Thankful for Smart Authors

If you need some reading material this Thanksgiving weekend, check out this article from Elle magazine between two smart authors: Margaret Atwood and Louise Erdrich. It’s no surprise that I’m an Atwood fan – just click here to find out why – so I was pleased to come across this interview while flipping through a magazine in the living room yesterday. Atwood has received a fresh new fan-base thanks to the popularity of The Handmaid’s Tale – both a novel and a Hulu show. The Handmaid’s Tale is a frightening version of the future where women have been stripped of their rights and only certain women are able to birth and raise children. Meanwhile, author Louise Erdrich has written about another version of the future in her latest book, Future Home of the Living God. According to the Elle article, it’s “a wonderful, creepy, dystopian novel – in which women become prized, and quickly enslaved, for their ability to produce healthy babies.” While I’m not very familiar with Erdrich’s work, I have enjoyed Atwood’s books, and I think I’ll be putting Future Home of the Living God on my TBR list.

What are you reading this Thanksgiving weekend?

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A Magicless Mystery

When you pick up a book by J.K. Rowling, you expect to be hooked by great characters and interesting connections and plot twists. But reading The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith, J.K. Rowling’s pseudonym, left me incredibly disappointed. This was my first time reading one of Rowling’s adult books, and I’m thinking it might be my last.

The book follows down-on-his-luck private investigator, Cormoran Strike, as he investigates the alleged suicide of the famous supermodel, Lula Landry. Strike needs the job, as he has just broken up with his girlfriend, is living in his office, and can barely pay his temp secretary. Strike’s investigation takes him to lunch with wealthy socialites, to a designer’s photo-shoot, and out to a club with Landry’s supermodel friend. In the meantime, the murderer strikes again, urging Strike to uncover the truth before someone else gets hurt. Despite Strike’s personal problems and an interesting past, he manages to piece together the mystery.  

While little snippets of the story were enjoyable, like the author’s use of figurative language and Cormoran’s secretary who lives out her dream of being a private eye, the mystery was magicless – and yes, I realize that mysteries don’t have wizards and wands – that’s not the type of magic I’m talking about. What I mean is, all the things I love about Rowling’s writing in the Harry Potter series – her imaginativeness, her ability to link together small details and complex plots, her lovable characters – were completely lacking in this book. Any mystery writer could have written this book. I was looking for a smart, inventive take on the mystery genre, but there was no J.K. Rowling stamp of magic. It was gritty and real, but lacked reader appeal.

Have you ever felt let down by an author you really admired? What was the book?

These Are a Few of My Favorite Links

We have moved on to May already (how can that be?! This year feels like it’s just flying by), but there were so many great bookish things in the news in April. Here were some of my favorite articles and links.

  • 8 Reasons the American Girl Books are More Relevant Now Than Ever
    • If you were a girl growing up in the ’90s like me, you definitely read (and probably still own) a bunch of these books (and had a doll…and clothes for yourself…and had a subscription to the American Girl magazine…and whatever else American Girl wanted to sell you!) I love Bustle’s take on why the stories continue to be powerful. I can’t wait to read these with my daughter some day.
  • Tahereh Mafi Returns to the Shatter Me Series with Three New Books
    • I read each of the three Shatter Me books in a matter of days. They were exciting and had great characters. Shatter Me is a YA dystopian story about a girl named Juliette who has the strange power to kill with just a single touch. The final book in the series definitely left a lot of room for the author to pick up and tell us what happens next in Juliette’s world. Mafi re-read the series when working on a related project and realized that, “At the end of Ignite Me, Juliette’s story had only just begun. I saw very clearly then what the next steps in her journey had to be, and I was suddenly anxious to bring the world back to life.” I will be reading the new books to see where Mafi takes our beloved characters.
  • 10 Books to Read if You Liked the HBO series, Girls
    • I’m way behind on this show because it’s not appropriate to watch with a two-year-old around, but it’s a guilty pleasure, for sure. I’m definitely going to add a few of these books about young women navigating life and jobs and relationships to my TBR list.
  • Pioneering Author of Novels for Gay Teens Wins Tribune Literary Award
    • It’s always nice to see authors you love earning the recognition they deserve. Author David Levithan won the 2017 Chicago Tribune Young Adult Literary Award. He wrote one of my most favorite books: Every Day. In the article link, be sure to scroll down past the ads to find his brief interview. While he (and other authors) have brought more LGBTQ characters to literature, he feels, “There are so many more voices that need to be a part of our literature. We’re getting there, one book at a time. I am profoundly happy to live in a time where The Hate U Give is the No. 1 YA book in America for over a month. I wish we were in a place where a book like The Hate U Give wasn’t necessary — but as long as it is, give us the Angie Thomases to be our truth-tellers. We need as much truth-telling as we can get these days.”

What bookish news has caught your eye lately?

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?

The Coffee Book Tag

Thanks to icebreaker694 for tagging me in this post. Like icebreaker694, I am not a coffee drinker, but I think I’ve got this.

BLACK: A SERIES THAT’S TOUGH TO GET INTO BUT HAS HARDCORE FANS

  • The Maze Runner by James Dashner

mazerunnerSeriously, these books (The Maze Runner, The Scorch Trials, The Death Cure, and The Kill Order) are frustrating for readers because Dashner builds suspense by only giving teeny, tiny bits of information. The first book starts with Thomas arriving in a place called the Glade. He has no memory of how he got there or memories of life before the Glade. An organized community of boys live in the Glade. Each day, some of the boys venture out into a giant maze in order to find an escape route from this strange place–but they must return before nightfall. Massive doors keep the Glade protected from disgusting, mechanical slug creatures called Grievers that would kill the boys. Their strange, though structured way of life is soon interrupted when a girl shows up in the Glade–and she appears to know Thomas. You’ll be scratching your head as you read. While I wouldn’t call myself a big fan of the series, I did read ALL FOUR books because I had to know what on earth was going on!

PEPPERMINT MOCHA: A BOOK THAT GETS MORE POPULAR DURING THE WINTER OR A FESTIVE TIME OF YEAR

babyblessingschristmasbookThe Christmas Story, of course. There are countless versions of the birth of Jesus, but a favorite at our house is Baby Blessings Christmas. We read this book so many times that I have it memorized! “An angel said to Mary, you are God’s chosen one, to be the mother of his child, his one and only son…” I like the rhythm and rhyme of this book. It’s definitely great for little kids. It’s a board book too, so it’s nice and sturdy for babies and toddlers. 

HOT CHOCOLATE: A FAVORITE CHILDREN’S BOOK

  • Giraffes Can’t Dance by Giles Andreae, illustrated by Guy Parker-Rees

giraffescantdanceThis book was published in 2001, so it wasn’t around when I was a child, but it is one of my favorite books to read to my daughter. I love the rhythm of this silly book about a giraffe named Gerald who attends the yearly Jungle Dance, only to be laughed at by the other animals for not being a good dancer. He walks away sadly, but a kind cricket gives him some advice that maybe Gerald just hasn’t found the right song yet. In the end, Gerald finds the music and the moves and the other animals are impressed! I talk about it more here.  

DOUBLE SHOT OF ESPRESSO: A BOOK THAT KEPT YOU ON THE EDGE OF YOUR SEAT FROM START TO FINISH

  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline

readyplayeroneMy knowledge and experience of video games and role playing games is practically nonexistent, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying this sci-fi book. This book imagines a world where reality has become so depressing that people mostly spend time online as avatars. They go on quests, play games, interact with people, attend school, and conduct business all through impressive computer systems. When the creator of this online community (a programming genius and ’80s pop culture nerd) dies, he sets up the ultimate quest. The main character, Wade, joins millions of others in an epic hunt through all things geeky of the 1980s. I was on the edge of my seat to find out if Wade could defeat the evil, corporate giant. There are tons of references to movies, music, manga, comic books, arcade games, and video games. Oh, and the warning that people shouldn’t only exist online: people need to live in the real world too. 

STARBUCKS: A BOOK YOU SEE EVERYWHERE

  • The Girls by Emma Cline

thegirlsThis was one of the most popular books of this summer. There was a lot of hype – which is expected when the 25-year-old author signed a three-book deal for a rumored $2 million. The Girls tells the story of a young girl who gets involved with a Manson-like cult. I was intrigued by the cover, the concept, and the hype, but the book didn’t deliver for me. It felt very repetitive and the scenes often felt too short to reveal anything important. While there is a graphic, gory scene near the end, it didn’t really feel like a climax because the readers were already told what was going to happen early on in the book. My biggest problem with the book; however, was that the main character didn’t seem to change or learn a lesson. She has these interesting experiences as a young girl, but doesn’t seem to do anything with her life from that point on. What was the point of it all?     

THAT HIPSTER COFFEE SHOP: A BOOK BY AN INDIE AUTHOR (SHOUT OUT)

Um, I can’t think of one. I went through my Goodreads list and I don’t think I’ve read anything by an indie author lately.   

OOPS I ACCIDENTALLY GOT DECAF: A BOOK YOU WERE EXPECTING MORE FROM

  • Luckiest Girl Alive by Jessica Knoll

luckiestgirlaliveThis book was being marketed as the next Gone Girl, so I was excited to read it because I read all of Gillian Flynn’s novels and she doesn’t have enough books! But Gone Girl this was not. The author’s writing style was gritty and the narrator was selfish, but it lacked the cleverness of Flynn. It was a bit more amateur. I considered giving up on the book many times, but it seemed like there was foreshadowing of something interesting, so I kept reading. Sadly, I felt there were a lot of missed opportunities in the book and too many loose strings. Don’t be fooled by the marketing! I wouldn’t recommend this novel.

THE PERFECT BLEND: A BOOK OR SERIES THAT WAS BOTH BITTER AND SWEET, BUT ULTIMATELY SATISFYING

  • The Sky is Everywhere and also I’ll Give You the Sun by Jandy Nelson

imageForget about John Green – these are the YA books you should be reading! Both are bitter because the characters are dealing with grief after losing a person who is very important to them. But there is a lot of sweetness as well as the characters gain hope. Sweetness is also shown in some humorous moments and some budding relationships. Nelson’s writing style is relatable and lovely. I read I’ll Give You the Sun first, so that book has my heart, but The Sky is Everywhere was wonderful too. I gush about I’ll Give You the Sun in this post and this one.   

GREEN TEA: A BOOK THAT IS QUIETLY BEAUTIFUL

  • All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

allthebrightplacesWow, wow, wow. This book is a must-read. This book covers mental-illness in a way that teens (and adults) can relate to and learn from. Violet, already dealing with the loss of her beloved sister, finds escape and hope with Finch, a classmate who is familiar with darkness. Violet gives him a new lease on life, and he tries his best to stay “awake” for her. As the story progresses, it becomes clear that Finch is living with bipolar or some other type of mental-illness. Unfortunately, the people around him are too clueless to get him the help he needs. This book is so on-topic and wonderfully and powerfully written. I cried, I chuckled, I stayed up late reading – I was hooked.

CHAI TEA: A BOOK OR SERIES THAT MAKES YOU DREAM OF FAR OFF PLACES

  • Anna and the French Kiss and Isla and The Happily Ever After by Stephanie Perkins

anna-and-the-french-kissThese YA books by Stephanie Perkins are cute, fun reads. In Anna and the French Kiss, Anna is sent to a fancy boarding school in Paris and falls for a super cute boy with a British accent – every girl’s fantasy, right?! In Isla and the Happily Ever After, the characters also attend school in Paris, but there are also moments in New York City and Barcelona. It makes you wish you had the jetset life that the characters in the book have.

EARL GREY: A FAVORITE CLASSIC

  • The Giver by Lois Lowry

thegiverOk, so it’s not really that old (it was originally published in 1993), but it’s still a classic to me. Lois Lowry is a phenomenal Young Adult and Middle Grade author. This book focuses on a future that seems to be perfect at first glance. There is no fighting, no war, no greed, and no crime. But the main character, Jonas, soon finds out that his world is missing a lot too – there is very little choice or free will, there is no creativity or individuality, there is no color, there is no love. It’s just a carefully controlled world of sameness. It’s a classic dystopian story that readers of all ages can appreciate. (FYI: It’s completely different and completely 100% better than the movie that was released in 2014. Skip the movie. Read the book!)

To the Author of The Night Circus

toauthorNC

Dear Erin Morgenstern,

I recently read your novel, The Night Circus, and I can’t stop thinking about it. It is simply magical. I’m sorry to say that I kept passing this book up. I saw it on book lists and in my Goodreads recommendations, but I thought a book about a circus wasn’t for me. Boy, was I ever wrong. I fell for the interesting characters, the curious magic, and the intriguing duel-like challenge. It was one of those books where I stayed up late reading, eagerly racing for the end, yet dreading the moment when the magic would all be over. I just loved it.

I think one of the great things about The Night Circus was how so much was left to the reader to imagine. While there were descriptions of the circus, of course, there was still room for the reader to picture what the acts looked like and how it all worked. I felt like I was a rêveur myself, wandering the circus and falling even more in love with it each chapter. There were so many characters that it was fun to think about what will happen next for each of them. Normally, I like the author to do the work for me, but for some reason, the possibilities were intriguing rather than frustrating.

While the book was not an “easy” read, with its changing points of view and multiple narrators and its jumbled timeline, it was definitely worth the read. As soon as I was finished, I wanted to read it again! I thoroughly enjoyed this novel and I’m so glad I gave it a chance. I am very much looking forward to your future novels as well.

Your fan,

Anne, at love2read365.wordpress.com