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

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: Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

11062246StarStarStar

General Fiction > Fantasy

Eight of the nine provinces of the Peninsula of the Palm, on a world with two moons, have fallen to the warrior sorcerers Brandin of Ygrath and Alberico of Barbadior. Brandin’s younger son is slain in a battle with the principality of Tigana, which the grief-stricken sorcerer then destroys. After sweeping down and destroying the remnants of their army, burning their books and destroying their architecture and statuary, he makes it so that no one not born in that province can even hear its name. Years later, a small band of survivors, led by Alessan, last prince of Tigana’s royal house, wages psychological warfare, planting seeds for the overthrow of the two tyrants. At the center of these activities are Devin, a gifted young singer; Catriana, a young woman pursued by suspicions of her family’s guilt; and Duke Sandre d’Astibar, a wily resistance leader thought dead. Meanwhile, at Brandin’s court, Dianora, his favorite concubine and–unknown to anyone, another survivor of Tigana–struggles between her growing love for the often gentle tyrant and her desire for vengeance. Gradually the scene is set for both conquerors to destroy each other and free a land.

Literary Awards: World Fantasy Award Nominee for Best Novel (1991), Mythopoeic Fantasy Award Nominee (1991), Prix Aurora Award for Best Long Form in English (1991)

x-x-x

I would have love this book, if only Dianora is braver, or her brother had a happy ending, or Catriana did not end up with the most unlikely partner. So many ifs, that even if the fantasy was grand, I could not give it a 4, knowing that these chinks in Tigana‘s armor do not bother me at all. Because they do. A lot.

The pace was slow, at the start, until I’m halfway done. See the patience I have of seeing Tigana through? And yet when the war began, it coalesced, then consumed my thinking, because there’s no stopping Alessan’s small band of warriors into ending Brandin‘s and Alberico‘s reign once and for all.

The plot was really good.

Until a warrior ends up coupling with a new acquaintance after winning a battle (what is up with that?!). And Alessan declares his love for this woman (because there’s no way I read anything about a romantic connection between them, nor flirty insinuations at that matter, throughout the book!). And Dianora taking the easy way out of her miserable life (and you call yourself a survivor of Tigana, you have no spine!).

(Don’t mind Devin. He’s a man-slut. Heh. :D) I actually like Brandin.

If you don’t mind how characters end up in a book, then by all means, read Tigana. Pick it up if only for the intriguing story of how a man, a father, leveled a city and erased them from history, just to avenge his dead son.

x-x-x

TIGANA by Guy Gavriel Kay

Ebook, 692 pages

Published  February 10th 2011 by Harper Voyager
..
3/5 stars

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

18080771StarStarStarStarStar

General Fiction > Fantasy

Sussex, England. A middle-aged man returns to his childhood home to attend a funeral. Although the house he lived in is long gone, he is drawn to the farm at the end of the road, where, when he was seven, he encountered a most remarkable girl, Lettie Hempstock, and her mother and grandmother. He hasn’t thought of Lettie in decades, and yet as he sits by the pond (a pond that she’d claimed was an ocean) behind the ramshackle old farmhouse, the unremembered past comes flooding back. And it is a past too strange, too frightening, too dangerous to have happened to anyone, let alone a small boy.

Literary Awards: Goodreads Choice for Fantasy (2013), Specsavers Book of the Year (2013), Paris Review Best of the Best (2013)

x-x-x

Neil Gaiman reading experience will always, always be surreal.

“Nothing’s ever the same,” she said. “Be it later or a hundred years. It’s always churning and roiling. And people change as much as oceans.”

There’s no turning back once I picked up The Ocean at the End of the Lane, I just got sucked in. The fantasy that might be too much for a boy, might just be relentless reality for a grown-up man looking for something, something to fill up his tired soul.

The last Neil Gaiman I read is The Graveyard Book, so now I remember the melancholic mood when reading his work.

The Hempstocks. The cleaners. Ursula. Lettie. These characters extracted different emotions from me, just because a boy is praying so hard that his life will go back to what it once was. Can it be that simple?

I adore the Hempstocks. Their secrets, obscurity, and selflessness are entertaining to read. But when one selfless act was made to save another, was it worth it? Will the saved be forever be guilt-tripped into living good so the the other will feel compensated?

A short read, but The Ocean at the End of the Lane reaches deep. The truth about families, about father-son relationship, about unreliable memories – it’s here. and much more.

x-x-x

THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE by Neil Gaiman

Paperback, 181 pages

Published June 18th 2013 by Harper Collins

5/5 stars

Book Review: A Feast for Crows by George R.R. Martin

afeastforcrowsStarStarStarStar

General Fiction > Fantasy

(A Song of Ice and Fire #4)

Crows will fight over a dead man’s flesh, and kill each other for his eyes.

Bloodthirsty, treacherous and cunning, the Lannisters are in power on the Iron Throne in the name of the boy-king Tommen. The war in the Seven Kingdoms has burned itself out, but in its bitter aftermath new conflicts spark to life.

The Martells of Dorne and the Starks of Winterfell seek vengeance for their dead. Euron Crow’s Eye, as black a pirate as ever raised a sail, returns from the smoking ruins of Valyria to claim the Iron Isles. From the icy north, where Others threaten the Wall, apprentice Maester Samwell Tarly brings a mysterious babe in arms to the Citadel.

Against a backdrop of incest and fratricide, alchemy and murder, victory will go to the men and women possessed of the coldest steel and the coldest hearts.

Literary Awards: Hugo Award Nominee for Best Novel (2006)

Book 1: A Game of Thrones review       Book 2: A Clash of Kings review       Book 3: A Storm of Swords review

x-x-x

POVs of Cersei and Brienne are favorites. I want more, George R.R. Martin!

As much as I love Tyrion’s and Dany’s chapters (they are absent here), a Feast for Crows served me enough to fulfill my Westeros appetite. And to know what Cersei’s thinking was a big plus!

This installment was focused on King’s Landing, and the characters based there and/or travelling within the lands that Lannisters have either won or under their siege. No matter the absence of Dany’s dragons, or of the Wall’s magic, I plowed through the pages, with Cersei’s and Brienne’s incredible POVs to entertain me. Woot!

Cersei can intrigue her way to the throne, but she cannot hold the power that she sought for so long. Ha! Here’s to your upcoming suffering, whore. 😀

Jaime‘s finally gaing his wits. His paternal role and feelings are starting to surface. (I am really starting to love Kingslayer.)

Brienne‘s adventures took her to everywhere but the place she wanted to be: where Sansa Stark is, so she can finally redeem herself. Her battle scene against the sellswords was fantastic. But that ending of her last chapter… what irony!

Samwell is way over his head. But his journey (I think) leads to Dany’s story so it’s pretty interesting to read.

Cat of the Canals, you are awesome. I worship you!

Secondary characters are solid and fun to see, it’s as if they have POVs in the series all along. And those Dornish people are dangerous, so better watch out for them.

A Feast of Crows is not a favorite among my GR friends, but given what I just read, it was better than I expected. (Well, except for Littlefingers. You pervert!)

x-x-x

A FEAST FOR CROWS by George R.R. Martin

Paperback, 854 pages

Published November 6th 2006 by Voyager
..
4/5 stars