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.

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.