Mini-Reviews: Royal Holiday, The Handmaid’s Tale

Hello everyone, and welcome back! I am once again behind with reviewing the books I’ve finished recently (what’s new?), so I’m back with another collection of mini-reviews for two of those books: Royal Holiday by Jasmine Guillory and The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood. Let’s get right into it!

TITLE: Royal Holiday
AUTHOR: Jasmine Guillory
GENRE: Romance
RATING: ⭑ ⭑ ⭑ ½

OFFICIAL BLURB & TRIGGER WARNINGS

From the New York Times bestselling author of The Proposal and “rising star in the romance genre” (Entertainment Weekly) comes a dazzling new novel about a spontaneous holiday vacation that turns into an unforgettable romance.

Vivian Forest has been out of the country a grand total of one time, so when she gets the chance to tag along on her daughter Maddie’s work trip to England to style a royal family member, she can’t refuse. She’s excited to spend the holidays taking in the magnificent British sights, but what she doesn’t expect is to become instantly attracted to a certain private secretary, his charming accent, and unyielding formality.

Malcolm Hudson has worked for the Queen for years and has never given a personal, private tour—until now. He is intrigued by Vivian the moment he meets her and finds himself making excuses just to spend time with her. When flirtatious banter turns into a kiss under the mistletoe, things snowball into a full-on fling.

Despite a ticking timer on their holiday romance, they are completely fine with ending their short, steamy affair come New Year’s Day. . .or are they?

TW: Racial profiling, divorce (mentioned), terminal illness (in a side character), sex

Royal Holiday tells the story of the romance between Vivian, who gets the chance to tag along on her daughter’s business trip to England, and Malcolm, the private secretary to the Queen (yep, that Queen). From the moment they meet, there’s an undeniable attraction between them, but both of them know that a holiday fling is the best they can hope for. But of course, things like this never go as planned 😉 I sped through this adorable romance. Vivian and Malcolm’s relationship progresses pretty quickly over the course of a month or so, but I had no trouble finding their chemistry — I loved how their personalities complement each other so perfectly. They’re both unused to doing things for themselves, and reading about how they bring each other out of their shells was the definition of wholesome.

I mentioned this book in August’s monthly wrap-up and rated it 4 stars, but after further thought, I decided to lower the rating to 3.5. Although the romance was of course lovely, I didn’t find Royal Holiday particularly memorable. There was no substance plot-wise other than Vivian and Malcolm’s relationship, and adorable as that was, it didn’t provide enough narrative tension for this to reach 4-star level. But I would definitely recommend Royal Holiday for those in search of a fluffy, light romance without a lot of baggage.

(On another note, dangerous side effects of reading this book include but are not limited to: a sudden craving for Christmas food, namely scones with jam; singing “All I Want for Christmas Is You” under your breath in the middle of August; and for fellow clueless Americans, extreme confusion about British customs. I had no idea that a flapjack was an oat bar?? Not a type of pancake?? 😧???????)

Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

Galatians 6:2 NIV

I found it admirable of Vivian that she is so passionate about helping others through her job as a social worker. Compassion and love for others are key traits that we should all strive to show in our lives.

TITLE: The Handmaid’s Tale
AUTHOR: Margaret Atwood
GENRE: Literary, speculative fiction
RATING: ⭑ ⭑ ⭑ ½

OFFICIAL BLURB & TRIGGER WARNINGS

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 . . .

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

Find trigger warnings here, and general content warnings here. The trigger warnings for this book, as you’ll see if you click the links above, are abundant. It’s not a book you can relax with on the couch in the family room. There’s sexual assault, rape, slut-shaming, victim-blaming, graphic deaths and injuries, suicidal thoughts, and an ever-present atmosphere of gloom and depression throughout the book. So, please, please be careful if you’re trying to decide whether to pick this book up or not.

The Handmaid’s Tale is a modern classic that tells the story of Offred, a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. In this reimagined version of the United States, women are judged by the viability of their ovaries, where Handmaids like Offred bear children for high-ranking Commanders. Offred remembers the days before: before they suspended the Constitution, before they killed Congress, when she lived with her husband Luke and her daughter, when she had a job and an income and was considered something other than an empty chalice on legs. As a narrative work, The Handmaid’s Tale is remarkable. The world-building, Offred’s evolution as a character, the deceptively simplistic prose, the iconic open ending — all serve to highlight Atwood’s skill as a writer and thinker. 

I found the reimagined United States very unsettling and thought-provoking, both back in March when I first read it for a school project, and in August, for a book club pick. It’s evident Atwood put a lot of thought into the structure of the Republic of Gilead. Even when she doesn’t go into depth (which, admittedly, is most of the novel), I enjoyed the ambiguity, though I’m sure the style isn’t for everyone. (That’s probably why my favorite character is Nick, Mr. Ambiguity Incarnate.) Although the prose got very a bit tedious at times, there were times when the unembellished writing evoked emotion that I doubt I would have felt if the book were written in long, flowing sentences of purple prose.

I did have a bit of an issue with how Christianity and religion are portrayed in this book. By no means am I suggesting that Atwood conjured up Gilead out of thin air, nor am I claiming that the Church has been a saintly authority figure throughout its history. In this article, Atwood says:

The group-activated hangings, the tearing apart of human beings, the clothing specific to castes and classes… —all had precedents, and many of these were to be found, not in other cultures and religions, but within Western society, and within the “Christian” tradition itself. (I enclose “Christian” in quotation marks, since I believe that much of the Church’s behavior and doctrine during its two-millennia-long existence as a social and political organization would have been abhorrent to the person after whom it is named.)

I agree with her. My issue lies in the fact that none of this is addressed explicitly in the book itself. Although there are moments when Offred questions whether Gilead is what God would have wanted, those moments are quickly brushed off in favor of further demonstrations of the atrocities committed by Commanders who claim to be fulfilling God’s will. To those unfamiliar with the Christian religion, this book may give a lasting impression that Christianity or in fact any religion is negative and merely a stepping stone to corruption. Yeah, I’m not a fan of that sentiment.

In essence: The Handmaid’s Tale is a work of considerable narrative flair, although I would advise sensitive readers to proceed with caution, as the content could be extremely triggering for some audiences.

PS: I just read some recaps of the famous Hulu adaptation, and the way the producers chose to branch off from the source material in later seasons seems really interesting (especially with Nick’s character). But otherwise, I’m just… really disturbed. Yikes. Again, please proceed with caution.

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

Galatians 3:28 NIV

I really hope I don’t need to explain why this verse is important. (Read more about what the Bible says about women in this article.)

That’s it for today, everyone! I know these “mini”-reviews got a bit lengthy, but what can I say, I had a lot of thoughts 😅 How about you? Have you read either of these books? What did you think of them? Chat with me in the comments!

10 thoughts on “Mini-Reviews: Royal Holiday, The Handmaid’s Tale

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