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Why is Margaret Atwood one of our most relevant authors? A book review of THE HEART GOES LAST

When death’s poison courses through its victim: the body twitches, the breathing stops, the brain shuts down…the heart goes last. Margaret Atwood is the master of poignant tales. The foolhardy believes this just a story; the wise take note of her warnings.

THE HEART GOES LAST is not driven by characters; it is driven by simple twists of fate. A few screws tightened differently. Atwood’s machine looks real—the scariest version of dystopian literature.

THE PAST: THE GOOD OL’ DAYS?

Stan and Charmaine were the perfect newlywed couple with stable jobs and a beautiful house. A few bumps in the internet-driven economy turned their life around. Stan now felt his life was “pursued by bad luck, as if bad luck is a feral dog, lurking along behind him, following his scent” His wife, comforted by her grandmother’s nostalgic advice tried to hold onto the belief that “most people are good underneath if they have a chance to show their goodness”.

Those beliefs are hard to hold onto after “another midnight, another parking lot.” Fearful of having their last possessions stolen and their own bodies vandalized, the stressed couple sought refuge in the Positron Project. Together they could live in the Town of Consilience, where there’s a restaurant called Together, just down the street from Harmony Hotel.

Of course they longed for Happy Days.

THE FUTURE: JUST A FEW TWISTS OF FATE

“It’s a long time since Stan has encountered that muffling layer of smiling and nodding.” For an exchange of prison living, which was more like a work camp, Stan could usher his bride into a 1950s style neighborhood. Bright, cheerful, uncompromised.

“The main deal is the prison. Prisons used to be about punishment, and then reform and penitence…” National debts overflow, school loans go unbound, and prisons are run for profit. Keep in mind: this is the book. Sound familiar? Atwood even addresses our—I mean, her world’s—healthcare system, “Grandma Win refused to go to the hospital…She said it would cost too much.”

The future seemed so bright and full of potential. How could it get much worse? The project had a plan. Oh yeah, and “full production has begun on the new and improved sexbots.”

THE NOW: MARRIAGE AND SOCIETY

“They wanted her to use her head and discard her heart; but it wasn’t so easy, because the heart goes last.” In typical Atwood fashion, relationships are tested and the future goes awry. “Everyone has a shadow side, even fluffpots like her.”

The keys to Atwood’s kingdom is to realize the potential and the power, both in marriage and relationships as well as society and governments. Her advocacy on Twitter is evidence to her passion for being on guard, but if anything else: aware. Like HANDMAID’S TALE, Atwood shows in THE HEART GOES LAST the relevance of current issues and what lies beneath.

Margaret’s notes:

Be sure to check out LitHub’s selection from THE HEART GOES LAST, where Atwood annotates many parts, including about the rich affording police and the poor not having access to healthcare.

Also, Open Culture has a cartoon version of Atwood talking about how technology is shaping the modern writer.

And thanks to Bloomsbury UK for sharing the percentiles of elements in this book:

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Review: Idyll Threats: A Thomas Lynch Novel

Idyll Threats: A Thomas Lynch Novel
Idyll Threats: A Thomas Lynch Novel by Stephanie Gayle
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

IDYLL THREATS is an above-average crime whodunit with a twist: the police chief is gay. Thomas Lynch is the new chief in town and wants to fit in with the police department’s good ol’ boys club. He is neither flamboyant nor over-the-top. He has assimilated himself in the small town of Idyll, Connecticut and wants to retain the image of his post. The murder of Cecilia North proves a challenge for Lynch to keep his identity.

Author Stephanie Gayle solidly writes with the best in class alongside other modern crime writers. She covers the gruff details of the department and the quizzical wonderings of the murder with all the finesse readers would expect of the genre. The orientation of the protagonist is not a gimmick, but rather an enhancement, adding a certain flourish not usually found in these types of typically darker books.

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My only hesitancy is the basis of the situation Lynch found himself in: how he knows about Cecilia North. It’s not a spoiler, considering it is at the beginning pages of the book. However, I don’t believe the newly appointed chief would allow himself to be involved in such a vulnerable situation. This makes it tricky to carry the rest of the book, considering the initial meetup isn’t all that plausible.

As for character development and plot narrative, Gayle shines. The people are all enjoyable and the end result feels tangible. A lot of effort went into crafting this and it shows. If you enjoy crime novels, IDYLL THREATS should be on your list to read.

TOP TEN TUESDAY: Top ten reasons to do a top ten list…on a Tuesday

I’ve been avoiding top 10 lists like the plague. Why? Because I’m lazy. I thought book reviews could be my bread and butter–and they still are–but there are reasons to do a top 10 list. And here they are:

  1. TO BE LIKE THE OTHER COOL KIDS

Seriously. Everyone on my friends list seems to be doing Top 10 lists. The Bookish Barrister and Caught Read H&nded follow the protocol of what specifically to do each week. They are quite talented and have huge followings. Then folks like Shaina Reads breaks the mold and goes with a Top 10 list of “giving a shit”. So, I’ll start here with my first ever top 10 list.

2. TO DRAW ATTENTION TO MY LATEST BLOG POST

My latest blog post: a book review.

3. TO DRAW ATTENTION TO MY GIVEAWAY

Do you want to win a copy of ARMADA? Sure you do! Click here.

4. HEY LOOK, HERE’S MY INSTAGRAM ACCOUNT

Whoever thought taking pictures of books could be so much fun! There’s a great community of book take-a-picture-ures, too. AKA bookstagramers. Here’s mine.

5. TO ESTABLISH AND FOSTER CREATIVITY

Two things foster creativity: constricted space and a long list of things to come up with. Examples: Twitter and Top Ten lists. By the time you get your brilliantly constructed sentence to fit within 140 characters or struggle to come up with those last two items, your brain will have expanded to twice its size. Or something like that.

6. OH LOOK, I’M ON TWITTER, TOO!

Speaking of Twitter, here I am: @Ryan_Reads

7. TO HAVE SOME FUN

Life isn’t always about pulling out the tissues and reading Man Booker listed books like THE FISHERMEN. Though that’s “fun” in its own right, it’s nice to relax a bit, get connected with the community, and post a bunch of GIF images. Like this one:

8. BECAUSE IT IS DIFFERENT

If you scroll down my blog, you’ll see the constant headline:

REVIEW:
REVIEW:
REVIEW:
REVIEW:

Oh, look, another GIF!!

9. PAGE VIEWS, FOLKS

I’m convinced that people’s eyes cross when they see the onslaught of reviews. Add in a Glee or Homer Simpson GIF and the page counters light up. Well. They increase by one or two. Hopefully more.

10. CONNECT WITH THE COMMUNITY

And that’s one of my biggest goals. Blogging, Tweeting, Bookgramming: it all equals community. I want to share what I’ve read with you, and I want you to share what you’ve read with me. We’ll learn together, grow together, and find great book together.

Group hug time:

How about it? Do you participate in Top Ten Tuesday? Should this be a regular thing?

August Summary, Jungle Book Review, and No More Amazon Affiliate–whew!

August has been quite the month! After taking off an extended amount of time from reviewing, I’ve picked up some steam:

Whew!!

September looks like it’ll be another great month with lots of upcoming books and some already published books in the reviewing pipeline. Standby for DID YOU EVER HAVE A FAMILY, UNDERMAJORDOMO, AFTER THE PARADE, and Atwood’s THE HEART GOES LAST.

But for now…back to the regularly scheduled program!!

THE JUNGLE BOOK
Rudyard Kipling
The Mowgli Stories
Audible Production

Today I’m featuring the newly produced audio version of Rudyard Kipling’s THE JUNGLE BOOK. This is not the full book (you can download and read the full book for free via Project Gutenberg) . Instead, Audible Studios has created a play-like version of the original book, specifically with a focus on the man cub Mowgli and his adventures in the jungle.

Audible has gone above and beyond featuring several actors, such as Bill Bailey, to voice the different characters. They also include sound effects and music to make this a full production! The book is 12 chapters and lasts about 2.5 hours, but covers the feeling of Kipling’s classic quite well. This is NOT like the Disney movie–this feels like the Kipling’s jungle.

If you’ve never read THE JUNGLE BOOK, this is a great introduction. It is abbreviated, but fantastic! This reminds me of some of the great radio plays I’ve listened to–totally captivating.

NOTE: this book has meant a great deal to many people, including the inspiration for Neil Gaiman’s THE GRAVEYARD BOOK.

And now for an announcement…

I should have picked up on this from the movie YOU’VE GOT MAIL: I need to support my local bookstores. Because of my voracious appetite for books I became an Amazon Associate (I’m currently still a Top 500 Reviewer). I thought by putting some links in my reviews that I could support my obsessive reading habit. And it has.

However, after reading A WINDOW OPENS (link above) I realized the importance of supporting my local stores. Aside from a financial responsibility, it lets me see books I may have missed online and lets me network with other book lovers.

I’d be lying if I said I am never going to shop on Amazon again. That said, starting today, I am no longer going to put the Amazon links on my reviews. If you like the books I feature, I encourage you to stop by your local store. Maybe you’ll find even more books that you’ll love–and then share those book ideas with me!

Until next time…happy reading!!

Three for Thursday: A Walk in the Woods, White Man’s Problems, and Thug Notes

Here’s another new segment for you: Three for Thursday. Don’t expect this weekly–or, monthly–but I’ve got some books to get off my chest (and shelf).

A WALK IN THE WOODS
Bill Bryson

This is one of the funniest books I’ve read in a long time. From what my friends tell me, Bill Bryson’s other books are just as charming and hilarious–sold!

Bill, on his return to America, looks at this trail and decides he wants to walk it. Never mind that the trail is The Appalachian Trail (the capital letters makes it more daunting). Bill has no camping experience since he “stopped making dens with blankets and card tables at about the age of nine.” He doesn’t want to go it alone–that would be a long 2,100 miles–so he seeks the companionship of friends. He found one, not quite friend. Overweight and out of shape, his hiking buddy “was almost cataleptic with displeasure.”

The hijinks and tribulations would be depressing in person, but are side-splittingly funny in print. But Bryson doesn’t make this book a pure comedic romp: it’s also a touching narrative of the importance of our woodlands. It’s a testimony to our trails, a call to the wild. Each chapter seems to summarize some fact about his experience, be it that the lower 48 states are 1/3 covered in trees, or that main has 10 million acres of uninhabited trees, or that Mr. “I love Walden” Thoreau about peed his pants when in real deep woods versus a place that “he could stroll to town for cake and barley wine.”

Thanks to Blogging for Books for sending over this great book. If  you haven’t already, check out the trailer for the upcoming movie based upon the book:

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WHITE MAN’S PROBLEMS
Kevin Morris

Fact: I’ll probably listen to anything narrated by Matthew McConaughey. Throw in Minnie Driver–I’m hooked. WHITE MAN’S PROBLEMS is another case of don’t judge a book by its sinfully ugly cover.

Kevin Morris is a lawyer to the stars who decided to try his hand at writing some short stories. Unfortunately, I’ve been spoiled by Pultizer-winning Adam Johnson and Booker-winning Margaret Atwood. It’s unfair to compare Morris to these God-gifted masters of the craft. But, hey, he does alright.

No, not all of the stories are winners. Some of the stories, you get sick of hearing about privileged Californian lawyers having difficulty deciding which of the five mansion mortgages they should pay that month.  On the other hand, there are some truly touching stories, such as one about a poor kid trying to fit in at school and win over the rich family’s daughter.

Morris knows how to handle the pen; hopefully he’ll stick to the more relatable, “where we live at” type of stories in the future.

Here’s a sound clip of Morris reading one of his stories. Thank you to Audible Studios for providing this book for my listening review and for providing this clip:

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THUG NOTES
Sparky Sweets, PhD

I didn’t know what to think when I got an e-mail from a guy named Sparky Sweets, PhD. He told me about his book called THUG NOTES. I was intrigued. After clicking on the link and laughing my [another word for butt] off for the next hour, I was in love.

With as much contextual references as Cliff Notes and with the pizazz of the most endearing YouTube celebrity, Dr. Sweets lays down literature like none other. This guy’s dope.

I tried to take pictures of this hilariously profane book, but most of the censors block me. So, here’s some quote I’ve typed up with my own added censors. This is a selection from CATCHER IN THE RYE:

“On da one hand, Holden always [derogatory word for women, with an ‘in] ’bout horny bro-types treatin’ girls like [brown fecal matter] and still gettin’ dat nookie…Holden even smacks him in his grill when he won’t fess up to [the mother of all curse words] Jane.”

“…Fool never goes through wit’ it. Cuz gettin’ balls-deep in [starts with ‘M’; rhythms with “puff”] only gonna make him more adult, naw mean?”

Um….yeah. I naw what you mean. To complete the picture of summary and important themes, Dr. Sweets includes plenty of jazzy pictures. None of which I can show you here. But they get the point across.

Sparky is great in his humor and spot-on in his summaries. If you aren’t easily offended and looking for a good laugh and a bit of learning, this is the way to go. Also, check out his YouTube channel, wisecrack.

Here’s some ol’ folks reading selections from his book:

Take care you all!! Happy reading!!!

New segment: Want Wednesday

In an effort to be more like the cool kids, I’m introducing a new segment:

WHAT YOU WANT WEDNESDAY

Here’s a chance to call out the books that aren’t here soon enough. The books we want NOW!

Below are two books that I’ve been seeing EV-ERY-WHERE. From Twitter to the Washington Post, from New York to L.A., to London and down to Australia, these books are haunting me. They need to be read. Now.

PURITY
Jonathan Franzen
Farrar, Straus and Giroux

The New York Times calls this book Franzen’s “most fleet-footed…and most intimate novel yet.” On the other side of the coast, the Lost Angeles Times says we need to read this controversial book due to its “fierce writing.”  Even folks here on WordPress are raving about it. BroadartVibe calls PURITY “this summer’s GOLDFINCH.” Yes, comparing it to the Pulitzer-winner. And mycompage says Franzen “writes conversational, enormously intelligent prose.”

FATES AND FURIES
Lauren Groff
Riverhead Books

I think I may need to bury my head in the sand for another month. The publicity is killing me. Riverhead’s Twitter account is posting daily quotes from the book until its release date. The Atlantic even posted a selection from the book–OMG!!!

My friends on Twitter can’t say enough about FATES AND FURIES:

Heck, there’s even freakin’ totes and ribbon-tied beach towels!!!!!!

Kirkus Reviews has it on the cover of their Fall Preview of the “most exciting books coming out this fall.” Here on WordPress, ireadnovels says this “is a literary masterpiece that defies expectation.”

Though not everyone here is a fan. Cleopatra Loves Books says “excessive use of metaphors and links to Greek mythology…for me it was all a little too much.” That actually sounds really good to me!

So those are the two books that I really want, but don’t have…yet. They whet my appetite just looking at them.

How about you? What books are on your Want Wednesday list?

Review: Speak by Louisa Hall

Speak
Speak by Louisa Hall
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Have you ever lost a loved one? What if: “One day soon perhaps we will be able to build a mechanical version of the person we lost.” What if, one day there was: “An algorithm that causes the past and the present to coexist in a moment shared between humans.”

Are you scared? Curious? This is the function of SPEAK by Louisa Hall—to draw meaning over the course of centuries through intertwined perspectives. Think CLOUD ATLAS with a more pointed question. Here, you’ll be introduced to the somewhat futuristic terms like “cloud-based intelligence”, “Peer Bonding Issues”, and “10% deviation from human thought”. Within this same book you’ll go back in time, to witness a girl through her diary struggling with the still-relevant issues of love, both forced and true.

AI: “Our primary function is speech: question and response selected from memory according to a formula we speak, but there is little evidence of real comprehension.” The creator of the babybots believes he has done something special: brought memories back to life. Yet, as people see they are just stories without meaning, they become scared, frightened. “You blame me for the fact that your daughters found their mechanical dolls more human than you, but is that my fault for making a too human doll? Or your fault for being too mechanical?”

And who is the true nemesis? Is it our own fault for not being authentic in speech? True to word? Or have our desires been plugged by the screen and technology, trying to replace something that is missing? “Every day I feel parts of myself switching off. More and more…it’s just nothing. I’m becoming blank.” “Those young people stuttering, stiffening, turning more robotic than the robots they loved.”

Gaby: “How will I let people know I’m still living?”
MARY3: “I don’t know.”

We watch as a girl struggles with identity and companionship. As the man who initially inputted the memory into the machine speaks, “One day that machine will remember your words, but it won’t feel them. It won’t understand them. It will only throw them back in your face. Gifts returned, you’ll realize they’ve become empty.” Or, as he more poignantly puts it: “But what good are her words if they’re not comprehended?”

There are five character perspectives, six if you include the bot being shipped to the desert for permanent disposal and storage. One of those characters is the enigmatic, real life Alan Turing. Perhaps you know of him through the movie THE IMITATION GAME. Everyone has a desire to “fit in”, to know reciprocal love. Though physical stunting and emotional awkwardness are sometimes barriers to such dreams. Thus, the desire to create something: to achieve that goal. But is it worth it?

The questions are real and the writing is irrefutable. I leave you with one last segment from the character Mary Bradford’s diary:

“Then, silence. Words lost through holes in the sky, wasted in the vastness of night. Felt a desire to cease speaking then, for I cannot afford to lose more.
Whittier: I understand
Writer: I feel that you do.”

Happy Reading!