The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

handmaid  Better title – The Handmaid’s Short Story …..  ***

This classic dystopian novel is closer to a short story or novella. The plot is simple, overly descriptive, and drags. The first person narrative became tiring to read, and although an attempt was made to bring out the emotion of the main character’s situation, it fell short.

Parts that needed fleshing out were short and parts that did not need fleshing out were too long. The back story did nothing to make this reader care about the situation the protagonist finds herself in. She seems less caring about her child and her past life than one would expect.

For me, the best part was the last chapter. The scene is in the future and is a lecture on the “diary” which the handmaid wrote and readers just read. It is here than we get a better understanding of what the tale is really about and how life has changed since.

This is a cautionary tale, one that is not out of the realm of possibility, yet as far as dystopian novels go, mediocre at best.

This one gets three stars.

Jolie Is Somewhere (Madame Budska Book 2) by Alana Cash

jolie   Not my cup of tea….   **

Having read Saints In the Shadows (book 1), I was looking forward to book 2. Book 1 was gripping and hard to put down, this one not so much.

Alana Cash is a good writer. Her descriptions pull you into the story and make you feel you are standing with the characters watching the events unfold. The problem in this book, is that the story doesn’t really go anywhere. I kept reading, hoping for a twist or turn or even a hint of the brilliance I had found in book 1.

This is a story of redemption, of betrayal, of human kindness, of how we look at life. While these are good themes for a novel, Cash doesn’t do justice to them. Even the metaphysical aspects, the category for which it is written, fall short.

Both book 1 and 2 suffer from poor editing and distracting typos. Book 2 even more so.

This one gets two stars

 

The Martian by Andy Weir

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Where is Ray Walston when you need him……   **

 

The most boring movie I have ever seen was Gravity. The Martian would be in the running for the most boring book I have ever read.

Andy Weir can write about the technical aspects of being in space and seems to have done a great deal of research, but technical accuracy does not equate to a good novel.  Writing in first person as Mark Watney, the astronaut stranded on Mars, Weir goes into painstaking detail as to what it takes to survive on this desolate planet.  I found myself speed reading through these parts as they were not only boring but amateurish.

When the story finally switched to third person, I was hoping for a better read, seeing that this book was a best seller. I was disappointed. The other characters are clichés and caricatures of NASA stereotypes.

Weir’s attempt to provide drama by bringing in obstacles to hinder the rescue attempt and Watney’s survival fell flat for me. While meant to add suspense most of these were too easily remedied to be worrisome.

The final scenes of the rescue attempt were melodramatic and left me saying, “Okay, that was boring.”

This one gets two stars, one for Weir’s technical expertise, and one for keeping me reading, hoping something exciting might happen. It didn’t.

Breakdown by Jonathan Kellerman

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Apt title, almost had one trying to finish this….  *

 

Jonathan Kellerman has the distinction of joining Lee Child, Michael Connelly, and James Patterson, as authors I will no longer read. His recent books have gone downhill from the intriguing earlier novels that I enjoyed. This one is at the bottom of the abyss.

There is no real mystery, no twist, no compelling reason to keep turning pages. The plot is weak and Kellerman’s usually interesting asides into psychology are absent. More time is spent telling the reader how to go from point A to B than any attempt at story development. Alex Delaware’s girlfriend, Robin, is sadly absent except for some minor scenes, and detective Milo Sturgis is so dull I almost forgot how sharp he used to be.

The solving of the supposed mystery is like a bad script from “Murder She Wrote”, or in this case Murder He Wrote.  The majority of the book revolves around Delaware and Sturgis sitting in Alex’s office, or driving around, speculating on what happened. The leaps in logic and revelations are almost laughable. It always fascinates me when information is  needed and one of them just happens to know someone to call who can help. Why anyone would call this a good mystery is beyond me.

The ending falls flat, and was so contrived it made me glad I had finished the book, so I could hopefully do something to make up for the time I have lost reading it.

This one gets one star, which is one too many.

Purity by Jonathan Franzen

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When is a book about a character but isn’t……   ****

 

Having been to a book signing where Jonathan Franzen spoke and read excerpts from Purity, I had great expectations for his novel.

This was my first chance to read one of his books, and I look forward to reading Corrections and Freedom. Needless to say, I am now a fan.

Based on the title, one would think this is Purity Tyler’s story, but she is almost a minor player.  The main parts of the book are more about the people around Purity, nicknamed Pip, and their lives before meeting her. Franzen takes us back in time, several times, to give us different viewpoints on how events led to the current situation in which Purity finds herself.

A thread that holds the story together concerns each of the characters’ relationships with their parents, more to the mother than the father, except for one character. Another is how sex affects their own relationships with the people around them.

The narration is long and although at times boring, Franzen kept me turning pages with his excellent writing, to see where the story would lead. About the time I was ready to say “come on already”, the story would either twist, or Franzen would have another character reveal their side of the story.

There are no characters to like in this book, yet their stories are compelling and because of  the depth with which Franzen deals with each one, I had a good understanding of why they are who they are. This stands as a beacon for novels about unlikable characters.

This is a novel that takes time to read and digest, and unlike the title, is not for the pure at heart.

I give this one four stars.

 

The Abstinence Teacher by Tom Perrotta

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Some recipes just don’t work out….  **

 

Tom Perrotta is one of a few authors writing Suburban Noir. Better known for his book, Little Children, his writing has been described as “exposing the quiet desperation behind America’s suburban sheen.”  In The Abstinence Teacher, he fails to expose anything except lazy writing.

In this book Perrotta has taken a teaspoon each of sex education, gay marriage,, addiction, and fundamentalist Christianity (represented by the Promise Keepers), tossed them in a blender with a cup of cliches, poured them in a pan and under cooked the batch.

The novel starts out with a strong female character, Ruth, who teaches sex education. By the end of the book she is no longer strong nor interesting. Forced to teach abstinence instead of the truth, she gives in too easily, considering how determined she is in the beginning. The conflict with her and the other characters flounders and becomes boring.

Tim Mason is her “nemesis”, but again the drama between him and everyone else is lacking, and he deteriorates into a stereotype of an addict finding Jesus.

This is a story that could have been riveting, controversial, and informative had Perrotta been on his game. Unfortunately, it is a recipe that needs some spice.

This one gets two stars.

Go Set A Watchman by Harper Lee

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‘Keep your friends close, your enemies closer’……   *****

Racism is alive and well in this country. It may be subtle, or not, but it lies just beneath the surface, ready to rear its ugly head. The term racist has been applied to Atticus Finch in this book and the reversal of how he is portrayed in To Kill A Mockingbird has some people upset. In my opinion, they have misunderstood both books.

In To Kill A Mockingbird, Atticus is asked by his maid, Calpurnia, to talk to Tom Robinson, who has been accused of raping a white woman. After talking to him, Atticus believes he is innocent and agrees to defend him. This decision is based not on being black or white, but seeing a man unjustly accused and who needs a good lawyer. While the town is upset about him defending a black man, for Atticus it is about justice and the law.

In Go Set A Watchman, Atticus is defending a way of life and the intrusion of the federal government. I may not agree with his view of how life should be, but again he sees it as defending justice and his view of the constitution.

To understand both books, we have to realize they are from the point of view of Jean Louise (Scout) and that she has a narrow and naive view of the world. Remember she thought letting a boy slip in his tongue when they kissed caused her to get pregnant. While growing up she was not aware of racial issues, things were just how they were. When she returns to her home as an adult and sees the change in everyone except herself, she cannot grasp what has happened. She does not understand the threat to a way of life the others feel.

This book is a revelation of how a lot of the South reacted to the enforcement of de-segregation when civil rights became the law of the land. The diatribe of Uncle Jack is worth the price of the book alone.  In an age where many would like to rewrite the past, this book is a reminder of how a people can justify the oppression of another.

Harper Lee has written a novel that speaks probably louder today than had it been published when she wrote it. This is a thought provoking, hopefully discussion starting, look into how we perceive each other, how embedded our beliefs can be, and how we need to listen to those with whom we may not agree. A happy ending, feel good novel it is not.

This one gets five full stars