5/5 Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

5 years sitting in my bookshelf; 5 wasteful years when I should’ve enjoyed this sooner.

Series: N/A

Literary Awards: Man Booker Prize Nominee (1986), Nebula Award Nominee for Best Novel (1986), Arthur C. Clarke Award for Best Novel (1987), Audie Award for Fiction (2013), Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Fiction (1986), Governor General’s Literary Awards / Prix littéraires du Gouverneur général for Fiction (1985), Commonwealth Writers’ Prize Nominee for Best Book in Caribbean and Canada (1987), CBC Canada Reads Nominee (2002)

Rating: 5/5

Recommended for: Dystopian lovers

As I contemplate on which book to review next (there are lots of them, waaa), I decided on The Handmaid’s Tale (THT) just because the hashtag for Women’s March in the US has been consistently appearing in my twitter feed. While I have the faintest idea on what that was really all about, I figured why not? THT is one of my best reads last 2016 (but I failed to include it in my 2016 Best Reads post, I know. Boo!). Might as well try to review a book that consumed my womanly insanity. Haha!

I was a sucker for YA dystopian series a few years ago, and now I am very picky. Finishing THT was a harsh wake up call on what I know of dystopian society portrayed in YA. Atwood’s world in the form of Gilead was rigid, stiff, gritty, terrifying. I will not be an Offred, though. I am a Moira!

This is the worst world a woman can get stuck into. Women are not allowed to learn how to read and write. They can go out of the house to do some shopping in the market; they have pictures of food (meat, bread, vegetables), that they can show to communicate with vendors. They go out in twos (Ofrred is paired with Ofglen), and were not allowed to talk to anyone in the streets, especially men. Handmaids like Offred were taken care of, in the possibility of bearing a child, and so there’s a schedule for her and the Commander for sex. It was a transaction, as tasteless as waiting for your receipt after doing your groceries.

More than these traditional (ridiculous) restrictions set upon women, what burned in my mind the most is Offred’s (reliable? unreliable?) memories of her life before Gilead. She feigns ignorance but she can read and write; she blanks out her face during sex with the Commander, but was constantly reminded of her affair with Luke; she refuses to think that she really had a daughter, for what kind of a mother would subject her daughter to that kind of horrible life with a commander and her unfeeling wife?

This is my first Margaret Atwood book, and I am happy to say that I am looking forward to reading more of her work. The writing was so effective in playing with my emotions – being a woman has never been this hurtful or shameful. The late nights with the Commander added a layer of complication during their sex sessions, because what if Serena Joy notices that she’s liking it, because she knows the Commander more so everyday? Offred’s affair with Nick was the element that I can see that made her pause, and think that maybe, what her situation is right now, she does not want to take it lying down anymore. It was heartbreaking, this affair-turned-escape-from-reality. Let the rebels worry about Gilead’s future, she thought. I cannot go back to Luke and my daughter, I know that. But here with Nick? This might be something, at least. Sigh.

The uncertainty of the ending made me think that whatever happened to Offred, I hope she makes it. I really, really hope she makes it.

Sorrowful at most, The Handmaid’s Tale made me ache. It was beautiful in its tragedy.

 

Paperback Edition, 400 pages

Published by Seal Books

 

maria

Advertisements

Book Review: The Night Season by Chelsea Cain

10328013StarStarStarStar

Genre: General Fiction > Mystery & Suspense > Thriller

(Archie Sheridan & Gretchen Lowell #4)

Heavy rains have burst the banks of the Willamette River; several people have died in the furiously rising waters…but the latest victim didn’t drown. She was killed before she went into the water. Soon, other victims are found, and Police Detective Archie Sheridan realises that Portland has a new serial killer on its hands.

Reporter Susan Ward is on the story, but she’s got other leads to chase, and some secrets can be frightening for prying eyes. With Archie following a bizarre trail of evidence, and Susan close behind, the pair must unearth the identity of a vicious murderer, and uncover the truth behind a mystery more than sixty years old…

Book 1: Heartsick review     Book 2: Sweetheart review       Book 3: Evil at Heart review

x-x-x

The flood was more terrifying than the killings.

Gretchen Lowell is nowhere to be found in The Night Season. Well, up until the last minute. And as minute her appearance was, it made me excited for the next installment of this series.

Philippines has always been an ‘unwilling home’ to typhoons, which almost always result in floods. I guess you could say it is nothing but a common occurence to us Filipinos. When the city of Portland was submerged in a flood they haven’t seen in ages, I understood it, how scared they were. And the terror was doubled when Archie Sheridan realized someone is using the deluge to get away with murders.

I saw little of Henry Sobol (I actually liked this guy), but got compensated with Susan Ward‘s maturing character, and increasing weirdness (she constantly mouths useless trivia, and I found it entertaining). As for Archie, I am starting to warm to him again. His defiance to not let Gretchen control his life was getting stronger. Just a bit more, and I believe he can defeat The Beauty Killer in her own twisted game.

Looking forward to the next book, Kill You Twice!

x-x-x

THE NIGHT SEASON by Chelsea Cain

Paperback, 388 pages

Published 2011 by Pan Books

4/5 stars

Book Review: Dark Places by Gillian Flynn

18226389StarStarStarStar

Genre: General Fiction > Mystery & Suspense > Thriller

“I have a meanness inside me, real as an organ.”

Libby Day was seven when her mother and two sisters were murdered in “The Satan Sacrifice of Kinnakee, Kansas.” As her family lay dying, little Libby fled their tiny farmhouse into the freezing January snow. She lost some fingers and toes, but she survived–and famously testified that her fifteen-year-old brother, Ben, was the killer. Twenty-five years later, Ben sits in prison, and troubled Libby lives off the dregs of a trust created by well-wishers who’ve long forgotten her.

The Kill Club is a macabre secret society obsessed with notorious crimes. When they locate Libby and pump her for details–proof they hope may free Ben–Libby hatches a plan to profit off her tragic history. For a fee, she’ll reconnect with the players from that night and report her findings to the club… and maybe she’ll admit her testimony wasn’t so solid after all.

As Libby’s search takes her from shabby Missouri strip clubs to abandoned Oklahoma tourist towns, the narrative flashes back to January 2, 1985. The events of that day are relayed through the eyes of Libby’s doomed family members–including Ben, a loner whose rage over his shiftless father and their failing farm have driven him into a disturbing friendship with the new girl in town. Piece by piece, the unimaginable truth emerges, and Libby finds herself right back where she started–on the run from a killer.

Literary Awards: Black Quill Award for Dark Genre Novel of the Year (2010)The Crime Writers’ Association Ian Fleming Steel Dagger Nominee (2010)

x-x-x

Trust Gillian Flynn to twist even the most sacred of all relationships. :))

To rank her novels according to my brand of creepy awesomeness:
1. Gone Girl
2. Sharp Objects
3. Dark Places

Paper clips should not be bought, among other things, according to Libby Day (and I love this about her). This kind of quirky thinking only solidify her already hardened character, that can only come from Gillian Flynn!

Add to that, Libby likes to lift things. As mundane as salt & pepper shakers, paperweight. Curious and curiouser, right? The complexity of her personality was amusing to discover. Libby is not likeable as a person, mind you. But she draws me in, with these little knacks that surfaced when reading her POV.

I daydream about dying.

Patty Day has very disturbing thoughts for a mother. Can you see it?! That line alone was so fucked up to think of, when you wake up and start your day, to take care of your four kids (and you can barely get by). Patty’s chapters are the most compelling, it drove me insane! (Could I think like her, if I were in her shoes? That is what I thought while I read her POVs.)

Ben Day‘s state of mind is disturbing, too dark for a fifteen-year-old. Annihilation. The first time that word burst from his mind, I got goosebumps.. it made me ecstatic! Right then and there, I knew it’s going to be a horrifying read for me. I have no love for Ben though. The bastard was spineless and a cowardly schmuck. Libby on her bad days has bigger balls than him.

When that fateful day (the Days were killed) was finally recounted, the tone of the novel went to downright nasty. It was difficult not to get emotionally attached to Patty =( My insides were in turmoil, but at the same time, I was so keyed up, excited to know who the killer was…

And that fucker.

Dark Places. Gory fun. Typical Gillian Flynn insanity.

x-x-x

DARK PLACES by Gillian Flynn

Paperback, 538 pages

Published May 2010 by Crown

4/5 stars

Book Review: To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

59716StarStarStarStar

General Fiction > Literature | Classics

The novel that established Virginia Woolf as a leading writer of the twentieth century, To the Lighthouse is made up of three powerfully charged visions into the life of one family living in a summer house off the rocky coast of Scotland. As time winds its way through their lives, the Ramsays face, alone and simultaneously, the greatest of human challenges and it greatest triumph–the human capacity for change. A moving portrait in miniature of family life, it also has profoundly universal implications, giving language to the silent space that separates people and the space that they transgress to reach each other.

x-x-x

Nothing on earth can equal this happiness.


I have to be honest: Reading To the Lighthouse for the first time: I got to 1% before I fell asleep. I have to change tactics if I were to finish it, that’s why I resorted to an audiobook. Thank heavens for it! If I was easily deterred by the boredom I encountered reading the ebook, I would’ve missed one of the most beautifully written novels there is.

…love that never attempted to clutch its object, but like the love which mathematicians bear their symbols, or poets their phrases.

Mesmerizing, isn’t it? 🙂

To the Lighthouse reminded me of Gilead, with the family theme, questions about life and happiness. Mrs. Ramsay likes to ponder about things, and people. Matchmaking seems a hobby for people in the early times! Her relationship to James early in the novel was stamped on me, searing and immovable.

She transferred to him what she felt for her husband.


James‘ POV was equally powerful, relentlessly brutal for a kid his age. Violent thoughts against his father swirled to his mind. But what pushes him to think the way he did? I found the answer in the end.

Chapter 19 is the core of To the Lighthouse. Its ending, so blindingly heart-clenching.

But then Virginia Woolf breaks my heart in the next part. She depicted life vividly, unconsciously real. And to compare a life in ruins to that of a dilapidating summer house? Dramatic yet effective.

To the Lighthouse is now a favorite.

x-x-x

TO THE LIGHTHOUSE by Virginia Woolf

Audiobook

4/5 stars

Book Review: A Dance with Dragons by George R.R. Martin

1333771513337716StarStarStarStar

General Fiction > Fantasy

(A Song of Ice and Fire #5)

n the aftermath of a colossal battle, the future of the Seven Kingdoms hangs in the balance — beset by newly emerging threats from every direction. In the east, Daenerys Targaryen, the last scion of House Targaryen, rules with her three dragons as queen of a city built on dust and death. But Daenerys has thousands of enemies, and many have set out to find her. As they gather, one young man embarks upon his own quest for the queen, with an entirely different goal in mind.

Fleeing from Westeros with a price on his head, Tyrion Lannister, too, is making his way to Daenerys. But his newest allies in this quest are not the rag-tag band they seem, and at their heart lies one who could undo Daenerys’s claim to Westeros forever.

Meanwhile, to the north lies the mammoth Wall of ice and stone — a structure only as strong as those guarding it. There, Jon Snow, 998th Lord Commander of the Night’s Watch, will face his greatest challenge. For he has powerful foes not only within the Watch but also beyond, in the land of the creatures of ice.

From all corners, bitter conflicts reignite, intimate betrayals are perpetrated, and a grand cast of outlaws and priests, soldiers and skinchangers, nobles and slaves, will face seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Some will fail, others will grow in the strength of darkness. But in a time of rising restlessness, the tides of destiny and politics will lead inevitably to the greatest dance of all.

Literary Awards: Hugo Award Nominee for Best Novel (2001), Nebula Award Nominee (2002), Locus Award for Best Fantasy Novel (2001), Geffen Award for Best Translated Fantasy Book (2002), Ignotus (2006)

Book 1: A Game of Thrones review

Book 2: A Clash of Kings review

Book 3: A Storm of Swords review

Book 4: A Feast for Crows review

x-x-x

I might be one of the minority who thinks that A Feast for Crows is better than A Dance with Dragons.

Jon Snow started strong in this installment. A show of strength and terror from the bastard to his fellow Brothers was remarkable.

Reek, Reek. My name is Reek, it rhymes with sneak.

My most favorite character! Oh, how tables have turned. And how cruelly fitting for a traitor like him.

Davos Seaworth‘s POV is like a seesaw, but always interesting. Either his actions are totally helping Stannis‘ cause, or ruining it. The way George R.R. Martin takes this secondary character to new heights, making Davos’ importance in line with those of the main, was awesome.

And what to make of Tyrion? A tiresome adventure for the Imp, but overall rewarding to fans like me. How far will his wits keep him alive? It is his chapters that made me nervous!

Jaime‘s chapter gave me hope. Seeing the character I came to love in A Feast for Crows was quite a relief. 🙂

Arya‘s chapters were not enough. It left me craving, craving for more. Her loneliness and despair is starting to get to me. Sigh.

Jon Snow‘s last chapter was the bomb. This is the reason why I cannot sit still for The Winds of Winter. I need to know where Jon Snow’s story will lead. The heartbreak is killing me. 😦

Daenerys? I hate her. What has become of the queen of dragons?!!! I am so indignant with the way she’s acted here. *exhales deeply*

A Dance with Dragons gave more frustration than satisfaction. And so the wait for The Winds of Winter begins. :))

x-x-x

A DANCE WITH DRAGONS by George R.R. Martin

Paperback, Part 1: 690 pages | Part 2: 560 pages

Published March 15th 2012 by Harper Voyager
..
4/5 stars

Book Review: Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

6520929StarStar

General Fiction > Literature | Historical Fiction

In the ruthless arena of King Henry VIII’s court, only one man dares to gamble his life to win the king’s favor and ascend to the heights of political power

England in the 1520s is a heartbeat from disaster. If the king dies without a male heir, the country could be destroyed by civil war. Henry VIII wants to annul his marriage of twenty years, and marry Anne Boleyn. The pope and most of Europe opposes him. The quest for the king’s freedom destroys his adviser, the brilliant Cardinal Wolsey, and leaves a power vacuum.

Into this impasse steps Thomas Cromwell. Cromwell is a wholly original man, a charmer and a bully, both idealist and opportunist, astute in reading people and a demon of energy: he is also a consummate politician, hardened by his personal losses, implacable in his ambition. But Henry is volatile: one day tender, one day murderous. Cromwell helps him break the opposition, but what will be the price of his triumph?

In inimitable style, Hilary Mantel presents a picture of a half-made society on the cusp of change, where individuals fight or embrace their fate with passion and courage. With a vast array of characters, overflowing with incident, the novel re-creates an era when the personal and political are separated by a hairbreadth, where success brings unlimited power but a single failure means death.

Literary Awards: Man Booker Prize (2009)Orange Prize Nominee for Fiction Shortlist (2010)James Tait Black Memorial Prize Nominee for Fiction (2009),Costa Book Award Nominee for Novel (2009)Magnesia Litera Nominee for Translation (Litera za překladovou knihu) (2011), National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction (2009), The Rooster – The Morning News Tournament of Books (2010), Walter Scott Prize (2010)

x-x-x

No comment. Hmph. Where do I start?

Chapter one opened with violence (and yes, it immediately appealed to my bloodthirsty side), but that’s pretty much it. I didn’t mind, for I was not expecting action scenes in Wolf Hall. But as the parts dragged on, it stayed flat for me for the rest of the novel. How laborious it was to finish this! Such an accomplishment-slash-disappointment rolled into one.

Frustration surfaced when Hilary Mantel‘s writing confused the hell out of me. It’s always started with a he, and given that there are many Thomases in this book, it was all so confusing. Man, the rereading I had to do (in order to secure my understanding where I’m at with the story) was not fun.

Thomas Cromwell is no hero, I get that. To each his own, knowing how Henry VIII can quickly change his mind to those who surrounds him, so Cromwell made sure he did everything to secure his household, and everyone in it. But when he started to lose his connection with his family (he went into arranging marriages for his sons as a political strategy, with no thought of how they would feel about it), I resented him until the end.

Let credit make its due to Hilary Mantel, as she did make my emotions rise – hatred for Anne Boleyn (and her family), disgust over Henry (and how he treats women), and disappointment for Cromwell. But that’s all I am giving Wolf Hall.

The idea that Thomas More as the key piece of how things will go down – I simply did not buy it. (Before you react, yes, I read this part of Tudor History, and I’m still not buying it as the height of conflict for Wolf Hall.)

Bring Up the Bodies? No, thank you. I’d rather read about Anne Boleyn’s downfall in Wikipedia.

x-x-x

WOLF HALL by Hilary Mantel

Kindle Edition, 559 pages

Published April 1st 2010 by Henry Holt and Co.

2/5 stars

Book Review: The Stranger by Albert Camus

331070StarStar

General Fiction > Literature | Classics

Set in Camus’ native Algeria, this story centers around Meursault. The young French-Algerian leads an apparently unremarkable bachelor life until his involvement in a violent incident calls into question the fundamental values of society.

x-x-x

Hmph. This classic is an epic fail for me.

I don’t like how Meursault thinks, much less act. It’s like everything for him is happening to someone else, and he is but a mere spectator. There were bits and pieces of philosophy that caught my attention, but Meursault is such a loser in his pathetic life.

The Stranger is less than 200 pages, and yet it got annoying after each turn of the page. I cannot find myself sympathizing with the miserable situation Meursault found himself in, because he has no regard with whatever happens to him.. until he faced his mortality as it draws near.

That one thing I remotely liked? The story about the Czech (?) and his mother/sister. Other than that, good riddance.

Stranger started out good, but ended up sucking IMO.

x-x-x

THE STRANGER by Albert Camus

Paperback, 123 pages

Published March 13th 1989 by Vintage International

2/5 stars

Book Review: Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov

18133StarStarStarStar

General Fiction > Literature | Classics

When it was published in 1955, Lolita immediately became a cause celebre because of the freedom and sophistication with which it handled the unusual erotic predilections of its protagonist. But Vladimir Nabokov’s wise, ironic, elegant masterpiece owes its stature as one of the twentieth century’s novels of record not to the controversy its material aroused but to its author’s use of that material to tell a love story almost shocking in its beauty and tenderness. Awe and exhilaration–along with heartbreak and mordant wit–abound in this account of the aging Humbert Humbert’s obsessive, devouring, and doomed passion for the nymphet Dolores Haze. Lolita is also the story of a hypercivilized European colliding with the cheerful barbarism of postwar America, but most of all, it is a meditation on love–love as outrage and hallucination, madness and transformation.

x-x-x

Madness. Nabokov’s writing was exquisite.

Reading Lolita was a gruelling experience, because of my warring emotions. I should be disgusted, but I was not. I became entranced with Humbert’s absurdity that he calls his life. The idea of enjoyability despite the controversy of Vladimir Nabokov‘s story made my reading experience all the more compelling.

Lolita. Manipulative, shrewd, beguiling. She won’t get any pity from me. She’s clever enough to understand the situation she’s in with Humbert (and get out of it). Should I hate Humbert for his perversions? I am more inclined to hate Lolita for her falseness.

Humbert‘s portrayal of his love for Lolita is thought-provoking. Was he self-serving, struggling against the norms of society, or downright sick to be attracted to nymphets like Lolita? Those scenes where Humbert defends, justifies his actions to readers as simple acts o f a man in love, it was amusing. Crazy talk from him yes, but still engaging.

In the end, despair clung to Humbert like leech to one’s skin.

Lolita is riveting, once you see past Humbert’s sick mind. Temptation to fall for his machinations is great, given that Vladimir Nabokov wrote so tantalizingly, you would question the rightness to judge him.

*thumbs up*

x-x-x

LOLITA by Vladimir Nabokov

Paperback, 50th Anniversary Edition317 pages

Published March 13th 1989 by Vintage International (first published 1955)

4/5 stars

Book Review: Offshore by Penelope Fitzgerald

753452StarStarStarStar

General Fiction > Literature | Contemporary

On the Battersea Reach of the Thames, a mixed bag of eccentrics live in houseboats. Belonging to neither land nor sea, they belong to one another. There is Maurice, a homosexual prostitute; Richard, a buttoned-up ex-navy man; but most of all there’s Nenna, the struggling mother of two wild little girls. How each of their lives complicates the others is the stuff of this perfect little novel.

Literary Awards: Man Booker Prize (1979)

x-x-x

Penelope Fitzgerald‘s writing appealed to me: witty and direct, with a touch of dry humor. =)

The key to enjoy reading Offshore is to read it at a slow pace. I did it by reading 20 pages a day. Fortunately, it worked for me. It was a surprise to even like this book, but to love it? It was close to unreal (at least for me, since I am a YA reader most of the time).

I did not try to connect to the characters, but I like Nenna. And her wise-beyond-their-ages children. I found Penelope Fitzgerald‘s writing funny, if you know when to laugh. Her style made me think that there are things happening other than what I am reading from her words.

I found the marital conflict between Nenna and Edward entertaining. I mean, it was absurd (some things they fight about), but it happens in real life. And how they respond to each other because of those issues, it was funny in a sarcastic way. =)

I peg Offshore as one of those books I will read offhandedly (just to say that I read a Man Booker Prize). But when one character managed to creep into the pages at the last minute… well, well. That was a hopeful turn to an otherwise typical open-ended story.

x-x-x

OFFSHORE by Penelope Fitzgerald

Paperback, 141 pages

Published April 3rd 1998 by Mariner Books (first published 1979)

4/5 stars

Book Review: Evil at Heart by Chelsea Cain

6404582StarStarStar

Genre: General Fiction > Mystery & Suspense > Thriller

(Archie Sheridan & Gretchen Lowell #3)

Gretchen Lowell is still on the loose. These days, she’s more of a cause celebre than a feared killer, thanks to sensationalist news coverage that has made her a star. Her face graces magazine covers weekly and there have been sightings of her around the world. Most shocking of all, “Portland Herald” reporter Susan Ward has uncovered a bizarre kind of fan club, which celebrates the number of days she’s been free.
Archie Sheridan hunted her for a decade, and after his last ploy to catch her went spectacularly wrong, remains hospitalized months later. When they last spoke, they entered a detente of sorts—Archie agreed not to kill himself if she agreed not to kill anyone else. But when a new body is found accompanied by Gretchen’s trademark heart, all bets are off and Archie is forced back into action. Has the Beauty Killer returned to her gruesome ways, or has the cult surrounding her created a whole new evil?

Book 1: Heartsick review     Book 2: Sweetheart review

x-x-x

Three books into this series and I am still hooked. Even though I think Evil at Heart has too much mind games for my taste, it never failed to give me what I want: heart-stopping suspense.

I think the character development is the strength of this installment. Archie Sheridan is (almost) over Gretchen. Susan Ward is getting smarter by the day. Henry Sobol is one fantastic friend and detective.

I don’t need complications for a book to be a good thriller, and Evil at Heart would’ve have worked better for me, if Chelsea Cain just cut through the chase, you know? I keep thinking that Archie is f*cked up enough to be handling intricate puzzles in his miserable lifetime.

Still, I am gunning for The Night Season to keep me at the edge of my seat by the time I pick it up. I want to see more of Gretchen, as an ordinary person same as everyone else. Because it would help Archie if he knew that she really has no power over him. And because I want Archie to have some semblance of a normal life in the upcoming installments.

Am I hoping for too much? Ha.

Evil at Heart shows how much Gretchen loves to play with everyone. Bodies are piling up even though she has no hand in it? Now, that’s a talent.

(I am a member of her fan club, true.)

x-x-x

EVIL AT HEART by Chelsea Cain

Hardcover, 308 pages

Published September 1st 2009 by Minotaur Books

3/5 stars