Oct 13, 2015

puzzle 3

Here's an old puzzle. It's a 550 piece Kodacolor with teal colored backsides. The pieces are very uniform- I don't think there's a single piece in this puzzle that doesn't have two bumps and two holes (aside from the edges of course), so putting it together is all a matter of matching colors. The pieces are too small to easily visualize slight differences in shape. Surprisingly, I enjoyed this one- the foliage is a challenge. And my kids were all into it just because the kittens are cute!
I didn't make an effort to challenge myself on this one, but just started with the areas of greatest contrast or interest, and worked from there.

Oct 11, 2015

Seven Wild Sisters

by Charles de Lint

Just for fun I read another book connected to The Cats of Tanglewood Forest- this one tells another adventure set decades later. Lillian of the first book is now an old lady. A family of girls lives down the hill- seven red-haired sisters. They all have their own interests and personalities of course, which comes into play significantly in the story. One girl meets Lilian, goes off collecting ginseng root in the forests, and rescues a 'sangman (personification of the spirit of the ginseng I guess) who had been injured. Her good deed is seen as an unwanted intrusion into an ancient quarrel between two groups of fairies- the woodsy root-like 'sangmen and the bee fairies. As one sister gets drawn into the strife, others do also- several sets of twins are taken hostage by either side, there are bargains and fiddling contests (that fail) and strange magical characters and differing codes of honor and fair play among the fairies. Lots of familiar themes with a new turn. I did like that.

But it wasn't quite enjoyable. Too many sisters to keep track of, not enough depth or story for my liking. I wanted more of the cat-man L'il Pater! There were hints of other stories untold- some secret history between Lilian and the Apple Tree Man that I don't recall at all from Cats of Tanglewood Forest, and suggestions of another story that might someday follow this one. I don't know if I'll ever feel motivated to pick it up, though.

It was curious to see some similar themes to another very different book I just read, A Girl of the Limberlost. Here we also had a woman protecting acres and acres of land, refusing to fell the trees for profit, handing ownership to a younger woman with an injunction to keep it whole... People living close to the land, using their own resources. I kind of wished for more of that stuff and less of the fairies, but then it wouldn't have been the same story at all!

Rating: 2/5        260 pages, 2014

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Oct 9, 2015

A Circle of Cats

by Charles de Lint

This is the original telling of Charles de Lint's fable about a girl who gets bitten by a poisonous snake and saved by a bunch of wild cats. To escape death, they magically turn her into a cat. She doesn't want to be a cat and her first thought is to find out how to get changed back into a girl. At first she believes that fairies turned her into a cat, but an owl sets her straight. This story is rather brief; the girl goes straight to the spirit of the apple tree and the panther Father of Cats himself for her remedy. It's still got a lot of charm and good morale (about repay your debts and making wise choices) but personally I like the expanded version The Cats of Tanglewood Forest better. I'm glad he wrote it. The illustrations by Charles Vess are better in the second book, too.

I saw this one mentioned on Puss Reboots, which prompted me to pick it up at the library.

Rating: 3/5        52 pages, 2003

Oct 8, 2015

A Girl of the Limberlost

by Gene Stratton Porter

If you loved Anne of Green Gables, you're sure to like this book. It has a rather similar story, set in the late 1800's. Elnora lives with her distant, embittered mother on the edge of an Indiana swampland. Her mother has a cold, unfeeling attitude due to the father's untimely death when Elnora was an infant, and yet Elnora is patient, kind and understanding beyond measure. She loves the wild things of the woodlands, especially the large, beautiful moths which she collects and studies. Her greatest dream is to attend school but she has no money to pay for books and tuition, and her mother refuses to help. She doesn't want the assistance neighbors and friends offer, either, but finds a way to use her knowledge of the forest and her moth collection to raise money for highschool. Through many setbacks, Elnora comes through with determination and not a little cleverness in finding solutions as new problems that arise. The storyline shifts directions when a revelation about the past changes her mother's attitude towards her. Later Elnora is attempting to raise college funds when she meets a young man from the city who is spending time in the countryside to convalesce from an illness. You can guess right away that something will develop between these two, but it's complicated by the fact that the young man is already betrothed to a wealthy, primping lady who isn't about to let some unknown country girl disrupt her engagement. It does end well, but the route to that ending was not what I expected, and really made the moral fiber of these characters shine.

It's a really good book, and I'm a bit disappointed that I didn't actually love it. In the first place, I was expecting more nature writing, or at least descriptions of the swamp habitat. There's not much of that. In fact, there wasn't any of it for the first 150 pages. I almost wonder if the book I read was missing some of the original? because a few other reviews I see online mention the first few chapters of the book having wonderful descriptions of nature in the swamp and forest, whereas the first chapter I read was about Elnora going to school... And the parts about moth collecting aren't until the later third of the book.

It's really mostly about relationships and while that is interesting enough to make a good story, the people are a bit too noble and kind in these pages, a bit hard to believe. The turnaround Elnora's mother makes is also hard to credit, so instant and complete. I was also rather dismayed how much importance everyone put on appearances, that Elnora and all those around her were so set on getting her nice clothes to wear so she wouldn't be scorned and laughed at by other kids at school. I think it would have made a much bolder story if Elnora had found acceptance in spite of her old-fashioned, poverty-stricken looks. And it distressed me how much neighbors kept urging Elnora's mother to sell portions of her land for logging or oil drilling, so she could provide for her child. Both mother and child obviously loved the land and didn't want to see it despoiled, yet they couldn't be in accord with each other? And if she so loved the forest, why did she have so few qualms about collecting hundreds of moths and cocoons, especially the rare ones, to sell to collectors? Grated, they kept stating how important it was to educate other folks about wild things, but it seemed a hollow rationale to me.

Am I being too nitpicky? I probably would have adored this book as a younger reader, and I do love the solid message it gives of being honest and forthright, forgiving and true to yourself, kind to those in need, etc. The love story that unfolds near the end of the book is particularly well done. It shows just how true certain people can be, and how spiteful others. How some people are attracted to each other for all the wrong reasons, and how deep love can go when you approach it in the right way (at least, in my opinion). Elnora sure is an admirable character. (Oh, and did I mention she is pretty much a self-taught genius at playing the violin?)

But I do want to read more of this author's work, particularly Freckles, which precedes this story. Its characters and events were alluded to a lot, without enough satisfactory explanation. The author wrote as if she expected her readers already knew half her characters from before, and while I often find rehashing of previous books annoying, here I did want a little more backstory! Maybe I would have appreciated Limberlost a bit more, if I'd read Freckles first?

Bonus material: looking for pictures of the beautiful moths mentioned in the book, I found these images of incredible moth sculptures by artist Michelle Stitzlein

Rating: 3/5      485 pages, 1991

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Oct 5, 2015


by Toni Morrison

Beloved is the story of a family that escaped from slavery, crossing state lines to get away from a situation of horrible abuse. The main character, Sethe, goes through some awful things to reach freedom, and ends up in a lonely house- loosing nearly everyone she cares about- her youngest child dead, her older sons run away, her husband is missing, and the local community shuns her. I thought at first this was because her house is haunted, but it turns out there is something horrific in her past and for this all the faces turn away from her. She is only left with her daughter Denver, who was born while she was fleeing the old plantation. This daughter grew up in isolation with her in the haunted house, until two people appear on their doorstep- one Paul D, a former slave from the same plantation as Sethe, and a strange young woman who is silent about her past and where she came from. Sethe takes her in regardless, and the relationship between these four is rocky, especially because the adults are suffering through the memories of their past, struggling to find new identity as free people- how do you decide what to do, what to become, when all you've ever known is what other people forced you to be...

This book is raw, powerful, and convoluted. I had a hard time with it. Not just because the content is often difficult to read about- the characters suffer through things no one should have to endure and they don't fall down and quit but just keep on going- also because it's told in such a circular style. Constantly turning on itself, as characters remember and relive and re-explain their past, to themselves and to one another. First from one viewpoint, then another, then someone else retelling the story as it was told them by a third. I was baffled, at first, not always sure whether I was reading about the present or the past, until I saw certain events cropping up again, and realized the narrative was looping around. Each time a little more is revealed until you reach the final revelation of what it is Sethe has done, why she is so haunted, why the community avoids her. It's heartbreaking. I can't stop thinking about it.

Such a vivid narrative, and yet at the end I don't think I liked it much. Partly because I'm just not into ghost stories, but I made myself finish this one. Also there are certain things I would just rather not know. I had to shut the book for a day my insides clenched shock brain reacting: how could people do that to each other?! and this happens several times. I hope the author is exaggerating what bad situations were like for slaves in the late 1800's, but she's probably not, which is all the more terrible. Years ago I tried reading The Bluest Eye and just could not get through it. I think of two other books I read not so long ago about a similar time period and events- Cold Mountain and The Book of Negroes- they remind me of each other and they were a lot easier to read. But even though I don't personally like this book, the writing is good and I can't fault her skill. The stories she tells need to be told, but sometimes I'm not sure I want to read them.

Rating: 3/5     273 pages, 1987

more opinions:
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I'm Lost in Books
Estellas Revenge
The Literary Omnivore
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Oct 1, 2015

Wesley the Owl

by Stacey O'Brien

I laughed, cringed and wowed my way through this book in just two days. It's that good. Stacey O'Brien is a biologist who worked at Caltech and was given the opportunity to raise a disabled owl. She found out quickly that this would be a lifetime commitment- the owl could never be released into the wild, would imprint upon her as its mother (and later, its mate) and could fall into a serious depression if later separated from her. It turns out owls are very sensitive, devoted to their chosen companion and quite intelligent in their own way. It was delightful to read about all the surprising things O'Brien learned about owls while caring for Wesley, and the deep bond they developed. I absorbed all the little details about the owl's development and behavior, but even more fascinating were the uncommon things he did- learning to recognize what certain words meant, expressing delight at playing in water (owl feathers are not waterproof, they usually avoid getting wet) and modifying his vocalizations to communicate what he wanted. It is definitely a special person who will tolerate an owl as a housemate- Wesley needed to eat freshly killed or frozen mice every day (dealing with that sounds rather disgusting), liked to shred piles of magazines and had several unpleasant-sounding habits. Some of the things O'Brien describes doing as matter-of-course during her research work at Caltech also would make my stomach turn. But I liked her descriptions of the camaraderie among scientists and the local mini-culture there, as well as the work other biologists she knew were involved with. And the owl of course true to his wild nature is described as a fascinating, endearing and beautiful creature, even though he has a few disgusting habits.

I will tell you, the book does have a sad ending, and it's not only because the owl reached the end of his (very long, being so well-cared for) lifespan- it's also because the author went through some serious illness and suffering. She remained devoted to her owl regardless. What a great book.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5        229 pages, 2008

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A Bit Bookish
Bibliophile by the Sea
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Sep 30, 2015

Adventures in Birding

Confessions of a Lister
by Jean Piatt

The author describes in this book how he got into the hobby of bird-watching. At first just a casual interest, he soon joined the ranks of those intent upon fulfilling a life list of all the different species they've seen. The grand goal is 600, once someone has listed 600 birds they become members of an exclusive club. He picked up the birding passion with his wife; together they explored all nearby locales in search of birds and then began taking trips to further parts of the country specifically to look for birds. Somewhat disorganized and unplanned at first, he soon learned to tap into local knowledge and find the people who could point out where certain birds were to be found. Sometimes they were nesting in one particular thicket on one side of a road only, for years on end! The first portion of the book is about their travels around, meeting with people, associating with other birders, the oft-embarassing moments of mis-identification in the field. Other chapters describe the basic taxonomy of birds, the organization of birding clubs, the rules surrounding official lists and the confusion that ensues when species are re-named or re-assigned thus invalidating some names birders have already counted, and so on. The accompanying illustrations by Matthew Kalmenoff are very nice.

But I'm not the right reader for this book, it seems. I found it only mildly interesting and before long, just tedious. The author likes to use eloquent phrases and quote literature in relation to his feathered interests, but it often came across as stiff or pretentious, to me. This book is not well-known; I only found three reviews online yet they all praise it highly. They all seem to be birders themselves, though. I was curious to learn more about this hobby- I learned that it's probably something I'll never do!

Abandoned        265 pages, 1973

Sep 29, 2015


the Pup After Merle
by Ted Kerasote

A year or two after the famous Merle passed on, his owner got a new puppy and named him Pukka. This is Pukka's story. How he came into the author's life, got to know neighbors, learned doggy skills and basic obedience, went adventuring with his new owner on hikes and even river trips. It's told from the dog's perspective, which in this case is charming and I think would make the book appealing for younger readers too. It's mostly presented in photographs, and they are very nice. The scenery is gorgeous, the photos taken in the Seattle, WA area of course make me feel nostalgic. And the puppy is darn cute. He doesn't do anything extraordinary, but such a nice dog and the storyline shows how a puppy can become well-adjusted, learn new situations and some basic rules, and in this case, have freedom to roam while near home but accept leash laws when out and about on public streets (they live in a rural area of Wyoming). This book has a different feel from Merle's Door, very casual and an easy read- I finished it in one sitting.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5       200 pages, 2010

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Sep 28, 2015


Four days ago I forgot to mention the oddest thing I came across while reading Wild Heritage. Typos always jump out at me- spelling and grammar errors, letters switched around, mistaken homonyms and so on. But this was something I've never seen before. Does this passage make any sense when you read it as printed? (page 112 in my edition)
Nope. You have to read the two lines highlighted yellow first, followed by the two highlighted in blue.
Somehow when the book was printed, these four lines got switched around. It really puzzled me when I first read the page, could not figure out what was wrong at first! Have you ever found a strange typo or printing error in a book? (I have another book on my shelf that has the first twenty pages included twice).