Margaret Atwood is coming to Green Bay for the Untitledtown Book and Author Festival (and I got tickets!), so I had to revisit The Handmaid's Tale. Frankly, I found it more chilling in our political climate today than when I first read it, and there was a LOT I didn't remember. In this dystopian (?) novel, the government has been overthrown, and a completely patriarchal ruling class has taken over the country, wresting all power from the women in the country and resigning them to the roles of either completely subservient wives, prostitutes, or handmaids, whose sole purpose is the procreation of the next generation. The idea for the handmaid (and all of the male-imposed rules that accompany the role) comes from Genesis, and the tale of Rachel and Leah, whose handmaids were impregnated by their husband Jacob when they were no longer able to bear children. The story takes the form of a journal written by Offred, a handmaid in the house of Fred. Offred frequently reminisces about her former life with her husband and daughter, even as she navigates her new life as a handmaid. Even in that completely structured social role, Offred finds that the rules can be bent or broken completely, if you're with the right person. Just when it seems like Offred has jeopardized her position and possibly her life, the book takes one last major turn, and ends with the reader asking for more. A story that once seemed impossible no longer feels so absurd.
OK, I HAVE been listening to books this year! I can't believe it's already April, so time to catch up! Latest listen--What She Knew. Fairly newly-divorced Rachel Jenner walks the dog with her son Ben on a regular basis. It's a routine day--until it isn't. When Ben asks to run ahead, Rachel says yes. And then Ben is gone, and things fall apart quickly. Is it her fault? The fault of her surgeon ex-husband (a patient with a grudge?) The case is tried in the media (no surprise), with society taking sides quickly. The police, in the character of Jim Clemo, work tirelessly to find Ben, but there are definite issues inside of the department which thwart his efforts. Macmillan does a great job pointing the blame at one suspect, then another, until one small slip tips Rachel off to the real kidnapper. Can she get there in time to save Ben, if he's still alive to save? Can she convince Clemo she's right? Great Audible narration by Penelope Rawlins and Dugald Bruce-Lockhart.
"It’s a tale of books and technology, cryptography and conspiracy, friendship and love. It begins in a mysterious San Francisco bookstore, but quickly reaches out into the wider world and the shadowed past." This is the description of Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore from Robin Sloan's website (https://www.robinsloan.com/books/penumbra/) I haven't linked an author website before, but in this case, I think it's more than appropriate--it's essential. I don't think this book is going to hit any of my 12 x 12 requirements, but I literally just finished READING it an hour ago, and I had to blog about it immediately. Sloan's description above encapsulates the essentials of the novel, and yet, it is SO much more!
OK, let me start over. Mr. Penumbra's is definitely about a bookstore. The narrator is Clay Jannon, a 20-something art school graduate who finds himself unemployed and who wanders into a 24-hour bookstore looking for work. The proprietor, Mr. Penumbra, welcomes him with a question: "What do you seek in these shelves?" Thus begins an epic adventure which launches Clay into the reaches of the bookstore's Waybacklist and beyond, to secret underground libraries and vast hidden mega-museums. This book is the perfect intersection of fantasty and reality, Old Knowledge (OK) and technology.
Here is another new recommendation--this is a book you need to read AND listen to, because that is the whole key to this story. LOVED IT!
I just finished this advanced reader copy from the NCTE convention, so don't look for this book until May 2017. But DO look for this book May 2017!! I would absolutely recommend this YA book for a classroom library, because if you're a teacher, you will have a student who will need to read this. OK, on with the review. Sixteen-year-old Kai is just living life, enjoying time with her best friends JT and Emily and counting on her sister Jen to convince their parents to let her take a gap year in Europe. Then, on just a normal Tuesday, everything changes. Kai gets the mail to find three letters from her sister which spirals her into a place of loss and depression so profound that she doesn't think there's any way to recover. Her desperate parents finally send her off to a grief camp for a month, and Kai agrees to "give it a try." Although resistant, she finds four other broken souls in Ben, Cass, Jack and especially Graham, and the healing process begins. While it might seem simplistic, the journaling and activities that Kai experiences at camp (along with the growing relationship with Graham) convince her that life is worth living. Students experiencing loss may find some comfort and direction here as well. A really sweet first book from Turrisi.
I previously reviewed Mr. Mercedes and Finders Keepers, so I had to finish the trilogy with End of Watch (which is fulfilling the 12 x 12 list for "a book published this year.") End of Watch picks up five years after the Mr. Mercedes murders, when Brady Hartsfield killed eight people and subsequently ended up in the Lakes Region Traumatic Brain Injury Clinic, supposedly in a catatonic state. But looks can be deceiving, and there's a LOT more going on in that evil Brady head than meets the eye. Bill Hodges and his partner Holly Gibney start investigating suspicious suicides which have connections to the Mercedes Massacre, and it becomes more and more apparent that Brady is still very much involved in the lives of those who were part of the collateral damage. Of the three books, this one delves into the supernatural much more than the first two, which makes it more traditionally a King novel than the first two might have been (at least in my humble opinion). It's hard for me to be objective because I have such a Stephen King obsession, but definitely if you read the first two novels, you should finish this trilogy. I found this a satisfying, poignant ending with characters that I truly enjoyed spending time with.
What serendipity that I started my 12 x 12 list this year with Amanda Palmer, and I'm including a text by her husband Neil Gaiman (and yes, I ACTUALLY read the book this time--no Audible!) I really picked this up so I could pass it along to son Ben when I was finished, and I am counting this as "a book you can finish in a day" because I JUST about did. The plot is told as a flashback by the unnamed narrator of a fantastical childhood event which he recalls when he revisits his old neighborhood. While the reading level is probably elementary, there are archetypal elements to the book (the characters of the innocent, the mother figure, and the crone, for example) which could lead to some fascinating conversations in comparison with other texts of the hero's journey. More importantly, I just LOVE Gaiman's prose--he is able to transport the reader through words. It's like a spa visit for your brain. I look forward to passing this along and having a follow-up conversation about it!
It's been ages since I read a book which made me cry, but this one definitely did. What a gem! Ove (pronounced "oova") is a curmudgeon, pure and simple. He just wants to be left alone to die. Period. Unfortunately for Ove's plans, the Universe interferes in the guise of a pregnant next door neighbor, her ungainly and uncoordinated husband, their two adorable children, the large neighborhood computer geek, and a host of other characters who keep thwarting Ove's best laid plans for suicide. And thank God. Because otherwise this book would be over far too soon. I found myself smiling, giggling, laughing out loud, and actually CHORTLING as I listened to this book. But the ending found me crying in my car on the way to work. I can't tell you how happy I am I picked this one. You will be, too. (And for those of you playing along, I'm checking this off my 12 x 12 list as "a book you've been meaning to read.")
How about something that wrings you out emotionally? That is definitely the case with Me Before You and its sequel After You by Jojo Moyes. Both novels follow the experiences of Louisa Clark, an ordinary British young woman leading a pretty ordinary life until she loses her job and finds herself working as a companion to Will Traynor, former business shark and current quadriplegic with, frankly, little will to live. The six months Louisa spends with Will completely changes her life, and those changes follow her into the sequel After You. Without completely giving away both books, Louisa finds herself suddenly acting as a mother-figure to Will's daughter (a daughter Will was never informed he even had) and trying to figure out how to find ANY other job than that of barmaid at an airport Irish pub, complete with micro-Irish wench costume and hideous wig. There were parts of this book that I literally laughed out loud--the segment where her mother comes to visit her in London and is completely excited about having a ticket for the Underground for the day was eerily similar to my visits to Marissa in Chicago! Two completely satisfying books which left me emotionally drained but happy for Louisa and the next chapter in her life.
I did not know that the first novel had recently been made into a movie, so that is definitely high on my "must see" list!
I listened to this book on Overdrive (and if you don't know about THAT yet, you need to get yourself a library card and check it out!) Overdrive allows you to check out e-novels and audiobooks from your library through an app, so great books at no cost--bonus!
OK, Overdrive advertisement aside, this was a book I just picked up because I was between books and needed something to listen to. Lo and behold, I've just found myself a new favorite author! Raybourn completely captures London in 1887, and her depiction of Vernonica Speedwell and her reluctant protector Stoker has definite overtones of Holmes and Watson--with the added fun of distinct sexual tension. Never fear--nothing happens in Book One on that front. However, much murder and mayhem ensue as Veronica seeks to uncover her true identity--and the identity of her father. A lot of great action forced me to once again miss my exit to work and have to backtrack, but it was definitely worth it. Since this was just published last year, I'm looking forward to more installments of Veronica and Stoker's adventures!
I'm checking this one off my 12 x 12 list as "a book that was banned at one time." I'll get to that in a minute. What you need to know about this piece of historical fiction is that it is based on the lives of the revolutionaries of the revolt against the Trujillo regime in the Dominican Republic in the mid-1900s. Since this is based on true events, I don't consider it a spoiler by telling you that three of the girls--Patria, Minerva, and Mate Mirabal--are martyrs to the cause, leaving their sister Dede to tell their story. What I loved about the book was the author's depiction of each girl, following her from childhood through her dawning realization of the real events taking place in her country, and eventual decision to join the revolution. The chapters leading up to their crash were agonizing, while those following the death of the sisters, as Dede identifies their remains and washes her sisters for burial, were incredibly moving.
I will completely admit that my knowledge of Central and South America and the Caribbean is so completely limited that I knew nothing about this episode in history, nor of the horrors of the Trujillo dictatorship, which made it an educational read as well as an enjoyable one as I appreciated Alvarez's masterful characterizations. And the banned book part? The Port Washington School District in Port Washington, NY banned the book for its detailed drawing of the making of a bomb. Frankly, I think we have more pressing educational concerns.