Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Atwood

For me, the mark of great literature is its ability to remain relevant and take on new meanings through changing times – and Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale certainly seem to possess this ability. The revived interest in this novel, brought on by the long-in-the-making TV-series, could not have come a more opportune time.

Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale tells the story of Offred as she navigates The Republic of Gilead; a future ruled by pseudo-Old Testament gender politics and fanatism. It is a beautifully written work, almost poetic in its storytelling, and offers a very personal look at the consequences of this new way of life.
Women are divided into color-coded casts, each only fulfilling a specific set of duties for the men they serve. Offred “plays” the role of Handmaid (red) to ‘The Commander’ and his wife (blue), kept only to breed in a time where birthrates are dangerously low.
As we follow Offred through her ‘duties’ we are treated to a number of flashbacks both to the time before the republic, and to her ‘training’ as a Handmaid, contrasts, and conditions that serve to make the present described seem even more harrowing.
While there is a very strict set of societal rules that must be followed at all times, Offred and the reader quickly learn that rules just might be there to be broken.

Arguably the purpose of Atwood’s speculative fiction (no not science fiction) is to serve as a warning, by means of letting us see ourselves in in the distorting mirror of fiction, we get a glimpse at what might possibly happen if we let current trends continue. A warning that many argue turned out to be scarily accurate in the case of Orwell’s modern classic 1984 – and now The Handmaid’s Tale.

Why is The Handmaid’s Tale so important right now? Personally, I am not what I would call an ‘active’ feminist, but I am a feminist nonetheless – how you can live a life where you proclaim NOT to be is beyond me. Equal rights are just that a right! However, as a fraction of present-day America seems to be digging even deeper into conservatism and repression under the leadership of a narcissistic misogynist and his team of bigots, Atwood’s story about the Republic of Gilead and Offred’s tragic circumstances seem less far-fetched with every day that these people stay in power.

The novel ends on an ambiguous note that is open to interpretation. Personally, I favor the more optimistic option. I have yet to see the series-adaptation, but I look forward to starting it and to go further into the world created by Atwood as the series progresses beyond its source material. Because if there is anything wrong with Atwood’s novel it is her world-building, which, while contained still left me wanting in a way I can’t quite describe – this obviously may not be the same for every reader, and by no means lessen my opinion of the novel as a whole. It is a spectacular work of feminist writing that will resonate strongly with every modern reader as Atwood paints us a picture of a horrible, yet not unimaginable future.

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Review: Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

The gang is back in Ketterdam but that doesn’t mean they are out of trouble, in fact the break-in at the Ice Court was just the beginning.

*Note: This may contain minor spoilers for Six of Crows*

The same things that worked well in Six of Crows work in Crooked Kingdom too. The multiple point-of-view style is still a personal favorite of mine, and I actually think it works even better in the sequel than it did in Six of Crows. As we are now more familiar with the characters the shifts in pov are seamless and while some of the flashbacks seem longer, they are also more interesting as we dive deeper into the nature of these characters. While this does a great deal expand the characters the lovable misfits we got to know in Six of Crows are still just that, now just with more depth to them. More depth and even crazier schemes!

However, that last point might be a disservice to the novel. The crazy schemes and insane plans are bordering on being ‘too much of a good thing’. While I still really enjoyed reading Crooked Kingdom, the novelty of the “Oceans Eleven-style plot-twist” gets a bit.. expected? This is not necessarily a bad thing (I did say bordering on too much), but for me personally the initial set-ups weren’t as compelling once I had become accustomed to the inevitable a twist at the end of every plan.

On the one hand, I’ll be fair, and admit that a handful of these twists did still catch me by surprise. On the other hand, there were so many twists that I could still grow tired of them despite their ability to trick me. I do think the effect this has is very dependent on the individual reader, even-though I personally came to expect them I still very much enjoyed the pay-offs each time. I still desperately wanted to know how Kaz was gonna outsmart the next person standing in his way, and which roles the other members of the gang were gonna play in his crazy schemes. I don’t know if that will be enough for everyone, but then again, if you loved the Dregs after reading Six of Crows I think you’ll love Crooked Kingdom just as much, even if the amount of plot-twists is walking that fine line between ‘a good thing’ and ‘too much’, more precariously than Inej on a high-wire!

The strongest point of the entire novel (and duology) is the ending of Crooked Kingdom, and while I don’t want to spoil it, I will say this; it has a very mature and satisfying ending that I personally haven’t seen in a lot of young-adult novels, and as such, the last couple of chapters of Crooked Kingdom gave me everything I didn’t know I wanted.

All in all, I give Crooked Kingdom ☆☆☆☆/5 stars!

 

Quick Review: Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Six of Crows reads like Gangs of New York does Oceans Eleven sprinkled with magic!

Set in the Amsterdam-inspired city of Ketterdam, Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo is part of the Grisha-universe. I personally haven’t read the Grisha-trilogy but the premise of a fantasy heist novel wasn’t one I was gonna pass up – and Six of Crows certainly delivers on this initial premise!

The story goes as follows: Kaz Brekker is hired to break into the most secure structure in the land, The Ice Court, and to do so he needs help! So he assembles a mitch-matched crew and from there it’s a fast paced journey to get a plan together, infiltrate The Ice Court & break out a valuable prisoner – and when things don’t go exactly as planned to make adjustments. And quick!

The fast paces story is matched in in the narration, as the event are told from the shifting close third-person viewpoints of the six main characters; Kaz, Inej, Jesper, Matthias, Nina & Wylan. This always-shifting point-of-view not only helps keep up the pace of the novel, it also allows the reader to get better acquainted with the six main characters as we move through each POV, as well as, through a series of well placed flash-backs.

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At first I thought I ought to have read the initial Grisha-trilogy as the magic of the Grisha was a bit confusing, however, I was hooked by the 4th chapter and everything was eventually explained. A tactic I imagine wouldn’t seem too repetitive for fans of the Grisha-trilogy but still let newcomers (like myself) get a full understanding of the universe.

The way author Leigh Bardugo weaves the story together is truly beautiful, and in true crime-fiction style she tells the reader only just enough to keep us reading yet still guessing. Combined with a lovable set of truly interesting and diverse set of misfit characters, it’s hard not to love Six of Crows. Personally it had me feeling like I was reading a YA fantasy version of Oceans Eleven the way the characters tell you one thing up front but then, as the action kicks into gear, their plan, their actions and their motivations almost always diverge a bit from what you thought you knew! A true page turner.

Quick Review: Fight Club 2 by Chuck Palahniuk

“Some imaginary friends never go away” – Fight Club 2

☆☆☆☆/5

The first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club, so I’ll just try to review the sequel instead!

My first thought after finishing this was “WTF did I just read!?”.

Fight Club 2 takesplace 10 years after the novel where we discover that the narrator (Sebastian) after his time in treatment, has married Marla Singer and they have a child called Junior. However, Palahniuk doesn’t write fairytales so obviously the arrival of Tyler Durden is inevitable. Tyler has continued his work withouth Sebastian knowing – but that changes when Junior is kidnapped and the narrative unfolds!

If Fight Club was the manifesto, Fight Club 2 is the realization.

The graphic novel stays faithful to the Sebastian/Marla/Tyler relationship yet throws our main characters into new environments. Palahniuk references both the original novel and the movie in an on-point satirical manor that keeps the reader confussed. On top of that, Palahniuk inserts himself in the narrative as a characther the others can call for plot-advise something that shouldn’t work but somehow does!

Gone are the days of bouisterous  critique of fragile masculinity, consumer culture & modern life. This time Palahniuks jabs are more subtle but they hit their target with precision! Fight Club 2 is not so much a sequel as it is an insight into Palahniuk post-Fight Club – and an expression of a need to deal with Fight Club’s legacy! It is Best summed up by this quote

“We don’t cultivate ideas, it’s ideas that cultivate us!” – Fight Club 2

Tyler Durden is that idea, and I fully understand Palahniuk’s need to finally let him go.

Thoughts & Feelings: The Chronicles of Narnia

I recently read The Chronicles of Narnia (or rather I heard the audiobook), and I have a couple of hang-ups now that I am done with the series. So here er go:

A little background knowledge: I had most of the books read a loud to me as a child but had never read The Silver Chair or The Last Battle before now. I choose to read them in the same order as it was done to me as a child, based on Narnia Chronology, meaning The Magician’s Nephew comes first. Partly because I remembered it being my favorite! 

The Magician’s Nephew tells the story of the creation of Narnia and the Christian allegory presents through out the series og made painfully clear from the get go if you read in this order. Not that that’s a negative, it still remains my favorite.

   I felt the Christian-inspired creation much was carefully crafted and not as ostentatious as one might expect (and fear) of a book from the 50’s. The story highlights lessons of friendship and loyalty. I enjoyed the immense empowering of the voice of the children – and the treatment of our female lead is called into question. Lewis gives her a voice and let’s her speak out against societal misogyny. A groundbreaking thing considering the time it was written!

In The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe we them meet the Pevensee children that are synomenous with Narnia. The story is more fairytale-esque overall, however yhe resurrection of Aslan clearly Christian. The story is heavily focused on the role of family as well as tur battle of good and evil.

   The role of Edmund is to blur the lines – he objectively sells out his siblings for a bit of candy, however, his motivations aren’t that clearly expressed. Personally, I see him as the middlechild who perhaps feels a bit forgotten, he desperatly wants to be one of ‘the older children’, he wants to feel important – something the White Witch makes him feel.

   The story arch obviously makes him see the error of his ways and teaches the reader an immense lessons of repentance and forgiveness when Aslan takes his place. But it the return from Narnia Also illustrates (in my opinion) how you can’t live in a fantasy world forever. There is a distinction between the fantasy of Narnia and the real world.

I then skipped The Horse and His Boy as I remembered disliking it so much as a child and instead proceeded to Prince Caspian which had to major impact on my personally. It is a story of battle – but Also of belief, as Lucy believes in Aslan so wholeheartedly that she can see him when the others can’t. But really I can hardly remember how the conflict is resolved.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader on the other hand was my favorite (2nd to Magician’s Nephew). It is probably the story with the most subtle Chistian-allegory and it reminded me more of Gullivers Travel’s by Jonathan Swift than anything Narnia. There is great agency for all chracthers inbolves and especially Eustace goes on a journey of self-discovery, learning to become part of the group. He eventuelly becomes a very sweet boy  (much to the diamant of his mother) and I loved how the story blended adventure, with lessons of growing-up and love into a seemless story.

   The only drawback being the underlying racism I felt was present regarding the Duffers who apparently need a wise (Christian) to guide them through their stupid (uncultured) life. Also this is the book that expressively states that the children will know Aslan my another name (Jesus) in their own world.
The Silver Chair felt like a filler in in my opinion and served more as an introduction of the new main characters, Eustace and Jill, than anything else. However, the is a clear lesson or allegory about being lead into the darkness (away from Aslan/Narnia/Jesus) but that you can be saved and return to the light (of Christianity).

The there was The Last Battle which I already reviewed here on the blog. I expressed how I felt ‘cheated’ by this story (specifially the ending) as it seemed to to against many of the things I just described in this post. The ultimate Christian aspect of going to Aslan’s Country (heaven) just seemed like such a wrong way to end this epic, in my opinion. All the moral/value lessons that are present throughout are clearly Christian in nature, and I honestly loved the series so he religious aspect is not my hang-up.

   Still something about The Last Battle just continues to feel wrong. Even now that I have had time to “call down” and think I am still unhappy. One aspect of it is the complete eradication of the Calormenes, (worshippers of Tash). Only a single Calormene is allowed into Aslan’s Country since his actions were good – and anything good is done in Aslan’s name, even if you don’t know it. But how can it be that not a single Calormene other than him was good at heart?! Soldiers follow orders and obey their leaders, and can in my opinion not be held individually resonsible – yet not a single Calormene is allowed into heaven! Is it not good to fight for what you believe to be the truth? And even if they were all evil, what happened to all those lessons of forgiveness?! The stories leading up to The Last Battle give ample opportunity for repentance and forgiveness but these lessons are completely ignored in my opinion. A terrible explaination might be that the Calormene are a different race from the Narnians.

Like many English men of this era, Lewis was unconsciously but regrettably unsympathetic to things and people Middle Eastern. Thus he sometimes engages in exaggerated stereotyping in contrasting things Narnian and things Calormene” (Paul F Ford).

However, evem when allowing for this cultural-temporal difference between Lewis and myself, I still have one more bone to pick.

   I think the main issue I continue to have is the fact that Lewis chose to included the Pevensee parents in the train crash. They are in no way involved in build-up of the narrative. Their pressence is established through an off-hand remark towards the end and in my opinion their pressence is totally uneccessary. The only thing it accomplishes is leaving Susan utterly and completely alone in the real world. Not only does she loose her siblings and cousin, no her parents are clumsily killed-off as well. Add this to the fact that Susan herself is written off in a snide comment about “not being a friend of Narnia” and “caring more about stockings and invitations” (made by her own brother), I think is absolutely horrible.

   She may have lost faith in Aslan/Narnia but does that really warrent killing her entire family in one swoop?! and essentially saying there is no way of her to join them in heaven! Wasn’t The Silver Chair exactly about that?

In my opinion this inssensitive treatment of Susan has nothing to do with the otherwise wonderful (and universal) lessons that Lewis found in Christianity and weaved into The Chronicles of Narnia through his excelent storytelling and magical language. If I ever decide to reread the series I’ll skip The Last Battle because everything up until that point is a wonderful children’s tale, despite its faults.

Thoughts: Narnia The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis

I feel disappointed.

*spoilers ahead*

I never finished the series as a child and after reading The Last Battle for the first time now I honestly feel cheated. I’ve been well aware of the blatant Christian allegory of the series and The Magician’s Nephew is by far my favorite – so it is not as if I am opposed to Lewis’ use of religion. My mom is in fact a minister so I do have a pretty good understanding of Protestant Christianity. This is perhaps part of why I feel disappointed.
The Last Battle seems to contradict every other lesson these stories taught. Narnia was a fairytale yet the children always knew that reality was waiting for them – a beautiful lesson of letting yourself dream but not to get lost in those dreams. I commended The Magicians Nephew (after just rereading it) for it’s approach to female agency – Polly wasn’t about to let anybody push her around simply for being a girl! And forgiveness was a key theme through out.But honestly, The Last Battle goes to great effort to shit all over that!

From rather obvious racist tendencies to essentially referring to Susan as a slut who is, quote, “no longer a friend of Narnia”. The ending feels like it is trying to teach us all that growing up isn’t worth a damn, it’s much better to die and go to an all white heaven. Because those lessons of forgiveness – Yeah those don’t seem to apply to the Carlomene.

I still gave it three stars a I felt everything up until the last two chapters were as exciting an adventure as any of the others, filled with magic and anticipation of victory. Despite figuring the title might refer to the fact that our hero(es) wouldn’t make it – that Narnia would somehow end, but still, killing everyone in a train crash just wasn’t a fitting way to wrap up this series.

Review: A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

A Monster Calls is quite possibly the most beautiful book I have ever read!

To quote the book itself, “Stories are important … They can be more important than anything. If they carry the truth”. And this story certainly carries the truth – a devestating yet beautiful truth.

Putting it (very) simply, A Monster Calls is the story of 13 year-old Conor O’Malley who gets visited by a monster one night. However, it is not the monster he fears.
   The monster has come walking to tell Conor three tales, the morals of which don’t become evident until Conor has to tell the 4th tale – tell his truth.

Based on the idea of Siobhan Dowd, Patrick Ness’ has has created a true masterpiece that manages to weave the real and the imaginary together seemlessly.
   The way Conor constantly questions and interrupts the monter’s tales, combined with a free-flowing uncomplicated language, helps perfectly off-sets the complex concept being mediated in the narrative.

A Monster Calls will break your heart and give you hope!

Review: The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

​An original take on the classic coming of age story.


The Graveyard Book is Neil Gaiman at his most Gaiman-esque and I loved it. We follow the life of Nobody Owens, who, after his patents’ murder, is adopted by the community of the graveyard – and specifically by Mr and Mrs Owens. The mysterious Silas is to be Bod’s guardian, as Silas is neither living nor dead and therefore the only one able to leave the graveyard. What follows is 300 pages of pure adventure – Bod leads us into the oldest grave and through a ghoul gate, he befriends a witch and becomes the supposed imaginary friend of the girl Scarlett. All the while slowly growing up amongst ghosts.

If you want your story to have a clear-cut linear progression this is not the book for you. But if you want to experience the trubbles of growing up, to explore the supernatural and gain new perspective on human-nature, topped with a myrder mystery then The Graveyard Book will deliver on all of those!

Neil Gaiman gives you just enough knowledge to be statisfied that the plot is resolved while at the same time building a fantasy world that you can imagine yourself visiting in a hundred more books and still you would not have the full story!
😊

  

Review: Scarlet by Marissa Meyer

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You’ve never seen read riding hood and the big bad wolf get quite so “cozy” before!

Scarlet 5/5 🌟

I just finished this beauty Sunday evening and I’m in love. Personally I liked Scarlet (the book) even better than the first book in the series, Cinder. I think Meyer has really found her style and tone with this.

Scarlet herself is an amazing character who stands up for what she believes in and you immediately know she doesn’t take shit from nobody. Scarlet cares deeply for her grandmother and won’t accept that police is closing the investigation into her disappearance, she doesn’t take no for an answer.
Scarlet fights for the underdog and tries to keep herself from passing judgement, in a perfect world we’d all be more like her, remembering to try and think before we pass judgement. A lesson Meyer passes to the reader when Scarlet stands up for Cinder before even meeting her in a truly magnificent way
Then we have Wolf, who is just my kinda bad-boy character, that tough yet sweet guy, who eventually fucks things up because he thinks he knows what’s best (again it’s possible I have questionable taste in book bf’s).

The added thrill of following Cinder and her new “friend” Thorne’s adventure on the side made the book even more of a page turner than Cinder had been (I didn’t think that would be possible). I am a huge fan of books with shifting perspectives/storylines, so I felt it gave the story a really great pace since I constantly wanted to return to the other story.

Another plus was the fact that I did not figure out the main twist before it was revealed (which I too often do), so it was very nice to be truly surprised by a book. Hence the 5 🌟’s.

– Christine

Review: Cinder by Marissa Meyer

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An amazing retelling of a classic fairytale

Cinder 4/5🌟

I really enjoyed this book, it has everything that I look for in a great ya fantasy novel; wonderful worldbuilding, compelling characters and a wirldwind romance.

I immediately fell in love with Cinder (the character), she has all the same loveable beaten but not defeated traits of the original Cinderella. Her android Iko is possibly the cutest sidekick I’ve read about, I simply loved her sassy and gossipy ways from the moment I met her.

I did however figure out the plot or “big reveal” by chapter 4, yet I wanted to get to know Cinder and the world better, which is a testament to how amazingly Meyer presents the world of New Beijing and it’s inhabitants and I kinda wish we got to explore the city more.

Also despite following a classic wirldwind romance narrative Cinder and Kay’s relationship is just beautiful and believable in a way I can’t quite describe, it just felt relatable.

This was my first fairytale retelling and I’m just loving style – it’s familiar yet new in the best possible way. It looses a star for the obviousness of the plot. Otherwise a brilliant ya read.

– Christine