Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Book Review: The Handmaid's Tale, by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood book cover and review
I've been wanting to read The Handmaid's Tale for so long. I finally picked it up and am so glad that I did.

The Handmaid's Tale deserves all the hype. Not only is it a compelling look at a very twisted future society, but it is also well written with vivid descriptions and sophisticated use of language. And it isn't bloated like most popular young adult dystopian stories seem to be.

I won't say much about the plot since I think most people know. The basic premise is the population is decreasing because most women can't have babies. So if you can, you become a Handmaid, which basically means you are assigned to some man so that you can become impregnated. While handmaids are revered and protected, they are very oppressed.

Do educators use this book in the classroom? I just think there is so much to discuss here. I don't know of any classrooms that read this.

I'm looking forward to watching the series now, although I'm sure I'll be disappointed. And I need to read the second book, The Testaments. If you are at all interested in dystopian stories, don't miss this one.

Published by McClelland and Stewart, 1985
eBook obtained from the library
320 pages

Rating: 5/5

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Monday, June 22, 2020

Book Review: Mrs. Lincoln's Sisters by Jennifer Chiaverini

I enjoyed Mrs. Lincoln's Sisters, an account of Mary Todd Lincoln's later years. It was a perfect companion to Courting Mr. Lincoln, which I read last year.

Elizabeth, Mary's oldest sister, has been informed that Mary has been institutionalized because she has attempted suicide. Her witnessing the assassination of her husband and then the death of her son just a few short years later has taken its toll. Elizabeth and most of Mary's other siblings have been estranged from Mary for years, but Elizabeth wants to help. But Mary won't answer any letters from any of her siblings. They are assured by Mary's oldest and only remaining son that she is being well taken care of.

We get varying perspectives, and therefore opinions, of what they should do about Mary from other siblings, Francis, Emilie, and Ann. They agree they must overcome their differences to help, but they don't agree on what is best.

As the current story is told, we get flashbacks all the way to Mary's childhood, the death of her mother, her education, the courtship, her political life, the Civil War, and of course, the assassination.

All in all, we get a detailed picture of Mary's life. But is she insane? Did she need to be institutionalized?

As I mentioned, Courting Mr. Lincoln did a great job of describing a mostly missing piece of the history of Abraham Lincoln, and Mrs. Lincoln's Sisters did overlap in that area a bit. But I have become somewhat enamored with the Lincolns, and really enjoyed these perspectives. What a fascinating and tragic life Mary Todd Lincoln had.

If you are interested in this piece of history, I highly recommend Chiaverini's account of Mrs. Lincoln's Sisters.

Published by William Morrow, June 2, 2020
eARC obtained from NetGalley
352 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Friday, May 29, 2020

Book Review: The Book of Longings, by Sue Monk Kidd

The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd book cover and review
The Book of Longings is a heartwarming and inspiring look at Jesus' time from an interesting perspective.

Ana is our main character, and you know from the beginning that she will become the wife of Jesus. But we start with her life as a child, which was difficult. Being a woman at that time was an extreme hardship. Ana loved to write, which was forbidden, but her father indulged Ana and this made her happy. She thought he favored her so much that he wouldn't force her into an arranged marriage.

But she is betrothed to an (of course) undesirable old man. I won't tell you how that turned out. She encounters Jesus at a young age and is attracted to him, but he is of a different class. All along she tries to arrange to see him again.

Ana has an aunt that lives with them because she has been banished for allegedly poisoning her husband. She helps keep Ana safe and serves as a wise counselor.

I won't say too much more about Ana's life, although it is full of adventure and plenty of danger. We know how the story ends for Jesus, but for Ana??

Given my recent difficulties with reading, and after giving up on a couple of other books, The Book of Longings was just what I needed. Poor Ana. How difficult it would have been to be an intelligent woman living in those times. But Jesus respected her and made her happy. It was a romance that melted my heart. I'm so glad I found this book, and I highly recommend The Book of Longings if it sounds like your kind of book.

Published by Viking, April 21, 2020
eARC obtained from NetGalley
432 pages

Rating: 5/5

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Monday, April 20, 2020

Book Review: The Book of Lost Friends, by Lisa Wingate

The Book of Lost Friends, by Lisa Wingate book cover and review
Yay! I finally finished a book! It would seem that since we are all sitting at home by ourselves that it would be conducive to reading. But for me, that has not been the case...

The Book of Lost Friends takes us back to 1875, where our narrator is Hannie, a former slave in this recent post-civil-war era.

And, back to 1987, where our narrator Benny is a brand new teacher in a small backwoods Louisiana school for black children.

We learn how Hannie was separated from her mom and many siblings when she was very young. Now she is just trying to work her land so that it will eventually belong to her. When the master of the plantation disappears, Hannie is worried that all their hard work will be for nothing if they can't find the papers that were signed when they began to work the land. She goes on a harrowing adventure with some unlikely companions to find the master. On this adventure, she learns about a newspaper called the Southwestern that runs ads from black people who are looking for family that they were separated from before the war. Hannie and her companions begin to collect these stories and record them in a book as they travel.

Benny is struggling to connect with her students. They are poor and hungry and many of them don't come to school very much. She finds out the abandoned Gossett mansion close to her rented house contains a treasure trove of books. She vows to talk to her landlord about possibly getting her hands on some of them for use in her classroom. Doing this opens up a whole new history and gets Benny's students interested in learning about their pasts.

I don't want to say too much about how the two stories come together--I'm sure some of it is obvious to you. But the way it all is revealed is a very good story to read. Anyone who is interested in the history of the South and slavery shouldn't miss it.  I did find The Book of Lost Friends a bit slow at times, but the characterizations are so good that you really become attached to these people.

You may have to persevere (I certainly did) -- but I think you will find The Book of Lost Friends well worth your time.

Published by Ballantine, April 7, 2020
eARC obtained from NetGalley
400 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Book Review: The Perfect Wife, by JP Delaney

The Perfect Wife by JP Delaney, book cover and review
I haven't been in the mood to either read or write reviews, but I did manage to get through The Perfect Wife. It isn't because of "sheltering in." I'm doing fine. It has to do with the fact that I got a new sewing machine about a month ago (one of my other hobbies) and the weather is getting nice so I want to be in the yard or garden. Hope you are all doing well and keeping busy during these strange times...PLEASE stay home...

So, The Perfect Wife. The premise was a bit out there, but I was still entertained and wanted to find out what really happened. Abbie awakes in what she thinks is a hospital to find her husband sitting next to her. She feels weird. Not just injured, but weird. Tim, her husband, tells her very quickly that she is an android that he has created and given some of Abbie's memories. It seems that Abbie died five years ago (under mysterious circumstances that he won't talk about) and because he couldn't live without her, he commanded his company to help him create Abbie.

Tim is the Steve Jobs of the robotics world. He's driven and works his employees to the bone. We get flashbacks from his employees' perspective about how he and Abbie met, their tumultuous relationship, their falling in love, and their problematic marriage.

Abbie, in the meantime, is trying to figure out what happened to her five years ago. She finds some evidence of her former life and enlists the help of some people to help her figure things out. It seems Tim was tried for her murder but was ultimately acquitted. She begins to realize that their marriage may have had problems, even though she doesn't have those memories. And those problems may have partly stemmed from the fact that they have a severely autistic son.

That's probably enough of the plot to get you going. It moved quickly and was interesting. Abbie's family is suing Tim to have Abbie "turned off." There are betrayals and surprises along the way. It's a weird premise but an interesting story. I had read a Delaney book before and will continue to do so.

Published by Ballentine, 2019
eARC obtained from NetGalley
432 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Monday, March 23, 2020

AudioBook Review: Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens

Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens book cover and review
The award-winning, best-selling Where the Crawdads Sing is a great story. But, I must say, it really dragged for me at times.

We learn the story of The Marsh Girl, Kya, whose mother and four siblings left her with her drunken, brutal father in the early 1950s when she was six years old. She and her father live in a little shack, miles from the nearest town, in the marshes of North Carolina. Her father comes and goes, leaving Kya to fend for herself for weeks at a time. Eventually, he leaves her too. It is fascinating to see how Kya learns to take care of herself. She is good at hiding, so after going to school for one day, she is able to escape the truant officer's repeated attempts to find her. Even though there was hot food at the school, Kya couldn't take the other kids taunting.

She eventually makes friends with Jumpin', an older black man who runs a little place that sells gas and supplies. His wife begins to provide Kya with some donations of clothes and food. As she grows, she makes friends with Tate, a young boy from town who is as interested in the marsh as Kya is. He teaches her how to read, and thus begins Kya's entrance into adulthood.

Tate goes away to college, and Kya is courted by Chase, the town stud, who is determined to be the first one to get Kya into bed.

We also get the story of Chase's mysterious death in 1969, which the sheriff determines is murder. Eventually, Kya is charged with his murder.

Like I said, the story is really interesting. But sometimes Owens goes on and on about things like Kya's life, day after day, in the marsh. It just took too long for things to happen. Although she writes beautifully, losing some of those descriptions about every detail of the nature of the marsh would have strengthened the book.

The narrator, Cassandra Campbell, was great. Her voices and expressions were perfect. It is worth noting that I am very patient with slow-moving stories when on audio--but this book was even too slow for that.

A good story with beautiful writing, but just too much of it!

Published by G. P. Putnam's Sons, 2018
Audiobook obtained from the library.
384 pages

Rating: 4/5

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Tuesday, March 10, 2020

Book Review: All Your Twisted Secrets, by Diana Urban

All Your Twisted Secrets by Diana Urban book cover and review
All Your Twisted Secrets is a compelling, twisty story that kept me guessing (through most of it...)

I don't usually do this, but I'm just going to copy the blurb. It says mostly what I was going to say anyway.

What do the queen bee, star athlete, valedictorian, stoner, loner, and music geek all have in common? They were all invited to a scholarship dinner, only to discover it's a trap. Someone has locked them into a room with a bomb, a syringe filled with poison, and a note saying they have an hour to pick someone to kill ... or else everyone dies.

Amber Prescott is determined to get her classmates and herself out of the room alive, but that might be easier said than done. No one knows how they're all connected or who would want them dead. As they retrace the events over the past year that might have triggered their captor's ultimatum, it becomes clear that everyone is hiding something. And with the clock ticking down, confusion turns into fear, and fear morphs into panic as they race to answer the biggest question: Who will they choose to die?

I was about 80% through when I pretty much figured out what was going on. The tension built nicely, and the characters were interesting (if a bit stereotypical.) I didn't buy that the person who did this would actually do it. But, the reader is supposed to be surprised by it, I guess.

All Your Twisted Secrets is a quick, suspenseful read that is worth the time but won't stick with me for long. But that's OK.

Published by HarperTeen, March 17, 2020
eARC obtained from Edelweiss
400 pages

Rating: 3.5/5

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Monday, March 9, 2020

Book Review: The Red Lotus by Chris Bohjalian

The Red Lotus by Chris Bohjalian book cover and review
The Red Lotus not only kept my interest but creeped me out a little!

Alexis is an introverted emergency room doctor who lives a quiet life. One night Austin comes in with a bullet wound in his arm, and her life becomes more exciting.  Austin is an avid biker, and after six months of their blooming relationship, he plans a trip to Vietnam where he will bike and Alexis will enjoy the country. Austin plans to bike to a site in Vietnam where his father was wounded and his uncle was killed during the war. Because this is personal to Austin, and he is an experienced rider, the tour guides allow him to go alone on this quest.

Austin never returns, his body is found the next day, and Alexis finds out he hasn't been completely honest with her. In fact, he has told her some pretty big lies. Alexis gets caught up in the investigation, even after returning home, and can't let it go, even though the authorities think Austin's death was an accident. She decides to hire a private investigator to see what he can find out.

What the detective and Alexis herself find out will put them in grave danger. Well, actually, it will put the entire world in grave danger. The creepy part of the book has to do with antibiotic-resistant diseases that rats carry. Not only in Vietnam, but in New York. I don't want to say too much more about that.

The Red Lotus is a twisted tale that is well-paced and the tension builds nicely. The danger is real, and the part about these awful diseases seems entirely plausible and scary. The ending may be a bit unbelievably happy, but that was okay with me.

I would recommend The Red Lotus to readers who enjoy twisted, suspenseful mysteries. I've read several of Bohjalian's books, and The Red Lotus may be my favorite yet.

Published by Doubleday, March 17, 2020
eARC obtained from NetGalley
400 pages

Rating: 4/5

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