Welcome to my blog. If you're addicted to books, like I am, then you've come to the right place. I mostly write about books and my experiences reading them. These are very personal book reviews. (If you can even call them book reviews...) I’m a true believer that none of us lives in a vacuum. When you read a book, watch a movie, listen to a song, etc., you absorb that art form into your life experience, and it changes you. But you also change it, because no two people see anything the same way. The way I interpret a novel may be totally different from the way you will. It’s still the same novel, but the meaning for each of us is unique. Once you express that meaning, it changes the art. So these posts are about how these books fit into my life. I’d love to hear how they fit into yours. Please make comment and share your experience.

Saturday, December 31, 2011

Review of Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall & Denver Moore with Lynn Vincent

A friend of mine said this was the best book she’d read all year.  I love recommendations like that because chances are, I’ll think it’s pretty awesome, too.  Ever practical, I suggested it for one of my book clubs and they picked it for November.  It’s amazing the sense of responsibility you feel when a half a dozen other people are reading the book you picked out.  I only knew a little bit about this book—just the little back-of-the book publisher’s description.  I should really learn to do more research than that before I leap into a book suggestion…

When I first started reading Same Kind of Different as Me, I freaked out a bit.  It began with a whole bunch of famous people recommending the book.  Normally, in a printed, bound book, I would skip right over these, but I was reading this on my iPod, and it’s not quite so easy to skip over stuff, so I read through them.  I was slightly horrified, because all the recommendations were by famous preachers and Christian leaders.  I thought I’d picked a religious (Christian/proselytizing) book for a group that tries to stay away from religion and politics!  Yikes.    But my concerns were assuaged as I continued, because even though the characters in the book are very Christian, and born-again, the heart of the story isn’t really about Christianity.  It’s about friendship.

This is a story about an unlikely friendship.  It’s one of the most amazing friendship stories I’ve ever encountered.  I felt this way partly because even though the friendship between Ron, a wealthy art dealer, and Denver, a homeless man, is unlikely, it became a genuine friendship, despite the skepticism of both men.  And it was a friendship that helped both men in unexpected ways.  This story also challenged me, because of the unbelievable kindness of some of the characters---their willingness to help others, even when those very same people had not been kind or helpful to them.
Ratings  (For an explanation of my rating factors, please visit the Rating System Key page.)

Crack Factor – 8.0.  This book will hold your attention.

Tears Shed Factor – !?!  I’m purposely not giving a rating here, because even though I did cry several times during this book, I tend to agree with my friend, Christine, who thought that some tear-jerking parts were too intense and didn’t necessarily need to go into the depth of detail that was provided.

Distraction Factor – 9.5.  This book gave me a vision of poverty and homelessness that I’d never contemplated before.  And it challenged my concept and understanding of friendship and kindness.
Writing Skills Factor – 8.0.  Hmm…it’s not that this book is poorly written.  It’s very well written.  But, having read several books recently that choose to use Black English Vernacular, I didn’t think this book executed this device particularly well.  Rebecca Skloot, author of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, does this the best way imaginable, by explaining in the beginning why she was writing that way, at the preference of the characters themselves, who want the story told as accurately as possible.  This book is written from the perspective of two characters.  One of them is illiterate.  His chapters are written in his voice, grammar mistakes and all, but despite this, they are extremely well written and well organized for someone who never went to a day of school in his life.  So it’s obvious the writer monkeyed around a lot with his words, but she still wrote them in dialect.  It seemed forced to me.  Perhaps it should have been 3rd person narrative...I don’t know, maybe I’m just being picky.  You can’t tell me that the other narrator, Ron Hall, a life long Texan doesn’t have an accent either---why didn’t she folksy up his chapters? 

Total rating: 8.5

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Not Beginning Sci-Fi: Review of Fire Upon the Deep by Vernor Vinge

I had high expectations for this book.  It won the Hugo award for best novel, which is a big deal in the Sci-fi world.  In retrospect, I can understand this distinction, but it did take me a while to appreciate why it may have won this honor.  Most sci-fi books take a good 30-50 pages to establish the futuristic universe and time frame setting.  This book took more like 150 pages to get there.  The beginning was agonizing for me.   If you’ve never read sci-fi before—don’t start with this book, it is more complex than most sci-fi and the casual reader will get fed-up with it.  With that warning out of the way, once I got invested in this book, I did enjoy it. 

The universe Vinge creates in Fire Upon the Deep has multiple layers of civilization and intelligence that depend on where you are located in the universe—a very interesting concept.  The story begins as a human ship escapes from a terrible power to crash land on a planet inhabited by wolf-like creatures that must live in packs to transcend beyond the intelligence level of an animal.  The larger the pack, the more intelligent the being—but a pack of 4 or 5 of these creatures is still considered one individual.  In that sense, they can also be nearly immortal as they can add new members as previous ones die.  A rescue mission ensues across the galaxy to help the stranded humans who may hold the keys to stopping the blight/power that is consuming the known universe. 

I have really simplified the story here, but you get the idea.  This is fringe—totally out there, which makes it both frustrating and enjoyable.  With books like this, I find I have to let go of my need to understand everything in order to enjoy the story—there are some things in this made up world that will never make sense, never be explained and I’ll never understand them—once I made peace with that, I enjoyed the characters and the details of the story much more.  

Review of Atonement by Ian McEwan

When my co-workers’ kids were going off to college, I watched them struggle with empty nest syndrome.  As a parent, I can only imagine this inevitability when I look at my grade-school age kids.  But I know it’s out there and I know how hard it will be for me when the time comes.   My own memories of going off to college, however, had no recollection of my parents’ struggles with this.  So I asked my mom—was it hard for you?  She told me she cried the whole way home after they dropped me off.  Of course it was hard, but she said nothing of it to me at the time.  And I was too self-absorbed at the time to notice what my actions were doing to everyone around me.   

If you love a good love story, Atonement by Ian McEwan will piss you off.  There is a love story in here—but it gets destroyed and trampled on almost before it begins by powers out of its control—the imagination, selfishness and malice of a 13 year old girl.  This is the story of a self-absorbed adolescent who misinterprets what she sees between her sister and a family friend.  Seeking attention and drama—she fabricates a story accusing him of a crime he didn’t commit.   The lie takes on a life of its own and alters the lives of all characters forever.  It’s an upsetting, disturbing and sad story, but not a bad book.  The writing style and perspectives of different characters are unique and beautiful and I loved the way some passages were written deliberately vague, forcing me to re-read them over again to fully appreciate their beauty.  And McEwan writes a love scene that is one of the best I’ve ever read by a male author.  The novel does have some rather odd structure, however, and that, along with the sad premise, got a lot of criticism from the other BABBs. 

The offending character does offer “atonement” for her crimes, however, in her own way.  That brings the story full-circle and offers the reader, as well as her sister and her sister’s lover a better ending than real life provided. 

Parting note—Robbie—a solid 9.25 on the HTAF scale.  And that one scene could maybe even push him to a 10.01—but don’t tell Adam.  Well, maybe somebody should tell Adam…  Any volunteers?  I am so going to get in trouble for this…

Review of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

I have a really great soup recipe.  It’s called “Garlicky Mango Soup” and was the first place soup contest winner in Vegetarian Times magazine around 15 years ago.  When I made this soup for my parents the first time, my dad said “Wow!  This is the BEST soup I’ve ever had!”  My mom took a little offense to this (not really) because she’d been cooking soup for him for years and her soups are pretty awesome.  I took Dad’s compliment as genuine, because I know that in that moment, it really WAS the best soup he’d ever had.  I also took it with a realistic grain of salt, because I know that next week, he’d think the same thing about the Split Pea with Ham that my mom would make for him.  And he’d be telling the truth both times.  A comment like this is par for the course with both my parents.  They are incredibly enthusiastic when they appreciate something.  According to my dad I also make the BEST blueberry pie he’s ever had.  My mom is the same way.  She enjoys food, books, movies, friends, a well stocked grocery store, drives in the country and so many other things with simple joy.   I happen to think this is one of the best gifts my parents could have given me---the ability to get really excited about something you love---appreciation with enthusiasm.   When you can REALLY enjoy a simple thing in life, it makes your life so much nicer.  You may occasionally get teased for golden retriever excitement by the negative nellies of the world, but in general, you’ll be a happier person for it.      
Book cover

With that disclaimer out of the way, let me get on with the book review.  I LOVED this book.  It is easily one of my FAVORITE books of all time.  This is the kind of book I will tell everyone about ad nauseam for the next umpteen months.  The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Schaffer & Annie Barrows had me laughing, crying, excited, hopeful, fearful, and surprised.  It is the story of Juliet, an English writer, searching for her next story.  She finds it quite by accident when she receives a letter from a resident of Guernsey Island.  He and his neighbors share with her their stories of German occupation during WWII.  Juliet gets incredibly close to her subjects and even ends up with a place for herself in their story.  Almost the entire narrative is written as correspondence between the characters.  This approach makes for a story that moves quickly and gives you multiple characters’ perspectives. 

Readers will love the characters in this book.  I also loved the community that these people created.  Even in the midst of war, occupation, poverty and starvation, they brought out the best in each other.  We should all be so lucky to have friends and neighbors that care so much about each other.  They did what they have to do to protect each other and provide for each other.  I found it profound, humbling and inspiring.  It’s the kind of story that will make you believe in the goodness of people and want to be a better person yourself. 

Ratings  (For an explanation of my rating factors, please visit the Rating System Key page.)

Crack Factor – 9.9.  I might list this book as part of my definition of a crack book.  Seriously—I was that hooked on it. 

Tears Shed Factor – 9.9.  This book is an emotional workout.  I laughed out loud.  Some parts made me angry.  Others made me sad.   And I wept.  Several times.  (Many times.)  
Distraction Factor – 9.5.  If you had less than 24 hours to decide whether or not to send your children to live with strangers, in order to protect them from an invading army that is headed for your home, what would you do?  What if you were in a prison camp and your fellow prisoner was being threatened by a guard?  Or what would you do with the 2-year old little girl, left behind when her mother, your neighbor and friend, is taken--arrested and deported by enemy soldiers?  These are just some of the questions the characters in this novel face and they haunted me.  And still do. 

Enrichment Factor –  9.0.  I have above average geographical knowledge and I actually knew that the island of Guernsey existed, but I didn’t know how close it was to the French coastline and I knew nothing about its occupation by the German army.  This book described the hardships of wartime and occupation with excruciating detail. 

PeopleFactor – 9.75.  These characters will work their way into your heart and they’ll stay there for a long time.

Story Telling Factor – 9.5.  The authors have a great knack for weaving multiple plot lines into one book—this was a war story, a community story, a romance, a tragedy, and at times, even a comedy. 

Writing Skills Factor – 9.5. The correspondence style was a unique twist—but a great way to give you a sense of each character in his or her own words.  The authors did this very well.  They also were profoundly good at writing emotion and provoking emotional response. 

Bad Ass Babe Factor –  Elizabeth 9.9.  This character is the only one you never know first hand, you only hear about her from other characters.  She is strong, brave and loyal.  She is fearless and a fierce friend, the kind of heroine you want in your corner.  Kat, 9.5 – I don’t know if it’s appropriate to give a 4 year old a BAB rating, but I thought this kid was cool.  Juliet 9.0 – The protagonist is pretty cool, too.  Very smart, sassy and caring.  And she’s a writer, so she gets extra points for that.    

Hotter than Adam Factor – Dawsey, 9.  You gotta love a middle aged bachelor who is helping to raise his missing neighbor’s 4 year old daughter. 

Total Rating: 9.495

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Review of The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle

Of all the books I’ve read this year, The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle is easily one my favorites.  It has all the necessary ingredients:  interesting characters, plenty of plot twists and layers of complexity. 

Set in Colorado, on a horse farm, the story is narrated by twelve-year-old Alice, whose life is complicated by a mentally ill mother who hasn’t left her bedroom in years, a sister who ran off with a rodeo cowboy, a father who is struggling to support his family, a classmate who dies under mysterious circumstances, a teacher with whom she engages in inappropriate late night phone calls, and that is just the beginning.
The reader quickly begins to understand why the family’s farm is struggling: the loss of Alice’s sister, Nona, the horse show star, has hindered their ability to attract show clients, their stud has died, and they have to take in boarders to pay the bills.  Alice witnesses and supports her father taking advantage of these clients.  She also watches as these wealthy, bored housewives flirt with her father.  I kept reminding myself that the story as witnessed by a twelve year old, may not be the entire story, as Kyle only gives us that one character’s perspective.  Many details may be left out or misinterpreted since a child probably doesn’t understand everything she sees. 

As the story hurtles along, I often felt like the characters were being sucked into a vortex.  They all seemed lost and struggling and frustrated.  I think almost all of them felt somewhat helpless and out of control.  Some of these frustrations they overcome, and others…well…let’s just say that not all the story lines end happily.   They lose and win and lose again, some characters end up okay, others, not so okay.  

Ratings  (For an explanation of my rating factors, please visit the Rating System Key page.)

Crack Factor – 9.5.  It’s not that the beginning is slow, but the middle-end of this book is time stopping.  Once I was invested in these characters and the story unfolded, I got seriously obsessed with this book and couldn’t turn the pages fast enough to find out what happened. 

Distraction Factor – 9. Relationships and families are complex. Alice’s family has more complexity than most, and I still find myself thinking about them.  I wouldn’t call this a happy book or a feel-good book, but it is a thought provoking book and it was this depth that I enjoyed. 

Enrichment Factor- ?.    I’m not a horse girl, but I did like reading about them and learning bits about this world of show horses and the people that compete in them, which is so far outside my everyday. 

PeopleFactor – 9.5.  Kyle’s characters are wonderfully flawed and complex.  And to see them all through the eyes of a twelve year old girl, puts so many things into a unique perspective.

Story Telling Factor – 8.5.  While I liked the complexity of the plot and all the twists and turns in this story, I did think the ending was pretty abrupt.   Maybe I would have ended it a chapter sooner and then had the last chapter as an epilogue of sorts.  It just didn’t sit well.  I think some of my book club members felt the same way. 

Writing Skills Factor – 8.  According to what I’ve read about Aryn Kyle, this is her first book and she’s very young…like I’m-almost-old-enough-to-be-her-mother young.  I’m not going to hold this against her.  I think she’s quite talented, but there were a few things I noticed that were strange.  I also read that this book started out as a short story and was later expanded and I think I found several parts where this expansion didn’t work very well.  Kyle would repeat a scene or a phrase a page or two after she’d just written it.  I did double takes each time this happened and would go back and read almost word for word what had just been said and then said again.  Very strange.  Maybe it’s an editing mistake?  My point here is that it was distracting from the story.  My own thoughts are that if the writing enhances the story, all the better, but I don’t think it should ever take you away from the story.  And in these cases, it did. 

Total rating: 8.9

Endnote—this was a pick for my Inforum book club—some of the members chose to include their comments and thoughts on this previous entry of my blog, if you want to check them out---click here.  

Monday, November 14, 2011

Inforum Leisure Book Club Discussion for Down River

Our December book is Down River by John Hart.  If you would like to share thoughts, comments or questions that arise while you're reading the book, please post a comment.  Please alert if you are going to include spoilers.
If you don't have a blogger account, it's easiest to comment anonymously.  Looking forward to seeing you on December 12th!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Emma, abandoned

In a conference room at my office, the idea was born:  A little book club for the readers who were always talking books over the tops of the cubicles.  Our first pick, quite by accident, was the Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler, prompting all of us to say--- “Hey we should read all the Jane Austen Books!”  It seemed like such a great idea.  We’d read one every other month for a year and be Austen Experts.  And as we read them we could review the corresponding chapter in the Jane Austen Book Club at the end. Fun, right? 

Putting it into practice, however, has had a few bumps.  Maybe we picked the wrong book with which to start.  October was Emma.  One by one, all five of us abandoned her.  We were all sort of enjoying it, but not enough to stick with it.  Maureen claimed bad timing—it needs to be a winter-Sunday-afternoon- kind-of-book, not a busy-fall-during-marching-band-season book, when you only have 15 minute blocks at a time to read.  For me, it was just too much of a meandering plot or lack thereof.  Maybe I’ll finish it someday…
So this is the non-review for Jane Austen’s Emma:  I started it.  Emma is a smart, but Clueless busybody.    And she’s kinda bitchy.  Mr. Knightly (George, not John) is a solid 9 on the HTAF scale but not hot enough for me to keep my hands on him…I mean the book.  I made it to page 172.  But I do know how it ends thanks to Gweneth Paltrow and Wikipedia. 
We’re going to take a hiatus from Austen for a few months…

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Review of the Witch in the Well by Sharan Newman

I haven’t read many mystery novels lately.  While I enjoy a good mystery, I’ve really moved away from the genre because they usually don’t have much character development.  I was pleasantly surprised with The Witch in the Well by Sharan Newman, however.  This is the tenth in the “Catherine LeVendeur” mystery series by Newman.  I have not read any of the previous books in the series, stumbling on this quite by accident at the library, just picking it off the shelf when I was browsing one day.  It was a fun, quick read, a nice little mystery and a most interesting setting.  Catherine LeVendeur is a twelfth century French woman, and Sharan Newman’s background as a medieval scholar shines in this venue. 
The Witch In The Well by Sharan Newman
Here’s a quick synopsis:  Catherine is a former novitiate, smart and sassy, now married to a Scotsman named Edgar with only one hand.  Edgar’s business partner is Catherine’s Jewish cousin, Solomon (although the cousin part is a secret.)  Her brother, Guillaume, is a Lord with many responsibilities.  They receive a desperate plea from their grandfather, begging them to come to his castle for help.  The entire family must come as all descendants are needed.  Her sister, Agnes, married to a wealthy German, meets them at the Castle Boisvert, and so does Catherine’s mother, who has been in a convent for the past few years because of mental illness.   At Boisvert, they discover that not a single child has been born in the castle in almost 20 years, and that is just the beginning of the problems.  There’s a murder and an invading army on the way and it just gets better from there. 
I’m quite eager to read more of this series, because I loved these characters and all their complex relationships.  Catherine’s siblings and cousins and husband and in-laws and servants all play critical roles in the story and their interrelationships add to the complexity of each character. 
The plot itself is typical of most mystery novels—unbelievable and forgettable.  (It’s not been a month since I finished the book and I had to skim through it to remember what happened before I wrote the review!)    Add in that the mystery is about a cursed castle and a spirit woman living down in a well and… You get the idea.  But don’t let that deter you from reading, because I did find the setting, characters, story and writing style very entertaining. 

Ratings  (For an explanation of my rating factors, please visit the Rating System Key page.)

Crack Factor – 8.  A great, fun, quick read. 
Enrichment Factor – 9.  Newman gets a lot of critical praise for being well researched.  As a professor of medieval studies, she should know what she’s talking about.  Medieval French life is well described through the eyes of these characters, so it’s quite a unique and engaging time and place for a mystery or two… 
PeopleFactor – 9.75.  I HATE finishing a book when I love the characters.  I am so glad Newman has nine other books where I can find these characters again.
Story Telling Factor – 8. 
Writing Skills Factor – 8.5.  For a mystery writer, she’s pretty fab.
Bad Ass Babe Factor – 8.5.  The female characters in this book are strong and smart, especially when you consider they’re living in Medieval France.  Part of me finds this fact a little unbelievable, but I wouldn’t want to read it if they were passive and boring, so for literary purposes, it’s perfect. 
Hotter than Adam Factor – 8.5.  Not many books get HTAF ratings---but this one will.  Edgar, Catharine’s husband is pretty wow.  He gets an 8.5 at least.  The relationship between Edgar and Catherine is supportive, loving and passionate.  Edgar is a serious tough guy, despite having only one hand.  (Apparently I have to read one of the previous books to know the details on that story…)  Solomon, Catherine’s Jewish cousin and Edgar’s business partner, also gets an 8.5. 
Total Rating:  8.6

Inforum Leisure Book Club Discussion for Same Kind of Different as Me

If you want to post a comment or start a discussion about the book while you're reading Same Kind of Different as Me by Ron Hall & Denver Moore, please be sure to preface your comments with any spoiler warnings if need be.
Same Kind of Different As Me   -     
        By: Ron Hall, Denver Moore
Posting advice---if you don't have an account with Blogger, it's easiest to post anonymously. See you in November.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Review of the Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin

When I think back to my Women’s Studies classes in college, I remember one professor talking about how we perform our gender every day.  I’m going to be simplifying this a lot more than the entire week we took discussing it in class, so forgive me.  Each person’s sex is, of course, either male or female regardless of how someone chooses to act or dress.  But being a man or a woman is a gender performance as much as it is an identification.   This is a really striking thought that is part nature, but also results from what our culture nurtures.  Little girls are taught to wear dresses and are told they are cute and pretty and little boys are dressed in camouflage and are called “buddy” or “tough guy.”  Almost from birth we program people to act and look a certain way based on their gender.


But what if gender didn’t exist?  How would a culture look and act if there were no men or women, only humans?  This is the primary question that Ursula Le Guin raises in her fascinating book, The Left Hand of Darkness.  The story takes place on the planet of Gethen, called “Winter” by outsiders, because of its extremely cold temperatures.  It begins many tens of thousands of years into the future when humans have colonized innumerable planets in the galaxy.  The colonizers of Gethen, however, experimented with genetic manipulation and created a sub-species of humans that are completely hermaphroditic.  All people are born with the potential to become either male or female.  Adults come into a monthly period of fertility where they become either the male or the female.  As one partner changes to female, the other would change to male.  If a child is conceived the female continues the pregnancy and breastfeeds the child, but the male would revert back to the hermaphroditic state after mating.  Each individual does not always become the same gender either, so the same person can both sire children and become pregnant at different times. 
The main characters in the book, are Genly Ai, an envoy from a consortium of planets that is trying to make contact with the Gethenians to share information and technology, and Estraven, a Gethenian native whose motives are misunderstood at the beginning of the story.  Ai, being a human male, is perceived to be a “pervert” in Gethenian society because he is always in the male state, which to them is unnatural.  He is also taller, stronger and darker skinned than most Gethenians, and they do not know what to think of him.  Estraven starts out as Ai’s “sponsor” of sorts in one of the Gethenian kingdoms, but when the king banishes Estraven as a traitor, Ai must also head to another kingdom in search of a leader that will listen to his unbelievable claims of other planets, spaceships, and worlds beyond Gethenian imagination. 
An adventure begins, as our protagonists must escape persecution and prosecution.  They travel from kingdom to kingdom, and across a glacier to find a willing ear to hear Ai’s story.  It’s a survival story and a friendship story as much as it is a course of gender studies.  As these two characters traverse the planet, they learn about each other’s cultures.  We learn several things that are unique on Gethen.  Unlike most humans who learn to value themselves in terms of being male or female, Gethenians do not have that distinction, so people are valued for their qualities as a human being.  And even more interestingly, the Gethenians have no word for war.  There is no rape, no seduction, no sexual abuse.  It simply doesn’t exist for them. 
It does make you wonder what life would be like if that whole part of our lives didn’t exist.  I remember a joke I heard once:  What would the world be like without men?  A bunch of fat, happy women and no crime.  Of course the Gethenians aren’t fat on the whole, and they have their fair share of crime, but  the gender issue was one of the most fascinating parts of this story.  As Ai and Estraven become friends and start to explain their world to each other, Ai tries to describe how women are in his world.  I’d never thought how you would describe the opposite sex to someone who would have zero frame of reference.  Of course in our world this is irrelevant, but the idea was thought provoking.  On the whole, this was a great adventure story made even greater by its unique setting. 

Ratings  (For an explanation of my rating factors, please visit the Rating System Key page.)
Crack Factor – 8.5. 
Distraction Factor – 9.5.  The gender identification issues in this book are so thought provoking that you’ll remember this book when you hear a news story about transgender people, watch Chaz Bono on Dancing with the Stars, or otherwise encounter gender identification questions, issues, stories and etc. in you own life. 
PeopleFactor – ?.  The characters are usually my favorite part of any book.  I love strong, rich characters that are well described and well understood.  This doesn’t feel like a character book to me.  It seems more about the journey these characters take. 
Story Telling Factor – Like many sci-fi books, the reader is pretty lost throughout the first umpteen pages, as the setting is established.  That part of a sci-fi book always bugs me, and this book is no exception.  Getting thrown into a world of make-believe is irritating when you feel more lost than amazed, and I felt lost for longer than usual in this book.  With that said, for being written more than 40 years ago, I only found a few instances where the content felt “dated.”    
Writing Skills Factor – 8.5.  Le Guin’s style is more complex than most writers, which I enjoy.  This is not an easy, brainless read.  It makes you work.  It makes you think. 
Bad Ass Babe Factor – 9. There are zero women in this book!  But I don’t think I can mark it down for that.  So the BAB factor here is given to LeGuin, whose intellect, creativity and writing skill shine brilliantly in this story.  

Total Rating: 8.875

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Flattery for a book lover

Shannon, one of my co-workers and BABB members, sent me an email with the subject line:  "This makes me think of you."  This picture was in the body of the message:

I took this as a HUGE compliment.  And I'm incredibly envious of whoever it is that owns this house.  So cool.

  • I follow a blog called the Tenant on the Top Floor, and the author, Kristine Reynaldo, has a link to "Bookshelf Porn" that I find myself clicking once in a while.  This photo reminded me of that site.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Mini Review of Dream Angus by Alexander McCall Smith

My freshman English Comp. T.A. at U of M was writing her Masters’ thesis on the Arthurian legends.  I read more stories about King Arthur, Merlin and the Round Table that semester than I ever thought could have existed.  Our class read ancient and modern texts and got to see the evolution of the story over time.  Luckily myths, fables and fairytales are timeless.  A gifted storyteller can reinvent a story told for millennia and make it fresh and new.  Dream Angus is one such re-telling.  It is a novella by Alexander McCall Smith about Angus, the Celtic god of dreams. 

0 - Dream Angus cover.jpg
McCall Smith juxtaposes the story of Angus’s life next to five modern stories that correspond to Angus’s life stages and also show how the ancient god can still weave his way into a contemporary life.  McCall Smith illustrates the story well and gives you a good understanding of this god about whom I knew nothing before.  As you are learning about the story of Angus’s parents, you also get a modern love story, and then when you learn about Angus’s brother, McCall Smith tells you a story about two 20th century Scottish brothers, and so on.  In each of these stories, the God of Dreams makes his presence known to the readers, if not the protagonists.

Not only was it fun to learn about an ancient god who was new to me, I also found these little modern vignettes really tantalizing.  They were very short little stories and each almost ended too quickly, making the reader beg for just a little more detail or closure.  I guess you could call them fun little sketches of how Angus still touches lives today. 

This is a quick, entertaining book that you can finish in an hour or two.  Here's a nice little video of Alexander McCall Smith talking about the book.  

Train Wreck Review of Messages by Stan Romanek

My husband, Adam, would call this book a "train wreck." That's his phrase for something that is so horrible you can't believe you're watching it and yet it's fascinating enough to hold your attention even though you feel ashamed for staring, like tabloid news or bad sit-coms.  Messages is like that---so bad you almost can't look away.   This was a pick for one of my book clubs.  Subtext---I would not have picked this book on my own.  It's not available in my local library so I spent a whole $4.00 on Amazon to have my copy sent to me.  (And yes, that stings...)

In Messages:  The World's Most Documented Extraterrestrial Contact Story, Stan Romanek narrates his tale of alien abductions and many close encounters with extra terrestrials and UFOs in this completely irritating book.  This is the most poorly written book I think I've ever read. It has no plot or organized structure. Each chapter details encounter after encounter as Romanek tries to convince the reader that these events really happened. In the hands of a more skilled writer, perhaps Stan's stories could have broader appeal.  

I'm not going to waste anymore time on this review, but I plan to keep this book forever, so whenever I need an example of over-writing, I can open it up to any page and remind myself that less is more...

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Inforum Leisure Book Club Discussion for The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle

If you want to post a comment of your thoughts while you're reading Aryn Kyle's The God of Animals, please be sure to preface any potential spoilers with warnings.  See you in October!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

I have my library card number memorized.

I think it a telling sign of some importance in your life when a number creeps its way into your memory. Like when you’re five and your mom drills your home phone number into your head.  My mom made a song out of it.  It was a good enough song that even my child hood friends remember my parents’ phone number to this day.  When you’re in high school, it’s the locker combination.  In College, it’s your social security number which doubled as your student ID.  (Although with identity theft issues, maybe they use something else now…I hope.)  As a young adult I had my bank account and credit card numbers memorized from typing them into internet access sites all the time. 

Recently I realized that I no longer needed to copy off my card when I’m on my local library website.  This dawned on me as I was logging in to the library website in the dark of my bedroom on my iPod to download an ebook.  For a split second I groaned, imagining that I’d have to walk all the way downstairs to get the card, tripping over sleeping cats, fumbling for light switches, and groping for slippers to avoid the cold kitchen floor.  But then I thought…maybe I can remember it…just let me just try…and then there it was, at the tips of my fingers.  I typed it in and a few minutes later I was reading my ebook.  It was just that easy to pull it out of my head, avoiding the trip downstairs, stubbed toes and dilated pupils.  So what significance does this have?  I’m not sure yet.  But I do think it is evidence of my addiction.

Once again, I’m falling down on my writing job.  I just have so many great books (and one dud) to read, I need to take a break and do some writing.  Here’s what I’ve been reading these days:

1.   Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver.  I just posted this review.  It seemed to take me forever to write this.  I think it’s harder to write a review when you really love a book.  Especially if you try to avoid spoilers, like I do.  I’ve been chewing on this review for two weeks, editing and deleting and more deleting, and I’m still not super-happy with it.  This is the same reason I haven’t reviewed The Pillars of the Earth or World Without End by Ken Follett, the Honor Harrington books by David Webber, or any of the Outlander books by Diana Gabaldon…I love them so much and I’m afraid I won’t do them justice.

2.  The Left Hand of Darkeness by Ursula K. Le Guin.  I’ve always said I’d take a book recommendation from anyone, but this has to be the weirdest recommendation ever.  It’s from a book character.  Grigg, from The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler, was a sci-fi fan and recommended three authors to another character:  Ursula Le Guin, Connie Willis and Nancy Kress.  I love sci-fi, but have only really taken sci-fi recommendations from my dad and he mainly reads military space drama.  So, I was interested to see if a) these authors were real and b) a fictional character could be trusted. 

Now I am forced to admit that not-real people CAN have good taste in books, sometimes even better than real people.  Ursula Le Guin was the only name I remembered while I was perusing the shelves at the library and I brought home The Left Hand of Darkness… “Wow” is all I can say.  I was very impressed and now I’m starting to work on the review.

3.  A Wizard of Earthsea, another Le Guin novel, which is the first in a two-trilogy set.  Once again, I’m getting obsessed with a new author and have to read a few other books by her.  I just picked this up and am only 50 or so pages into it.  It’s a fantasy book, rather than space drama, but so far it’s really got me.

4.  Dream Angus by Alexander McCall Smith.  This was totally random library browsing.  I’d read McCall Smith’s #1 Ladies Detective Agency before and enjoyed it, so I was curious about this modern myth re-telling  or so it was called on the jacket.  This is a very quick read.  I enjoyed it a lot and finished it in maybe 1 ½ or 2 hours. 

5.   Messages: The World’s Most Documented Extraterrestrial Contact Story by Stan Romanek with J. Allan Danelek.  This is a book club pick.  I would never ever pick up a book like this on my own.  With good reason. This book is horrible.  I’m about ¾ of the way through and it is torture to read this book. It is so poorly written and insipid that I’m suffering on every page, and yet I keep opening it up.  I guess alien abductions are still interesting enough to me to read when the book itself is trash.  And then to top it all off, the first meeting to discuss this book was Saturday and I get the café and no one from my book club is anywhere to be found.  Turns out there are two restaurants called The Omlette Shoppe in Grand Rapids and I didn’t pay attention to the address, so not only have I read a rotten book, I also wasted my time going to the wrong place.  Doesn’t it just go that way sometimes?

6.   Emma by Jane Austen.  My co-worker book club (which I have since named the “Bad Ass Book Babes” in honor of my rating factor and because everyone in the group is so awesome) was so intrigued by our last reading selection, that now we plan to read a Jane Austen book every other month until we’ve read them all.  I’m about 20 pages into it and I promised them I’d set it aside until they start reading it in October because they’re still only half way through The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and they’re starting to call me a book nerd.  I can’t be the only nerdy Book Babe, so I’ll comply.  This has to wait until October.

7.   The Witch in the Well, a Catherine Le Vendeur Mystery by Sharan Newman.  Another totally random library browsing adventure, I’m embarrassed to say I picked this one up because of the cover.  It has a very beautiful blue eyed woman on the front holding a cracked urn leaking water.  Anyway, it looked cool.  Turns out it’s one of Newman’s many mystery novels featuring Catherine LeVendeur, a 12th century French woman, who apparently solves crimes.   I’m about half way into it and am really enjoying it.  But I’m peeved that I didn’t know it was a series, or I would have grabbed the first one instead. 

[As a footnote—I thought I published this post on Sunday 9/18/11, but I looked today and couldn’t find it.  So I updated it and published (again?) today.  But seriously—if any of my 5 faithful blog followers saw it between now and Sunday, let me know that I’m not crazy.]

Review of Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver

I know the exact moment I saw a luna moth for the first time and I have Barbara Kingsolver to thank for it.  Five and a half years ago, we had just moved to Grand Rapids.  I took the kids to see the butterflies at the Meijer Gardens.  The Gardens has a great printed guide to give you all the names of the butterflies and moths that you’ll see in the conservatory.  The one I couldn’t wait to see was the luna moth.  I usually do not notice or care if I’ve seen a bug for the first time, but as soon as I saw it in that pamphlet, I remembered reading about it six years prior in Prodigal Summer, and I couldn’t wait to see it in real life.   It’s funny the things that stick with you when you read something.  Because of Kingsolver, I knew that luna moths do not even have mouths in their moth stage.  They do all their eating as caterpillars.  Once they emerge from their cocoons, their sole purpose is to mate.  Eating is unnecessary for them as a moth.  I’d never heard such a thing before, and it made an impression on me.  Eleven years later, I re-read and enjoyed it all over again, letting even more interesting little facts flutter into the corners of my mind. 

Prodigal Summer gives us the story of the residents in and around Egg Fork, Kentucky, in Southern Appalachia.  Three separate protagonists tell us their stories.  Deanna Wolfe, a Forestry Service worker, living in an isolated cabin on a mountainside, where she maintains trails, monitors wildlife, and sends poachers packing.  Lusa Landowski, an intelligent, educated “bug scientist” whose farmer husband dies, leaving her in the middle of nowhere with a family who doesn’t know what to make of her.  And Garnett Walker, a nostalgic, conservative octogenarian who believes in chemical weed control, and longs to design a blight resistant chestnut tree variety. 

At the beginning, we don’t know how the lives of these three people are (or will become) entwined, but along the way, they all find their lives upended and forever changed.  This is a story about people, family, love and nature, and how those things can clash and mesh at the same time.  A consequential benefit is how Kingsolver educates the reader about nature and farming and life in Appalachia.  She does this within the context of the story, one character telling another through the course of their daily lives. 

Ratings  (For an explanation of my rating factors, please visit the Rating System Key page.)
Crack Factor – 9.  Both times through, I found this book to be completely addicting. 
Tears Shed Factor – ?  This isn’t really the kind of book to make you cry, but it does make you laugh and you will feel for each character’s personal struggles. 
Distraction Factor – 9.  Kingsolver’s version of environmentalism will creep its way back to you when you least expect it.  I let a spider web develop in the corner of my kitchen for two weeks until the maid service eventually swept it away…those little arachnids took care of many unwanted pests for me.  You’ll definitely think twice before you squash a spider after reading this book. 
Enrichment Factor –  10+.  You will learn something new on almost every other page of this book:  Complexities of eco systems, the importance of predators, the problems with modern agriculture, ceremonial religious foods, animal husbandry, combine casualties, you name it.  Kingsolver leaves you smarter and more curious by the end of this book.  And she’s not subtle about it either.  More like she clubs you over the head with it.  It’s a fictional lecture about many non-fictional challenges we face in our world. 
PeopleFactor – 9.5.  The best characters are ones with whom you not only fall in love, but with whom you grow as well.  These characters aren’t stagnant.  They all blossom during the course of this novel, opening themselves to new possibilities they never imagined would happen in their lives.  They are richly drawn and loveably flawed, and I didn’t want to say goodbye to them.  Kingsolver made teachers out of all of them, and I took away little tidbits of wisdom from each.  The secondary characters are wonderful as well. 
Story Telling Factor – 9.  Kingsolver’s talent lies in displaying these three characters’ lives so that their connections are several layers deep.  The second time through, I really noticed these subtle mentions, like little hidden treasures, right down to the discarded chair that one character misses and the other one enjoys. 
Writing Skills Factor – 9.5.  If forced to critique, I’d call Kingsolver preachy, but I think that’s more a philosophy critique than a writing one.  Her prose is beautiful and clear and her characters’ personalities shine through.  And since I believe her philosophy and count myself as one of her disciples, she’s not preachy to me. 
Bad Ass Babe Factor – 9.5.  Kingsolver’s female characters are SMART and worldly and wise and feminine.  
Total Rating: 9.357

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Review of the Girl With the Dragon Tattoo by Steig Larsson

I have never rebelled.  I didn’t smoke or drink as a teenager.  I’ve never used illegal substances.  (Seriously…I haven’t.)  And I never ever skipped class.  Ever.  I do occasionally wear white after Labor Day.  And I don’t believe in ironing, (I know—shocking) but aside from that…I’m not a rebel.  I’m pretty content with that.  I like my life the way it is.  But as I’m getting older, I’m starting to wonder if maybe I’ve got a wild streak buried somewhere deep down.  It might be purple…yeah, that’s it…a purple wild streak…

A woman who works in the warehouse at my company has Technicolor hair.  It’s usually black with some kind of colorful streak in it. It might be kelly green or candy apple red or intense purple, it seems to change with the phases of the moon.  I told her once that I loved her hair, which I really do; I said, “I’ve always wanted to do something crazy like that.”  Later I wondered if perhaps I’d said something offensive to her, but I’m hoping she took it as the compliment I meant it to be.  Since then, the desire for a purple steak in my own hair has been growing. This desire has a lot of legs, like an octopus, wrapping its tentacles around different parts of my brain.   I keep asking myself, “Why haven’t I ever done something crazy like that?”
For a while, I thought could do it for my 40th birthday, like a rebellion against old age.  (Although the closer I get to 40, the less I think consider it a marker of “old age.”)   In one of my moments of indecision about this, I asked Adam what he thought about it.  (If my partner considered it to be a huge turn-off, there’s no way I’d sacrifice that part of my life for a stupid mid-life crisis about purple hair.  I assume most rebels aren’t that stupid.)  His reply was “Why wait till your 40th birthday?  If you want to do it, why not do it now?” yes.

You’d think this assent would have sent me right to the salon, but then, I started freaking out about it.  I love my hair just the way it is. I’ve never dyed it or bleached it or added highlights.  So far I can get by with just plucking out the grey hairs; why mess with a good thing?  Then I started thinking I’m just too chicken-sh!t to do it; I’ll never be a rebel.  A few days later, I flip flop again and I’m sure that I will do it.  And then I think I’ll just wait until after the next tradeshow, or the next business meeting, or…or…chicken.
What is it that is so fascinating about a rebel, anyway?  Is it because a rebel does what most of us wouldn’t dare do?  I think back to those kids in high school that sat on the fringe of the classroom in their dark coats with their dyed black hair and studded whatever.  Most were pretty harmless.  The clothes and the hair were about the extent of their rebellion.  Some rebels are beyond that, well beyond harmless and into the scary realm…remember the “trench coat mafia” at Columbine High School?   Are these the people that get pushed too far beyond the fringe? 

I know you’re thinking…is there a book review in here somewhere? 

Yes.   I’m just getting to it.  Lisbeth Salander, the title character and rebel in The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo by Stieg Larsson, is one of those fascinating people.  She’s more than a little off-balance.  Rub her the wrong way and you might end up tortured or tazered or dead.  Or she might just destroy your life without you even knowing who did it.  In other words, she’s an awesome fictional character.  Just the kind of person you want to read about, complex and layered and so not a normal person. 
The dialog about Stieg Larsson has been going on for a while now.  His trilogy of mysteries has been on the bestseller list for a couple of years.  All that while, I’VE BEEN MISSING IT!!!!  (I hate not being in the know.) But that has been remedied.  As of a few nights ago, I finished The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo.
As soon as something gets hyped up, my expectations raise considerably.  There’s no greater disappointment than wanting to love something that everyone else loves and then thinking, “Seriously?  This is it?”  I wanted to love this book; for the first 100 pages, however, I was thinking I’d be disappointed.  My whole book club was having a hard time getting into it.  But in the end I did love the book, so now I have a dilemma on my hands, because if I hype it up too much, you’ll all be expecting lightning bolts and rainbows and unicorns to burst out of the pages when you crack the binding.  

Well, there are no rainbows or unicorns that will leap out of the pages, but Lisbeth Salander and Mikael Blomkvist, the two main protagonists will grab your attention.  It did take me a good 120 pages before this book really hooked me.  The characters were the only thing that kept me opening the book that long.  But once I got past that mark, the story took over and I was enraptured by the mystery unfolding.  This book has action, suspense and danger; and the character development is pretty good.  Larsson switches the 3rd person perspective on you from time to time, so when you’re learning about one character, not only do you learn about her from a completely 3rd person omniscience…you also get the views of her from the people around her…her employer, her partner, herself.  Not all authors do this; it adds dimension to the characters to see them from multiple perspectives. 

This character development is what takes this book beyond a simple mystery or suspense novel and gives it some meat to sink your teeth into (tofu for us veggies out there).  But at its core, this is a mystery novel.  In the opening pages, you learn about the disappearance of a 16 year old girl that happened 40 years prior, a disgraced journalist, and a twisted researcher/hacker.  As the story unfolds, disgrace becomes triumph, one mystery becomes the link to many crimes and the search for a villain intensifies as he threatens our protagonists.  And that’s all I’m going to tell you; hopefully it’s not too much hype.

Ratings  (For an explanation of my rating factors, please visit the Rating System Key page.)
Crack Factor – 8.75.  It took a while for me to get addicted to this book, but the middle-end held me in suspense. 
Distraction Factor – 9.  Through my research about Steig Larsson and his 3 novels, I learned that the Swedish title of this book translated as Men who Hate Women.   The violence against women theme is quite distracting in this book.  He keeps bringing you back to it, not only from the perspective of the mysteries uncovered and solved during the course of the novel, but also the violence and abuse that our protagonist faces in her own life.  Lisbeth’s reactions to her own misfortune and to her abusers intrigued me.  She accepts no victim mentality, just stays intent on punishment for those in the wrong, and she lets no abuser lean on the excuse of prior abuse. 
Enrichment Factor –?.  While I wouldn’t call this book educational by any means, I found the Swedish names and place to be particularly entertaining.  I have a lot of Swedish customers and it was fun to acknowledge the similarity of some character’s names to the people I email every day, and realize that part of the story is taking place in the towns where my customers live.  
PeopleFactor – 8.5.  I don’t need to repeat myself; almost this whole review is about characters.  The secondary characters are almost as interesting as the protagonists. 
Story Telling Factor – 9.5.  My favorite surprise with this book was the layering of story and character development.  Blomkvist and Lisbeth not only become partners in solving a crime, but their relationship evolves into something else as well, which not only thickens the plot, but gives Lisbeth’s character, especially, some additional development. 
Writing Skills Factor – ?.  I don’t know how to rate this one.  I’d tend to rate Larsson lower than most other authors I’ve reviewed, but it could be a translation thing.  I didn’t like his style as much as some other authors, but he’s not a bad or annoying writer.  His writing style doesn’t detract from the story or the characters, but I don’t think it enriches them either.
Bad Ass Babe Factor – 9.5  Lisbeth is more “bad ass” than most all characters to whom I’ve given high ratings.   She epitomizes the literal sense of this phrase.  Most of my BABs aren’t literal BABs, but Lisbeth is.  I’d have to admit, she’s more Bad Ass than Babe, though.  I love her sense of personal conviction and her sense of loyalty and her own acknowledgement of her uniqueness.  She knows she’s not the same as everyone else, but she doesn’t try to be different, it’s just that she knows it’s a part of her.  She accepts her “flaws” for the most part and only seems to lament them at the end of the story, when she realizes that they hold her back from a part of life she’s not even sure she wants. 

Total Rating: 9.05
As an end note, my husband, Adam, read this book along with me and my book club.  Most of the time Adam’s reading material is Hot Rod magazine or Cook’s Illustrated, so I was pleasantly surprised and excited that he was going to be another book discussion partner for me.  When I told him I was finishing my review and asked him if he had any comments.  His response was, “Blech.”  He didn’t get hooked in the first 100 pages either, and when I finished the book, he asked me for the bullet point synopsis and then he read the last 100 pages.  I guess you could call it the Jenny Cliff Notes abbreviated version.  Anyway, he was not impressed, and had nothing positive to say about the book.  Soooooo…..I just thought I’d pass this along.  It’s not for everyone.  

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Review of Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende

This is a warning to all of my faithful review readers out there.  I am guilty of more than a little hero worship when it comes to Isabel Allende.  She could write “The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy brown dog,” and I’d think it was genius.  I’ve read many of her books, both in English and Spanish, and I’d have to place her among my very favorite authors.  Island Beneath the Sea is one of her more recent publications and I didn’t have to know a thing about it to know that I’d love it.  True to form, Allende doesn’t disappoint.  Luscious, Lyrical, Mythical, Epic, Sweeping, Romantic, Tragic, Thrilling, Uplifting, Thought-provoking, Sexy, Beautiful, Beautiful, Beautiful is how I’d describe Allende’s books.  When I read Allende, I can almost hear the orchestra soundtrack in the background, and taste wine and ripe fruit on my lips.   
Island Beneath the Sea

Allende herself is quite interesting; a Peruvian-born Chilean with US citizenship and family ties to the coup-ousted Chilean President, Salvador Allende, she could easily be a character in some of her own novels.  Check out her Wikipedia listing and be prepared to be impressed.  I read her first novel, The House of the Spirits in 1994 and it remains, to this day, one of my all-time favorite books—I’ve read that book both in Spanish and English.  I’ve also read The Stories of Eva Luna (in Spanish), The Infinite Plan, Daughter of Fortune, Portrait in Sepia and My Invented Country (non-fiction) by Allende. 
Island Beneath the Sea is a sweeping saga.  It is the story of Zarité Sedella, born into slavery on the island of Saint-Dominigue, the French colony that would later become Haiti.  It takes place in Saint-Domingue, Cuba and Louisiana and spans 30+ years of Zarité’s life from childhood slavery through love and loss and tragedy and war and freedom and triumph. 
Ratings  (For an explanation of my rating factors, please visit the Rating System Key page.)
Crack Factor – 8.5.  The story moves quickly in this book, but, I read 3 other books between the time I started this book and when I finished it, so It did take 2nd place to The Fiery Cross, Oryx and Crake and The Jane Austen Book Club.  So…it’s still awesome, but not as addicting as they were.
Distraction Factor 9.  I kept coming back to one of the concepts Allende repeated in the story.  Zarité would ask one of her fellow slaves, who had access to travel, why it was that she didn’t escape to freedom?  Her reply was something like…what good would it do for me to be free when no one else here is?  She came back to it again, when one character is planning to free his father’s slaves upon inheritance, but his teacher says…what good will that do if it doesn’t abolish slavery completely?  200 people that cannot support themselves are not going to right any wrongs; it’s better to work toward changing the whole system, and in that conversation, he created an abolitionist.  This idea intrigued me, because I often think, even a small thing can change the world, but Allende seemed to say that a small thing didn’t matter in the scope of a big problem.  Food for thought, anyway…I’m still thinking about it.
Tears Shed Factor – 8. Zarité’s character is a caregiver.  She mothers many people, not limited to her own children.  Now that I am a parent, mother stories affect me more.  It was the mother/child parts that resonated with me the most, both the happy and sad parts. 
Enrichment Factor – 9.  I knew almost nothing about the colonial Caribbean.  It was a unique backdrop to a great story and I almost want to check out a book on 18th century Haiti just to learn more.  It was also fascinating to think of the Louisiana Purchase from the perspective of the French citizens being sold by Napoleon…as a US citizen, I’d never thought of that before. 
PeopleFactor – 9.9. Allende’s characters are full-formed, including the antagonists.  You understand her bad guys just as much as you understand her heroine.  She doesn’t always let you keep your favorite characters, but she often gives you reason to nod in satisfaction as the antagonists reap the consequences of their actions. 
Story Telling Factor – 9.5.  This is a captivating tale.  It is well plotted and planned and thoroughly enjoyable.
Writing Skills Factor – 9.5. Allende writes in Spanish, which is a very picturesque language.  Even through translation, she is incredibly visual in her style.  It makes for very rich prose. 
Bad Ass Babe Factor – 8.5. Zarité is a great character with serious courage.  She has many difficult choices to make throughout the course of her life, and I was impressed with how she dealt with many of those difficult choices. 
Total Rating – 8.99