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

Quite Possibly My Favorite Book of the Year

martianThis may come as a surprise after the way I raved about the Chaos Walking series by Patrick Ness, but I think I just read my favorite book of the year. There are still four months left, of course, and I’ve read some really great books this year (like Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell), but this latest book is easily the best adult book I’ve read. So what book is it? It’s a New York Times bestseller that actually lived up to its hype: The Martian by Andy Weir.

Goodreads Book Blurb:

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he’s sure he’ll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him & forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded & completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he’s alive—& even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, he won’t have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment or plain-old “human error” are much more likely to kill him first. But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills—& a relentless, dogged refusal to quit—he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?

Here’s what I loved about it:

1. It’s sci-fi, but believable.

There weren’t any aliens, or a time-space continuum, a meteor on an Earth-destroying path, or epic space battles. This was just a straight up mission to Mars where the astronauts were all scheduled to do some experiments, collect rock and soil samples, and return home. Easy-peasy. Or at least, that was the plan…

2. The main character had a great sense of humor.

Mark Watney could have crumbled under the despair of being abandoned on Mars. But he doesn’t. He’s calm and clever and keeps it light. Most people wouldn’t be able to do this, but he’s an astronaut. They train for the unexpected, plus they’re just cooler than the average human, right?

An example of his humor: when Mark tries using a laptop outside of his main hub, the extreme cold of Mars causes the laptop to instantly die. He teases, “Maybe I’ll post a consumer review. “Brought product to surface of Mars. It stopped working. 0/10.”‘

3. The suspense kept me racing to find out what would happen next.

This may be sci-fi, but it’s really a survival story. We’ve all heard about the robots and missions where one miscalculation has led to million dollar failures. With one problem after another, will Mark survive on Mars? Will he ever make it back to Earth? How could one astronaut survive the odds?

4. The math and science-heavy parts were oddly satisfying.

I am terrible at math. My brain just doesn’t do well with numbers and complex problem solving. But I admire Watney’s ability to do those things. Math and science really do save his life. His MacGyvering skills would be useless (and a bit unbelievable) if he didn’t have the calculations to back up his plans. Also, I can appreciate the work the author put in to achieve the book’s thoroughness. The author really knew his stuff.

5. The story of how this book became a bestseller is a writer’s dream.

In the back of the e-book version of The Martian, there is a short essay by the author explaining how a nerdy idea became a bestselling novel. Just for fun, the author decided to plan out a manned mission to Mars, complete with software to calculate the crew’s trip. From there, he started thinking about all the things that could go wrong. So he wrote The Martian and posted chapters on his website. His readers asked him to make the book available on Amazon, so he formatted it into an e-book, and set the price at the lowest available: 99 cents. Lo and behold, it became an Amazon bestseller. Publishers wanted the book and so did movie studios. The book was republished and became a New York Times bestseller. In October, the movie version starring Matt Damon will hit theaters. Not too bad for a self-proclaimed nerd, eh?!

Have you read this book? What did you think? Will you see the movie?

Below is the trailer for the film. Caution: if you plan on reading the novel, I would steer clear of the trailer. It reveals a lot of the book’s content.

One of the Best (or Worst?) Literary Villains

chaos_villains

Voldemort.

King Leck.

The White Witch.

Queen Levana.

Young Adult literature has more than a few great villains. Villains who use their power to terrify, control, and even murder others. Today, I want to talk about a villain you might not be familiar with yet: Mayor Prentiss. He is the villain of Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking series, and he is a master manipulator.

Although the character appears minimally in the first book of the series, The Knife of Never Letting Go, his presence is enough to keep Todd on the run. However, in the following two books, The Ask and the Answer and Monsters of Men, we as readers begin to see how vile and corrupt the mayor is. In a land where all men broadcast their thoughts, feelings, intentions, and memories through a never ending cacophony of noise, the mayor is silent. This makes it hard to figure out whether he is trustworthy or not. Todd struggles with this in chapter 19 of Monsters of Men, “I also know he ain’t redeemed. I know he ain’t redeemable. (Ain’t he?) But he’s been acting like it.” Is Todd’s goodness rubbing off on the mayor, or is it all a ploy to get what he’s really after: complete control. As his abilities to control those around him improve, you’ll wonder how- and if- he can be stopped. The mayor always seems to be a step ahead of everyone else. You’ll have to read Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking series to find out more about this awesomely wicked villain.

Who are some of your favorite literary villains? 

~ Read more about Chaos Walking in my gushing review of the series here.

The Next Must Read Series

chaos_postoneWow, readers. I just finished a series that was unlike anything I’ve ever read. It was thought-provoking, action-packed, suspenseful, and invigorating. It was so special that I’m going to focus three blog posts on this particular series. What series would deserve so much attention? The Chaos Walking series, made up of three novels and three short stories (one short story is at the end of each ebook). The series starts with The Knife of Never Letting Go, whose dramatic cliffhanger ending leads you right into The Ask and the Answer, and culminates with Monsters of Men. It’s a Young Adult series, but the content is pretty mature, so I would recommend it for readers over 13. Intrigued?

Have you ever wished that you knew what someone was thinking? Well, in Patrick Ness’s Chaos Walking series, you can hear what everyone is thinking. All. The. Time. All of their most secret and mundane thoughts, hopes, dreams, and memories are broadcast as “noise” to everyone around them. Oh, and everyone can hear what YOU are thinking too. Now maybe that doesn’t sound so cool. Got a crush on someone? Everyone would know. Don’t know how to do something? Everyone would know. Tell a little white lie? Don’t even bother, because everyone would know. The animals all have noise too, so it’s practically impossible to find some peace and quiet. But wait. Are you female? Then you don’t have noise. Lucky you! Only the men have noise, which means they are jealous and mistrustful of you and all your silence. How is such a thing possible? Well, this series takes place on a new planet where settlers have landed to get away from the problems of “Old World.” When the settlers arrive, the noise is like a disease they catch. So not only are they working hard to survive and build new communities, but they are also struggling to adapt to this strange phenomenon. Communities choose to deal with this issue in different ways.

The Knife of Never Letting Go follows the story of Todd, a young boy who is about to reach the age of manhood. His community- which is the only one he believes exists- no longer has any women. It’s just a town of angry, frustrated, depressed, and noisy men. One day, Todd is out gathering apples when he comes across a pocket of silence. This silence starts a chain of events that sends Todd running from his community in fear for his life. Along the way, he discovers the truth behind his community’s history, what it means to be a man, and how love can be a powerful force. I’m going to leave it at that because I don’t want to spoil the story for you. You should know that the book may be a little strange and difficult to get into at first, but keep reading–it’s worth it!

This series has the potential to become the next big thing. Like The Hunger Games, the series is violent and brutal, and not for the easily offended. As in The Maze Runner series, the main character is a boy, instead of a girl like a lot of popular teen stories (Katniss, Katsa, Cassia, Bella, etc). Despite the heaviness of some of the events of the series, there is also a theme of tolerance, respect for the planet, and the courage to do what is right even in the toughest of times.

So what are you waiting for? Pick up The Knife of Never Letting Go at your local library, bookstore, or online outlet. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on this wonderful series.


Read more about the Chaos Walking series on Goodreads:

Book 1: The Knife of Never Letting Go          + Short story “The New World”

Book 2: The Ask and the Answer                  + Short story “The Wide, Wide Sea”

Book 3: Monsters of Men                             + Short story “Snowscape”