Review: The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After reading ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’, I can see why this dystopian classic has made such an impression on so many. This is a book that definitely hangs with you, haunting your thoughts, long after you finish the book. It is thought-provoking and terrifying.

The story centers on the heroine, Offred, who is a “handmaiden” in this futuristic world created by Ms. Atwood. As a handmaiden, Offred’s sole purpose is to produce a baby for the Commander and his wife, Serena Joy. Once she has served her purpose, she will be reassigned to another high-ranking man for the same purpose. This pattern will repeat over and over, until she is no longer able to bear children. What happens then, nobody really wants to talk about. Worse yet, if she fails to produce a child then she will face a fate reserved for the lowliest of women.

This is the world that Offred and others are left with after a brutal civil war stamped out the rights that citizens like Offred had taken for granted. The overthrow of the democratic government was gradual…until it wasn’t. The changes that took place were very insidious.

One moment, people like Offred were consumed with trivial problems, like where they were going to go out for dinner that night. The next thing they knew, a civil war was raging. Soon, their every movement was monitored closely. Of course, this was for their own “protection” and “safety”. Then, women weren’t allowed to hold jobs or manage their own money. (After all, the poor little dears shouldn’t have to bear that burden. A man should handle those sorts of things.) Next, anyone that dared to oppose the new regime was eliminated. Before long, citizens like Offred cannot even recognize their new reality. They are stuck under the rule of an incredibly oppressive, misogynistic regime.

Worst of all, their complacency paved the way for this gradual overthrow. Little by little, they handed over their rights with little resistance. They refused to see the writing on the wall and wanted to believe the lies that they were spoon-fed. Once they wised up, it was too late. Now, they are a people broken. Women, especially, face a grim fate.

This book is remarkable! Although it can be rather slow-moving at times, the message was powerful. This story serves as a cautionary tale and a necessary reminder. Civil rights are hard won and easily lost.

It is easy to draw comparisons to many of this books’ events and the events of the past and present. Ms. Atwood highlights many important issues and offers a great deal of social commentary. There were so many important topics that she touched upon that I can’t even begin to list them.

This book is considered to be a classic for a reason. It is a book that needs to be read and taken in by readers. While it isn’t necessarily the most entertaining read, it is certainly one of the most enlightening and thought-provoking. I highly recommend that everyone read this book, at least once.

View all my reviews

Review: Dominic (Benedetti Brothers, #2), by Natasha Knight

Dominic (Benedetti Brothers, #2)Dominic by Natasha Knight
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a tough review for me to write. I find myself a little torn over how to rate this book. I liked it, but I didn’t love it.

On the one hand, ‘Dominic’ had many elements that would usually be an instant hit with me. It featured a morally bankrupt anti-hero that does some terrible things to the heroine. I love dark reads, so the twisted storyline was right up my alley. Also, the author didn’t shy away from writing dark, controversial content, which is also a big plus for me.

However, the flip side is that I never really “connected” to Dominic or Gia. Even though this story had all the dark elements that would usually be a formula for success for me, I just didn’t feel it. I don’t know if this was a result of poor execution, or if it is just a result of reading this book immediately after reading another phenomenal dark story. I think it is the latter. While this book might have been a 4-star/”good” read for me any other time, following a 5-star/”phenomenal” dark read it ended up paling in comparison. So as you read my review, please keep that in mind.

If you’ve read ‘Salvatore’, the first book in the ‘Benedetti Brothers’ series, you might recall that Dominic was Salvatore’s [disturbed] brother. This book takes quite some time after ‘Salvatore’ and Dominic has been out of touch with his “family”. While Salvatore has left the Mafia behind to pursue a normal family life, Dominic has only begun to work from the periphery, doing the most despicable work for crime bosses.

Dominic is definitely not a nice guy. He makes no qualms about the fact that he does horrible things. On some level, he acknowledges that what he is doing is wrong and that he is even ashamed of how far down he’s let himself fall. Regardless, he isn’t bothered enough by his conscience to stop doing what he’s doing….and what he’s doing is breaking girls and training them for lives as sex slaves.

Gia is given to Dominic to be broken and trained. She immediately piqued his interest because he was told that he could not have sex with her. She also had been branded, which was uncommon.

From the start, Dominic was very aware that Gia wasn’t like most of the other girls he was sent to train. It was clear that she wasn’t some random girl stolen from the street that wouldn’t be missed. She was taken for a specific purpose. Maybe she made a boyfriend angry. Maybe it was revenge. Dominic told himself that he didn’t care, until he began to realize that Gia might be tied to his past and the family that he had left behind.

As Gia’s identity comes to light, Dominic’s conflicting loyalties make for some surprising twists and turns. Gia’s past is more intertwined with his than she knows. From captor to savior, she can’t seem to escape him.

This story is dark and has plenty of danger. It is a Mafia love story that is full of betrayal and seedy underworld dealings. All of this would usually add up to an instant hit for me.

Unfortunately, ‘Dominic’ fell flat for me. I found myself feeling disconnected from the story and the characters. I listened to the Audible version and while the narration wasn’t necessarily bad, the story failed to hold my attention. I found myself zoning out frequently.

As I mentioned above, this could be because I was still in the midst of a bad book hangover after finishing another fabulous dark story and ‘Dominic’ just couldn’t compare. Regardless of the cause, ‘Dominic’ ended up just being an “okay” kind of story for me. I didn’t hate it or love it, because in the end I just didn’t care.

View all my reviews

Review: The Castle (Endgame, #3), by Skye Warren

The Castle (Endgame, #3)The Castle by Skye Warren
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

If you follow my reviews, it is no mystery that Skye Warren’s ‘Endgame’ series has become my latest addiction. There was something about Gabriel and Avery’s story that drew me in, right from the start. What can I say…I love an uber-Alpha a$$hole! Gabriel Miller did not disappoint in that regard.

After the way ‘The Pawn’ ended, is it any wonder I was hooked? It blew me away! For me, this series is about as addictive as crack cocaine. I can’t wait to get my next fix and when I get my next “hit” I devour it in record time.

The third book in ‘The Endgame’ series, ‘The Castle’ picks up where ‘The Knight’ left off. Gabriel and Avery are back on again. For once, they seem to be on the same page and their relationship seems more solid than ever. This was a nice development, as there seemed to be such a huge disconnect in previous books. Now, they seem to be united against a common enemy – Jonathan Scott.

Damon Scott’s maniacal father has it out for Avery. To protect her, Gabriel has pretty much imprisoned her on his estate for her own protection. In the meantime, the madman grows increasingly dangerous. No matter how hard Gabriel works to find him, he always seems to be one step ahead. This made for some very suspenseful, nail-biting scenarios.

I have to say that I couldn’t really understand the motivation for Jonathan Scott’s actions. Sure, he supposedly loved Avery’s mother. However, that doesn’t really explain his cruel actions or his determination to harm Avery…or her mother for that matter. Perhaps I should just accept the fact that he was a deeply disturbed individual and that there was no justification for his actions. Yet, I can’t deny that I craved more of an explanation.

Maybe we’ll get the story of Avery’s mother, Jonathan Scott and Avery’s father in the future. That’s one story that I’d love to read. It is bound to be a angsty and captivating story. I love a great villain and I can’t help but wonder what made Jonathan Scott into the deranged man that grew up to terrorize his former lover and her daughter.

While there was plenty of action in this book, I feel content with the way things ended. Their road was a difficult one, riddled with danger and deceit. Nothing worth having ever comes easy though.

This book also introduced Penny, a young lady traumatized by Jonathan Scott. Despite She clearly holds a special appeal to Damon, but we’ll have to wait to see exactly how deep their connection runs. Although she was mostly in the background this time around, I have no doubt that Penny will be central to Damon’s story.

Each book in this series has proven to be suspenseful and utterly addicting. I have enjoyed each one immensely and I look forward to seeing where the next book, ‘The King’ will take us. While ‘The Castle’ brings Gabriel and Avery’s story to a close, there are many more intriguing characters whose stories are yet to be told. ‘The King’ is supposed to focus on Damon Scott and I could not be more excited! I’ve pre-ordered my copy and will be anxiously awaiting it’s arrival in June.

View all my reviews

Review: I Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced, by Nujood Ali and Delphine Minoui

I Am Nujood, Age 10 and DivorcedI Am Nujood, Age 10 and Divorced by Nujood Ali
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As you can tell from the title, this book focuses on a very disturbing topic – child abuse. Unfortunately, the forced marriage of young girls to older men is an all too common occurrence in many areas of the world. Nujood is only one such victim. This book tells her story.

Essentially sold by her deadbeat father to a man more than three times her age, Nujood’s childhood comes to an abrupt end. At ten years old, she is repeatedly beaten and raped by her new husband. She is also moved to a remote village where she further isolated from anyone that might be able to help her.

Eventually, she is able to go to visit family in the city. After her own parents fail to help her, she is able to get some guidance from one of her father’s other wives. Then, this incredibly brave little girl sets out for the courthouse to ask for a divorce.

I could not get over how courageous this ten year-old little girl had to be. What she did would be intimidating in any country, much less in a country where women are extremely oppressed and viewed as property. Yet, this little girl was brave enough to walk into a courthouse and demand to see a judge and ask for a divorce. I was in awe of this young girl.

Thankfully, the judges decide to take up Nujood’s cause. She is given a “safe haven” of sorts while the case is brought before the court. Since Nujood was younger than the legal age for marriage in Yemen, her father and husband were brought up on charges.

From there on out, the court proceedings turned into a bit of a circus. Nujood’s case made international news and she became a sort of poster-child for women’s rights and child abuse organizations. Meanwhile, her father and husband alternated between placing blame on the other and trying to plead ignorance and innocence on their own part. It was pathetic.

Eventually, the men responsible paid a small fine and Nujood was granted her divorce. While the divorce was unheard of and paved the way for other young girls in the Middle East to speak out, the forced marriage of young girls is still a huge problem. Of course, that is only one manifestation of a much larger problem. Nonetheless, in a place where women and children have virtually no rights, this was a remarkable case.

From start to finish, I was taken in by Nujood’s story. My heart broke for this young girl, who was the same age as my oldest daughter. I can’t even begin to imagine maltreatment that girls like Nujood are forced to endure. Once again, I am reminded of how lucky I am to have been born in a region of the world where women have rights. As the mother of two young girls, this is something that is never far from my mind.

Although this didn’t prove to be the in-depth expose that I had hoped for, it was definitely a worthwhile read. At less than 200 pages, or around 2 hours of listening time, Nujood’s story serves to raise awareness of a very important topic. While this isn’t the type of story that you read for enjoyment, it is the type that you read for enlightenment. It is painful, but necessary to read stories like Nujood’s.

I won’t pretend that everything worked out like I would’ve liked. The granting of her divorce was only one triumph, in a world of defeats for women. Nujood was ultimately returned to the very person that sold her in the first place. Where is the logic in that? I can’t help but wonder where Nujood is now, nine years later. I can’t help but wonder if her notoriety has turned her into a cash cow for the very father that shared responsibility for her abuse in the first place.

View all my reviews

Review: The V Girl: A coming of age story, by Mya Robarts

The V Girl: A coming of age storyThe V Girl: A coming of age story by Mya Robarts
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I started this book, I knew it would deal with some pretty “heavy” subject matter. After all, the blurb is pretty forthcoming about the fact that rape is commonplace in this futuristic world that Mya Robarts created. While it proved to be every bit as gut-wrenching as I expected, there were also more moments of simplistic beauty than I had anticipated.

Given the dark, gritty and downright gloomy existence that the heroine lives, these few exquisite moments provided her with the inspiration necessary to keep living another day. For the reader, they served to keep the story from becoming so depressing as to not be enjoyable. Even in the darkest of times, there is light to be seen if you look hard enough. Finding that light is the essence of the human drive to survive against all odds.

Lila Velez was a girl that managed to find the light in a very dark world. Coming of age in her town meant being eligible for recruitment by the army. While this sounds deceivingly honorable, don’t let the fluffy language fool you. “Recruitment” is really a nice way of saying “rape” that is completely legal and sanctioned by the government. There is nothing nice about it or this life that Lila was born into. It is raw, brutal and horrific.

If you can picture that, then you can imagine the morose feeling that pervades this book. The vast majority of this book takes place in the months preceding the recruitment ceremony. (Yes, they actually have a big ceremony to celebrate these traumatic, and very public, mass rapes.) There was a strong sense of impending doom and the clock ticked down to the time that Lila would face a certain and brutal rape.

Fully aware of what the future holds in store for her, Lila is determined to take control of her own first sexual experience–to the extent that she can when she is faced with an ever-shortening timeline. She sets out to lose her virginity before it can be taken from her. She has no illusions of romance, but refuses to let the soldiers take that part of her. At least she can be sure that her first time will be with someone that she cares about, even if it isn’t with someone that she is in love with.

When Lila’s best friend, Rey, first turns her down, she is disappointed but not deterred. She is certain that she will be able to convince Rey before the troops arrive in their town. If she can’t she is sure that she can find somebody. After all, anyone would be better than the soldiers.

General Aleksy Furst immediately takes notice of Lila when he arrives in town. An awkward, rather comical, first meeting ensures that he won’t soon forget Lila. Despite her initial protests, Lila eventually comes to consider Aleksy’s offer to rid her of her virginity.

While reading this story, it was easy to draw many parallels between this fictional futuristic dystopian America and factual past and present war crimes of the world. This book forces readers to evaluate their values and sheds light on many unpleasant truths that are not discussed in polite society. From homophopia, rape, government-sanctioned war crimes, genetic modification, gender-specific roles to hypocrisy, this book touches on so many controversial topics that I couldn’t begin to list them all.

That is really what makes this book so moving and memorable. Of course, I enjoyed the love story that evolved between Lila and Aleksey. However, the beauty of this book was in it’s ability to make readers think about these controversial topics. The best books are those that force us to reevaluate our beliefs and behaviors, sculpting us into better, more compassionate, individuals. This is one such book.

While this book certainly isn’t a feel-good type of story, I highly recommend it. Like ‘1984’ and other dystopian classics, ‘The V Girl’ is a thought-provoking social commentary. I especially liked the questions for discussion that the author included at the back of the book.

View all my reviews

Review: The Club (Colombian Cartel, #1), by Suzanne Steele

The Club (Colombian Cartel # 1)The Club by Suzanne Steele
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’m having a hard time deciding how to rate/review this one. On the one hand, I liked that the author didn’t shy away from dark content. On the other, the author didn’t necessarily weave said content into the story in a logical manner.

Antonio Ramirez is a crime boss of sorts. He owns strip club(s) and rules them with an iron fist. Although the full extent of his criminal dealings isn’t really revealed, it is clear that he is a guy that is feared and respected. His brother is Ricardo Ramirez, an even scarier guy.

Roxanne is a cage fighter. Along with her best friend, she has profited from throwing matches. When they get caught trying to scam Ricardo, he takes the women as payment. Roxanne is shipped off to marry Antonio, a gift from his brother. Meanwhile, her best friend is forced to marry Ricardo.

Of course, Roxanne is a virgin and is extremely surprised to be attracted to Antonio. That explains the pleasure and orgasms that she has while enduring the gentlest rape in history. Did I mention that she’s a closet masochist that ends up enjoying his sadistic tastes? (Yes, I’m rolling my eyes.)

One night is all it takes and he’s in love. She holds out a little longer, but can’t fight the attraction that she feels for Antonio while trying to maintain her righteous hate for her new husband. Eventually, she admits what was apparent from the start and quits trying to escape Antonio…or his spankings.

More often than not, this story left me feeling confused and wondering if I’d missed a few pages somewhere to explain exactly how the story arrived at a certain point. The characters’ emotional responses seemed contrived, rushed and, at times, ridiculous given the situation. It was hard to connect with the story when you can’t believe the responses of the characters to the given situations.

For example, with little more than a flip of the page, the hero goes from loathing the heroine that has been forced upon him by his brother to being completely obsessed and in love with her. Hmm… A few more conversations between the two might’ve helped to sell that a little better. It just didn’t work for me.

The short length of this story is a large part of the problem. There was way to much going on to cover in a short novella. If this novella had been fleshed out and made into a full-length novel, it would have been much better and wouldn’t have felt so forced.

Captivity, forced marriages, dubious consent and other dark themes are amongst my favorites…but they take time to craft into a story that is believable. It takes a lot of build-up to illustrate the gradual evolution of those relationships in order to sell it to the reader. That didn’t happen with this story. Instead, it felt forced and a bit “smutty”, lacking the emotional depth and connection that a story like this usually evokes.

Overall, I give this one 2 1/2 stars. It had potential, but was poorly executed. Instead of being a dark captivity story that tugs at your heart and makes you squirm in your seat, this story will make your eyes roll and might even make you laugh.

I’m slightly curious about the best friend and brother’s story, but probably won’t go there because I’m worried it’ll end up being just like this one. Maybe I’ll try another one of this author’s works sometime in the future. For now, this author’s style just doesn’t seem to match up with my tastes.

View all my reviews

Review: Dishonorable, by Natasha Knight

DishonorableDishonorable by Natasha Knight
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

After reading the blurb for ‘Dishonorable’, I was sure that this would be a dark, twisted and disturbing story. In other words, I thought that this would be just what I needed to satiate my thirst for depravity. Unfortunately, this book didn’t deliver on that front for me. It was the type of story that plays with the idea of darkness, without really ever crossing the line into truly “dark” territory. Don’t get me wrong, it was great. It just wasn’t what I thought I was going to get.

The heroine, Sofia Guardia, is essentially forced into marriage with Raphael Amado. Her grandfather wronged him in some terrible way and Raphael has demanded Sofia as repayment. Sounds twisted, right? Well…kind of.

While Raphael’s intentions were certainly bad, he wasn’t the monster that I had imagined – hoped for – in my depraved mind. You see, he was pretty much after her inheritance and not necessarily her. For many readers, I’m sure this will be a positive turn of events. However, it was pretty disappointing.

Of course, in time, Sofia and Raphael’s relationship grows more intimate. From the start, the chemistry between the two is pretty intense. Their initial interactions are heated, to say the least. However, they soon reach a middle ground. Eventually, flirtation becomes more.

Although I didn’t find the dark read that I was craving, I couldn’t deny the appeal of this story. Raphael was such a damaged hero and he grew on me. While Sofia might have been young, I found her to be admirable and mature for her age. It didn’t take long for me to fall in love with the idea of this couple.

The supporting characters were well-crafted and interesting. They breathed life into the story, while not stealing the spotlight. Raphael’s brother, proved to be especially endearing to me.

This book had a little of everything. It had romance, without being syrupy. It had plenty of danger and an aura of darkness, even if it never really turned “dark”. There was a feeling of impending doom that seemed to lurk in the background for most of the book, serving to keep readers on edge.

Overall, this was a great story. Despite the fact that it wasn’t the dark romance that I had anticipated, I enjoyed it quite a bit. I love an a$$hole that ends up being redeemable. The worse they are, the more I love them. Raphael certainly didn’t disappoint in that regard.

View all my reviews

Review: Salt to the Sea, by Ruta Sepetys

Salt to the SeaSalt to the Sea by Ruta Sepetys
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Before starting ‘Salt to the Sea’, I had heard quite a lot of praise for the book. In fact, I was a little nervous to start it because I was afraid that it wouldn’t live up to it’s reputation. Thankfully, that didn’t prove to be the case. This book was beautiful, devastatingly so.

Ms. Sepetys does a wonderful job of shedding light on the sinking of the Wilhelm Gustloff, a maritime disaster that claimed more than 9,000 lives and remains an overlooked part of history. Admittedly, I had never heard of this disaster until reading this book. Perhaps this is the result of a world that was less than sympathetic to German pain and loss following the end of WWII and the unveiling of the Nazi atrocities. Whatever the reason, I am glad that Ms. Sepetys brought this piece of history into the light. This story needed to be told.

Weaving fact and fiction together seamlessly, the author tells the story of a group of WWII refugees trying to flee as the Russian troops gain ground toward the end of WWII. Told in alternating POVs, this book reveals a human side of war. Everybody seems to have something to hide and a different motivation for their actions. Above all else, this story highlights the fight to survive.

Most noticeable in this cast of characters are: Joana, the Lithuanian nurse; Emilia, a young Polish girl; Florian, Emilia’s mysterious rescuer; and Alfred, a young German soldier. There is a full cast of supporting characters as well, such as the shoemaker, that contribute to the richness of this story. Each play a significant role in making this a robust reading experience.

I don’t want to spoil this story for anyone. Obviously, the ship sinks. However, I won’t say much else about the storyline because I think this is a story worth experiencing.

This isn’t a rainbows and unicorns type of story. It is real and moving. At times painful, this book highlights the depths of human depravity, as well as the incredible kindness that people are capable of. This is a story of tragedy and survival. It was raw, gritty and inspiring. I enjoyed this story quite a bit and would recommend it without reservations to anyone that is looking for a good, historical fiction that addresses a lesser-known part of WWII history.

View all my reviews

Review: Documentary (Documentary, #1), by A. J. Sand

Documentary (Documentary, #1)Documentary by A.J. Sand
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I listened to the audiobook of ‘Documentary’ and it was pretty good. The narration could have been better, but was not terrible. Overall, this was a 3 1/2 star read/listen for me, but I’m rounding it up because I feel optimistic today. It falls in the “good but not great”, “liked it but didn’t love it” category for me.

Dylan Carroll is a filmmaking student that is offered the job of a lifetime. She is hired to film a web documentary on the life of Kai White, a rock star that is undergoing a PR crisis. This is the type of job that can open doors for her and set her on a path to success. She knows how important this job is and she cannot afford to screw it up.

Kai White has had a recent fall from grace. On probation after beating up his former bandmate, his fans have turned on him. Once loved by all, he is now shunned in the industry and viewed as an out of control and violent offender. This web documentary is a last ditch effort at salvaging his public image.

Despite the need to keep their relationship purely professional, Dylan and Kai cannot fight their strong chemistry. They “get” each other on a level that others do not. However, Dylan knows that pursuing a romantic relationship would be disastrous. If she ever had any doubts, Kai’s manager has made that abundantly clear to her.

Meanwhile, Kai is refusing to be forthcoming with Dylan about the infamous fight with his former bandmate, Jeremy. She knows that the best way to save his image is to address the elephant in the room and she can’t understand why Kai won’t talk about it. How is she supposed to save his image when he seems to be working against her?

Eventually, everything comes out. However, there is a lot of jealousy and misunderstandings along the way. Both Kai and Dylan contribute a lot to the ongoing tension and seem to enjoy playing games with one another.

Maybe I’m just outgrowing the college-aged romances, because I couldn’t help but feel that the characters were emotionally immature. There was plenty of angst and lots of back and forth drama. I spent most of this book wanting to shake some sense into the main characters. So much stress could’ve been avoided if they’d only been honest with each other about how they felt.

By the time everything was revealed, nothing was much of a surprise. It was predictable, but fairly entertaining. This was an “okay” story, but I don’t feel compelled to continue the series. It is a good choice for recovering from a book hangover, when you just want a predictable, HEA-type of story that you can listen to and not have to think about too much. It won’t leave a lasting impression, but it served it’s purpose. I’ve listened to/read much worse.

View all my reviews

Review: Killing The Sun: Part 3, by Mara White and K. Larsen

Killing The Sun: Part 3Killing The Sun: Part 3 by Mara White
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

In this third, and final, installment of the ‘Killing The Sun’ series, the tension between Danny and Aimee is at an all-time high. Aimee is finally ready to stand up to Danny, even as she still yearns for his love on some level. With Aimee slipping away, Danny is at his most brutal.

For the first time while reading this series, I really feared what Danny might do to Aimee. He was always violent and controlling, but I never got the sense that he wanted to truly harm Aimee before. Now, there is no telling what he might do to her. He might even want her dead.

As Danny is brought to justice for his criminal activities, Aimee’s secrets also come to light. In fact, she proved to be more duplicitous than Danny, in my opinion. It was like there was this whole other person that I was blind to before. Part of me felt betrayed by her, while another part felt proud that she had it in her.

I don’t want to give anything away, but I will say that this series took me by surprise. It was a whirlwind of steamy sex and betrayals. And that ending! I am dying to know what happens next. I would kill for an epilogue or another book. I imagine a dark romance with Danny and Aimee living out the HEA together…but I always root for the anti-hero. Damn these two twisted geniuses!

View all my reviews