Monday, May 28, 2018

The Great Alone - Kristin Hannah ------------------ 4 Stars

Kristin Hannah is most well known for the wonderful novel, The Nightingale (review here). So, it was with a bit of trepidation that I decided to take on her newest book, The Great Alone. This was not a book I was particularly looking forward to and, knowing how strong her last novel was, I was worried she couldn't match. But as I couldn't find another book to take on at the moment, I gave it a try. And, for the most part, I'm pretty glad I did.

The story follows a family of a Vietnam vet venturing to a remote part of Alaska to set up a new life. The family includes a caring wife and open minded daughter. The book starts off slow and continues to be real slow. In fact, nearly the whole first half is told in a very meandering, placid style. I'm quite convinced that the author does so partly to build interest, but more so, to have the reader better appreciate and get a sense of the pace of living in Alaska. One of the most enjoyable, and frightening parts of the novel, is how well Hannah describes and makes you, almost viscerally, understand what it's like living in Alaska. Her descriptions of this amazing state is one of the reason I enjoyed the novel as I did. To be clear, I would never want to live there and appreciate more now than ever before, the great challenge those living in Alaska year round face.

After a lot of set up and a couple of quick time changes, the novel started to really take off. Actually, for a little while, I thought it took off too quickly. It was odd to go from no real action to an avalanche of wild things taking place so quickly. I was beginning to think the author blew it and took this carefully told story and went full on action movie. But, with great care, she turned it back to the tender love story from the beginning and brought the reader back to where she began. I really think she did a phenomenal job of returning to ome of the original story lines while making sure that they fit with the movement forward of the story.

Overall, this is a well told story about life in Alaska, young love, and the unpredictable challenges life provides. Although I doubted the book before I even began, about half way into, and again as the story neared the end, I should not have. Hannah did a great job of taking the reader on an interesting and enjoyable adventure into Alaska and beyond.

Friday, May 11, 2018

The Handmaid's Tale - Margaret Atwood --------------------- 2.5 Stars

You'd probably have to be under a pretty large size stone to not know about or heard of The Handmaid's Tale. While the book has been around since the 80's, it's become much more well known since Hulu made a television series about that earned a Golden Globe. While I did have this book on my "to read" list well before the series, I did feel the push to read after hearing how  great the show was. And, the book is always better than the movie/show, right?

Well, to answer my own question, I am not sure. I actually haven't seen the show, but based on my dislike of the book, it may not turn out to be accurate in this case. So, what gives, right? How can this phenomenal tv series and beloved book only earn 2.5 stars? Well, it's mostly because it made me angry and sad. If you're totally unaware of plot, this is a dystopian novel about a future that is a monotheocracy (yeah, I had to look that word up too), that more or less enslaves woman (and many men).

What's really quite astonishing about the novel is Atwood's amazing ability to make the reader, almost viscerally, feel what the protagonist is going through. Written from a first person perspective, it's powerfully penned. I truly felt much of the anxieties and fear of the main character which actually led me to have displeasure about the book. So, in many ways, this book is quite incredible. It's one of the few books I've read lately that had me thinking about the themes and characters while not reading. It's also not a coincidence that Hulu took a risk on making this into a show in our current politically charged environment. In fact, one could not help but make the connections and have fear about the "fictional" future from this book and the actual future we are making for ourselves right now.

The book has many positive qualities. Besides the great descriptions of the main character and her thoughts described above, it's a fascinating description of this dystopian world. In some ways the book is a mystery, because it's written as first person, and it jumps timelines, so its never quite clear to the reader what is going on. Even the epilogue, which takes place centuries after the time setting of the novel, does make clear exactly how the country changed or who was ruling.

Overall, I grade the novels on how entertaining they are to me. While occasionally interesting, I did not feel a constant need to finish this book; in fact, there were times, mostly due to anxiety, that I almost wished I didn't have to keep reading. While this is a testament to the great writing skills of the author, it did not make want to continue the book. Perhaps you might feel different, but know that you have been warned (poor offering of me trying to be ominous like many parts of this book).