Book Review: The Circle

the circleTitle: The Circle

Author: David Eggers

Series: none

Edition: library e-book

Blurb: When Mae Holland is hired to work for the Circle, the world’s most powerful internet company, she feels she’s been given the opportunity of a lifetime. The Circle, run out of a sprawling California campus, links users’ personal emails, social media, banking, and purchasing with their universal operating system, resulting in one online identity and a new age of civility and transparency. As Mae tours the open-plan office spaces, the towering glass dining facilities, the cozy dorms for those who spend nights at work, she is thrilled with the company’s modernity and activity. There are parties that last through the night, there are famous musicians playing on the lawn, there are athletic activities and clubs and brunches, and even an aquarium of rare fish retrieved from the Marianas Trench by the CEO. Mae can’t believe her luck, her great fortune to work for the most influential company in America–even as life beyond the campus grows distant, even as a strange encounter with a colleague leaves her shaken, even as her role at the Circle becomes increasingly public. What begins as the captivating story of one woman’s ambition and idealism soon becomes a heart-racing novel of suspense, raising questions about memory, history, privacy, democracy, and the limits of human knowledge.

Review: Funny, lately I’ve been getting my reading inspiration from other forms of media. First, it was The Handmaid’s Tale because of the new series on Hulu. This time, it was The Circle, after seeing the trailer for the movie coming up with Tom Hanks and Emma Watson.

It’s interesting though, reading these two books back to back. They both show a potential future, but the outcomes of these two futures are very different. Instead of The Handmaid’s Tale‘s religious oppression, The Circle has a very 1984 feel to it, except that instead of Big Brother watching, everyone is watching. The idea is that all information is available. There is no privacy. Every thing is available to be watched by anyone, anywhere. Anyone who is trying to hide something is suspicious – if they are hiding it, it must be something shameful or something illegal. The Circle is what a company like Google would be on steroids, and also if it was run by devious people. Or at least ambiguous people. It’s really hard to tell if the leaders of the Circle are actually evil or just really, really misguided. Actually, I think at least one is evil. But I could be wrong. As I said, it’s really hard to tell.

And that’s what makes this a really good book. Nothing is simple. The Circle starts out as an Internet company that looks to do good, making things easier for people online. Identify theft is pretty much ended because of their work and millions of lives are made simpler. Mae is a really good character, who at the start of the book only wants to get out of her dead end job. She’s so happy when she gets her opportunity at the Circle, which does seem like a utopia. I spent a good deal of the time wishing I could work there. It was really easy for her to get more and more pulled into their influence, until they control nearly every aspect of not just her life, but her mind as well. It’s a really interesting character study.

I enjoyed this book quite a bit. I originally checked out the e-book from the library, but just bought a physical copy today. This is one I will want to re-read again. GoodReads rating: 5 stars

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Book Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

the-handmaids-taleTitle: The Handmaid’s Tale

Author: Margaret Atwood

Series: None

Edition: E-book

Seasonal Reading Challenge:Task 15.3, Option #2 – Mary Wollstonecraft published A Vindication of the Rights of Woman one of the earliest works of feminist philosophy in January 1792.

Option 1, Read TWO books, one book 1 and one book 2.

Book 1: Read a book from this list of Popular Feminism Books
Required: State the page of the list where your book is found.

Book 2: Read a book by a female author whose initials are found in MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT. Letters may only be used as often as they appear. All name part initials must be considered. One qualifying author in a book by multiple contributors fulfills this task.

OR

Option 2, Read ONE book that fulfills both option 1 Book A and Book B.

Blurb: Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now…

Review: Oh. My. GAWD! How have I never read this book before??

I devoured this book in one day. Almost in one sitting. It was that compelling.

It’s really hard to explain what I liked about the book, because there are very few things I didn’t like. The setting took some time to figure out where exactly this was taking place – it was a reveal in and of itself. The characters were wonderfully rich and complex. Offred is a very compelling protagonist, but it was also interesting to see that the people who were in power, who should have been “the bad guys” were also very complicated. The Commander and his wife were part of the system, but neither one seemed very happy about it. I really liked the under culture too, and would LOVE to hear more about Moira’s story.

The pacing in this was great as well. We get constant hints throughout of Offred’s life before, but it’s not until towards the end that we really see the full picture, and see how we got to this point in the first place. And it’s fascinating. The only thing I could even criticize about it is that the final chapter feels really out of place. It takes place long after the events of the book and, well, I don’t know. It felt wrong. I wanted to have more of a definitive conclusion of Offred’s story, and we don’t really get that.

But that was me just being nitpicky. The rest of the book is great. Thought provoking, shocking, but in all the right ways. GoodReads rating: 5 stars.

Book Review: The Miniaturist

the-miniaturistTitle: The Miniaturist

Author: Jessie Burton

Series: None

Edition: Paperback

Seasonal Reading Challenge: Task 25.1 Book #2 – Read a book in which the First letter of the First word is the same as the Last letter of the Last word in the title. Titles may contain any number of words including one.

Blurb: On a brisk autumn day in 1686, eighteen-year-old Nella Oortman arrives in Amsterdam to begin a new life as the wife of illustrious merchant trader Johannes Brandt. But her new home, while splendorous, is not welcoming. Johannes is kind yet distant, always locked in his study or at his warehouse office–leaving Nella alone with his sister, the sharp-tongued and forbidding Marin.

But Nella’s world changes when Johannes presents her with an extraordinary wedding gift: a cabinet-sized replica of their home. To furnish her gift, Nella engages the services of a miniaturist–an elusive and enigmatic artist whose tiny creations mirror their real-life counterparts in eerie and unexpected ways . . .

Johannes’ gift helps Nella to pierce the closed world of the Brandt household. But as she uncovers its unusual secrets, she begins to understand–and fear–the escalating dangers that await them all. In this repressively pious society where gold is worshipped second only to God, to be different is a threat to the moral fabric of society, and not even a man as rich as Johannes is safe. Only one person seems to see the fate that awaits them. Is the miniaturist the key to their salvation . . . or the architect of their destruction?

Review: This will be a tricky review to write, not because I didn’t enjoy the book, but because there are so many things I can’t discuss because of spoilers.

I first picked up this book at Barnes & Noble. I had never heard of it or the author. I just liked the cover art. Something about it just really spoke to me. I know the saying goes that you can’t judge a book by it’s cover, but in this case, I’m glad I did. This was an excellent book. The writing is beautiful and captured this time period and city that I will never experience, but now deeply want to.

Nella is a very interesting character, but not a very complex one. She is very young and very naïve, essentially sent into marriage because her mother wanted her to have more opportunities than she would ever find in their poor, small town. She’s a very straightforward character – what you see is what you get – which makes all the other things going on around her in the story seem all the more off kilter.

I also really enjoyed her relationship with her sister-in-law, Marin. Marin is a VERY complicated character with all kinds of secrets and watching those secrets unfold is very satisfying. I was completely blindsided by it all. Nella and Marin go from antagonists, to barely tolerated roommates, to hesitant allies, which shows off the complexity of Marin’s character and the growth of Nella’s. Really well done.

Ugh, I wish I could say more! But it would totally ruin things if I did!

There is this sense of trepidation that goes throughout the novel, in many different aspects. The reader spends a great deal of time knowing that something is not quite right, but not knowing exactly what it is. One is, of course, the miniaturist. There is a slight supernatural element to this novel, but it’s slightly ambiguous. They never come out and confirm anything about how the miniaturist is able to do their work. That is a slight complaint about the story because there are many threads that are never fully resolved, and the story just sort of drifts to a close. I wish there could have been a bit more about it, especially about the miniaturist themselves.

But overall, this is a beautiful and haunting book. I definitely recommend it.

GoodReads rating: 5 stars.

Book Review: Looking for Alaska

looking-for-alaskaTitle: Looking for Alaska

Author: John Green

Series: none

Edition: Paperback

Seasonal Reading Challenge: Task 10.2 – Ring, Sing, Bling? – Some ancient wonders such as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon end with the letters “ing,” and that ending also is common during the holiday season – bells “ring,” people “sing” carols. Read a book with a word in the title/subtitle ending in “ing.”

Blurb: Before. Miles “Pudge” Halter is done with his safe life at home. His whole life has been one big non-event, and his obsession with famous last words has only made him crave “the Great Perhaps” even more (Francois Rabelais, poet). He heads off to the sometimes crazy and anything-but-boring world of Culver Creek Boarding School, and his life becomes the opposite of safe. Because down the hall is Alaska Young. The gorgeous, clever, funny, sexy, self-destructive, screwed up, and utterly fascinating Alaska Young. She is an event unto herself. She pulls Pudge into her world, launches him into the Great Perhaps, and steals his heart. Then. . . .
After. Nothing is ever the same.

Review: It’s funny, but I thought that I had already reviewed this book, but then as I was cleaning up some things around the blog, I realized that I hadn’t. And since I end up reading it at least once a year, I figured I ought to officially review this thing!

Y’all know how much I love John Green. I have ever since I first started watching VlogBrothers on YouTube. This was his first published book and, to be honest, I feel like it completely encapsulates what it’s like to be a teenager, more so than most of the YA books I have read. This book is often taught in schools, which means it’s also challenged and banned quite often as well. Because parents don’t think that their precious children can handle this.

It’s hard to review this without giving away the ending, and doing that would ruin the experience of reading this book. I’ll start by listing things that people complain about it. Lots of folks dismiss Alaska Young as a Manic Pixie Dream Girl. Actually, to be fair, they complain that Green uses this trope often in his books, which is a fair point. An Abundance of Katherines has Lindsey Lee Wells. Paper Towns has Margo Roth Spiegleman. The Fault in Our Stars sort of has a Manic Pixie Dream Guy with Augustus Waters, although that one is a bit different. So yeah, clearly John Green enjoys using this as a plot device, but the thing is, he’s very good at it. And also, I think his characters have more depth than a typical MPDG usually does. They don’t just exist to help the main characters find themselves. They have their own needs and desires.

All that aside, Alaska is a fun character that you can’t help but like even though she is a whole heap of trouble. Actually, all of the characters in this one are great, from Miles’s roommate Chip (a.k.a “The Colonel” – he’s the leader of the group), Takumi (who enjoys wearing a fox hat when they go on their adventures), and Lara (a shy Romanian girl who is Miles’s first girlfriend).

The book also has fun with the boarding school setting and, let’s be honest, how many of us had a fantasy about going away to boarding school when we were kids? I know I did. There’s a reason why it’s so popular (seriously, I could name a dozen children’s or YA books set in a boarding school right off the top of my head).

To sum up, this book is really good. It makes me laugh and it makes me cry every time I read it. GoodReads rating: 5 stars

Book Review: The Plantation

the-plantationTitle: The Plantation

Author: Stella Samiotou-Fitzsimons

Series: The Plantation #1

Edition: ebook

Seasonal Reading Challenge Task: 25.1 Book #1 – Read a book written by a single author in which the First letter of the author’s First name is the same as the Last letter of his/her Last name. Examples : Michael Cunningham (M) or Alex Kava (A).

Blurb: A century has passed since they arrived. Human history has been erased. Children are enslaved on Alien plantations. Some have heard whispers of the existence of a rebel band of humans who roam free in the forests. Most slaves dare not speak of the rebels for fear the mutant guards will grab and make an example of them.

Seventeen-year-old Freya is pulled away in the night not by the mutants, but by her old friend Finn, to join the Saviors, the mythic band of rebel teens. Her bliss fades when she discovers she is the only Savior without a special ability. She is the odd one out, slowly pushing Finn away, defying Damian, the leader of the Saviors, and antagonizing the fierce and beautiful Daphne. In her despair Freya reaches deep within to discover a dark destiny, a truth so heavy it threatens to destroy her.

Review: I got this book for free off of BookBub (have you never signed up for BookBub? you need to – right now!). I’ll admit, I was originally attracted to the cover art – so pretty! – but also because the premise sounded interesting and, hey, free book. Overall, the book was okay. Not over-the-top great, but it kept my interest.

A few mild spoilers ahead, just to warn you. Nothing super major, but just be prepared.

Freya is a pretty run of the mill YA heroine. Not saying that this is a bad thing necessarily, but after a while they get a bit tired if not done right. She’s the girl who’s a bit of an outcast, who is almost obnoxiously not-special – in this case it’s because all the others who have escaped the Plantations have genetically enhanced abilities and Freya doesn’t seem to. She, of course, discovers her powers later and they are different from everyone else and she is super special in ways she doesn’t even understand – as I said, that was pretty predictable. It’s been done millions of times. Not that she isn’t a likeable character – she is. I just felt like she could have been developed a bit more.

The other characters are interesting enough, but with a few exceptions, they are pretty one dimensional. I had a hard time really connecting with any of them.

My main complaint about the book was this – for a book titled The Plantation, we never actually saw one. There were a few brief descriptions from Freya about how things were like before she was rescued by the Saviors, but I think it would have been better to have at least a chapter or two showing her life in the Plantation, and then actually have her rescue happen in the story proper instead of way before the book even starts. We get an idea of what they are running from and fighting for, but actually being able to experience it would have given the story some much needed depth.

On to the good stuff, because there was some good stuff, I promise! I really liked the premise of a future Earth that has been taken over by aliens. I liked the structure of the story world, which is part of why I wanted to see more of it. There was a really good flow to the story, and some really good suspense and action. I liked the idea of aliens, and only wish they had been in the story more – we don’t actually meet any until the end.

So the big question is . . . will I continue reading the series. I probably will at some point. There are five books total at the moment, plus a short novella that takes place between books 2 and 3. There is also a book scheduled to come out this year called Plantation Origins which is not part of the series proper, according to the author. It sounds like maybe it will fill in that missing piece? Possibly?

GoodReads rating: 3 stars. Not a super stellar book, but I’ve definitely read worse.

Book Review: The Hobbit

the-hobbitTitle: The Hobbit

Author: J.R.R. Tolkien

Series: prequel to The Lord of the Rings, I guess? Do people consider it part of that “series?”

Edition: Paperback

Seasonal Reading Challenge: None

Blurb: Bilbo Baggins was a hobbit who wanted to be left alone in quiet comfort. But the wizard Gandalf came along with a band of homeless dwarves. Soon Bilbo was drawn into their quest facing evil orcs, savage wolves, giant spiders, and worse unknown dangers. Finally, it was Bilbo – alone and unaided – who had to confront the great dragon Smaug, the terror of an entire countryside.

* * * * * * *

Okay. I have to say it, and I know it is probably a very unpopular opinion.

I don’t like this book.

Ugh, I know I’m supposed to. I love the fantasy genre, and Papa Tolkien was the great-granddaddy of it all. But I can’t. This book annoys me to no end.

Here’s another unpopular opinion – I think the movie actually did the story better justice, even with all the extra bits thrown in (hello, Legolas? and random girl elf?). It made the quest of the dwarves seem a bit more important than just, “Hey, our gold got stolen. Let’s go get it back!” It gave more of the history, which made the plight of the dwarves seem so much more real and serious. And yes, I get that this was originally supposed to be a children’s book, and most of that would be way too dense for your average child, but still. Especially knowing what lies ahead in The Lord of the Rings trilogy, this feels really silly.

Slight spoiler ahead – this book is 70 years old, but still. Just in case.

Another opinion that will probably be unpopular with Tolkien fans – I hate Thorin. I do. He’s terrible, especially at the end. The dragon left the Mountain, looking for the dwarves, and met its end at Lake-town. Okay. Then the people from Lake-town come up to the mountain to basically say, “Hey, we killed your dragon for you. You know have all your treasure and gold and stuff. How about you help us out since it wrecked our town? Especially since some of that treasure is stuff that the dragon stole from us too.” What does Thorin do? Pitches a hissy fit and threatens to go to war with them! Really, Thorin! Really! He’s supposed to be the leader of the dwarves, becoming King under the Mountain, and he acts like this? I was glad he died in the battle.

Gandalf was a bit irritating too. He starts off with them, and then once the trip is fully underway, he takes off. Then appears at the end to basically do nothing. He’s pretty useless as a wizard in this book, although he does redeem himself in LotR. So I guess he’s forgiven.

But yeah, I tried. I really did! I feel like a bad fantasy fan, but what can I say. GoodReads rating: 3 stars, but only out of obligation.

Book Review: You’re Never Weird on the Internet (almost)

Title: You’re Never Weird on the Internet (almost)

Author: Felicia Day

Edition: Paperback

Seasonal Reading Challenge: Task 15.1 #2 – Read an autobiography or memoir.

Blurb: From online entertainment mogul, actress, and “queen of the geeks” Felicia Day, a funny, quirky, and inspiring memoir about her unusual upbringing, her rise to Internet-stardom, and embracing her individuality to find success in Hollywood. The Internet isn’t all cat videos. There’s also Felicia Day – violinist, filmmaker, Internet entrepreneur, compulsive gamer, hoagie specialist, and former lonely homeschooled girl who overcame her isolated childhood to become the ruler of a new world . . . Or at least semi-influential in the world of Internet Geeks and Goodreads book clubs. After growing up in the south where she was “home-schooled for hippie reasons,” Felicia moved to Hollywood to pursue her dream of becoming an actress and was immediately typecast as a crazy cat-lady secretary. But Felicia’s misadventures in Hollywood led her to produce her own web series, own her own production company, and become an Internet star. Fleicia’s shortish life and her rags-to-riches rise to Internet fame launched her career as one of the most influential creators in new media. Not, Felicia’s strange world is filled with thoughts on creativity, video games, and a dash of mild feminist activism – just like her memoir. Hilarious and inspirational, You’re Never Weird on the Internet (almost) is proof that everyone should embrace what makes them different and be brave enough to share it with the world, because anything is possible now – even for a digital misfit.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

I mentioned in another post how much I enjoyed this book, but it does deserve a proper review. I got this book as a Christmas present and finished it by the morning of December 26th. That alone should show you how much I loved it. Could not put it down.

I don’t read nearly enough memoirs, which is sad because I usually really enjoy them when I do. I also think that being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes is a very good skill to have, and what better way to practice that than to read about their experiences. 

I also appreciate when someone can write about themselves in a brutally honest way. Felicia does this well, with a self-deprecating humor that is a joy to read. But she doesn’t pull any punches either. She is very clear about how she had an addiction to video games, which is one of the addictions that doesn’t get talked about very much, but which can also completely take over your life.  She has had issues with anxiety and depression, both of which led to not just mental health issues, but physical ones as well. 

I loved The Guild, so it was fun to hear about the creative process, especially since it seemed so effortless, but was actually a LOT of hard work. I think that’s one of the things that I admire most about Felicia – there was something she wanted to do, that she really believed in, and she went for it. No one was looking for a tv show about video games, so she made one herself. That takes guts! No matter what obstacles came her way, she found a creative way to overcome them and surrounded herself with people who understood her vision and became as passionate about it as she was. That is good advice for anyone in a creative field.

I would definitely recommend this book, even if you are not familiar with Felicia or her work. I think you will really like her as a person, and then want to seek out the things that she’s done. My GoodReads rating: 5 stars.