Proud and ashamed to be from the Empire State. | Member Since 2013
The Handmaid's Tale is a relatively "old" book in that it was first published in 1985, but it is still popular/well-known. This is not surprising as Margaret Atwood is one of those author’s whose work will endure as "literature" and she will still be well known in 100 years. That is, unless the Handmaid's Tale is prophetic and all secular literature is burned.
Don't worry, it won't be. However, it does have some elements that could be argued as being a caricature of modern day happenings. There are plenty of reviews out there that give a run down of the plot and how they feel it's all happening right now. No doubt many of these reviews are from women, and justifiably so since this book "speaks to them". So I'm going to discuss the subtext of the novel, and hopefully, I can get a few guys to read this book because there is stuff in it for them.
The background story is that The United States has been taken over by religious fundamentalists. The religion is never mentioned by name, but it is clearly Christian/Jewish/Islamic. When it comes to their respective flavors of fundamentalism, they all bear a striking resemblance to one another whether they want to admit it or not. This is not surprising, since they all worship the same god and use overlapping religious texts. If you're curious about the tale of how this happened, this is not the book for you. After all, this is the Handmaid's Tale. All you get is the story of one woman starting probably about 10 years after an event called "The President's Day Massacre", i.e. the coup where the fundamentalists took over.
Personally, I do not think such a regime could take over in such a simple manner, but what followed after the coup is more plausible. As I said, we don't get much of this story directly, but we hear snippets of how, slowly, over the course of weeks and months, oppressive policies are implemented and they are always implemented for the same reasons that such policies are implemented today. Namely, the safety of the public, the betterment of society, etc. At the same time, women are slowly and unequally stripped of their rights.
If you think that women could never be usurped of their identities in this way, and no one would stand for it, blah, blah, blah. You are wrong. All it takes is the right social pressure. Imagine a scenario where the number of women capable of bearing children is cut to a small percentage. They then become a "national resource". (My words, not the author's.) When it comes to resources, there will always be people (usually men, and this is coming from a man) in power who will want to exploit and seize control of such resources. This is how such things can happen. And this is the scenario used by Atwood in The Handmaid's Tale.
When I was younger, I probably would never have bought that line of reasoning and not terribly enjoyed this story. As I've aged to a venerable 40 years and some of my Platonic idealism has tarnished, I have learned to accept that "the masses" don't get as outraged as individuals do. Most of the time, groups of people are scared when it comes to dramatic change and accept it if fed the line that it is temporary and for the good of all. Most of the time, these changes are never about being for the good of all, they are simply about control.
A past example to show even women are not above this: The Temperance movement to abolish alcohol. Propelled by religious minded women, fresh with their new ability to vote. Despite Jesus being pro-wine they felt it their duty to rid the world of drink. You can argue the details all you want, but at the end of the day, it was about asserting power and control.
A modern example: For the past 12 years, the U. S. citizens have been force fed the line that we are all living under a faceless threat of "Terror" and in this time we have fought two wars, one of which we are still fighting, and most of us don't really know why, other than we are "fighting terror". These wars are not as openly covered as the Vietnam War, because our government has learned that atrocities that are not visited daily are quickly forgotten because people prefer to stick their head in the sand. And so people forget. They don't get outraged. They simply accept the situation because it is supposedly temporary, for the good of us all, for all our safety, blah, blah, blah. What are we looking to control? Some say oil, others say that the area is strategically located real estate. Regardless, it is about control.
So do I think a "fast coup" could take over and make such radical changes? No. But a slow insidious change over the course of a decade or two? Well, I have seen it with my own eyes, so yes, the scenario in The Handmaid's Tale is plausible to me, but I know that such a shift would happen over years, not months. Anyone who thinks otherwise is sticking their fingers in their ears, closing their eyes, and repeating the above blah, blah, blahs.
A possible future example that's been a long time in the making: During the 80's (my youth) religious fundamentalists (in this country) blew up abortion clinics because they were outraged and wanted change. Presumably, they wanted things to return to the way they were when abortions were illegal, in back allies with coat hangers. Just in my lifetime, they have since learned that getting people upset only motivates them to stand with or against you. And if you're the one blowing up teenagers, it's tough to motivate people to stand with you. They have taken their fight political, a realm where everybody's eyes glaze over and become dispassionate, and they have slowly set about making laws against birth control and abortion clinics. As someone who is pro-choice, I can't say all of these laws are bad. Many are simply requiring clinics to uphold standard medical cleanliness practices. The laws that really hurt, are the laws that reduce or eliminate funding preventing the clinics from having the money to be able to upgrade their facilities and are forced to shut down. You can tell this is about the control of others and not about any religious objection because the number one cited religious reason is the belief that life begins at conception. Rather than supporting research for birth control that simply prevents conception, they politically attack all avenues of abortion and birth control. So even if you address their concerns, it does not change the way they behave.
Leaving the examples and subtext behind, back to the story at hand. The Handmaid's Tale is true literature, thus by practical definition, this makes the story a little slow and boring at points. When I was in college, I had to take plenty of slow and boring classes that I thought were of minimal value. However, I quickly learned that it is possible to garner lessons from and learn something from every class and that is what I set out to do. I took it upon myself to walk away with something for my time and money. This book requires that same model of thought. Even after 28 years, there is a wealth of intriguing thought experiments that went into the writing of this story and a similar trove for those willing to consider the next step of reasoning, but you have to be willing to dig for that gold.
And there you have it. The subtext of The Handmaid's tale is a marvellously thought provoking book about the subtleties that go into how societies change, but if you're not interested in thinking, move on to something formulated for entertainment purposes this is not the novel for you.
The Lies of Locke Lamora is Epic Fantasy without all the Epic.
Since Scott Lynch's third book in the Gentleman Bastards series, Republic of Thieves, just came out to great fanfare. I decided to check this series out.
It's no secret that I find the bane of Epic fantasy all the tedious description and navel gazing about the world. I understand the point is to immerse the reader, but far too often I find it to be nothing but voyeurism into the mental masturbations of the author. Worse yet, all that nonsense rarely adds anything to the story itself. No guidance for the characters. No direction for the plot. Mind you, I'm not a scene-sequel junkie that requires nothing but action thrusting the story forward. I find these stories just as tedious because all you get is the next "raising of the stakes" and no plot intricacy and slim character development.
I want balance!
The Lies of Locke Lamora delivers. The cast of characters is fairly small for such a long fantasy tale, but because the story is presented in two threads, one in the past and one in the present, you get two for the price of one on many of the characters. You also get to see how the characters develop into who they are. Scott Lynch does a marvelous job switching back and forth between relevant interludes from the past and back into the present. This can be hard to pull off. All too often, flashbacks are either thrust into a story ham-fisted and seem clunky, or they have no relevance to the current plot and are simple character info-dumps. If you hate flashbacks, you need not fear them in this story, the past and present are woven together very elegantly.
The point of view is principally from Locke's vantage, but 5-10% of the time it does switch to other characters. This doesn't bother me. I don't need to have everything from one PoV, or balance amongst the other eyeballs we see through. However, without getting into any solid spoilers, there was one major plot point where one of the main character dies that would have been nice to see, but we only get to see the aftermath from Locke's perspective. This is just a detail. Far be it from me to tell Scott Lynch how to present a story. For all I know, such a scene was in there, but was edited out to prevent redundancy.
The story itself is interesting because it is not what one expects from the initial promises. The Gentlemen Bastards are grifters, and the story begins with the group running a long con on one of the nobleman. Though, about 30% of the way in, a new plot wave sweeps in and takes the characters for different a ride. From a meta point of view, this is unusual precisely because it creates a number of promises to the reader that go, not so much unfulfilled, as meaningless to the true story. I suspect many that don't like this book don't like it for just this reason.
For my part, I thought it a brilliant writing device. Basically, all that meaningless Epic exposition I find so tedious, was written as a meaningful story that is swallowed alive by a greater story. That said, I could see such a technique getting over used and not done half as well. So my hat goes off to Scott Lynch for writing such a seamless transition of one story morphing into another (while writing the seamless transition from past back into present!).
This story is well known for being a bloody tale, so be warned there is a lot of violence, though I would not describe it as "graphic" in its gratuity. The created world, Camorr, is a violent place. The characters are simply a product of such a world. I would classify it as '80's rated R. Today, a director would probably let the most bloody of actions happen just off screen and be happy with the PG-13 rating.
Overall, I was really impressed with this story. As a reader, it's the porridge that's neither too hot, nor too cold, and turns out to be just right. As someone who would like to write someday, it is a marvelous example of breaking many rules of the trade in just the right way to make a compelling story.
The Reason I Jump is a book written in 2006 by a 13 year old child with autism. In it, he attempts to answer the basic questions one might ask of someone with a spectrum disorder. That is, if they weren’t too uncomfortable to ask such questions. I don’t normally review non-fiction, but I do follow science and the autism spectrum disorder has been featured a great deal in science during the past 15 years. And thanks to wackos, like Jenny McCarthy preaching nonsense about her mommy instincts being better than science, many people think autism is caused by vaccines despite numerous clinical studies to the contrary. The truth is, science has not completely determined the causes, though genetics seems to be a dominant factor. That digression aside, I decided to read this book because I don’t really know anybody with autism. I don’t know much about the disorder at all, and when I heard about this book, I thought it an excellent time to get some information straight from the source and what better source than from a child?
David Mitchell has a child with autism and a Japanese wife. These two circumstances led to his spearheading the translation of this monograph from Japanese to English, so if you enjoyed this work in English, you can thank him and his wife for wanting to help get this information to English speakers. An introduction written by David Mitchell appears at the beginning. I think he works a little too hard at trying to describe what it is like to have autism and should have stuck to what it was like being the parent of such a child. Regardless, his words did not detract from the rest of the book. I felt it appropriate to give him his due for his contributions to the publishing process, but that also means I have to ask why he threw in his two cents since we’re effectively reading to get a first hand account, not his interpretations of what it is like to be autistic.
The Reason I Jump is not written as a narrative. It is a simple list of frequently asked questions. Or, as I said above, questions people want to ask, but would feel too uncomfortable, or maybe fear it too politically incorrect to ask. But Don’t get me started on the PC nonsense. It is this sort of nonsense that prevents people from asking these questions when the answers would aid in understanding.
The book is actually quite refreshing I often find personalized accounts annoying to read because they constantly have to appeal to some sense of over stylized humanity. Apparently most accounts have to have some bizarre human angle to get people to “care” about it. I find it strange that people aren’t interested in something just for the sake of knowing. This is the primary reason I don’t read a lot Human interest stories. They may have an element of reality that most find alluring, but they’re written like fiction and it always makes me wonder what it is they’re leaving out or what is being embellished for effect. I don’t want fairy tale embellishments, I want the straight talk and this is exactly what this book provides.
Naoki Higashida cannot speak (at least at the time he wrote the book) but he could communicate by pointing at a laminated card with letters, so no doubt the economy of the book is due to the slow method by which it was written. In my opinion, long drawn out narratives should be antithetical to much non-fiction since the goal is to communicate ideas. One would think the author and the readers would want to get to the point.
If you think that a child, or in particular, a child with autism couldn’t possibly challenge a “neurotypical” person’s understanding of their own world view, I would wager something in the first dozen questions and answers will open your eyes. Speaking of eyes, that is one points he makes. He is/was always told to look someone in the eyes when speaking to them or being spoken to by them. He effectively begs the response question: Why would his understanding of the words be improved simply by making eye contact? Too true! Just because “normal” people feel compelled to garner social cues and other information through eye-contact, why do we insist the same action will/should have the same effect on someone whom we all agree does not process the world in the same way?
Naoki Higadisha describes people’s voices as being close or far away, like a dandelion or a mountain, only the actual distance does not determine how people with autism hear the voice. He doesn’t get into the factors that determine the distance of the voice at any given time, but rather he gives some simple advice to help a speaker draw their voice closer. He asks that you say “our” name first, so they know they are being spoken to. A simple elegant solution to a situation so both parties can relate.
“What’s the worst thing about having autism?”
“Would you like to be normal?”
Numerous “Why do you do this or that” questions are all examples of the types of insights Naoki Higadisha tries to answer. He does not pretend he can answer all these questions for every autistic person, but he gives his most reasonable guess. No doubt there will be questions you’ll feel should have been asked and answered, but I think that’s just a by product of being inquisitive. A person will ask several questions for each one answered on any topic, if they are truly engaged.
The book is fairly short and ends with a short story written by Naoki Higashida. I won’t spoil any of that for you and end my review with a simple recommendation. If you would like a bit of insight into how a different set of people think and perceive the world, and how you should interact with them, this book is a good start.
The Infernal Devices is a trilogy set in a clockwork punk Victorian setting. Though, I'm sure many would scold me for throwing in the "Victorian" descriptor since this is the most typical time period for such stories and they are almost assumed to be Victorianesque. I do it so I can complain about the misappropriation of the word "punk" for sub-genres like "steam punk", "diesel punk", and even "Now punk" to describe "punk" set in a current time frame. The "punk" descriptor was appropriate for "cyberpunk", but is not usually appropriate for these other subgenres. Indeed, "punk" has practically become synonymous with "subgenre of speculative fiction", which I find completely annoying. And if you don't know why "punk" is appropriate for cyberpunk and not for any of these others subgenres, don't waste my time commenting on my complaint. If you don't know anything about the punk movement, keep your comments out of my review.
I decided to read this trilogy (actually, I listened to the audiobooks) because Cassandra Clare was a fan-fic writer turned pro and I wanted to support someone who has gone through alternate publishing routes. After listening to all three books: Clockwork Angel, Clockwork Prince, and Clockwork Princess, I can see why she was pushed into publication by her fan support and not picked up in a more traditional manner. The writing itself is mediocre, but it does elicit a strong emotional response, and to the average reader, this is what is most important. Her characters are not complex and indeed, I find them a bit tedious because they are never tested, never put into any real moral quandaries. Well, aside from the classic love triangle between Tessa, Will, and James.
Can they go three full books without two of the three screwing each other while the two guys love each other, and not in a gay way? Well, it turns out they can't. But they do make it through 2.5 books swooning over the fact that one of the guy's thumbs happened to brush Tessa's bare wrist. It seems none of them realized that Tessa's corset may have been a little too tight (Will and James have no excuse). if this is how they're getting their jollies, perhaps someone should have suggested auto-erotic asphyxiation. At least one of them would have gotten a pay-off much earlier in the story.
Okay, so I'm not really into the faux Victorian love stuff. If this is how you like your love stories, you'll love The Infernal Devices trilogy. There is plenty of that tediousness. And I do mean plenty.
Since so much description went into furtive eye glances and Tessa's navel gazing about being in love with two guys, there wasn't much room to spare for plot, but the story does manage to travel in a straight line. There's no surprising twists. No sub-plots of note. Unless you consider filling in character back stories to be sub-plot. These complaints aside, it's not a bad story. Again, it's just a simple one, and that's fine. I actually have no complaints about this, except that once all the crap is thrown out, there is really only one, maybe one-and-a-half, real novels here.
I've read threw a number of other reviews and this trilogy really does seem to be a love it or hate it type of story. As far as I'm concerned, if you're into Victorian sensibility love stories where nothing actually happens, then this should work for you. If not, you'll be wanting to skip around a bit. For me, it was meh. I forced myself to endure each successive book to get to the end hoping for some grand payoff. After all, Cassandra Clare has gotten famous for this type of writing. There had to be some reason she was so popular. Sadly, it's not because of her rich stories, or her complex characters, it's because of her ability to elicit an emotional response. If that's what you're looking for, that's okay. We all read for escapism and that means we all read for different reasons. But for my money, I'd prefer something a little more nourishing. I am usually generous with my ratings, but in this case I am truly torn between 2 and 3 stars out of 5.
Because each book was narrated by a different person or persons, I think I'll go with 2 stars because I hate it when a series doesn't have the same narrator throughout. Though each narrator did a fine job and I have no complaints performance-wise. I just prefer a consistent narrator.
The Shambling Guide to New York City by Mur Lafferty is her best work to date. I have listened to her podcast for over five years and have read or listened to most of the things she has written. During this time, her work has steadily improved. Don't take that as an implication that her early work was poor. I'm not saying that. Merely, her work has evidently matured and I found this book to be the best of her work thus far. Her nomination for the Campbell Award is well earned.
Urban Fantasy has been all the rage for over a decade now, so it's nice to see an author I enjoy bring something new to the table.
The accepted premise of most Urban Fantasies is that monsters of one form, or more likely many forms, share society with humans and humans fail to see them all around because we choose to not see them. Our puny human brains can't come to grips, for some reason, that monsters exist and we come up with excuses to explain their evidence away. I generally find this premise a little more than I can swallow, but I choose to not let this one thing ruin all the excellent stories that have been coming out. The Shambling Guide is no exception in using this trope.
What separates The Shambling Guide from other Urban Fantasies is the protagonist, Zoe. Zoe is not a Monster Hunter, or a Witch/Wizard, or even "In the Know" at the beginning of the story. She's an office worker. Specifically, a publishing editor. (Bet the people in the industry got a kick out of this one!) It was refreshing to read a story with an "every day" hero. Such heroes are my favorite. It gets boring reading about "experts" in the monster field with all the answers deal with problems. I'd rather read about how a "normal" person reacts to being thrust into an extraordinary situation.
Mur Lafferty handles Zoe's introduction to the local Coterie (as opposed to "monster") community in a very natural way. Zoe needed a job. If monsters existed alongside and unbeknownst to humans, this seems the most likely reason for a human to be introduced into their secret world. From there, Zoe's story unfolds into a "Save the City while protecting the Coterie Charade" as she works as the editor to the creation of a Monster's guidebook to visiting NYC.
That's as much of the plot as I'm going to give away. What I will say: This book was fun to listen to. There was a surprising amount of humor. Often used in Urban Fantasy, but rarely is it organic. The humor in the Shambling Guide came about as a natural consequence of the story unfolding and Zoe simply living in a strange new world. If you don't laugh out loud a half dozen times throughout this book, then you've never had a job where you've had to work with other people.
I suppose I give one warning: The story is read by the author. Whereas Mur has a fine reading voice, she does not "do" voices. If you listen to the audio book, as I did, and you prefer a reader who "performs" the reading with a different voice for each character, Mur is not your gal. However, after years of podcasting and releasing audio versions of many of her stories (for free), she has a professional voice, so there's no need to fear that she may not have the chops to make her own story come alive. I gave her performance 4 stars. She speaks well, but I reserve 5 stars for people who "wow" me.
I wouldn't rule it out
The performance by Bronson Pinchot. The story was lacking the depth as compared to the first volume. Though it was far from terrible and still worth listening.
I'm not sure I could pick one, but I will say Mr. Pinchot does an excellent job with female characters. Anytime a reader can perform a member of the opposite sex without note, I am pleased. However, Pinchot's ability to "feminize" the voices without sounding silly or interrupting the listening flow is well worth mentioning. Something I failed to do in my review of the first Grimnoir review.
I listen knowing I'm going to have to listen in spurts, so few books inspire this reaction in me. Because of this, I wouldn't constitute this a fair benchmark.
A lot of people are disappointed when a story makes an implicit promise in the beginning and it goes unfulfilled at the end. If you're such a person, this story isn't for you. I'm usually willing to enjoy the author's vision of the story and judge it based on those merits. I think this is one such story. I had assumed the overall story would be about one thing, but it looks like that story line will be the subject of the third book.
I'd probably give the story 3.5 stars if it were possible, so I'm just going with 4. I think the biggest failing of the storyline is that this book seems like it's a bit of a throwaway story. Or perhaps it suffers a bit from the 2nd book syndrome of a trilogy, namely, a lot happens without a whole lot getting done in the big picture. In short, this story struck me as active filler designed to lead into a conclusive third book.
All that said, I still find the characters interesting. We're given a few more insights into how magic came to the earth. And I still find the fantasy-noir combo fresh enough to enjoy for its own sake, so I still found the book worth listening to and enjoyable.
Definitely. I love the current trend where authors have been mixing very disparate genres. In this book, Larry Correia takes urban fantasy and puts it in a noir setting in the 1920's. The fantastical element being magic begins to suddenly appear in humans around 1850. So even though everyone has grown up with the idea of magic, it is not well understood and is still quite uncommon.
I guess I'd have to say Fay was my favorite. She was a "Traveler", or someone who could teleport themselves. I liked her country bumpkin simplicity. To her, everything was right or wrong, friend or foe, black and white. Even more interesting was her simple morality, if you were good you should live, if you were bad, you should die. And she had no compunction about ending those who she deemed bad.
Geez, these questions are terrible. If a book is written well, it should be a scene near the end, likely the climax, because each preceding scene should have been what culminated into a satisfying result. Since I don't want to give any of that stuff away, I guess I'll say this book followed that template.
I'm not writing a review for a 6th grade book report. I'm just going to skip to the additional comments now...
First things first, Larry Correia marries the two genres wonderfully. I suppose you could also call this story an Alternate History. I'm not sure I would. All genre quibbling aside, his alternate history is both well crafted and interesting. One subplot dips into the "why's" of how magic came to earth, which aids in building both his vision of the world and creates a foundation for the sequel. Speaking of which, I enjoyed this story so much, after I was finished, I purchased and downloaded the sequel right away. I suppose that's as good as praise gets.
Of course, the world makes for a nice place to visit in fantasy, but ultimately, it's the characters that makes a story worth reading. As is the modern convention, good versus evil is merely a matter of perspective and morality. This story is no different. Though in true noir fashion, the protagonist, aka Jake Sullivan, is the type of person we can consider to be "morally pure". By that, I mean, he always does what he feels to be the right thing. Considering the U. S. Hippy-Christian salted with a pinch of schadenfreude-ian Old Testament Eye-for-an-Eye mentality that many of us have been raised with, we're inclined to agree with his actions.
Basically, that's a long-winded way of saying Jake is sympathetic and likable.
In a nutshell, this story takes all the elements of fantasy, noir, and alternate history and blends them into an well crafted and interesting story. I highly recommend it!
Characters you Love to hate. (Oops! That's five words.)
The plot didn't exactly keep me on the edge of my seat. These books aren't like that, but if you've read the first four books, you already know that. This book does offer the reader more of what you would expect from Lisa Lutz and her family of Spellman Characters.
This is the first of the five books I listened to as an audio book. Christina Moore did an excellent job bringing life to these characters without taking anything from the story. Indeed, she only added to my enjoyment. I gave her all five stars.
I laughed a few times, as expected.
Lisa Lutz has done something wonderfully different from the standard narrative with these stories. They are completely character driven and oddly enough (pleasantly enough? Differently enough?) they have very little external conflict. She has done a great job of creating a set of characters interesting enough to perform such a feat.
I gave this particular story 4 stars (5 overall, counting Christina Moore's reading) only because I felt it on par with the rest of the books in the series, which I would definitely rate as 5 stars. When this series first came out, I felt it was quite different and intriguing in its presentation. Seeing as this was the 5th book, I felt it was time the author start pushing the envelope of this series a bit. Whether Ms. Lutz does this or not in the 6th book, I'm sure I'll be there to buy it if, and when, it comes out.
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