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.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Review of Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood

My friend, Kelly, is a serious athlete—she does triathlons and runs marathons and is an all-around fitness goddess.  She’s one of my fitness motivators and has so inspired me to give up my excuses and get moving to take control of my own health.  But years of running and extreme fitness are not without injury; her knees have paid the tolls on all those hard-impact miles.  Somewhere in the discussion of how to fix her damaged joints, a doctor brought up the possibility of growing some new cartilage for her inside a mouse.  Apparently “they” can do that now---grow human cartilage inside the body of a mouse.  The doctor showed her this picture:

Yuck.  Kelly decided not to go that route.  I think I’d be creeped out forever if I knew that she had parts that were grown inside a rodent, so I’m glad she declined. 
Science is making leaps and bounds when it comes to creating spare parts for people, or designing food that defies nature.  Some of it seems like a good idea, but people thought DDT and Thalidomide were good, too.  Are we really better off by having genetically modified soybeans so that they can resist herbicides?  Yeah…I really want to eat food that has been sprayed repeatedly with poison, or how about a chicken bred so that has breasts so large it can’t walk.  How appetizing.
Oryx and Crake

Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood is a story that brings these ideas to a frightening place.  It’s set in a future where large corporations have control over our society.  The educated and wealthy who work for these corporations live in highly guarded compounds and if you’re not part of that group, you suffer in the “pleeblands,” where dog eat dog is almost literal.  (People eat dog/Dog eat people are definitely literal…)  In this future, chickens are modified to have 10 breasts and no head or brain function outside of growing breast meat.  Pigs are modified to grow real human organs inside them, including human brain tissue, which makes these pigs unnaturally intelligent and dangerous.  Designer drugs offer risk-free sex with unlimited pleasures.  But if you step outside what the corporation wants you to do, watch out…people have a way of disappearing or having unfortunate accidents. 
The story is told by “Snowman,” who may be the last natural human being on Earth.  We find out something terrible has happened to everyone else.   Only the mysteriously beautiful “Children of Crake” are his companions, but they are not quite human.   Snowman tells us his story, both the current story in this post-Armageddon world of dangerously wild genetically modified creatures and the story of how this disaster happened.  He goes all the way back to his childhood to illustrate this dystopia and explain the events that caused almost every human being on earth to be killed…on purpose. 
The only other Margaret Atwood book I’ve ever read was The Handmaid’s Tale, and that was also a scary-future book, but one where ultra-conservative groups take over our country and strip women of all rights.  Like Oryx and Crake, it contains just enough parallels to current social trends to make you think…could this really happen?  I think Atwood likes to make people take a step back and re-evaluate the world around them. 
Crack Factor – 9.995.  This is a complete and total crack book.  I devoured it.  Atwood is really great at maintaining suspense.  Even though you have an idea of what happened to all the human beings on Earth throughout this book, you don’t know for sure, and she has a way of dropping just enough little tidbits to keep you turning the pages as fast as you can until you know what happened. 
Distraction Factor – 9.  This book had me reflecting on everything from industrialized agriculture and factory farming to genetically modified organisms, Botox and test tube babies.  And it’s still got me thinking about how dangerous it could be to mess with nature as much as we already are.
Writing Skills Factor – 9.5.  Atwood’s style is different, but amazing.  She published this book at the age of 64, (which is my parents’ age.)  I find it fascinating that she can write about such raw subjects—some of them are very sick and twisted ideas, and she gets into the head of an teenage boy and writes his thoughts so convincingly well.  It’s impressive, really, and shows her depth as a writer.  I guess I just look at her picture and I think…she could be one of my mom’s friends…and yet my mom’s friends don’t plot the end of the world.                 
People Factor – 7.  This isn’t really a character book.  And normally the characters are the most important part of a book for me.  This isn’t to say that the characters are weak.  The main characters of Snowman/Jimmy, Oryx and Glenn/Crake are pretty well defined and interesting, but this book is more about story and message than it is about characters. 
Story Telling Factor – 9.5.  I really like the way Atwood organized the book.  She introduces us to this post-Armageddon world and then Snowman tells us bits and pieces of his life from childhood right up to the destruction of almost all humans on Earth.  Definitely a page turner and the way she did it, I couldn’t even skip ahead like I normally do when there are intense parts because if you skipped ahead 20 or 50 pages you would have been lost—you really had to follow the story the way she laid it out.  A good author doesn’t let me cheat!  I love her and I hate her for it at the same time!
Total Rating – 8.999
Postscript---I also just finished The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood, which is a sequel of sorts to this book.  I think it actually takes place at the same time, but in the same world with the perspectives of different characters, telling a very similar story.  It was great, too.  Review to follow soon.

Double Review: The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar & The Help by Kathryn Stockett

In 1994 I did a study abroad program in Argentina.  I lived with a family in Buenos Aires.  They had a beautiful apartment in a very wealthy section of town.  All of the apartment buildings in this part of town had doormen and each unit had servant quarters.  The maid that worked for the family with whom I lived was called Irma.  She was maybe 30-something, but she looked older to me with a gaunt face and several gaps in her smile where her teeth had rotted away.  She had a two and a half year old daughter named Angie.  They slept on a small cot-like bed in a tiny room off the kitchen. They also had their own bathroom that had a sink and toilet and a pipe sticking out of the wall that served as a shower head.  There wasn’t really a shower stall, just a drain in the floor so after you took a shower, you’d need to wipe down the toilet and sink and squeegee the floor.  It was a pretty tiny bathroom, maybe 3’ x 3’ in area.  Irma’s husband was a doorman in a nearby by building.  On Saturday nights she and Angie would leave and I was told that they went with her husband to their own house that was someplace else.  They came back sometime on Sunday night.   One time I overheard the family I lived with discussing their finances, and from that, I learned that they paid Irma about one dollar an hour.  Angie’s little baby teeth were already rotten from lack of oral hygiene.  She was a sweet little girl and followed me around the apartment, like a puppy.  She called me “La Chénifer.” 
Having grown up in a house with a stay-at-home mom, we never had any outside domestic help, and when my sister and I got old enough, we had chores to do around the house.  I know I was a typical lazy kid and only did the chores half-assed.  But I remember my mom saying she would never be able to have a maid come because she just couldn’t stand having anyone else in the house.  Those six months in Argentina taught me what it felt like to have someone besides your family cleaning up after you.  And it was a very uncomfortable feeling.  I remember thinking twice about what I threw in the wastebasket, and making sure that when I spit out my toothpaste, it left no residue in the sink.  I never mind my own mess, but once I knew someone was behind me wiping it up, it made me think twice about making it in the first place. 
But having lived a sheltered middle class American life until this point, the part I found most disturbing was the class differences.  My host family felt they were doing something benevolent by giving this woman a place to sleep and an income, however meager that income was.  But I felt uncomfortable that Irma and Angie ate in the kitchen while we sat in the dining room.  And I had all I could do to stop myself from buying that baby a toothbrush.  But she wasn’t my daughter and I felt like I couldn’t interfere.  Perhaps it was better for Irma to make $8.00 a day and have a clean, safe bed to sleep in.  I can only imagine what her home was like, the one she visited Saturday nights.  With what she and her husband made, my guess was that they lived in a shanty town, like so many I’d seen in parts of Buenos Aires.  The Argentines called them the Villas Miserias, which literally translates to “misery towns,” but in practicality means “slums.”  I was only a visitor in this place.  I was there to experience the culture, observe and try not to judge something of which I was not a part.  But it remains one of the experiences that left me questioning class and race and economic status in a very personal way. 
Which brings me to the book reviews…  It’s probably weird to do a double book review, but I want to shake things up with the blog and challenge myself a bit.  The Help by Kathryn Stockett and The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar make for great comparison.  Both books have a domestic servant/employer relationship at the core.  Parallel to that, they have class/caste differences that go along with those relationships, and both dig into the lives of both servant and employer showing the good, the bad and the ugly.    The Help is set in Mississippi in the 1960s and The Space Between Us is set in Bombay, India presumably in present day, but with flashbacks to maybe 20-30 years prior.  With all these similarities, and considering I read them one after the other, I was bound to be comparing them in my head over and over again.    
Since this is a double-review, I’ll make the plot summaries short:
 The Help
Set in Jackson, Mississippi, with the beginnings of the civil rights movement as a backdrop to the events in the story, the three main characters in The Help, one young white woman and two black domestic servant women embark on writing a book with stories about what it is like to be a black maid working for white people.  They live in constant fear that their project will be discovered, which could have been especially dangerous for the women sharing their stories for the book.  This book is thought provoking and entertaining, with plenty of disturbing images, alongside fun, laugh out loud parts.  But in the end, it leaves you smiling and our three main characters have brighter futures ahead. 
 The Space Between Us
The Space Between Us is a more serious, slightly more depressing story.  There are some fun, lighthearted moments, but the present-day story is dominated by the unwanted pregnancy of the granddaughter of one of the main characters, and then it is peppered with flashbacks that tell you the sorrows and joys of both servant and employer.  You see the arm’s length closeness that these two women have for each other.  They both respect and abhor each other at the same time. 

Crack Factor
The Help 9
The Space Between Us 8.5
Both of these novels are page-turners, but I found The Help’s characters and plot to be a little more entertaining than Space, plus with the characters in The Help always working toward writing their book and worrying that other people will find out, so there was this constant need to keep turning the page to see what would happen.  The Space just kind of ambles along, and while there is an upsetting, plot-thickening surprise about ¾ of the way through, it didn’t propel me in the same way that The Help did. 

Distraction Factor
The Help 8
The Space Between Us 9
Both books had me reflecting on my own life experience more than most books, both because of my previous experience abroad, and my current life as a working-outside-the-home parent, where I currently employ other people to watch my children when I’m at work and to clean my house every other week.  Hmmmm…

Writing Skills Factor
The Help 7.5
This book is definitely in the “popular fiction” category.  The writing is good and entertaining, but not complex or profound by any means. 
The Space Between Us 8.5
Umbrigar’s prose is more erudite than Stockett’s; the writing is intelligent and clear.  I like how she bookended the story with a single scene, split in two parts, making you feel like you’ve come full circle, compelling you to re-read the prologue again and again to make sense of it and reflect. 

People Factor
The Help: 9. You will LOVE the 3 main characters in this book.  And the secondary characters are just as rich—you’ll hate some of them, and pity many of them.  This book has characters you will miss when you’ve read the last page.
The Space Between Us: 8.  The main characters in this book are also richly drawn, and the secondary characters offer some light hearted relief, as well as some key plot twists that change the direction of the story significantly.  And there’s a nasty mother-in-law.  Everyone loves to hate the nasty mother-in-law character…

Story Telling Factor
The Help 9
The Space Between Us 8.9
The Help definitely had more momentum in the plot than The Space Between Us, but as you get further into Space, the plot takes on more definition once Umrigar drops the plot bomb ¾ of the way through; that thing that you find out links several parts of the story and several characters together.  (I’m trying not to be a spoiler, here.)

Bad Ass Babe Factor
The Help 9—Minnie, Aibileen & Skeeter are fun, strong, interesting, fabulous characters and total Bad Ass Babes.  Especially Minnie. 
The Space Between Us – Not applicable.  While Sera & Bhima are good characters, I just don’t see them earning BAB points here…it’s just not that kind of a book. 

Total Ratings
The Help: 8.58333333
The Space Between Us: 8.58
And it is totally not planned that the ratings are so close, but I’m not surprised they are, or that I liked The Help just a little bit more…interesting…

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Review of Blockade Billy by Stephen King: A Mini Review for a Mini Book

I’ve been debating the purchase of a Kindle or a Nook for a while.  My Dad & Uncle have Kindles and they love them.  My co-workers have Nooks and they love them.  While I agree that an e-book reader would offer many conveniences, I love borrowing books from the library so I don’t have to pay for them, and I don’t have to store them afterwards.  Imagine my elation when I found out that I can download e-books from the library for FREE onto my iPod.  So I’ve been experimenting with it.  One of my first downloads was Blockade Billy, a novella by Stephen King. Aside from his non-fiction book On Writing, I’ve never read any Stephen King before, although I have seen a few movies based on his books.  I stress a few here, because I’m not really a horror flick fan, but I did love Shawshank Redemption and the Green Mile.  A friend of mine was recently telling me that she and her husband were both big Stephen King fans, and so I thought I needed to give Mr. King a chance.  Enter Blockade Billy…the only Stephen King novel available on the library e-book list when I logged on the other night. 
  Blockade Billy [Book]
It is a novella, so very short, as will be the review.  It is told as a narrative, as if an old-timey baseball manager is telling Stephen King the story first hand.  The narrator even addresses him as “Mr. King” throughout the story.  I loved the narrator’s vernacular and his perspective on the story being told, and I enjoyed the narrative structure in itself.  A little foreshadowing lets you know that something dreadful is going to happen with the rookie known as “Blockade Billy.”  I enjoyed the story up until you find out what that dreadful thing was.  And then once you know that to which they’ve been alluding this whole time, I thought…What?  Seriously?  This is it?  It just felt forced to me.  In all fairness, it could just be that I didn’t like what happened, so I only felt like it was forced for that reason.  Either way, I’m torn as to whether I liked or disliked this book.  I guess overall, I enjoyed it, even if I wasn’t thrilled with the way the story turned in the end.  It was a fun quick read, but I’m glad I got it for free from the library rather than paying $8.99 to download it to a Kindle on Amazon.
And I promise I’ll give Mr. King another chance.  J

Review of The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler

I work with a few women who love to read as much as I do.  We are always talking about our favorite books and authors.  It was only a matter of time before we decided to establish our own little book club.  Officially we meet once a week on our lunch hour.  Weeks 1 & 3 are reading-together-at-lunchtime weeks, and weeks 2 & 4 are discussion weeks.  But…unlike a club that meets only once or twice a month, we are lucky enough to see each other 5 days a week, so a typical day is like this:
“Where are you in the book?”
“I just got to that part where they….”
“I loved that part….didn’t you just die when….”
“I know!  And remember when….” 
“YES!  That was the best! But I was so mad when…”  You get the idea:  Every day is book club day when you sit right next to the people who are reading the same thing as you.  It’s great, but the official discussion days may be somewhat anti-climactic since we’ve all been discussing the book for 4 weeks already. 
Our first pick is The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler.  Appropriate, no?  I didn’t know anything about this book except that my mom said she loved the movie (and even my dad liked the movie) and I figured it must have something to do with Jane Austen, whom I love.  I’ve only read 3 of the 6 Jane Austen novels:  Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility and Persuasion.  And I use the term “read” loosely, here.  I’ve seen different film adaptations of these books multiple times, so when I finally got around to reading the books, I’m sure it was more like a pretty good skim, rather than an entire read-every-word kind of deal.  I was mostly looking for the similarities and differences between the novels themselves and my favorite film adaptations.  [By the way, I love the BBC 6 part mini-series of Pride and Prejudice the best.  My kids called this “The Mr. Darcy Show” when they were little because I watched it so many times back when I was a stay-at-home mommy.  That Kiera Knightly film doesn’t even come close to it.]  
To read The Jane Austen Book Club, you don’t have to be a Jane Austen fan, although you’ll get more out of it if you are.  It’s really a collection of vignettes about each of the members in the club, but set into the context of one story.  You have 6 members in the club, just as you have 6 novels, and when it is one character’s turn to host the book club to discuss a novel, then you get all of his or her stories at that time.  These little character illustrations are usually told in the first person plural which was really interesting to me.  The narrator telling the story talks about “We” as in all the members of the book club except the one male member.  He was not part of the “We.” But the “We” was also omniscient, because at times when the story was unfolding, the narrator would say something like “this is the part we weren’t told…” or something like that.  And you never really got a sense that the “We” was really one character talking for everyone…since every character was treated as part of the collective…there was never an “I” narration.  I found this structure really fascinating.  It was so different from anything I’ve ever read before.  It wasn’t exclusive throughout the entire novel, however. Towards the end of the book, once we know all of the male character's stories, we get an inkling of a plot twist (that I was expecting) described via emails going back and forth between his 3 older sisters.  It was hilarious, and so different and refreshing. 
The Jane Austen fan will definitely appreciate the random quotes interspersed throughout the book.  If you don’t know the Austen novels, you’d never notice or appreciate the quotes because they weren’t highlighted as quotes from the book, they’re just woven into the fabric of the dialog.  These were like fun little inside jokes or treasures to be discovered.  If I ever pick up a Jane Austen book again, you can be sure I’ll read its corresponding chapter in The Jane Austen Book Club concurrently just to pick up on more of these little gems. 
Crack Factor – 7.  This isn’t a plot-intensive, total page-turner story, rather it’s a bunch of inter-connected character illustrations.  It could have been a collection of short stories, but instead the author chose to weave it all into one, so there are some common threads that tie the characters together and also propel you to the end to see how life ends up for each one. 
Enrichment Factor – 8.5.  I did learn more about the Austen novels in this book.  I also loved the extra details that the author included at the end of the book, including a plot synopsis for each Jane Austen book and then dozens and dozens of Jane Austen references by other authors and literary critics.  It was fun to see  Austen's inpact in the larger literary world. 
Writing Skills factor – 9.  If I didn’t detail it enough before, I was fascinated, intrigued and surprised by the first person plural narration.   I can’t remember ever seeing that structure before in another book.
Story Telling Factor – 9.  These are simply really great little vignettes, embroidered together very well.  Fowler does a great job of telling these characters' stories. 
People Factor – 8.5.  Fowler created some very memorable characters in this book, and in the telling of their stories, you get to know them pretty well, enjoying their joys and empathizing with their sorrows. 
Total rating: 8.4
As a side note, years ago I read another book about a book club, called Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons by Lorna Landvik.  That's a good read, too. 
Angry Housewives Eating Bon Bons by Lorna Landvik

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

314 Page Views

When I started writing this blog, I figured the only people reading it would be my parents, my sister and my two best friends, so I didn't DARE put a view counter on it for fear that I'd die of embarassment that it only had 10 page views.

Three months later, I know my parents haven't looked at it all.  (I guilt trip them about this every other time I talk to them, but it hasn't worked yet.)  So that takes the potential 5 followers down to 3, which is exactly the number of "official" followers I have. Best case scenario, I figured my 3 followers have maybe checked it 10 times each so I might have 30 page views...

But today I was playing around with some formatting, adding some links, doing some posting, and I thought...maybe I'll add the page view counter just to see what it says...and then if it's really embarassing I can take it off just as fast and no one will be the wiser. 

I nearly fell out of my chair.  Actually I jumped out of my chair, ran into the other room in front of the TV and said to Adam "OH MY GOD!  GUESS HOW MANY PAGE VIEWS I HAVE!!!!!!!!!"  He was not as excited about this as I was.  But at least he didn't crane his neck around me to see the TV.  I didn't wait for him to answer: "314!!!!!!!!!!!    MY BLOG HAS BEEN VIEWED 314 TIMES!!!!!!!!!" 

And then I called my sister and told her, too.  And tomorrow I'll call my parents and tell them they're missing  out on a blog that has been viewed 314 times!

So thanks to all of you who have been reading.  You made my day. My night. My month.

I Haven’t Been Writing Because…

I’ve been reading!
I know all about excuses.  When I went back to work full time, I used the “working mom” excuse for soooooo many things.  “I don’t have time to exercise…I work full time and I have kids.”  “When would I ever have time to go shopping for furniture for that empty room…I work full time and have kids.”  “I would never have time to do Christmas cards…I work full time and I have kids.”  Truth is, I’ve figured out (and this only took me 38 years to figure this out---brainiac that I am) that you can make* time for anything you want to do.   A year ago I didn’t have time to workout, read, or write.  All three are things that I knew I should be doing and wanted to do, and yet I had so many excuses for not being able to do them. 
I’m quite proud to say that I’ve been doing them all pretty regularly for the last few months.  With that said…I still have a few excuses.  Mostly, I’ve been reading so much that I’ve slacked on the writing.  But with good reason!!  I’ve discovered a couple of serious crack books—books so good I’ve neglected many important things in my life…nutrition…family…writing.  So now I’m determined to do some serious writing this week to get the reviews done for my 3 faithful followers out there. 
But in the meantime, so you can be salivating with anticipation, here are the books I’ve finished since my last review:

1. The Help, by Kathryn Stockett  (Inforum Book Club pick---discussion and movie watching was this last Monday night---FUN!!)
2. The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar (Book Club for Thinker’s pick.)
3. Oryx and Crake by Margaret Atwood (Serious Crack book)
4. Blockade Billy by Stephen King
5. The Jane Austen Book Club by Karen Joy Fowler (Coworker book club pick)
6. The Fiery Cross by Diana Gabaldon.  (Even More Serious Crack Book! ) 1472 pages finished in one week.  I loaded the electronic version onto my iPod, (which was really 6091 little pages) so I could take it with me everywhere…but a Crack Book is not without consequences.  About 20 little iPod pages before the end of the book, Adam said to me, in exasperated tones, “Is this one of your book club books?” 
“No,” I smiled sheepishly at him…scratch that…guiltily.
“It’s not?” Head shake, eyes wide… “You’re reading this for leisure?” 
Okay, I read all books for leisure, but I know what he meant here, and I knew what he ways trying to tell me.  You’re neglecting us.  And it was true.  I fed my children PB & J on hamburger buns rather than cook a meal for them on Sunday night because Jamie & Claire had me riveted to the page.    Thoroughly shamed by my husband’s muttered truth, I thanked goodness that I only had 20 more pages left... 
7. I’m about 1/3 of the way through Island Beneath the Sea by Isabel Allende.  (I started this before I started The Fiery Cross…but Gabaldon is more of a crack writer for me, although so far this is pretty good, too.
8. I’m also about ¼ of the way through The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood, which is a sequel/prequel of softs to Orxy & Crake.  This one’s on the iPod, too, so I’m dragging it with me everywhere.

*I've found my time multiplies exponentially if I stop watching TV...so if you need to make some time for yourself...turn off the boob tube.  A book is so much better anyway. 

Inforum Leisure Book Club discussion for Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver

I am a HUGE Barbara Kinsolver fan.  I think I've read most of her fiction and many of her non-fiction books, including The Bean Trees, Pigs in Heaven, Animal Dreams, The Poisonwood Bible, Homeland and Other Stories, High Tide in Tucson (non-fiction), and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle (also non-fiction, and one of my favorite books EVER.) 

I've also read Inforum's September book club pick, Prodigal Summer, which is a great book.  I can't wait to re-read it and discuss with all of you.  If you want to share your thoughts as you're reading the book, please post comments below. Just one rule, if you're going to talk about something specific in the plot, put a spoiler warning at the top, like this:  "SPOILER ALERT---Do not read unless you've already finished chapter 5,"  etc.

Happy Reading!  See you in September.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Review of the Fifth Sacred Thing by Starhawk Part 2

If you haven’t read it yet, here is the link to Part 1 of this review. 
I give credit to anyone who reads both of these reviews all the way through.  They will collectively be my longest reviews ever, I’m sure of it.  This book warrants great discussion—I just have rarely found any people who have read it or to whom I would feel comfortable recommending it. 
Set in a future where our environment has been seriously compromised and our central communication system has been destroyed, we come to know the people who live in the San Francisco bay area.  Thirty years prior they peacefully resisted and forced out the neo-fascist “Stewards” who control the “Southlands.”  They spent the years in between struggling to restore natural resources in the city, and plant fruit trees and gardens.  They pride themselves that no one goes hungry, thirsty or homeless in their city and that everyone gets the care they need.  There is no crime because everyone has enough to meet their needs.  Every able body works and contributes to the society’s needs in the way best suited to them.  They have access to education if they want to pursue medicine or science or some other discipline.  But they have not wasted any resources on weapons or defense.  And they know that the time is drawing near when the Stewards will invade them again. 
One of my favorite scenes in the book is when Madrone, one of the main characters, is describing her home to some women from the Southlands.  They pepper her with questions and she describes its inner workings in detail.  She denies it’s a utopia or a perfect communist society.  There is no central government, rather representatives from different neighborhoods and work guilds that come together in council and make decisions for the city as a whole.  All decisions are made with respect for all beings and respect for the environment.  “The Four Sacred Things are earth, air, fire, and water.  Nobody can own them or profit from them, and it’s our responsibility to heal them and take care of them.  That’s the basis of our politics and or economy.” (P. 272)
Aside from the detailed descriptions of this fully cooperative city, the other idea in this book that impressed me was the City’s defensive plan for when the Stewards invade them.  It’s peaceful resistance taken to the extreme end.  Our protagonists look at the army that is invading them, an army made up of mostly enslaved peoples and they offer those individuals an invitation “There is a place set for you at our table, if you will choose to join us.”  (P.218) Now imagine you are a member of an oppressed group, forced to work in an army that may have killed your family and treats you no better than an animal.  When you march into a land where people who look like you have equal rights to all other people, where food and water are plentiful and they ask you to join them, would you stay with your oppressors or join the side that wants you for who you are?  It’s a fascinating idea.  Whenever I’ve told anyone who hasn’t read the book about it, they always counter with something like, “Well, in the REAL world, it would never work.”  But think about this…Instead of invading a country that harbors extremists with terrorist tendencies, what if we offered food and resources and education to them?  I’m not talking straight out charity, but rather a helping hand---‘We can help you survive better in your place and we want to work with you to improve your conditions.’  Would they appreciate that more than the extremist words of other groups?  Maybe.  Hopefully.  Kill them with kindness, not weapons, and you may end up with a friend instead of an enemy.  And extremism will have nowhere to breed. 
Crack Factor – 9.5.  This is a true adventure/war story, a definite page turner. 
Tears Shed Factor - ?  It wasn’t until I went through my rating categories did I realize that I don’t think I ever cried reading this book.  There are a few laugh-out-loud parts and there are many difficult, upsetting and disturbing passages, but I don’t think the reason I didn’t cry was because of my desensitization from having read it before.  It’s just not a book that makes you weepy.  At least it wasn’t for me.
Distraction Factor – 10+.  This book has been distracting me for 15 years.  I have thought about it over and over and over again and it has impacted my life in many ways. 
People Factor – 7.5.  I love the main characters in the book, and appreciate many of the secondary characters.  I’m giving this a lower rating because over the years I’ve come to appreciate more development of the “bad” characters, too.  Starhawk doesn’t do this at all.
Story Telling Factor – 8.  This story is fast paced.  It moves along quickly, but you also get a great sense of setting.  You really understand the world our characters live in because she describes the society in detail.  Yet she does it in ways that don’t make it seem forced.  For example, that scene I already mentioned, where Madrone sits in on a ladies’ luncheon in the Southlands.  The women are a secret group who want to make things better for women but don’t know where to start.  Madrone is able to describe the organization of the City in detail, and it seems a natural part of the story, not a narrator induced description. 
One drawback for me is that I think Starhawk relies a little too much on “magic.”  Her main characters are witches and while there isn’t “Harry Potter” style transfiguration or anything like that, a few parts seem a little far-fetched when people get rescued by bees with a conscience or the character opens an electronic lock with her mind powers.  I wish she could have found more realistic ways of tying the loose bits together.  
Writing Skills Factor – 8.  The story flows well and is uninhibited by Starhawk’s writing style.   I like her laid-back dialog. 
Bad Ass Babe Factor – 8.5.  Two of the main protagonists, Madrone and Maya, are definite BABs.  Even Maya in her 90s is fierce and brave.  Their courage comes out when they do what must be done even though it frightens them.  Lily of the defense council is another definite BAB.  Some of the greatest words of wisdom in the book come from her lips. 
Hotter than Adam Factor – 8.  Bird is a great character.  When he escapes from prison in the Southlands, he overcomes so much.  His own acknowledgement of his fears and defeats and failures only give him a higher rating on my scale.  And while held captive by the invading force his intelligence helps him save so many others when most people would have given up.
Total Rating: 8.5

The “Hotter Than Adam Factor”---HTAF rating explained…

I may quite possibly be the luckiest woman on earth.  There are many reasons I consider myself lucky, but one of the primary ones is because I happen to be married to the most attractive man I’ve ever seen in real life.  I really truly honestly think this.  I thought it the first day that I met him.  I vividly remember thinking:  “Wow.  This is the hottest guy I’ve ever seen---and he’s flirting with ME!?!”  And I still think it to this day.  I assume most people are attracted to their spouses.  But does everyone think their spouse is hotter than all others of the opposite sex?  Because seriously, anytime we’re in a crowd and I look around at the other men, I still think, “Yup, mine’s the hottest.”  Adam doesn’t believe me, of course.  He thinks I’m just trying to flatter him when I tell him.  But it’s true. 
When I’ve told this to other people, they are like, “Oh yeah, what about Brad Pitt?”  Truth is, there are only a few celebrities that come close to being Hotter Than Adam.  Close, but not quite Hotter Than Adam.   To me, the ones that come closest are all just slightly different versions of Adam.  Like Ben Affleck (HTAF 9.75).  He is the brown haired, brown eyed, Oscar-winning, Bostonian version of Adam.  Ricky Martin (HTAF 9.0) is the gay Latino pop star version of Adam.  David Beckham (HTAF 9.95) is the British soccer star version of Adam.  Daniel Craig (HTAF 9.5) is the James Bond version of Adam.  Now you know my type---handsome, clean cut “bad boys,” who are actually nice guys.  [I hope they’re nice guys, anyway—I haven’t actually met any of them…]
But even though Mother Nature has yet to come up with the man who is Hotter Than Adam, I’m afraid there are a few authors who have created characters who ARE Hotter Than Adam.  This is a very finite list, but it does exist.  Mother Nature cannot compete with the imagination of a female author who is creating a fantasy hero/heartthrob. 
Here is my list of characters that are Hotter Than Adam in the order that I met them.
The first one is Jondalar, the pre-historic Cro-Magnon caveman from the Earth’s Children’s series by Jean M. Auel.  I read the first three of these books (The Clan of the Cavebear, The Valley of Horses, The Mammoth Hunters) while I was in high school.  Jondalar is 6’6” tall, with long blond hair.  He is tough and smart, kind and wise and incredibly attractive. [Note to my Dad- You must skip the rest of this paragraph.  I mean it.  If you don’t skip it, you’re never allowed to comment about this to me.  Ever.] Plus, he lives in a matrilineal goddess-worshiping society so he knows how to please a woman.  It is probably safe to say that Jondalar was my first sexual experience.  (No snickers out there---I know most men probably had their first sexual experience within the pages of a stroke book, so hush up.)  Jondalar is a solid 11.5 on the HTAF scale for all of the above reasons.  And you never forget your first. 
As a side note, I don’t know that I would find these books interesting anymore.  I tried picking up #4, The Plains of Passage about 5-10 years ago and I couldn’t get into it.  I must have outgrown them.  The 6th book, the Land of Painted Caves is currently on the bestseller’s list.  Maybe I’ll give them one more try… I did enjoy the characters, and I hate not knowing what happened to them.
My second HTAF character is Carlos Manoso, AKA  “Ranger,” the Cuban-American, ex military special forces, (hence the streetname:  Ranger) bounty hunter, bodyguard, security expert extraordinaire from the Stephanie Plum novels (One for the Money, Two for the Dough, etc.) by Janet Evanovich.  Just under 6’ tall, mocha latte skin, silky black hair, smart, sexy, successful, BUILT and oh my oh my oh my.  Smokin’ hot.  Ranger is dark and mysterious.  He is not the guy you bring home to mother, but he is a nice distraction.  Ranger is a definite 15. 
Another side note.  I’ve outgrown these books, too.  The first few Stephanie Plum novels were fun, silly reads.  Evanovich knows how to write humor amazingly well.  You will laugh out loud at some of the absurd craziness in these books.  But as the numbers get higher, the plots get stupider and her characters never evolve.  I still pick them up for quick brainless reads, but the last 6 or 7 of them have irritated more than entertained me. 
And last but not least… and highest on the HTAF scale is James Alexander Malcolm Mackenzie Fraser, “Jamie,” from the Outlander novels by Diana Gabaldon.  Jamie is an 18th century Scottish Highlander. He is 6’4” tall, with red hair, fair skin and deep blue eyes.  He is built like a warrior and he has the battle scars to prove that it’s not just for show.  He has more than the average career changes, having been a Scottish Lord, a soldier, a military officer, a farmer, a diplomat, an outlaw, a business man, prisoner, horse groom, printer, smuggler, sailor, and much more.  He is smart and educated and tough.  Surprisingly, he was a virgin on his wedding night at the age of 23, and he remains ever faithful and devoted to his equally amazing (twentieth century) wife, Claire.  On the Hotter than Adam factor, Jamie gets a score of 187.  That number might even be a little low.  I could go as high as 287.  Honestly, he is so hot you can find fan websites for him all over the internet in dozens of languages.  There are hundreds and hundreds of You tube videos devoted to him; women all over the world lust after this man. 
So speaking of the whole world lusting after Jamie, I found this fabulous You Tube video with some reader’s image of what she thinks Jamie would look like.  My 6 year old daughter caught me watching it and asked me what it was (She LOVES You Tube).  So of course, I told her he was my boyfriend.  The next day, while she’s playing with the iPod, she pulls up the video and promptly shows it to Adam and says, “This is mommy’s boyfriend.”  Traitor. 

We were all in the kitchen, making our Friday night pizza and Adam gives me this quizzical look, so I shrugged, nodded shamefully and said “Yup.”
Adam leans over Julia’s shoulder, takes a peek at the screen and says “So how high does this one rate on the HTAF scale?” 
HA!  In my wildest dreams I never imagined I’d be having this conversation with my husband. “187,” I replied. 
“187?!  If he’s a 187, what am I?”
“You’re the 10.”
“I’m only a 10?”
“No, no, no , you’re THE 10.  10 is the highest rating there is, with only three fictional exceptions.  I told you about this…”  [Note exasperated tone to hide defensiveness.]
He took the iPod from Julia.  “Let me see that video again.”  After another second he said, “I get it now…he’s definitely a 187.  I’ve even got the hots for this guy.  If he ever comes to life, I’m going to want him.  You’re gonna have to fight me for him.” 
And then we had this pretty ridiculous exchange as if Adam were suddenly going to change teams and leave me for a fictional 18th century Scottish highlander.  The fact that my husband can joke so well about having the hots for my own fictional obsession is one of the many reasons why I still think he’s the hottest guy I’ve ever seen in real life.   And he’s got a really great ass, too.
All of this lusting brings me back to my “Porn for Women” idea that I first mention in my post about Twilight and New Moon by Stephenie Meyer.  While none of the Earth’s Children, Stephanie Plum nor Outlander books are officially categorized as “romance” novels, I do consider them romance-adjacent.   So I feel slightly hypocritical writing about them like this.   My aversion to “romance” novels started many years ago when I realized that most of them were just plain stupid.  And as I mentioned in the previous post, their fictionalized romantic scenes distort reality too much.  Reality starts looking paltry in comparison.  When I read the Outlander books, my reality was so twisted that poor Adam (THE 10 on the HTAF scale) just couldn’t do anything right.  So I still have to pick up those books in small doses.  I’ve only read the first 4 and I’m taking a break from the next ones.  I think fictional character obsessions are like spin class—they make your heart race so fast you think you’re dying and then the book/class is over and you recover.  But the next time you crack the binding or go to class, you’re panting and sweating all over again and wondering what the heck you were thinking submitting yourself to this craziness.  Speaking of which, I have to get to bed, I have Spin class in the morning at 6am…
But before I leave you, let me clarify the HTAF rating a little bit more.  As I mention on the rating key page, Adam will not be a 10 on everyone’s scale. The key is to imagine your “ten” and fit the character to your scale accordingly.  Hotness need not be physical, although that can be part of it.  Just like my Bad Ass Babe Factor, it’s really about a great male character.  Heartthrob maybe, hero maybe, good guy-most-of- the-time are reasons to make the HTAF scale.  But I even consider Prior Phillip in Ken Follett’s Pillars of the Earth to be a contributor to the HTAF in that book, and he’s a monk, so not physically hot at all…but admirable and clever and pivotal to the story, definitely.  By himself Prior Phillip gets at least an 8.5 on the HTAF scale.