Review: “The Handmaid’s Tale” by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

A review by Emily.

The Handmaid’s Tale, written by Margaret Atwater in 1985, is a story that eerily parallels events in our world today… but goes a step further to describe our worst nightmares turned reality. In the tale, the United States is at war with Islamic Radicals who have laid out chemical attacks leaving 25 percent of the population sterile. The new regime of the U.S. ironically decides to oppress its women in order to propagate the human race by making it illegal for them to read and hold jobs or property. The fertile women called “Handmaids” are ordered to be clad head to toe in red puritan robes and bonnets and are assigned households to serve a master. They are abused and submitted to servitude by putting the fear of God in all of them. It is a dystopian society where the women are forced to be suspicious of each other so they can never unite against their oppressors. Their identities are anonymous, being named after their household’s master and are renamed when their ownership is exchanged.

The tale is written as a stream of consciousness that jumps back and forth between story plot and its main character Offred’s ruminations. This makes the main character relatable and underscores her loneliness and isolation but leads to a storyline with no real momentum. The story lacks backstory which would have helped to explain the main character’s motives and emotions. A more in-depth backstory also would help us feel perhaps a little less disappointed in a character that is less than a heroine and at times seems pathetic; character development that would have added tremendous value to it as a way to contrast and highlight the main character’s present suffering.  Also, character development of the people she interacts with would have added another layer to the story and may have led us to feel the true depth of Offred’s helplessness as those close to her disappoint and betray her.

Atwater’s work lays the foundation for the abysmal and intriguing new world order which MGM/Hulu’s TV series The Handmaid’s Tale adapts. It satisfies the character building and backstory that the book lacks and casts Offred in a more heroine-like role that we can admire. The MGM series takes us on a more fulfilling journey into her world and moves us beyond the stage that Atwater has set.

My Rating: 3/5 stars

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Review: “Bernie and the Putty (The Universe Builders #1)” by Steve LeBel

Review- Bernie and the Putty (The Universe Builders #1) by Steve LeBel

A review by Amanda.

I received this book for free from the author in exchange for a fair and objective review.

Bernie is a teenager who holds the world in his hands, literally. He belongs to a race of self-described gods who create universes from scratch. Their entire society revolves around building multitudes of worlds, just because they can. Children learn the basics of building in school, leading to various specialties and supporting careers; not everyone has what it takes to become a Builder. Bernie has run into a few obstacles along the way, including a bully, his parents’ divorce, a chaotic cloud that follows him everywhere, and an unwillingness to follow certain directions that he disagrees with. Nonetheless, he has been given an opportunity to show his potential employers what he can do, if he can overcome the new obstacles being thrown his way.

The concept of this book is unique and compelling. The details for the universe creation process are thorough and logical, with some whimsy thrown in here and there for good measure. The story has plenty of heart and humor to keep readers entertained and invested in the characters. The world-building and the overall plot are enough to keep one reading despite the novel’s pitfalls.

Bernie is a likable character, if not an exceptional one. He is a misunderstood geek, an outcast with few friends. Although he is smart and talented, still comes across as a bumbling, absent-minded type. Many of his successes are due to luck and accidents, or because someone else has helped him in some way. The supporting characters feel one-dimensional, especially the female characters. The two women who contribute most to the plot and dialogue only exist as love interests. They do not appear to have any agency beyond that. Other women only appear as needed to help Bernie. Even his mother exists only as part of an explanation Bernie’s circumstances. Women are described as “unfathomable” and naturally manipulative, especially when trying to attract a guy, which plays into misogynistic stereotypes about women.

The writing style seems geared towards a younger, middle-grade audience. There is a lot of exposition and not a lot of room for readers to come to conclusions on their own. Readers are privy to the inner thoughts of almost every character, which can be helpful but feels unnecessary at times. A couple of minor plot points build up and then fizzle out, although there are more books in the series so those could be addressed later.

Fans of the Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan may enjoy this book.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

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Review: “The Dating Bender” by Christina Julian

A review by Amanda.

Samantha Serrano is a twentysomething divorcee whose life has gone off the rails. Raised in the Catholic faith by cruel and hypercritical parents, Sam has been so sheltered from the dating world that she leaps into marriage just to get out from under her parents’ thumbs. Unsurprisingly, her marriage loses its newlywed bliss almost immediately. Still, Sam tries to make it work for more than a year before asking for a divorce, much to her parents’ disappointment (despite the fact that they disapproved of the marriage in the first place). Now, on the advice of a friend and mentor, Sam agrees to give the dating world a spin. First, she has to overcome years of guilt and shame regarding sex, and then she has to figure out exactly what it is that she wants. This is the story of one woman’s journey to a better understanding of her needs and desires, complete with wacky mishaps and unexpected discoveries along the way.

Samantha is a contradiction of a character. On the one hand, her naivete about relationships occasionally borders on the ridiculous. She constantly references popular magazines in regards to fashion, makeup, and relationship advice. She takes the word of relative strangers at face value and seems to have some trouble maintaining female friendships with any depth. On the other hand, she also seems to have a great mind for business and achieves various successes in a male-dominated field. This aspect of her character is unfortunately glossed over and mostly serves as a vehicle for her sexual adventures. While the stories of her dating experiences are both entertaining and cringey, the lack of development in other areas of her life throughout the majority of the book gives the story a shallow feel. A little more backstory for Sam as well as the supporting characters would have gone a long way. A few extra details, such as how she met her ex-husband, anecdotes from her childhood (besides her parents’ cruelty), or about her friendships with women would have filled out the story quite nicely. As it is, Sam evokes rotating feelings of sympathy, frustration, and bemusement. Readers may find themselves rooting for her to gain independence and maturity, rather than hoping that she finds true love and a fairy tale happy ending.

As Sam works through her Catholic guilt and searches for some new sexual experiences, she has her ups and downs. She makes mistakes and learns from them, has some great sex, and makes a fool of herself on multiple occasions. There is nothing shameful about women’s sexual desires and more stories about women gaining and enjoying sexual freedom are necessary, and appreciated. The sex scenes are semi-graphic.

This book is a quick and casual read for those in need of a romance with an awkwardly funny protagonist.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

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Review: “Bannerless” by Carrie Vaughn

A review by Amanda.

I read this book for free as part of the Prime First program, offered to those with Amazon Prime memberships.

Bannerless is a post-apocalyptic tale, set along the west coast one hundred years after the Fall of civilization as we know it. Communities have been formed, run by committees, and populated with people who know the value of hard work and family. Several family units live together in households, working together to make their household prosperous. Every household works for the good of the community, with quotas to fill. Intentionally surpassing quotas and hoarding goods is illegal. Most technology has been forgotten, in favor of a precious few that would make rebuilding easier. One such item was the birth control implant. Households must earn banners to show that they can provide for a child. If someone has a child without a banner, they and their entire household will face grave consequences.

Enid is a twenty seven year old woman who has just started a household with three others. She works as an investigator, traveling to different communities as needed to settle disputes and investigate reports of bannerless pregnancies and suspicious deaths. Investigators also assign punishments as they see fit, and are looked upon with fear and wariness. Nevertheless, Enid is proud of her position and enjoys the travel as much as enforcing the laws, ensuring that everything is fair and just. When she and her partner, Tomas, get a message regarding a suspicious death in a nearby town, she is eager to get down to business. Upon arrival, however, things are clearly not what they seem and Enid’s job may be harder than she had imagined.

The idea of a post-apocalyptic world is not a new one but this author brought interesting elements into an established genre and made it feel new. The idea of earning the right to have children is also not a new idea but it is intriguing when combined with other aspects of the world building. Enid is a solid character, devout in her beliefs. She believes strongly in doing whatever needs to be done to keep things fair and balanced for everyone. The book goes back and forth between the present and Enid’s past, leading to the mystery that starts the story.

Although this book had potential, it was a bit of a disappointing read. Enid, who is our protagonist and narrator, is not a deep character. She is predictable, even during exciting moments. The majority of the supporting characters are even more shallow and less interesting. The plot is mediocre, with the mystery being the only thing propelling it forward. There are a few surprises that may keep a reader interested, and world the author has built is worth more exploration, but the overall story is mediocre.

The author has an urban fantasy series, Kitty and the Midnight Hour, which I greatly enjoy. She also has several fantasy standalones, including Steel, Voices of Dragons, and Discord’s Apple, which I highly recommend.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

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Review: “Souljacker: A Lily Bound Novel” by Yasmine Galenorn

A review by Amanda.

Lily O’Connell is a Fae woman living in Seattle’s Blood Night District. The Fae, along with Weres and vampires, revealed their existence to humans several decades ago, mostly to everyone’s benefit. Lily’s closest friends are a witch named Dani and a human called Nate, as well as her cat Whisky who isn’t exactly what he seems. She runs a private salon called Lily Bound that allows her to feed her succubus appetite without killing anyone. When a prominent, married, Were-client is murdered in her home, which is also her place of business, the trouble has only just begun. Now she must contend with the wrath of a grieving widow, as well as the shock of discovering that the killer is not finished yet – and Lily and her friends may be on his list of future targets. Is teaming up with a private investigator, who also happens to be a chaos demon, a good idea or a recipe for disaster?

This was the first book in the Lily Bound series. The most interesting aspect of this story, without giving spoilers, was the circumstances surrounding the murders. The world-building of human and non-human society was well done and made sense. The characters were very superficial; what you see is what you get, with perhaps one exception. There were no hidden agendas or suspicious motives anywhere, which was a bit disappointing. Since this was the first in a series that, of course, may change in later books. The overall plot was predictable for anyone who has read an urban fantasy series. Fans of Yasmine Galenorn’s Otherworld and Indigo Court series may enjoy Souljacker, as well as those who like Kim Harrison’s The Hollows series, and Seanan Maguire’s October Daye series.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

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Review: “One Piece: Skypiea vol. 31-33” by Eiichiro Oda

Review:

A review by Hannah.

One Piece was started in 1997 and is continuing today. There are 81 volumes to date, which is why this series of reviews will be broken up into three volume books. From now on there will be spoilers for what happens in the rest of the series. You have been warned…

Eneru is trying to destroy the Sky Islands, in search of the endless Vearth. Vearth is what the Sky Islanders call earth or as we call “dirt.” There is only one person who can stop him and that is Luffy. Eneru has the power of lightning and mantra. Luffy is made of rubber and is a bit of an air head. Eneru never really had a chance.

There is a flashback about why the Shandians are fighting the Sky Islanders. Basically, they come from the island Jaya. The Knock Up Stream sent the Shandians into the air, ringing a giant golden bell all the way. The bell alerted the Sky Islanders, and they found the biggest collections of Vearth anyone on the Cloud Sea had ever seen. The Kami at the time quickly took over the island, kicked the altitude sickened Shandians out, and turned the former Jaya Island into Upper Yard. There has been war ever since.

The crew leaves Skypeia while running away from the natives in true pirate fashion. They had retrieved a bunch of gold from the ruins and thought that the natives would be angry with them for this. That’s not true, the natives haven’t assigned a worth to gold. It’s just shiny and yellow, apparently.

The Straw Hats land back in the Blue Sea. They meet another pirate crew and take part in the Davy Back Fight. This fight takes place in three rounds. A boat race, a ball game of sorts, and a brawl between the captains. The winner of each round gets to take a crew member of the opposing crew as their new crew. Cheating abounds and the crew lose Chopper in the first round. But they get him back in the second. Volume 33 leaves off with Luffy facing the other captain in a boxing match, declaring that he will win even if it kills him.

Overall I have always found the Skypiea arc to be kind of pointless and too coincidental for my taste. They only show up because Luffy is self centered and wanted to go up there. Then they just so happen to arrive at the same time that Eneru is putting the finishing touches on his “destroy everything” plan, and the civil war that has been raging for 200 years happens to kindof involve this guy they met a few days ago. Most of the other story arcs are entwined with the crew in a way that makes the what happens seem very important. This arc is more about setting things up for the future.

This is my last review of the One Piece arcs. If I haven’t convinced you of the great and wonderful adventure that is One Piece, then you are losing out. If you feel that it is too intimidating (it’s been around for twenty years), all I can say is that the effort is worth it. Watching these characters grow stronger and closer over the years has been a true delight.

A few things that you will miss if you do not continue the story: Robin’s secret and terrible past, Luffy’s family, a cyborg, a living skeleton, zombies,the crew gets separated, Amazons, the biggest war between marines and pirates that the world has ever seen, Zoro cutting a ship in half, Sanji flying, Nami manipulating weather, Ussop using killer plants, Chopper’s monster form, Robin summoning giant legs to crush everything in her path, and Luffy changing gears.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

Overall series rating: 5/5 stars.

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Review: “One Piece: Skypiea vol. 28-30” by Eiichiro Oda

One Piece: Skypiea vol. 28-30

A review by Hannah.

One Piece was started in 1997 and is continuing today. There are 81 volumes to date, which is why this series of reviews will be broken up into three volume books. From now on there will be spoilers for what happens in the rest of the series. You have been warned…

The battle for Upper Yard has started. There are 54 warriors (including himself) in the Kami Eneru’s army; there are 20 Shandian warriors and 7 Strawhats. How many will be standing in three hours? According to Eneru, who has the power of Mantra, there will be five warriors.

Luffy, Zoro, Chopper, and Robin are headed for the legendary city of El Dorado, which used to be part of Jaya. Sanji, Usopp, and Nami are sailing the Going Merry out of Upper Yard with the injured Ganfor. Luffy gets swallowed by a giant snake.

After meeting with the Going Merry, Conis learns of Eneru’s ultimate plan for Sky Island. She must warn the citizens and the Shandian to evacuate. No one wants to believe her, but with the help of the White Berets, the people start to leave.

These volumes honestly make a better anime than manga. There is a lot of fighting with a lot of different characters. Sometimes it’s hard to keep track of who is fighting who and how. It looks amazing, but it can get a little confusing.

My biggest pet peeve with these volumes is that Robin is not as big of a badass as she could be. When she was Ms. All Sunday, she incapacitated the Straw Hat crew single-handedly without moving. She was a partner to Sir Crocodile, a former Shichibukai. She reads a language that has been outlawed for goodness sake. Now, she can’t win a fight without taking a ton of damage. Admittedly that is the Straw Hat way, but I really wish her opponent was more impressive.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

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