Sunday, September 27, 2015

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood (Read 9/8/15 to9/22/15)

This was September's BOTM read.
The Handmaid's tale is set in the near future, it describes life in what was once the United States, now called the Republic of Gilead, a monotheocracy that has reacted to social unrest and a sharply declining birthrate by reverting to, and going beyond, the repressive intolerance of the original Puritans. The regime takes the Book of Genesis absolutely at its word, with bizarre consequences for the women and men of its population. The story is told from the point of view, of a Handmaid, Offred. Her job is to be an incubator of sorts, she has a history of being fertile, so it is her role to produce a child for a Commander and his Wife, in a strict biblical sense.
Because I didn't fully understand the social structure I did a little research and I found a great synopsis of the women's social class on

The highest class of women is the “Wives”—those married to officials and other elite. Wives may adopt or naturally acquire “Daughters”, while all others seek the service of Handmaids. Domestic duties of ruling-class households are undertaken by typically older and infertile subservient women known as “Marthas.” Forming the middle-class are “Econowives.” This group of fertile women is married to the non-elite and performs all domestic duties, such as childrearing and cooking. The most autonomous class is the “Aunts”—literate, unmarried and infertile women who train and watch over the Handmaids. The remaining women who cannot integrate into this social order are deemed “Unwomen” in the eyes of the state and banished to the forced labor camps, where the unlucky suffer a slow death cleaning up toxic chemicals.

I liked the book. Was I frustrated that we never found out what happened, a little. But there were the historical notes, and I got it. She wanted it to be like a piece of History. Like Anne Frank's diary. A snapshot, not a full story. In a way I think it made me think more, it made me focus more on the issues Atwood wanted brought to life, and less on the character. I feel like the true purpose was the social commentary on where she feels society is going, which per the BBC interview she still feared as of 2002, and the character was actual unimportant besides being a way to relay the message.
The message was to not give up our civil liberties to protect us from a fear, that can lead to repression and/or Totalitarianism. In the interview she said she finds things currently happening in our country disturbing, for example the Eyes in the book use the eye symbol from the dollar bill as their logo, so does homeland security. I get it, I can see how she would be fearful. The rise of the tea part, and all the legislation that has been tried to be passed that removes the separation of state and church, I get it. Atwood saw things that disturbed her about our country and our society (remember this was written in the Regan years). And she used the medium she had and knew to express her concerns. All the how's are not important, if it was like Anne Frank's Diary, the reader would know the general facts anyways. I think the book is more about the message and not about the how's or the characters.
Maybe it's just me but after reading any of the parts where Offred discusses being separated from her daughter I had to go sit with mine to calm down.  Is it a mommy thing?  I also had trouble sleeping those nights and would have to check on the kids multiple times.  I read the kindle version and I liked it so much I feel the need to add as a paperback to my shelves, I finished and immediately bought from Amazon.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

My Inventions: The Autobiography of Nikola Tesla (Read 9/11/15 to 9/26/15)

This is a book I read because my husband love Nikola Tesla and we are reading a book of his papers together and I wanted to know more about him. Tesla was born in in the village of Smiljan, Vojna Krajina, in the territory of today's Croatia. By birth he was an ethnic Serb, a subject of the Austrian Empire and later in life became an American Citizen. He was a genius inventor and mechanical and electrical engineer. He is frequently cited as one of the most important contributors to the birth of commercial electricity, a man who "shed light over the face of Earth," and is best known for his many revolutionary developments in the field of electricity and magnetism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Tesla's patents and theoretical work formed the basis of modern alternating current (AC) electric power systems, including the polyphase power distribution systems and the AC motor, with which he helped usher in the Second Industrial Revolution. Tesla was widely respected as one of the greatest electrical engineers who worked in America. Much of his early work pioneered modern electrical engineering and many of his discoveries were of groundbreaking importance. But due to his eccentric personality and his seemingly unbelievable and sometimes bizarre claims about possible scientific and technological developments, Tesla was ultimately ostracized and regarded as a mad scientist. He died impoverished at the age of 86.
Tesla lead an amazing life, in some ways it almost reads like fiction. The diseases he survived and the work he did, but it wasn't, it was true.  Some of the book was hard to follow, his mind jumps at light speed. And I won't lie the science was hard for me to follow sometimes.  But I think I got the general gist of it all, it will make discussions with my husband easier for sure.  Tesla seems to be both a man with great intelligence and great compassion.  His desire to improve the world through his inventions is inspiring.  I now understand why my husband admire him so much.

Outlanderby Diana Gabladon (Read 8/17/15 to 9/20/15)

This was my September read for NNCC.
The book is set in the year 1945 and 1743, it is the story of Claire Randall, she is a former WWII combat nurse,and has just reunited with her husband Frank on a second honeymoon in Scotland.  One day she walks through a standing stone in one of the ancient circles  and is suddenly transported back in time.  In 1743 she is a Sassenach, an “outlander," in more ways than one,  Scotland torn by war and raiding border clans and it is a far more dangerous time than her own, death is around every corner.  Claire is suspected as a spy and is pulled into the intrigues of the lairds and must be smart an cunning to save her own life.  It is at this time that she meets James, i.e. Jaimie, Fraser.  He a gallant young Scots warrior, who steals her hear and forces her to be torn between two times and two very different men.
I read this book back in high school so I was familiar but it was still a fresh read for me.   This is far more of a romance than a historical novel, there are some historical items in, but they play second fiddle to the romance and the love triangle Claire finds herself in.  It is a first book, the reader can tell by some of the writing, there are places where the details are too lengthy and did't add to the story line.  I liked the book.  I felt that with everything happening in my life currently, work, small children, other book clubs, parties, etc. that this was not a tome I would have picked up of my own free will.  It was too long of a book for my current life, and I liked it well enough, but not so well that I will drudge through the remainders in the series.  Although I am willing to put them on a potential to be read list in the future when I have more time.
Ok I am about to go off on some parts of the books that are definite spoilers and use some not so nice language, so if you don't want to know what happens or you don't want to read curse words I would stop reading now.
I think that one of my biggest pet peeves about this book was the inconsistencies of Clair, and not inconsistencies because her character is supposed to be wishy washy but inconsistencies because Gabaldon did not write her well.  The impression that I have is that Gabladon wanted Claire to be a strong woman both for her time and for Jamie's time.  And Claire does start out the book as a strong independent woman.  But by the end she is weak and a little bit simpering in my mind, waiting for Jaimie to "take care of her" or "rescue" her.  There are many times in the book that she acts completely opposite of how her character should act if she was this very forward thinking, strong independent, woman she is described as in the beginning.  Take for example the incident where Jaime "spanked" her, in reality he BEAT her.  She was unable for days to walk or ride comfortable, she had bruises covering her entire body, and he even said in fact that he lost control and it was much more severe than he intended.  It went beyond a simple discipline of his wife.  I understand it was the times and it was common for both disciplines and beatings of wives.  Do I think it was right, no but I am aware it was a different time and women were treated differently.  My issue is how Claire reacted.  At first she was right angry and wanted nothing to do with Jaimie.  That was in character with the portrayal of who she was.  What was not in character was that in less than 48 hour she had forgiven him, agreed with him that it needed to be done, and allowed him back in her bed.  All because he told her of some beatings that his father gave him as a child, however my opinion is that his father never beat him the way Jaimie beat Claire.  And her forgiveness, although not completely impossible to imagine happening, came too soon and with no true apology and did not fall in line with her character.  It is really at this point that I began to see inconsistancies.
Another big inconstancy for me is at the end when Jaimie is in prison and Claire goes to find him.  She kills a guard one moment, is hiding in a corner terrified the next, totally fucks ups the rescue and leaves Jaimie to Randall's mercies, then kills a wolf with her bare hands?  What the fuck!  So she goes to the prison, she wavers between bravery and cowardice, then when she gets to Jaimie's cell she becomes an idiot.  Jaimie tells her Randall is coming back and instead of being the smart woman she is supposed to be she plays into a stereotypical role of victim.  She wastes all of her time trying to hurry up and get Jaimie out of his chains instead of setting up a plan to knock out Randall and allow herself time to work the lock.  And surprise surprise it doesn't turn out well.  Then she has had all this self defense training, it went into great detail on how much time and how much training she did, and she doesn't use any of it to get away from Randall.  She lets Jaimie make the awful bargain of himself for her life.  Ok we are being a helpless woman needing our Man to save us.  But THEN, Gabladon has Claire kill a wolf with her BARE HANDS.  Please!  If she was able to kill a wolf with her bare hands, she could have taken out Randall, maybe not killed, but at least knocked him out and tied him up.  Make up your mind, is she a strong heroin or a weak victim.
Another thing that really bothers me is how quickly she forgets Frank, I know that they had been separated for 8 years, and were trying to re-connect, but still it took her NO time at all to move on to Jaimie.  And once they were married, which admittedly wasn't all her choice, she jumped into bed with him quite readily on an extremely regular basis.  If Gabladon had spent just a little less time not the sex scene descriptions, and a little more time on the character development I think this would have been a much better book.  Don't get me wrong, my rants don't mean I didn't enjoy the book, but they do mean that there was potential there for me to have enjoyed it more.

The First 15 Lives of Harry August by Claire North (read 8/13/14 to 8/23/15)

BOTM for August. This is a book of time travel, sort of. Harry August's life repeats itself. When he dies, he goes right back to the beginning, but with all the knowledge and experience from his previous life. Our story takes place at the end of his 11th life, when a little girl appears at his deathbed with a message for the past....the world is ending quicker than it should. What he does with the information is the true question. How can he save another the past and the future?
I liked it, I like the storyline too. But I don't have much to say either. It's good but not very a comment inducing. There are multiple flashes of Harry's previous lives,I like the flashes, I think they add depth and explain Harry's motivations really well.
I loved a quote in the middle of the book, it summed up an amazing view on life, whether you have one life or 15. "Men must be decent first and brilliant later, otherwise you're not helping people, just servicing the machine."

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield (read 9/3/15 to 9/8/15)

This book seemed written for book lovers, and as I am one I loved it. Our Heroine is an introverted book lover herself. I was able to relate her in so many ways. And sometimes I found myself jealous that she got so spend much time with books. Margaret Lea works in her father’s antiquarian bookshop, and her fascination for the biographies of the long-dead has led her to begin writing them herself. She one day Margaret gets a letter asking her to write the biography of the most famous authors of the day, the mysterious Vida Winters. Mrs. Winters is a recluse who also toys with journalists, every time she does an interview, she gives the journalist a different life story. Now she is old and ailing, and at last she wants to tell the truth about her extraordinary life. Vida’s strange, gothic tale features the Angelfield family: dark-hearted Charlie and his unbrotherly obsession with his sister, the fascinating, devious, and willful Isabelle; and Isabelle’s daughters, the feral twins Adeline and Emmeline. The story is captivating. Margaret doesn't fully trust Vida to tell her the truth, so she goes and does some fact checking and discovers the truth isn't always what it seems.
I loved this book, I loved the characters, I loved the setting, I loved the mystery, And I loved the truth. This was a book that I had to force myself to put down to sleep, and I spent my days wondering what was going to happen next. The twists and turns were engrossing, and I'm still not sure at the end if I got the full picture. This goes in my re-read list for sure. The writing was so smooth and doled out the mystery at a perfect speed. Both the images and writing were just dark enough, not horrific but a dark tell for sure. I could see the whole book characters, places, plot in my minds eye like a movie. I loved it!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

The Word Exchange by Alena Graedon (read 7/31/15 to 8/11/15)

This was one of the books I received in my Book Riot July Quarterly Box.  I was excited to read it, it sounded so interesting.  The Premise is that that in what I assume is an alternate reality books, libraries, and newspapers have at last become things of the past. Everybody used devises that are called Memes for all their communication and entertainment needs.  I imagine them to look like Blackberries and be extremely advanced smart devices. The Memes are intuitive and can anticipate the users needs, dialing the doctor before the user knows they are sick, or prompting the user with forgotten words or definitions of unfamiliar words. Yet there are still a few dedicated wordsmiths who are working on the final print edition of the North American Dictionary of the English Language. One evening, right before it’s released, Anana Johnson finds that the chief editor—her father—has vanished.  The book then follows Anana and her colleague Bart as they search for her father from a single clue he left her in his office.  There is intrigue and danger and a giant conspiracy that must be unraveled.  All while trying to avoid succumbing to the deadly "Word Flu."  People are losing their language, whole words are disappearing and some are even dying.  How is it transmitted, why is it here, what does it have to do with Anana's father?This was a great read, I was enthralled with it, it was scientific and terrifying and engrossing.  I can see the way we are all attached to our smart phones and understand how we are losing something in our communications and our interactions with each other. This read was very thought provoking on the language breakdown.  There were lots of subtitles, that even if I didn't catch them all it didn't detract from my read.  For example, I  didn't realize the chapters were in alphabetical order until the last chapter. I will need a second read to catch it all I think.  There was a lot of science regarding the word flu and how it spread and how it was created, it was fascinating, but I think deserves a second read to fully comprehend.  The writing was great, it flowed really easy and kept my attention.  I really liked it, in fact I have recommended it to my book club as a read.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel (read 7/11/15 to 8/6/15)

In the opening scenes of the book we see Hollywood star, Arthur Leander, having a heart attack while on stage during a production of King Lear.  Jeevan Chaudhary, a paparazzo-turned-EMT, Jumps onstage and performs CPR and tries to save Arthur.  As Jeevan walks home from the theater, a terrible flu begins to spread. Hospitals are flooded and Jeevan and his brother barricade themselves inside an apartment, watching out the window as life as we know it disintegrates around them.
Kirsten Raymonde, a child actress, watches as Jeevan tries to save Arthur.  Fifteen years later, Kirsten is an actress with the Traveling Symphony, a nomadic group of actors roaming the scattered outposts of the Great Lakes region, risking everything for art and humanity.  Together, this small troupe moves between the settlements of an altered world, performing Shakespeare and music for scattered communities of survivors. Written on their caravan, and tattooed on Kirsten's arm is a line from Star Trek: "Because survival is insufficient." But when they arrive in St. Deborah by the Water, they encounter a violent prophet who digs graves for anyone who leaves. And the search for troupe members left behind ensues.

The book is told from multiple points of view, separate stories and separate times that all weave together in a way that doesn't come together until the very end.  The magical way a single person can have so much impact, reminds me of the old story about dropping a pebble in a pond and the ripples created are countless.  We had alot of debate in BOTM as to who the main character of the book truly was.  I know who I feel, but if I shared that would take away some of the magic of this story.  Some of the characters were flawed, but it made them more real in my mind.  The writing was smooth, and moved the story along at a really nice pace.  I really liked this book, I am glad I bought it rather than just checking out from the library.  I will want to re-read for sure.  I think a stormy winter night by the fireplace will be perfect for that.

The Secret Life of Bees by Sue Monk Kidd (read 7/27/15)

NNCC selection for August, now that I know one of the main characters names is August it seems especially appropriate.  I finished this book in a single cross country flight, I could not put it down. Set in South Carolina in 1964, this is the story of Lily Owens.  Her life has been full of tragedy and starved for love.  When Lily was 4 she accidentally shot and killed her mother under questionable circumstances.  Her father is an abusive and cruel man who withhold his love and generally makes her life miserable, one day he is especially cruel and shatters Lilly's dream of her mother, causing her to flee.  She does not escape on her own, Lilly breaks her black "stand-in mother," Rosaleen out of jail and they leave town together.  The only thing clue Lilly has to her mother is a picture of a black Madonna with the town Tiburon, SC written on the back.  When they reach Tiburon date guides her to August Boatwright and her two sisters May and June.   It is here that "Lily is introduced to their mesmerizing world of bees and honey, and the Black Madonna."
The writing drew me in, and it reminded me of how quickly I read The Help.   Strange as this may sound, but despite the great descriptions I could not picture the peach farm or the pink house, but the women, they are clearly defined on my minds eye.  Full vibrant characters that made me love them, and I was sad to come to the end and have to say goodbye.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (read7/22/15 to 7/27/15)

Christopher John Francis Boone is strange.  At the age of 15, he knows all the countries of the world and their capitals and every prime number up to 7,057. He relates well to animals but has no understanding of human emotions. He cannot stand to be touched. And he detests the color yellow.  Although gifted with a superbly logical brain, everyday interactions have little meaning. He lives on patterns and rules.  Then one day, a neighbor's dog, Wellington, is killed and his world is upturned.  Christopher decides to be his favorite detective, Shelick Holmes, and he sets out to solve the murder, and solves more than the murder.
Christopher has either Aspergers or autism.   Interesting to read from his point of view, especially after reading Still Alice.   The writing was a little dry, but I suspect it was meant to be since Christopher is a bit dry.  I thought it was okay, not a favorite but it was interesting to read the story from his point of view.

Cruel Beauty by Rosamund Hodge (read 7/18/15 to 7/20/15)

Based on the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast.  Our heroine Nyx has been betrothed to the evil ruler of her kingdom since birth.  Her entire life has been training to kill him once they are wed. Nyx resents her family for never trying to save her and hates herself for wanting to escape her fate. But Nyx puts duty first and as a good little sacrificial lamb she married the immortal Ignifex on her seventeenth birthday. Although not blindly, she has a plan. Seduce him, destroy his enchanted castle, and break the curse he put on her people.  But neither Ignifex or the curse is what Nyx expected.  She finds that the story she knew was not the whole story, and despite herself she begins to love her husband.
I had a hard time putting this one down once I started reading it.  The writing is simple and beautiful. There is a lot of Greek/Roman lore woven into the story that made me do a little happy dance.  The story felt very familiar, but then again Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorite fairytales, so the story wasn't that new.  But the details were rich and gave it a fresh breathe.  I really loved that Nyx was conflicted and not always a nice person, but then again being raised the way she was how could she not have some self image issues?