Book Report: The Handmaid’s Tale

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Book Title: The Handmaid’s Tale

Author: Margaret Atwood

About the Author: She has written several other novels, although I haven’t read them. She looks like a nice lady. She lives in Canada!

Main Characters: As always, there are many characters in the book so I’ll focus on the main ones. Sorry for spoilers!

Offred (June?): Protagonist. She has completed training to be a Handmaid in the dystopian future of this country, which is renamed Gilead after a horrific government coup led by a radically religious Christian sect. There is a disease or genetic mutation or something causing sterilization and infertility, so only women with certain genes are able to give birth – the Handmaids. There’s a crazy new system for procreation where a married couple uses a handmaid as a surrogate, but with crazy sex practices and strange indentured servitude with a religious zealot flair. Definitely a scary scenario.

The Commander: The antagonist? But it’s unclear if he’s the TOP of the totem pole or just one of the high ranking officials. He’s certainly complicit in the new laws that deprive all women of the right to read and write, own property and money, and robbing women of their families and the children they had given birth to before the regime change. The Commander toys with Offred, inviting her to visit him at night (which is normally forbidden) to read books and magazines, and he even took her on a little excursion one time.

Serena Joy: The wife of the Commander. She’s a bitch. I’m sure any woman in her situation would feel the envy and hatred for a handmaid, yet her ‘religion’ forces her to accept the ceremonies. Why did the women in this dystopian future allow this to happen? How did they all become convinced that this crazy religion was the answer?

Luke: He and June/Offred were married before this craziness happened. They have a daughter together, but the crazy religious government decided it was unfit because Luke had been married before. Divorce was no longer legal or something. It was somewhat unclear what exactly happened to him. He might have been killed, he might have escaped. Offred doesn’t know.

Moira: In the time before Gilead, Moira and June were best friends. I wrote June with a question mark before because I didn’t really know her name when I read the book, although I probably just forgot the one instance that they said her name. But in the Hulu series they say June all the time. Anyway, Moira is full of life and is brave. She sees June/Offred one last time in an unexpected place. (This is totally different from the plot of the Hulu series, for some reason they changed a LOT of these details.)

Oflgen: A fellow handmaid, she walks to the market and goes to Gilead events with Offred every day. At first they didn’t talk much but eventually she reveals that there is an underground network fighting against the regime. They have hope. But then tragedy strikes. (ahh trying not to reveal too much!)

Aunt Lydia: One of the crazy older ladies in charge of training the handmaids and she seems to enjoy threatening and scaring the groups of women in her charge at the Red Center. She runs Salvaging events too, during which a sinner is punished – usually hung or beat to death in some way. Sometimes the handmaids are ordered to participate in carrying out the sentence. Brutal stuff!

Nick: He works for the Commander as a driver, and helps to facilitate the secret meetings between the Commander and Offred. He is also an Eye, someone who spies on people to report back to the government. But he apparently is also a part of the underground resistance. Offred/June has conflicted feelings about him after Serena Joy arranges for her to have sex with Nick to “increase her chances” of making a baby. Offred and Nick start to have a secret (illegal) relationship, which she feels conflicted about considering she doesn’t know what happened to her husband.

Plot Summary: It’s a dystopian future where women have lost their rights – but only in Gilead. Tourists come to visit and take photos of the handmaids in their strange uniforms. Women have been brainwashed to feel shame and blame for not being able to conceive, yet the Handmaids are the only fertile women and they’re still treated like garbage. What kind of messed up patriarchy is this? If I were a character in this book, I would have been shot already for dissent.

The story is told in a non-linear way that jumps between present day and times before Gilead, when they “were happy but didn’t know it”. The establishment is running Gilead but there was enough opposition to have a secret underground network. Unfortunately the end of the book is very abrupt and there isn’t much conflict resolution. I don’t want to give too much away. All I can say is that the plot of the book and the plot of the Hulu series are extraordinarily different and I found it a little confusing and off-putting when I watched the series right after reading the novel.

Lessons Learned: This book should be a reminder that women especially need to stand up for their rights and not let something horrendous like this happen to us. If we stand together we are strong. Also, I think this book reminds us that women should NEVER be defined by their status of motherhood.

Personal Opinions: Ugh this book was tough to get through at some points. It’s a fast read (aside from some disturbing scenes in the story) and you basically feel icky after it’s done. I did enjoy the storytelling, it was informal and direct to “you” the reader, which helps you to really get wrapped into the story. I felt pain for the protagonist, I wanted to help her, I wanted to slap sense into all of the Gilead assholes. I feel confident that our society would never devolve into this… as long as we don’t get rid of all the scientists. In the book, science was outlawed. I hope that this country is smart enough to not do that…

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Book Report: It

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Book Title: It

Author: Stephen King

About the Author: Well known horror writer with several of his scary books having been adapted into scary MOVIES which were also good. King is from Maine, and many of his stories seem to take place in New England. He has won awards, you can Google him just as easily as I can… lol. I’ve been reading Stephen King novels since I was a preteen at summer camp.

Main Characters: Sooo many characters. Here are the main ones. WARNING: SPOILERS BECAUSE THIS BOOK IS OLD AND THERE ARE ALREADY TWO MOVIES OUT FOR THIS BOOK SO JUST DEAL WITH IT!! lol

Bill: The leader of the “Losers Club” whose younger brother was murdered by It. He has a st-st-stutter but he’s brave and determined. His family basically started ignoring him after his brother died, so he’s a very sympathetic character as well. Interestingly, his character turns into a horror novelist when he gets older… is this character secretly based on King himself?? (No idea. lol)

Ben: Old Haystack is the fat guy in the “Losers Club” but he’s also the brains of the operation. He turns into some famous engineer or architect when he grows up, and also loses all the weight. He is usually the main target for the mean bullies in their childhood. He has a huge crush on the only girl in the group…

Beverly: A redheaded misfit whose outward appearance is described in much more detail than any of the characters, which I thought was kind of lame. More than once, the hardness of her nipples was described in unnecessary detail. Aren’t these kids supposed to be like 12? That made me uncomfortable… Anyway, she comes from a broken home with an abusive father and ends up marrying an equally abusive asshole. But she is strong, spunky and can aim a slingshot like nobody’s business!

Richie: The funny-guy of the “Losers Club” who talks in a million different voices, most of them racist. Let’s say that’s because of the time period when (some) of the book takes place, late 1950’s. He smokes cigarettes and is mostly ‘normal’ aside from that. He turns into a famous radio DJ in his adult life, that’s kinda cool.

Eddie: The hypochondriac of the “Losers Club” (is there always one of those in a group of kids??) who is convinced he has asthma, but he really just has high anxiety because of his overbearing mother. Even after the creepy pharmacist explains that his aspirator is a placebo, he kept using it throughout his adult life. (Why? Did he end up getting a real prescription from a doctor?)

Mike: Hate to say it, but the token black kid of the “Losers Club.” He’s a real historian type, with the local perspective and has compiled information about It throughout the years. He is the only one of the group that never moved away from Derry, ME. His family owned a farm next to the town bully, which led to all kinds of mean stuff happening to him specifically. Then as an adult he worked at the library. Why didn’t he get haunted by It all the time…?

Stan: While we’re at it, the token Jew of the “Losers Club,” Stan has a thing about birds. He is an avid bird-watcher and carries a book about birds in his pocket at all times. However, apparently he was the weakest of the group in terms of mentally stability. His childhood self has a very different impact on the story than his adult self.

Henry: The bully. This guy is an asshole. His dad is crazy. It uses it’s powers of evil through this kid sometimes. He runs a gang of big oafish jerk dudes that antagonize the “Losers Club” all summer. He is literally trying to kill them.

It: Evil manifested into an alien monster that can morph into your greatest fears.

Plot Summary: When Bill’s brother Georgie was killed in 1957, it started a chain of murders with similar horror and gory details. Adults don’t want to acknowledge the details that kids keep noticing – a suspicious clown at the scene. Seeing a strange balloon. Inanimate objects moving. Even blood splatters that grown-ups just don’t see. This is the world of horror that the Losers Club lived in during the summer of 1958 when they joined together to put an end to “It.” The Losers Club was a band of friends who all shared experiences of almost getting caught by It and vowed to put an end to the terror. After their childhood attempt rendered It dormant but ultimately not dead, more kids ended up getting murdered in the 1980’s, and Mike reminded the group of their promise. Some of them made it back… and they had to regain their memory before they could take on the monster again. As adults, they had new horrors to face but they put an end to It in a much more final way. That’s as basic of a plot summary as I can muster without giving away everything.

Lessons Learned: Life in the 1950’s seemed pretty bad for kids. Parents didn’t listen and ditched you at the movie theater for hours, you had to ride back home on the back of your friend’s unsafe bike… Yeesh.

Personal Opinions: I would like to comment on the story-telling of this novel. I’ve read plenty of other Stephen King books and this one is extremely non-linear. Painfully. You jump between different time periods and at the end of the book this becomes exceedingly confusing. The story is 80% flashback, told via memories, police reports and diary entries. There is a TON of descriptive back story about the town and some of the characters, but at what point does it become information overload? I also take issue with a lot of unresolved details at the end of the book. If you are going to spend an entire chapter describing the backstory of one side character, and then kill him off with half of a sentence and nobody bats an eye or asks any questions about it…? That just seems like bad writing. I felt the novel was overly long and drawn out. It was laborious to read and get through… and when I finally made it to the end, I was so appalled by the lack of resolution in certain areas. Important things were not explained enough. This was not the best Stephen King book.

For the record, I would recommend The Shining.

Book Report: Whiskey Sea

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Book Title: Whiskey Sea

Author: Ann Howard Creel

About the Author: This author has written several novels, as well as some young adult novels. She is a year younger than my parents. I liked that she had discussion questions for this book up on her website.

Main Characters: Oh boy. So many interesting characters. This is why I like fiction. Let’s review some of the main characters.

Frieda: Protagonist. She is the daughter of the ‘town whore’ who died at a young age, leaving Frieda and her infant sister on their own. Frieda is a tough girl, not afraid to hang with the boys, and is very protective of herself and her sister. I felt a lot of similarities between Frieda and myself. She will do what she has to do to reach her goals, even if that means breaking the law or coming face to face with danger.

Bea: Frieda’s younger sister. Since she is a bit younger, she didn’t grow up with the ‘whore’s daughter’ rumors and stigma like her older sister. She’s idealistic and romantic, and very naive. Always a book-smart type, she has led a sheltered life and is eager to fall in line with anyone who is offering to take care of her and provide for her.

Silver: Frieda and Bea’s adoptive father. He took the young girls in and cared for them like they were his own. He worked hard as a clammer to save up money for the girls to have a secure life. He thought he knew what was best for these girls, but should have known that they were both head-strong and were going to have their own plans that might not match his.

Hicks: A hopeful suitor of Frieda’s, Hicks purchased Silver’s boat in hopes of getting on Frieda’s good side. He is looking to settle down with a woman who can understand him. He is a smart but simple type of man who is very matter-of-fact, dependable and sweet.

Dutch: The captain of the rumrunner boat. He’s your typical ship captain; big and strong, overly confident, well-traveled, and over the top at times. He took expectedly greedy wrong turns throughout the story. He was probably the most predictable and boring character in the book, in my opinion.

Rudy: A crewmate with a family. He’s a normal sort of guy, wondering why a woman like Frieda would be getting mixed up in rumrunning. He looks out for Frieda in a big brother sort of way, but maybe oversteps his boundaries at times.

Charles: The enigma. The beautiful upper class tourist wanting to find some excitement on the seas before being ‘doomed’ to his elitist life studying law at Harvard. He sweeps Frieda off her feet, only to do the utterly expected things that are reserved only for the worst types of selfish assholes. He shows her a life of luxury and happiness that she never would have dreamed of, only to turn around and take it all away and disappear. I found a lot of similarities between this character and my latest ex-boyfriend lol!

I’m leaving out a few more characters, such as Hawkeye (in all likelihood, Frieda’s real father), Whitey (Bea’s real father), etc but you’ll have to read the book yourself to get the full story!

Plot Summary: During prohibition, rumrunning takes over a quiet fishing town on the Jersey shore. Anyone with a fast boat looking to make some serious money could risk breaking the law (and risk their life) to bring cases of alcohol to shore from Canadian outpost ships. Frieda had wanted to be a clammer like Silver, but when he sold his boat to Hicks (in hopes that Frieda might marry him) she decided she would find her own way. She learned to work on ship engines and landed a lucrative gig on Dutch’s rumrunning boat. Her goal was to save up enough money to send her sister Bea to college in New York City and ensure that they’d never have to turn to the work that their mother did. Everything was going to plan until Charles, the rich upper class (and of course, devastatingly handsome) visitor joins the crew. He charms the panties right off of Frieda and they have a lovely summer together – until the end of August comes and everything goes to hell! Bea disappears for weeks, only to reveal that she’s not registering for college and is instead engaged to a professor… completely abandoning Frieda’s hopes for her to be an educated, independent woman. To make things worse, the danger has been increasing on the seas. In a desperate attempt to outrun some murderous thieves that were chasing their boat, Frieda was ordered to use napalm in their fuel. She tries to argue against this but it’s too late – when her crew mate Rudy takes matters into his hands, and quite literally blows up the entire operation. The entire crew is forced to face some new realities and deal with the consequences of their lifestyle.

Admittedly, I’m skipping over some major plot points here. I don’t want to spoil everything, in case anyone wants to read the book!

Lessons Learned: You might have a dream for someone, but you can’t force them to follow it. In fact, you can’t force anyone to fit the life that you have in mind for them. Most people aren’t going to do what you want them to do, and you have to be flexible enough to cope with this. Also, a tiger can’t change it’s stripes. Everyone saw that Frieda was setting herself up to get hurt by Charles, but love is blind and she had to learn the hard way, just like all of us! Another lesson was just learning about how the rumrunning worked. I knew about speakeasies in Manhattan and needing secret passwords and all that, but I never really thought about HOW the alcohol made it’s way to those secret bars. Big ships from Canada would set up wayyy out in the ocean where the laws no longer applied, and local boats from New Jersey and Long Island would come out to meet the Canadian boats, buy the alcohol, and take it back to the shore… all while avoiding the coast guard and gangsters trying to steal the cash and booze.

Personal Opinions: I love historical fiction. Prohibition is such a fascinating time period. I thought this book was a lot of fun, and I enjoyed the variety of characters. Sure, the story was a bit predictable, but there were some unexpected turns. Plus, I don’t really like when there’s a Prologue that reveals something that is going to happen later on in the book. I spend the whole time anticipating that one moment and it’s just unnecessary. Maybe I’ll skip the next Prologue that tries to force plot foreshadows down my throat lol!

Book Report: Bossypants

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Book Title: Bossypants

Author: Tina Fey

About the Author: Her full name is actually Elizabeth Stamatina Fey. She is a writer, an actress, an improv performer, a mother, and a hilarious person. She best known for her work on SNL, 30 Rock and Mean Girls (imho). She’s from PA. She hates wearing contacts as much as I do.

Main Characters: This was a memoir type of non-fiction, filled with various characters of varying importance. So I’ll just focus on the MAIN character – Tina Fey, herself. She is a strong woman who wants to be in control and get it all done. She cares about her crew as much as her family. She is smart and a fantastic writer. But she is also human and shares her insecurities through anecdotes and personal meltdowns about topics that almost any woman could empathize with. I loved her use of lists too!

Plot Summary: Tina Fey grew up a lot like me. She found solace in a local arts program where she met all the best people who helped her to grow creatively. Then, unlike me, she hit it big on SNL when she moved to the city and went through all kinds of transformations in her career. She learned from comedic greats and famous celebrities. She met Sarah Palin and actually liked her (kinda). My favorite part was the Love Letter to Amy Poehler.

Lessons Learned: Do your thing. Don’t care if everyone loves everything you do. Don’t feel limited to what society expects of you. Surround yourself with people who make you feel creative and empowered. Also… lazy men pee in jars in their offices.

Unintended personal lesson learned: Don’t read two non-fiction books in a row. 

Personal Opinions: This book was a fun read. There were lots of good laugh out loud moments. I would love to read more stuff by Tina Fey. Has she written any fiction? I wish I could give this book a better review but what can I do, paraphrase all of her anecdotes? You’re better off reading it yourself. I’ll give you some chapter names to entice you: “Climbing Old Rag Mountain”; “All Girls Must Be Everything”; “I Don’t Care If You Like It.” I’m glad I have this book on my Kindle because now I can just bust it out whenever I need some quick laughs.

Book Report: Fire and Fury

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Book Title: Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House

Author: Michael Wolff

About the Author: This American author is also a journalist and contributor to USA Today, The Hollywood Report and GQ (UK). He has written several books with political themes. It is said that he wrote this book while on a couch in the White House, providing a supposed “fly on the wall” perspective of the daily activities.

Main Characters: There are too many people (I suppose they truly are characters) in this book to list them all. Some of the ones I can remember of note include:

Donald Trump – obvi. He is presented in a very non-presidential, yet very Trumpish way. The quotes are likely to be real but there is no way to know for sure with a lot of them. Tweets referenced are of course direct quotes and I sadly remember when each of them were posted.

Steve Bannon – He seemed more like the central character of the book. Most of the quotes were by him, and there were two chapters dedicated to his shenanigans. Again, no way of knowing if any of his quotes are legitimate. Fly on the wall indeed. I think it’s more likely that Wolff was an invited guest into Bannon’s office. It was probably like Mean Girls when they got together after work and laughed at all the stupid things Trump said earlier in the day.

Jarvanka – The combo name for Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. They were the apparent opposition to the Bannon side of things in the White House. These two factions of advisors in the White House (Jarvanka vs Bannon) giving conflicting advice and were at odds the entire time. Guess we all know who won out in the end. Big surprise. Does that mean they are the good guys? No. Pretty sure there was no protagonist of this book.

Everyone else – There’s just so many names. Hope Hicks. Kellyann Conway. Nikki Haley. Sean Spicer. Reince Priebus. Dina Powell. The other Trump kids. The list goes on with the revolving cast of characters as people lose their jobs, get new jobs, switch jobs, who knows.

Plot Summary: Fire and Fury seemed to be a chronological recount of the first year in the White House under Trump’s presidency. A lot of the book was focused on Bannon’s opinion and approach to advising the POTUS. The rest of the book was about the well documented issues surrounding the unexpected Executive Disorders and meetings with world leaders that were covered in the news, as well as the ongoing animosity between Trump’s family/staff, people like Bannon, and regular career politicians in Washington. The Russian investigation was mentioned many times but no new information or insight was really there.

Lessons Learned: There is very likely a lot of chaos in that White House. I don’t doubt at all that the people working there have very little grasp of what they are doing, as the book explains the background of several people and they are frankly inexperienced at best… incompetent at worst. (That may not even be the worst.) Also, one way to get into the White House staff is to be a pretty woman and make friends with Ivanka. That seems to be the fast track.

Personal Opinions: It’s probably clear how I feel about the people in this book. But I did read it without taking it seriously. I didn’t believe half of what I read. The author uses overly complicated SAT words so he seems intelligent. But it’s just a waste of time. I ended up skimming a lot of it – it reads very slowly and has lots of run on sentences. The fact that we already know that Bannon is out of the White House and abandoned by his news channel made a lot of content in the book pointless.

I bought the book due to the hype. There wasn’t much bombshell insight and I don’t think it was really worth the money. It was a rough read and I am ready to read something more uplifting next!!