Book Review: The Heart Goes Last

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Image via Amazon

Rating: 4 out of 5

There are a LOT of book bloggers out there, and I think it’s fair to say that most tend to be female students and post-grads who prefer to read young-adult fiction. Or at least, the bloggers I personally follow lean toward that genre, and who can blame them? Oftentimes, YA delivers stories that are more developed and complex than adult genre fiction, and YA dystopia in particular exploded after the publications of The Hunger Games and Divergent.

I would argue, however, that all modern dystopia owes its success to authors, such as George Orwell, Ray Bradbury, Aldous Huxley–and more recently, to Margaret Atwood. Seriously, I have met this woman in person, and I have to say–if you have not read one of her novels yet, then what the hell are you doing with your life?

The Heart Goes Last is not my favorite Atwood novel (nothing will ever beat The Handmaid’s Tale, in my opinion), but it is an excellent dystopia with a premise that is becoming increasingly more likely, especially in the Bay Area where housing prices are skyrocketing.

The novel stars married couple Stan and Charmaine, who are unemployed and living out of their car after a major market crash left 40% of Americans without jobs. After fending off street gangs and facing the idea of an even bleaker future, it’s no surprise that they decide to join The Positron Project, in which they are provided free housing as long as every other month they live and work in a prison, alternating with another family that occupies the house while they’re doing time.

If you’re wondering why anyone would sign up for a project this strange, then I bet you’re not living in San Francisco, where the median 1-bedroom apartment rents for an astronomical $3,590/month and people are illegally living in trailers, storage containers, and even coffin-sized pods just to get by.

As with every dystopia, once starts off sweet eventually turns sour, and Stan and Charmaine are confronted with grave danger when they meet their Alternates. I won’t give too much away, but this book asks extremely difficult moral questions about how far you’d go to save your own skin.

What’s more interesting than the nefarious plot (which I felt could have had higher stakes) is that the core of this story is a lackluster marriage. It may take place in a “timeshare prison,” but the real issue is that both characters feel sexually frustrated after years and years of neglecting their relationship.

When my book club discussed The Heart Goes Last last week, we all agreed that we enjoyed putting ourselves in this couple’s shoes and determining what actions we would take if caught in the same predicament. Some felt that the plot was too slowly paced in the beginning, and others were disappointed by the ending, but overall we would definitely recommend the book. I’m proud that I’ve successfully persuaded more people to appreciate Atwood’s writing as much as I do!

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Literary News I Missed Last Month

As most of you are already aware, I spent November participating in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). For the past three years, I put blogging on hold during this time, only to feel overwhelmed about getting back on track each December.

Right now, I’m reading the finale to the Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children trilogy, Library of Souls by Ransom Riggs, as well as Beautiful You by Chuck Palahniuk for my real-life book club. I’ve also had the chance to complete God’s Debris by Scott Adams and watched “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Pt. 2” in theaters, so stay tuned for all my reviews, which I’ll be posting soon!

This post, however, is going to cover the tidbits of literary news that I bookmarked last month. Some of these you’ve probably already come across yourself, but if you’re like me, life can get so hectic that you simply can’t keep up with all the headlines. So let’s catch up together!

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Image via BuzzFeed

Judging Books by Their Covers

Want some artistic inspiration? Check out the Book Cover Archive, which categorizes a plethora of books by their cover designs. Seeing them all side by side makes you appreciate the creativity that goes into them!

This BuzzFeed quiz is titled, “The Hardest Book Cover Quiz You’ll Ever Take,” but I still scored 17 out of 22! Not too shabby! Try it out for yourself!

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Image via Jezebel

White-Washing Woes

One of my favorite manga, Death Note, written by Tsugumi Ohba and illustrated by Takeshi Obata, is coming to the big screen, but I can’t say that I’m looking forward to it. Hollywood continues to perpetuate its lack of racial diversity by pathetically white-washing Death Note’s Japanese characters. Much to many fans’ disappointment, Light and Misa will be played by Nat Wolff and Margaret Qualley respectively, although I imagine that their names will be changed to something as bland as these actors.

The white-washing continued in the blockbuster of the season, The Martian, adapted from the novel by Ridley Scott. In another slight to the Asian acting community, a white actress was cast as Korean scientist Mindy Park, and a black actor took the place of an Indian NASA director. Seriously, Hollywood, STOP with this nonsense!

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Image via ComingSoon.net

Fantasy Adaptations

The Merlin Saga by T.A. Barron finally has a screenwriter: none other than Philippa Boyens, who worked with Peter Jackson on the LOTR trilogy! As a child, I read most of this series when the books were published, beginning with The Lost Years of Merlin in 1996 and ending with The Great Tree of Avalon in 2004. Disney better do this movie right!

Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials gets another chance to prove its genius, this time in a drama series on BBC One. After watching the outrageously bad American movie version, which I’ve attempted scrubbing from my memory, I’m ecstatic to hear that the U.K. plans give this story the long-form development on TV that it deserves.

Lastly, Margaret Atwood, the literary celebrity whom I had the opportunity of a lifetime to meet, recently announced that she’s writing her first graphic novel series, Angel Catbird. With a superhero that’s part-cat and part-owl, the story sounds utterly ridiculous, but knowing Atwood, there’s much more to it than fur and feathers.

That’s all for now! Let me know what you think about these news stories, and feel free to send me more that I might have missed!

Margaret Atwood: Stand-Up Comedian?

On Monday night, I carpooled with a friend to the book signing of Margaret Atwood at the Fox Theatre in Redwood City, Calif., hosted by Peninsula Arts and Letters of Kepler’s Books. We got there just in time, or so I thought. By the time we arrived, the place was packed, and we were forced to find seats up in the balcony.

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Yes, that’s her on stage. Trust me.

All I kept thinking while we waited for her to walk across the stage was that most Americans never read and therefore have no idea who Margaret Atwood even is, but it was clear to this audience that we had a celebrity in our midst. And I’m still pinching myself that I had the opportunity to meet her!

Atwood is on a tour to promote her latest novel, The Heart Goes Last, and we were the lucky ones who heard her read an excerpt of it for the very first time. This dystopian story features Charmaine and Stan, a married couple down on their luck and living in their car after a job loss, who sign up for the Positron Project, which Atwood described that evening as “a timeshare prison,” in which you alternate every month between a comfortable civilian home and incarceration.

Obviously, this alleged ‘win-win’ situation turns out not to be the answer to these characters’ prayers, and I can’t wait to read how Atwood tackles serious issues like unemployment and the prison-industrial complex with her famous wit.

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And now I’ve got her famous signature 🙂

I’m actually very disappointed that I did not live tweet this event, because Atwood was absolutely hilarious. She poked fun at the American presidential race, shared an amusing story about testing a virtual reality machine to fly like a bird, and discussed sex robots. She had so many one-liners, she could moonlight as a stand-up comedian.

At one point she was asked the question, “How does the development of your plots reflect the development of your themes?” and she replied sing-songingly, “I smell a term paper question!” At 75 years old, Atwood is at the IDGAF stage of her life, and I loved how down-to-earth she was.

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The queen in the flesh!

After the Q&A session, we waited in line to get our books signed, taking quick photos of the author on our smartphones. In the few seconds I had to talk to her, I mentioned that our book club just finished The Blind Assassin, and I enjoyed how she used the WWI reference “Remember the starving Armenians” in her story. Slightly confused because I forgot to mention that I’m Armenian myself, she replied, “They really used to say that back then!”

All in all, I had a wonderful time being in the presence of one of my literary heroes. And the cherry on top of this sundae? Going to bed with a huge smile on my face, because this happened:

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That’s right. Margaret Atwood retweeted me. My life officially has meaning now!

Book Review: The Blind Assassin

Image via Goodreads

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Tomorrow I have the opportunity of a lifetime to meet Margaret Atwood, renowned author of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Blind Assassin, which was my book club’s selection for September.

There’s so much to unpack in this novel, but I believe what makes it so successful is its structure. With quite possibly the best first line in literature, “Ten days after the war ended, my sister Laura drove a car off a bridge,” the story of sisters Iris and Laura Chase is given an immediate sense of intrigue.

Set during the Great Depression and WWII, an elderly Iris recounts her life, describing her tumultuous relationships with her family: her allegedly mentally disturbed younger sister Laura, her alcoholic father, her wealthy but emotionally detached husband, her drug-addicted daughter, and estranged granddaughter.

As if the plot wasn’t already crammed enough, Atwood alternates these narrations with a novel within a novel. “The Blind Assassin” is not only reflective of the enigmatic symbolism, it’s also the title of a science fiction story created by two unnamed lovers on the run. It’s up to the reader to figure out who is the real author of this book, a feat which lends to the larger climax of Atwood’s novel.

I will admit that the pacing of this book starts off very slow, and the science fiction chapters do not seem well integrated with Iris’s chapters. I’m not surprised that a couple people in my book club gave up after 50-100 pages, because Atwood’s style is all about character development and delayed gratification. If you can stick it out, you’re rewarded with a phenomenal story. I finished reading the last 200 pages in just three days and thoroughly enjoyed how the pacing accelerated into its dramatic conclusion.

I don’t want to give away too much, because this is a beautifully written book where every detail is a clue to understanding this puzzle, from the interspersed newspaper clippings right down to each article of clothing that is worn. It’s no wonder why The Blind Assassin won the Booker Prize and TIME’s Best Novel of 2000: Atwood has a wit that is unmatched, and this book is exactly what literary fiction should be.

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Two thumbs up from the real-life Book Club Babes!

Another Successful Book Club Meetup!

On Thursday, a bunch of us ladies congregated for our monthly book club, in which we discussed  The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty. This novel had so many characters and plot elements that we spent hours sharing our opinions and related personal experiences. By the time I remembered to take some photos of us in the outdoors common area, it was already dark!

Overall, I’d say the majority of the group really enjoyed the book, rating it about a 4/5. Some women were so enamored with Moriarty’s writing that they had already purchased other works of hers, including What Alice Forgot.

In case you were thinking of selecting this novel for your own book club, here were a few of the questions we posed to the group:

  • Is secrecy ever justifiable in a romantic relationship?
  • Would you turn a loved one into the police if he/she committed a heinous crime?
  • Was justice served in the end of the story?
  • What did the Berlin Wall symbolize in this book?

Our next selection for September is The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood. After several glasses of wine, it wasn’t difficult at all for me to convince the club to pick this recommendation of mine. I didn’t even have to share the summary–they wanted to follow the theme of the title and go into the book blindly!

I’m so excited to read this novel, since I’ve already purchased my tickets to attend Atwood’s upcoming book signing. I’ve only read The Handmaid’s Tale and The Penelopiad so far, and I’m looking forward to adding more novels of hers to my list!

What other stories would make good book club picks?

Hail to the Queen! Margaret Atwood is Coming!

As I announced yesterday, I’m tackling my 2015 goal of attending more book signings with a vengeance, because in nine short weeks, I will be meeting the one and only Margaret Atwood!

Image via Fox Theatre

Yesterday morning, I woke up to a gift in my inbox: an invitation from Kepler’s Books & Magazines to an exclusive event starring the renowned writer of The Handmaid’s Tale and The Blind Assassin.

As excited as a kid on Christmas morning, I immediately whipped out my credit card and purchased my ticket, which only cost $25 for general admission. I’m flabbergasted that I have the chance to meet one of my most admired authors for such a bargain.

Thus, on October 12th at 7:30 p.m., Margaret Atwood will be stopping by the Fox Theatre in Redwood City, Calif., to discuss her latest novel, The Heart Goes Last.

Image via Goodreads

Here is a book summary excerpted on the Fox Theatre’s website:

Visionary as always, Atwood imagines a setting that isn’t as implausible as we’d like it to be, one that will resonate particularly strongly with residents of San Francisco and Silicon Valley.

In The Heart Goes Last, she chronicles a recently unemployed married couple trying to stay afloat in the midst of an economic and social collapse, are living in their car, leaving them vulnerable to roving gangs. The Positron Project in the town of Consilience seems to be the answer to their prayers.

But this is Margaret Atwood we’re talking about here… And with each passing day, Positron looks less like a prayer answered and more like a chilling prophecy fulfilled.

I would love to have my book club read this novel once it’s published in late September, so that we can make this book signing our own little field trip!

If you’re in the Bay Area and would like to join us, click this link to purchase your ticket. This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, so don’t let it slip away!

My 2015 Goals Update…and Some Exciting News!

We have less than five months left in 2015, so when I look back to my top ten goals for the year, I wonder…how’s my progress so far?

1. Read 20 more books. I’m making fantastic headway into my annual reading quota, since I’m already on my 15th book of the year. According to Goodreads, I’m two books ahead of schedule. Right on!

2. Read more fan-favorite romance novels. I’ve completed Jennifer Crusie’s Bet Me, but unfortunately I’ve been distracted by other genre at the moment. I’ve received some wonderful recommendations, however, so I hope to cross a couple more off my list before 2016!

3. Read more classic literature. My progress toward this goal is pretty dismal, to be honest, considering that I started Beowulf months ago and put it on pause for less dense reading. But I will definitely finish it…eventually.

4. Reach 65,000 total blog views. I’ve blown this goal out of the water by already reaching my stretch goal of 70,000 total blog views! I don’t post as often as I used to but I’m grateful for all my supportive followers for sticking with me!

5. Create more vlogs. Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to vlog since I discussed my favorite books of 2014, but I plan on producing another video in late September. After finding my brother Nick Jarrett some significant freelance work, I believe that he owes me a favor!

6. Research monetization. I haven’t made a single ounce of progress on this goal, but I’m not ashamed. I never went into blogging to make money, so it doesn’t bother me one bit. When I’m ready to take this blog to the next level, I will.

7. Make significant progress on my novel. I haven’t made a single ounce of progress on this goal either, but this time, I’m deeply ashamed. Sure, I struggled through a stressful job transition and relocation recently, but there’s no excuse. Bad Book Club Babe, very very bad.

8. Improve during NaNoWriMo. Can’t fail at a goal that hasn’t even started yet! Is it weird to be freaking out over something that’s months away? I swear NaNoWriMo will give me PTSD, but it will be worth it!

9. Attend more write-ins. Technically, write-ins occur throughout the year, not just during NaNoWriMo–or so I hear, since I haven’t attended any in 2015. However, a friend of mine sent me information about my local Shut Up and Write! chapter, so that might be the motivation I need.

10. Attend more book signings. I know that this year will be epic when it comes to this goal. I’ve already met one of my heroes, Kazuo Ishiguro, and today I bought tickets to see another of my absolute favorite authors…

Drumroll please…

MARGARET ATWOOD!!!

The woman who needs no introduction

I will share all the details tomorrow, but I just wanted to say that even though I’m not making as much progress with my goals as I would like, the fact that in a couple months I will be in the same room as Margaret Atwood means I already declare 2015 a major success!

Stay tuned for more info!