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Prejudice Meets Pride by Rachel Anderson (audio)

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Audio, 7+ hours
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Prejudice Meets Pride (Meet Your Match, Book 1) by Rachel Anderson, narrated by Laura Princiotta, is a charming contemporary romance with only the title overtly linking it to Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice.  Like Austen’s work, there are a number of preconceived and poor first impressions, as well as misunderstandings, between Emma Makie and Kevin Grantham. Grantham comes from a wealthy and politically active family, and much of his adult life has been spent pursuing his career dreams and dating women he thinks need to meet a list of criteria before his mother and father will accept them. Emma is an artist who is thrust into an unfamiliar situation when she begins caring for her two, adorable and precocious nieces for her brother who is on a job out of state. Searching for a job to support herself and the girls is tough when she learns that there are not art teaching jobs to be had and she quickly runs up her credit card bills. With few skills to recommend her and very little money, Emma grudgingly accepts help from a select few neighbors, but Kevin isn’t one of them.

They immediately allow their perceptions of one another lead them down a path where they trade barbs and continue to stop around in frustration. Emma may have carved out her own life and paid her way through college without student loan or grant money, but her proclivity to spit in the face of those helping her can be wearying. Kevin, however, realizes his faults pretty early on and tries to navigate the maze that is Emma. Readers will fall in love with Emma’s nieces, and smile at Emma’s beyond-her-years abilities to redirect them and ensure they are as happy as they can be in the new town and rundown family home Emma and her brother inherited.

Prejudice Meets Pride (Meet Your Match, Book 1) by Rachel Anderson, narrated by Laura Princiotta, is a cute story about learning to see past your own perceptions to see the real person beneath, learning to trust and love along the way.

RATING: Tercet

About the Author:

A USA Today bestselling author of clean romance, Rachael Anderson is the mother of four and is pretty good at breaking up fights, or at least sending guilty parties to their rooms. She can’t sing, doesn’t dance, and despises tragedies. But she recently figured out how yeast works and can now make homemade bread, which she is really good at eating.

New Authors Reading Challenge 2017

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas (audio)

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Audible, 11+ hours
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The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, narrated by Bahni Turpin, is a young adult novel examining not only racism, but also life as a 16-year-old girl, Starr Carter, after witnessing the murder of her childhood friend Khalil by a police officer. (there’s a read-a-long at Book Bloggers International, if you’re interested) Following the death of Khalil, his murder is viewed not as the life of an unarmed teen who will never graduate high school or go to college but as the death of a drug dealer and a gang banger. Starr is forced to re-live those moments beside him as a unprovoked traffic stop turns into something tragic. Along the way, this young woman realizes that not only has she abandoned her old friends for the new ones at her suburban prep school, but that she has a voice that should be heard — loud and clear.

She also has to come to terms with where she comes from in Garden Heights — “the ghetto” — to where she wants to be as an educated woman capable of making her own life choices. Her double life comes to a head as she must reconcile the two halves of her identity — Starr Carter and Williamson Starr — to emerge on the other side of tragedy as a confident young lady. Starr also needs to stop placing labels on herself, all of her friends, and especially her white boyfriend, Chris — who let’s face it is mature beyond his years if he can refrain from sex and let her cry on his shoulders instead.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas, narrated by Bahni Turpin, is a multi-layered novel about racism, poverty, justice, and healing. Starr and all of us need to review our own prejudices to see where justice can be had and how to bring together communities for the right reasons, not the wrong ones. Another one for the Best of List this year.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Angie Thomas was born, raised, and still resides in Jackson, Mississippi as indicated by her accent. She is a former teen rapper whose greatest accomplishment was an article about her in Right-On Magazine with a picture included. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from Belhaven University and an unofficial degree in Hip Hop. She can also still rap if needed. She is an inaugural winner of the Walter Dean Meyers Grant 2015, awarded by We Need Diverse Books. Her debut novel, The Hate U Give, was acquired by Balzer + Bray/HarperCollins in a 13-house auction and will be published in spring 2017. Film rights have been optioned by Fox 2000 with George Tillman attached to direct and Hunger Games actress Amandla Stenberg set to star.

New Authors Reading Challenge 2017

Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum

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Paperback, 479 pgs.
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Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum, which was the readalong selection for June at War Through the Generations, is a complex story in which Anna Schlemmer has kept her activities during WWII in Weimar secret, even from her daughter Trudy. Although Trudy was a young girl during the war, she remembers very little and what she does remember often comes to her in snatches of dreams and makes little sense. She’s tried to pry the past out of her mother ever since finding a portrait of herself, her mother, and a Nazi SS officer in her drawer at their farm in New Heidelberg, Minnesota.

“It is one of the great ironies of her mother’s life, thinks Trudy Swenson, that of all the places to which Anna could have emigrated, she has ended up in a town not unlike the one she left behind.” (pg. 73)

Blum’s novel shifts from the points of view of Anna and Trudy and shifts in time from WWII to the 1990s, where Trudy has begun a project to interview Germans about their time during the war, as her colleague strives to save the stories of Jews who escaped the Holocaust. But this story begins with a young girl looking to get out from under her father’s thumb in Germany, as war is beginning to seem more likely. Anna falls for a young man, and their relationship is doomed from the beginning. What transpires from that love affair onward takes Anna on a journey into darkness where she is alone and very aloof, even from the local baker, Mathilde Staudt, who agrees to take her in.

“It is as though Trudy has reached under a rock and touched something covered with slime. And now she is coated with it, always has been; it can’t be washed off; it comes from somewhere within.” (pg. 185)

Anna’s silence looms large over Trudy’s life, and it has foisted guilt upon her for a time she barely remembers and a man she suspects is her father. Her guilt is compounded by her mother’s unwillingness to talk about the past and the death of her stepfather, Jack – a former WWII soldier for America. Along the way, Trudy meets an older man who is half Jewish, Rainer, and she begins to see that her happiness does not have to be tied to the past.

Those Who Save Us by Jenna Blum explores generational guilt and the effects of war atrocities on those who did not commit them but were considered just as guilty as those with whom they associated. Blum’s research is impeccable and her understanding of the guilt and horror of the Holocaust and WWII emerges in the characterization of Anna, Trudy, and so many other secondary characters. Readers will be submerged alongside Anna as she struggles to survive for herself and her child, doing things she would prefer not to. She is forced to remain practical and to deal with any one she encounters with suspicion and caution, and when the past is on another continent she wants her daughter to leave it there. Although I would have preferred greater resolution between Anna and Trudy — whose relationship appears broken from the start of the novel — the ending does provide some hope. The novel carefully explores the question of whether we can love those who save us even as they commit the most heinous crimes and whether the past is best left where it is in order for happiness to be found.

RATING: Quatrain

Read the discussions:

About the Author:

New York Times and internationally bestselling author of novels THOSE WHO SAVE US (Harcourt, 2004) and THE STORMCHASERS (Dutton, May 2010) and the novella “The Lucky One” in GRAND CENTRAL (Berkeley/Penguin, July 2014). One of Oprah’s Top 30 Women Writers. Novel THE LOST FAMILY forthcoming from Harper Collins in Spring 2018.

Home No Home by Naoko Fujimoto

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Paperback, 48 pgs.
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Home No Home by Naoko Fujimoto, which won the 2015 Oro Fino Chapbook Competition, has deep silences that activate the reader’s mind, which turns each moment over and over to make sense of the devastation. From the deadly tsunami in Fukushima to more subtle moments of broken lives, Fujimoto takes on a first-person narrative in these literary poems to draw readers into that sadness, that loss, that emptiness, the silence to render grief alive.

In “Japanese Apricot Wine,” we see a child left behind by a mother after a long illness, which is likely cancer, and we see the shadows of those last days through the eyes of the narrator. “I open her last bottle. The sweet/smell spreads in the room like a cloudy//green nebula” … “The half eaten apricot is//brown.//She leaves it behind.//” There is a glimmer of happiness in the beginning with a memory of making apricot wine in April, and her mother’s continued love for it even in hospice, but it is clear the narrator’s train of thought will be dragged into sadness until the reader becomes painstakingly aware that her mother is gone.

It is life as it is lived within these pages, and the first-person narratives bring that home in a way that is even more devastating. How do you reconcile the happiest moments, the homes you have with their ultimate loss. When a mother departs from this world, it can leave you unmoored. Do the happy memories serve to remind us of home or their loss? Like many things that would depend on perspective; how far are you from the moment of loss?

Home No Home by Naoko Fujimoto is a stunning chapbook of poems that will touch readers deeply. The poems in these pages will leave an indelible mark upon you, one that you should wear as a badge of honor.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Naoko Fujimoto was born and raised in Nagoya, Japan. She was an exchange student and received a B.A. and M.A. from Indiana University South Bend. “Home, No Home” is her first chapbook.

New Authors Reading Challenge 2017

Tell the Truth. Make It Matter.: A Memoir Writing Workbook by Beth Kephart, illustrated by William Sulit

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Paperback, 210 pgs.
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Tell the Truth. Make It Matter.: A Memoir Writing Workbook by Beth Kephart, illustrated by William Sulit, is the perfect workbook for budding memoirists because it provides not only writing exercises but enough room to write inspirations down.  Users can even staple additional pages in the book if they need more room.

What I love about the workbook, other than that it is written by Beth Kephart, is that the illustrations could jog the brain into writing and the exercises vary from writing about a first memory to writing a poem about an event.  Born from her Juncture workshops, Kephart uses those experiences to offer writers exercises that will leave them inspired to tackle that memoir or other writing project they’ve been thinking about.  For example, in the writing about your first lie exercise, there are tips about finding the bigger story in the lie, as well as suggestions to think about the details to make them alluring and to think about who you were before the lie was told and who you were after it was told.

The workbook is broken down in to finding your voice, finding the true you, hunting for memory, navigating your world, using photographs to job memory or inspire, and many other topics.  I love how the exercises help you tease out details for your writing, and by the end of the workbook, you should be prepared to tackle that memoir or other work you’re looking to finish.  Always remember that the truth matters and that your memoir is not just about you!  Very sage advice.

If you’re looking for a workbook full of exercises to get you thinking outside the box, Tell the Truth. Make It Matter.: A Memoir Writing Workbook by Beth Kephart, illustrated by William Sulit, is the one, especially if you’re writing a memoir.  Using your imagination, you could also adapt the exercises to suit your fiction writing needs or just get writing in general, if you’re a little rusty.  Kephart has done it again.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Beth Kephart is the author of twenty-two books, publishing memoir, young adult literature, a corporate fairytale, an autobiography of a river, and an essay/photography collection.

Handling the Truth: On the Writing of Memoir (Gotham), based in part on Kephart’s teaching at Penn (where she won the 2015 Beltran Teaching Award), won the 2013 Books for a Better Life Award (Motivational Category), was featured as a top writing book by O Magazine, and was named a Best Writing Book by Poets and Writers. Small Damages (Philomel) was named a 2013 Carolyn W. Field Honor Book and a best book of the year by many publications. Going Over (Chronicle) was the 2014 Parents’ Choice, Gold Medal Winner/Historical Fiction and a Booklist Editor’s Choice. One Thing Stolen (Chronicle) was a 2015 Parents’ Choice Gold Medal winner. Kephart’s 2014 Shebooks e-memoir is Nest. Flight. Sky.: On Love and Loss One Wing at a Time. Her 2013 middle grade historical novel, Dr. Radway’s Sarsaparilla Resolvent (Temple University Press), was named a top book of the year by Kirkus.

Kephart is a National Book Award nominee and a winner of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts fiction grant, a National Endowment for the Arts grant, a Leeway grant, a Pew Fellowships in the Arts grant, and the Speakeasy Poetry Prize. She writes a monthly column for the Philadelphia Inquirer, is a frequent contributor to the Chicago Tribune, has given keynote addresses on the state of literature and teaching, and served as a judge for the National Book Awards, the National Endowment for the Arts, and PEN. 

Kephart was one of 50 Philadelphia writers chosen for the year-long Philadelphia’s Literary Legacy, exhibited at the Philadelphia International Airport. Excerpts from her Love: A Philadelphia Affair were the subject of a six-month Airport exhibit. She is a Radnor High Hall of Fame.

Kephart’s most recent book—This Is the Story of You—was published by Chronicle and is a Junior Library Guild and Scholastic Book Club selection, on the 2017 TAYSHAS list, a VOYA Perfect Ten, and a Top Ten New Jersey Book.

Kephart will release two middle grade books with Caitlyn Dlouhy of Atheneum/Simon & Schuster. She is the co-founder of Juncture Workshops, offering memoir workshops and resources to writers across the country.

Mister Darcy’s Secret by Barbara Silkstone

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Kindle, 181 pgs.
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These could be read as standalone novellas, as I even read these out of order. I do think it might be a richer read in order.

Mister Darcy’s Secret by Barbara Silkstone is the third novella in the comedic mystery series in which Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy meet in the modern world where Darcy is a man of mystery and Lizzie is a dog psychologist. The novella opens with Lizzie taking Darcy and his sister, Georgiana, to their Christmas gift — a hot air balloon ride — but things don’t go exactly as planned for either Lizzie who hates heights or Darcy who is struggling to win her affections. This is not your usual angst filled relationship, as Silkstone peppers her novella with comedic missteps and downright hilarity.

“I could feel the tension mount as I became a bug drawn to a Venus flytrap.”

Lizzie is still helping Darcy with his dogs, but she’s looking to expand her business to new clients. Luck would have it that there is a new client waiting for her in Darcy’s own building. As the mystery about the surrounding area and a development project continue to press in on them, Darcy has to reveal a secret that put his sister and the woman he loves in danger. Will Lizzie accept his truth and be by his side? Is she ready for the danger the lies ahead, or will she merely stumble into more trouble than she’s ready for?

This modern Lizzie and Darcy are a bit goofy, but Mister Darcy’s Secret by Barbara Silkstone is a fun read.

RATING: Tercet

About the Author:
Barbara Silkstone is the best-selling author of the Wendy Darlin Tomb Raider series that includes: Wendy and the Lost Boys, London Broil, Cairo Caper, Miami Mummies, Vulgarian Vamp, Wendy Darlin Tomb Raider Boxed Set. Her Criminally Funny Fables Romantic Suspense series includes: The Secret Diary of Alice in Wonderland, Age 42 and Three-Quarters; Wendy and the Lost Boys.

Mister Darcy’s Christmas by Barbara Silkstone

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Kindle, 90 pgs.
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Mister Darcy’s Christmas by Barbara Silkstone, book two in the comedic mystery series, has Dr. Elizabeth Bennet, who wants to be the dog psychologist to Buckingham Palace’s corgis, spending Christmas eve with her employer, Mister Darcy at his penthouse.  First she and her sisters want to get a little shopping done, but they stumble across a young girl and her dog near an alley.  It’s blistering cold outside, and they don’t want to return her to a home where verbal and physical abuse seems to be occurring at the very moment they try to return her.

Silkstone draws heavily on the Annie motif for her own Christmas story, but there are enough plausible differences to make this story a worthwhile read.  Lizzie is still unsure about her feelings for the mysterious Mr. Darcy, but it is clear that he’s fond of her.  Meanwhile, Caroline comes on the scene and she’s seeing red — she’s made it her mission to attract Darcy and she’s none too pleased to see he has eyes for Dr. Bennet.

“The pajamas were filed in an alcove on the rear wall.  A six-foot framed mirror on a pivoting stand stood to the left.  An organdy and ribbon-decked dressing table in shades of soft pastels commanded the center of the room.”

Through the eyes of Mary we see a bit of Scrooge and other classics, but Silkstone’s Darcy is not afraid of using his connections and wealth to help those who need it, even if it means doing so in front of others.    It’s also clear he dotes on his younger sister — perhaps a little too much.  Mister Darcy’s Christmas by Barbara Silkstone is a tale about charity, family responsibility, and love at its core.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Barbara Silkstone is the best-selling author of the Wendy Darlin Tomb Raider series that includes: Wendy and the Lost Boys, London Broil, Cairo Caper, Miami Mummies, Vulgarian Vamp, Wendy Darlin Tomb Raider Boxed Set. Her Criminally Funny Fables Romantic Suspense series includes: The Secret Diary of Alice in Wonderland, Age 42 and Three-Quarters; Wendy and the Lost Boys; Zo White and the Seven Morphs.

Mister Darcy’s Dogs by Barbara Silkstone

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Kindle, 179 pgs.
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Mister Darcy’s Dogs by Barbara Silkstone is a modern take on Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet’s relationship.  Lizzie is a dog psychologist starting her own business, while Mr. Darcy is a man of mystery.  After helping her sister Jane out of a jam at a dog show, Mr. Darcy ends up as her client with his two adorable Basset hounds Derby and Squire.  The dogs take an instant liking to her and demonstrate their dislike for a certain red-head — Caroline.  Bingley seems to be chauffeuring people around in this one, at least until his eyes land on Jane.  Lizzie begins to see that Jane is smitten, with her nervous ticks and giggling.  She just wants her sister to be happy, even if all she wants is to focus on her career despite the distraction of Mr. Darcy’s chocolate brown eyes and handsome figure.

“With a noticeably deep sigh, he regained his broom-up-the-butt composure and hooded his eyes.”

Lizzie is hired to help Mr. Darcy ready his dogs for a faux fox hunt in which dogs chase the scent of a fox but are not allowed to kill a live fox under government rules.  She’s a bit out of her element and has little to no experience with fox hunts or riding horses.  Silkstone’s Darcy is still haughty, but by the end he softens toward Lizzie, even though she wants to remain a steadfast career woman.  Even George Wickham makes an appearance here to stir up trouble for Darcy and the Bennets.

Mister Darcy’s Dogs by Barbara Silkstone is a fun romp in the fields with two basset hounds and their master, as Darcy strives to uncover the true nature of the fox hunt.  Lizzie is along for the ride and hopeful that this chance with a new client will lead to more business.  Silkstone has modernized the story and left a lot of room for humor.

RATING: Quatrain

About the Author:

Barbara Silkstone is the best-selling author of the Wendy Darlin Tomb Raider series that includes: Wendy and the Lost Boys, London Broil, Cairo Caper, Miami Mummies, Vulgarian Vamp, Wendy Darlin Tomb Raider Boxed Set. Her Criminally Funny Fables Romantic Suspense series includes: The Secret Diary of Alice in Wonderland, Age 42 and Three-Quarters; Wendy and the Lost Boys.

New Authors Reading Challenge 2017

Abnormal Repetitive Behaviors by Leslie Heywood

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Paperback, 104 pgs.
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Abnormal Repetitive Behaviors by Leslie Heywood explores how trauma can affect those in the same family in the generations that follow the event.  From the death of grandparents in a violent murder-suicide to the abusive relationship between an alcoholic father and his daughter, the poems explore the patterns of behavior that occur through time and repeat from one generation to the next.

“a cry stuck between/Growling and the most bereft sense of loss” (“Abnormal Repetitive Behaviors” pg. 15-16) is the initial sense readers will have with these poems, but what lies beneath is a deep exploration of how emotional response is innate, as Heywood draws parallels between humans and animals.  Heywood’s poems will rip out your heart as you follow the generational grief down the line and the hope that even a cheery paint color could possibly be a shield against the darkness of their patterns.

In “Fire Breathing” near the middle of the collection, we see a narrator who is determined to keep going, getting back up no matter how many times they fall or are pushed down by their alcoholic father or the kids at school.  Is that the light?  Is that the hope? Is that the perseverance that will break the cycle? It seems like a way out, until it doesn’t as the narrator laments, “Because I am not weak,/Because I need to stand up/Run faster than the voices/No one else hears because if I don’t/I’ll fade away behind them,/My body disappearing in the heat.” (pg. 56-7)

Abnormal Repetitive Behaviors by Leslie Heywood cautions that “grief is a second body” (“Parasite”, pg. 72-3) that can take control if you let it, and when dealing with a person consumed by it, treat it like a wild animal.  Stand clear, protect yourself.  But by the final poems in this collection, it is clear that to deal with grief, break the cycle of abuse, and move forward, the affected must learn to pause, breathe in that moment of beauty and hold it close.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Poet:

Leslie Heywood is Professor of English and Creative Writing at SUNY-Binghamton, where she was a 2009 recipient of the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Research and Creative Activities. Interdisciplinary in focus, her areas are creative writing, gender studies, sport studies, science studies, and environmental studies.

New Authors Reading Challenge 2017

The Far Mosque by Kazim Ali

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Paperback, 80 pgs.
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The Far Mosque by Kazim Ali is a collection of poems in which a journey toward enlightenment is not what the narrator expects.  The Far Mosque is a place where enlightenment can be reached.  Many of these poems are not about a journey to a place but a journey within the self.  Ali plays with language in these poems, with many relying on homophones to carry a dual meaning.

From "Night Boat" (pg. 19-20)

Unfurl your hands to say: You will no longer here
The trees are rapt with silence

The burning bird settling in the rocks
Stand ever among the broken vowels:

You will no longer hour

The silent groundswell, the swell of silence.

Silence is a pervading theme throughout as the narrator tries to quiet his own beating heart to enjoy the silent moments of nature in “One Evening,” or when Yogis open their mouths to drink rain, rather than speak in “Rain.” The journey has taken this narrator many places, but many of these trips have done little to achieve peace or calm. The narrator is looking for a way to separate from the known self, to find that inner place (“The River’s Address”) where he can return again when the world or his state of mind requires re-balance.

The Far Mosque by Kazim Ali is a meditation of its own, with poems evoking ties to nature and its quiet beauty, but also its tumultuous moments and chaotic presence. Some of these poems will require greater meditation from the reader.

RATING: Tercet

About the Poet:

Kazim Ali is an American poet, novelist, essayist and professor. His most recent books are The Disappearance of Seth (Etruscan Press, 2009) and Bright Felon: Autobiography and Cities (Wesleyan University Press, 2009). His honors include an Individual Excellence Award from the Ohio Arts Council. His poetry and essays have been featured in many literary journals and magazines including The American Poetry Review, Boston Review, Barrow Street, Jubilat, The Iowa Review, West Branch and Massachusetts Review, and in anthologies including The Best American Poetry 2007.

 

 

 

 

 

New Authors Reading Challenge 2017

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood (Audio)

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Audible, 12+ hrs.
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The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, narrated by Claire Danes, imagines a world not too far removed from where we are now — with the lack of cash and electronic transfers and the nuclear proliferation and antibiotic resistant diseases — but in this new United States known as Gilead, women are prohibited from holding jobs, having money, reading, and forming friendships. They are merely vessels through which children can be created, carried, and born, only to then be given to the households in which these handmaid’s reside. The handmaid’s are merely the vessels through which wives of the elite are able to have children following the devastating disease that renders many women infertile. Yes, it is only the women who are to blame for the infertility, which is why the men are permitted handmaidens with which to procreate.

Offred tells us this tale from the handmaid’s point of view, and none of the characters we meet have their own names, merely names that are adapted from the husband’s leading the households. To bear a child that is not deformed and is healthy is an honor for these women, but they also have very little freedom — forced to live inside the house, not form bonds with other women or men, and required to eat only prescribed foods and avoid all vices.

Engaging from the start, readers are thrust into this new world and forced to review their own freedoms. How could you become accustom to such a life and not fight it? Offred explains how it comes to pass and why the women remain in their assigned roles, but even in the darkness, there is a light — dim as it may be. Atwood’s Offred is a woman who is resigned to her role because she fears that harm will come to the connections from her previous life. She fails to take action many times because she views her inaction as protecting those she loves. But she also is hampered by her lack of knowledge and her inability to creep about and learn things when the house is asleep.

Danes narration of the book is spot on, and we can feel the emotions pour out of her words. She becomes Offred, she breathes her world, forcing readers right down into the darkness with her. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, narrated by Claire Danes, is a cautionary tale about extreme measures, but it also serves to remind us that when we are not looking extremes can become reality. It is our duty to be vigilant and stand up and fight before things go too far.

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Margaret Atwood was born in 1939 in Ottawa and grew up in northern Ontario, Quebec, and Toronto. She received her undergraduate degree from Victoria College at the University of Toronto and her master’s degree from Radcliffe College.

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen

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Paperback, 371 pgs.
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The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen, which was our April book club selection, is a novel that satirizes the aftermath of the Vietnam war, but it also is a serious examination of identity from the point of view of someone who is a subversive and a mole within the South Vietnamese military at the time of the war. The Captain, who remains unnamed, is in the South Vietnamese military but feeding information to the People’s Army of Vietnam (communists) through his childhood friend, Man. Meanwhile, their third childhood friend, Bon, has been trained as an assassin by the CIA. Balancing his friendship with his duty to the communists becomes a balance that the Captain often loses, but as he has so few real connections with others, it is his friend Bon who pays the highest cost.

“I am a spy, a sleeper, a spook, a man of two faces. Perhaps not surprisingly, I am also a man of two minds. I am not some misunderstood mutant from a comic book or a horror movie, although some have treated me as such. I am simply able to see any issue from both sides. Sometimes I flatter myself that this is a talent, and although it is admittedly one of a minor nature, it is perhaps also the sole talent I possess.” (pg. 1)

In many ways the opening of the novel will signal to the reader that everything told by the Captain may be untrue or at least partly. But he also seeks to set himself up as a sympathetic character who is torn not only by his heritage — the son of a Vietnamese mother and French priest — but also by his knowledge of America from being abroad at school and his communist leanings. After fleeing Vietnam with the General when the Americans lost the war to the communists, the Captain longs to return, but he is repeatedly told that he must remain a mole among those exiled to America to ensure they are not planning a return. He is forced to swallow more of the bitter pill that his life is not his own, even in America.

The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen provides a deep look at issues of mixed cultures and races, how they are treated in Vietnam and America during this time period, and how difficult it was to reconcile defeat on either side. It also asks the bigger questions about revolution and the disillusionment of passionate idealists. Corruption of any revolution can occur, and that can be the most devastating for the passionate idealist, but how does it affect those who can see both sides of the equation? And is the real crime to have done nothing or to not have truly chosen a side to be on — right or wrong?

RATING: Cinquain

What the Book Club Thought:

The discussion compared the novel to 1984 and to Catch-22 for its satire, but mostly, we were engrossed in the plight of the Captain and his identity issues. We found it hard for him as a European-Vietnamese man with communist and American-leaning tendencies to reconcile all that he was and commit himself to one cause. Overall, most of the members at the meeting “enjoyed” the book, though one or two members were less than thrilled by the disembodied scenes in the interrogation room, which they felt took them out of the story.

About the Author:

Viet Thanh Nguyen’s novel The Sympathizer is a New York Times best seller and won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. Other honors include the Dayton Literary Peace Prize, the Edgar Award for Best First Novel from the Mystery Writers of America, the Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence in Fiction from the American Library Association, the First Novel Prize from the Center for Fiction, a Gold Medal in First Fiction from the California Book Awards, and the Asian/Pacific American Literature Award from the Asian/Pacific American Librarian Association. His other books are Nothing Ever Dies: Vietnam and the Memory of War (a finalist for the National Book Award in nonfiction) and Race and Resistance: Literature and Politics in Asian America. He is the Aerol Arnold Chair of English and Professor of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. His next book is a short story collection, The Refugees, forthcoming in February 2017 from Grove Press.