May 21, 2015

Peony

by Pearl S. Buck

A gentle, slow, rich story about a Jewish household that lives in China during the mid-nineteenth century. It is told from the viewpoint of a chinese bondmaid in the house, who was bought into service as a child to be companion to the merchant's only son, David. She grows up on very close terms with David, but when they become adults the dynamics change. Peony the bondmaid loves David, but it is beyond her status to ever marry him. His religion forbids him to keep her as a concubine, which the Chinese people would easily accept. Instead she remains in his house faithfully serving him, subtly maniuplating events and insinuating herself into schemes on whom David will marry- the pretty daughter of another merchant who would solidify a business partnership? or the beautiful strong Jewish daughter of the rabbi, whom his mother desires for him? I have never read anything about the assimilation of Jewish people into China before, so the full breadth of this story was very interesting. It's about much more than just the love story and the self-sacrifice that is Peony's life. It's about the meeting of two cultures, each with their pride and faithfulness, their laws and structure, their tolerance or prejudiced ideas. Older generations sought to hold onto their religious identity and keep their children from intermarriage, but slowly this dissolves through the years. David in particular has an awakening when he realizes he will not follow his mother's ideal path for him, nor exactly his father's, but must choose his own way.

All in all a very engaging read. It definitely encourages me to read more Pearl S. Buck- especially as this book is said to be not quite her best! I used to have The Good Earth on my shelf, can't find it now. I'm afraid I tried it several times when I was younger and got nowhere. I intend to find another copy and attempt it again. And others.

Rating: 4/5     312 pages, 1948

more opinions:
Book Nook Club
A Striped Armchair
Becky's Book Reviews

May 18, 2015

brief hiatus

My blogs are falling into the background right now- as you might have already noticed. I am facing some wonderful life-changing events. I'm getting married next month, then will be moving shortly after. Summer seems brief enough as it is, but now it's going to be very busy and go by quickly. So I am quite preoccupied right now planning a wedding (even a small, casual backyard event takes a lot of work) and all the tedious tasks that go along with moving the household...

I'm still reading of course- need to unwind and get my mind off things sometimes- but not nearly as much as usual and well, my mind tends to wander so the book posts might seem kind of hurried, unfocused or sporadic here for a while. If I seem to currently abandon a lot of books it's probably not their fault at all, just mine! if they appear to have potential regardless of my ability to focus, I will probably set some aside to give another try later.... And I haven't even opened my google reader in over a week- so I'm really behind and unaware of what is going on in the "blogosphere".

Catch up with you later!

May 16, 2015

The Singlehanders

the Evolution of a Lonely Art
by D.H. Clarke

Singlehanders are men (or women, though far less common) who sail boats all by themselves across an ocean or around the world. It's an amazing feat, whether done in desperation for survival due to some accident or stranding, or deliberate attempts. Lots and lots of men have done this- either sponsored into exploring, racing against each other, testing how far they could go or to what was out there, or just to prove to themselves/others that it could be done. To set records. The author here was really into this stuff and did singlehander journeys himself, and here he set down a record of all the people who've made attempts that aren't famous- all the unsung heroes. There's plenty of them. So their tales are short. It's heavy on names, and who-is-from-where and where-they-went-and-why and short on the details I like, the descriptions of the experience itself.  I just can't keep focus on this book. Maybe it's me. I started skimming a lot and the bits I did read where well-explained and interesting but I don't think I'll go back to it. It's only mildly interseting if, like me, you've never actually been sailing.

Abandoned        206 pages, 1975

May 12, 2015

Company K

by William March

I didn't expect to really like this book, but it grew on me. It's about WWI, a company of men marching through France, little stories from each of them. Some only a couple of paragraphs long, others several pages. Often two paired together showing the same incident from different viewpoints. The voices are not very distinct, but the individual responses to the horrors and senselessness of war are. Men befriending enemies and killing friends, injuring themselves on purpose to get out of fighting, searching for solace with women along the way, misunderstanding the locals in the countryside, insurgency and bravery and cowardice, pain and suffering and bewilderment. It's gruesome in many parts, in a straightforward, matter-of-fact way. Roughly chronological, although there really is no storyline to follow, just pieces here and there of each man's experience. Eagerness at the beginning when the men are first enlisted and training, the long slog, the growing horrors, the numbness and fear and everything else, what it was like for many of them to come home. Lauded when they didn't deserve or want it, others ignored when they had gone through the most, difficulties making their lives again. Reminded me some of Strange Meeting by Susan Hill.

Rating: 3/5      183 pages, 1933

May 11, 2015

Ask the Animals

Bruce R. Coston

A vet looks back on his early training and development of his own practice, relating stories of animals that are brought in to see him, their ailments and cures, plus things that revolve around the pet owners involved and his own family. In a friendly fashion, it's a comprehensive look of what a vet's life is like, I think- from descriptions of studies in veterinary college, early work in other practices and establishing his own office to tales of repeat clients, following the animals through their lives. It was kind of nice to see some animals and their owners make repeat appearances- I don't usually find that in vet books, which are often a collection of separate clinical stories (not as dry as that sounds). This one has a lot more about people- in particular, there's one whole chapter about the author's graduation day, another about how he meets, woos and finally proposes to his wife, another about an embarrassing night trying to eat out with his parents and new wife after they've moved to a new town... they're nice stories, but didn't quite fit in with what I wanted to read about! Which was the animals, mostly. Some of the stories are quite touching, like the ones about malnourished abandoned kittens that are brought back to health to become mascots at the vet's office, or the one about how the vet lost his own cat from his own clinic (while away on vacation) and finally tracked it down, to a tearful reunion. Most of the stories are what you'd usually find- about various injuries and illnesses, surprising cases, difficult ones, a few amusing. About the difficulties people have with affording care, tough decisions when nothing can be done or it isn't affordable, and how a wealthy friend of his set up a foundation to assist other pet owners in need. That was nice. Oh, and there's one chapter about a crazy-late-hour phone call the author received from a woman concerned that the egg she'd started boiling had a live chick inside (due to a squeaking sound). Rational explanations did not work- he was talking in circles with her- it was hilarious.

This book doesn't really deserve the 2 I gave it, it's just my personal response. By the last few chapters I was quickly loosing focus and just skimming stuff. It's fairly repetitive of so many other vet books I've read, and the writing style wasn't quite funny or engaging enough to keep me interested regardless.

Rating: 2/5      274 pages, 2009

May 8, 2015

The Worst Princess

by Anna Kemp

Princess Sue is pining around waiting for a prince to come and sweep her off her feet. When a prince finally arrives at her castle, she's ecstatic- until she realizes his plans for her. Her new prince expects his lady love to stay in the castle, try on pretty dresses and "just smile a lot and twist your curls." Princess Sue is incensed- she wants to ride horses and have adventures. Not one to accept defeat, she teams up with a dragon to realize her dreams. Great fun. Love the bright, slightly sketchy illustrations by Sara Ogilvie. It's also nicely written, the rhyming text flows smoothly when read aloud. And funny, to the right listener- my ten-year-old was listening on the other side of the room and kept giggling quietly as I read this at bedtime to her younger sister. The story really reminds me a lot of The Paper Bag Princess.

Rating: 4/5      32 pages

more opinions:
Vulpes Libris
Waking Brain Cells
Jen Robinson's Book Page
My Favorite Books

May 6, 2015

Saving Simon

by Jon Katz

Katz says he steers clear of the animal rescue world, in general. But people knew he had a few donkeys already, so when Simon was pulled off a farm where he'd been left in a small pen to die, they contacted him. The animal was terribly neglected, but with care and tending to he recovered well, became dominant animal on the farm, making his personality known. His wife, his dogs, his other donkeys, an aged pony that lives on another farm nearby, strangers driving down the road and people who come as tourists, all interact with Simon. There are lots of adjustments to make, and they don't all go well. The author likes to point out frequently that animals act on instinct and conditioning, not emotional and reasoning like us- so although he expects Simon to be gentle and grateful after his rescue, once the donkey is recovered he acts like, well, a donkey (which include aggression towards other animals he views as a threat). The story is not just about a donkey's recovery and connection to people, but a lot of musings on compassion. The most interesting (and polarizing, if you glance at the online reviews) aspect of it all is that Katz wonders why we tend to show more compassion and caring to animals in need than to people in difficult or demoralizing circumstances. He approaches the man who was fined for abusing Simon, in an effort at understanding. Unfortunately as in some prior books, when Katz finds that some of his animals are suffering and unlikely to recover from an illness, or that the situation is untenable, he has them put down. A lot of people find this unacceptable. He states his reasons but it's hard to read about.

Rating: 3/5    209 pages, 2014

May 3, 2015

Rabbit's Wooly Sweater

by Mark Birchall

Really cute book I found at the library with my kids the other day. Little Rabbit's aunt knits her a wooly striped sweater, but she doesn't want to wear it. She wants her toy doll Mr. Cuddles (who does everything with her) to have one too, and besides it's too big. Her mom insists the sweater is lovely, and makes her wear it to play outside. Rabbit takes her sweater off at the park and leaves it behind, but someone finds it and brings it home for her- all dirty from laying on the ground and getting kicked around in a soccer game. Into the washing machine it goes- and it shrinks! Much to small now. What will Rabbit do?

The pictures are lively and charming- they look very freehand. And the story presents a predicament lots of kids will be familiar with- disliking a well-intended gift, wanting something different... with a nice ending here. I liked it enough I'm looking to find other books by this author to read to my three-year-old too.

Rating: 3/5      24 pages, 2000

May 2, 2015

Ishi: in Two Worlds

by Theodora Kroeber

Ishi was the sole survivor of his tribe- one of the Yani that had lived in California for centuries before the gold rush overran their land with settlers and miners. Displaced by the encroaching white man and loosing their already tenuous livelihood when game was driven away or slaughtered, his people naturally turned to hunting the new animals settlers brought with them- cattle, sheep, horses. They didn't realize these animals belonged to men, as their only domestic animals were dogs. Retaliation was harsh. To keep it short, his tribe was deliberately exterminated. When Ishi was ten years old, the remaining few dozen of his people went into hiding after a devastating massacre. They were pretty much unseen, unheard of for several more decades until in 1908 a group of surveyors happened across a hidden camp where three or four people were living- including Ishi. He fled one way, his sister another, they never saw each other again. Three years later, in 1911, Ishi stumbled out into the modern world. He was in his early fifties. He had lived his entire life in a state of warfare, hiding from enemies, in fear of his life, watching his people dwindle, seeing his loved ones die. Can you imagine, after decades of living in a small group forever in hiding, after having wandered alone for months perhaps several years without a person to speak to, to then walk into the camp of your lifelong enemies, probably expecting to die at their hands?

And yet Ishi, to all accounts, seems to have handled his introduction into the modern world very well, After the initial shock, he realized people meant him no harm. People were so curious to see "the wild man" he was at first locked up in jail for his own safety, then taken to a university where eager anthropologists wished to learn about his vanished tribe, to study him. It sounds as if they were very gracious about it. Ishi had living quarters in the museum. A member of another California tribe was found who spoke a neighboring dialect, so language was not a complete barrier. Ishi learned enough rudimentary English to communicate fairly well. He adapted quickly to using modern conveniences; it was interesting to see which modern implements he admired and appreciated for the work they saved, and which he found puzzling or amusing- the telephone he seemed to consider a toy. He did not pine for his old way of life, in fact rarely spoke of it and never divulged much about his past- probably the memories were too painful. But he was content to demonstrate his skills over and over again to museum visitors and others- making bows and arrows, starting a fire, knapping arrowheads and so forth.

It is a very sober and intriguing story. Parts of it I found very interesting, others quite dry. This account is written in such a straightforward fashion, very factual and often dull to read. It's only by reading between the lines that you start to wonder what this man was really like, what a shock he must have experienced. The way Kroeber tells it, he was so grateful and glad to have human company again, he always wanted to be surrounded by others, to be among friends, never desired to go back and live in the hills again. Was cheerful, easily amused, patient and steady temperament, content with his life. A lot of the book is about the history of the area, the linguistic development of his tribe, what is known about their distribution and culture, early accounts from settlers in the area of conflicts and so on. It's very informative, but hard to get an idea of the human experience, the real person. I am glad to have read the book, to know what it contains, but it's not one I'm likely to read again just for enjoyment.

Rating: 3/5        255 pages, 1961