Review Room

Book reviews and miscellanous thoughts

Wordless Wednesdays #73

Written By: amodini - Feb• 14•18

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Book Review : The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

Written By: amodini - Feb• 07•18


Title : The Handmaid’s Tale
Author : Margaret Atwood
Genre : Dystopian sci-fi
Publisher : Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Rating : 4/5

Set in a not-so-distant future, The Handmaid’s Tale is a horrifying look-see into what could happen were the baser tenets of patriarchy to take over the world. In this new world, governments, as we know them, have been abolished. A right wing fringe group has taken over that role and established the Republic of Gilead. Women’s rights have been severely curtailed; they can no longer read, hold jobs or live independent, self-sufficient lives. Women now have narrow lives and even narrower roles to play. A Woman can be a Handmaid, a Wife, a Martha, an Aunt, or an Unwoman, among other roles. While the first four come under rigid roles and have specific duties, an Unwoman is considered a rebel, and deemed fit to only live on the toxic colonies.

Because human births have decreased, women are prized for their abilities to give birth and all healthy child-bearing females have been forced into service as “HandMaids”. Each is “allocated” to a high-ranking officer, to allow that officer to beget a child. Handmaids to be are trained to be “of service”, by residing in a home, lead stark, joyless, government-ordained lives.

Our heroine Offred (Handmaids ae known only by the officer they belong to, e.g; Of-Fred) is attached to Commander Fred, and lives a stultifying, closed life punctuated only by the allowed single daily visit to the market to get fresh produce as she waits to get pregnant. The process of impregnation itself is a dry, impersonal one, involving the man, his wife, and the Handmaid.

Offred, despite “Handmaid school” and all the brain-washing and indoctrination, can remember her old life, where she held a job, had a husband and child of her own, drove a car and led a life of self-volition. Now she knows not where any of her family is. Survival is hard, but survive she must if she is to have a shot at finding them. There have been rumors of fleeing Handmaids facing summary execution or worse. But then there also have been rumors of free women . . .

I had read The Handmaid’s Tale as a teenager, and I read it again recently. While this is an interesting book and warns of dire consequences should we choose to get complacent about our human rights, this is shorter than expected and offers no clear resolution at the end, only a hope of one. This book was written in the 80s but its message, amazingly, rings true now more than ever before. One would think we would have progressed way beyond that point by now.

Atwood, as always, shines in her descriptions of this dystopian society, and manages to bring home the horror of it all by describing each cruel dictat and custom forced upon women in threadbare, play-by-play detail. The atmosphere is one of doom-and-gloom, sadness, heart-breaking longing and nostalgia, as we become privy to Handmaid Offred’s thoughts. A line from the book sums it up:

“Nolite te bastardes carborundorum.”

Indeed. Don’t let the bastards grind you down.

Wordless Wednesdays #72

Written By: amodini - Jan• 17•18

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Audiobook Review: A Study in Scarlet Women by Sherry Thomas

Written By: amodini - Jan• 06•18

Title : A Study in Scarlet Women
Series : Lady Sherlock Series (Book 1)
Author : Sherry Thomas
Narrators : Kate Reading
Genre : Mystery
Publisher : Blackstone Audio
Listening Length : 11 hours
Rating : 4/5
Narrator Rating : 4.5/5

This book is a twist in the Sherlock Holmes saga, as the Holmes and Watson characters are played by society ladies. The heroine here is Charlotte Holmes, who chafes under the gender-based restrictions of Victorian society. She hatches a plan to remove herself from the marriage market, but the plan backfires and renders her a society pariah. Ms. Holmes then leaves her parents’ London home, and with the help of a kind widow, who takes her in, assumes the identity of “Sherlock Homes” and sets up shop as a sleuth.

“Holmes” solves a number of cases, but she has some difficulty in solving a case of three inter-related murders. Solving this particular case is crucial especially because her sister is one of the murder suspects.

I like historical fiction, and this book seemed especially interesting because of the gender based angle. I will admit that initially I was pretty confused about “Sherlock Holmes” because he also seemed to be a character in the book. It isn’t yet clear what time period the book is set in exactly – is Sherlock Holmes alive, or has it been past his time? It does not help that I “heard” not “read” this book, because it is easier to roll back a few pages to clarify details, than to have to roll back time on my phone’s audiobook player to get to the exact spot.

I did like Charlotte’s character, and quite sympathized with her frustrations at all the societal pressure on a female of marriageable age. Author Thomas builds the characters well, so well in fact that the initial part of the book seemed to drag a bit. There is quite a bit of build-up before Charlotte can come into her own as a detective, and it takes some patience to get through all that before we get to the meat of the mystery. I generally give an audiobook about 2 hours to pull me in (an average audiobook is about 12 hours of listening time), and this one almost did not make the cut. However sticking through it was well worth it, and I am looking forward to the books in the series (this is the first one).

Narrator Kate Reading was very pleasant to listen to and did a great job bringing all the characters, both male and female, to life.

Wordless Wednesdays #71

Written By: amodini - Dec• 20•17

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Audiobook Review : The Brutal Telling by Louise Penny

Written By: amodini - Dec• 06•17

Title : The Brutal Telling
Series : Inspector Gamache (Book 5)
Author : Louise Penny
Narrators : Ralph Cosham
Genre : Mystery
Publisher : Blackstone Audio
Listening Length : 13 hours 12 minutes
Rating : 1/5
Narrator Rating : 4.5/5

A body has been found in the Three Pines Bistro and antiques shop owned by Olivier and Gabri. No one can identify the body, and Inspector Gamache and his team is called in to investigate.

What unfolds is long and tiresome, and I hate saying this, because I was so looking forward to a good mystery series I could sink my teeth into. In the first book of this series (Still Life), Penny delivers a resoundingly good tale. This book is, by contrast, a massive let-down.

Firstly, the plot is pretty shaky and the denouement just as unbelievable. The book goes into mysticism, and fables, and both seem rather made-up to me. Secondly, this book seemed to be an ode to Inspector Gamache. There was adulatory language praising him to the gills, so he seemed to be the main focus, not the mystery.

Thirdly, is it just me or have the inhabitants of Three Pines gotten more annoying? The banter is so pat. I didn’t see the point of Ruth, her duck or her poetry in this book. The village inhabitants suddenly consider Gamache their friend and moral compass; his opinion is needed on everything (see note on adulation above). Also, I understand that the mysteries are set in Three Pines, but with each mystery do we learn more and more unsavory things about the villagers whom we’ve gotten to feel affection for until now? If so, it’s quite the reverse of feel-good!

All in all, this was a big disappointment. I’m going to try some more of this series, this time in order, and hope for the best.

The book was a let-down; the narrator wasn’t. Cosham is very pleasant on the ears.

Wordless Wednesdays #70

Written By: amodini - Nov• 22•17

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Audiobook Review : The Mountain Between Us by Charles Martin

Written By: amodini - Nov• 08•17

Title : The Mountain Between Us
Author : Charles Martin
Narrators : George Newbern
Genre : Romance
Publisher : Random House Audio
Listening Length : 9 hours 58 minutes
Rating : 1/5
Narrator Rating : 5/5

Two strangers, Dr. Ed Payne and Ashley Knox, stranded at Salt Lake City airport amid bad weather decide to charter a flight to Denver. The pilot dies mid-flight and the plane crashes into snowy wilderness. Ashley suffers a broken leg, Ben has broken ribs, and the chances of rescue are almost zero.

This book was supposed to be a romance, and what a promising premise it had! Alas, it falls very short of the promise. Firstly, the good doctor is married, and Ashley was on her way to marry her boyfriend. Secondly, their characters are unbelievable, and poorly sketched. The doctor is not only a medical professional, who can oh-so-luckily set Ashley’s leg, but also an avid climber and survivalist!

I thought the writing was poor and stilted; too much telling and not enough showing. The ending is incredibly cheesy. I sped through the later chapters of this book, once I realized it couldn’t get any better. The end, when it came, was almost laughable.

I like George Newbern as a narrator (he has also narrated “A Man Called Ove”), and he did as well as the text allowed him to do.

 

Wordless Wednesdays #69

Written By: amodini - Oct• 25•17

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Audiobook Review : Commonwealth by Ann Patchett

Written By: amodini - Oct• 11•17

Title : Commonwealth
Author : Ann Patchett
Narrators : Hope Davis
Genre : Contemporary
Publisher : Blackstone Audio
Listening Length : 10 hours 33 minutes
Rating : 4/5
Narrator Rating : 4.5/5

Deputy District Attorney Bert Cousins gate-crashes Franny Keating’s christening party in Torrance, California,, with an inappropriate gift – a bottle of gin. Also, he kisses Franny’s mother, the beautiful Beverly Keating. She, apparently, kisses him back. When the divorces happen, Beverly and Bert marry and move to Virginia with Beverly’s two daughters Franny and Caroline. Bert’s ex-wife, Teresa, is left to bring up her four kids single-handedly, and Francis “Fix” Keating, Beverly’s LAPD cop ex-husband moves on with his life stolidly.

The Keating and Cousins children live together every summer when the Cousins kids visit their father in Virginia. Bert, as always, makes himself unavailable, and the children’s responsibility is shouldered, almost unwillingly, for the most part by Beverly. When she balks, which she does often (turning up the air-conditioning in her car and lying down in the back-seat to escape), the six children are left to amuse themselves. One such time, a tragedy occurs, and they carry the weight of it around all their lives.

Patchett spins this domestic drama in a non-linear fashion. We start off at the christening party, jump to a grown-up Franny’s affair with much older, renowned novelist Leo Posen, and then skip back to vignettes of childhood as remembered by any one of the children. From these different perspectives, we piece together the complete story, and so masterful a storyteller is she, that Patchett manages to make us feel for every heart-breaking twist. It is not like she tells us of every single happening, but just the right ones, with enough emphasis on tone and emotional tension so that we can make up our own minds of the unfolding drama.

Commonwealth is poignant, and Patchett wrote much of it to reflect her own experience as the child of divorce. The fact that I, having had a very different childhood, cannot identify with it at all is of no matter; Commonwealth is still a powerful story of all the unnecessary, hand-wringing heartbreak that life ensures.

The last novel I read by Ann Patchett was State Of Wonder. I adored that, partly because of the Indian-American protagonist and partly because of the scientific slant to the story. While Commonwealth delves deeper into relationships than “State of Wonder”, it is a harder read and not as engrossing. Patchett is still fabulous, and if you need familial drama, Commonwealth will give it to you.

Narrator Davis is fantastic. Her voice lends itself to the everyday tragedy that is Commonwealth. Her inflections carry weight, and convey the angst, fear, sadness and humor as Patchett, I imagine, intends it.