Oct 31, 2007

The Chimps of Mt. Asserik

by Stella Brewer

It always gives me a thrill when a book I'm reading refers to another one I know well. Many years ago I read In the Shadow of Man, a book on wild chimpanzees in Gombe by scientist Jane Goodall, and was totally enthralled. Last week I stumbled upon The Chimps of Mt. Asserik in a garage sale. It is also about chimps in Africa. The author, Stella Brewer, grew up in a house full of pets and rescued orphaned wildlife. Eventually she and her father established a piece of wilderness in the Gambia as a national park, where they built a center for orphaned chimpanzees. Brewer was shocked one day to see a chimp capture and eat a monkey, having assumed them to be vegetarian. She found through reading Goodall's book that chimps do eat meat, a discovery Goodall had recently made herself. Brewer visited Gombe to learn more from Jane Goodall and observe wild chimpanzees. She returned to Gambia with dreams of rehabilitating chimps to the wild and eventually found an area around Mt. Asserik in Senegal where she taught and released eight different chimps. The most wonderous aspects of this book are examples of the chimpanzees' high intelligence, keen observation and ability to learn, portraits of their strong personalities and the inspirational work of one woman dedicated to improving their lives.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 302 pages w/77 photographs, 1978

Oct 29, 2007

The Dogs Who Found Me

What I've Learned from Pets Who were Left Behind
by Ken Foster

Most of us probably don't notice a stray dog wandering on the street, or care when neighbors move away and don't take their dog with them. Not Ken Foster. He notices when lost dogs are in need, and takes them in, regardless of the inconvenience. In this heartwarming and frankly presented book, Foster tells of his experiences rescuing dogs off the street, caring for them and trying to find them homes. Many of them are pit bulls or similar breeds, so he addresses some of the issues with those types of dogs. Interspersed with the narrative are some helpful and sometimes wryly sarcastic lists on topics like "how to loose your best friend" (a dog), "how to read a dog" and "how to prepare for the unexpected" (disasters, as Foster discusses impacts of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina on his life and the dogs). There is a lot of good advice on how to deal with strange dogs and negotiate rescues and re-homing. The Dogs Who Found Me is a very interesting book, with many particularly apt observations on the human/dog relationship in the modern world.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 194 pages, 2006

Oct 27, 2007

Meme: with Abandon?

Posted on Booking Through Thursday by Cereal Box Reader:
I would enjoy reading a meme about people’s abandoned books. The books that you start but don’t finish say as much about you as the ones you actually read, sometimes because of the books themselves or because of the circumstances that prevent you from finishing. So . . . what books have you abandoned and why?

I don't think I've ever let circumstances make me abandon a book, except once. I felt my husband was getting addicted to a television show and he countered saying he was just as involved with the characters as I was with characters in the book I was reading, he couldn't stop watching every episode to find out what happened any more than I could quit reading the book. To prove him wrong I quit reading that book and picked up a new one! It was City of Joy by Dominique Lapierre. I really need to go back and finish it!

Other than that, I only abandon a book if I really don't like it. I've actually abandoned many books, although I'm not sure at what point it's abandonment and what point just quitting a trial reading. Often after skimming and determining I want to try a book, I'll find it intolerable or boring after just one chapter and quit. Sometimes I'll get halfway through a book before I realize I'd rather be reading something else. I have no qualms about quitting then either. There's just too much to read out there to waste it on something I'm not enjoying! Or learning from. Usually if I get more than halfway through, I'll make a good effort to finish, or at least skip to the end and see what happens. You can see a list of books I abandoned recently here. It really does say a lot about someone's taste in books to see what they don't like reading. I began keeping track of books I abandoned to prevent myself from trying them again after I've forgotten all about them.

I usually don't like books that have too much sex or swearing, are full of action and little character development, have unrealistic or unbelievable characters, awkward dialog, silly phrases, dull writing, or that feel to me boring, contrived, cliche or pretentious. Or if I am just not interested in the subject matter. Really it's all a matter of taste. There have been occasions where I tried and abandoned a book several times, and on a later attempt absolutely loved it! National Velvet and The Plague Dogs are two examples. Sometimes I'm just not in the mood for a certain type of book, but if it looks good enough I'll attempt it later.

Oct 26, 2007

Send In the Idiots

Stories from the Other Side of Autism
by Kamran Nazeer

In the early 80's when Kamran Nazeer was four years old, he attended a small private school in New York that was one of the first of its kind, designed to help children with autism. Twenty years later, Nazeer seeks out his former classmates (and one of his teachers). Out of a dozen, he connects with three who allow him to visit them, and the family of a fourth (who had committed suicide). Nazeer takes us with him into the daily lives of four individuals with autism: a speechwriter, bicycle messenger, pianist and a computer engineer. Each with their own individual quirks, personal trials and significant accomplishments. His exploration of autism is full of reflection on his own experience, compassionate inquiry into how autistic people relate to the world, surprising insights into how relationships work and examination of how exactly we connect with one another through language, gesture and unspoken rules of courtesy. Send in the Idiots is a fascinating look into what it is that makes us human.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 230 pages, 2006

Oct 25, 2007

A View from the Zoo

by Gary Richmond

The author is a pastor who used to be a zookeeper. He recounts his experiences with animals at the Los Angeles Zoo in the late '60s. I enjoyed reading about the captive wildlife, but could have done without the little morality plugs at the end of each story. It got annoying enough that I started skipping the last few paragraphs of each chapter (which are pretty short), so I suppose I can say I only read three-quarters of A View from the Zoo. The author has written a second book on the same subject, but I'm not tempted to read it unless he can stick to the anecdotes about animals. I don't mind observations and reflections on life lessons taught by animals, but his are just too preachy.

Rating: 2/5 ........ 206 pages, 1987

Oct 24, 2007

The Ice Child

by Elizabeth McGregor

Something about this book just didn't catch my interest. Lost arctic explorers, reporters who can't put the story down, and a polar bear and cub on the ice seemed interesting enough but my mind kept wandering away. Made it through 45 pages and that was it.

Abandoned ...0/5.. 372 pages, 2001

My Sister's Keeper

by Jodi Picoult

Kate is born with a rare form of leukemia. She needs a perfectly matched blood donor for a procedure. Since none of her family members match, and using an unrelated donor is too risky, her parents conceive a child that has been genetically selected to be her match. When Anna is born, initially they only take her umbilical cord blood for her sister, something she never knows about or misses. But when Anna turns five, she begins more painful procedures to donate platelets, blood, bone marrow etc to her sister. By the time Anna is thirteen, she's questioning if she wants to continue making donations to Kate, and just at the moment when Kate is in critical need that requires an invasive procedure on her sister to save her life, Anna instigates a lawsuit against her parents for the right to make decisions about the use of her own body.

Although this book has to do with genetic engineering and human rights, it's more about choices and decision making. It focuses on two main ideas: "The safety of the rescuer is of higher priority than the safety of the victim. Always." Is it? And "You don't love someone because they're perfect... you love them in spite of the fact that they're not."

I started out really enjoying My Sister's Keeper, but by the time I reached the end, I was getting tired of it. Some aspects of the story were just too contrived and obvious, like the purpose of the dog, and the lawyer meeting up with an old girlfriend he has to work on the case with. Then at the end Picoult throws in an unexpected twist that is supposed to make the story really wrenching but instead just made me mad! I didn't like the way it ended at all.

Rating: 2/5 ........ 423 pages, 2004

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Oct 23, 2007

A Real Boy

A True Story of Autism, Early Intervention, and Recovery
by Christina Adams

I don't recall when exactly I read A Real Boy, because somehow I failed to enter it in my booklog (a small notebook where I write down titles of books I've read, to keep track). But it must have been around the same time as Mozart and the Whale and a half dozen other books I read on the subject at the time (when one catches my interest, I tend to run away with it!) Of all those books, this one was the most accessible and easy to read. Probably because it is a personal account: of one woman's struggle to achieve recovery for her son from autism. It tells of her emotional upheavals learning her son had an incurable developmental disability. Her persistence is unwavering in seeking out experts and innovative treatments, networking with other parents of autistic children, and implementing relentless routines and therapies at home, even to the point of exhaustion. To what end? You will have to read the book! I do not have any personal experience with autism, so I can't evaluate this book on that account; for a review from Kristina Chew, PhD at AutismVox.com, go here. All I can say is I really enjoyed this book, it was compelling, inspiring and poignant, and I learned something about what it is like to live with autism in the family.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 318 pages, 2005

Oct 22, 2007

The Cat Who Cried for Help

Attitudes, Emotions, and the Psychology of Cats
by Dr. Nicholas Dodman

The author is a professor of behavioral pharmacology at the Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine. He specializes in the behavioral problems of domestic animals. In The Cat Who Cried for Help he writes about feline patients seen through the Behavioral Clinic at the University, where he is the director. All kinds of kitty troubles are brought to the doctor: litterbox aversion, overeating, furniture shredding and attack cats are some of the more common problems. There are also cats who suck holes in wool sweaters, cats who wail through the night, cats who chew their own fur off, gnaw apart sneakers, act like they see ghosts, and one male cat who had a strong romantic attraction to socks. Dodman explains in depth many of the reasons why cats behave so strangely: territorial issues, socialization problems, boredom, frustration, anxiety, stress and phobias among them. His patience in helping clients get to the bottom of their pets' misbehavior and find ways to remedy their situations is admirable. Contrary to popular belief, Dodman shows that cats can be trained to change their behavior and annoying habits. A great book for anyone who shares a home with a cat and wants to better understand the nature of these independent creatures.

Rating: 3/5 Published ........ 235 pages, 1997

Oct 21, 2007

What the Dog Did

Tales From a Formerly Reluctant Dog Owner
by Emily Yoffe

I call What the Dog Did a great book not because it's great literature but because I really enjoyed reading it, and I'd probably pick it up to put in my library if I saw it in a bookstore. It's about a cat-owner's induction into the world of dog lovers. Not just any dog lover, it turns out, but those specific to beagles. She goes from being the unwilling owner of a stray and neurotic beagle to participating heavily in a beagle rescue group and fostering rescued beagles who are waiting for homes. I learned a lot about the temperament of beagles, field hunting trials and why they can make difficult pets. It was amusing to read about the general adventures and mishaps in the life of a dog owner and all the different people and dogs she met. A good book if you're fond of dogs or want a laugh.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 258 pages, 2005

Oct 19, 2007

My Posse Don't Do Homework

by LouAnne Johnson

My Posse Don't Do Homework is the true account of an ex-Marine who becomes a teacher in a California high school. She ends up with a class of the worst-behaved kids in the school, near juvenile delinquents who consistently fail classes, threaten other students and went so far as to put their previous teacher in the hospital. Determined to prove that all students can learn, she sets out to earn the kids' trust, spark their interest in school, and prove that instead of basic math and spelling, they are capable of dealing with algebra and Shakespeare. Her commitment to her students leads her to visit their homes and neighborhoods, meet their families, and become somewhat involved in their personal lives, in an effort to show them how much she cares.

Apparently in the years since I first read My Posse Don't Do Homework, it has been reprinted under a new name and look. Dangerous Minds was a bestseller and made into a film in 1995. I can see why. It's a very inspirational look at how one teacher made a difference among students everyone else saw as a lost cause. (I'm thinking the film would be along the lines of Stand and Deliver, and I intend to view it soon and find out!)

Rating: 3/5 ........ 226 pages, 1992

Oct 18, 2007

The Glass Castle

by Jeannette Walls

The most amazing thing about this story to me, is its truth. It sheds an entirely different light upon homelessness than The People of the Abyss. Jeannette Walls and her siblings grew up in poverty, because her parents chose to live that way. They were both highly intelligent widely read people. They taught their children to read and do math in binary numbers before attending school, yet they couldn't hold a job between them long enough to pay rent or keep food in the house. More shocking to me than the descriptions of living in derelict houses and scrounging in garbage for food was this attitude. The father was an irresponsible drunk, shifty and highly distrustful of law and established order. The mother was an artist and a "free spirit" She simply didn't want to do housework or care for children, so her kids lived in filth and faced starvation while she sat reading stacks of books from the public library and painted pictures that piled up to the ceiling. Smart and determined, the kids found ways to fend for themselves, until they were old enough to leave. They all fled to New York where they found work, attended college and made careers for themselves. Their parents eventually followed, choosing to continue living on the streets and in abandoned buildings rather than feel beholden to anyone, even their own children!

I felt vaguely uneasy reading The Glass Castle, because the mother shared my two great passions: books and painting. I kept feeling like I was reading about an alternative version of myself, one who was totally selfish in indulging herself while her family suffered. I just could not picture myself being like that, and it almost made my skin crawl with shame when she spouted views I have held myself (but rarely acted upon), and then lived them to the greatest extreme.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 288 pages, 2005

More opinions at:
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Oct 16, 2007

Never Let Me Go

by Kazuo Ishiguro

This quiet yet disturbing novel begins as the reminisces of a thirty-year old woman of her years growing up in a secluded boarding school called Halisham. Never Let Me Go is the story of Kathy, her best friend Ruth and the passive Tommy, a trio that forms a shifting love triangle. At first the focus is on kids in a private school with their cliques and changing loyalties, pranks, team sports, art classes and speculations about the professors. But there's something very odd about this school. The materials are downright shabby, the teachers are overly anxious to instill in the students how "special" they are, there's a strange emphasis on creativity and very strict regiments to keep them in excellent health. Kept confused and unknowing, the reader shares Kathy's ignorance, only seeing the world through her naive perspective. Slowly it becomes clear what is going on, suspicions being quelled as quickly as they arise- because the truth is so awful the students don't want to know about it and keep themselves in the dark, acting like perpetual children. Even when they grow into young adults and leave Halisham for their final purpose, they retain a passivity and apathetic acceptance of their fate that stems from a loss of all hope...

Ishiguro's understated writing style echoes the mood of the story: solemn, overshadowed and monotone. The whole book feels like an overcast day where you can't see far ahead of you but it's all so gloomy you don't even want to very much. We never learn much about the world at large and its connections to the awful purpose for students of Halisham, because the book isn't about science fiction or medicine. It's about humanity and hope in the face of severe exploitation of the most disposable group of human society: clones.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 288 pages, 2005

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The Kite Runner

by Khaled Hosseini

The story of Amir, a boy from Kabul and his childhood friend, Hassan. Amir's family is very well off, and Hassan is the son of his father's servant. The two boys are very close friends despite the gap in their social status, until a horrific incident occurs in which Amir betrays his friend's trust. For the rest of his life Amir wrestles with his secret guilt, especially after moving to America with his father. Finally, as an adult, he returns to Afghanistan in an attempt to redeem himself and assuage his guilt. The last quarter of the book is particularly suspenseful, as Amir conducts a desperate search through an Afghanistan unrecognizable from his idyllic childhood homeland, altered forever by war and the rule of the Taliban.

I was not enthralled with The Kite Runner, in spite of the fact that I enjoyed many aspects of it. It is a vivid picture of life in Afghanistan, and a strong portrait of the people's pride and sense of honor. I especially loved the descriptions of a boy's sport called kite running, in which the children coat the strings of their kites with crushed glass, then battle them in the sky. However, there were many parts of the story that felt so contrived, melodramatic or violent I had difficulty believing it. I'm sure that in a war-torn country such terrible things really do occur, but I had the feeling I was reading a narrative that had been over-dramatized for effect, and lost some of its realism. Nevertheless, it is a very powerful story about friendship and honor, war, guilt, and redemption.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 371 pages, 2003

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Oct 14, 2007

The People of the Abyss

by Jack London

In 1903 Jack London went to live in a slum in the worst area in London's East End, known as "the Abyss." For several months he explored the maze of slums, rubbing shoulders with the masses of poverty-stricken people, learning firsthand what it was like to live literally hand to mouth. His documentary book graphically depicts the suffering, disease, starvation and horrible conditions the poor lived in. Low wages, inadequate housing, serious lack of healthcare and illiteracy were rampant. Over 50% of children died before the age of 5. Any small event could plunge a person into a downward spiral that inevitably lead to death: illness, injury, loss of a job or lodgings. London spent time living in small rooms, staying in workhouses and sleeping on the streets. The People of the Abyss was a plea for assistance and humane treatment of the poor to people in power. It can be very political at times, but is mostly thorough journalism colored with firsthand experiences.

The powerfully detailed descriptions of abject poverty really brought home to me how horrible and inescapable their conditions were. When I was younger, I used to see homeless people on the street and think they had brought that situation upon themselves, they could get a job if they wanted to. But after reading a book like this, it makes you realize they often have little ability to escape their condition. The oppression they live under and lack of skills makes it near impossible for them to get ahead.

People of the Abyss inspired George Orwell to live as a tramp in England in the 1930's, resulting in his semi-documentary book Down and Out in Paris and London. It has a similar feel as well to Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, both great works on social inequality and the conditions of the poor.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 388 pages, 1903

Oct 12, 2007

The Boy Who Spoke Dog

by Clay Morgan

I had recently finished a number of books about herding dogs when this book caught my eye on the library shelf. The Boy Who Spoke Dog is the story of a cabin boy who gets shipwrecked alone on a deserted island off the coast of New Zealand. He discovers that there are no longer people on the island, but dogs and sheep descended from their domesticated animals. The dogs have split into two groups- one that still tends the sheep even without human direction, and another wild pack that lives in the forest and preys on the sheep. The boy learns to survive on the island and slowly gets accepted into the group of sheep-herding dogs, bonding close enough to communicate with them. Then he becomes caught up in the battle between the two groups... There is a lot in this book about how dogs perceive the world through their senses, and the relationship between man and dog. However, the story had some awkward moments that made little sense, and the prose was not very good. I wish it had been better.

Rating: 2/5 ....... 176 pages, 2005

Read another review at: SMS Book Reviews

Oct 11, 2007

Creature Comforts

The Adventures of a City Vet
by Stephen Kristick, D.V.M. and Patty Goldstein

Experiences of a vet in New York City's ASPCA and the overnight emergency department of the Animal Medical Center. Also some snippets of his first job cleaning cages in a private New England practice, a short stay in another private clinic in a quiet suburb, and Boston's Angell Memorial Animal Hospital. Most interesting are the personalities of the owners described in the book: homeless people, crazy men, little kids, Mafia members, college students and lonely housewives. He even makes a visit to an Iranian princess with a pet pigeon on a ship- the only superfluous chapter in the book (there wasn't much about animals and I don't think the pigeon was even sick). A large part of the story is about how Dr. Kritsick became interested in veterinary practice, events that altered the course of his career, his pursuit of women, and office politics in the various practices. Creature Comforts doesn't approach the level of James Herriot, but it comes pretty close. My favorite parts were the chapter about the snakes and the woman who "didn't know that boy dogs have titties." I laughed so hard.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 250 pages, 1983

Oct 10, 2007

Into the Forest

by Jean Hegland

Two teenage sisters, Eva and Nell live in a house thirty miles from town, on the edge of a forest in Northern California. Although their parents value their solitude and peace there, the girls have other dreams: Nell wants to study at a university and Eva aspires to be a ballet dancer. Then an unknown disaster strikes. Power supplies fail, fuel becomes scarce, the economy collapses. Before they realize what's happening, Eva and Nell find themselves orphaned and alone in their house, isolated in the forest. What ensues is an unfolding struggle for survival. Initially the girls hold out hopes of eventually being able to make it into town for some necessary items. By the time they realize that is improbable, almost all their supplies are gone. They have no choice but to turn to the forest for their entire sustenance and support. Most of all, they have to grow up and learn to work together. When a passing stranger rapes one of the girls, a baby arrives and challenges the loyalties between them...

Into the Forest is a wonderfully compelling story. It really makes you think: what would I do if I was in that situation? Forced to survive and figure out how to provide everything for myself? Living with only one other person to talk to and depend upon. Would you go crazy, starve, or become best friends with a sister who had the potential of being your greatest rival?

Rating: 4/5 ........ 241 pages, 1996

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Oct 9, 2007

Mozart and the Whale

An Asperger's Love Story
by Jerry Newport


This is the true story of two adults with Asperger's Syndrome (a high functioning form of autism) who meet and fall in love. Mozart and the Whale presents alternating chapters from each perspective, starting when they were young and progressing through their relationship. Both struggled through a confused and frustrating childhood. When they met as adults, they were thrilled to find kindred spirits in each other. But when they got married, it was a near disaster.

When they met, Mary had been through many troubling relationships, Jerry had never had one before. Mary is highly artistic and musical, Jerry is a numerical savant. Mary was wildly spontaneous, unpredictable and prone to depression. Jerry had a very routine, structured life with terrible outbursts of anger when his order was disrupted. Due to their disability, they both had a serious lack of empathy and inability to compromise. Through sheer willpower they tried to stay together. Their story is told with brutal honesty, frankness and quite a bit of humor. It will make you laugh and nearly cry, and admire the great strides Jerry and Mary make in struggling to overcome their difficulties and keep their relationship intact.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 272 pages, 2007

Oct 8, 2007

The Reincarnationist

by M.J. Rose

Every now and then I will try a book from a genre I don't usually read. The Reincarnationist is a mystery/suspense thriller on the subject of reincarnation and ancient religious practices. Its main character suffers intense flashbacks of memories not his own, from a life he comes to believe his spirit lived over 2,000 years before in ancient Rome. Seeking help from the Phoenix Foundation, an institution which studies and treats "past-life regression" in children, he becomes involved in a search for some ancient jewels rumored to hold a secret that can connect the past to the present. His search quickly becomes tangled with love, murder, secrecy, ancient mysteries and a kidnapping.

I found it rather difficult to read this book. The story was told in a very disjointed fashion, with important background events explained at current moments in the plot, instead of being introduced earlier to build up to that point. As a result I felt disconnected from the characters, not really caring about what happened to them, because I didn't get any sense of why things were important to them, other than it was told to me. The book wound to an unsatisfying, abrupt close that left some unanswered questions.

It was just a rather boring read. I have heard that this book is along similar lines to The Da Vinci Code, so I suppose it may appeal to readers who liked that book (which I haven't read). I concluded after this experiment that I still don't like thrillers much at all.

Rating: 1/5 ........ 458 pages, 2007

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Booking Mama

Oct 7, 2007

Wicked

The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West
by Gregory Maguire

Of all the retold fairy tales that I have enjoyed over the last few years, this is definitely one of the most complex. Wicked is the other side of the well-known story The Wizard of Oz. It tells of the Wicked Witch of the West's origins as the misunderstood green-skinned girl Elphaba, child of an alcoholic mother and preaching father. She grows up surrounded by the Munchkinlanders' struggle for economic stability and then leaves her backwater home to attend University in the city. Studious, witty and constantly questioning the status quo, Elphaba becomes concerned with the struggles of the talking Animals for equal rights. With a few select followers, she becomes an underground revolutionary... I don't want to give away the story so I won't say much more.

Suffice to mention that this is not a book for children. It has very adult themes and several sex scenes. Besides the political and economic overtones, it also addresses issues of religion, social class and education. Wicked is a very convoluted book, sometimes difficult to read and keep track of all the threads of the story. The familiar Wizard of Oz characters are only minor figures here, although Dorothy does play her key part in the end. It is a fascinating look at how one character's difficult moral choices lead to her being called evil by the world at large.

Rating: 4/5 ......... 409 pages, 1995

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Things Mean a Lot

Oct 6, 2007

Into the Wild

Warriors: I
by Erin Hunter

Some juvenile fiction is good, some is poor. So I always give interesting looking kid's books a chance. This one was a miss. I saw a whole series on the shelf, about feral cats who live in groups and thought it would be similar to two old favorites of mine, Ratha's Creature by Clare Bell or Tailchaser's Song by Tad Williams. I was very disappointed. Into the Wild is about a young housecat seeking adventure who joins a group of feral cats in the forest, becomes an apprentice warrior and helps them fight off neighboring clans. Although this book attempts to create a full bodied world, it just doesn't quite make it. Yes, there are kitty legends and culture, friends and foes, pretty lady cats and nasty old toms, acts of betrayal and courage. Enough stuff for a good story. But it's not very well written. The characters are rather flat, their actions and the plot pretty predictable. There is nothing here that really makes you feel like you're in the secret lives of felines. It wasn't worth my time continuing the series.

Rating: 2/5 ........ 288 pages, 2007

Oct 5, 2007

The Poisonwood Bible

by Barbara Kingsolver

In the 1960's Nathan Price, a Baptist minister, drags his family from Georgia to the Congo with the intent of converting the native "heathens" to Christianity. Arriving in the steaming jungle, they find themselves woefully unprepared to live there. Nathan's insistence on bringing the Congolese to Jesus without understanding them first is ultimately doomed to failure. The story is told in five voices: those of the mother and four daughters (three teens and a five-year-old), each with their own distinct style and personality. The different ways in which they all try to adjust to their new situation in a tiny African village is a telling story all by itself, humorous and tragic by turns. When political turmoil causes all the other missionaries to leave Africa, Nathan Price stubbornly refuses to go. His inflexibility and religious zeal bordering on fanaticism alienates the villagers and eventually his own family as well.

I absolutely love The Poisonwood Bible. It is brilliantly written. The language use is beautiful, the characters very realistic. It is a strong and vivid portrait of Africa in a time of struggle for independence. This is the kind of book that makes you really think. Each time I read it there are new details and things to ponder that I didn't notice before. It has some heavy themes, but the wry humor and wonderful descriptions of Africa and its people make it a joy to read.

Rating: 5/5 ........ 543 pages, 1998

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Oct 4, 2007

Meme: Decorum

Do you have “issues” with too much profanity or overly explicit (ahem) “romantic” scenes in books? Or do you take them in stride? Have issues like these ever caused you to close a book? Or do you go looking for more exactly like them?

Yes, these things have caused me to close more than one book! It depends on the proliferation of the offending material and how gratuitous it is. I don't like to read a book that has profanity in every sentence, or "romance" scenes all over the place. It just makes me uncomfortable and well, bored! However, if it isn't too excessive and has a good reason for being there, I can take it in stride.

Question provided by Booking Through Thursday

Oct 3, 2007

Pleasure of Believing

by Anastasia Hobbet

Environmentalism, land use, neighborhood politics and love at first sight are all themes of this novel set in a Wyoming ranching community. The Pleasure of Believing centers around six characters: Roberta Shea- a wildlife advocate who converted her family's cattle ranch into a raptor rehabilitation center, her politician husband Glen, her niece Muirie who comes to visit, Sherman the local vet, a hardworking sheep rancher Carl and his artist wife, Flo. It is all about conflicts of interest and the estrangements that have come between these people. Two key developments are Carl's move to protect his sheep which endangers local wildlife and unleashes Roberta's suspicion and anger as she searches for the prepetrator, and Sherman's and Muirie's attempts to teach a blind hawk to fly against Roberta's better judgement. The outcomes of these two parallel events unfold together towards a tragic ending that speaks of difficult choices and strength of character.

I liked this story, but I was disappointed in it. The ideas and characters were potentially interesting, and I wanted to learn more about the details of bird rehabilitation. Unfortunately, I felt that the author was a good storyteller, but not a great writer. This is the kind of book I could easily read with background distractions going on and my toddler talking to me every five minutes, and not miss much. It was just... rather dull. If it had been more literary, it would have received a higher rating and stayed in my library. As is, I'm moving on.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 325 pages, 1997

Oct 2, 2007

Pilgrim At Tinker Creek

by Annie Dillard

Pilgrim At Tinker Creek is a book of wonder. It is a poetic, lyrical wandering into nature. The author takes your hand and shows you all the marvels and unseen things that happen practically under your nose. Every minute detail and occurrence that you would never see on your own is brought to light. She follows the turning of the seasons and the life cycles of small creatures, most of them insects. She explores the intricate web of nature, displaying how beautiful and often inexplicable it can be. There is also some examination of people and their impact on or relation to the natural environment. Dillard sees things how they are and does not shy away from moments of death or brutality. There is some humor here as well. It can seem to wander at times, but always circles back to the topic of nature. Mostly it is fantastic descriptive writing: the brilliant metaphors and figurative language paint a very vivid picture in the reader's mind. A veritable pleasure to read and experience.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 304 pages, 1975

Oct 1, 2007

Fox Farm

by Eileen Dunlop

Fox Farm is a lovely little book. The main character is Adam, a young boy who is living with a foster family on a rundown farm in England. Although his foster brother is quite amiable and wants to help him, Adam doesn't want to have anything to do with his new family. He is deliberately rude and unfriendly. But when the two boys discover a fox cub and try to raise it in secret, they have to work together and reluctantly become friends. When the little Foxy is threatened by a flood, the boys have to face revealing it to their family- with a surprising result. This story has a bit of a mystery woven into it as well, regarding an old rich family that lives nearby, and rumors of a curse that lingers on the land.

I believe this book is out of print.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 160 pages, 1987