2021 Reading List: The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

Maybe it was just coincidence that the first book I finished in 2021 was a book about a dystopian replacement of the United States, right when we are watching extreme displays of anarchy play out in real life at the U.S. Congress. Crazy. Appalling. So wrong. I could go on, but this isn’t about politics today. This is just my book review.

The Testaments, by Margaret Atwood, is a sequel to her novel, The Handmaid’s Tale, which I read in 2019. Then, like now, I marveled at a book that is written to be wholly fictional and unrealistic and yet is so believable that it may actually happen. I remember thinking that The Handmaid’s Tale was a well-written book but kind of boring in terms of action and plotline. The Testaments, on the other hand, was the opposite. There was a lot going on in this book, and Atwood pretty much required you to read The Handmaid’s Tale first so that you know the background and context of this Gileadean world.

Despite being written some 35 years after The Handmaid’s Tale, the connection to the characters and the life they live is seamless.

The book is set about 15 years after the time of the The Handmaid’s Tale, and follows the experiences and accounts of three women, who are, inevitably, connected.

The first, a young girl, Agnes, the daughter of a Commander. Then another young girl, Daisy, who lives in Canada with her parents who run a thrift shop. Lastly, Aunt Lydia, one of the founding Aunts of Gilead, the one who is in charge.

Throughout the book, you realize that everything about their lives is based on lies and deceit. Agnes’ parents were not her real parents. She gets a step-mother, Paula, who had lied about the way her previous husband had died. She gets out of an arranged betrothal by lying and saying she had a calling to become an Aunt. Daisy’s parents aren’t her real parents. They are involved in a secret organization that smuggles girls and women out of Gilead to safety. Daisy had actually been smuggled out of Gilead herself when she was a baby and everyone in Gilead is looking for her. She must lie and deceive in order to sneak back in to Gilead with the hope that she can be a messenger to reveal the crimes of Gilead and bring about its destruction. Lydia’s entire life is built on lies, eavesdropping on every conversation in order to use what’s said and play the right hand. She says she is the founder and is committed to the success of Gilead but she’s actually plotting its demise and has been since she was captured.

Once again, I am surprised by how little time passed between the coup that resulted in the founding of Gilead, and the current events of the book. I had commented that in The Handmaid’s Tale it seemed that only 3 or 4 years had passed – Offred remembered her previous life, her husband, her child, as if it had happened so recently. And now reading The Testaments, I realize that if Aunt Lydia founded Gilead and she had already been considered old then and she is still alive to run the place, then we are only talking about 20 years of Gilead.

So there are women who remember the old ways. There may only be one generation of children who’ve been brought up completely engrained in this dystopian culture. And yet everyone acts like, this is the world, this is the way it is. It’s amazing how they forgot. It’s amazing how they could have adapted to this life of lies, brainwashed into thinking that Gilead is a better place than the world before.

Violence keeps them there. A violent and oppressive system that Lydia herself came up with and devised the rules for. The lack of power keeps women from rebelling. Killing their own citizens keeps them from running away. Fear for their lives and the lives of people they know and love keeps them quiet and subdued.

When you boil it all down, any society could become like this. Take away the power, change the rules, resort to fear and violence to contain the disorderly, and you have a system that is completely dysfunctional and morally wrong. But those with the power might say, whose morals? Everyone thinks their own worldview and way of life is the correct one. That’s why they’re living it. We all think everyone else is wrong, had made the wrong decision. The most extremists will fight, kill, overthrow, and condemn those who don’t believe what they believe or do what they say is right. The most extreme will spread lies, convince others to join them, incite insurrection, all in the name of what they think is fair and just. They think their world is better than reality and they will stop at nothing to control everyone around them and contain them in it.

I know I said I wouldn’t get political, but I leave you with this. Is the world we actually live in today much different from this fictional futuristic society?

2020 Reading List: Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott

I joined a new book club! This one is with a group of fellow moms. Clearly becoming new parents during a pandemic has led to some of us needing some literary escape.

The first book we chose was Give Me Your Hand by Megan Abbott. I went off on a tangent with the plot of this book, so be warned – there are spoilers. Continue reading

2020 Reading List: Three Women by Lisa Taddeo

It shouldn’t surprise you, but this book is about three women. More specifically, three women and how they experience their own sexuality. One woman, Maggie, had a secret affair with her teacher when she was 17 years old. One woman, Lina, has a sex-less, presumably love-less marriage so she has an affair with a married man. The third woman, Sloane, has sex with other men and women while her husband watches or participates and she mostly enjoys it.

This book, Three Women by Lisa Taddeo, is real, raw account of these women’s lives. I loved the way it was written; it felt unbiased and yet it was emotional and relatable. Relatable in the feelings and desires of these women, not necessarily lifestyle. It didn’t glorify or condone any lifestyle or decision but it also didn’t cast judgment or blame on anyone. It was an exploration of the real needs and wants of women that are so often ignored. Continue reading

2020 Reading List: Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis

Once again, I picked this book to read because I needed something light and fun. I needed to get my mind off the coronavirus, the quarantine and isolation, the illnesses and deaths reported in the news. I needed an escape. I figured that since I liked Rachel Hollis’ book, Girl, Wash Your Face so much, I would also enjoy this one in a time of worldwide crisis. Continue reading

2020 Reading List: The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang

A few days before I had my baby I decided I needed a light, fun book to read to take my mind off the stress and discomfort of being past my due date. I had The Kiss Quotient, by Helen Hoang on my wish list in the library’s ebook portal; I think it was recommended to me by a friend years ago. It sounded fun and light so I thought, Why not? Continue reading

2020 Reading List: An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

This book was a pick for our office book club, and coincidentally it fits in with Black History Month. Not intentional, I swear, but a nice little nod to an important societal recognition.

An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones, was likely placed on our list because it received so many awards and accolades and made it’s mark on lists like Oprah’s Book Club. With a resume like that, it’s bound to be good, right?

This book is about a young couple, Celestial and Roy, married just over a year, who are about to figure out their next steps together (job? babies?) when Roy is caught in the wrong place at the wrong time – or as they say in the book – wrong place, wrong race. Roy is misidentified as the man who assaulted a woman at a hotel they were staying at. Of course he didn’t do it, his alibi is that he was with his wife all night, but apparently that’s not enough. Roy is sentenced to 12 years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Celestial is left on the outside to figure out how to go on with her husband in jail. She turns to her childhood friend, Andre, and as the years go on, her marriage breaks down and her bond with Andre is strengthened. But Roy gets out of jail early and expects to return to his wife and his life.

After reading this book, at first I thought that it wasn’t very universal. The title would have you believe that the story could be some kind of representation of marriages everywhere, some relatable universal theme. But I thought that the disintegration of a marriage because of wrongful incarceration did not seem very universal. Continue reading

2020 Reading List: Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris

I feel like I haven’t read a good thriller lately, so I was ready for this suspenseful page-turner.

Behind Closed Doors, by B.A. Paris is about a couple who is, seemingly, perfect. They have the perfect house, cook the perfect food for their guests, and live the perfect traditional life of not-so-recent newlyweds. That’s what Jack wants everyone to see. A husband doting on his loving, beautiful wife. Continue reading

2020 Reading List: Becoming by Michelle Obama

I have always admired the Obama family, particularly Michelle Obama. Throughout her time in the First Lady spotlight, she seemed to exude a certain presence, grace, compassion, and strength that is often lost or buried in mainstream celebrities. To me, their family seemed to be a solid representation of what a First Family should be.

I’m not here to be political or to force my opinions on anyone. I read Becoming, by Michelle Obama, because I wanted to hear about her life in her own words. I wanted a larger glimpse into the life of this First Lady who represented so many other things. I was not disappointed, and I think, whatever your political stance is, you won’t be either. Continue reading

2020 Reading List: Before We Were Yours by Lisa Wingate

The first book of 2020 was one chosen by the office book club. Based on the book summary, I would have thought that Before We Were Yours, by Lisa Wingate, would be written differently than it was. I anticipated following along the story as it happened, the events unfolding as they would have in real life. Because this book is, of course, based on real life.

But I was thrown a bit when it read more like a mystery novel. Flashing back from present day to the 1930’s, we swapped points of view between Avery, who is uncovering the mystery of her grandmother’s past bit by bit and Rill, who is living an unimaginable life.

To find out the truth of the past, Avery’s telling of the story is maddeningly slow in the most riveting way. Avery is caught up in her family’s politics, being groomed for a Senate seat while at the same time planning a wedding with her fiance. A chance encounter with a woman at a nursing home during a public appearance has her off on a wild goose chase to connect the dots between this stranger and her grandmother, who happen to have similar photographs in their rooms of the same people.

You realize that Avery is on the brink of discovery, but hits a snag as she encounters a stubborn realtor who has sworn to keep her family’s secret – and yet, she finds herself falling in love with him.

Meanwhile, the reader is transported back a few generations to follow the story of a family on a river.

Be warned: I’m going to give away some spoilers in this review. If you want to read this book and don’t want the ending ruined, I suggest you stop now. Continue reading

2019 Reading List: Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver

This was supposed to be one of the “best books of 2018” and it was on lists for the O Magazine and Newsweek. I say “supposed to be” because I was just not a fan.

Maybe I missed something. I found Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver to be tedious and slow and disconnected. It was boring. I kept waiting for the plot to thicken, for something interesting to actually happen.  But the only thing that happened was the house kept falling apart and no one, in either time period, was able to actually fix it.

Maybe I missed some deeper meaning. Maybe there were parallels I was supposed to draw, metaphors to decipher, or allegories to interpret. But I didn’t catch them. Maybe because I would read two pages before drifting off, so it took me weeks longer than usual to finish the book.

If I missed the point of this book, then so be it. I don’t have to like everything. Continue reading