The Handmaid’s Tale

51dtgb7b4yl_sl160_After countless suggestions that I should read The Handmaid’s Tale if I liked dystopian novels, I finally picked up a copy. I’m glad that I read it, but I’m sorry that I read it so late after reading so many other novels with the same theme because I came to it with jaded eyes.

In a nutshell, The Handmaid’s Tale is set in a newly-formed theocracy in the United States where men and women have disparate roles. Women are further broken down into specific tasks: wives, whose job is to oversee household affairs, Marthas, who take care of kitchen tasks, and Handmaids whose job is to reproduce — a womb with two legs.

Many describe the novel’s themes as a feminist dystopia, which is fairly accurate. Unfortunately, the feminist message came off too heavy-handed for me. The multiple references to porn-mag burnings, the narrator’s feminist mother, the Underground Femaleroad — all was a bit too much.

While reading the book, I kept debating whether the events seem plausible at all. On the one hand, factors leading up to the establishment of the theocracy such as the crazy religious right, the anti-Islamic sentiment, the loosening of morals, the movement towards electronic cash are all pertinent to what’s happening today. On the other hand, maybe I have too much faith in the intelligence and strength of people, I can’t imagine everyone just sitting around and taking it if some radical group overthrew the government and forced everyone into very specific gender roles and stringent regulations. But then, I think of the Patriot Act and I get paranoid about it.

In the end, I was glad I finally read The Handmaid’s Tale even if it didn’t live up to its hype.  Its feminist slant makes it different from any of the other novels I’ve read, but I still couldn’t help feeling like I’ve read some of the passages before.

A Clash of Kings

51de7tjxvgl_sl160_A Clash of Kings (A Song of Ice and Fire, Book 2) continues George R.R. Martin’s epic series. It practically starts off where the first book left off — I can’t imagine anyone reading the second book without reading the first. I was hoping that some of the conflicts would be resolved in this book, but they weren’t. It’s like watching an episode of Lost: you think you’re getting answers, but you’re just getting more and more questions. But that’s not a bad thing at all.

A few new characters are introduced in A Clash of Kings, but I was really just interested in the fate of the Starks. I changed favorites as I went through the book because a few characters finally had their motives revealed. I got a little bored of all the lords and knights and the minor politics in the middle, but kept reading nonetheless.

Reading these books reminds me of watching a long-running television series because so much is going on. Almost every chapter has some sort of “aha!” moment or at least a cliffhanger. And the end of the A Clash of Kings? Unsatisfying, which compelled me to immediately start the next book in the series.

Ring (the novel, not the movie)

51hcxh9tmel_sl160_The best way to enjoy Ring by Koji Suzuki is to not watch the movie (the Japanese one or the American remake) and not know anything about it.  I’m jealous of people who can come to the novel with a fresh mind like that.   For the rest of us, the novel is still good, but there’s no sense of “aha!” once the plot unfolds.

The book starts off with the death of four teenagers, seemingly unrelated other than having died at exactly the same time and from the exact same thing: sudden heart failure. From that starting point, Suzuki writes an evenly paced mystery that’s part detective novel and part supernatural fiction.

Unlike the movies, the novel Ring is more mystery than jump-out-of-your-seat horror.  But that doesn’t make it any less scary.  I made the mistake of reading this before bed several nights and while I wasn’t that scared whlie reading it, more than once I woke up in the middle of the night and felt fear.  One night, I woke up, looked at the BF sleeping next to me and for some reason I thought he was dead.

In addition to the mystery, there’s a lot of Japanese culture and traditions in the book. The translator balances having the book feel Japanese without making it feel too foreign to non-Japanese readers.  In other words, it reads like something that happened in Japan but could also happen in any other country.

The book explains a few things that the movies gloss over and while the main plot is the same, there are small differences and even a few surprises.  It may not be for someone who wants to read a written version of the movie, but I enjoyed it for the background it gave as well as for more insight into the detective character and other character motives.