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

This page contains affiliate links. Read our full disclosure here.

Advertisements

Review: “The Sight (Devil’s Isle #2)” by Chloe Neill

A review by Amanda.

This review may contain spoilers for book one, The Veil. I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Book two picks up a few weeks after the events of book one. Claire has been dividing her time between running the Royal Mercantile, learning the bounty hunter trade with Liam, and getting lessons in using her magic from Malachi. The tension between Liam and Claire is heavy since Liam has made it clear that his honor won’t allow him to be with her romantically; if she is discovered as a Sensitive he would be the one to turn her in to live on Devil’s Isle, which would break both of their hearts. Claire’s single-minded goal of staying busy to keep her mind off of her non-existent love life gets a boost when someone starts murdering Paras without care for human casualties.

A magic-hating human has developed a following. Calling themselves Reveillon, this cultish group blames magic, Paras, and Sensitives for the Zone’s troubles. Their leader has convinced them that the answer to all of their problems is to eradicate all traces of magic by any means necessary. The violence escalates even further and Claire, alongside her friends and allies, must act quickly to save those who have been targeted by Reveillon.
The Sight moves at a slightly faster pace than the previous book and makes for a quick read. The plot is a bit predictable, but it still manages to be interesting. While Claire still does not stand out amongst all of the urban fantasy heroines (see my review of The Veil), the supporting characters gain more depth. The romantic tension kicks up a notch and things get nice and steamy. Claire continues to hold her own against whatever life throws at her, with one or two exceptions. I imagine book three, The Hunt, will challenge her ability to roll with the punches. This series is great for those readers looking for a fun, quick read, with a classic urban fantasy feel. Fans of Patricia Briggs’ Alpha and Omega series, Kim Harrison’s Peri Reed books, and Charlaine Harris’s Aurora Teagarden series will likely enjoy these books. Make sure to pick up book one, The Veil, and look for book three, The Hunt, to be released on September 26th.

My rating: 3.5/5 stars.

This page contains affiliate links. Read our full disclosure here.

Review: “The Veil (Devil’s Isle #1)” by Chloe Neill

A review by Amanda.

Claire Connolly lives in New Orleans, but it is not the New Orleans that we are familiar with. Years ago, a veil between worlds was forced open and magic-using beings from a parallel world, called Paranormals or Paras, came through to conquer Earth. A nasty war was fought and humans won, barely. New Orleans is still recovering from the damage and military forces are in charge. There is very little contact with anyone outside of the containment areas. Paras that survived the battles have been sent to live in Devil’s Isle, a heavily guarded community, for the safety of humans. Some humans were affected by the magic that came through the veil, gaining paranormal abilities that they didn’t have before. Called Sensitives, these people are regarded with suspicion and are also sent to live in Devil’s Isle, whether they want to or not. This is partly due to prejudices against any magic users, but also because Sensitives eventually become wraiths – frightening, zombie-like creatures who attack humans without mercy.

Claire has managed to keep her family’s antique store running by turning it into a general store. She has no family left but has close friends and a tight knit community that she is very connected to. Her recent discovery that she is a Sensitive has taken her by surprise and now she has to keep a huge secret from those closest to her. An unexpected encounter with wraiths brings her to the attention of bounty hunter Liam Quinn, whose motives are unclear. Will he spill her secret, or help her keep it? Equally important, can Claire avoid the fate that befalls all Sensitives?

This is the first book in a new series from Chloe Neill, author of the Chicagoland Vampires series. Claire is a nice character, but fairly typical. As of this first book, there is little about her that stands out from other heroines in the same genre. She loves her friends, misses her father, and feels a sense of responsibility to her community. Her biggest fear is turning into a wraith, followed closely by being discovered as a Sensitive and relocated to Devil’s Isle. When Liam offers to help her, she has to decide if he can be trusted. Her attraction to him certainly complicates things, but that takes a backseat to the danger they quickly find themselves in.

The description of a post-war New Orleans is stark and wonderfully done. Prejudice is a prevalent theme, well explored and thought-provoking. The world-building and magical concepts are where the book stands out, and what makes it worth reading. There is a lovely cast of supporting characters, all of whom I hope to meet again. Claire and Liam both have room to develop, especially since this is the first book.  I will read the next book, The Sight, with a hope that they will continue to grow into their own.

My rating: 3.5/5 stars.

This page contains affiliate links. Read our full disclosure here.

Review: “Artemis” by Andy Weir

Review:

A review by Amanda.

I received a copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Earth has colonized the moon, at long last. It runs much like a small town, under a system of domes and tunnels. The colony Artemis was established recently enough that the law and government lean toward the relaxed side. People move there in part to take advantage of some of the freedoms allowed, such as living tax-free. There are a few restrictions, such as the types of flammable items allowed, which is where Jazz Bashara comes in. The twenty-six-year-old works legally as a porter, picking items up from the station and delivering it to her clients. This also gives her a good cover for her not-so-legal side job as a smuggler. Born in Saudi Arabia, Jazz and her father have lived in Artemis for twenty years. This and her reputation as dependable and discreet have helped her land some wealthy clients. An incredible opportunity comes her way, a chance to make more money than she thought possible, and she can’t turn it down. There may be more to this job than meets the eye, and Jazz’s life may be in danger. She has to decide if the money is worth the risk.

This book was captivating from beginning to end. Jazz is an exceptional character. It was a refreshing surprise to read a science fiction novel narrated by a woman of color, especially one as dynamic as Jazz. She has complicated relationships with multiple supporting characters, and her history is revealed over time, partially through her own recollections and partly through an email exchange that progresses throughout the book. There are a variety of supporting characters, male and female, differing in race, sexuality, and socio-economic background. Several positions of power and leadership are filled with women. The diversity in this book was surprising and wonderful, particularly because the author didn’t make it into a big deal. It wasn’t the focus of the story, it just… was. Jazz has her flaws and her strengths. She’s incredibly smart, a bit flirtatious, and full of both confidence and bravado. She has integrity and depth. The plot flows nicely around the characters and keeps the reader entertained as they get to know the world of Artemis. Romance is not really featured in this book, except in Jazz’s personal history and the occasional flirtatious remark. The only improvement to be made would be in her personal relationships with women. Jazz’s closest friends are male, and the female supporting characters are on the sidelines for the majority of the book.

The colony is as much of a character as Jazz. Artemis has personality, strengths, and weaknesses, and the reader cares about what happens to her. The author does a great job of describing the science behind living on the moon, providing enough small details to seem real, without getting too technical. Readers do not need to have advanced degrees to enjoy this book.

This novel reads as a standalone but leaves room for more of Jazz’s story. I would definitely read more!

Andy Weir has also written The Martian, which was recently adapted into a blockbuster film starring Matt Damon.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

This page contains affiliate links. Read our full disclosure here.

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.

This page contains affiliate links. Read our full disclosure here.

Review: “Bring Her Home” by David Bell

Review: "Bring Her Home" by David Bell

A review by Amanda.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Tragedy has struck the small town of Jakesville. Fifteen-year-old Summer and her best friend Haley, who has been missing for two days, were found in a local park. Both girls had been severely beaten beyond recognition and only Summer is still clinging to life. Summer’s mother died a year and a half before and her father, Bill, has been struggling to raise his only child on his own. Relief that she has been found alive is mixed with anger at whoever has done this horrible crime, and guilt over mistakes he has made as a parent. The investigation into the girls’ disappearance has uncovered some surprising and troubling details about things that shake Bill to his core, and lead to more questions than answers.

Bill Price appears to be an average middle-aged man who has been thrown into some extraordinary and tragic circumstances. He is overcome with grief, shock, and occasional bouts of rage, and has some secrets of his own that he’d prefer to keep buried. His sister Paige is his only real confidante as he tries to find the truth about what happened to Summer on his own. The beleaguered lead detective, Detective Hawkins, has his work cut out for him with Bill’s attempts to find the person responsible alternately hindering and helping the investigation.

The story is told exclusively from Bill’s perspective, so readers only know what he knows as the investigation unfolds. Bill is not the most sympathetic of characters; at times he is downright unlikeable in spite of the circumstances. Readers will be drawn in through the mystery and the unexpected twists and supporting characters will keep them engaged. Getting to know Summer, Paige, and Bill’s late wife Julia, albeit through Bill’s eyes, gives the book depth and warmth and gives readers characters to connect with and root for. Aside from the unlikeability of the main character, the story is well written and intriguing. The unpredictable plot twists are a pleasant surprise amidst the oversaturated mystery genre. Violence and strong allusions to sexual assault are mentioned but not graphically described.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

This page contains affiliate links. Read our full disclosure here.

Review of “The Truth About Happily Ever After” by Karole Cozzo

Review of The Truth About Happily Ever After by Karole Cozzo

A review by Amanda.

Alyssa is a walking, talking stereotype. Tall, blonde, and gorgeous, the twenty year old sorority sister spends her summers working as a princess character for a popular theme park (think Disney); and not just any princess, but the most admired and beloved – Cinderella​. Alyssa loves her seasonal job. She thinks of it more as a calling; she lives and breathes princess life. The friends that she’s made while working at the park, and the smiles on children’s’ faces, make the rigorous physical standards worth it. Princesses must meet certain aesthetic requirements and have appointments (called look-overs) every two weeks to make sure they are at an appropriate weight and have a clear complexion, among other things. Alyssa holds herself to the highest standards in both her looks and her mannerisms, even when she’s off-duty. To cap it all off she’s found her fairy tale romance with Jake, a park medic, including the sweetest storybook meet cute the previous summer. They’ve struggled to make things work long-distance, and Alyssa is giddy to have the entire summer together. Only, things do not exactly go as planned, and Alyssa’s perfect princess life might be turned upside down.

This story is light and fun, with very few surprises thrown in. It is definitely a quick read. The conflicts that arise are predictable, but Alyssa’s growth throughout the book makes it worth reading. Alyssa starts out appearing sweet but shallow. As her story progresses, readers get to know her on a deeper level. She isn’t as shallow as she appears, and her kindness is generally sincere. She tends to ignore things that might stress her out, pretending that problems don’t exist until they blow up in her face. The first half of the story might be a struggle, as Alyssa is annoyingly upbeat (and that’s coming from a bubbly optimist). As readers learn more about her family history and what draws her to the princess life, they might sympathize. And as she grows as a person and figures out what she really wants, the story balances out quite nicely.

This is a contemporary YA romance with some swearing and some very light sexual talk/activity.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

This page contains affiliate links. Read our full disclosure here.