Author Archives: lydias

A Spoiler-Free Review of Season 2 of The Handmaid’s Tale

Those of you who have been following me on Twitter these past few months have no doubt noticed my occasional tweets about the latest episode of The Handmaid’s Tale. This year I decided to combine all of my thoughts on this show into one long post instead of blogging about each episode individually.

The cast of characters for this show is large. As you scroll through my review, you’ll see photos and names of most of them. I did leave out some minor characters in order to avoid giving away spoilers for later developments in this season, but I included nearly everyone who appeared at least semi-regularly in the plot.

There was only one exception for the spoiler-free rule, and it is something I’ll briefly mention in the section underneath Commander Waterford’s picture. I felt the need to include that sentence because the storyline does involve some common topics that some people find triggering.

 

Elizabeth Moss as June/Offred.

 

When season one of this show ended last year, Offred discovered she was pregnant shortly before being lead out of the Waterford’s home and into one of the vans that was owned by the Eyes, the government-authorized spies in Gilead. Whether the van was meant to deliver her to a life of freedom in Canada or take her someplace else entirely was left to be seen.

The pursuit – and loss – of freedom was one of the major recurring themes in season two of The Handmaid’s Tale. As a member of a totalitarian society who only valued her for her reproductive capabilities, Offred should have been resigned to the loss of her husband, daughter, and freedom by now.

She wasn’t.

 

Yvonne Strahovski as Serena Joy Waterford.

 

Life as a Handmaid in general or with the Waterfords specifically had never been pleasant for Offred.

Since Offred had done it once before, the Waterfords held high hopes that her latest pregnancy would have an equally happy ending. I had strong opinions about the most likely outcome of this pregnancy when season two began.

Offred had something that Serena Joy desperately craved: the ability to conceive and bear a healthy child. The jealousy in this household was palpable, and it only grew stronger as the season progressed. As someone who has never felt the urge to be anyone’s mother, I appreciated the fact that the storyline spent so much time exploring what it means to be a parent and what it feels like when someone is stripped of the ability to decide when, whether, with whom, or how often to reproduce.

While being biologically related to a child can be part of parenthood, this theme was much more complex than who shared DNA with each other. I’d be wandering into spoiler territory if I said much else about this idea, but do pay close attention to how all of the characters on this show react to children and the concept of being a parent in general.

Joseph Fiennes as Commander Waterford.

 

Speaking of Commander Waterford, I liked the fact that this season spent so much time exploring how a man who claimed to be doing God’s work could authorize so many things that no loving deity would ever command anyone to do. He was also one of the least paternal characters I’ve ever known.

If you need a trigger warning for rape or abuse, know that these are two of the many horrible things this character does in the second season. This is all I will say on this topic, but I would be happy to privately go into more detail for anyone who needs to know what to expect ahead of time.

The thought of Commander Waterford possibly raising a baby was a frightening as it was bizarre. He seemed to have no interest in children outside of their ability to elevate his status in society, and that’s never a good reason for anyone to have a child.

The tension between the wholesome image this character wanted to project to his neighbours and who he genuinely was when the doors were closed was as frightening as it was thought-provoking. Anyone might notice slight discrepancies between who they would ideally like to be and who they actually were, but when the gap between the two is this gigantic it becomes impossible to ignore.

Amanda Brugel (left) as Martha.

 

This is even more true for people who interacted with Commander Waterford on a daily basis.

I appreciated the fact that Martha, the cook/housekeeper, was given extra screen time in season two. Her character shared enough tidbits in season one from her previous life  – including the fact that she had a son who died in the civil war – that I was hoping we’d learn more about what sort of person she was.

As is often the case with secondary characters in this series, I didn’t get as many details about Martha as I would have liked to receive. There simply wasn’t enough time to tell me everything I wanted to know about this character, but my appetite has been whetted for more. I hope she gets even more attention in season three.

 

Max Minghella as Nick.

 

Nick, the Waterford’s driver, Guardian (bodyguard), and biological father of June’s baby, did get his fair share of development, however. Based on the way he behaved in season one, I was not at all prepared for what would happen to him in season two. It was really nice to dive into this character’s point of view so deeply, especially once certain things began happening that he hadn’t planned for or desired.

Honestly, he wasn’t someone I liked or trusted all the much in the first season. Throwing Nick into situations he found unnerving was the best possible thing that could have happened to him. I learned so much about his moral code and what  he wanted out of life based on his reactions to all of the life changes that Gilead thrust upon him.

Yes, I know I’m being quite vague in this section. It’s something I’m doing on purpose in order to avoid sharing a major plot twist from one of the early episodes of season two. Just know that Nick’s life is about to be turned upside down in season two if you’ve just begun watching it.

Ann Dowd as Aunt Lydia.

Aunt Lydia was as insufferable as ever.

When I first met her in season one, I couldn’t tell if this character was a true believer in the unbearably strict religious mores of Gilead or if she’d always been a sadist. The things she did to the handmaids she trained and kept in line were disturbing on a good day.

When she felt threatened or like her handmaid’s weren’t being obedient, Aunt Lydia was quick to slide past disturbing and into much darker corners of the human mind. I can’t imagine mistreating anyone the way she did, so it was hard to understand where she was coming from.

Other than Martha, Aunt Lydia is the character I’d like to see fleshed out the most in season three. The audience had so little information about what makes this villain tick that her violent choices only lowered my opinion of her more this season.

 

Alexis Bledel as Emily/Ofglen.

 

Offred wasn’t the only Handmaid in this society. Some of the most memorable scenes this year explored the fates of the other Handmaids in Gilead. None of them could be said to be having a positive experience, but certain ones were treated worse than others.

Emily/Ofglen’s fate was of particular interest to me due to how much I could relate to her as a fellow member of the LGBT community and lover of knowledge. In a slightly different set of circumstances, I could have easily walked a mile in her shoes. That’s frightening.

Madeline Brewer as Janine/Ofwarren.

 

Janine was another Handmaid whose storyline was developed nicely in season two. Once again, I can’t say a great deal about her life with giving away spoilers, but I did find it interesting to see how someone as fragile and emotionally unwell as this character has managed to stay alive in a society where either of those “flaws” could so easily lead to a quick death for anyone unlucky enough to develop them.

O.T. Fagbenle as Luke, June’s husband.

One of the things that first pulled me into this book before it became a TV series was June’s relationship with her husband.

The Luke in the book annoyed me in the beginning due to his unwillingness to empathize with June’s fears about living in a society where women were so quickly losing their rights and his stubborn determination to ignore every red flag until it was too late for him to get his family out of the country safely. I didn’t blame him for failing to understand what it’s like to be a woman. However, I did blame him for refusing to take his wife seriously when she opened up to him about how women were really being treated.

Getting to know a little more about the assumptions Luke made about others helped me to understand why he messed up so terribly in the beginning. I still wish he’d listened to his wife the first time she shared her concerns with him, though!

Jordana Blake (left) as Hannah Bankole, daughter of June and Luke.

 

There is very little I can say about Hannah without giving away spoilers, but her emotional bond with both of her parents has been a beautiful part of the plot since the first scene of season one. June’s second pregnancy was made even more poignant because she’d already had years of parenting experience under her belt. She knew exactly what it was she was going to be giving up after her pregnancy ended and she was moved on to the next childless household.

Samira Wiley as Moira.

 

I do wish Moira had been given more opportunities to shine in season two. We got to know her so well in the first season that I would have relished the opportunity to see how she was adjusting to life outside of Gilead after her daring escape at the end of season one.

Only time will tell if season three dig more deeply into the lives of Moira, Martha, and Aunt Lydia.

If you’re a fellow fan of The Handmaid’s Tale, what did you enjoy the most about season two?

Avoid These Common Rookie Blogging Mistakes

 

Common Mistakes Writers Make While Blogging

Companies increasingly realize the value in blogging. It’s a simple way to create engaging content on your website, improve your SEO, and drive more traffic to your digital door. On the other hand, quality blogging is both an art form and a science. Your content must not only be entertaining and simple to read, it must also strike the appropriate tone and reach the right audience. In order to achieve this, avoid these rookie blogging mistakes:

Mistake 1: Neglecting Your Research

When setting up a blog, think about your target audience. If you neglect to include demographic research into your blogs, your content may fall flat – or worse, turn people off from your site.

Failing to know your target demographic can also lead to your posts becoming too generic. Instead of creating tailored content to your readers, you run the risk of simply taking up space on a page. Rather than trying to “appeal to the masses,” conduct some thorough content research before creating a blog. Writing to a target persona will automatically make your content more personal, engaging, and conversational.

Mistake 2: Creating An Inappropriate Tone

As you conduct your market research and decide on your target personas, think about the tone in which you want to communicate ideas to these people. Appropriateness is a key issue that can make your blogs fall flat. The classic example is wearing a suit to the beach, or beach shorts to a job interview. If your company deals in serious subject matter (such as medical services or financial planning), trying to incorporate humor or lightness is a lot like wearing beach shorts to a job interview. Make sure the tone of your writing matches up with your target audience.

Consider creating a blogging guide with blog writing tips for all your copywriters that dictate tone and appropriate style. This will ensure consistency throughout your posts.

Mistake 3: Lack Of Emotion In Your Writing

On the other hand, it’s important to communicate some level of emotion in your writing, no matter your audience. Even formal, authoritative pieces of content can communicate personality. Health-related services, for example, can remain authoritative while communicating compassion and empathy. When you write from an emotional or personal perspective, your writing automatically becomes more conversational and easier to read.

Mistake 4: Broken Links In Your Content

Link-building is an essential process for driving your SEO. One of the simplest blogging tips – yet one that rookie bloggers are most likely to ignore – is making sure your linked content goes back to a reliable source. Broken links tarnish your authority and create a sense of annoyance in your reader, while neglecting your link-building altogether creates a missed opportunity for improving your search engine ranking.

Mistake 5: You Don’t Have A Responsive Website

Your readers are more likely to engage with your content on a mobile device than they are on a desktop. If you lack mobile optimization or a responsive web design, you’re damaging your blog’s reputation before you post your first article. Having a responsive website means your readers can engage with your content no matter how they view it – on a desktop, on a tablet, or even on their mobile device. The easier the content is to read, the more likely people will enjoy engaging with it.

Mistake 6: You Don’t Use Calls-To-Action

A call-to-action, or CTA, is a simple way to encourage more engagement with your website. A CTA can be hard: “contact us to take advantage of this amazing offer!” or soft: “if you’re interested in learning more about our services, reach out to us at any time.” No matter what kind of CTA you use, they provide extra opportunities for your audience to connect with your content.

Mistake 7: You Don’t Promote Your Content On Social Media

You put a lot of time and energy into creating engaging blog posts. Why not promote them on all your marketing channels? It’s simple to do and drives more traffic to your website, organically improving your SEO while teaching your readers more about your company. Link your articles to all your social media channels by using an enticing description.

Mistake 8: You Don’t Engage With The Rest Of The Blogging Community

Here’s a piece of sage blogging advice: don’t forget about other blogs in your niche. Most bloggers don’t realize that you can build more traffic to your own site by commenting on other blogs and networking with others in your field.

These simple blogging tips will help you organically build a readership base and ensure that you’re creating engaging content each week. Apply them when starting or revamping your blog – your readers will take care of the rest.

Author Bio:

Nicola Yap lives in Phoenix, Arizona with her two cats Marcie and Lambert. When she isn’t writing blog posts, she’s probably playing video games or doing something as equally unproductive. She works as an organic marketing strategist for Eminent SEO, a full-service digital marketing agency that creates custom websites and innovative marketing solutions for small to medium-sized businesses that are looking for impactful results.

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What to Read When It’s Hot Outside

Last winter I shared a list of books that I’d recommend checking out when it’s cold outside. All of them were set during the winter because sometimes I like to match the settings in the stories I read to what the weather in Ontario is like at that a particular time of the year.

Now it’s the middle of July.  Instead of having a high temperature of -25 C (-13 F) like we did when I published that post last January, it’s supposed to feel like 40 C (104 F) today including the humidex. I’m lucky enough to have air conditioning, but our home air conditioner does have some trouble keeping up when the weather grows that hot and humid.

Luckily, there’s something about leaping into a good book that helps me forget even the strongest heat wave.

My summer reading preferences tend to veer off into two different directions. I either want to read serious classic literature or lighthearted beach reads that don’t require much analyzing at all. (So much depends on exactly how humid it is outside and how well my brain cells are swimming around in my skull. Ha!)

I have no idea why my brain has made the connection between these two types of stories and summer. All I know is that these were the sections of our local public library I’d often visit first after school let out and I needed something to occupy my time for a few months.

Summer Sisters by Judy Blume

Summer Sisters was the first Judy Blume tale I read that wasn’t meant for kids. I stumbled across it a couple of decades before I reached the target age range, but I still loved the idea of making a childhood friend who remained with you throughout your life.

My family moved around a lot when I was growing up. The friends I made once we finally settled down for good turned out not to be people I had anything in common with at all in adulthood. This gives me a soft spot for people who were able to maintain their childhood friendships twenty, forty, or even sixty years later. It must be incredible to have such a long, rich history with someone like that.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe by Fannie Flagg

The first thing I’m going to tell you about this book is that you should never try to fry green tomatoes. My one and only attempt at making this dish did not end deliciously. Fried tomatoes have such an odd texture that I don’t ever want to taste them again.

The storyline itself was well done, though. It was about an unlikely friendship between a sad, middle-aged woman named Evelyn and Mrs. Threadgoode, a lonely nursing home resident. As they got to know each other better, Mrs. Threadgoode began telling Evelyn a complicated story about two friends who grew up together and ran a restaurant in Whistle Stop, Alabama that served coffee and occasionally might have been the scene of a violent crime or two.

Summer makes me feel nostalgic, so reading about what life was like from roughly the early 1900s to the1940s tickled my imagination.

 

Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt

Some middle grade books can be just as appealing to adults as they are to their intended audience. If you ask me, this is one of them.

Winnie, the main character, had to decide whether or not to drink water from a spring that had the power to make someone immortal. I loved the descriptions of the water in that spring, especially since Winnie visited it during an uncomfortably warm portion of the year from what I can recall. There’s nothing as refreshing as a glass of cold water on a hot summer day, although I don’t know that I’d be interested in living forever.

 

My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult

Okay, so technically My Sister’s Keeper wasn’t set during the summer. I first read it during such a hot and humid portion of this season that it still feels like a summer read to me.

The dilemma the characters dealt with was one that I thought could have been solved much more quickly than it was. Anna was a young girl who had been conceived specifically to be a donor for an older sibling who had leukaemia. She’s endured numerous medical procedures over the years in order to keep her sister alive, and by the time she turned eleven she’d had enough.

I formed my opinion on the ethics of this (fictional) case almost immediately. That didn’t mean I was any less interested in seeing if Anna could become legally emancipated from her family or what would happen to her sister after Anna was no longer forced to give away parts of her body to her sibling.

As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner

To be perfectly honest with you, I am not a huge fan of Faulkner’s writing style. His descriptions remind me of a few people I know who will take ten minutes to recount a story that could have easily been shared in one or two. My patience for that sort of thing is limited to days when I have all the time in the world to read (or listen) and don’t mind getting lost in a long description of what someone’s wagon looked like before the narrator eventually sees fit to tell me who is riding in that wagon and where they’re going.

Without giving away any spoilers, the journey on said wagon was a deeply emotional one. I simply need to be in the right frame of mind in order to properly enjoy it (and to keep the 15 narrators straight in my mind!)

 

A Midsummer Night’s Dream by William Shakespeare

As someone who had mixed feelings about Romeo and Juliet, I sure wasn’t expecting to enjoy A Midsummer Night’s Dream like I did. There’s something about a warm summer night that makes falling in love – or, in some cases, lust – just a little more appealing than it would be at other times of the year.

If possible, I highly recommend watching this play outdoors on a warm evening. I was lucky enough to do that once, and it made the storyline come alive for me. There was something about feeling the humid air against my skin and hearing crickets chirping in the distance that made me feel like I’d been transported hundreds of years ago to when this story was first performed.

 

To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee

Yes, I know I’ve talked about this book several times before in previous posts. One of the things I liked most about the earliest scenes were their descriptions of what summer was like in the 1930s before air conditioning was invented. This was a very small part of the plot, of course, but people back then came up with all sorts of inexpensive and inventive ways to remain as cool as possible. I enjoyed reading about their solutions, and they made me very grateful to live in a world where air conditioning exists.

 

The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison

 Not only is The Bluest Eye set during the summer, I first read it over summer vacation as well. The sharp contrast between the warm setting and the cold descriptions of a young girl who had endured terrible abuse made me very curious to see how it ended. This book does include descriptions of the after-effects of rape, so reader be warned.

Do your reading preferences shift from one season to the next? What genres do you like to read during the hottest part of the year where you live?

Suggestion Saturday: July 14, 2018

Here is this week’s list of short stories, articles, and other links from my favourite corners of the web.

Dust to Dust. This is one of those short stories that works best if it’s read on a hot, dusty summer day. Enjoy!

Walk to Your Health via CorinneBlogs. It’s always nice to find other people who walk as part of their exercise routine.

We Want to Have Fun Like You, But Here’s What It Takes via achvoice. If you’ve ever wondered what it was like to live with an invisible illness, go read this.

Free Horror Book Promo. My friend Jan is giving away free e-books of two of her horror novels from July 13 to July 17. Click on this link for more information. If anyone who is reading this will be putting their own books on sale in the future, I’d be happy to share a link to your site.

The Bullshit of Busy via seanpaulmahoney. I couldn’t agree with this more. There’s something incredibly odd about bragging about how busy one is.

From To Be Resilient, Face Tragedy with Humour and Flexibility:

Rather than seeing themselves as victims of a terrible and mindless fate, resilient people and groups devise ways to frame their misfortune in a more personally understandable way, and this serves to protect them from being overwhelmed by difficulties in the present.

From The Rise of Adblock Shaming:

The internet looks very different if you are using software to block advertisements. Use it for a long time you’ll forget how much junk a user has to slog through to read or watch anything.

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Hopeful Science Fiction: Woman on the Edge of Time

Last month, I blogged about my desire to step back from the dystopian genre and read hopeful science fiction instead.

The rules were simple. I didn’t require a story to start out in a hopeful or happy place, but I did want to read scifi that ended that way.

Since then, I’ve started to compile a list of books that fit this description. I’ll be talking about one of them today and plan to gradually blog about the rest in the future. If you have recommendations for this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter.

Woman on the Edge of Time

Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time was first published in 1976. It was about Consuelo Ramos, a woman whose life had been forever changed by poverty, mental illness, prejudice, and violence.

Nothing I’m about to say is a spoiler. All of it was mentioned in the blurb for this book, and there are many plots twists and important details from later chapters that I’ll leave up to you to discover for yourselves.

I should warn you that the beginning of this book was filled with a great deal of pain. Consuelo’s life had been incredibly difficult for many years before the audience met her. She’d made choices that seriously harmed other people, and she’d been on the receiving end of other people’s terrible decisions as well. There were times when it read much more like a dystopia than anything else before the plot veered into other directions.

If you press forward through the dark beginning, though, you’ll begin to see what I’m talking about when I refer to this as a piece of hopeful science fiction.

Shortly before involuntarily committed to a psychiatric hospital early on in this story, Consuelo began telepathically communicating with Luciente, a person who was living in an utopian society in 2137.

As their unlikely friendship blossomed, Consuelo eventually travelled through time to visit Luciente and see how people lived in the 2100s. It was like nothing Consuelo had ever seen before.

In Luciente’s world, there was no poverty, racism, sexism, or violence. No one ever went hungry or was denied urgent medical treatment due to their lack of ability to pay for it. Everyone was given the opportunity to chart the course of their own lives regardless of who they were or what they’d previously decided to do with their energy and time. As long as it didn’t harm anyone else, you could do virtually anything you desired with your time, from raising a family to making art to experimenting with new ways of growing crops.

This wasn’t the only future world Consuelo visited, however. She later saw a dystopian society where the bodies and minds of poor people were used as a commodity by the wealthy. It was the opposite of the place Luciente lived in every way you could imagine. Roles were rigidly determined by who your parents were, and there was no way to switch from one part of that society to another. A person’s time was never their own. There was always someone looking over your shoulder and telling you what you must do next.

Which Future Will Be Ours?

One of the things I enjoyed the most about this tale was how much time it spent explaining why Consuelo had been chosen to see and interact with these two very different versions of the future of humanity. She wasn’t a passive player in these trips by any means. Her presence made a difference in ways she couldn’t even begin to imagine so long as she was stuck in the psychiatric facility.

As Luciente would tell her over and over again, the decisions Consuelo made in 1976 were going to play a critical role in which version of the future came to pass. The thought of someone as socially marginalized and powerless as Consuelo actually being the key to changing the fate of the entire world tickled my imagination. I’ve almost never seen anything like it before.

Most science fiction and fantasy heroes that I’ve read about have had at least a few advantages in life, whether it’s through being born with special powers or being apprenticed to someone who could teach them the skills they needed to defeat even their most powerful enemies.

The fact that Consuelo was expected to save the world without any magical abilities, mystical objects, all-knowing mentors, trusty sidekicks, or any other real sources of help in her battle made it impossible for me to stop reading. I had to know which version of the future would come to pass and if Consuelo would be able to improve the circumstances of her own life in the 1970s as well.

Hope Is the Thing with Feathers

With apologies to Emily Dickinson, I loved this story’s approach to the concept of hope.

When I first began researching possibilities for this series, I wondered how easy it would be to find hopeful examples in a genre that has so often assumed the worst case scenario is the one worth writing and thinking about. The dystopian sub-genre has become so popular these days that I knew I’d have to do some digging to find characters who didn’t live in that kind of world.

Since I’m also not the kind of reader who usually seeks out tales that attempt to be hopeful by brushing over – or even simply ignoring-  difficult topics like racism and sexism, my other concern was that I’d be left with stories that were hopeful only for readers who were able to suspend their disbelief and enter an imaginary world where no one ever dealt with serious, real world issues.

The beautiful thing about Woman on the Edge of Time was how it found hope even in the midst of all of the prejudice Consuelo fought against during her life. Her determination to radically improve the future for the sake of every person who had been or will be born was rooted in part in her hope that all forms of bigotry could be vanquished for good if she made the right decisions.

Final Notes

There are so many other things I want to say about this book, but I don’t want to give away spoilers about it for anyone who hasn’t read it before. If you have read it, I’d be happy to discuss it in much greater detail somewhere other than the comment section of this post.

Do keep in mind that this tale has many twists and turns along the way to the final scene. It’s not something I’d recommend to anyone who needs to avoid any references at all to complex topics like abuse or how destructive habits can be passed down from one generation to the next. Consuelo and many of the other characters had many difficult experiences in their lives. This wasn’t the sort of universe where someone swoops in and saves the good guys in the nick of time before anything terrible happened to them.

These characters knew more than their fair share of pain, but all of the hope they found along the way more than made up for it in my mind.

What hopeful science fiction stories have you been reading recently?

 

Dangerous Mutations: A Review of Annihilation

This review is spoiler-free. As always, the only time I’d share spoilers in a review would be if I needed to warn my readers about potentially triggering themes or scenes in the source material. This was one of the films I talked about wanting to watch in this post. So far, I’ve also reviewed Into the… Read More

Suggestion Saturday: July 7, 2018

Here is this week’s list of comic strips and other links from my favourite corners of the web. All Beauty Must Die. This comic strip is a littler darker than the ones I normally share on Suggestion Saturday posts, but it did make me laugh while I was also shaking my head. (Don’t worry – there’s… Read More

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How I’m Handling My Summer Fitness Slump

I’ve trimmed down everything I wanted to say on today’s post into something that’s shorter than usual. As I’ve said before, I’d much rather stop writing when I run out of content than stretch out my points to fill a predetermined number of words. This is an interesting time of the year in Toronto. After… Read More

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My Favourite Canadian Books

Happy belated Canada Day! One of the most interesting parts of moving to Canada was getting to read some of the amazing books that have been written by Canadian authors over the years. From what I’ve observed, there seems to be a lot of Canadian literature that isn’t necessarily that well-known in the United States.… Read More