Monday, September 30, 2013

Review: "The Handmaid's Tale" Classic a Month #9.2013

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood
3 out of 5 stars

As in all my classic reads, I'm going to assume you've either read it, haven't read it but know all about it already, or don't plan to read it, so spoilers will abound in this review. :) This is such a hard book to rate. I can't really say I enjoyed reading it, but I'm glad I did. Does that make sense? You know by now that I'm not a blogger who will dissect all the "themes" of the book or how it relates to the political climate we're in right now and all that stuff they make you write in high school essays. I can just write how the book makes me feel. And this book depressed the heck out of me. There are no positive aspects to this book, at all.

This book was written in 1985, set in a "distant future" that seems to be around now present-day time. Which is disturbing on so many levels. That we live in a time now that people used to create dystopian societies. And while we don't have the flying cars of Back to the Future, these worlds sometimes feel eerily similar to real life. In our present day world, the government is already trying (and succeeding here in Texas & many other states) to take away a woman's reproductive rights by defunding places like Planned Parenthood and outlawing abortions. That's a too small step to Atwood's imagined world, don't you think? I said I didn't like to get political in my reviews, so that's all I'll say about that.

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. Does that sentence even make sense? Let's break it down...Offred is a person, a female, 33 years old. Her name literally means Of-Fred, property of some dude named Fred. I kept reading it as Off-Red though, which also works, because she now has to wear a long red Nun's habit and keep her body concealed at all times. As a Handmaid, she lives with a higher up Commander, Fred, and his wife. Her sole job is to make a baby for this family, by "lying" with the husband once a month. To make it even more awkward, they do this the "old-fashioned" way, no artificial stuff here, and the wife lies with them. The Republic of Gilead is the East Coast of the former United States, in the 2010s, after a Middle Eastern religious group is blamed for shooting the President and all the members of Congress. A new government is formed, one that brings about the "old ways" of women being property, no longer able to hold jobs or bank accounts, all decisions must be made by the man of the house. Then there is a virus, a power plant explosion, something like causes some women to be infertile, not the men of course. The population is endangered. Young, fertile women are taken to former schools or Nunneries and indoctrinated into a cult of sorts that makes them believe this is their destiny, their new job. The old, infertile, resistant are taken to Colonies, awful places where they just wait to die.

Offred is brainwashed into this new life just like everyone else, but she has moments where she can't help but remember her former life. She had a husband, a child...both taken from her because she was his second wife and divorce is illegal now, so the child is illegitimate. She doesn't know what has become of them, after. She wonders if this is what her life is going to be forever. Women can no longer read or write, which was actually the part of this book that upset me the most. The fact that they are taking away not just their individuality and bodies, but their freedom and ability to learn, their brains, it's just so sad.

But Offred finds ways to keep her wits, stay as present and positive as possible. She finds a Latin saying etched into the floor of her bedroom closet: "Nolite te bastardes carborundorum". Don't let the bastards grind you down. She uses it as a slogan, something to repeat over and over as she is humiliated and used. The Commander, Fred, starts to take an interest in her. He encourages her to break the rules and talk to him late into the night, play Scrabble, read old illicit magazines (Vogue). One night he takes her to a brothel, dressed up in an old sequined costume and cheap makeup. Sex is supposed to no longer be a pleasurable thing, but a way to build up the country again. But of course, men will always break the rules they make. If I were writing this as a school essay, I would use that as a main talking point. And also the question of "love" throughout the book. This passage stood out for me, as one of the most important themes in the story:

We've given them [women] more than we've taken away, said the Commander. This way they're protected, they can fulfill their biological destinies in peace. With full support and encouragement. Now, tell me. What did we overlook?

Love, I [Offred] said.

Love? What kind of love?

Falling in love, I said.

Oh, yes. Was it really worth it, falling in love? 

Love, said Aunt Lydia [Nun] with distaste. Don't let me catch you at it. Love is not the point.

Those years were just an anomaly, historically speaking, the Commander said. Just a fluke. All we've done is return things to Nature's norm.

Falling in love, I said. Falling into it, we all did then, one way or another. How could he have made such light of it? Sneered even. As if it was trivial for us, a frill, a whim. It was the central thing; it was the way you understood yourself; if it never happened to you, not ever, you would be like a mutant, a creature from outer space. Everyone knew that.

This book pushes buttons and I can understand why it has been on the Banned Books List so often. (Not saying I agree, just that I understand.) But sometimes you need to read books that make you uncomfortable and question the ways of the world. How will you grow, otherwise? And even if the book doesn't have a happy ending or even an ending really at all (like this one), does that mean you wasted your time reading it? I don't think so.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Review: New York, New York! The Baby-Sitters Club Super Special #6

New York, New York! The Baby-Sitters Club Super Special #6 by Ann M Martin
3 out of 5 stars

Ugh, Claudia is starting this one. That means an extra dose of bad spelling and hard to read handwriting. :P So the girls have yet another 2 weeks off school. Do they ever actually go to school for more than 3 books in a row with no holidays? I'll have to keep an eye on that. Claudia talks her parents into letting her go to New York City and take an important art class for that time and stay with Stacey & her dad. Then Stacey's dad says any of their other friends can come too, because he's trying to be a good dad or something. Somehow, all the other girls' parents agree to this far-fetched plan and ridiculously, Laine Cummings' parents agree to let some of the girls stay with them in their amazingly huge and fancy apartment. Claudia decides to keep a diary of their trip and illustrate it, because she's a super awesome artist. Side note: this book was actually illustrated by Ann M Martin's dad, which I think is pretty cool. I can't remember if he did the others or not, I'll have to go check.

Claudia starts out her diary by freaking out about her new art teacher, McKenzie Clarke (who I couldn't find in my Googling, so he's made up?), and thinking about what each girl will be packing for their trip to the Big Apple. Stacey is going to investigate each wardrobe before they go, to make sure they all look totally chilly (which is way better than dibbly). There aren't any specific What Claudia is Wearing in this book, so I thought it'd be fun to show what each girl is probably wearing to NYC. Let's start with Stacey and Claudia, who are both totally sophisticated.

Stacey would be packing black leggings (some with stirrups on the feet, some without) and baggy black and white and red tops. She would probably pack or wear her black cowboy boots. Stacey and I both look good in black and white. Stacey wears very chilly jewelry..., and she loves to do things that make herself look a little unusual. She might sprinkle glitter in her hair, or paint her nails silver. And what was left in my [Claudia's] suitcase after I'd removed that three years' worth of clothing? Outfits like Stacey's, only wilder, if you can believe it. I would say that, like Stacey, I'm pretty sophisticated, but I may be the chillest dresser in the BSC. That's because I LIKE to look different from other people.
(Click here for links & details)

The girls are excited to get to NYC, but first they have to make it onto the train and away from their parents. Every member of every family came to see the girls off...even Shannon the dog and Tigger. Ridiculous. Once they get settled on the train, Claudia pulls out the junk food, Mary Anne pulls out the guidebooks, and they're off. Of course each girl has a "special" storyline, it wouldn't be a Super Special if they didn't, right? All the girls basically go off and do their own thing for the whole 2 weeks, which seems really odd to me. Again, these 11-13 year old girls are allowed to wander around a strange place with no adult supervision. But whatev. Let's go down the list, shall we?

Claudia and Mallory are taking the special art class at FALNY...Claudia because she is obviously the best art student ever and wants to be "professional" and Mallory because she wants to learn how to draw ponies and cute hedgehogs for the stories she writes. Both girls are a little surprised by the class. They have to draw a lot of boxes and other boring stuff like that, but they also get to go on field-trips, like to The Cloisters. Mac, as the best students call him, disses Claudia nearly the entire time and encourages Mallory like crazy. Obviously, he is using reverse psychology on one of them to encourage growth in their talent. I'll let you decide which. Hint: It's not Mal and her country mice, Ryan and Meaghan.

Kristy's story isn't super big...she finds a dog in the park and smuggles him into the Cummings' apartment. Jessi does a great bit confusing the doorman so Kristy can get him inside, but turns out dogs ARE allowed in their apartment building. It's just Laine's parents who don't want a dog. Kristy seems to think she can just take the dog home with her and it'll be okay, but Watson & her mom veto that quickly. She puts out signs around the neighborhood to try to either find the owner or find a new one. A little boy calls her and says he wants the dog and Kristy agrees to go over to his apartment without even speaking to the parents at all. Way to be a Super Sitter, Kristy. At least Laine walks over with her and meets the family before leaving Kristy all alone. Laine is actually much more of a parental figure in this book than most of the parents. The little boy ends up taking Sonny the dog and everything turns out good.

Even though Kristy lives in a mansion with her mom and her millionaire stepfather, she was probably just tossing jeans and turtleneck shirts or T-shirts into a duffel bag. Kristy has never been one to dress up...Mary Anne, who looks something like Kristy...will be packing her very different wardrobe. Mary Anne used to have to wear clothes her father picked out for her. She looked like a first-grader. Now she wears much chillier clothes. Dawn, who's individualistic and pretty self-confident, would be packing her own personal style of clothes, which the rest of think of as "California Casual".
(Click here for links & details)

Stacey & Mary Anne have the baby-sitting gig in this special. Which leads me to ask: what are all the parents back in Stoneybrook doing for this 2 weeks? All the baby-sitters are gone, who are they calling? Logan & Shannon? Psshh...nobody wants those alternates. Anyway, Stace & MA agree to watch these kids of British dignitaries or something who are conveniently visiting for the 2 weeks. Basically, they're getting paid to take the kids all around NYC, which is perfect for MA the tour guide. The kids are suitably adorable, with their sailor suits and perfect manners and accents but their trips are marred by a strange man (or men) wearing a rain hat and sunglasses who seems to be following them everywhere they go. The girls, of course, jump to all sorts of conclusions and don't talk to the parents till nearly the last day, when they learn that the guy is actually the bodyguard. Um, okay. Who are these people?? They hire a professional bodyguard to follow the kids around, but not an older, professional nanny? Weird.

And what does Dawn do for her 2 weeks? The same thing she does every time she goes to NYC...hides in the apartment and freaks out over every car backfiring, cockroach, and homeless person. Seriously, Dawn. You're supposed to be so laid-back and California chill. Eat some special brownies and relax already. She takes to cleaning up and organizing Mr McGill's apartment. You know, she has a real problem trying to organize people's lives: first her mom, then Mrs Barrett, now Mr McGill. She may want to seek counselling for that. A few days into their vacation, Mr McGill's downstairs neighbor, a boy Dawn's age of course, knocks on his door. Seems he has a broken leg and visits with Mr McGill sometimes, which I find very hard to believe since Mr McGill is a well-known workaholic. He doesn't have time to be hanging around with some 13 year old boy and if he does, maybe the authorities should be notified. (Kidding kidding) After Dawn finally decides the boy isn't there to kill her and stuff her body down the trash chute, the two become friends and he gets her to venture outside the apartment. He takes her all around NYC as a tourist would (which she could have done with Stacey & Mary Anne) and they eat a lot. That's about it.

At the Pikes', Mallory was probably tripping over her seven younger brothers and sisters and packing the trendiest stuff she could find. [Jessi] would probably pack a leotard and her toe shoes. Otherwise, she would pack stuff pretty similar to Mallory's.
(Click here for links & details)

Finally, we have Jessi, who gets the love interest this time around. I know, I was pretty shocked it wasn't Claudia too. Jessi goes to the ballet, alone, and ends up sitting next to a boy. But not just any boy: Quint, the amazingly handsome, conveniently aged, racially harmonious, uber-talented ballet dancer. They start talking about the ballet, which I am almost positive is Swan Lake. Jessi says she loves it and everything but doesn't even mention that she was the freaking lead? That's weird. Especially since nearly the first sentence out of Quint's mouth is that his ballet teacher thinks he should try out for Julliard. Is Quint the one who carries his ballet stuff in a pizza box or is that from some movie? I can't remember. Anyway, he doesn't want to try out because he's getting ragged on by all the neighborhood thugs, but Jessi convinces him that he should at least give it a shot. She even goes with him to talk to his parents. (Again, Laine chaperone's.) I don't think we find out if he gets in yet He totally gets in! I know he comes back in later books too. Good thing, since Jessi has no chance of finding a boyfriend in Stoneybrook. And that's it for this Super Special...up next, another All Grown Up featuring Mallory. That should be interesting. ;) And look! There's something mysterious going on in Stoneybrook! I would start reading the mysteries in between the regular, but I don't have them all yet. But hey, you know what that means?! Mass trips to Half Price Books haha!!

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Banned Book Week!

(Courtesy of the Lisa Simpson Book Club Tumblr)

It's that time again...time to stand up against censorship and read all the books "the man" is telling you not to! ;) I just don't get the energy people put into this whole "banning" thing. If you don't want your kid to read a book, that's fine, I'm not judging anyone's morals or anything here. But don't make it a huge issue including the whole class or school or district. What's the point? It just embarrasses the child and causes undue hardship on the schools, when they already have enough problems. And that's my little soapbox speech. Let's get on to some fun stuff, okay?

How about this cute little "I'm Banned" Button by BustMyButton? Hehe...

I was checking out the Banned & Challenged Classics list on ALA and turns out I've read the top 4 in the last few years for my Classic a Month. Go me! :) The Great Gatsby was challenged for "language & sexual references". Psshh...challenge it for not being that great instead lol. And okay, I can see why The Catcher in the Rye is challenged so much...profanity, lots of sexual talk, obscene, blah blah blah. But I honestly still think it's an important book, for the right group. I was actually a little surprised at first to see The Grapes of Wrath on the list but then I read that it was challenged in a lot of Southern states and that makes more sense, on the grounds that the minister is "corrupt" and they say "God Damn". And I just finished The Handmaid's Tale for my September classic, which is continuously challenged for being religiously immoral and sexually explicit, and I'll be reviewing it in full later this week. (Banned Bookmark by MJ*LaFlaca on Flickr)

Looking at the 2012 Banned Book List, I was pretty surprised that I'd only read two. Thirteen Reasons Why by Jay Asher: Reasons: Drugs/alcohol/smoking, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited for age group.  I understand why parents are afraid of this book, but that's not a good enough reason to ban it. Teenagers have pain and misery thrust into their lives all the time and they need to know that they aren't alone. This wasn't a book about suicide to me. It was a book about asking for help, even after it's too late.

Looking for Alaska by John Green: Reasons: Offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited for age group. I don't understand this "unsuited for age group" thing. Who do they think these are suited for? Do the people challenging these books not remember their teenage life? Kids are going to read/listen to/talk about/do "explicit things" no matter what.

And let's end this with a fun little comic by Grant Snider, which reminds us that sometimes the best books are the ones people are telling us not to read.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Top Ten Tuesday: 10 More Books I'd Turn Into Movies or TV Series

I had a lot of fun exploring this topic last year with the Broke & The Bookish, so it might be kind of hard coming up with 10 new books that I'd want to be a movie or TV series. But let's give it a shot!

TV Series:
1. My Life Next Door by Huntley Fitzpatrick --although it would probably be called "The Garretts" :) I adored this book and that gigantic family and think it would transfer really well to a half-hour sitcom, with those "serious" moments thrown in every now and then.

2. The Willow Falls series (book one here) by Wendy Mass --this would be an ABC Family series about a magical little town where weird things happen on your birthday. And it's all connected to the town matriarch, the old lady with the duck-shaped birthmark, played by Bette Midler hah!

3. Ten Rules for Living with My Sister by Ann M Martin --bet you thought I was going to put Baby-Sitters Club, huh? ;) Nah, it's been done. Ten Rules is another that's perfect for a half-hour sitcom (let's bring back TGIF!!)...about 2 sisters who don't always get along, but love each other fiercely. Aww...can't you see the opening credits already?? Two girls arguing in a messy room and at the end hugging and smiling cheesily at the camera. Lol...

4. House of Night (books 9-10 here) by PC Cast --not the best written books, but maybe it would work better as a TV show, especially on the CW. How could it not? Witches, beautiful people, good vs evil, plenty of stereotypes and corny catchphrases...I mean, come on! It's perfect for them. (Another one that would be perfect (and better written) is Soul Screamers by Rachel Vincent!)

5. The Summer I Turned Pretty by Jenny Han --this would be a summer special series, obviously, and would follow Belly's path of self-discovery, love, and heartache. Bonus: sun-kissed tan boys in board shorts all the time. :)

1. Amy & Roger's Epic Detour by Morgan Matson --it already has a built in movie soundtrack (which I have sloooowly been building on my 8Tracks for my upcoming review) and I think it has just the perfect amount of drama and comedic relief to show on the big screen.

2. The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay by Michael Chabon --with all the super-hero movies out and so popular the last few years, it'd be fun to see one about the artists and the process and also a little bit of history thrown in.

3. Dash & Lily's Book of Dares by Cohn & Levithan --a romp around New York City at Christmastime? How could that not be a perfect movie?? And the girl will be played by Shailene Woodley, of course!

4. Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver --done well (which is the key to this Top 10, yes?), I think this would be an amazing movie. It could be so emotional and it has such an important message.

5. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern --just wishful thinking, because I love this book so much and would love to see the world brought to life. I'd prefer live-action, but I can totally see Tim Burton working his magic with it too.

(by KellyAngel, who also does this awesome comic 
about looking pretty that everyone should see!!)

Monday, September 9, 2013

Review: "Heart Breaker: Sweet Valley High #8"

Heart Breaker: Sweet Valley High #8 by Francine Pascal
3 out of 5 stars

I shouldn't have started reading these, now they're all I want lol. So I'm sure there will be reviews up fairly regularly of these in the next few weeks!

Before Reading: My copy was apparently read in the swimming pool, because it is seriously messed up. I hate that. This one came out in 1984 and cost $2.25. I vaguely remember the cover. Bill needs to work on his upper body, his arms are a little soft. Jessica looks like older Christina in Mommie Dearest.

The Main Plot in 50 Words or Less: Jessica wants Bill Chase, the surfer dude, to love her but she doesn't really want him and doesn't want DeeDee Gordon to have him either. Jess does a school play and thinks she is going to Hollywood.

The Second Plot in 20 Words or Less: Todd's old girlfriend, Patsy, moves back to SV from Paris and Elizabeth feels threatened.

Opening Line: "Kiss me,"Jessica purred seductively in Bill's ear. "Maybe we can get it right this time."
Closing Line: Roger's crush on Lila was worse than hopeless. It was positively heartrending. -Elizabeth
Best WTF Line: "Sweet like a barracuda." -Todd about Jess...funny, but true.

Happenings in SV: Jessica is the lead in the drama club's spring play, Splendor in the Grass. Bill coaches DeeDee in surfing and she gets good enough to take 3rd place in the Women's Junior Surfing Championship. Lila Fowler has a wrap party for the play at her fabulous mansion where the carpet is ankle-deep plush lol.

Fashion Icons: Patsy looked too sophisticated to be in high school. She was wearing a straw-slim skirt belted with a wide leather sash around her tiny waist, and delicate high heels. Her coppery-red hair was cut fashionably short in back, with a tumble of curls that dipped over her forehead. Dressed in comfortable old jeans and a tank top, Elizabeth felt dull and uninteresting in comparison. She was sure Todd had noticed as well. We all noticed, Liz, we all noticed. Also...She [Patsy] looked stunning in a low-cut halter-top jumpsuit made of some shimmery, peach-colored fabric. Saucy.

Twin Hijinks: When Jess thinks she's going to be a famous actress, she suggests that Liz be her stand-in and body-double.

Other Thoughts: I wish I had all of the books now...I didn't think it was a big deal for continuities sake, but it kind of is. I missed Elizabeth's motorcycle accident when she started going out with 2 guys! This Jessica is the one I was looking for though in the previous book...she's manipulative, gets Bill to do anything and everything for her, doesn't care that DeeDee is getting her heart broken, and is determined to be a *star*. Also, Todd is probably the dullest boyfriend ever, what does Liz see in him?? Everyone at school seems to know Patsy from before, except Liz. Weird, right? And no Steven in this book either, not even mentioned arg!

The Next Book*: Roger and Lila have big surprises in store for them in Sweet Valley High #9, LOVE ON THE RUN.

*(not necessarily what I'll be reading)

Friday, September 6, 2013

Review: "Saga: Vol Two"

Saga: Vol Two by Brian K Vaughan
3 out of 5 stars

This review may (probably) contain spoilers for Volume 1, so stop here if you haven't read it yet and want to!

The intergalactic love story of Marko and Alana continues but this volume fell a little flat for me, compared to the first. I think my main problem was that it felt could have been 50-100 pages longer and I would have been happy. I would have also been extremely happy if my dad (who loaned it to me) had censored this book for me ahead of time. I'm just going to warn you now...this is what you have to look forward to, minus the black censor bar! O_o So if you get offended easily, this is so not the book for you. But then, if you got offended by the first book, you definitely wouldn't be reading this one lol.

Okay, so the story started out decent. Hazel, Marko & Alana's child, is still narrating the story from some distant future. Marko's parents have arrived on their ship and think they are rescuing him from Alana, which is obviously not the case. I really liked Marko's dad, Barr. His interactions with Alana were a pleasure to read and his secrets were so intriguing, I wanted to know more about him. His mom, not so much. She was kind of a b-. There were several flashbacks in this arc, about how Marko & Alana first met and also Marko as a child, that helped weave the story together.

We also get more of my personal favorite character, bounty hunter The Will and his partner Lying Cat. I love that cat lol. He is still on the trail of the 2 soldiers but can't get his mind off the 2 girls he lost in the previous story. When he teams up with a new person (who happens to be an important figure from someones past) he gets the chance to right some wrongs. This new person is super intriguing as well, I can't wait to read more about them. Because, of course, this volume ends on a cliffhanger as well. Gah, so annoying! Seriously, I'll just let y'all know when the whole series is out and you can just binge on it then, okay? ;)
(this was my favorite page in the book)

Thursday, September 5, 2013

TILT: Harry Potter Style

Another year has passed where I didn't get my letter to Hogwarts. Join me, fellow Muggles, in lamenting this fact with Things I Love Thursday centered on the magical world of Harry Potter. And if you were lucky enough to get your letter, maybe check out last year's So Your Child Is Going to Hogwarts. ;)

(if you do not want your shop featured, please contact me!)

Polyjuice Flask by AnchorAvenueDesigns --I wish I had seen this in time for the wedding I went to last Friday lol. I may have to order it for our cruise in January instead!

Monster Book of Monsters by ComicBookAfterlife --love the detail on this! It's a box on the inside, so you can keep all your secret spells and potions safe. I really love this one by LegendaryLeather too!

Gryffindor Swing Set by RaeGun --seriously?? I just died from the cuteness!!

Harry Potter Fantasy Wands by BlackPearlShop --these are a steal of a deal at only $10 each! And such great detail, they would make fabulous stocking stuffers! *hint hint* Lol...

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Book Haul

Did y'all take advantage of Half Price Books' Labor Day sale this weekend? You know I did! :) And it's been a while since I've done a book haul on here, so I thought I'd share my goodies. Not literally of course, but I am planning some more giveaways soon!

Okay, starting from the top we've got 2 classics that I've never read (and interestingly are both by women): Frankenstein, which I am going to save for my October Classic A Month and The Scarlet Pimpernel is one a Goodreads friend raved about so much I just had to pick it up when I saw it in the clearance section. Clarence (as my sister and I call the clearance section) was very good to me...I found an SVU book, a Nancy Drew, Nick Hornby's About a Boy (on my library list), and Michael Chabon's Summerland, because I enjoyed Kavalier & Clay so much.

I don't know if I want to get into reading all the Nancy Drew books, but the library had a bio called Girl Sleuth about the author(s) and it looked really interesting. I felt like I needed to read a few of the books first though and had planned on getting them, along with the bio, at the library Saturday. But I forgot my card (I know, blasphemy) and, even though I had my card number in my phone and my driver's license, they wouldn't let me check out. I was sad and a little annoyed. So when I saw these for super cheap, I decided to just buy them and maybe I'll give them away later! :)

I also got 2 books that I just read recently from the library and enjoyed so much, I decided to buy them...Dash & Lily's Book of Dares and Amy & Roger's Epic Detour (review will be up next week). And finally, 2 books from my to-buy list: John Green's Papertowns and Being Friends with Boys by Terra Elan McVoy. So that's my haul, pretty good right? If you got some fun new books over the holiday weekend, I'd love to hear about them!