Book Review – The Girl on the Train

Book: The Girl on the Train

Author: Paula Hawkins

H and I decided to try something new for book club and assign everyone a month to choose a book for us to read. J picks the book and restaurant for July, H picks for August R picks September and so on. You get the picture. There were a few reasons we decided to try this method. One of which being we have a diverse group of individuals in our book club and we all have different tastes, backgrounds and preferences in life as well as books. H and I wanted to add some diversity into the reading material and broaden all of our comfort zones. Another reason we are trying out this new method is to give each of our book club members a voice. They have a stake in A Novel Bunch PGH. They invest as much time as H and I do, right? Why shouldn’t they all be allowed to choose a book?

June was the first month we tried this new method out with G‘s choice of The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Gotta say…not my favorite read. I suppose I should preface this review with the fact I am not fond of mysteries in general. I am the person who, when presented with a mystery, flips to the end of the book to figure it out and then reads the middle last. To me, it is about figuring out the mystery, not necessarily about the process. Crime shows (Shout out to my favorite show ever: BONES!) are some of my favorite because the mystery/murder/case/arson/etc. is solved in an hour. I don’t have to invest much of myself into the mystery. Although, I did invest 12 years of my life to BONES and it was so worth it.

I found The Girl on the Train predictable and formulaic of mystery novels. The characters were not likable; I did not feel compelled to connect with one among the bunch. This is an odd occurrence for me as I can usually find some piece of myself to connect to a character or something to like about or commend them. Instead, I found myself apathetic and numb to the circumstances the characters found themselves in and the choices they made. Honestly, I could not even muster surprise at the reveal of the murderer and the climax of the novel. The ending did not feel complete to me. It left me unmoved and disinterested in Rachel’s next steps.

What did you think of The Girl on the Train? Let me know in the comments.

If you thought The Girl on the Train was OK, try:

I Let You Go

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Book Review – The Handmaid’s Tale

Book: The Handmaid’s Tale

Author: Margaret Atwood

Warning: strong feminism lies ahead in this post. Get out now all who do not believe in equality of the sexes.

Second warning: spoilers abound ahead. If you haven’t read The Handmaid’s Tale and do not want to have the story spoiled, please do not read this review. I was too riled after reading to attempt a spoiler-free post.

The window. The desk. The chair. Those are three sentences toward the beginning of Margaret Atwood’s novel The Handmaid’s Tale. When I read them I had to put my book down and ask myself what the heck I had gotten myself into with this story. Umm… those aren’t actual sentences. Those are nouns. What about the window, the desk and the chair? Why are you naming the things? Can you finish your thought? I didn’t understand the writing in this novel, but that may be because I opened it almost immediately after I could emotionally detach myself from the ending of A Court of Wings and Ruin by Sarah J. Maas (review coming soon).  I found the way the story jumped around between the present and the past disorienting and confusing. There were times I had to re-read parts to figure out where we were in the story.

This was a strange and haunting tale. The story was left unfinished, which actually suited it, but left me with a sense of anticipation for the climax of the story. The book is set in the post-apocalyptic world of Gilead, which came to power after a terrorist attack that killed all the members of Congress and the Executive Branch, effectively removing the sitting government from power. A fundamentalist group, the Sons of Jacob, took power under the pretext of restoring order and holding fair elections, but we (the readers) later learn the group never intended to hold elections. Rather, the Sons of Jacob fully intended on taking power of the country and changing the social structure to one inspired by Old Testament social and religious fanaticism with newly created social classes.

Through the narrator’s flash backs, we learn that the elimination of women’s rights was a quickly paced double-strike of abolishing the right to work on the same day as abolishing the right to hold a bank account. The women were angry, but  pacified by the promises of the “short-term” nature of these changes and the “impending elections”. The final step in this new order took place when women were sorted into social classes  based on their ability to bear children (Handmaids being the fertile, Marthas being the lower class servants and Wives being the upper class sterile). The emphasis on reproductive ability is due to declining birth rates, which are attributed to infertility caused by nuclear fallout. There it is again: the Biblical references with the naming convention and duties of each group.

If a woman is placed as Handmaid, she is assigned to a Commander for 2 years during which he attempts to impregnate her. After two years (or if she is successful – Yes. I used ‘she’ because it is the woman’s responsibility to become pregnant. Of course, men cannot be sterile! How ridiculous! – I don’t think I need to say this, but that was sarcasm, people. Sarcasm.), she is assigned to another Commander and becomes his property for another 2 years. It is essentially consensual rape. If she becomes pregnant, she is forced to give her child to the Commander’s wife to raise. What now? You would have to rip my child away from my cold, dead fingers after our fight to the death. And when you fight me, momma bear mode will be activated in all its glory.

Let’s talk about the characters’ names. The Handmaids are all stripped of their birth names and given names that are ‘of’ plus their “Commander’s name”. Offred is the narrator of the story. Offred. Of-Fred. Meaning belonging to Fred. Fred’s belonging. Property of Fred. Wait, what? Excuse me? Property? I think not.

The most interesting part of the book was the Historical Notes in the back of the book. I did a double-take when I turned onto that page and had to confirm with myself that the book is indeed fiction. The Historical Notes section actually told of why/how Gilead came to be and its’ place in history. It was explained to us the heroine’s place in Gilead’s history which I found helpful from a closure standpoint.

I chose this book for our book club last month for a few reasons. First, the content felt especially and aptly politically relevant (don’t worry, I will NOT go there). Secondly, in all my feminist readings, I hadn’t gotten around to reading this iconic tale that is on every “Books Every Woman Should Read” list. And lastly, because the show was coming out on Hulu and it looked particularly intriguing.

There were a few points during the story I tossed my book down in frustration and anger. There were times while reading I was so angry at the world of Gilead, the heroine and the other characters that I almost gave up. I found the heroine, Offred, stilted, unmoving and way too accepting of her lot.

Overall, I found the story interesting and worth the read, but it riled me. As a woman, I will tell you that if my government tried to take away my basic human rights (let’s not go there with the current political conditions, please), I would fight with everything I had in me against it. I would rage and rage and never give up the fight.

Phew. That might be my longest review yet. Ok. Feminist rant concluded. Please share your thoughts regarding The Handmaid’s Tale in the comments.

If you liked The Handmaid’s Tale, try:

Brave New World

1984

Blindness

Never Let Me Go

The Road

 

Book Review – An Ember in the Ashes

Book: An Ember in the Ashes

Author: Sabaa Tahir

If you haven’t read this one, read it. Now. Go download/buy/check out/rent it, I’ll wait. {Insert Jeopardy music here}.

Enough time? Got it? Ok. I will not spoil this book for you in my review, don’t worry. I HATE when I accidentally on purpose read or come across spoilers!

Ember in the Ashes was one of the best books I read in 2015 and reread in 2017 for book club (shout out to A Novel Bunch PGH!). I was lucky enough to receive an ARC of Ember before it was published and absolutely DEVOURED it in one sitting. No kidding; I was up until 4 a.m. desperately trying to finish this book before the matchsticks holding open my eyes snapped from the pressure.

The progression of the story started out similarly to all the other Teen/YA books I’ve read and then, BAM! It drops you off a cliff with surprise and plot twists and a great sequence of action scenes and is peppered by a budding romance.

The Martials (a sort of Roman-esque military civilization) conquered the Scholar lands (a learned people dedicated to knowledge) centuries ago. Since then, the Martials have oppressed the Scholar people and enslaved many. We meet 17-year-old Laia the night her house is raided by the Martials. When her brother is kidnapped by a Mask (a scary assassin that wears a terrifying mask), she takes matters into her own hands to get her brother back. The Resistance being led against the Martials will only help her get her brother back for a terrible price: be sold into slavery and spy on the Commandant of the Blackcliff School.

Quick side bar for those of you who have read this story and know the things Laia is forced to endure: Would you have done the same for your sibling? Let me tell you something. If someone took my brothers away from me, I would do anything and everything in my power to return them. I would let nothing stand in my way to get them back. Heaven and Earth and mountains and oceans would move.

This is where we meet Elias. Oh, Elias you tormented soul. Elias is a student at Blackcliff and is training to be one of those scary Masks which creates interesting repercussions when he meets Laia. Elias has depth. He is a hero who is fleshed out and well developed. He’s got dimension, a personality, hopes, dreams and fears unlike some other YA/Teen heroes. I enjoyed the way Tahir bounced the POVs back and forth between Laia and Elias. We got to know the mind and heart of the hero of the story instead of being told about them from the point of view of the heroine.

The thing is, though, Ember at the root isn’t about the romance or the girl discovering she is the key to overthrowing the oppressive regime. She isn’t the leader of the revolution out to kill the evil person who destroyed her life (YET. We are only on Book 2.). At its core, Ember is about courage. It’s about the power and powerlessness of hope and fear. It’s about having the audacity to hope for something impossible and doing everything in your power to attain it. Ember has this authenticity with which we see the protagonists struggle with coming to terms with what they stand for and it is glorious.

Yes, I am a shipper. I love my book power couples and my book boyfriends. This is so much more than that, though. Ember has so much more than the average Teen/YA novel. I loved it and can’t wait for the next one. Why oh why, dear Sabaa, do we have to wait until 2018?!

PS. I hear movie right to An Ember in the Ashes were optioned. Make sure you read it before they make the movie! Bibliophiles know the book is always better.

If you liked Ember in the Ashes, you might like:

The Throne of Glass series – Sarah J. Maas (start with The Assassin’s Blade)

The Witchlands series – Susan Dennard

The Young Elites series – Marie Liu

Falling Kingdoms series – Morgan Rhoades

The Winner’s Curse series – Maire Rutkoski

Bonus Recommendation!

A Court of Thorns and Roses series – Sarah J. Maas