Tuesday, March 25, 2014

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

Freedom, like anything else, is relative.

Why I read this book

Last year (2013) I read my first book from Margaret Atwood, The Edible Woman, and loved it. The way she threw fiction elements while making a very impressive critique of society was amazing for me, and so I wanted to keep reading her work. The Handmaid's Tale has been mentioned several times as an iconic part of her work and when I saw it on my recommended on Audible it was a no brainer to get myself a copy.

What the book is about

The book is set in a dystopian future, taking place mostly in what used to be Massachusetts. After a "terrorist" attack, a theocratic, Christian regime has taken over. Women have lost any right they might've had and all "sinners" (homosexuals, people who committed adultery, people of other faiths) have been either killed or "re educated" (are you cringing already?) . The story is told by a woman we learn to know as Offred, this implying that she is a possession of a man with Fred on his surname. Offred has been made a Handmaid which in this new country, more than servant, implies child bearer. It is explained through the book that due to chemical contamination, radiation and other factors, procreation has been in declined in the country, and hence the government have established that officials not only have a wife, but also access to women (the handmaids) that will carry their child, sort off surrogate mothers. After delivery, the child is given to the wife to raise. Offred's destiny depends on her submission and her ability to bear children.

First impressions

Listening to this book was hard, mostly because of the way women are treated, but also because you feel that this speculative work of fiction could easily take place again (references to other theocratic regimes are easily spotted, particularly Iran). Jumps from present to past are sometimes abrupt, but it carries a good feeling of how train of thought sometimes takes place and, in my case at least, makes the connection with the protagonist even deeper. That type of writing made me feel pain, angst and helplessness as Offred was feeling them too.

Final thoughts

Is hard for me to put into words my final thoughts. See, I have a lot of feelings when I think of this book, but they are not easy to put into paper, simply because they touch so deep. But let's try.

I felt rage as a woman, at to how women were treated. I've read some other reviews saying "well this would never happen; oh our society would never let this happen to women". And yet look at all the contraception legislation in the USA, most of the definitions are being taken by male politicians, and people are going with it.

I felt afraid of this being a plausible thing, maybe not right now where I am, but somewhere in the world there is right now a totalitarian movement, feeding, slowly maybe, and growing and getting more and more powerful. There are things that seem to happen suddenly when you are far away, but is just because you weren't in site to see the tiny changes that carried a big one. And this applies to any type of changes, positive or negative, particularly since this label is so subjective. The critic about how money was not physical anymore hit a stroke in me. I never thought about how I rely on plastic more and more. Not on credit, but I use my debit card most of the time and hence my contact with physical money has been decreasing more and more.

I felt sad at the different situations Offred had to go through, leaving her past behind, having so many memories, so many loved ones that she lost, almost overnight.

I felt a bit frustrated at the end of the book, because I wanted more closure, but at the same time, the way the author rounds the whole thing up, made me "forgive" the not knowing.

I loved Claire Danes as a narrator. At first I thought her tone was a bit flat, but this was at very beginning when the character was just stating facts. As emotions surged, as different characters appeared, so did new tones, new inflictions in her voice that made me get more into the whole story.

Nobody dies of lack of sex, is lack of love we die from 

Sunday, March 23, 2014

On Death and Books

After a while you start forgetting if you already mentioned certain subjects in here. I did a quick search and it seems I haven't but if I did, I apologize for the redundancy. I would like to talk to you about death and how books have been there for me.

If you are wondering how come I am talking about such a sad subject...well, my grandfather died this month and so this has been very present in my head. He was a wonderful man; not a reader, but a wonderful, giving man that brought up a family and was always there for us.

The first death I had to encounter was my mom's, when I was 7. Then I found refugee in my books. At school during recess I didn't felt like playing so I immersed myself deep into them and started exploring a whole new universe of possibilities that made dealing with her death a bit easier.

This time however it was not the case. It wasn't, like in my mother's case, a sudden death. He wasn't sick, but he was 91 years old, and so we all knew that any extra time we had with him was borrowed time. So when it happened we weren't surprised, we were sad as can be, but it was to be expected and luckily the last image I have from him is not of a sick, decaying person but someone warm and full of love.

But then I haven't been able to read as I used to, mostly because I've been feeling so tired. I flew back home days before he died, so I was there for his birthday and I got to spend some time with him. He passed away 3 days before I had to come back, and so the last 3 days were a rush of helping my grandma, funeral, family gatherings...and then I had to jump on a plane. Ever since then, I've been fine, until I sit down at home...invariably I fall asleep in minutes, like If I had a constant burden on my shoulders.

The books I've finished were on audio and one of them I was listening to with someone else. But I haven't managed to find that comfort I felt in books back then. I wonder if it is because reading was an activity I had with my mom and hence reading made me feel like she was still there, but since I never actually read with my grandpa, when I try to read it makes him feel farther away?

So, I realize that I haven't talked a lot about books, more like the fact that I haven't been able to get in a book since he died. I also realized I've been rambling a bit, but it has made me feel better to talk about this. Thanks for dropping bye.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Etiquette & Espionage (Finishing School #1) by Gail Carriger

It'll all end in tears and oil.

Why I read this book

This book called my attention when a while ago, while I was reading on Steampunk, so I guess it was around the time I read Boneshaker for the Sword and Laser book club. Audible was having a sale on first books of series and so I got a copy.

What the book is about

Sophronia (which I thought all along was written Sephronia, but never mind that) is a 14 year old in Victorian England that hasn't learned how to be a lady yet. Trying to "help" her with that her mother sends her away to Mademoiselle Geraldine's Finishing Academy for Young Ladies of Quality. Little did her mother know that this is also a school for spies.

First impressions

The book started a bit slowly for me...not because of what was happening, but because of the way it was happening. I can't put into words, but I am afraid that partially is because at first the distinction between voices was not very good.

Final thoughts

So...it was ok. I guess we shall start with what I liked. The descriptions of places and dresses (if you are familiar with my reviews, I am easily sold on good imagery); the concept of an spy...sorry intelligence gathering finishing school and the fact that the main character was a resourceful, smart albeit a bit annoying, girl who wasn't afraid of taking matters into her own hands.

What I didn't like. The adding of vampires AND werewolves that (to me) didn't really add much to the story. I'm not saying that it should've revolved around them, no, but I feel that the 2 characters I'm making reference to didn't gain much from their conditions. I might be proven wrong on future installments, but in all seemed a bit out of place.

The steampunk theme I believe is not for me. After reading 2...3 books of this genre, I realize that the parts that are making it steampunk itself just don't make me tingle and even gets overlooked at times. That said, I did enjoy imagining the little dog Bumbersnoot. That was cute.

I was expecting more of the school itself, I thought the classes are going to be fun!...Nope, they were rather short described , almost teaser like, but then you never get to have the whole picture and this jumps from class to "adventure" were not very seamless, didn't have a progression between them, which made me loose track often.

And something that really bother me...was referring to someone as "odd colored". Do I realize it was to keep with the Victorian tone? Yes, no need to tell me that, but it bother me nonetheless.

Moira Quirk does a good job most of the time, but unfortunately when there were a lot of girls talking I couldn't follow who was who as the voices sounded very similar. I think is just that at a certain point there is a limit of different tones you can do.

I think I would follow the series if it goes on sale again, but I wouldn't recommend it based on my experience. Then again I don't have a lot of friends with steampunk fever.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Once Upon a Time VIII

Well, in theory, spring has arrived. I say in theory because up here in Canada it snowed today, is -3 degrees outside (not accounting for the wind chill mind you) and the sky is as gray as ever. But not all is bad news. Carl from Stainless Steel Droppings is hosting a new "challenge" and yours truly is participating for the very first time :). AS you know I've already participated in the Readers Imbibing Peril challenge twice now, but I've never had the opportunity (actually I never remembered) to register for this one. The premise is simple enough: from March 21st up until June 21st you read and share your thoughts about books that fall into the broad categories of Fairy Tale, Folklore, Fantasy and Mythology (including subgenres off course). There are several "levels" of entry and this time I've decided to go with: 

Read at least 5 books that fit somewhere within the Once Upon a Time categories. They might all be fantasy, or folklore, or fairy tales, or mythology…or your five books might be a combination from the four genres.

My lineup is as follows:

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

The Last Unicorn by Peter S. Beagle

Haroun and the Sea of Stories by Salman Rishdie

The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne M Valente

Shadow and Bone by Leigh Berdugo

Now, for me they all fall in the Fantasy category, but some of them have elements of Mythology and Folklore, so I think it should be ok. I am not counting the 2 possible "Sword" books from Sword & Laser that I will (probably) read during spring, simply because I figure I would've read those anyway. I will however post my reviews about them, to keep the data base growing.

As always I will update the links to the reviews in this post as I make them available.

Are you exited? I am

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Ruby Red by Kerstin Gier

Eternity hangs from this moment

Why I read this book

Audible has been most gracious to me this year ;) That to say that I keep seeing deals on books that were already on my wish list! In this case, the premise of time traveling was appealing to me, and so when I could get the book for a great price I got myself a copy.

What the book is about

Gwyneth Shepherd is a 16 year old that happens to be able to travel in time. In this "world" some people have the ability to travel in time, and this traveling can be controlled using a device known as the chronograph. This control turns to be essential, for otherwise, the jumps are unpredictable and can put the traveler in a very perilous situation. Similar idea than the Time Traveler's wife, with some exceptions such as the fact that person cannot travel into the future

First impressions

I fell in love with the protagonist quite fast, she is clumpsy and sharp tongued. He sounded like an actual teenager, which is nice on YA, not when the author tries too hard to make the character sound young. She was genuinely likeable. The story was a bit predictable at times, but it was quite entertaining, and at least for me it was the first YA I read with time traveling.

Final thoughts

We go back to it being a nice YA in which the story arc does not depend on the romantic ideas the main character has. There is a mystery and the story evolves around it, instead of it being around Gwyneth and a boy. Oh, there is a boy yes, and there are hints as to something forming there, but is not the main aspect of the story.

The time traveling was interesting and I didn't see a flow flaw in the premises of the travelling itself. I really liked the description of costumes, but you guys know I am a sucker for these types of descriptions. The author plants her seeds well, in which now I really want to get Sapphire Blue to continue the story. Not only for the romantic development, but mostly for the explanations that are missing, yet hinted.

The whole secret society part was interesting too, if sometimes a bit annoying with the male characters being so condescending, but considering this group was formed at a certain period, I guess is to be expected.

It is the first time I hear Marisa Calin as a narrator, but I quite like her voices. The pace was well marked and differentiation between characters if not in tone was made clear in attitude.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Truth is, there aren't any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.

Why I read this book

Books were safer than other people anyway.

As I mentioned on the Good Omens review, I wanted to read a book by Neil Gaiman. I heard a lot of talk about this book and the moment it became available on OverDrive I snatched a copy.

What the book is about

The book tells us the fantastical story of a young boy that is confronted with very old magic; through it a lot of his childhood believes (in the world, in their parents in himself). Through his friendship with a "weird" girl and her family, he will encounter situations that will mark him for life...even if he can't remember them.

First impressions

I have to say, I was not expecting to be terrified to continue reading this book. I don't know who Gaiman does it, but the magic in this book is frightening. I'm used to getting this feeling with Stephen King, that need to look over your shoulder while you are reading, but I was not expecting this in a book marketed as fantasy, albeit I realize that was naive of me. This is not a bad thing mind you, the feeling I just described is accompanied with the eagerness to know what is going to happen next.

Final thoughts

I liked this book, very much. Even though I was not expecting a suspense fantasy story I loved the build up that the author uses to make you want to turn pages and at the same time fear doing so. The mythology constructed by Gaiman for this book takes (I feel) a lot of items from Nordic or Celtic fairy tales and it is easy to follow and give the characters a place in my head, without placing them fully according to a definite history.

The creepiness of the story comes not only from descriptions (the foot, oh dear heaven, the foot) but also from the fact that at a certain point you start feeling like you are the protagonist and then the angst of being seven years old again.

I loved that the main character is a bookish kid, but off course this is me feeling identified with him, which off course never hurts.

I didn't love it simply because there were a bit of strings hanging at the end (will not discuss them to avoid spoilers).

I lived in books more than I lived anywhere else

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman

Offer people a new creed with a costume and their hearts and minds will follow

Why I read this book

I wanted to start reading Neil Gaiman, since I keep hearing wonders about him and his work. So I reserved this one at the library and after I got it I realized that it was a book that he co-author with Terry Pratchett. Even more, asking around in Goodreads, the common feel is that it has a bit more of a Pratchett feeling that Gaiman. Either way, the premise seemed very fun to me, so I gave it a go.

What the book is about

An angel and a demon forging a friendship for thousands of years; the antichrist arriving to Earth and being prepared to bring the Apocalypse; the 4 horsemen riding to meet him and ll of this being predicted by a very accurate witch back in the 17th century. All of this and more can be found in this delightful book, full of satire, dark humor and biblical references. Is the end of the world as we know it...or so it says in the Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter

First impressions

The first pages of the book take place while Adam and Eve have been kicked out of Paradise. We see this through the eyes of Aziraphale, an angel, and Crawly (soon to be Crowley) the snake. They first interaction was hilarious and since from the beginning I started giggling I knew it was going to be a good ride.

Final thoughts

Well, as I finish this book, I still don't know who had the biggest impact in the outcome of the book, Pratchett or Gaiman, but what I do know was that it was a great book. The fact that the future of Earth lies in the hands of a Satanic nun who is a bit absent minded was just the beginning of a series of events that made me laugh so hard my boyfriend was a bit worried. Both Aziraphale and Crowley are very endearing as characters, in their own way. They have felt in love with what Earth has to offer and it shows in their behaviour, no surprisingly since they have been here since...forever.

Can we talk about the horsemen? I love the way they were portrayed; from the first physical descriptions it was perfectly clear who was War, Famine, Pollution and off course DEATH. Their effect on the other bikers cracked me up, and then these ones changing their names to make part of the horsemen? I was happy I wasn't in public reading that because I was laughing my head off.

It was also very interesting how the point about how upbringing can beat genes was made. I will not got into too much details because I do not want to spoil anything for anyone, but you get to like the Antichrist.

It has been said that civilization is twenty-four hours and two meals away from barbarism