Tag Archives: Books

Wombs for Rent: A Review of The Farm

I’ve decided to start reviewing more books on this blog. All of the rest of the titles I’ve set aside for this purpose for the foreseeable future are indie, but I thought I’d start off with something mainstream. The star rating below is out of a possible five stars.

Title: The Farm

Author: Joanne Ramos

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

Publication Date: May 7, 2019

Genres:  Dystopian, Contemporary, and a pinch of Science Fiction

Page Count: 326 pages

Source: I borrowed it from my local library

Rating: 3 Stars

 

 

Blurb:

Nestled in New York’s Hudson Valley is a luxury retreat boasting every amenity: organic meals, personal fitness trainers, daily massages—and all of it for free. In fact, you’re paid big money to stay here—more than you’ve ever dreamed of. The catch? For nine months, you cannot leave the grounds, your movements are monitored, and you are cut off from your former life while you dedicate yourself to the task of producing the perfect baby. For someone else.

Jane, an immigrant from the Philippines, is in desperate search of a better future when she commits to being a “Host” at Golden Oaks—or the Farm, as residents call it. But now pregnant, fragile, consumed with worry for her family, Jane is determined to reconnect with her life outside. Yet she cannot leave the Farm or she will lose the life-changing fee she’ll receive on the delivery of her child.

Gripping, provocative, heartbreaking, The Farm pushes to the extremes our thinking on motherhood, money, and merit and raises crucial questions about the trade-offs women will make to fortify their futures and the futures of those they love.

Review:

The first time I heard of The Farm was a few months ago when another reviewer compared it to Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, one of my all-time favourite books. As soon as I read that line, I was hooked. Like Ms. Atwood’s famous story, this one is also about fertile, generally lower-class women being used to gestate babies for the most powerful members of society.

Unlike the characters in The Handmaid’s Tale, Jane and the other surrogates chose to become impregnated. Whether they knew what they were really consenting to is something I can’t discuss much in this review without wandering into spoiler territory. Let’s just say that the glossy description of what this job was like didn’t necessarily match Jane’s actual experiences with it.

What I would have loved to see from this book were more details. The most frightening parts of it were glossed over so much that I had to make educated guesses about how they played out. While Jane’s perspective was a limited one, it was a little frustrating as a reader to get so far into the plot only to receive the same vague hints that were contained in the blurb and early chapters.

There was a satisfying payoff for a subplot involving the woman who first introduced Jane to the idea of gestating a pregnancy at The Farm. If only the other clues at the beginning were given the same treatment. Not every dystopia is necessarily going to include a government being overthrown or other major signs that a society has gone terribly wrong. I loved the more subtle approach Ms. Ramos took with the assumptions she made about how people might respond if they couldn’t find decent paying work and selling the use of their reproductive organs seemed like the best option to make some semi-quick cash. If only she’d developed these thoughts further.

With that being said, one of the things I liked the most about this storywas how realistic it was. Yes, there were little snippets of what could be interpreted as science fiction and dystopian content in it, but everything in it is either really happening in our world today or could easily occur with a few small tweaks to how science works and what society tolerates. This is the kind of soft science fiction that grabs my attention because of how close it is to our reality.

I can sleep easily at night knowing that little green men from Mars aren’t actually ever going to invade Earth. The thought that women could so easily be coerced or enslaved into producing babies for wealthy, powerful families, on the other hand, is chilling because it has happened in the past, it is currently going on in some parts of the world, and it will almost certainly occur again in the future.

That’s frightening. Despite it’s flaws, The Farm’s no-nonsense approach to this topic is why I’ll recommend it to anyone who finds the blurb interesting.

Spring Worlds I’d Like to Visit

Happy spring to everyone in the northern hemisphere! I’m beyond relieved to see it finally arrive as far as the calendar goes. Here’s hoping Ontario will soon see lots of warm weather and the first little green shoots popping out of the soil as well.

In the last couple of years, I’ve written about the winter and summer worlds I’d like to visit, so today I’ll be talking about the spring worlds I’d like to see.

Yes, I’ll be writing another instalment in this series in the autumn of 2019, so do keep an eye out for it later on this year.

It turns out that there are a lot of books out there set during winter and summer, but there aren’t so many of them that are set during this time of the year. Putting together this list was a little tricky! If you have anything to add to it, do speak up. All of the authors I could think of were white, and many of them were British. It would be nice to add other voices to this list.

When I was growing up, many of my elementary, middle, and high school English teachers did poetry units in the spring. I don’t know why this pattern happened. It might have been done unintentionally, or maybe teachers are taught to give their students slightly easier* assignments for a while as the end of the school year grows closer. At any rate, I’ve come to associate this time of the year with poetry because of those experiences.

*Or at least I found them easier. I enjoy the subjective nature of interpreting poetry.

From “Easter 1916“, the title poem in Easter 1916 and Other Poems by W.B. Yeats

From cloud to tumbling cloud,
Minute by minute they change;
A shadow of cloud on the stream
Changes minute by minute;

 

Spring is one of the two seasons of the year when the weather swings wildly between temperature extremes for those of us who live in certain climates. Here in Ontario, you could have a heavy snowstorm one day and warm, sunny 20 C (68 Fahrenheit for you Americans) weather the next.
This poem reminded me of those fluctuations, and it made me want to visit this setting for a few minutes despite the dangers of the World War I era.

The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett

This is one of those childhood classics that I keep referencing over and over again in various posts.

If you’ve never read it, it’s about a young girl who moved from India to England to live with a relative after her parents died. The estate her relative lived in had once been grand but were now a bit neglected. She was placed in her new home during the cold part of the year, so it wasn’t until the spring that she realized there was a secret garden on the property that had been terribly neglected.

There were so many interesting lines in this book about tending gardens and what happens to plants when no one has looked after them for a long time. Obviously, there were metaphors in there about taking care of the people around you, too, but seeing the transformation of that garden from a lonely, weedy place to what it became later on makes me smile every time I reread those passages.

Winter never lasts forever, whether we’re talking about the actual season or as a metaphor for life difficulties. I love the hopeful message there, and I’d sure like to see the Secret Garden from this tale for myself.

The Runaway Bunny by Margaret Wise Brown

Don’t listen to anyone who tells you that picture books are only – or even mostly –  for small children. There are plenty of picture books out there that are honestly even more meaningful for adult readers.

The illustrations in this book are of a farm in springtime. The grass is green, tall, and strong. Wild flowers have sprouted up everywhere. The weather is beautifully mild. Since we’re talking about a fictional fantasy world here, there is no mud or spring allergies like there might be in our world.

Even without the added appeal of seeing these rabbits in action, reading about what unconditional love looks like makes me eager to visit this world. It would be such a pleasant place to spend an afternoon.

From “When Lilacs Last in the Dooryard Bloom’d,” a poem from Leaves of Grass by Walt Whitman

When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom’d,
And the great star early droop’d in the western sky in the night,
I mourn’d, and yet shall mourn with ever-returning spring.
The speaker in this poem has lost someone he loved very much. Spring gives him hope that they’ll be reunited again somehow someday. I appreciate the hope he finds in the natural cycle of the seasons and the way that each new spring reminds him of both his love and his grief.

The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams Bianco

Confession: I’ve cried every single time I’ve reread this story.

It contains references to a world that many people have forgotten thanks to the miracle of vaccines. This was a place where epidemics ripped through communities and many families lost at least one child because of these horrific diseases.

After the main character became gravely ill, his family was advised to burn all of his toys in an attempt to stop the spread of those germs to other vulnerable people. Even his beloved stuffed rabbit was supposed to be destroyed.

The boy’s illness appeared to happen in winter or possibly early spring based on how the story was written. I liked seeing the transition he and his family went through from the long, dark days of his illness to what happened after spring arrived and he began feeling like his old self again. The changing of the weather was a beautiful metaphor for all of the other wonderful things that were happening in their lives.

Of course I wouldn’t actually want to be sick like this kid was, but it would be so interesting to see the velveteen rabbit in person and maybe even tell these characters about all of the medical marvels to come that someday were going to prevent future families from going through this same experience.

What books do you associate with spring?

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Standalone Books That Need a Sequel

Hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl

Last year, I wrote a (non-Top-Ten-Tuesday) post about books that need prequels. Today, I’ll be talking about some standalone books that need sequels. This list is shorter than usual because of how many authors and publishers are eager to publish sequels to stories that do well. There simply aren’t a lot of books that I wish had sequels. Hopefully, some of you will have longer lists.

1. The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

While I loved the ending of this book, I couldn’t help but to hope we’d hear more from Starr again. The resolutions to her problems were incredibly realistic, but they also left a lot of room for speculating about how or if they might shift again in the future. What can I say? I wanted a happier ended than the one we got, and I’m still holding out home that it might happen someday. (The film is still on my to-be-watched list, so maybe it was different? Please don’t give me spoilers if they changed the ending!)

2. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Melinda, the main character, had been through something so awful she couldn’t even talk about it. I loved getting to know her sweet, creative personality and slowly uncovering the cause of her pain. She was a lovely person, and I sure would like to see what she was like a few years or decades after this terrible time in her life.

Skip the sentence below this paragraph if you want to avoid all spoilers. Keep reading if you prefer to know about potentially triggering subject matter ahead of time .

This book is about rape and the long-term traumatic effects of that crime. I was caught off-guard by that plot twist, so I feel obligated to let other potential readers know about it.

3. Bridge to Terabithia  by Katherine Paterson

The friendship between Jess (the main character) and his neighbour, Lesie is something I still think about to this day. While the ending to this tale was well done, I’d sure like to see what life was like for the characters decades later. There’s so much room for growth here.

4. Catherine, Called Birdy by Karen Cushman

Imagine what it would be like if your father tried to marry you off when you were fourteen! I was a kid when I read this book, so I knew very little about the cultural norms of the 1200s in Europe (or anywhere else for that matter). Birdy’s story is something that has stuck with me for years, and I’d love to find out what happened to her after the events of the final scenes.

5. 1984 by George Orwell

1984 was about a man living in a harsh, totalitarian society who tried to figure out a way to escape it. I had a lot of mixed feelings about the ending even though it fit the tone of this tale well. It would be so interesting to revisit this universe a few decades later to see what might have changed in it.

6. Coraline by Neil Gaiman

There were so many unanswered questions about the other flat Coraline discovered. How long has it existed? Why was it created? Will anyone else ever become endangered by it?

A sequel would be the perfect place to answer these questions.

What standalone books do you all wish would have sequels?

The First Lines of What I’m Reading

Today’s post is going to be a short one. My brain is not up for waxing on eloquently on any topic at the moment.

I don’t know about the rest of you, but I rarely read one book at a time. It’s much more common for me to jump between two or three (or more) of them simultaneously. Lately, I’ve been stumbling across one great read after another.

If non-graphic references to the accidental death of a child are hard for you to read, you might want to skip the first one.

From Crystal Chan’s Bird, a young adult novel about a girl who was born the same day her brother died and who grew up in the shadow of her family’s grief:

Grandpa stopped speaking the day he killed my brother, John. His name was John until Grandpa said he looks more like a Bird with the way he kept jumping off things, and the name stuck.

 

From Melissa Hill’s Keep You Safe, a medical thriller about how two families – one who were anti-vaxxers and another whose child couldn’t be vaccinated due to a rare disease – reacted when the antivaxxer’s family caught the measles and gave it to the medically fragile child:

The bell rang out and on cue they started to approach all at once, like a stampeding herd.

From Aimee Nezhukumatathil’s Lucky Fish: Poems. This is the first fragment of The Secret of Soil, the first poem in this collection:

The secret of smoke is that it will fill

any space with walls

From Jennifer Mathieu’s Devoted, a story about a devoutly religious, homeschooled girl who begins to seriously doubt the things her parents had always taught her about what it means to live a righteous life:

James Fulton is sweating like a sinner in church. Which, of course, is exactly what he is. 

I’m hoping to write a much longer and more detailed post on Monday. In the meantime, what are the first lines from what you’ve been reading lately? Who else likes to start a new book before finishing the one(s) you’re currently reading?

 

Why Taking Reading Breaks Can Be a Good Idea

I haven’t been reading many books lately. It started last month when I went on vacation to someplace warm and sunny. Ontario is such a dark and cold place during the winter that I wanted to spend as much time as I could in the sun during that week without getting burned or tanned.

As is usual for my vacation habits, most of the reading I did consisted of visiting social media and checking out blog posts and short articles on my RSS feed.

Now that I’ve been back home for a couple of weeks, I’ve noticed that I still don’t have the desire to jump back into my normal reading habits. That’s okay. This happens occasionally.

You see, I spend a great deal of my reading time in the science fiction and fantasy genres. The interesting thing about staying so closely connected to a couple of genres like that is how easy it is to spot and predict patterns in them after a while. There have been multiple times when I’ve been able to correctly guess what the entire course of a story will be after finishing the first scene in it.

Part of this is due to the fact that readers expect certain things from their favourite genres. If a character mentions the existence of a long-lost magical amulet on page one, any writer worth his or her salt is going to make sure that amulet shows up again  later on in the storyline.

I’ve spent so much time in these genres that I’ve become well-versed in the numerous tropes that exist in both of them. I also know how their various types of storylines generally flow and can pick up on authors who decide to buck those trends pretty early on.

These are all things I’m saying with love for the science fiction and fantasy genres. This happens in every other genre out there, too, and it’s not a bad thing. There’s something reassuring about knowing that, unless you’ve stumbled across one of those rare authors who has put a lot of work into purposefully disrupting these conventions, the chosen one is going to prevail in the end no matter how dire his or her predicament may seem right before the climax.

The nice thing about reading breaks is that they give you a chance to step away from these patterns if you also tend to stick to the same genre(s) with every new title you pick up. Sometimes my breaks are short and punctuated by a stack of non-fiction books about history, food, medicine, or other topics I find appealing. Other breaks find me not reading any full-length books at all or visiting portions of the library that I typically skip over altogether.

Some of the book-lovers I know have never talked about their need to take breaks from reading. I don’t know if this is because they’re always interested in starting something new or because they simply don’t mention it when they wait a while between finishing one book and starting the next one.

It would be interesting to somehow gather statistics on this, don’t you think? Oh, the things I could do with that data in Numbers. There would be more pie charts and graphs floating around in there than you could shake a stick at.

Fellow readers, do you ever take reading breaks? If so, how often do they happen? What do you do when you’re not immersed in your favourite genre(s)?

What I Read in 2018

In January of 2013, I began blogging once a year about everything I’d read that previous year.  This tradition began when my dad asked me how many books I’ve read in my entire lifetime. I couldn’t begin to give him an answer to that question, but it did make me decide to start keeping track… Read More

10 Things I Love to Read About

On Monday I blogged about the 10 Things I Won’t Read About. It was surprising to see how many of the people who read my posts have similar aversions to those topics. Today I’m talking about 10 things that would make me keen to pick up and read a book. I tried to make this… Read More

Hopeful Science Fiction: Semiosis

Last June I blogged about my desire to read more hopeful science fiction. Since then I’ve talked about Woman on the Edge of Time and The Lovely Bones. Today I’m back with another suggestion. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message… Read More