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, 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

Review of The Year of the Flood by Margaret Atwood.

When I am really impressed by a book, I often find myself becoming an author stalker.  I research the author and start reading more of his or her books.  I’ve done this over and over again, as I expect most readers do.  Margaret Atwood is the latest author with whom I’ve become obsessed.  The minute after I finished Oryx and Crake, I had to get the companion novel, The Year of the Flood.  Atwood herself, I believe, doesn’t call this a sequel or prequel, as it takes place at the same time as Oryx and Crake.  It’s rather a slightly different story set in the same time and place, told by different characters.
The Year of The Flood - Book Cover
The Year of the Flood also describes the dystopian world in Oryx and Crake, both pre-and post Armageddon.  This time around, however, our narrators are Ren and Toby, both of whom at one time lived with the “God’s Gardeners,” an environmentally-conscious religious group dedicated to preserving and restoring the natural world, while living within the genetically and chemically altered world that Atwood first created in Oryx and Crake. 
What’s fun about reading the two novels back to back is that the first book is narrated only by a male character, one who is deeply connected to events and people that change the world forever.  Flood is told by two female characters, one who is a child for most of the novel.  Both characters are, at some parts of their lives, attached to a group that is outwardly opposing the altered direction in which most of the world is moving.  Yet both characters never fully feel part of the God’s Gardeners, so they offer interesting perspectives of their comrades---doubt and agreement at the same time, accepting bits of what they live, and rejecting other bits privately.  All of these little pieces add for really great contrasts both within Flood and between the two books. 
Interspersed throughout the book are hymns and teachings of the God’s Gardeners’ religious doctrine.  Many of these pieces pay homage to environmentalists in our own time like Rachel Carson and Dian Fossey.  Those references I found really interesting and for some names that I didn’t recognize, enlightening and educational…forcing me to never be far from my web browser while I was reading so I could look up the name and learn more about the real person. 
All in all, this was a fun read, different enough from Oryx and Crake to make it feel like a completely separate story but with fun ties back to the previous book for those of us who’ve read it and enjoyed it.  I also liked that this one had a more hopeful ending than the previous one. 
Ratings  (For an explanation of my rating factors, please visit the Rating System Key page.)
Crack Factor – 8.5.  This one is getting a slightly lower crack factor than Oryx, probably because having read Oryx first, I knew where this world was going…so it wasn’t quite as addicting.  If you read Flood before Oryx, you’d probably be a little more hooked.    
Tears Shed Factor – 8.5.  Oryx didn’t touch my emotions the way this book did.  The female perspective in this novel is probably responsible for the difference.  I could identify with many of the characters’ hopes and fears, desires and disappointments; even though their world is so different from mine, I could feel their emotions pretty well.  
Distraction Factor – 9.  This book is just as thought provoking as Oryx, but from a different perspective.  There was a lot more misogyny and violence against women in this book, and the main characters have to survive it.  You didn’t see that exploitation from the same perspective in Oryx and it’s more upsetting from the victim’s angle, so I found myself dwelling on it more this time around.
Enrichment Factor –  9.5.  I learned a lot from the stories and references to the God’s Gardeners’ “saints,” the aforementioned contemporary environmentalists.  It was one more of the ties that Atwood creates between our current world and this scary potential future that we face, forcing you to take heed.  
PeopleFactor – 9.  I felt more connection to the characters in Flood than I did to the ones in Oryx and Crake; they also seemed a little more developed in this book. 
Story Telling Factor – 9.5.  This book is a survival story.  The main characters have a constant struggle to survive, both before and after the “waterless flood,” which is what the God’s Gardeners call the impending Armageddon.  It keeps the story moving.   I also like the hopeful message at the end of Flood, which was not as apparent in Oryx.
Writing Skills Factor – 9.5.  Same as in Oryx and Crake--Atwood is pretty amazing.  I often felt like I was sitting beside the character while I was reading her story. 
Bad Ass Babe Factor –  8.5.  Both Ren and Toby, and secondary character Amanda, are really amazing.  They live in a frightening world for women and they navigate it amazingly well.  I also appreciated their sense of loyalty and friendship.  All are willing to lay down their lives for each other, and this comes out especially at the end. 
Hotter than Adam Factor –?  I hesitate to give this book an HTAF rating, because the male characters are so secondary, but Adam One, the leader of the God’s Gardeners and Zeb are pretty great characters.  Adam One for his vision and leadership and Zeb for his strength, courage and street smarts.  Both of these characters work really hard to take care of the people around them.   
Total Rating – 9.16