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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-11-14 10:15
October 2017 — A Belated Wrap-Up!

 

Originally published at midureads.wordpress.com on November 14, 2017.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Things are starting to get just a bit darker and the stakes higher when it comes to Ms. Marvel’s life! She has to think whether she should be blindly following orders, even if they do come from someone she has looked up to all her life:

 

She has to concede that she can’t go fight crime somewhere she hasn’t lived long enough to understand what is happening:

 

 

She realizes that others can be surprisingly kind even when they don’t have to be:

 

 

We are also shown a glimpse of her ancestors migrating during the Partition of the Subcontinent in 1947:

 

 

 

As hauntingly beautiful as ever! A good installment where we finally discover that people who loved Maika do exist! She remains her courageous self throughout the story.

 

 

 

Review to come later.

 

 

Read my review and the status of Project Frankenstein.

 

 

As long as you expect the MC not to talk to each other and resolve the major conflict in two pages or one of them just picking up and leaving the other to”protect them” or the big baddie being dealt with in the last two pages, you will enjoy this series. I do, so I did! The humor shines through in the books and I love reading them when I need something funny and light. My favorite quote from the book:

 

 

 

 

Simply beautiful and so on point with the current events that it is scary! These four issues are just the beginning though. I hope it continues to be this awesome. Here are some scenes for you to feast your eyes on:

 

 

 

 

Take a cute cozy mystery and add some seriously messed up and furious ghosts to it and you will have created Southern Spirits. I liked the upping of the violence level, which kept this book from becoming just another cozy mystery. I also liked that the MC didn’t wait around and got down to work even when she was quaking in her boots. My favorite quote from the book:

 

 

 

 

Read my review here.

 

 

So, this is one of those instances where not reading the book blurb or any reader reviews came back to bite me in the ass! The story is the original Mary Shelley story; this book has simply some steampunkish art strewn about. Visually appealing? Hell yeah! Original? Not so much! Even so, I can now cross off this book from my list.

 

 

Review to come later.

 

 

 

While playing Work Book Bingo, I got: A Book Purchased for its Cover. That was when the misery began! I looked around in all my bookshelves trying to spot a book that I had purchased just for that reason. There weren’t any.So, I searched my Kobo library and this was the best that I could come up with.

 

I had so many issues with this book that began with the inclusion of overused tropes and ended at a TSTL protag. Yeah, I didn’t like it and these quotes can easily show why:

Ciardis gave her a look like a deer facing the glow of a bright lantern in the dark forest.

(after talking about candidates dying of asphyxiation)…I hope I never hear of such a thing happening with you, Ciardis.”

“No, of course not!”

Prince Heir or not, Sebastian’s hand-kissing technique, with a bit too much saliva involved, left a lot to be desired.

There was a scene from the book where a prophecy is made about one of the characters coming into enough power to “rend the Empire asunder”. On hearing it, the characters remained unaffected and the prophecy wasn’t even mentioned again!

There was a sprinkling of terms like the Madrassa and Hammam that have an Arabic origin. Yet the worldbuilding included none of the other elements common to Middle Eastern culture.

 

The protag gets whole dossiers full of information about her patrons-to-be. They mention everything about the persons in question. Yet they fail to mention that one of them, a General, has a bastard son who is also a mage. How do you leave out that important a bit of information? If the information gatherers didn’t know, then what good were they?

 

The protag had to undergo a 3-day long contest that would decide if she is worthy of a patron or not. One of the rules for the contest was that the activities of the first day must be hidden from her yet she could be told what would happen in the next two days. I mean, why? Was the author simply making it up as they went?

 

Another major character, the Prince Heir (who gives hand-kisses with too much saliva) went on a quest. This quest was supposed to unite him with the land he is to rule. Yet…yet…he forgot to take matches with him to light a lantern as part of the ceremony in that quest. WHY?! Oh wait, he also forgot to pack a knife that he would need for the bloodletting part of the same ritual.

 

 

A fun if a bit slow paced cozy mystery.

 

 

 

A short, classic horror read. It wasn’t even marginally close to the world-changing Frankenstein, which was also written during the same horror story writing “contest”. Yet I liked it! Like the vampires of old, this one also exuded an aura of evil that affected its victims immensely more than the actual drinking of blood did.

 

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-10-26 08:16
6 Quotes from Hidden Figures that Show How Gender & Racial Discrimination Are Connected
Hidden Figures: The American Dream and the Untold Story of the Black Women Mathematicians Who Helped Win the Space Race - Margot Lee Shetterly

 

 

 

 

Originally published at midureads.wordpress.com on October 26, 2017.

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review SPOILER ALERT! 2017-05-14 17:57
On the Relevance of The Handmaid's Tale -- A Book Published More Than Three Decades Ago!
The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood

 

 

The Prose

Books set in post-apocalyptic settings usually have an ominous feeling about them. You will start to get that vibe from the very first line. The Handmaid's Tale (THT) wasn't different in that regard.


Consider the following lines and you will see what I mean:

"We slept in what had once been the gymnasium.
...for the games that were formerly played there
...the hoops for the basketball nets were still in place, though the nets were gone."

If you were to ask me to name one thing that I liked and disliked about the book, it would be the same:

It horrified me.
 
There is a certain sensuality and ripeness in the prose that on certain occasions became almost obscene to read. Two examples of the latter kind can be found below:
The stains on the mattress. Like dried flower petals. Not recent. Old love...
They touch with their eyes instead and I move my hips a little, feeling the full red skirt sway around me.
There were other examples like the ones mentioned above. I think the book was already amazing without them and they weren't really needed. On the other hand, the instances where the succulence of the prose worked for me were beautiful. Look at the greetings that Offred and Oflglen use, for instance:
"Blessed be the fruit..."
"May the Lord open..."
There is something about them that will make you downright uncomfortable. Then, there's a scene where Offred and the Commander are playing Scrabble. To Offred, spelling is a novelty and each word a tasty morsel:
 
http://www.foliosociety.com/images/books/illustrations/lrg/HDT_13500351810.jpg

 

We play two games. Larynx, I spell. Valance, Quince. Zygote. I hold the glossy counters with their smooth edges, finger the letters. The feeling is voluptuous. This is freedom, an eyeblink of it. Limp, I spell. Gorge. What a luxury.
Following are some of my favorite quotes:
 
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Image from here

The Symbolism

 

The Color Red

 

https://midureads.files.wordpress.com/2017/05/a5c48-the-handmaids-tale-s1-teaser.jpg


The book is littered with all kinds of symbols yet one is obvious and is constantly highlighted. The color red can be found in the Handmaids' dress, as well as, other places. For instance,
A Sister dripped in blood.
Hope is rising in me, like sap in a tree. Blood in a wound. We have made an opening,

The Relevance Today

 

There are certain themes that make this book highly relevant even after three decades. Let us look at some of them:

 

Hoarding of Knowledge (Religious and Otherwise)

If the masses are denied knowledge, a society hastens toward its decline. It has long been the tactic of rulers to divert the attention of the public with some distraction. The Ancient Roman emperors did it with gladiator fights. Nazi Germany did it by motivating people to snark on each other. Today's politicians do it with sports' tournaments. In THT, we find Nazi style has been adopted. People are too busy finding out what their neighbors are up to, which prevents them from focusing on what is going on around them.
 
Another way of making the public stay in an uneven footing is by allowing a privileged few access to religious knowledge. Regardless of the religion in question, a clique forms and the members of that esoteric group are the only ones who know what god requires from them. The rest of us are left floundering. Unable to verify the veracity of the claims being made in the name of a deity, we have no choice but to either denounce our faith or join the flock.
 
This Salon article raises some interesting points on the underlying themes in THT. It also discusses the next topic that I have in mind viz...
 

Women's Position in Society

I won't get into the things that will be obvious to most readers, such as women considered assets and being denied reproductive rights etc. It happens in the book, which was published in 1986. The fact that it is still being talked about today makes anything I say redundant. Let us look at some other interesting things that stood out to me:
 

Women's efforts and sacrifices being undermined constantly

Consider the scene where Janine is about to give birth. The instruments and methods being used are outdated. One of them, the birthing stool, can seat two persons, instead of one. To me, it felt like the construction of the stool had two purposes or one depending on how you choose to see it:

 

  1. The Wives being reminded of their inability to produce children by having to sit on the stool during the delivery and be humiliated.
  2. The Handmaids being reminded that all the sacrifice that they went through didn't change anything. Their seat is also lower than the Wives', which pretty much sealed the deal for me.

Getting Used to Something Equated with Things Getting Better

For the generations that come after, Aunt Lydia said, it will be so much better. The women will live in harmony together, all in one family; you will be like daughters to them, and when the population level is up to scratch again we’ll no longer have to transfer you from one house to another because there will be enough to go round.
This is the sole scrap of comfort that the "Aunt" had to offer to the Handmaids she was training. It reminds me of something I read on Facebook:
Image result for why we need feminism it could be worse
Things don't become right just because they have been going on for years. Telling us that our daughters would accept the situation because they didn't know any better does not cut it anymore. Saying that things could always be worse shouldn't be enough.
 
It isn't just feminism that this thought process can influence. The current events being recorded will soon become part of textbooks. Right now, the people who are alive in this time can differentiate between what happened and what was written down. For the future generations, the textbook version would become history.
 

Racism/Discrimination

Racism is very much a part of our society even today, as is discrimination. While the three main groups of women, Marthas, Handmaids, and Wives weren't from different races, they might as well have been.
 
https://i.guim.co.uk/img/static/sys-images/Guardian/Pix/pictures/2012/1/23/1327327126981/Margaret-Atwoods-The-Hand-002.jpg?w=300&q=55&auto=format&usm=12&fit=max&s=2e59089f6535ab6c2e173e8913218da0

Provided that this comes to us via Offred, here is a look at what the Wives thought of the Handmaids:
Will Serena Joy talk about me like that, if I do as she wants?Agreed to it right away, really she didn’t care, anything with two legs and a good you-know-what was fine with her. They aren’t squeamish, they don’t have the same feelings we do. And the rest of them leaning forward in their chairs, My dear, all horror and prurience. How could she? Where? When?
You can see the discrimination in the naming of all the servants, Marthas, and the Handmaids being named after the Commander they are currently serving. Offred and Ofglen aren't their real names.
 
One of the throwaway lines from the book mentions that at first, the people thought that Islamic terrorists had taken over the government. I was surprised to find that reference in THT. When I look at the phobia that is still a part of today's society and the misconceptions surrounding my religion, I can see that this isn't something new.
 

Women Subjugating Women

If there is one thing that we need to stop doing, it is demeaning other women. You can see evidence of it in the book and you can see this happen in the real world. The "historical notes given at the end of the book had this to say about the "Aunts":
...the best and most cost-effective way to control women for reproductive and other purposes was through women themselves. For this there were many historical precedents; in fact, no empire imposed by force or otherwise has ever been without this feature: control of the indigenous by members of their own group.

Our attitude towards each other is largely responsible for how the rest of the world treats us. This was as relevant 30 years ago as it as today!

The excerpt below combines all of it: the gender discrimination, the generational brainwashing, the knowledge hoarding etc.

https://canadianartjunkie.files.wordpress.com/2012/07/balbusso_ceremony.jpg?w=1112
Are they old enough to remember anything of the time before, playing baseball, in jeans and sneakers, riding their bicycles? Reading books, all by themselves? Even though some of them are no more than fourteen – Start them soon is the policy, there’s not a moment to be lost – still they’ll remember. And the ones after them will, for three or four or five years; but after that they won’t. They’ll always have been in white, in groups of girls; they’ll always have been silent.

 

Other Thoughts

Moira

I am at odds while trying to see if I like Moira as a character or not. Offred is one of the wimpiest heroines I have read about, so she wasn't the one who made an impression on me. It was Moira who was intriguing. For instance, look at this exchange between them:
Women can’t hold property any more, she said. It’s a new law. Turned on the TV today?
No, I said.
It’s on there, she said. All over the place. She was not stunned, the way I was. In some strange way she was gleeful, as if this was what she’d been expecting for some time and now she’d been proven right. She even looked more energetic, more determined.
After reading this, I started thinking maybe she was feeling vindicated. Did that mean she hated men? I wasn't so sure about that when I read how she escaped and was grateful to the people, including men, who helped her escape.
 
We see another positive side of hers in the way she deals with a shell-shocked Janine. And finally, we see her giving up and resigning herself to a life of prostitution. Her character changed over time while Offred spends the whole book without evolving in any way.
 

Issues I Spotted

The book wasn't perfect and had some issues, including the fact that the main character doesn't really change over the course of the story.

I also found the ending somewhat a letdown. After investing so much of my emotion into reading what went on with Offred, I think I deserved to know what happened to her.


https://i2.wp.com/www.scrivler.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/handmaidstale.jpg
There was a scene where Japanese tourists encounter Offred and Ofglen. It is made clear that the Japanese do not have the same custom. However, if radiation sickness and infertility are making Offred's people take such desperate measures, why isn't the rest of world doing the same?
 

Allusions and Similarities

When Offred is talking/praying to God, her words are:

I wish You’d answer. I feel so alone. All alone by the telephone. Except I can’t use the telephone. And if I could, who could I call? Oh God. It’s no joke. Oh God oh God. How can I keep on living?
I felt as if the author was alluding to the song, What If God Were One of Us. It is a favorite of mine. You can listen to it here.
 
The Underground Femaleroad reminded me of the people who used to help Black slaves back in the day when slavery was legal.
 
The Salvaging scene that ends with the Handmaids mobbing and mauling a man who supposedly raped a pregnant Handmaid put me in mind of a gruesome incident that took place in my country recently. Since I don't believe in promoting violence, I won't include the link here. I will include the link to a piece that I wrote on the event though. Read it here.
 
THT might have issues but it also highlights the issues of our society beautifully. It might seem like it is talking about an outrageous situation when in fact, it is only holding up a mirror for us.  It isn't the story of one nation's nightmare. It is, "While we weren’t looking, the book became our reality."
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review 2016-09-10 16:10
Never judge a book by its cover...
Wonder - R.J. Palacio
I picked this up while browsing a charity shop's offerings and notwithstanding my son's obervation that he had noticed it in the teen section of a nearby bookshop, stuck with it. And I'm glad I did. A good story can afterall be compelling, irrespective of the 'target audience' and in August Pullman, Palacio developed a very unlikely, but wonderful hero.
The story is cleverly related from a number of different perspectives and engagingly ripples outward from August to family, classmates and wider community and the respective challenges faced by the protagonists. Indeed, the book confronts the discomfort experienced by individuals and in some cases the surrendering to ugly bigotry and crude discrimination. The central theme relates to the judging of books by their covers, but encourages the reader to look beyond the superficial. Moreover, any book that can draw a reader to empathise and contemplate what s/he might do in a given situation and provoke soul-searching is worth the effort.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading 'Wonder', the language is straightforward and the message is simple. Doing the right thing is sometimes hard, yet as R.J Palacio describes, it can be uplifting. Want a lift - read this study in positive action!
 
 

 

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/1521145714
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review SPOILER ALERT! 2016-05-22 10:21
Invasion of the Shopping Centres
Reaper Man (Discworld, #11) - Terry Pratchett

I guess the person that said that the problem with Terry Pratchett is that you have to read him more than once probably applied it to this book in the same way that it had been applied to the other books that I have read and discovered that the second time around I have enjoyed them much more than the first time. Okay, I am probably not going to pick up Moving Pictures again, though this one is definitely one that I should come back to again some time down the track.

 

The problem that I found with this particular book is that Pratchett seems to try to squeeze two concurring plots into the single book, which is something that he has not really done previously. Most of his other books is generally focused on the main plot, where as this one deals with the retirement of Death and the resulting chaos that comes about, and concurrently deals with this strange phenomena that has appeared in Ankh-Morpork: Shopping Centres.

 

Somebody also suggested that Pratchett has moved from simply writing parodies of fantasy novels to becoming somewhat more satirical, though I would have to say that I think he has been like that for most of the Discworld series. Equal Rites, which deals with gender equality, was the third book in the series, and he returns to a similar issue with this book when dealing with discrimination against dead (or rather the undead) by the living.

 

Then there is this issue with shopping centres, which I sort of wonder what the point was, which is why I probably have to go back and read it again. It seems that these things first appear in the form of snow globes and then expand into miniature cities with hordes of vicious trolleys. It is also interesting how they have music which lures people into them in the same way that the Pied Piper lured rats, and children. Personally I believe that shopping centres are a lot more insidious, though you get the idea that from his books these aspects of modern culture are not all that pleasant. My gripe with shopping centres is the way they destroy public space and take people out of the public sphere and place them into the private sphere, which is in effect a controlled corporate space where the corporation not only sets the rules, but also controls what people see. In a way shopping centres destroy our culture and simply turn to what is in effect crass commercialism.

 

However, that is not the major plot of the book because the main plot deals with how Death is sacked from his job for becoming too human, and as such he retires to a small village where he takes up a job as a farm hand. This is where Pratchett's brilliance really comes out because of the utter banality of his existence, yet it is an existence that Death seems to enjoy. In a way, it is the banality, and being able to appreciate and love the banality of life, that makes us human.

 

Another thing is how Death is so obviously Death, but it is only the children that actually notice that he is a skeleton. It is obvious that he is a skeleton, and nothing actually changes when he goes into the ordinary world, yet nobody wants to accept it. In fact it seems that if we are confronted with something truly horrifying we end up putting it out of our mind and start pretending that it is actually something else. The reason that the children seem him for who he is: they have yet to learn that a creature such as death should be horrifying. In the end it all comes down to perception – a child's innocent prevents the child from experiencing fear, and it is only when the child learns to fear (or is told to fear something) that they actually begin to fear. In a way it is very much the same with us adults – if we are told to fear something, such as refugees, immigrants et al, then we begin to fear them, even if that fear is unfounded.

Source: www.goodreads.com/review/show/611343389
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