Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

In the world of the near future, who will control women’s bodies?

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are only valued if their ovaries are viable.

Offred can remember the days before, when she lived and made love with her husband Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now….

I guess you could say that The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood has two endings rather than one, the ending of Offred’s tale and then the speculative section at the back. I use the term speculative because it is an epilogue in a way, an aftermath of events, but it’s very distant to Offred and her tale. It is related, but remote, and yet if it wasn’t for that section I doubt I would have appreciated Offred’s story as much as I do.

If The Handmaid’s Tale only ended with Offred’s tale it would have annoyed me because even though I can appreciate an unorthodox ending (unorthodox as in not all loose ends tied up or a an ending that leaves the reader guessing while hinting at several options), I find that the more I read the more I can’t stand loose ends. They feel to me as if the story is cut off, even if there is some sort of intellectual reasoning behind it, I do not like to be left hanging.

The Handmaid’s Tale doesn’t leave you hanging for the most part, but there’s something there that’s left to be desired. And I realise this is what, the second review this year I’ve began by going on about the ending? I must sound like I have a new found obsession with them, but I don’t. Sometimes it’s the ending that affects you more than the overall story, sometimes it’s what makes the ultimate difference in how you perceive the story or experience, in how you enjoy it or don’t enjoy it. That happens more so with me and Classic  certain types of Modern Lit (like Brave New World by Aldous Huxley or 1984 by George Orwell) and it’s hard for me to comment on the story as a whole without the ending coming in to it.

I also find it hard to divorce the second ending from the first, when a huge chunk of my feelings about The Handmaid’s Tale changed abruptly with it. To me, if you read Offred’s tale and leave the rest, they are completely different stories. If it was Offred’s tale alone I can say with utter certainty that I wish I would have spent that time reading another book (not because it was that horrible, I am glad I got to read it and it’s one of those stories that takes time to digest, but maybe more because I’m not in the mood for an intellectual read that didn’t enthrall me). It’s not that the story isn’t interesting and there are not a lot of things in there that makes me think, in fact it is the opposite. There’s so much I could say about it, but I won’t now, I’ll save it for book club so I don’t go on and on and on and on… Besides that type of food for thought for me isn’t something I find easy to speak about straight away, it’s an internal process, rather than an outward sharing one.

What I can say that The Handmaid’s Tale is an interesting read, Margaret Atwood is quite descriptive, but in a sense that the sentences and words she uses are florid and descriptive is what is around the character. The character does not see much around her, but see so much at the same time, and at first this is fine because the descriptions are quite interesting. I do find the use of words, language almost poetic in a sense, but after awhile it bores me or becomes too long. Yet on the other hand there was something about the narrative to help pull me along just enough to keep me slightly engrossed. Maybe not even slightly, more right on the edge of being engrossed in it.

I think I’m only going to ever recommend this as a must read for Dystopian lovers and as a novel to read for the sake of reading, so you know what others are on about. Sometimes books are like that.

  • Genre: Dystopia, Totalitarian
  • Demographic: Adult, more literary minded
  • Reminds Me Of: Books that end in a way that leave you slightly numb.
  • Rating Out of Five: 3 1/2
  • Challenges: Off The Shelf, Dystopia, Book Club Read

Review: The Reckoning by Kelley Armstrong

Once again, unfortunately this review contains spoilers for those who haven’t both read this book and read this far in The Darkest Powers trilogy by Kelley Armstrong. I’ve already read and reviewed The Summoning and the The Awakening.

My name is Chloe Saunders. I’m fifteen, and I would love to be normal. But normal is one thing I’m not.

For one thing, I’m having these feelings for a certain antisocial werewolf and his sw eet-tempered brother–who just happens to be a sorcerer–but, between you and me, I’m leaning toward the werewolf. Not normal.

My friends and I are also on the run from an evil corporation that wants to get rid of us…permanently. Definitely not normal.

And finally, I’m a genetically altered necromancer who can raise the dead, rotting corpses and all, without even trying. As far away from normal as it gets.

If I didn’t know that there was another book following this trilogy, The Gathering, then I would say well that didn’t end very well did it? It felt unfinished, but with The Gathering coming out, even though I know it’s not following the same main character, I guess we’ll have to wait and see how unfinished this trilogy was (I’m starting to wonder now if all her books feel unfinished or if it’s just the ones I’ve read).

I guess you could say I’m going backwards with sharing thoughts on the book, but the ending really bugged me because after being completely immersed in this story for two days (that’s how engrossing it was! 3 books in two days. I may need a break) the ending felt rushed and a little unsatisfactory because of it.

It also didn’t help that the story started out particularly frustrating, especially with Simon and the adults that come along. First I feel there are three stages to Simon in the trilogy all the way up to the first 100-150 pages in The Reckoning.

The Three Stages of Simon

  • Book one: Playing the nice guy role. Has some potential to be a full-fledged character, but seems to give the nasty suspicion of a go between.
  • Book Two: Jealous much? Trying to insinuate himself into a situation and get all chummy. Bleurgh. This makes more sense in the tail end of book three, but still when it comes to reading a character who is trying to get in on everything you start to wonder just how desperate that person is. No one likes being around desperation in normal life, why do we want to read it?
  • Book Three: Annoying, just annoying. Interrupting all the time. Something starts to happen and Simon just happens to pop up! Is someone feeling left out is he? What a pain in the arse.

For me he has gone from a go between character, to a one dimensional character, to a jealous character, and then the whole vying for Chloe’s attention drove me nuts. I wasn’t even past the 50 page mark before I decided I’d had absolutely enough of Simon and I wanted him to piss off. I don’t know about this ploy if it is a ploy and it must be a ploy. An unnecessary ploy that is grating.

And the adults are so frustrating and annoying, especially Margaret (Chloe’s Instructor) who just won’t listen. It really bugs me in YA lit when adults come along and won’t listen. It happens too much and it drives me up the bloody wall. Why, does it feel as if the majority of adults in YA lit in particular have to be so oblivious (even if there’s a reason for it)? It does not make for interesting reading. It makes for frustrating reading! My annoyance and frustration meter was ramped up so much in the first 70 pages I was starting to question if I would enjoy any of this book at all. Bleurgh. Again.

You know what I dislike about love stories? There’s always a pity party in there somewhere. At some point the character fucks up, even just a little, and then it’s all why me? Oh why me? Oh why am I such a screw up? No one loves me! Boo hoo, blah blah blah… and so on and so forth. So far it had been avoided for the most part in this story, but here it was in the last one. Hmm maybe that wasn’t such a good idea. Finishing the story with a bit if self-deprecation is never attractive because self-deprecation just isn’t attractive most of the time (unless you have a sense of humour and the right attitude to pull it off without people wanting to sock you one).

That’s enough of my bitching though because even though I had a crazy level of frustration and it sounds like the book made me angry, well it didn’t really. Those problems just stuck out like sore thumbs and unfortunately lasted afterwards when it comes to thoughts of the book, but as a whole I did enjoy it. Not as much as the first two, but Simon’s one dimensionality isn’t really a big issue and he stops being so annoying further on, Tori even stops being a pain in the arse with the constant bickering (I like banter in stories, but bickering can be pretty painful), and I did have a major problem putting the book down. I read it in 6 hours. I usually try not to do that, but this time I couldn’t help myself.

The ending, Simon, adult vs. adolescent interaction stereotypes, and a misleading title (The Reckoning? Really? Where was this reckoning? Death isn’t reckoning), just left a bad taste in my mouth, but on a whole, with the other two, it’s still engrossing.

  • Genre: Young Adult Urban Fantasy
  • Demographic: YA
  • Reminds Me Of: Dark Angel and sections of Bitten by the same author
  • Rating Out of Five: 4
  • Challenges: Off The Shelf!

Review: The Awakening by Kelley Armstrong

Unfortunately this review will have spoilers thanks to it being the second book (here’s my review of the first) in The Darkest Powers trilogy and so making them a tad unavoidable. Sorry about that, but they’re more or less just spoilers for those who haven’t read the first book, if you’ve read it you can relax and read on.

If you had met me a few weeks ago, you probably would have described me as an average teenage girl—someone normal. Now my life has changed forever and I’m as far away from normal as it gets. I’m a living science experiment—not only can I see ghosts, but I can raise the dead without even trying.

Trust me, that is not a power you want to have. Ever. I’m running for my life with three of my supernatural friends and we have to find someone who can help us gain our freedom back before the Edison Group finds us first. Or die trying

This is one of those stories where your opinion can be completely decided by how you feel about the characters instead of being a food for thought piece. I really liked Derek. I liked him as a character in the first one because he had a level of intrigue, but I like him more in this one because he is just a likeable character. Or at least to me he is. Simon is the one I can’t figure out; he is slightly confusing. I try to figure out what his game plan is from all sorts of different angles, but it’s a little difficult. I guess maybe I should stop trying to figure him out and just see where the story goes.

I should also probably stop going, ‘awww’ every time Derek does something nice with Chloe or interacts with her in a nicer way, even if it’s small. I know that might sound like this, ‘awww they should be together,’ but it’s not. It’s more ‘awww aren’t they adorable youngins.’ I know, that’s terrible, I should be ashamed of myself. If it’s any consolation I’m feeling kind of old now. Yes, I’m going to stop it.

The Awakening was interesting reading for me because Simon is a type 1 diabetic. I don’t come across that often in movies or books to read of one that actually has their medication plan explained appropriately rather than some of the things I’ve heard or read in stories before where it’s completely off or close to. It is refreshing and kind of exciting. I’m a type 1 diabetic (if you haven’t already figured it out) and I appreciate that even though it’s not a big thing in the story, not really, that the proper detail is there and the proper information. So I sympathised with Simon because of it, and because he was diagnosed at an age that is the same as mine, but other than that I still like Derek more out of the two boys. Simon is one of those characters I can take or leave and really just feels like a filler or a bridge between two characters. Poor Simon, I think you might be a little flat.

Also the way Chloe is interacting with both of them or more so how they are interacting with her (the two boys) leads me to believe there may be some sort of love triangle developing. I really hope not because I can’t handle another love triangle (three in a row without planning on reading them? What are the odds? If this keeps up I’ll have to swear off YA Urban Fantasy for awhile).

Even with my developing fear of love triangles and the sneaking suspicion one is creeping up on me, I still am reading the next one. Pretty much straight away and judging by how fast I’m reading these books (less than 24 hours each, I’m really enjoying the start of the year so far), by the time this review is posted I’ll probably already be finished.

One last thing, if you’re not sure about reading Kelley Armstrong, but are curious, or if you’ve read one of her books besides these ones and wasn’t too impressed, then this trilogy might be a better option. I read her book Bitten and I think Armstrong is a good writer, but that book pissed me off (I hate how female characters can be written by men sometimes, it’s worse when it’s a woman writing them in a certain way and that ending… Best not to ever mention that book to me), so when I first read The Summoning quite some time ago I was very surprised. I guess my point is not to write off a novel just because of a previous experience with an author.

I also realised I didn’t say much about the book, writing style, or the other characters. I’m quite sick of Tori’s bitching so maybe that’s why I don’t pay much attention to her. Apart from that it’s a pretty good read and I like the way the story has gone. It’s mixing it up a little.

  • Genre: Young Adult Urban Fantasy
  • Demographic: YA, but enjoyable for adults too if you’re into Paranormal reads
  • Reminds Me Of: Dark Angel in a sense, but more Dark Angel back story and less sci fi.
  • Rating Out of Five: 4 1/2
  • Challenges: Off The Shelf

Off The Shelf! Challenge for 2011

Off The Shelf! This is one I’m really looking forward to doing and have been meaning to do for ages because I have so many books on my shelf that I have not read it. You know what it’s like, you buy some books, but get distracted by new books and before you know it you have a pile of books you haven’t read that just keeps growing!

That’s what my bookshelf is like and that is what this challenge is about! It’s to read all those books, or at least read as many as you can, that you haven’t read yet. So if you have a stack of books on your shelf that you haven’t read and have been meaning to then you might want to give this challenge a go.

Note: This challenge is to read those books you own copies of, but have never got around to reading. If you don’t have many that you own, but have a massive TBR shelf you’re welcome to read those ones as long as you don’t add new ones. You don’t need to actually get rid of your books after you’ve read them, this is just to read them.

I’m aiming for Making A Dint, which is 30 books, but I’m also aiming to overshoot that. I won’t be listing what books I will be reading, some of the books I plan on reading cross over with my other challenges, but I also like to have some breathing room and to go with what I feel at the time so I figure it’s better for myself to leave that one open rather than fixed.

Here are the other challenges that are available, you can also change levels at any time;

Challenge Levels

  1. Tempted–  Choose 5 books to read
  2. Trying – Choose 15 books to read
  3. Making A Dint – Choose 30 books to read
  4. On A Roll – Choose 50 books to read
  5. Flying Off – Choose 75 books to read

For extra hard challenges

  1. Hoarder – Choose 76-125 books to read
  2. Buried – Choose 126-200 books to read

If you want to take part just click the banner above and it will take you to the sign up page with the how to’s. So what challenges will you be doing next year? Or have you not gotten that far?
This also heralds the last of my scheduled posts so I will be back to posting more actively and hopefully commenting again! Thanks for everyone who has stopped by and still left comments in that time. NaNoWriMo was an awesome, if consuming, experience which I hope to repeat next year. I will probably do an update post on that some time next week, but we’ll see because even though it is over I am still writing.