Whites Houses by Amy Bloom

White Houses by Amy Bloom
Publisher/Year: Random House, 2018
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 218
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐


“I never envied a wife or a husband, until I met Eleanor. Then, I would have traded everything I ever had, every limo ride, every skinny-dip, every byline and carefree stroll, for what Franklin had, polio and all.”

A beautiful, unexpected, and forbidden affair unfolds against a turning point in American history in this moving and romantic novel by the New York Times bestselling author of Away, Lucky Us, and Where the God of Love Hangs Out.

Lorena Hickok meets Eleanor Roosevelt in 1932 while reporting on Franklin Roosevelt’s first presidential campaign. Having grown up worse than poor in South Dakota and reinvented herself as the most prominent woman reporter in America, “Hick,” as she’s known to her friends and admirers, is not quite instantly charmed by the idealistic, patrician Eleanor. But then, as her connections with the future first lady deepens into intimacy, what begins as a powerful passion matures into a life and a lasting love Hick never expected to have. She moves into the White House, where her status as “first friend” is an open secret, as are FDR’s own lovers. After she takes a job in the Roosevelt administration, promoting and protecting both Roosevelts, she comes to know Franklin not only as a great president but as a complicated rival and an irresistible friend, capable of changing lives even after his death. Through it all, even as Hick’s bond with Eleanor is tested by forces both extraordinary and common, and as she grows as a woman and a writer, she never loses sight of the love of her life.

From Washington, D.C., to Hyde Park, from a little white house on Long Island to an apartment on Manhattan’s Washington Square, Amy Bloom’s new novel moves elegantly through fascinating places and times, written in compelling prose and with emotional depth, wit, and acuity.

“Amy Bloom knows the urgency of love,” wrote The Washington Post about Bloom’s acclaimed bestseller Away. The same could be said of White Houses, an unforgettable novel about the power of passion and the endurance of love.

What I thought

White Houses is a book that has been extremely difficult for me to rate. At times, I loved reading this story, but at others, I struggled with it.

As a historical fiction fan, I loved reading Amy Bloom’s take on the relationship between Eleanor and Lorena. I love the feeling when the wheels start turning, and I can’t help but wonder how much truth is behind the fiction. Their love story, at least as it’s told here, is the definition of bittersweet. Amy Bloom truly brings to life how beautiful and tragic their relationship is. There were a number of times when I just wanted to cry and cry for them, especially at the end.

On another historical note, as someone who has always deeply admired Eleanor Roosevelt, I was impressed with how Bloom portrayed her. Her character and her voice felt true to life, which is not always easy to do with historical figures.

I think where I struggled with this one was not Lorena herself (I just loved her), but her voice. Her narration can be jarring at times, which made it difficult to sink into. At the same time, however, I wouldn’t say this as a knock against Bloom’s writing. Her writing is impeccable–I have written down quote after quote of lines and passages I adored. Rather, it’s just that Lorena’s story seems to jump around a bit, and there’s almost an assumption that the reader knows all of the minor historical figures. Again, I did really enjoy Lorena as a character and Bloom’s writing. It was just difficult for me to really sink into this story, if that makes sense.

If you enjoy historical fiction, or if you are in the mood for an ultimately tragic love story, I definitely recommend White Houses. Although not always an easy read, in more ways than one, it nonetheless provides a fascinating take on Eleanor and Lorena’s relationship, as well as an intriguing look into those times.

The Drum That Beats Within Us by Mike Bond

The Drum That Beats Within Us by Mike Bond
Publisher/Year: Big City Press, 2018
Format: E-galley
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐


First published by Lawrence Ferlinghetti in City Lights Books, Mike Bond is an award-winning poet, critically acclaimed novelist, ecologist, and war and human rights journalist. Based on his own experiences in many dangerous and war-torn regions of the world and in its last wild places, his poems and novels portray the innate hunger of the human heart for good, the intense joys of love, the terror and fury of battle, the sinister conspiracies of dictators, and corporations and politicians, and the beauty of the vanishing natural world.

What I thought

Thank you to NetGalley and Big City Press for the free e-galley of this book! This does not affect my opinion presented here in this review.

“These are the wine days
of October
when trees, threshed
of leaves, bow down
in prayer to winter,
when the sun, anguished
like an old hound,
leaves its bed
late, going early,
when the sap of life
is dried and frozen.”

I don’t like to write lengthy reviews of poetry because I feel like it’s such a subjective thing–plus, with any collection, there will be some that I enjoy and resonate with and others that don’t hit home for me or that I might not even “get.” And such is the case here. As a whole, I did like this collection and found that I really enjoyed Bond’s nature imagery–it was very evocative. I also really enjoyed his essay in the beginning, and for the most part, agree with what he had to say. A solid collection, I’d recommend this if you enjoy poetry of the philosophical and natural kind.

The Testaments (The Handmaid’s Tale #2) by Margaret Atwood

The Testaments (The Handmaid’s Tale #2) by Margaret Atwood
Publisher/Year: Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2019
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 431
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Margaret Atwood’s dystopian masterpiece, The Handmaid’s Tale, has become a modern classic–and now she brings the iconic story to a dramatic conclusion in this stunning sequel.

Fifteen years after the events of The Handmaid’s Tale, the theocratic regime of the Republic of Gilead maintains its grip on power, but there are signs it is beginning to rot from within.

At this crucial moment, the lives of three radically different women converge, with potentially explosive results. Two have grown up on opposite sides of the border: one in Gilead as the privileged daughter of an important Commander, and one in Canada, where she marches in anti-Gilead protests and watches news of its horrors on TV. The testimonies of these two young women, part of the first generation to come of age in the new order, are braided with a third voice: that of one of the regime’s enforces, a woman who wields power through the ruthless accumulation and deployment of secrets. Long-buried secrets are what finally bring these three together, forcing each of them to come to terms with who she is and how far she will go for what she believes. As Atwood unfolds the stories of the women of The Testaments, she opens up our view of the innermost workings of Gilead in a triumphant blend of riveting suspense, blazing wit, and virtuosic world-building.

What I thought

The Testaments was one of my most highly anticipated reads of 2019, and it did not fail to be an excellent read for me. While it didn’t have as much “oomph” for me as The Handmaid’s Tale, I still loved it very much. (I also want to add before I go any further that I have not, in fact, watched the Hulu show, although now I plan to.)

The thing is, Atwood wasn’t trying to write another Handmaid’s Tale. She has said, in countless interviews, that she could not. And I think when you give readers nearly 35 years to stew on how they would have continued the story, you’re bound to end up disappointing someone. With all that being said, Atwood returns to Gilead by offering readers a few different angles, and I lived for it. Reading these two books back-to-back fully immersed me into the world of Gilead, for worse or better. I’m talking, like, when I’d put the book down to come up for air, I’d have to actually remind myself that we aren’t in Gilead (yet, anyway).

I really just loved what Atwood did with The Testaments–she is a brilliant, brilliant woman. With Offred, her tale is a claustrophobic, inside view of Gilead that feels at times hopeless and at times like a warning to readers–this is what could happen if you don’t pay attention. It’s foreboding, to say the least. With The Testaments, however, she offers us hope if we should (ahem) find ourselves in such a situation. We know from The Handmaid’s Tale that Gilead meets its end, and with The Testaments, we see the beginnings of that end. And it is so, so glorious. We see Gilead from the perspective of a founding enforcer, from someone who grew up in and knows nothing but Gilead, and from someone who grew up outside Gilead. Gilead hasn’t changed, and I think that’s what bothered some, but we see more of it, which I thought was fascinating. And we see how it can crumble from within and from without, which, I dunno about you, but that made me feel good, for more reasons than one.

Let’s talk about those perspectives, shall we? First and foremost–Aunt Lydia. Her sections shook me. We are so inclined to see things as black and white. Aunt Lydia = bad. But y’know, there’s more to her than that. She is ruthless, she is conniving, and frankly, she is downright scary…but she knows how to get what she wants. I loved what Atwood said in an interview about her–just because she is a woman doesn’t mean she has to be nice. Read that again. As for Agnes and Daisy, first of all, maybe I’m just stupid, maybe it’s just that I haven’t watched the show, but I did not see those twists coming. Also, a lot of people have complained that the young narrators detracted from the “literary feel” of the novel. First of all, can I just say? GROSS. I think what Atwood is trying to do is to show that when we need change, overhaul, revolution, it’s the “kids” that will bring that about. Aunt Lydia might be behind the scenes, but it takes Daisy to be like, “The is weird as f*ck” and to be impulsive enough to be daring and take the risks to kick a revolution into gear. It’s cliche to say this, but the kids are our future, and they aren’t afraid of change. So, if that’s not “literary” enough for you, I dunno what else to tell you, but it’s real. And if there’s one reason why The Handmaid’s Tale is such a classic and why The Testaments more than lives up as a sequel, it’s because it feels real. It feels plausible. It feels imminent. The Testaments brings the hope we need to know that when the going gets tough, that it can change for the better.

Two final notes. I don’t care what anyone else says, I love feeling like I found out what happened to Offred. Atwood never comes out explicitly and states that it is, in fact, Offred, which I think goes back to the ambiguity of the first book’s ending. People are all up in arms about having their questions answered, when Atwood really doesn’t. She leaves it up to the reader to draw their own conclusions, while offering hints and nudges. I’m happy with it. And finally–the cover graphics! Can I just say how clever they are?! The girl inside the handmaid, the handmaid inside the girl, and the raised fist inside the pen! Yes! I love it!

Regardless of what anyone else thinks, I loved this sequel, and I’m dreading my next read. I fear I’m heading straight towards a slump after this one.

The Handmaid’s Tale (The Handmaid’s Tale #1) by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid’s Tale (The Handmaid’s Tale #1) by Margaret Atwood
Publisher/Year: Anchor Books, 2017
Format: Paperback
Pages: 315
Rating: ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐


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 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…

Funny, unexpected, horrifying, and altogether convincing, The Handmaid’s Tale is at once scathing satire, dire warning, and tour de force.

What I thought

Update – 2019

It’s been a few years since I read this one last, but I wanted to revisit it before diving into The Testaments for book club. And y’know, I’m glad I did because it reaffirmed the fact that this book stands as one of my all-time favorite books. This time, particularly, I was struck by how entirely horrifying and utterly unsettling Offred’s story is, which is probably due to the fact of today’s political climate. Atwood’s writing is just so phenomenal–I want everyone to read this book. The Handmaid’s Tale is one of those books I loved so much that I hugged it tome when I was done. I’m so glad I re-read it–I feel like this was one of those “perfect timing” reads; this story resonated with me now at this stage of my life more so than any of my previous reads. There are only so many ways I can put it–I love this book, it is a favorite of mine. It’s gut-wrenching, horrifying, and all-too-plausible, and Offred stands as one of the most unforgettable, relatable, hopeful, witty, and strong heroines that I have ever read. I will forever be pushing The Handmaid’s Tale into the hands of everyone. If you haven’t read it–what are you waiting for! Read it, absorb it…the last thing we want to do is inadvertently end up creating our own hellish version of Gilead.

Initial review – 2015

When I was in college, I took a class called Women & Lit, and this was one of our assigned novels. I read slowly, so I got about halfway through this one before I had to give it up for our next read. I regret now that it took me until now to read this in its entirety. This was a brilliant novel & I think its brilliance lies in the fact of its utter plausibility. Atwood paints a picture of a world that we would like to scoff at and think, “That’ll never happen!” but in reality, it very well could. Offred was a narrator that I grew to deeply care about–I HAD to know what happened to her, I had such a difficult time putting this down. And I usually hate open endings, but here I felt it was perfect. I loved Atwood’s writing, too. I actually felt like I was listening to Offred tell us her tale. I was VERY impressed by this book, and I KNOW this won’t be my last read of Atwood’s.