possibilities. And some of those got very profitable, very fast.”

While I’ll have to keep reading Atwood’s work to find out more, she seems to keep telling readers that humans are susceptible to believing whatever lines they are fed, and that they like to take the easy way out. She also warns against censorship, government corruption, and corporate greed.

Corruption and greed, though these in themselves are no great surprise. But the misappropriation of people’s bodies, the violation of public trust, the destruction of human rights — how could such things have been allowed to happen? Where was the oversight? Which politicians bought into this warped scheme in a misguided attempt to create jobs and save money for the taxpayer?

But unlike The Handmaid’s Tale, The Heart Goes Last has unexpected moments of humor and levity. Readers who found THT too dark and anxious feeling will appreciate this book’s lighter style, though the book still has plenty of bite and mature language. The story starts out very believable, with a couple living out of their car when their part of the country suffers from a recession and they lose their jobs, their home, and their savings. Their desperation leads them to sign up for a program that will give them a house and a job – the catch is that every other month, they will be locked up in a prison and do a different job within its walls. The plot continues to grow more and more absurd as it goes on: sexbots, knitted teddy bears, adultery, Elvis escorts, baby blood harvesting, and imprinting operations. Somehow, despite the twisty turns the plot takes, Atwood’s social commentary provides plenty of food for thought. Get ready for a wild ride when you read this book!

Are you hopping on the Margaret Atwood fan wagon? Or maybe you’ve already had a seat there for years? If so, what Atwood novel should I try next?

Tackling My TBR List

During November’s NaBloPoMo, I shared eight books that were on my To Be Read list. Amazingly, I’ve read five of the books since then, so I wanted to do a quick update on them.

1. Scrappy Little Nobody by Anna Kendrick

This book was a disappointment for me. I was really looking forward to Anna’s quirky commentary and wit. What I got was a lot about her sex life and recreational drug use and not near enough humor. Parts I did like: learning how Anna started acting at a young age – and in theater, mostly. The first time I saw her act was in Twilight and then Pitch Perfect, so it was interesting to hear about her career before those films. She seemed to have a pretty level-headed upbringing despite being a child actor, and she certainly didn’t make money from acting until recently. That being said, I don’t think I would recommend this book. There just wasn’t anything captivating enough about it. If you feel the need to check this one out, I’d recommend the audio CD over reading the book, as Kendrick herself reads it, so at least it’s a bit more manageable. My Goodreads rating: 3 stars

2. We’ll Always Have Summer by Jenny Han  

The third book in the Summer series, We’ll Always Have Summer, picks up at the end of Belly’s freshman year of college. She and Jeremiah have been dating and even attend the same school. It all seems to be going well, but when Belly hears about a mistake Jeremiah made, she’s forced to question whether he is the right guy for her. I read this book in two days because I had to know, who would it be – Jeremiah or Conrad?! Was this a fantastic book? No. Belly was just as immature and selfish as she was in the first two books and the plot was a bit ridiculous, but it didn’t matter – I was sucked in! Jenny Han should really write a television show because her teenage drama is spot on. My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

3. Afterworlds by Scott Westerfeld

In Westerfeld’s Afterworlds, a young writer named Darcy decides to defer her freshman year of college so that she can move to NYC and experience life as a debut YA author. Her story as a budding writer, learning the ins and outs of the publishing industry, as well as her growth as a young adult, help her shape her manuscript about a girl who survives a terrorist attack and now has the power to “cross over” into an even better story. I bought this book a few years ago in Barnes & Noble’s clearance section, thinking it was a great price for such a huge book! Sadly, the size of the book kept me from actually getting around to reading it. As an e-book however, it was much less daunting. And, boy, am I glad I finally read it. I enjoyed both stories, though they were not as interconnected as I thought they were going to be. I really liked following Darcy’s experience as a debut author. Her story about the afterworld, which is told in the alternating chapters, is just as original and entertaining as the framing story. I’d recommend this book to fans of YA literature and people who have participated in the NaNoWriMo experience. My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

4. Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

Huxley’s sci-fi novel envisions a world where people are genetically engineered and brainwashed so that they are good consumers. Thanks to a society where sex is recreational and not monogamous, and drugs are always available to pick you up or wipe out lonely thoughts, everyone is happy. However, a few characters in the novel start to feel different – the basis for the book’s conflict. I think the book was probably advanced for its time, but reading it today, I found the language a bit difficult to understand. The concept of creating people (and clones of the same person) and preconditioning them was incredibly interesting and thought-provoking, but the story went in strange directions and there were some odd writing techniques. For instance, I almost had to picture it like a movie in certain sections because the author would have multiple “scenes” happening all at the same time and I had to keep up with who was talking and what they were talking about. There were some very interesting ideas about sexuality and gender roles – especially for a book published in 1932. Unfortunately, the book had a terrible ending. Terrible because it just ended abruptly without filling the reader in on how all the character’s stories were resolved. There were several main characters, but none of their stories felt finished or complete to me. While an ending like this sometimes leaves room for the reader to fill in the blanks, in this case, I wanted more information. I left not really knowing what I was supposed to make of this strange new world – other than it was certainly not the utopia it claimed to be. There were a lot of messages: the fear of taking science and technology too far, the importance of reading and education, how religion can control people and form society, how free is our free will, just to name a few. I’m sure it’d be a fascinating book to use for discussion in a book club or classroom. In all, I’m glad I finally got around to reading this book, but I’m not sure I liked it all that much. My Goodreads rating: 2 stars

5. Shadow and Bone, Book 1 of The Grisha Trilogy by Leigh Bardugo

The first book of the Grisha Trilogy begins with a trek across a dangerously dark and monster-filled area called the Shadow Fold. The main character, Alina, finds she has incredible powers that can ward off the terror of the Shadow Fold. She is sent to the royal court to be trained as an elite fighter. But the luxurious life being a powerful member of the elite isn’t what it seems. I almost gave this book a five-star rating on Goodreads, as it was pretty close to perfect. I raced to finish this one, and then was sad when I made it to the last page. The characters and world were just plain enjoyable to read about. I was hooked from the beginning and I will definitely be continuing the rest of the series. I’ve already got the next book on hold. There are many books about people who have strange powers or abilities (Graceling, Three Dark Crowns, Shatter Me, Under the Never Sky – all books I enjoyed, by the way), but this book still held its own and brought something different and interesting. I would highly recommend this book (especially if you liked the books I listed in parentheses)! My Goodreads rating: 4 stars

What books have you recently crossed off your TBR list?

As long as there are a few compensations…

I recently tackled The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. This was my first time reading a novel by the respected and revered Atwood, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Of course I knew her name, but I was unfamiliar with her actual work. After reading The Handmaid’s Tale, I’m curious to learn more about her and her other books. As Hulu is set to release a television series based on The Handmaid’s Tale this April and some women recently wore handmaid’s robes to the Texas Senate, you’ll probably be hearing about this book, originally published in 1985, quite a bit.

Here’s what Goodreads tells readers about the book:

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now…

It’s hard to say that I “liked” this book, because it made me feel anxious, on edge, and desperate for more information. The narrator held back a lot, in fear for her safety, but I wish more of the gaps could have been filled. I definitely wanted to know more about the world she was living in and the history behind it. Then again, this made me want to keep reading and my imagination was spinning with all the possibilities. This is a grown up version of a sci-fi(ish), dystopian story. Basically, the government has been replaced by an ultra-religious governing body which has stripped women of their jobs, money, privacy, and dignity. Why do people go along with it? Well, as the narrator’s mother says, “Humanity is so adaptable…Truly amazing, what people can get used to, as long as there are a few compensations.” Words that are ominous and thought-provoking, for sure.

In our current political climate – women ridiculed for rallying and voicing their concerns on many important topics, attempts to defund programs that provide quality medical care, advice, and contraception for women, government officials who claim to be Christians yet strip others of their basic human rights – Atwood’s book feels more cautionary and relevant than ever. Sales of 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 may have gone up since Trump took office, but The Handmaid’s Tale makes me even more terrified of what would happen if, say, Mike Pence became president.

Our current president may have campaigned under the slogan “Make America Great Again,” but as Atwood writes, “Better never means better for everyone… It always means worse, for some.”

Goodreads Book Tag

Thanks Rose Read for posting this book tag – I needed an easy blog post, too, after almost a week and a half vacation in Mexico (and two months since my last post…oops).

What was the last book you marked as read?

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

What are you currently reading?

  • A Walk in the Park by Jill Mansell – a chick lit book for fun, as Brave New World was a bit heavy.
  • Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate by Matthew Soerens – this month’s read for a social justice book club at a nearby church. This will be my first experience with a book club, despite being an English major and English teacher!  

What was the last book you marked as ‘to read’?

Loathe Thy Neighbor by James O’Brien – Immigration is a hot topic now, and this book discusses how “ugly prejudices are being fed by professionals grown fat on the fear and fury of their consumers” and how “it is time to stop and ask whether the faceless group of immigrants really exists – or whether it just appeals to our basest fears.” I saw O’Brien speaking in a video that was floating around Facebook and found him very intelligent and interesting.

Do you use the star rating system?

On Goodreads? Yes. I like being able to look back and see which books I truly loved. I also get a kick out of marking my rating and then seeing that a majority of people on Goodreads rated it the complete opposite!

Are you doing the 2017 reading challenge?

You bet. I set my goal at 50 books even though I read over 60 last year, but I feel like my two year old is going to keep me from getting there this year. Right now, I’ve read 11 books and am on track to complete the challenge.

Do you have a wishlist?

I have 56 books in my To Read list, but I’m not very good at using it when I’m in a library or bookstore.

Who are your favorite authors?

Caroline B. Cooney, Katherine Neville, Steve Berry, Paullina Simons, J.K. Rowling, Kristin Cashore, Rainbow Rowell, and many more.

How many Goodreads shelves do you have?

Besides the shelves Goodreads sets you up with (Read, Currently Reading, To Read), I also have Did Not Finish, Favorites, and Re-reads.

I tag:

My fellow Goodreads users! 

Reconstructing Amelia: A Mother’s Hunt for the Truth

reconstructingameliapostA rule-following, intelligent teenager dies when she falls from the roof of her affluent New York City high school. At first, her lawyer mother accepts the police’s ruling that the horrific death was a suicide. As a single parent, she blames herself for not being around enough for her daughter, Amelia. However, an anonymous text message declaring that her daughter didn’t jump shocks her out of her grief and she starts asking questions and looking for answers. As she digs deeper into the weeks leading up to her daughter’s death, she learns that Amelia was hiding many secrets. Alternating chapters fill readers in on Amelia’s life, which includes secret school clubs, hazing, a mysterious friend she only knows via text message, a hunt for her father’s identity, skipping school, encounters with her principal and English teacher, and a budding relationship with a girl. The mother starts to wonder if her daughter really did commit suicide – perhaps life was just becoming too much for her. Readers will eagerly turn the pages of Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight as they try to find out the truth, too.

This book had been on my TBR list for a long time, as it was on a 2013 Buzzfeed list of 14 books to read before they become movies. All of the other books on the list (Divergent, The Fault in our Stars, Ender’s Game, The Maze Runner, Gone Girl, just to name a few) did become movies…except for Reconstructing Amelia. IMDB still lists the project as “in development” and the only name attached to it is Nicole Kidman. So I’m not sure that this project will ever move forward, but it would make a pretty great movie or TV miniseries. The book touches on a lot of important issues like bullying, unhealthy friendships, how much parents and schools should monitor and be involved with what young people do online, and strengthening the relationship between educators and parents, as they both have an important place in the care and raising of our young people.

I went into this book cautiously. I figured that a book with a lot of hype and a possible movie deal could lead to disappointment (Serena by Ron Rash was also on the Buzzfeed list, and you can read my thoughts about that one here). However, the more I read, the more I became hooked. I wanted to find out what had happened in Amelia’s life and how all of the texts and emails would look afterwards to her mother. So many different pieces were woven together to create a compelling snapshot of the lives of Amelia and her mother. I stayed up late to finish reading this book and it was worth it. I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves a good thriller, especially teachers, parents of teens, and mature teenagers. Reconstructing Amelia turned out to be one of my favorite reads of 2016, and I’m hoping you will enjoy this one as much as I did.

31 Favorite Books to Celebrate my 31st Birthday

31stbirthday

So, I cheated a bit with this list by counting some series and trilogies as one, but I think that’s fair because it’s my birthday and I get to make up the rules! As these are my favorites, I’ve posted about many of these titles. The links below will take you to my posts related to the books or authors.

My 31 Favorite YA and Adult Books:31favorites

  1. The China Garden by Liz Berry
  2. Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
  3. Graceling by Kristin Cashore
  4. The Eight by Katherine Neville
  5. Every Day by David Levithan
  6. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  7. The Martian by Andy Weir
  8. The Face on the Milk Carton by Caroline B. Cooney
  9. The Giver by Lois Lowry
  10. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson
  11. The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger
  12. The Bronze Horseman by Paullina Simons
  13. Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
  14. Divergent by Veronica Roth
  15. Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins
  16. Cotton Malone series by Steve Berry
  17. The Outsiders by S.E. Hinton
  18. Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
  19. Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell
  20. Chaos Walking trilogy by Patrick Ness
  21. I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
  22. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
  23. Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake – link coming soon!
  24. Voyager from the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon
  25. Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
  26. Under the Never Sky trilogy by Veronica Rossi  
  27. Uprooted by Naomi Novik
  28. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
  29. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher
  30. Wonder by R.J. Palacio
  31. Deadline by Chris Crutcher

How many of these have you read? Do you consider them favorites as well?

Five Star Books of 2016

fivestarbooksof2016Once again, I was pretty tough on the books I read this year. While I read many books that were good, good wasn’t enough to earn a coveted five star rating! Like I said last year, I reserve the five star rating on Goodreads for books I truly loved. Books that hooked me and I couldn’t put down. Books I had a connection with, characters I loved or enjoyed, and plots that were unexpected. These are books I’d read again. These are books I’d recommend to others (and then feel heartbroken if that person didn’t love the book as much as I did). This year, I marked nine books (out of 61 total) worthy of five stars. It’s interesting to note that two of the books were ones that I read over Christmas break – I was lucky to finish the year with such great books. I plan to write more about Reconstructing Amelia and Three Dark Crowns later. For now, just consider adding them to your TBR list! 

  1. Most of the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling
  2. All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven
  3. Uprooted by Naomi Novik
  4. Reconstructing Amelia by Kimberly McCreight
  5. Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake

fivestar2016

Honorable Mentions:

  • Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
  • I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson
  • The Sky is Everywhere by Jandy Nelson
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  • The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh  

What were your most favorite reads of 2016?