Tag: bookblogger

Review: A Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood

The most harrowing thing that stuck with me when reading this book was how easily women in society were downgraded to nothing but merely possessions. Not only that, but the vivid detail with how it was done resonated with me because truthfully, the very same thing could be done now if the right lunatic came along. There would be nothing we could do to stop it.

That isn’t to say I think it will happen; I don’t. We may have a colourful history when it comes to the royalty and presidents that have made their mark on the world, but I doubt things would ever get this far. I have to, for the sake of my sanity.

The Handmaid's Tale
GoodReads – A Handmaid’s Tale

The whole story is written from the perspective of Offred, a handmaid who tried to flee with her husband and daughter but regrettably got captured when they tried to escape and they were separated.

The roles of handmaid’s were created in order to re-populate Gilead after a disaster that affected many people. As a result of the exposure to toxins in water infertility afflicted many men and women (though of course you can’t say that about men since they are superior – duh!) Other effects are not immediately present. Some of the remaining fertile women give birth to babies that are unbabies – that is to say that the exposure to toxins in water after said disaster has made mutations common.

Taking inspiration from the Bible – Genesis 30 for anyone curious to know, the roles of the handmaid’s were created to serve as child bearers in place of the wives of the Commanders:

When Rachel saw that she bore Jacob no children, she envied her sister. She said to Jacob, “Give me children, or I shall die!” Jacob’s anger was kindled against Rachel, and he said, “Am I in the place of God, who has withheld from you the fruit of the womb?” Then she said, “Here is my servant Bilhah; go in to her, so that she may give birth on my behalf, that even I may have children through her.”
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I also want to add at this point that it isn’t purely women that are oppressed in this “modern” society – a lot of men are denied access to a handmaid unless they are of sufficient rank and are therefore denied a family.

Many of you may know that Channel 4 has recently being showing a ten part series in the UK based on the book. As of writing this, I am yet to watch the last episode, because I wanted to finish the book first. To make everybody aware, the TV series is a more embellished version of the book. Some plot lines are exaggerated and some are made up to add to the story. The order of things has also been mixed up. For example, in the book Offred does not attend a salvaging until pretty much right at the end of the book, whereas it happens much earlier on in the series. These little things are slight annoyances to me. Don’t get me wrong; I know they have done it to make things interesting, current and appeal to a wider audience… I get that. I don’t have to like it though.

I think it’s fair to say that despite their differences, they are both enjoyable. It is best to appreciate them separately. Let’s not forget that A Handmaid’s Tale was first published in 1985 and there are a lot of differences between society and the readership then and us now. To take one example from the TV series, Ofglen (the original one – the handmaid’s names are based on their “masters”) had a girlfriend back before she was captured and trained to be a handmaid. For conspiring against the society that enslaves her, Ofglen is forced to watch her girlfriend (who is not fertile and therefore expendable) hanged to death. Given that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the decriminalisation of homosexuality, this is a relevant topic today. I acknowledge at this point it was technically only illegal for men, but as the series is based for the most part around the oppression of women in times where human fertility is dangerously low, you have to work with what you’ve got. This story line wasn’t in the book at all. Ofglen conspired all right, but after she was found out she disappeared entirely, never to be seen again.

It is fair to say that this book is an acquired taste to read… you are either interested in the subject, or you’re not. I tried to read this a couple of years ago, got about a third of the way through and gave up. I hate leaving books unread, but I hate forcing myself through them more – I won’t enjoy it as there is little point. Watching the TV series helped for me. If anyone has watched it and is curious about the book I would recommend giving it a read too. As I said above, there are subtle differences so it’s worth checking out!

Have any of you watched the series or read the book? What did you make of them? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
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Review: A Clockwork Orange – Anthony Burgess

My first thought having read the first chapter of this book was:

“Right, so what the fuck did I just read?”

 

A Clockwork Orange
GoodReads – A Clockwork Orange

A Clockwork Orange is written from the perspective of Alex, a teen who spends his time away from school by terrorising the local neighbourhood. It’s safe to say, he’s a bad egg. When he isn’t doing that, he is usually in his room deep in the peaceful abyss of classical music. He narrates his tale in the language that he uses when with his crew and fellow teens of the book; it is a confusing form of slang with Russian being a heavy influence.

Our pockets were full of deng, so there was no real need from the point of view of crasting any more pretty polly to tolchock some old veck in an alley and viddy him swim in his blood while we counted the takings and divided by four, nor to do the ultra-violent on some shivering starry grey haired ptitsa in a shop and go smecking off with the till’s guts. But, as they say, money isn’t everything.

If you are anything like me, you would probably have been scratching your head at this point, but as you read on you begin to work out the meaning of the obscure words. Some are less obvious than others, trust me. The above caption from the book should give you an idea of the attitude of the teens, and the older characters of the book we meet indicate that this attitude is wide-spread. A lot of people fear to walk the streets at night, frightened of each of the gang leaders and their “droogs” (that’s friends, to you and I). Those who don’t fear the streets will wish they hadn’t ventured out.

When we meet Alex it is apparent he is already a person of interest by social services, and much as the title foreshadows, he always ends up on the same path of crime and anti-social behaviour. The law catches up with Alex when he becomes responsible for the death of an elderly woman, and as a result he is sentenced to fourteen years in prison. After two years he kills a cell mate who tries to get too “friendly” with him – I find it ironic that as a person he would think nothing of such behaviour if it were him committing the act, but it being done to himself is an entirely different story.

I have digressed; after this Alex is put forward for a program designed to reform individuals like him in as little as two weeks. This ultimately becomes a highly controversial method of treatment as Alex, being “reformed” (or mentally scarred through a cruel form of torture if you ask me) is released back into the new world. He struggles to adapt to his new life, feels rejected by his parents and is no longer able to love classical music as a result of the “treatment” he received. Much again in line with the concept of clockwork, once out he finds himself subjected to beatings from the police and subjected to being treated as if he is on the bottom rung of society.

He ultimately attempts to commit suicide. Whilst he doesn’t succeed in this he frees himself of the conditioning of his mind – he can listen to classical music and his thoughts venture into the desire to commit violent acts again. Does this make him “normal” again? Who can say definitively. There is wrong and there is right, but equally there are so many shades of grey in between, and that is where we all find ourselves… somewhere between the goal posts of the “holy saint” and “spawn of the devil”.

The book is an interesting read in that it highlights a number of issues in the justice system. Whilst ethically no treatment like Alex endured could be practiced now, it raises questions as to how far we can go in order to guide people to behave in a manner defined be society as acceptable. At the end of the book Alex raises the point as to what he could do were his son to behave in the same way, and his son after him etc… like clockwork.

Sadly, it is equally apparent that society shuns these individuals regardless of reform or punishment just as rigidly.

 

Review: Magician – Raymond E Feist

Good evening everybody!

It’s Sunday night again, and many of us have the joys of going back to the daily grind tomorrow. On a slightly more positive note we’re not quite there yet, so let’s enjoy the time we have 🙂 I’m going to have a few posts coming up in the next few days, including my monthly profile of the books I intend to read; I have another review coming up after this for A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess (I finished that this morning) and I’ll also be reviewing my TBR pile once again in the next few days… I hope you’ll stay tuned!

 

GoodReads – Magician

To the forest on the shore of the Kingdom of the Isles, the orphan Pug came to study with the master magician Kulgan. His courage won him a place at court and the heart of a lovely Princess, but he was ill at ease with normal wizardry. Yet his strange magic may save two worlds from dark beings who opened spacetime to renew the age-old battle between Order and Chaos.

 

My Thoughts…

I don’t know about any of you my fellow readers, but I have a habit of staying up past my bedtime when I am extremely close to finishing a book. Magician is the first (and largest book) of the Riftwar Saga trilogy, being 841 pages in itself whilst the remaining two books add up to this together. At approximately 11pm on Thursday night, I knew I had 60 pages left to read in order to finish this book, so I WAS going to finish this book. I packed up from the front room, made my lunch ready for work the next day and made myself ready to read the home stretch whilst sat in bed.

I finished reading this book, brushed my teeth and got into bed at 12:45am 🙂 It’s a good job I’m a night owl anyway – I don’t need much sleep. It was absolutely worth staying up late to finish.

I read Magician before a number of years ago, not long after I had started working full-time and I was still living with my parents. I bought the further two books in the trilogy after reading and enjoying it, and that was back in January 2014. I still haven’t read these yet and that is why I wanted to re-visit the first book and refresh myself before I tried to read these.

I get the sense that Magician was written with the potential to be a standalone book initially. It isn’t like most books in that it doesn’t leave with some cliffhanger to draw you on to the next one. Certainly, there are plenty of things that could be picked up, revisited and elaborated on if the fact it was going to be a series was in doubt at the time of writing. Equally if Raymond E. Feist had never got the chance to write nor I the chance to read the last two books of the series, it wouldn’t be the end of the world either. From my perspective, Magician could exist as a standalone book. I’m glad it’s not though…just saying.

The book begins with us learning about Pug, a small orphaned keep boy who is effectively raised by his best friend’s parents. Every boy progresses to manhood at the point of the Choosing, in which they are apprenticed to a variety of crafts. Pug finds himself apprenticed to the great Magician Kulgan, and is elevated into court as reward for a courageous feat to save one of the royal family.

Pug struggles to find his way in this new life, but all is about to be turned on its head when Pug and Tomas, his best friend, find a foreign ship smashed against the rocks near castle Crydee.

Kelewan is a distant world from Midkemia; its people having fled from the Enemy through a rift in time and space onto this world. The Tsuranuanni have a vastly different social system and live in the harsh conditions of the world they are forced to live on. They greatly value the precious metals available on Midkemia, and after discovering this world quite by accident, events lead to war spanning years as the Midkemian’s fight against these new invaders.
Yet Kelewan also has something that Midkemia is lacking; the knowledge Pug needs in order to train in the Greater Path of magic. In training to do so, he becomes the Master Magician he was destined to be.

If I have one criticism of the book, it’s that I found the part of Pug’s education in the higher arts to be very lacking. It was almost like the need for Pug to be educated was merely a stepping stone in order to carry on with the rest of the book so a couple of chapters were stuck in to acknowledge the fact. I would have liked to see more development here personally. I don’t feel that this detracts from the book at all, what is written is well done and flows nicely.

It’s a bit cliché if anything, but I don’t mind that so much once in a while.

Review: Lord of the Rings – J. R. R. Tolkien 

I would just like to wish everyone a pleasant weekend from over here, in the not so sunny climes of the island upon which I live. As I am typing this, the view outside my window is far less picturesque than the rolling, lush green hills of the Shire, but never mind. For what any of us lack in gorgeous countryside and dazzling sunshine we have in imagination!!
It’s a good job really… We only get a couple of weeks a year that can constitute as a summer so we take whatever we can get!
Moving along, I wanted to share with you my thoughts as to my latest read, being the last installment in the Lord of the Rings trilogy, the Return of the King. Admittedly I was apprehensive about finally reading this book; I was concerned that it wouldn’t live up to the hype around it. I think that is a real danger with any book, film or TV program when it becomes so popular.
 

GoodReads – Return of the King
I was glad to see that a lot of my time wasn’t wasted in the set up of where Gandalf and company left off in The Two Towers. I was concerned that this wouldn’t have led to anything particularly consequential given that I would argue this was the lesser important side of the two perspectives we read. Here we get to see the raw power of Mordor and the vast numbers fighting for Sauron.
I don’t know about anybody else, (with the exception of my dad, as I’ve discussed this with him) but I found this last book to be really dark, and it made it difficult to read; like someone condemned takes their next step more begrudgingly to their doom, each page turn was more difficult than the last. I was determined to finish. I waited with bated breath for events unfold, hoping against hope that little Frodo and Sam made it!
I’m not going to spoil it for anyone who hasn’t read the book, but what I will say for its difficulty to read (that’s just one – well two opinions anyway) it is spectacular. It was worth the perseverance and I was not disappointed by the end. It’s a little sad, but it felt like it ended as it should have, even though you would never have anticipated it in the beginning.
Now I’ll have to catch upon the films, because I am a firm believer that the books are better and must be read first. I have made a few exceptions:

  • War & Peace – because I would never have understood the book without watching it first
  • A Handmaid’s Tale – I did actually try the book a few years ago but didn’t finish it
  • Game of Thrones – purely because I don’t have a choice and I’ll be damned if I get behind! I’m sure there are plenty of people who agree with me on this one!

That’s all for now guys! I’m presently half way through reading Raymond E Feist’s first installment in the Riftwar Saga, Magician. This is a re-read from a few years ago, as I have the next two in the series to read but admittedly I’ve forgotten what happens!
This has also brought my round to thinking about having a tidy up. I need one comprehensive reading list, so I’m going to be tidying up my TBR “pile”. I’ve found a lovely book tag dedicated to the task which should make the task of deciding easier! I look forward to seeing you then!
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Review: The Last Wish – Andrej Sapjowski

Hi guys!
So today I’m bringing you a review of Andrej Sapjowski’s book, The Last Wish. Please, never ask me to even attempt to pronounce this author’s name! My Polish is not up to scratch at all… and by that, I mean it’s totally non existent 🙂
All joking aside, this is the first book I have read of this series and it is one I am adding to my TBR. It seems to me lately that the pile does not go down – for every book I read I’ve added three more!
The Last Wish
GoodReads – The Last Wish
Geralt of Rivia wakes in the temple of Melitele, having been grievously injured. In order to recover, he stays at the temple under the protection of Nenneke. She attempts to persuade him to be entranced, in order to understand what afflicts him so, but he refuses on the grounds that he cannot be hypnotised and lacks faith in her God. Instead he reflects on past events that have lead to his appearance at the temple.
It is through these reflections that we learn of Geralt, his past and his profession. He is a Witcher. As a child he was trained and mutated to develop the supernatural abilities required to fight the various monsters that plague the planet and human existence, but not necessarily to slay them. He is also trained how to reverse the many spells or curses that may have been placed on people.
He battles a striga and restores a seven year old child (presumed dead) to its father; he encounters the lord of an abandoned mansion that can control the house with his will alone. His lady friend is a bruxa, a kind of vampire like creature that uses song to manipulate people. Morality and “deciding the lesser evil” challenges Geralt at times along the way, and a simple fishing trip and the releasing of a Djinn brings the Witcher into the clutches of a powerful sorceress.
I think the moral of these tales is this: not all is as it appears to be. That which appears sinister may not be at all and not all that appears fair is good.
All in all, I have enjoyed the book… but I have one observation. Pretty much all the monsters/individuals possessing the power of magic or Geralt ends up fighting (as they are monsters) are women. Not necessarily a criticism at this point in time, but an observation. I hope to see a little more diversity in “The Sword of Destiny”, which is the second book which prequels the main book series.

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In the brief time that I spoke to you last I have also managed to read Stardust, by Neil Gaiman. I will be releasing the review of that within the next couple of days! Until next time,
Rebecca

Animal Farm – George Orwell

Anyone who follows my blog will know that I managed to sneak this book into my June Reading List, having managed to get through all my planned reads ahead of schedule. I won’t keep you all from browsing too long  – a short review for a short book!

Animal Farm
GoodReads – Animal Farm

A farm is taken over by its overworked, mistreated animals. With flaming idealism and stirring slogans, they set out to create a paradise of progress, justice, and equality. Thus the stage is set for one of the most telling satiric fables ever penned –a razor-edged fairy tale for grown-ups that records the evolution from revolution against tyranny to a totalitarianism just as terrible.

When Animal Farm was first published, Stalinist Russia was seen as its target. Today it is devastatingly clear that wherever and whenever freedom is attacked, under whatever banner, the cutting clarity and savage comedy of George Orwell’s masterpiece have a meaning and message still ferociously fresh.

 

George Orwell has a remarkable ability of understanding society. Not only does he understand it – he tears it apart into little pieces, personifies (or rather animal-ises) all these elements and writes it down in simple terms for us all to see.

I am surprised I wasn’t made to study this at school – I know some other classes did, but not mine. It’s the perfect kind of book to pull apart and analyse to death! It’s one of the few books I would argue that was written for this purpose.

Orwell’s satirical approach to reflecting the nature of our society is very accurate. Much like animals, we are divided by our abilities and are expected to produce for what we perceive to be our own benefit. Money is always short, but the Leader never wants for whiskey. The Commandments are set and then the benchmarks moved to suit when the need arises. Hopes and dreams for a better society always remain dreams, yet somehow we never give up hope all the same.

This is a very quick and easy read, and it is a good eye-opener. I rate this book 4/5 stars.

 

Review: To Kill A Mockingbird – Harper Lee

GoodReads – To Kill A Mockingbird

Tom Robinson’s a coloured man, Jem. No jury in this part of the world’s going to say, “We think you’re guilty, but not very,” on a charge like that. It was either straight acquittal or nothing.
Atticus Finch

To Kill A Mockingbird is undoubtedly one of the most influential books of all time in highlighting the racial inequalities known especially within southern states of America. Harper Lee has won numerous awards including the Pulitzer Prize for To Kill a Mockingbird and a further book, Go Set a Watchman was published in 2015, some 55 years later.
I’ll be perfectly honest, this book isn’t at all what I expected. I hadn’t even realised that the story was narrated from the perspective of two young children until I actually opened the book. Truthfully I didn’t think I would get on with this, but actually it was perfect.
Jem (Jeremy) and Scout (Jean Louise) have been raised in the small, largely peaceful town of Maycomb by their father, Atticus Finch. Atticus is a lawyer by profession, but when Atticus takes on his biggest case there is much controversy and trouble for the Finches.
The story is narrated by Scout, who is the tender age of nine in that fateful summer of 1935, in which Tom Robinson is on trial for the rape of a white woman; and her father Atticus is defending him. As I mentioned above, I wasn’t confident that I would like the way the story is narrated by a child, but it is done very effectively. I was wrong to doubt.
Whereas adults quite often are prejudiced and are willing to turn a blind eye to what they know is wrong, children on the other hand are blank canvases. The world is black and white – they haven’t yet learned to see the shades of grey we are willing to paint in between depending on what suits us. They also ask a lot of questions. We’ve also come across those kids, you know the ones… that say anything that comes to their mind. Apparently as I kid I embarrassed my parents by declaring loudly at a supermarket checkout that it smelled very badly right behind the culprit – otherwise known as the Great Unwashed since.
Shameless. My parents are able to laugh about it now. It was true… I just wasn’t afraid to say it.
This to my mind is in direct contrast to the attitudes of adults, who are to willing to allow such segregation and injustice to happen, and it is refreshing to hear people asking the right question – why. Atticus is a fantastic character, who implores his children in times of difficulty to walk “in the other person’s shoes” to try and teach them about perspective. Atticus is like a father to anyone and everyone, and he has many lessons to teach us all. The struggles of morality and conscience also afflict him; despite fighting a losing battle, he couldn’t sleep at night if he didn’t defend the man.

There’s something in our world that makes men lose their heads – they couldn’t be fair if they tried. In our courts, when it’s a white man’s word against a black man’s, the white man always wins. They’re ugly, but those are the facts of life.

Thankfully the general attitude is society is a little better than it used to be, but we have a long way to go. Fear sets in deep. What is said out in public and that behind closed doors can be very different.
Racism makes me angry. Sure, there are times when we can’t help but make prejudgements –  it’s part of our natural survival instincts. It is when these prejudgments are made without cause and we act negatively towards that person (directly or indirectly) – that is what is disgraceful.
I hope through education we an break this awful cycle; if all children had parents like Atticus Finch the world would be a much better place.