Audiobook Review: The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's TaleThe Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Narrator: Claire Danes
First published in print in 1985
Audiobook Release Date: July 20, 2012
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

Margaret Atwood’s popular dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale explores a broad range of issues relating to power, gender and religious politics. Multiple Golden Globe award-winner Claire Danes (Romeo and Juliet, The Hours) gives a stirring performance of this classic in speculative fiction, one of the most powerful and widely read novels of our time.

After a staged terrorist attack kills the President and most of Congress, the government is deposed and taken over by the oppressive and all controlling Republic of Gilead. Offred, now a Handmaid serving in the household of the enigmatic Commander and his bitter wife, can remember a time when she lived with her husband and daughter and had a job, before she lost even her own name. Despite the danger, Offred learns to navigate the intimate secrets of those who control her every move, risking her life in breaking the rules in hopes of ending this oppression.

I’m assuming since there is now a very popular TV series based on The Handmaid’s Tale that most people have at least heard of it and have a general idea of what it’s about. I haven’t had a chance to watch the show yet but it’s next on my list now that I am caught up on House of Cards.

The Handmaid’s Tale takes place in a future where fertile women are forced to become handmaids whose sole purpose is to bear children for the upper class families because for some mysterious reason the upper class women are infertile. This book is told from the point of view of Offred, one of the handmaids. Offred means literally, “of Fred” because handmaids are property of the head of the household they serve and have no reason to use their birth names. If Offred moves from Fred’s house to another household, she will take the name of that new master.

Margaret Atwood is one of my favorite authors but the last time I read The Handmaid’s Tale was several years ago so I wanted to refresh my memory before watching the TV show. This time I listened to the audiobook. Claire Danes reads it and does a fantastic job. She makes Atwood’s lyrical prose come alive.

Atwood’s ability to imagine and predict the future is amazing. The method that the government uses to take over the country and institute the horrible religious hierarchy that exists in the book would not have been possible in the 1980s when this book was written but is entirely possible today. How could she have known? It’s eerie.

Like I said, Atwood’s prose is beautiful and poetic. It’s so detailed that I felt like I was inside Offred’s head. I could feel her pain and desperation. It’s been said that we are headed more and more towards a world like the one in The Handmaid’s Tale. While I think we have a way to go before we get there (not that I want us to!), the subjugation of women and the regulation of their bodies by men resonates. However, just because this book is primarily about women, it’s not just for women. The Handmaid’s Tale is a marvelous work of speculative fiction (if you call it science fiction, Margaret Atwood will be annoyed with you) and a cautionary tale that everyone should read.

All of the other books I’ve read by Margaret Atwood were pre-blog and I don’t have reviews for them. Except for The Heart Goes Last, which is another dystopian novel that I highly recommend.

Audiobook Review: This Time Together: Laughter and Refection by Carol Burnett

This Time Together: Laughter and ReflectionThis Time Together: Laughter and Reflection by Carol Burnett
Publisher: Random House Audio
Narrator: Carol Burnett
Release Date: April 6, 2010
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

Carol Burnett is one of the most beloved and revered actresses and performers in America. The Carol Burnett Show was seen each week by millions of adoring fans and won twenty-five Emmys in its remarkable eleven-year run. Now, in This Time Together, Carol really lets her hair down and tells one funny or touching or memorable story after another.
In engaging anecdotes, Carol discusses her remarkable friendships with stars such as Jimmy Stewart, Lucille Ball, Cary Grant, and Julie Andrews; the background behind famous scenes, like the moment she swept down the stairs in her curtain-rod dress in the legendary “Went With the Wind” skit; and things that would happen only to Carol–the prank with Julie Andrews that went wrong in front of the First Lady; the famous Tarzan Yell that saved her during a mugging; and the time she faked a wooden leg to get served in a famous ice cream emporium.

This poignant look back allows us to cry with the actress during her sorrows, rejoice in her successes, and finally, always, to laugh.

Yes, it’s another celebrity memoir! I just can’t get enough.

Carol Burnett’s memoir spans her entire life, without going into too much detail on any one part. She sticks mainly to recounting facts, without too much emotion. For instance, she tells us that she and her first husband got divorced but doesn’t go into much detail as to why. One part that does get emotional is when she talks about her daughter’s death. I could hear her voice breaking as she tried to hold back her tears.

Carol narrates the book herself, which makes her humorous anecdotes even funnier. My favorite stories were the ones from The Carol Burnett Show, since that’s primarily what I know her from. I didn’t realize how ground breaking that show was in so many ways.

I’m not a Carol Burnett super-fan but I still enjoyed This Time Together very much. Listening to it on audiobook was like having a conversation with her. (Albeit, one-sided!) I recommend it for anyone who enjoys memoirs, fans or not.


Book Review: Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly

Lilac GirlsLilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
Publisher: Ballentine Books
February 28, 2017
My rating: 4.5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

New York socialite Caroline Ferriday has her hands full with her post at the French consulate and a new love on the horizon. But Caroline’s world is forever changed when Hitler’s army invades Poland in September 1939—and then sets its sights on France.

An ocean away from Caroline, Kasia Kuzmerick, a Polish teenager, senses her carefree youth disappearing as she is drawn deeper into her role as courier for the underground resistance movement. In a tense atmosphere of watchful eyes and suspecting neighbors, one false move can have dire consequences.

For the ambitious young German doctor, Herta Oberheuser, an ad for a government medical position seems her ticket out of a desolate life. Once hired, though, she finds herself trapped in a male-dominated realm of Nazi secrets and power.

The lives of these three women are set on a collision course when the unthinkable happens and Kasia is sent to Ravensbrück, the notorious Nazi concentration camp for women. Their stories cross continents—from New York to Paris, Germany, and Poland—as Caroline and Kasia strive to bring justice to those whom history has forgotten.

Lilac Girls is the story of three women: Caroline Ferriday, Kasia Kuzmerick and Herta, Oberheuser. It’s one of those books where the women are all living separate lives but you know they will intersect at some point. It’s historical fiction set in the World War II era. Some of the characters are real people and some are not. Ravensbrück, the concentration camp and the medical experiments and other horrible things that went on there are based in fact. History is not my strong suit so I had never heard of the camp or the horrific experiments that were performed on the prisoners there.

Caroline lives a privileged life in the United States, Kasia lives in relative poverty in Poland and Herta lives in Germany, where she is studying to become a doctor. The three women are all affected by the war in different ways. I thought the author did a good job of not only developing their characters but also showing how the passing of years changed them.

Lilac Girls was my book club’s August selection. There was much to discuss. Some of the members of the book club were alive either during or shortly after WWII and were able to give their perspective about what was happening at that time. We also talked about the three women and their motivations. This book was a good choice that led to a lively discussion.

I swore off Holocaust books a while ago because they are just so depressing. However, Lilac Girls also has some happy things in it, like a love story for Caroline, which kept it from being overly dark.

Lilac Girls is a good work of historical fiction for anyone who is interested in the WWII era.

Audiobook Review: A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

A Gentleman in MoscowA Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles
Publisher: Penguin Audio
Narrated by Nicholas Guy Smith
Release Date: September 6, 2017
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

In 1922, Count Alexander Rostov is deemed an unrepentant aristocrat by a Bolshevik tribunal, and is sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol, a grand hotel across the street from the Kremlin. Rostov, an indomitable man of erudition and wit, has never worked a day in his life, and must now live in an attic room while some of the most tumultuous decades in Russian history are unfolding outside the hotel’s doors. Unexpectedly, his reduced circumstances provide him entry into a much larger world of emotional discovery.

Brimming with humor, a glittering cast of characters, and one beautifully rendered scene after another, this singular novel casts a spell as it relates the count’s endeavor to gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be a man of purpose.

A Gentleman in Moscow is the story of Count Alexander Rostov, a Russian aristocrat who was sentenced to house arrest in the Metropol hotel during World War I. Alexander is a true well-mannered gentleman with a droll sense of humor that I found highly amusing. The prose was creative and also funny at times. One of my favorite lines, when the Count is trying to move a mattress:

“…the mattress was decidedly against it. When he bent over to lift the mattress from the bedsprings, it crossed its arms, held its breadth and refused to budge…he leaned it against the wall and warned it to stay put, if it knew what was good for it.”

There even better ones but I listened to most of the book on audio and didn’t make notes of them. I wish I had!

Because the Count is insulated in the hotel, not too much of the outside world is presented in detail. I was glad of that since Russia in the 1920s through the 1950s was not the happiest place. There were definitely some very serious and even tragic parts but they were balanced by the humor.

One aspect of the book I enjoyed is the Count’s friendship with Nina, which starts when she is nine years old and staying at the hotel with her father. She and the Count are so sweet and funny together. He is much like an older brother or uncle to her.

A Gentleman in Moscow was a pick for a book club I’m in and there was much to discuss at the meeting. For instance, could we have survived living in one place and never being able to even go outside for years on end? There were so many other questions to discuss but telling you what they were would lead to spoilers. You’ll just have to trust me that it’s a great book club selection.

Because I was rushing to get the book read in time for our meeting (poor planning on my part), I both listened to it on audio while driving, etc. and read it in print while at home. It was interesting to be able to compare and contrast each method of consuming the book. It was wonderful in print but even better in audio because the English narrator did a great job of delivering the Count’s little quips.

I love comedies of manners about the aristocracy and this fit the bill. It’s going on my list as one of the best books I’ve read this year.


Audiobook Review: Most Talkative: Stories from the Front Lines of Pop Culture

Most Talkative: Stories from the Front Lines of Pop CultureMost Talkative: Stories from the Front Lines of Pop Culture by Andy Cohen
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Narrator: Andy Cohen
Release Date: May 8, 2012
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

From a young age, Andy Cohen knew one thing: He loved television. Not in the way that most kids do, but in an irrepressible, all-consuming, I-want-to-climb-inside-the-tube kind of way. And climb inside he did. Now presiding over Bravo’s reality TV empire, he started out as an overly talkative pop culture obsessive, devoted to Charlie’s Angels and All My Children and to his mother, who received daily letters from Andy at summer camp, usually reminding her to tape the soaps. In retrospect, it’s hard to believe that everyone didn’t know that Andy was gay; still, he remained in the closet until college. Finally out, he embarked on making a career out of his passion for television.

The journey begins with Andy interviewing his all-time idol Susan Lucci for his college newspaper and ends with him in a job where he has a hand in creating today’s celebrity icons. In the witty, no-holds-barred style of his show Watch What Happens Live, Andy tells tales of absurd mishaps during his ten years at CBS News, hilarious encounters with the heroes and heroines of his youth, and the real stories behind The Real Housewives. Dishy, funny, and full of heart, the New York Times bestseller, Most Talkative, provides a one-of-a-kind glimpse into the world of television, from a fan who grew up watching the screen and is now inside it, both making shows and hosting his own.

Andy Cohen is Bravo’s executive vice president of Development and Talent and the executive producer of several shows on Bravo, in addition to hosting Watch What Happens Live and Love Connection.

Most Talkative is Andy’s life story from his childhood growing up in St. Louis up through 2012 when this book was published. Hi primary focus is his professional life. He includes some funny celebrity anecdotes from when he worked at CBS. For instance, he’s a Susan Lucci super fan and his encounters with her over the years are amusing. He’s also a huge Oprah fan and has had a few, shall we say, interesting encounters with her. One of them didn’t go so well and he’s not afraid to be truthful and take the blame.

To be honest, I chose this book because my secret shame is that I have recently become obsessed with The Real Housewives of Orange County, the first installment of The Real Housewives franchise that Andy produces. Unfortunately, although he does write about the origin of the series, he doesn’t go into any juicy details about the individual housewives on RHOC. He does have some tidbits about some of the other housewives shows. And he does write in depth about how the death of Taylor Armstrong’s husband was handled on The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Fans of that show will appreciate that I’m sure.

Even though I didn’t get the dirt I was looking for, I definitely enjoyed this audiobook. Andy reads it himself and if you’ve ever watched him on TV, you know that he is high energy and engaging. He’s the same way reading this book.

He has written two more books since Most Talkative was published: The Andy Cohen Diaries: A Deep Look at a Shallow Year and Superficial: More Adventures from the Andy Cohen Diaries. I plan on listening to those as well just in case they have the behind the scenes info I’m looking for. I’ll keep you posted!


Final Zombie Week Book Review: The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead by Max Brooks

I hope you enjoyed Zombie Week as much as I did! I thought I’d end the week with a review of a book that will help you get ready for and survive the zombie apocalypse. According to this book, it takes at least 1,500 hours to adequately prepare. You’d better get started!

The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living DeadThe Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead by Max Brooks
Publisher: Broadway Books
Paperback Release Date: September 16, 2003
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

The Zombie Survival Guide is your key to survival against the hordes of undead who may be stalking you right now. Fully illustrated and exhaustively comprehensive, this book covers everything you need to know, including how to understand zombie physiology and behavior, the most effective defense tactics and weaponry, ways to outfit your home for a long siege, and how to survive and adapt in any territory or terrain.
Don’t be carefree and foolish with your most precious asset—life. This book is your key to survival against the hordes of undead who may be stalking you right now without your even knowing it. The Zombie Survival Guide offers complete protection through trusted, proven tips for safeguarding yourself and your loved ones against the living dead. It is a book that can save your life.

The Zombie Survival Guide is just what you need to help you plan out how to survive everything from a small Level One zombie outbreak up to a Level Four, full-out zombie apocalypse. That’s right, not every outbreak leads to the end of the world. There have been smaller ones that have been contained. It’s just that the governments of the world have done a good job of covering them up.

I have to say that I was disappointed with this book. I was expecting it to be humorous because come on, how could it not be? But in trying to make it sound like a real survival guide, the author has made it boring – just like a real survival guide. It is very detailed. There are sections on weapons, vehicles, clothing, etc. He also discusses the best areas to live in, what type of structures are best to live in and so on. And of course, he goes into how zombies are made, how they function and how they can be killed. Did you know they can walk on the ocean floor? That was a surprise to me.

The survival portion is about three-fourths of the book. The second part of the book is a log of all of the reported outbreaks that the author could find information on, starting with an attack in Africa in 60,000 B.C. I found this part to be dry as well – very factual and emotionless – and the incidents felt a little repetitive.

I would recommend this book to only the most die-hard zombie fans.



Short Story Review: Apocalypse Scenario #683: The Box by Mira Grant

Apocalypse Scenario #683: The BoxApocalypse Scenario #683: The Box by Mira Grant (Newflesh #0.04)
Publisher: Orbit
Release Date: April 18, 20111
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

A new short story from Mira Grant, the author of Feed. Every week five friends get together to play a game– a game they call the Apocalypse Game. It’s a fun time with chips and beer and plotting the end of the world. Except this time, one of them is missing and the stakes are higher than ever before.

This short story is really just the length of about one chapter. The description on Amazon says 45 pages but I think it’s shorter. It’s hard to tell because it’s e-book only. So the first thing I’ll say about it is that it’s not worth the $1.99 Amazon is charging for it!

It’s an eerie story that can stand on its own, kind of like a Twilight Zone episode. However, I found it to be more confusing than mysterious. I read it twice (since it only takes ten minutes to read!) and I still don’t understand what Cole, the missing group member, was trying to accomplish and why.

This story is supposed to be one of the prequels of the Newsflesh series but I don’t think it fits in at all. If I understand it correctly, it actually gives a completely different cause of the rising. If anyone out there has read it and the Newsflesh series, I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts.

In short, even if you’re a fan of the Newflesh series, I think you can save your two dollars and skip this one.

Other books I’ve reviewed in the Newsflesh series:

Countdown by Mira Grant (Newsflesh Trilogy #0.5)
Feed by Mira Grant (Newflesh Trilogy #1)
Deadline by Mira Grant (Newsflesh Trilogy #2)
Blackout by Mira Grant (Newsflesh Trilogy #3)


Zombie Week Book Review: Eat Slay Love by Jesse Petersen

Eat Slay Love (Living With the Dead, #3)Eat Slay Love by Jesse Petersen
Publisher: Orbit
Release Date: July 1, 2011
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

Sarah and David have survived the zombie apocalypse. They stood side by side and fought the undead, mad scientists, and even bionic monsters until the unthinkable happened. A zombie bite. But not even that could stop them. Now, with a possible cure in hand, they’re headed east, looking for a safe zone behind the rumored “Wall.” They’re feeling pretty optimistic.

That is until Dave stops sleeping and starts lifting huge objects.

Eat. Slay. Love.

Because they haven’t got a prayer.

***Warning: This review may contain spoilers for the previous two books of this series.***

Dave and Sarah have the cure and are on the road to the rumored Midwest Wall, hoping to deliver the cure to government scientists. Along the way, they run into Nicole Nessing, a reporter from a TMZ type TV show. Of course, it hasn’t been broadcasting during the apocalypse but Nicole is still filming. She thinks that when this is all over (will it ever be over?), she’ll get rich off of all the footage she’s shot. This makes her a pretty annoying character.

As they journey towards the Wall, they encounter numerous obstacles that I won’t go into detail about for fear of spoiling it for you. Along the way, Sarah notices that Dave is exhibiting some strange behavior that she doesn’t quite know what to make of. Dave himself is slow to notice.

In Eat Slay Love, Dave and Sarah come closer to finding out how and why the zombie apocalypse started but they don’t find everything out. Hopefully, that will come in the next book. Apparently, the fourth installment is the last. I read on the author’s blog that she didn’t continue on with the series after the fourth because sales of the third weren’t that great. And now I’m having trouble finding a copy of the fourth book, The Zombie Whisperer. It’s not on Amazon anymore. I tweeted the author but I haven’t heard back yet. I hope I can find a copy and that it doesn’t end with a major cliff hanger that’s never going to get resolved!




Zombie Week Book Review: Flip This Zombie by Jesse Petersen

Flip This Zombie (Living with the Dead, #2)Flip This Zombie by Jesse Petersen
Publisher: Orbit
Release Date: January 1, 2011
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

The Zombie Apocalypse has been good to Sarah and David. Their marriage is better than ever. They communicate well, share responsibilities, and now, they’re starting a business. ZombieBusters-for all your zombie extermination needs.

There are lots of zombies and that means lots of customers…Except one of them doesn’t want the zombies dead, he wants them alive and ready for experimentation. Mad scientists make for difficult clients and this time, Sarah and David might have bitten off more than they can chew.

***Warning: This review may contain spoilers for the first book in this series, Married with Zombies.***

Surviving the zombie apocalypse by fighting zombies together has made David and Sarah’s marriage stronger than ever. They are so good at kicking zombie butt that they have started a business called ZombieBusters – a zombie extermination service. Things are going well until they land a customer that wants them to capture zombies and bring them to him still alive. Or still undead? Anyway, he doesn’t want them killed. What in the world does he want with live zombies? That’s what Dave and Sarah want to find out.

Flip This Zombie had a lot of surprise twists and was just as campy and fun as Married with Zombies. I’m going to continue reading this series.




Zombie Week Book Review: Married with Zombies by Jesse Petersen

Married with Zombies (Living with the Dead, #1)Married with Zombies by Jesse Petersen
Publisher: Orbit
Release Date: September 1, 2010
My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Publisher’s Description:

A heartwarming tale of terror in the middle of the zombie apocalypse.

Meet Sarah and David.
Once upon a time they met and fell in love. But now they’re on the verge of divorce and going to couples’ counseling. On a routine trip to their counselor, they notice a few odd things – the lack of cars on the highway, the missing security guard, and the fact that their counselor, Dr. Kelly, is ripping out her previous client’s throat.

Meet the Zombies.

Now, Sarah and David are fighting for survival in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. But, just because there are zombies, doesn’t mean your other problems go away. If the zombies don’t eat their brains, they might just kill each other.

David and Sarah are a couple on the verge of divorce when the zombie apocalypse starts. Now their survival depends on working together.

This is a very light-hearted story as far as zombie books go. Even though people die, it’s never really sad. Or scary. And I don’t think the author wanted it to be sad or scary. It’s fun and suspenseful with bad humor that will make you groan more than laugh. Both the banter between David and Sarah and Sarah’s snappy inner dialogue were mostly funny but could get a bit grating at times.
Despite the fact that this review is coming off critical, I did in fact enjoy this book. It’s the definition of brain candy. The Lifetime movie equivalent of a zombie book – turn off your brain, read and have fun.