Archive | book review

I’d Rather Be Monkeywrenching

Lesley, Lesley’s boyfriend Tim, Dar and I are on a “wind and water caves” group hike in Point Reyes. We’ve only just began hiking down from Laguna Trailhead, trailing, as always, at the end of the pack, when Leslie says, “I want to buy you a gift.”

Eyebrows rise. I ask: “What kind of gift?”

“A car sticker,” Lesley says, as though it’s obvious.

“It’s an I’d rather be monkeywrenching sticker,” Lesley explains.

My breath hitches. “I want five,” I reply.

The term “monkeywrenching” originates from the book The Monkeywrench Gang by Edward Abbey, which I recently read. The book tells of a band of three men and a woman who set out to protest and prevent the destruction of the Utah-Arizona-Nevada desert. Their end goal: blow up the Glen Canyon Dam.

Monkeywrenching is a term not found in most dictionaries. The organization Earth First! defines monkeywrenching as “…a step beyond civil disobedience. It is nonviolent, aimed only at inanimate objects. It is one of the last steps in defense of the wild, a deliberate action taken by an Earth defender when almost all other measures have failed.”

You might wonder what I have to do with monkeywrenching? “Sigal,” you might say. “You’re a law-abiding citizen. Are you really posting about civil disobedience? Is this really something you think about?”

Well, yes, I guess.

The Monkeywrench Gang inspired the creation of the organization Earth First! which engages in activities as varied as barricading a train carrying fracking equipment (in order to prevent it going up to North Dakota, to give a current example), painting graffiti on dams, chaining oneself to trucks or other construction vehicles, and sitting in trees to protest and block logging. The group is fragmented in order to protect its members (in fact, the best monkeywrenchers work alone). From what I can find, despite having a special section in the website called “Security Measures” and a call on the defenders that basically says, “Don’t get caught,” there are quite a few Earth First! members who are serving lengthy sentences in jail.

Yes, monkeywrenching can send you to jail.

In the movie DamNation, we get a glimpse of Earth First! defender Mikal Jakubal as he sneaks to the top of the O’Shaughnessy Dam in Yosemite’s Hetch Hetchy Valley, rappels down, and paints a giant crack down the face of the dam with the words, “Free the Rivers — J Muir.”

Imagine it. imagine yourself packing the car with the equipment you need: rock climbing gear, rope, paint, brushes, dark clothing, and a balaclava. Maybe some snacks for the road? Imagine the rush of adrenaline when you arrive, park your car off the road in the shadows. Imagine sneaking onto the bridge in the dark, deciding where to set up anchor, working as silently and as fast as you can. Keeping watch. Imagine trying to keep all the equipment from jiggling and making noise, and then the concentration that falls once you’re standing on the lip, taking that first step backwards into the ominous darkness that is the face of the dam, rappelling down. And finally, imagine the exhilaration of painting the words by the flimsy light of your headlamp, of painting the crack, of making your escape, hiking up quickly from the bottom of the dam. Your headlamp, a single ray of idealism in the darkness of capitalistic blight.

Have you noticed that darkness cannot overcome even the tinniest candle, but even the most feeble light can overpower the dark?

This is what legends are made of. These are acts that make history and inspire countless people. Brashness, courage, disregard to personal safety. Standing up for what’s right.

When I was 18, I wanted desperately to serve in the Israeli army in a position that would make a difference. I was an idealist, yearning to defend the land where I had grown up. Now, at 44, I am still an idealist, seeking for a way to defend another land which is as, or perhaps more, important: our land, where the wild still exists, and the living beings that exist on it.

I stand in defense of water, soil, and air. I stand in defense of Emigrant Wilderness, Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, the Boundary Waters. I stand in defense of the redwood trees and the mariposa lily, the ruby-throated hummingbird, manatees, and beluga whales. I stand in defense of our planet and its myriad of different species. In the light of recent events, I feel determined and resolved to do all in my power to protect those I love, from the smallest organism to the entire planet.

Now, ask yourself, where do you stand?

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The Crystal Merchant’s Dream

I just finished reading Paolo Coelho’s The Alchemist with the kids. I had read the book years ago and found it inspiring, with ideas that seemed to me radically new. Back then I was still only wishing for my own personal legend and not too sure which of my dreams I should follow (or maybe all). Reading the book with the kids gave me an entirely new perspective, especially since it was guided by (groan) summer assignment questions.

One of the questions asked whether or not we should fulfill our dreams. The main character in the book, who Coelho calls the boy, dreamed that he will find a treasure in the pyramids, but after arriving in Tangier all his money is stollen, and he is not sure how or even if to continue to follow his dream. He meets a crystal merchant and begins to work for him. The crystal merchant also has a dream, to go to Mecca and fulfill the last injunction left him as a Muslim. The boy encourages the merchant to go, but the latter explains that he does not wish to fulfill his dream. The dream is what keeps him alive, he says, and what will he have left without his dream?

After nearly a year with the merchant, the boy chooses to continue following his dream, his personal legend. Throughout the book the kids and I assumed that this meant finding the treasure, but when we began discussing which perspective we prefer, dreaming or fulfilling, we reached an unexpected conclusion. The treasure the boy finds is not the coins he unearths, or Fatima, the woman of the desert with whom he falls in love, or learning to understand the language of the world. The treasure that the boy finds is the path itself.

The boy leaves his job, his family, his sheep, and (later) Fatima behind in order to follow his dream. He makes a leap of faith and withstands the challenges thrown at him by the unplumeriaiverse. He lets go of what could have been and what will be and strikes out toward the unknown. The crystal merchant has a different perspective on fulfilling dreams. In his mind, he has already reached Mecca, prostrated himself in prayer, and headed back home. In fact, in his mind he is already back home. He looks around him and nothing has changed, except now he has no more dream to look forward to.

Except it is not the dream that matters but the path, the road chosen. It is not the fulfillment of the dream that is the dream but the process of fulfilling it: the people met on the way, the desert, the omens, the connection to oneself. Who knows what the crystal merchant would have become had he followed his dream? Who knows where the omens would have led him after he had arrived?

Having found his treasure of coins at the end of the book, the boy is far from having fulfilled his dream, because he is and always will be following the path of his personal legend. He did not limit that legend to the treasure, but allowed it to blossom as he went along. Finding the coins is only another step in his path, and the next already beckons with the whisper of perfume on the wind and the touch of a kiss. Fatima calls him. And who knows where his life will unfold from here.

Today and everyday, I wish you all success in taking that plunge into the unknown and finding the courage to follow your own personal legend and fulfill your own longtime dream.

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Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick

The place where my family and I live feels like a safe place. Sure, there’s earthquakes, landslides, car accidents and other hazards that pose some risk to our safety, but on a day-to-day basis we rarely, if ever, have to worry about them. The likelihood of a dictator taking over the United States and deciding to annihilate all Jewish Caucasian mothers, or any other racial denomination I belong to, is quite slim. I am, most likely and most often, safe.

I am unlikely to wake up one morning and be told to pack up only as much as I can carry and move to Central California, where from now on I will have to work in the rice fields day and night. Nor am I likely to find myself sitting in long meetings in which the shape of my nose or the color of my skin will be judged, and after which, those who have failed the test will be taken under the mango tree and beat to death with an axe.

Patricia McCormick’s Never Fall Down is a raw retelling of Arn Chorn-Pond’s experiences in Cambodia under the rule of the Khmer Rouge. Arn was just a child when the Khmer Rouge took over his village and told  the inhabitants that they must move to the countryside for “just three days.” Arn found himself working in the rice paddies, separated from his family, continually in danger for his life. The camp where he worked also served as an execution ground, and Arn realized his survival depended on the whims of the Khmer Rouge guards. He made himself a rule: Never fall down.

“Bend like the grass,” Arn’s aunt told him, and he tried to follow her advice. Despite never having played an instrument before, Arn volunteered to play the flute and became the leader of a band that was made to play to cover the noises of the executions. Later, as the Vietnamese began to advance, Arn had a weapon thrust in his arms and he became a boy soldier. With compassion and humanity, McCormick draws Arn’s portrait, a boy who does heart-rending things in order to survive. She shows with haunting clarity the boys bent in the rice fields, the ever-growing mound under the mango tree where a sickeningly sweet smell persists, the blank face of the music teacher, the line to receive the thin rice soup, and the boys crawling to reach the latrines.

My family and I live in a very safe place. Oak trees and tranquility rule outside my window. I am so grateful for having been born where I was. Many are not so lucky. So many children, adults, the old, are in need of homes, live without running water, struggle day to day to survive. I’d like to send my thoughts today to those in need, whether here in the United States, Cambodia, or elsewhere in our crazy, sometimes cruel world. I wish everyone could have a day of rest today, a day of sunshine and love.

Arn Chorn-Pond survived. He was adopted by an American U.N. worker, became a speaker about his experiences, and created several organizations that help children of war and that help return to Cambodia the traditional music and art which the Khmer Rouge had tried to eliminate.

Children of War is an organization that aids children held hostage by war and violence
Cambodian Living Arts (Facebook page) is an organization that helps preserve the traditional arts of Cambodia
Cambodian Volunteers for Community Development is an organization that provides computer skills and education to children, farmers, and others.
Arn Chorn-Pond speaker page
Arn Chorn-Pond’s homepage
Patricia McCormick’s homepage

Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley

In the musical Wicked, the Wizard of Oz taunts Elphaba: “Where I come from, we believe all sorts of things that aren’t true. We call it history. A man’s called a traitor or liberator. A rich man’s a thief or philanthropist. Is one a crusader or ruthless invader? It’s all in which label is able to persist.” The wizard’s words are cynical, but remind me of an important truth: history is what we remember after the fact. There is no such thing as an objective truth.

Flags of Our Fathers by James Bradley is the story of the famous photograph of the soldiers raising the flag on Iwo Jima. One of these soldiers is the author’s father, John Bradley. The author showcases the many coincidences, myths and inaccuracies which turned the photograph into perhaps the most well-known image of World War II and a publicly acknowledged symbol of heroism. The entire lifting of the flag was a four-second event. A 1/400the of a second exposure by a photographer who barely had time to see the image he was capturing on film before he pressed the button, and the result became a symbol of valor under fire.

Was the raising of the flag an act of heroism? For me, it surely was. Its inspiring symbolism, in fact, is the reason I picked up the book in the first place. James Bradley, however, tries to portray the act of raising the flag as an ordinary, unimportant moment which the flag raisers barely recalled after it passed. “I want you to always remember something,” John Bradley told his son when the latter asked about the photograph, “The heroes of Iwo Jima are the guys who didn’t come back.”

The moment of raising the flag takes up twelve pages in this two-hundred page book. Surrounding the famous moment are the six young flag raisers, their life and death, hopes and dreams, and the chain of events which made them into celebrity-heroes. The book is, most importantly, the story of the bloodiest battle of World War II, a battle which claimed over 26,000 casualties on the American side: 6,821 dead and 19,217 wounded, as well as 21,844 dead Japanese (out of 22,000 who were stationed on the island).

Inspiring courage was the only thing on my mind when I suggested the book to my son for his reading project. What both of us encountered was a completely different experience. “This is a book of death,” my son said after reading the chapter titled D-Day. This a book about the truth behind the symbol, I thought to myself. It’s a book about how terrible war is, how devastating to everyone involved, the soldiers, the officers, their families and even their future children. It’s about how, in history, we all too often choose to see only the aspect which pleases us.

The symbolism attached to the raising of the flag on Iwo Jima is an occasion to explore the misrepresentation of courage in battle in order to divert public attention from death and destruction to what is perceived as ideal: valor, the American spirit, and self-sacrifice. James Bradley does an excellent job in portraying the horrors of war side by side with acts of bravery, and the machinations of politicians side by side with the ordinariness of human courage. As he says at the end of the book:

“They were boys of common virtue.
Called to duty.
Brothers and sons. Friends and neighbors.
And fathers.
It’s as simple as that.”

This review refers to the Young Reader edition of the novel.

To find out more:
Iwo Jima memorial page
Flags of Our Fathers on GoodReads
Battle of Iwo Jima wikipedia page
The raising of the flag on Iwo Jima wikipedia page

Rereading the Lord of the Rings

I read the Hobbit when I was a teenager and loved it, all of it. I loved the dwarves and Bilbo. I loved Gandalf the Grey. I loved the beauty and music of the elves. I loved the dragon and the necromancer who makes Mirkwood an evil place.

The Hobbit, narrated by Rob Inglis

When I started the Lord of the Rings Trilogy, however, I found myself in an entirely different place. Evil threatened the world I have come to love. Darkness ruled. Frodo and his friends seemed to be journeying by night toward night, and I did not like this at all. I put the book aside and did not read it again till I was an adult. When I finally ventured into Middle Earth again, the danger facing Frodo and his friends was as real to me as before, but I was no longer attached to Middle Earth as it was in Bilbo’s time.

I fell deeply in love with Middle Earth. I walked in the darkness of Moria, floated on the river Anduin, and sang in the Last Happy Home. Till today, I can see in my mind the river in which Frodo faced the nine black riders and the chasm into which Gandalf fell with the Balrog. Middle Earth and its inhabitants were, and still are, as real to me as this earth, and perhaps, sometimes, more.

I began to listen to the Hobbit with the kids a few months ago, but they did not like the book. Too many difficult words, I think. I ended up listening by myself, and having finished it, immediately began the Lord of the Rings. My love for the book has only increased with the years. How well done it is! How magically real! How amazingly its descriptions throw me far in time and place so that I’m right there, at the table in Elrond’s house or in the elf boats, shooting downstream under the tall statues of the seated kings of old.

LOTR narrated by Rob Inglis

It doesn’t matter to me that there are few women in these books. I connect with the friendship between Gimli and Legolas, feel compassion for Boromir’s need to save his people and disgust with Gollum as he cowers and cheats and lies. I admire the loyalty of Sam, the quiet courage of Frodo, the natural kingliness of Aragorn, and I laugh with the two bumbling hobbits, Pippin and Merry, as they accidentally manage to raise an entire forest to war.

No other book has ever become so real to me. I have read it now more than twice or thrice, and still it sucks me deep into its world so that I no longer know where I am or what goes on around me. I hope that one day the kids will be open to listen to it, to share this love with me. For now, I guess I’ll just continue to allow the magic to emerge out of the words of the book as I listen to it in the car on my own. And if one day I disappear on the way, know that that’s where I went, to Middle Earth, to say hello to Gandalf, take a look at Sam’s elvish garden, ride on an eagle, see an elf, visit a dwarf in his home.

These are the audible books I’ve been listening to:
The Hobbit, unabridged, narrated by Rob Inglis
The Fellowship of the Ring, unabridged, narrated by Rob Inglis

Seducing Mr. Knightly by Maya Rodale

Annabelle Swift, the fourth writing girl from Maya Rodale’s Writing Girls series, never much attracted my notice. Quiet, shy, and easily overlooked, Annabelle did not strike me as having much potential to be the heroine of a sassy or steamy romance like her counterparts, fiery Julianna, daring Eliza or confident Sophie. Having read and loved the first three novels in the series, I wondered what kind of romance would befall Annabelle. She’s been in love with the newspaper’s owner, Derek Knightly, but that love, so far in the series, had only been expressed in a sigh upon his entrance to the weekly staff meeting. How would Annabelle seduce Mr. Knightly? I found I very much wanted to know.

Mr. Knightly, Annabelle’s employer and the object of her affections is a hard and unscrupulous man. He does not notice her as a woman or writer. He doesn’t even read her column, Dear Annabelle, in which Annabelle gives love and etiquette advice to the newspaper’s readers. Something drastic would have to happen, I thought, for that to change. Annabelle seducing Mr. Knightly seemed tantamount to the seduction of a lion by a mouse. But Annabelle, lovesick and feeling near to death with being sick from love, takes a desperate measure and instead of giving advice in her column, turns to London with a question of her own: “For the past few years I have loved a man from afar, and I fear he has taken no notice of me at all. I know not how to attract his attention and affection. Dear readers, please advise!”

Knightly expects that Annabelle is the last person in London to cause trouble, but as Annabelle discards her old habits by the advice of her readers, he soon learns to think otherwise. Annabelle lowers her bodice, buys herself new silken underthings, learns how to gaze at a man in a sultry fashion, practices fainting, climbs trees, and dares to keep going in her quest for love no matter how ridiculous, silly, or embarrassing it gets. With baited breath, I (and the rest of London) followed the progress of Annabelle’s attempts to gain Knightly’s attention, and fell completely in love.

“That was one amazing woman, sitting there, making herself invisible. She was kind, beautiful, generous, daring and funny. She possessed the courage to ask for help and to share her triumphs and embarrassments with the whole city. She possessed the strength to do the right thing even when it was the hard thing.”

A character like Annabelle is exactly why I love romance novels. Romances open up a possibility for grand gestures, self expression, and crazy daring in love which in real life most of us could only dream about. There is room, in romances, for women to be everything and anything they want to be, and they are always, always loved, appreciated, and accepted for it. Watching Annabelle put her heart on the line and go all the way for what she wants reminded me that getting hurt once in a while (as when Knightly asks her if she has something in her eye when she throws him a particularly seductive gaze) can be worth the risk in the long run, if one but has the courage to laugh, as Annabelle does over the pages of the newspaper: “…this led to a mortifying disaster. Rather than succumb to the fervor in my gaze, more than one person inquired if I had something stuck in my eye.”

Maya Rodale, I am a fan!

Click here for my review of Maya Rodale’s The Tattooed Duke
Maya Rodale’s Website
Maya Rodale’s GoodReads Page

Stephanie Laurens’ A Rogue’s Proposal

The word rogue has the following synonyms in my dictionary: scoundrel, villain, good for nothing, miscreant, reprobate, and wretch — and in its more archaic use: blackguard and knave. I’ve already written in the past about the abundance of rogues and rakes in romances — they are well loved. But in Stephanie Laurens’ romance, A Rogue’s Proposal, Demon (otherwise known as Harry or Harold) Cynster is a rogue of a different kind.

I did not fall in love with Demon — something that I absolutely am looking for in these romantic heroes. He irritated me from the first, chasing after Flick the boy who he suspects is a woman because of the shape of his (or rather, her) bottom. Mostly, however, Demon irritated me because he wouldn’t give Flick (Felicity) even the slightest chance to prove that she can get along just fine without being rescued by him. If he was a rogue, he was a rogue in that.

By continually rescuing Flick, Demon managed to compromise her honor twice, lost the trail of the man they were both following, and made Flick feel lonely and unloved (in an attempt to keep her reputation intact). Fortunately, Stephanie Laurens kept rescuing him: the lord who saw Flick and Demon together got mumps, Flick’s lenient and apparently too optimistic guardian always believed their stories, their quarry magically reappeared in the corner of the street in front of their eyes, and an old aunt popped up to explain to Flick why Demon was ignoring her.

So many romance novels present the strong, independent heroine. I felt sad for Flick to miss being in those ranks. A natural leader, responsible, led by a strong sense of justice and fairness, courageous to a fault, I wanted Flick to experience the same excitement and freedom as other regency heroines. Every time Demon stopped her from rushing headlong into an adventure, every time she felt she had to ask him for help, every time he rescued her from what he perceived as a threat, I cringed. I wanted Flick to get her wings.

Stephanie Laurens, however, had a plan, which perhaps I might have seen had I stopped being so irritated with Demon all the time. Demon is a man who is used to seeing women in black and white, as either weak and helpless maidens or as temptresses. Innocent yet smart, loyal, brave, and often rush, Flick is neither damsel in distress nor a woman of the world. Demon starts out by reluctantly allowing her to lead the way out of a room, but he ends up, whether he wants to or not, admitting that she’s just as capable of rescuing him as he is her.

I ended up enjoying this novel a lot more after I understood what Stephanie Laurens was about, though I did not love Demon to the end. Too controlling and uncommunicative to my taste. A Rogue’s Proposal is the fourth in the Cynster novels (of which there are twenty). I’m thinking I might check the first one out.

Check out my review of another Cynster Novel here: The Capture of the Earl of Glencrae

Ryan Porter’s Make Your Own Lunch

I used to make myself a sandwich for lunch while in elementary school. My mother insists, of course, that this is not true, and that I never (till today, probably) made my own lunch. And yet I distinctly remember making — and feeling bored with — my sandwiches of Israeli cream cheese on brown bread. Despite my discontent, I never considered making myself something else, not even a sandwich with chocolate spread or jam, though I am sure that those alternatives were available to me. I made myself the same uninspired sandwich every day, and every day I unhappily ate it for lunch.

Ryan Porter, in his fabulous, funny, and very inspiring “How To” book: Make Your Own Lunch, How to Live an Epically Epic Life of Epicness, reminds us that we make our own lunch, and that we can change that lunch whenever we want and whichever way we’d like. He encourages us to remember what exactly it means to dream and go after our dreams. He challenges us to let go of all other options, forget about plan B, close our ears to relatives’ cautions and warnings, and make a step-by-step plan, keeping our goals, dreams, and passions always before our eyes. He tells us: You don’t like the sandwich you make (or get) for lunch every day? Well then, it is time to make a new sandwich. Or maybe a salad, or even steak and fries.

Ryan Porter’s intended audience is high school students, but for me, at forty, the funny stories of his life and his astute insights worked just as well. I found myself wondering just why is it that I am not following my dreams with the single-minded focus that Porter champions? Why am I always ready with a plan B, and why is my attention engaged almost exclusively by the low likelihood of me becoming a published writer (or a reiki practitioner) in my preferred way?

At forty, I wish to let go of all my preconceived notions of why I cannot make my own lunch: I’m not ready; I don’t know enough; I’m not good enough; my parents would disapprove; my friends would think I’m strange; people will read my book and know that I thought about this; people will disagree with me; my siblings will be ashamed of me; the kids will be mad at me. And many many more. For this second part of my life, I would like to live an epically epic life of epicness, following my dreams and doing just what I want to do, with epic successes and epic fails, instead of just sitting at home afraid to venture.

Ryan Porter presents an idea so simple it is almost incomprehensible: set a goal, get rid of all the other options, and start moving, step by step, toward that goal. Don’t try to swallow that goal whole. Take small bites on the way. And behold: it is yours.

To check out more about Ryan Porter:
Make Your Own Lunch Website
Ryan Porter’s Youth Speaker Website
Ryan Porter on Youtube
Make Your Own Lunch on Amazon
Buy a paperback of Make Your Own Lunch from Porter’s website

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats by Jan Philipp Sendker

Like the stereotype of a bookish woman, I am extremely near-sighted. Without my contacts even a large human nose and bushy eyebrows blur together into one muddy featureless head. With my contact lenses, the world sharpens into clear shapes, colors and forms, and yet I am often surprised by how unobservant I am. I can rarely remember what people wear, notice a new haircut, or find my way again to an address I’ve traveled to before.

In Jan Philipp Sendker’s fabulous novel, The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, true sight comes not from seeing but through hearing. Tin Win is a Burmese boy who goes blind after his mother deserts him. Slowly other perceptions leak into Tin Win’s world. His hearing sharpens to the point where he can recognize a butterfly by the sound of its batting wings and an unborn chick by the beat of a heart. He can know if a person is happy, sad, tired, angry or even dying by the different heartbeats, and he can move through the village by the sounds of the breaths of a horse, a worm gnawing on a wood fence, or a woman chopping ginger in a nearby hut.

As the world comes into a new focus for Tin Win, he meets a young disabled woman, Mi Mi, and falls in love. With her words, Mi Mi helps Tin Win give names to the different sounds that he hears. Crawling about, she explores till she finds the worm that Tin Win heard or the egg in which beats the chick’s little heart. With Mi Mi, Tin Win learns the truth of his teacher’s promise, that nothing is more powerful than love. His blind world, now no longer empty because of his love for Mi Mi and his magical hearing, lights up.

“What is essential is invisible to the eyes,” Tin Win’s teacher tells him. When his uncle takes Tin Win away from his village and pays for surgery to fix his eyes, the young man struggles not to let his eyes come in the way of his hearing. He looks at all the colors, objects, shadows and curves, and they remain a photograph for him, lifeless. He longs to return to his village, to marry Mi Mi, to go back to how his life was before, but fate and his uncle have other plans for him.

The Art of Hearing Heartbeats is a love story, a mystery, and a tale of the magic in ordinary things. For Mi Mi and Tin Win their love is a source of inner happiness whether they are together or separated. Carried on the gentle waves of this lovely novel, I could glimpse both the selflessness and the selfishness of their love and the impact it had on the lives around them.

Sight and blindness come in different forms. Seeing eyes do not see everything, but — much though I would wish to have a hearing gift like Tin Win’s — neither does a listening heart. The humanity in this book, the tragedy of decisions made and connections severed and kept, make this novel linger in my mind over two weeks after I finished it.

Buy The Art of Hearing Heartsbeats on Amazon
The Art of Hearing Heartbeats on GoodReads

Review of Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen

For years, my sister believed that Robin Hood was a fox. The cause for her confusion is, of course, the Disney movie, Robin Hood. I, the book worm, knew better. To me, Robin Hood was a hero of a book, wearing a soft green buckskin cap and possessing unparalleled courage and faultless aim. Stealing from the rich to give to the poor, protecting the weak from the evil Prince John and his cohorts, living in the forest with other outlaws — I could not admire Robin Hood more.

I read several rave reviews about A.C, Gaughen’s novel Scarlet and reluctantly put it on my to-read list. A novel in which Will Scarlet is actually a girl sounded intriguing, but I wasn’t sure if I was ready to read a different version of Robin Hood. I didn’t know if I could take Will turning out to be a girl. In the end, however, I could not resist — Scarlet popped up everywhere. And so I sat down and read.

Some books take time to get into, but once I succeed in melting into their world, I find I have sunk so deep that I cannot pull myself out when the book ends. That’s what happened to me with Scarlet. For the first three or four chapters I remained skeptical, but then I got sucked in, and for the two days that it took me to finish the book I lived in two completely separate universes: my everyday life and Scar’s in Sherwood Forest. The day after I finished the novel I felt disoriented. Really? No more Scar? No More Rob? I wanted to see their cave again, to see Scar running in the trees, Rob’s stormy ocean eyes, and listen to John Little flirt and joke.

Scarlet is a novel with a twist. I won’t tell you what it is, but the twist surprised me. Perhaps I should have seen it coming, but I didn’t, and when the time came, I just loved so much that I did not foresee it. So often, I know from the beginning of a book what the end will be, and all that is left for me is to watch how the author carries me to where I know we’re going. With Scarlet, thinking that I know the story and thus must know its end, I found myself completely fooled.

Much in Scarlet is about what makes a hero. A. C. Gaughen pushes the limits of how accountable to the townspeople Robin Hood and Scar feel, to the point where they must save every one, whether by gathering tax money (and keeping the villagers  from spending it before it is due), rescuing them from jail or the gallows, and bringing them food. I hope the next novel will continue exploring this superman-like theme, and I wish that Scar and Rob can find some relief from their feelings of guilt and over-responsibility.

Scarlet on GoodReads

Sigal Tzoore (650) 815-5109