Top Ten Tuesday: Most Anticipated Releases for the Second Half of 2019

Top Ten Tuesday is a meme hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl, featuring a different top 10 theme each week. This week’s topic is Most Anticipated Releases of the Second Half of 2019.

I’m so excited for all of these… as you could probably tell if you took a peek at my pre-order list. A lot of these books are sequels or parts of series, and that’s just fine with me. Here are my top ten anticipated books — see the list below for release dates.

  1. The Women of the Copper Country by Mary Doria Russell (release date 8/6/2019)
  2. Reticence (The Custard Protocol, #4) by Gail Carriger (release date 8/6/2019)
  3. Snow, Glass, Apple by Neil Gaiman (release date 8/20/2019)
  4. The Institute by Stephen King (release date 9/10/2019)
  5. The Testaments (The Handmaid’s Tale, #2) by Margaret Atwood (release date 9/10/2019)
  6. Wayward Son (Carry On, #2) by Rainbow Rowell (release date 9/24/2019)
  7. The Unkindest Tide (October Daye, #13) by Seanan McGuire (release date 9/3/2019)
  8. The Secret Commonwealth (The Book of Dust, #2) by Philip Pullman (release date 10/3/2019)
  9. Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (illustrated edition) by J. K. Rowling (release date 10/8/2019)
  10. Malorie (Bird Box, #2) by Josh Malerman (release date 12/3/2019)

Are you planning to read any of these? What books are you dying to read in the 2nd half of 2019? Please share your links!

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Shelf Control #127: The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

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Welcome to Shelf Control — an original feature created and hosted by Bookshelf Fantasies.

Shelf Control is a weekly celebration of the unread books on our shelves. Pick a book you own but haven’t read, write a post about it (suggestions: include what it’s about, why you want to read it, and when you got it), and link up! For more info on what Shelf Control is all about, check out my introductory post, here.

Want to join in? Shelf Control posts go up every Wednesday. See the guidelines at the bottom of the post, and jump on board!

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Title: The Blind Assassin
Author: Margaret Atwood
Published: 2000
Length: 521 pages

What it’s about (synopsis via Goodreads):

Margaret Atwood takes the art of storytelling to new heights in a dazzling novel that unfolds layer by astonishing layer and concludes in a brilliant and wonderfully satisfying twist. Told in a style that magnificently captures the colloquialisms and clichés of the 1930s and 1940s, The Blind Assassin is a richly layered and uniquely rewarding experience.

It opens with these simple, resonant words: “Ten days after the war ended, my sister drove a car off the bridge.” They are spoken by Iris, whose terse account of her sister Laura’s death in 1945 is followed by an inquest report proclaiming the death accidental. But just as the reader expects to settle into Laura’s story, Atwood introduces a novel-within-a-novel. Entitled The Blind Assassin, it is a science fiction story told by two unnamed lovers who meet in dingy backstreet rooms. When we return to Iris, it is through a 1947 newspaper article announcing the discovery of a sailboat carrying the dead body of her husband, a distinguished industrialist.

For the past twenty-five years, Margaret Atwood has written works of striking originality and imagination. In The Blind Assassin, she stretches the limits of her accomplishments as never before, creating a novel that is entertaining and profoundly serious. The Blind Assassin proves once again that Atwood is one of the most talented, daring, and exciting writers of our time. Like The Handmaid’s Tale, it is destined to become a classic.

How and when I got it:

I’ve had a paperback copy on my shelf for at least 10 years. At this point, I have no idea where I picked it up — but probably at my local used book store.

Why I want to read it:

Back when it won the Man Booker Prize, everyone was talking about The Blind Assassin! It’s been a long time for me since I read a Margaret Atwood novel, but those I’ve read, I’ve loved. With The Handmaid’s Tale on TV now (excellent), I’ve been prompted to revisit my shelves and see which of Atwood’s books I still need to read. This one moves to the top of the pile!

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Want to participate in Shelf Control? Here’s how:

  • Write a blog post about a book that you own that you haven’t read yet.
  • Add your link in the comments!
  • If you’d be so kind, I’d appreciate a link back from your own post.
  • Check out other posts, and…

Have fun!

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Book Review: The Heart Goes Last

The Heart Goes LastThis is one tough book to describe.

The Heart Goes Last centers on main characters Stan and Charmaine, a married couple who are living in their car as of the beginning of the story. They’ve lost their jobs and their homes as the economy in the US Northeast has completely tanked. Charmaine works at a seedy bar to earn enough for them to buy fast food and gas, but that’s about it. Gas is essential, because even when locked into the car at night, crazy or desperate people may attack, break the windows, and try to rape or kill them, and being able to drive off in case of emergency is what keeps them alive. Life really sucks, and even though they both remember what it was like to be newlyweds in love, it’s getting harder and harder to keep any affection alive when life is just that awful.

Is it any wonder that they sign on, rather blindly, to the promise of a new and better life? Stan and Charmaine are seduced by an advertisement for an experimental town called Consilience. The Consilience project offers a house, safety, security, meaningful life, and the absence of fear and worry. After a quick visit within the gated walls of the town, they’re ready to sign up. The catch is that, once in, it’s permanent, but no worries! Charmaine is too entranced by the idea of a house, her own kitchen, and a cozy couch to even consider walking away, and to Stan, it sure sounds like a great alternative to quick, unsexy sex on the backseat of the car while watching out for attackers.

Once Stan and Charmaine have committed, we start to learn more. There’s a flip side to Consilience: Positron. Positron is a prison, and here’s the deal. For one month, Stan and Charmaine live in their cozy suburban house and go off to work at their pleasant jobs. Then comes switchover day, and the two go over to the Positron Prison, don orange prison garb, and become inmates for a month. Stan goes to the men’s ward, where he tends chickens, and Charmaine goes to the women’s ward, where she’s a medications officer. The prison is safe, filled with other happy Consilience residents, offering delicious food, meaningful work, and even a knitting circle in the evenings to pass the time. Meanwhile, Stan and Charmaine’s house is now occupied by their alternates. Half the town spends each month as residents, half as inmates, and then they switch. This way, the project provides housing and occupation for all, and everyone is happy. Be happy, damn it!

Perhaps picture-perfect suburbia isn’t all it’s cracked up to be:

The hedge trimmer emits a menacing whine, like a wasp’s nest. The sound gives him an illusion of power that dulls his sense of panic. Panic of a rat in a cage, with ample food and drink and even sex, though with no way out and the suspicion that it’s part of an experiment that is sure to be painful.

Things are as weird as they seem, and weirder. There’s sexual obsession and deception, nefarious corporate goons, weird sexual fetishes, secret medical procedures, and a recurring motif of blue knitted teddy bears. Of course this utopian refuge has a dark side, and of course Stan and Charmaine become deeply involved as puppets in the greater scheme of things. When I say things get weird, I really mean it.

By the end of the book, we’re in Vegas. There are hordes of Elvis and Marilyn impersonators, Blue Man Group rip-off artists, brain wipes, and sex/love slaves. And as word of the goings-on in Consilience/Positron is leaked to the greater public:

Instantly the social media sites are ablaze with outrage. Prison abuses! Organ-harvesting! Sex slaves created by neurosurgery! Plans to suck the blood of babies! […] Talk shows roister on into the night — they haven’t had this much fun in decades — and bloggers break out in flames.

I wish I could say that The Heart Goes Last was a great read, but unfortunately, I found it somewhat problematic. I was intrigued at the outset by the set-up, by the collapse of society, and by the way Stan and Charmaine’s marital issues tied into their dilemmas and decision-making about Consilience/Positron. Unfortunately, the book keeps veering off in new and disjointed directions, and by the time the Vegas elements come around, the storyline has passed the line from odd to ridiculous.

There are some truly eerie or disturbing sequences, but eventually, as one after another scenario unfolds, the whole thing loses its power and feels too scattered to be truly affecting. The goofiness of certain plot points (Elvis… Marilyn… the bear) makes the whole story somewhat farcical. While there are some kernels of deeper meaning in there about choice and the illusion of choice, the trade-off between security and free will, and whether unwavering love adds to or subtracts from actual happiness, the lack of overall coherence blunts the impact of all of these.

“Isn’t it better to do something because you’ve decided to? Rather than because you have to.”

“No, it isn’t,” says Charmaine. “Love isn’t like that. With love, you can’t stop yourself.” She wants the helplessness, she wants…

On top of the all-over-the-place plot, the fact is that dystopias are pretty much a dime a dozen these days, and it takes quite a lot to offer something new or startling. The idea of a perfect little town paired with a prison is interesting, especially as the town seems like something out of the movie Pleasantville (the only movies shown on Consilience TV are from the 1950s, and Doris Day is everyone’s darling) — but we’ve all read enough of these new society, perfect world set-ups to know that the people in charge have ulterior motives, there’s surveillance everywhere, and that a controlled world must be intrinsically corrupt at its core. Even though there are some clever and unexpected twists, at its most fundamental level, there isn’t anything all that fresh in the overarching concept.

Sadly, The Heart Goes Last was ultimately a let-down for me. I wouldn’t NOT recommend it, but it’s not Atwood’s best work either. I was never bored, exactly, but at some point, I just kind of rolled my eyes and decided to go with it.

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The details:

Title: The Heart Goes Last
Author: Margaret Atwood
Publisher: Nan A. Talese
Publication date: September 29, 2015
Length: 320 pages
Genre: Science fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of the publisher via NetGalley

Flashback Friday: The Handmaid’s Tale

Flashback Friday is my own little weekly tradition, in which I pick a book from my reading past to highlight. If you’d like to join in, here are the Flashback Friday book selection guidelines:

  1. Has to be something you’ve read yourself
  2. Has to still be available, preferably still in print
  3. Must have been originally published 5 or more years ago

Other than that, the sky’s the limit! Join me, please, and let us all know: what are the books you’ve read that you always rave about? What books from your past do you wish EVERYONE would read? Pick something from five years ago, or go all the way back to the Canterbury Tales if you want. It’s Flashback Friday time!

My picks for this week’s Flashback Friday:

The Handmaid's Tale

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood

(published 1985)

From Goodreads:

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…

Back before “dystopian” was a fiction genre (as in the enthusiastic exclamation I came across recently: “I ♥ dystopians!!”), Margaret Atwood wrote this chilling look at a remade United States, in which religion is now law and women are subjugated into the Biblical roles that the men in charge deem appropriate. With no monetary, legal, or political power, Offred is stripped of everything she once had, including a name of her own, and forced into servitude as a vessel for producing offspring.

The Handmaid’s Tale is an unforgettable look at life in a totalitarian society, in which individual rights no longer exist — including the right to one’s own body and one’s own family. It’s a frightening cautionary tale as well as a powerful piece of speculative fiction, written in Margaret Atwood’s always spectacular literary voice.

My Wishlist Wednesday book this week was the author’s upcoming book, MaddAddam, due out in September of this year. Margaret Atwood’s fiction is always different, always beautifully written, and always powerful. What are your favorite Atwood novels? Leave your thoughts in the comments!

Note from your friendly Bookshelf Fantasies host: To join the Flashback Friday fun, write a blog post about a book you love (please mention Bookshelf Fantasies as the Flashback Friday host!) and share your link below. Don’t have a blog post to share? Then share your favorite oldie-but-goodie in the comments section. Jump in!

Wishlist Wednesday

Welcome to Wishlist Wednesday!

The concept is to post about one book from our wish lists that we can’t wait to read. Want to play? Here’s how:

  • Follow Pen to Paper as host of the meme.
  • Do a post about one book from your wishlist and why you want to read it.
  • Add your blog to the linky at the bottom of the post at Pen to Paper.
  • Put a link back to Pen to Paper somewhere in your post.
  • Visit the other blogs and enjoy!

My Wishlist Wednesday book is:

  MaddAddam (MaddAddam Trilogy #3)

MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood
(to be released September 2013)

From Goodreads:

Months after the Waterless Flood pandemic has wiped out most of humanity, Toby and Ren have rescued their friend Amanda from the vicious Painballers. They return to the MaddAddamite cob house, which is being fortified against man and giant Pigoon alike. Accompanying them are the Crakers, the gentle, quasi-human species engineered by the brilliant but deceased Crake. While their reluctant prophet, Jimmy — Crake’s one-time friend — recovers from a debilitating fever, it’s left to Toby to narrate the Craker theology, with Crake as Creator. She must also deal with cultural misunderstandings, terrible coffee, and her jealousy over her lover, Zeb.

Combining adventure, humour, romance, superb storytelling, and an imagination that is at once dazzlingly inventive and grounded in a recognizable world, MaddAddam is vintage Margaret Atwood, and a moving and dramatic conclusion to her internationally celebrated dystopian trilogy.

Is anyone else as excited about this book as I am?

I had no idea a third book was on the way until I stumbled across this on Amazon last week. The first book in the trilogy, Oryx and Crake, is one of my very favorite books. At the time that I read Oryx and Crake, I was under the impression that it was a stand-alone  novel. When The Year of the Flood came out a few years later, I was thrilled. And now — here comes book three!

If you haven’t read Oryx and Crake, I’d say drop everything and get this book! Here’s the Amazon synopsis:

Oryx and Crake is at once an unforgettable love story and a compelling vision of the future. Snowman, known as Jimmy before mankind was overwhelmed by a plague, is struggling to survive in a world where he may be the last human, and mourning the loss of his best friend, Crake, and the beautiful and elusive Oryx whom they both loved. In search of answers, Snowman embarks on a journey–with the help of the green-eyed Children of Crake–through the lush wilderness that was so recently a great city, until powerful corporations took mankind on an uncontrolled genetic engineering ride. Margaret Atwood projects us into a near future that is both all too familiar and beyond our imagining.

Margaret Atwood is a complicated, challenging, and always engaging writer. Her books require effort, but they’re well worth it. The first two books of this trilogy are science fiction with a dystopian twist  — but with a unique worldview and literary approach. I absolutely cannot wait for MaddAddam!

So what are you doing on Thursdays and Fridays? Come join me for my regular weekly features, Thursday Quotables and Flashback Friday! You can find out more here — come share the book love!