Monday, July 24, 2017

Review: The Heart Goes Last – Margaret Atwood

The Heart Goes Last – Margaret Atwood

Living in their car, surviving on tips, Charmaine and Stan are in a desperate state. So, when they see an advertisement for Consilience, a ‘social experiment’ offering stable jobs and a home of their own, they sign up immediately. All they have to do in return for suburban paradise is give up their freedom every second month—swapping their home for a prison cell. At first, all is well. But then, unknown to each other, Stan and Charmaine develop passionate obsessions with their ‘Alternates,’ the couple that occupy their house when they are in prison. Soon the pressures of conformity, mistrust, guilt and sexual desire begin to take over.

Review: Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite authors. The Handmaid’s Tale and Oryx and Crake are some of my favorite novels of all time. Atwood’s books are usually beautifully written and thought provoking. Usually. I’ve been struggling with some of her recent releases. Angel Catbird made me cringe so hard that I’m surprised my face isn’t stuck in a permanent cringe. Unfortunately, The Heart Goes Last also left me thinking WTF?

Fun fact: I actually put off reading this book for a strange reason. Two of the characters have the same names as my grandparents, and they have tons of graphic sex. The characters, I mean. Not my grandparents. I know nothing about my grandparents’ sex lives. I was worried that I’d picture my grandparents as the characters during the sex scenes, and that’s just . . . *shudder*

This review is only two paragraphs long, and it’s already awkward.

Okay. Moving on. The Heart Goes Last is a dystopia set in a world with rampant crime, joblessness, and homelessness. The main characters, Stan and Charmaine, are living in their car when Charmaine sees an advertisement for an experimental community. The people in the community would get everything they need: food, homes, money, hobbies. However, every other month, they’d have to give up their freedom and become “prisoners.” They’d live in a prison and do all the hard, unpleasant jobs it takes to keep a community running. Stan and Charmaine eagerly sign up for the experiment. When they get to the community, they notice that things are not as great as they seem from the outside. There are mysterious disappearances and a strange factory that makes lifelike celebrity sex robots. Stan and Charmaine get roped into the deadly job of uncovering the community’s secrets and smuggling them to the press.

“That was the original idea, but once you’ve got a controlled population with a wall around it and no oversight, you can do anything you want.” – The Heart Goes Last

I felt very hot-and-cold about this book. There are some plot points that I loved and really got into, and other plot points that just seem . . . silly.

The mystery is the best part of The Heart Goes Last. What is going on in this utopia, and who are Stan and Charmaine’s “Alternates”? The Alternates are the people who live in Stan and Charmaine’s house while they’re in prison. Stan and Charmaine aren’t supposed to have any contact with the Alternates, but they start learning things about them based on what they leave in the house. Stan and Charmaine also have their own secret ideas (and sexual fantasies) about the Alternates’ identities. I enjoyed watching all the pieces come together.

Like all of Margaret Atwood’s books, this one raises some interesting questions. I don’t want to give away spoilers, but would you rather be free or happy? The characters are forced to make some tough choices about that.

“Oblivion is increasingly attractive to the young, and even to the middle-aged, since why retain your brain when no amount of thinking can even begin to solve the problem?” – The Heart Goes Last
“If you do bad things for reasons you’ve been told are good, does it make you a bad person?” – The Heart Goes Last

My biggest problem with this book is that it doesn’t feel like a Margaret Atwood novel to me. I love her work because she’s phenomenal at developing characters, but the characters in The Heart Goes Last are shallow. I never felt like I understood their motives. They mostly seem like pawns that the author is forcing through a silly sequence of events.

That brings me to the next issue: The characters come up with this bizarre, convoluted plan to smuggle information out of the community, and it all seems very unnecessary. Why did the plan have to be so silly? Why did we need all those details about sex robots and gay Elvis impersonators? It feels like there’s a metafictional joke somewhere in here that I didn’t understand. Maybe Margaret Atwood is just much smarter than me. My brain can’t keep up with her.

I didn’t hate this book. There are some aspects of it that I appreciate. I’ll continue to read Margaret Atwood’s work. But, I don’t think this is one of Atwood’s stronger novels.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Sunday Post #106

The Sunday Post is hosted by The Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to recap the past week, talk about next week, and share news. It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is hosted by Book Date. I get to tell you what I’ve read recently.

On The Blog Last Week

On The Blog This Week

  • On Monday I review The Heart Goes Last by Margaret Atwood.
  • On Wednesday I review The Girls by Emma Cline.

In My Reading Life

I didn’t get much reading done last week because I was re-watching Game of Thrones. Watching Game of Thrones is basically what I do with my life now. I read Cold Summer by Gwen Cole, and then I (finally) started Shadow and Bone by Leigh Bardugo.

In The Rest Of My Life

Five things that made me happy last week:

  1. So much Game of Thrones. I’m watching the seasons backwards, so I get to see the actors and the dragons become younger and smaller. The kids were so little when the series started!
  2. So much blogging. I’ve been scheduling a lot of posts lately.
  3. I’m trying out a new hair conditioner. Hopefully it’ll tame the frizzy mess on my head.
  4. I’ve been reading a lot of YA. Sometimes I forget how much I like that genre.
  5. Tigers hunt drone. Attempt to eat it. Get confused.

Take care of yourselves and be kind to each other! See you around the blogosphere!

Saturday, July 22, 2017

The “This Might Be A Bad Idea” Book Haul

Stacking the Shelves is hosted by Tynga’s Reviews. I get to show off all the books I’ve gotten recently. I had used bookstore credits, and I decided to spend them on some books at the fringes of my comfort zone. These are books that have been described as “Meh” by reviewers I trust, or books that don’t completely sound like my kind of thing. I’m a believer in getting out of your reading comfort zone, so I’m going to give them a try. Maybe I’ll love them.

The Girl Who Drank The Moon – Kelly Barnhill

Every year, the people of the Protectorate leave a baby as an offering to the witch who lives in the forest. They hope this sacrifice will keep her from terrorizing their town. But the witch in the forest, Xan, is kind and gentle. She shares her home with a wise Swamp Monster named Glerk and a Perfectly Tiny Dragon, Fyrian. Xan rescues the abandoned children and delivers them to welcoming families on the other side of the forest, nourishing the babies with starlight on the journey.  
One year, Xan accidentally feeds a baby moonlight instead of starlight, filling the ordinary child with extraordinary magic. Xan decides she must raise this enmagicked girl, whom she calls Luna, as her own. To keep young Luna safe from her own unwieldy power, Xan locks her magic deep inside her. When Luna approaches her thirteenth birthday, her magic begins to emerge on schedule—but Xan is far away. Meanwhile, a young man from the Protectorate is determined to free his people by killing the witch. Soon, it is up to Luna to protect those who have protected her—even if it means the end of the loving, safe world she’s always known.

The Upside Of Unrequited – Becky Albertalli

Seventeen-year-old Molly Peskin-Suso knows all about unrequited love—she’s lived through it twenty-six times. She crushes hard and crushes often, but always in secret. Because no matter how many times her twin sister, Cassie, tells her to woman up, Molly can’t stomach the idea of rejection. So she’s careful. Fat girls always have to be careful. 
Then a cute new girl enters Cassie’s orbit, and for the first time ever, Molly’s cynical twin is a lovesick mess. Meanwhile, Molly’s totally not dying of loneliness—except for the part where she is. Luckily, Cassie’s new girlfriend comes with a cute hipster-boy sidekick. Will is funny and flirtatious and just might be perfect crush material. Maybe more than crush material. And if Molly can win him over, she’ll get her first kiss and she’ll get her twin back. 
There’s only one problem: Molly’s coworker Reid. He’s an awkward Tolkien superfan with a season pass to the Ren Faire, and there’s absolutely no way Molly could fall for him. Right?

Fantastic Mr. Fox – Roald Dahl

Fantastic Mr. Fox is on the run! The three meanest farmers around are out to get him. Fat Boggis, squat Bunce, and skinny Bean have joined forces, and they have Mr. Fox and his family surrounded. What they don’t know is that they’re not dealing with just any fox–Mr. Fox would never surrender. But only the most fantastic plan ever can save him now.

Escape From Eden – Elisa Nader

Since the age of ten, Mia has lived under the iron fist of the fundamentalist preacher who lured her mother away to join his fanatical family of followers. In Edenton, a supposed “Garden of Eden” deep in the South American jungle, everyone follows the Reverend’s strict but arbitrary rules—even the mandate of whom they can marry. Now sixteen, Mia dreams of slipping away from the armed guards who keep the faithful in, and the curious out. When the rebellious and sexy Gabriel, a new boy, arrives with his family, Mia sees a chance to escape. 
But the scandalous secrets the two discover beyond the compound’s fa├žade are more shocking than anything they ever imagined. While Gabriel has his own terrible secrets, he and Mia band together, more than friends and freedom fighters. But is there time to think of each other as they race to stop the Reverend’s paranoid plan to free his flock from the corrupt world? Can two teenagers crush a criminal mastermind? And who will die in the fight to save the ones they love from a madman who’s only concerned about his own secrets?

This book shouldn’t be in this haul because it’s a very good idea. I won it in a giveaway and am overly excited to read it. That's why I'm shoving it in this haul instead of the next one.

History Is All You Left Me – Adam Silvera

When Griffin’s first love and ex-boyfriend, Theo, dies in a drowning accident, his universe implodes. Even though Theo had moved to California for college and started seeing Jackson, Griffin never doubted Theo would come back to him when the time was right. But now, the future he’s been imagining for himself has gone far off course. 
To make things worse, the only person who truly understands his heartache is Jackson. But no matter how much they open up to each other, Griffin’s downward spiral continues. He’s losing himself in his obsessive compulsions and destructive choices, and the secrets he’s been keeping are tearing him apart. 
If Griffin is ever to rebuild his future, he must first confront his history, every last heartbreaking piece in the puzzle of his life. 

Have you read any of these? What did you think? 

Thursday, July 20, 2017

This Or That Book Tag

This tag was created by Wendy @ Falconer’s Library. <-- Go check out the original. 

--> This Or That <--

Buy new or buy used?

If I was rich, I’d only buy new books, but sadly, money is extinct in my world. Almost all of my books are used books that I traded for.

Eat while you read or read while you eat?

Nooo! I’m a germophobe. What I hate most about used books is that they’re often covered in mystery stains. I’m not going to do anything that could contribute more germs to their pages. Yuck. 

Reread old favorites or preorder upcoming possibilities?

I’ve never preordered a book. (I’m broke, remember?) I do love rereading my favorites, though. 

Read every single word or skim at times?

When I was in school, I almost always skimmed my textbooks and assigned reading. No one wants to read that boring school crap. I wanted to get it over with as quickly as possible. When I read for fun, I read every word.

Happy endings or tragic?

Realistic? I don’t like books that wrap everything up too neatly. That’s why I have a hard time with middlegrade fiction. The endings are too perfect. I also don’t like books that kill off characters at the very end for no reason. *Mumble* Divergent trilogy *mumble.* If an ending is realistic, I don’t care if it’s happy or tragic.

Audiobooks or ebooks?

Ebooks. I like my Kindle, especially for traveling. I’ve only listened to one audiobook and couldn’t pay attention to it. My mind kept wandering. Maybe I should try an audiobook while running? That might give me something to concentrate on besides how much my ankles hurt. I don’t even know where to find affordable audiobooks.

Multiple books at once, or one at a time?

Ideally, I’d be a book polygamist. I prefer to read one short story collection and one other book at the same time. If I don’t have any short story collections on my TBR shelf, then I’m a book monogamist. I don’t like reading multiple similar books at the same time.

Mostly one genre, or a little bit of everything?

Everything! I’m a believer in reading widely.

Lifelong obsession or later discovery?

I loathed reading when I was a little kid and refused to do it. When I was in fifth/sixth grade, I stumbled across a few books that didn’t suck, and my bookish obsession grew from there.

Classics—yea or nay?

I don’t read as many classics as I used to, but I try to finish a few each year. Classic horror is my jam right now. (Do people actually say “my jam”? Is that a thing?)

Read aloud to others or be read to?

Be read to. I hate reading aloud. That’s probably one of the reasons I disliked reading as a kid. My teachers used to make us take turns reading aloud to the class. I’m way too anxious for that. Nope, nope, not going to do it.

Absolute silence or background noise?

I need silence to read. I remember trying to read The Stepford Wives in an airport last year, and I had to start the book over when I got home because I was too distracted by airport stuff to absorb anything I read.

Cover on or naked?

I used to leave the cover on so that I didn’t lose it, but now that I have carpel tunnel, I can’t do that anymore. The cover slides around too much, which makes the book harder to hold, which murders my wrists. My books have to get naked before I hold them.

Dog-ear or bookmark?

Only demons dog-ear their books. Civilized humans don’t do that. Be a good person and use a bookmark, especially if you’re going to trade the book when you’re done with it. Nobody wants to spend their time flattening out your demonic book mutilations.

Movie covers or originals?

Originals. I hate movie covers because the characters in my head never look like the actors plastered on the cover. Also, I’m a hipster. Movie covers are way too commercial for me.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Review: Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel

Station Eleven – Emily St. John Mandel

Kirsten Raymonde will never forget the night Arthur Leander, the famous Hollywood actor, had a heart attack on stage during a production of King Lear. That was the night when a devastating flu pandemic arrived in the city, and within weeks, civilization as we know it came to an end. 
Twenty years later, Kirsten moves between the settlements of the altered world with a small troupe of actors and musicians. They call themselves The Traveling Symphony, and they have dedicated themselves to keeping the remnants of art and humanity alive. But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who will threaten the tiny band’s existence. And as the story takes off, moving back and forth in time, and vividly depicting life before and after the pandemic, the strange twist of fate that connects them all will be revealed.

Review: Judging by the Goodreads reviews, a lot of people have incorrect expectations about this book. It’s not the people’s fault. I think the synopsis is misleading and makes the story sound much more action-packed than it really is. This is definitely literary fiction. It’s slow-paced, character-driven, and reflective. The majority of the story happens before the apocalypse. If you like that kind of thing, you’ll probably like this book. If you’re looking for a fast-paced post-apocalyptic novel, then you should probably look elsewhere.

The apocalypse begins with a famous Shakespearean actor dropping dead in the middle of a performance. Then, a deadly pandemic sweeps across the globe. We follow a group of characters who were connected with the actor. The reader meets two of the actor’s ex-wives, his son, his best friend, his young costar in the play, and the paparazzo who made a living following him around. For twenty years after the apocalypse, these characters’ paths cross and re-cross until two of them meet in a final deadly battle.

“No one ever thinks they’re awful, even people who really actually are. It’s some sort of survival mechanism.” – Station Eleven

If the apocalypse happened right this second, what elements of human culture would you want to preserve? That’s mostly what this book made me think about. Since parts of the story take place twenty years after the apocalypse, there is a whole generation of young characters who never knew the pre-plague world. How would you want them to remember us? Would you preserve our art and culture? Our religions? Our technology? Our passports and ID cards? Random objects that may have only been meaningful to one person?

What I love most about this book is how the author uses important objects to weave the story threads together. It shows how our relationship with our “stuff” changes as our circumstances change. What seems insignificant now can become treasured later. I don’t want to give away spoilers, but there’s a mundane object that’s repurposed in bizarre ways after the apocalypse. It provides a very creative plot twist.

“First we only want to be seen, but once we’re seen, that’s not enough anymore. After that, we want to be remembered.” – Station Eleven

I can see why this book has won so many awards. It’s well-written and brilliantly structured. I’m a structure junkie who’s read a lot of books with unusual structures, so I appreciate the work that went into Station Eleven. This novel is nonlinear with multiple points-of-view. It takes an extremely talented author to pull that off without leaving the reader confused.

Even though I like the book overall, there are two elements of it that I didn’t love: the characters and the plot.

I never felt connected to the characters. The prophet is creepy, but I didn’t find any of the characters very compelling. Before the apocalypse, most of them are rich people with relationship problems. After the apocalypse, they spend most of their time wandering around. I guess they’re realistic, but I’m not interested in wandering or rich people problems. If you like learning about the lives of famous people, then you might feel differently.

 “They spend all their lives waiting for their lives to begin.” – Station Eleven

The plot also left me slightly disappointed. Most of the plague books I’ve read follow the exact same plot. Basically, if you’ve read The Stand by Stephen King, you can predict the plot of many plague books. First there’s a disease, then the characters wander around, then they form nomadic societies, then they form bigger societies, then they rebuild the world. I was hoping Station Eleven would deviate from that plot, but it didn’t.

Literary fiction is one of my favorite genres, so overall, I enjoyed Station Eleven. It’s worth reading for the structure alone. Just make sure you’re going into it with the correct expectations.

Monday, July 17, 2017

Review: Black Dove, White Raven – Elizabeth Wein

Black Dove, White Raven – Elizabeth Wein

Emilia and Teo's lives changed in a fiery, terrifying instant when a bird strike brought down the plane their stunt pilot mothers were flying. Teo's mother died immediately, but Em's survived, determined to raise Teo according to his late mother's wishes—in a place where he won't be discriminated against because of the color of his skin. But in 1930s America, a white woman raising a black adoptive son alongside a white daughter is too often seen as a threat. 
Seeking a home where her children won't be held back by ethnicity or gender, Rhoda brings Em and Teo to Ethiopia, and all three fall in love with the beautiful, peaceful country. But that peace is shattered by the threat of war with Italy, and teenage Em and Teo are drawn into the conflict. Will their devotion to their country, its culture and people, and each other be their downfall or their salvation?

Review: When Goodreads told me that there was a historical fiction book set in 1930s Ethiopia, I knew I needed it. When I found out that it was written by the same author who wrote Code Name Verity, I knew that I needed it immediately.

If you’re looking for a story with strong female characters, check this one out. It starts with two female stunt pilots, Rhoda and Delia, who may be closeted lesbians, but their relationship isn’t completely clear. (It is the 1930s, after all.) They run an air show called Black Dove, White Raven and travel around the world doing stunts in their plane. They also each have a kid. Em is Rhoda’s daughter, and Teo is Delia’s son. They’re raising the kids together as siblings, even though they look nothing alike. Em is white and Teo is black. The unconventional family is thrown into chaos when Delia is killed in a plane accident. Rhoda decides to move to Ethiopia with the kids because that was Delia’s dream, and being an interracial family is easier there. At first, the kids love Ethiopia, but when Italy invades their new home, Em and Teo are drawn into the war.

“I have nothing to lose. I am going to dare it. I will aim for the sun.” – Black Dove, White Raven

I have to admit that I had huge (and probably unrealistic) expectations for this book, and it didn’t completely live up to them. Honestly, I was bored for the first half of it. The story is told in diary format from Em and Teo’s points-of-view, and it took some time for me to get into the writing style. For a young adult book, it’s quite slow and dense. There isn’t much dialogue. There isn’t much action. There are descriptions of planes and flying. It just didn’t hook me. This is probably more my fault than the book’s. If I had to make a list of things I don’t care about, airplanes would be on it.

For me, everything got much better when the characters arrived in Ethiopia. Suddenly, I was motivated to pick up the book. I couldn’t get enough of it. The story taught me about a place and a part of history that I knew very little about. I loved seeing Ethiopia through Em and Teo’s eyes. It’s a country with a complicated history and a fascinating culture. Africa is full of danger, but the kids were free to be themselves there. They didn’t have that same freedom in the US.

I also like the themes. The book is about colonization and where people belong. Where is “home”? Em and Teo grew up traveling around the world with their mothers. They don’t have a real home until they move to Ethiopia. But, do they belong there? Or are they just as bad as the Italians who are trying to invade the country and take it over? Ethiopia is where Em and Teo live, but they don’t consider themselves Ethiopian. So, is home where you were born? Where you have citizenship? Where you’ve spent the most time? Or, is it the place you’re drawn to most?

“I wish you could go through life without ever caring about anything, without ever getting attached to people and dreams and inaccessible places. It just makes you sad when you can never go back.” – Black Dove, White Raven

The most interesting part of the book is actually the author’s note at the end. The research that went into this novel is astounding. I’m impressed that Elizabeth Wein was able to blend fiction and reality so seamlessly.

I guess I have mixed feelings about this one. I appreciate the strong female characters and the research. The story focuses on a family instead of on romance, which I always like. Getting past the slow plot was a struggle, though. I expected more from this book, but I learned a lot, so that made up for the difficulties. I think.

“Things became more civilized all of a sudden. Coffee does that. Or maybe it is women who do that.” – Black Dove, White Raven

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Sunday Post #105

The Sunday Post is hosted by The Caffeinated Book Reviewer. It’s a chance to recap the past week, talk about next week, and share news. It’s Monday, What Are You Reading? is hosted by Book Date. I get to tell you what I’ve read recently.

On The Blog Last Week

On The Blog This Week

  • On Monday I review Black Dove, White Raven by Elizabeth Wein.
  • On Wednesday I review Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel.
  • On Thursday I do the This Or That book tag.
  • On Saturday there might be a book haul. I plan on acquiring books.

In My Reading Life

Last week, I finished The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas and read The Upside of Unrequited by Becky Albertalli. Right now, I’m reading Cold Summer by Gwen Cole.

In The Rest Of My Life

Five things that made me happy last week:

  1. I started training for a half marathon. That’s a sentence I never thought I’d type. My first week of training was pretty easy, but I know I’m going to regret this in a few weeks.
  2. My sunflower plants actually have flowers now! Suck it, squirrels. Most of the plants got destroyed by squirrels, but a few survived. Grow survivors, grow!
  3. I started doing a massive book clear-out because my shelves are overflowing. This means I’ll have shelf space and lots of credits at the used bookstore. Then I can get more books. The never-ending cycle continues.
  4. I won a giveaway! I get a new book, and I’m pumped. 
  5. So much Game of Thrones. I re-watched seasons 4, 5, and 6. Bring on 7. I’m ready for it. If you love GoT, you should watch Kit Harington (he plays Jon Snow) audition for ALL the roles. I promise it's hilarious:

Take care of yourselves and be kind to each other! See you around the blogosphere!