Jan 30, 2008

Indian Summer

by John Knowles

I picked this book up months ago at the Book Thing, because I love A Separate Peace (same author). This one is about a young man returning home from war, where he was a bomber. He wants to learn to fly airplanes (instead of just ride in them), and establish a cargo airline between Washington State and Alaska. And he always liked the idea of farming, so he starts out by learning to fly a crop-duster plane... I read twenty pages and just found it dull. The character and his story did not interest me. Nothing rose off the page or tickled my mind with wordplay. Moving on, I opened The Years of Rice and Salt. Now I've got something in my hands I can't put down!

Abandoned ...0/5... 243 pages, 1966

Wolf Brother

by Michele Paver

I've had trouble finding something good to read today. I tried a J fiction book, Wolf Brother, having seen it at Not enough Bookshelves. It sounded interesting, but I couldn't get into it. I didn't like how it jumped immediately into high drama in the first scene, without any introduction to the characters, solid setting or nice descriptions for establishment. Action, panic, danger, mystery. A demon bear haunting a forest six million years ago; and one boy who has secret special powers he's unaware of and can talk to wolves, has to hunt it down... But I just couldn't get a sense of being there. I'm beginning to realize that juvenile fiction just doesn't work for me anymore, unless it's entertaining and charming (like Ordinary Princess was) or wonderfully descriptive. This book just wasn't my style. I read on the jacket that it is the author's first book of juvenile fiction. Perhaps I'd like her adult works better.

Abandoned ..0/5.... 320 pages, 2006

Jan 29, 2008

The Ordinary Princess

by M.M. Kaye

Tired of reading endless fairy tales featuring blond, beautiful, perfect princesses, M. M. Kaye wrote a story about a princess whose fairy godmother gifted her with Ordinariness (after she had already received Wit, Health, Courage, etc.) Her six sisters all gorgeous, Princess Amy grew up to have mousy brown hair, freckles, a snub nose, and no suitors. She preferred climbing trees to attending Court, and walking barefoot to wearing stiff, itchy finery. Alarmed at the idea of a spinster princess, her parents contrived a wild scheme to get her married off. But Amy put on peasant's clothes and ran away to find her own kind of happiness. She's such a pleasant girl, and a nice contrast to the laughably pompous royalty. The Ordinary Princess is a really charming little book. Especially if you get tired of all the stereotypical princesses in other fairy tales.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 112 pages, 1980

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Jenny's Books

V&A Cats

edited by Beryl Reid and Michael Wilson

Looking for some light reading between heavier books today, I picked up this one. It caught my eye because of the images. It's a collection of paintings, drawings and figures from the Victoria and Albert Museum, tastefully arranged with selected writings by various authors over the centuries, (from as far back as the year 1260!) all regarding cats. Quotes by Lewis Carroll, T.S Eliot, May Sarton, and many other writers and notables I never heard of before. Drawings and paintings by Beatrix Potter, Sir John Tenniel, Louis Wain, Sir Edwin Landseer and many others. Altogether a delightful and pleasant book on the nature of cats. My favorite was a poem written in the 1600s by Paul Scarron, about a gentlewoman who dressed her tomcat in pearls and fine clothes, then held him up to the mirror. When the cat escaped out onto the roof, the distraught Lady sent her servants out searching for him all night. She was upset not about the loss of her pearl necklace, but the cat himself who carried it away! It made me laugh.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 96 pages, 1989

Jan 28, 2008

The Lobster Chronicles

Life on a Very Small Island
by Linda Greenlaw

I didn't like this book as much as The Hungry Ocean, but it was still a very good read. After years of swordboat fishing on the ocean, Greenlaw went back home to the small New England island where her parents still lived, to become a "lobsterman". The island is so small it only has some forty year-round inhabitants, increasing to about seventy in the summer months when vacationers come. I was fascinated by the accounts of trapping lobsters, but even more so enthralled with Greenlaw's stories of her neighbors and friends on the island. More than a treatise on lobsters and fishing, The Lobster Chronicles describes what life is like in such a small, family-centered town. It's really interesting and quite funny at times. There's so many fascinating characters, intrigues, small-town politics, and the spirit of community pride and solidarity. And in the last twenty pages you'll find two scrumptious-sounding recipes for lobster! Boiled and casseroled. Yum. Mostly, I would say this book is about life. Capitalize that: LIFE with all its ups and downs.

My favorite line was this (describing a walk through a piece of forest in the dark): "A startled rabbit skittering from ditch to ditch like a bead of hot water in a skillet would pace my heart at the same beat."

Rating: 3/5 ........ 238 pages, 2002

Jan 25, 2008

The Thread That Runs So True

by Jesse Stuart

Jesse Stuart grew up in the high hill country of eastern Kentucky. As a young man, he taught seventy students in a one-room rural schoolhouse, some of them older than himself. He taught them to love learning, take responsibility for their education, and apply their knowledge to everyday life in the community. He made such a difference for these students and their community that he was asked to be the principal of a city high school. From there he went on to serve as superintendent of the county's schools. Through his entire career as an educator, Stuart worked hard to improve the school system, and met with lots of bitter opposition. The Thread That Runs So True is mostly about his efforts to make positive changes, the importance of education and the wide-ranging influence good teachers have. It reads very easily, in economic sentences that sound, after a while, as if the author were speaking aloud. Many of the incidents with his students are funny, some outrageous. I really admired reading about how he could bring people together on issues. After one PTA meeting where Stuart revealed to parents how the fathers' gambling and drinking was reflecting on the students, the parents quickly changed their behavior and truancy and tardiness nearly disappeared in the school. Then one man remarked: "All you have to do to solve a town problem that hurts your school, is to get the women on your side. Show 'em what's wrong, and they'll clean it up." That made me smile.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 336 pages, 1949

Meme: Eva's Reading

A reading meme from Eva; I was tagged by ravenous reader:

Which book do you irrationally cringe away from reading, despite seeing only positive reviews?

I have to say The DaVinci Code. After hearing so much about it, and what the premise was, I just couldn't bring myself to read it. Plus, A. tried to get me to watch the movie version with him and I fell asleep in ten minutes! I still feel sure it's a great book, though...

If you could bring three characters to life for a social event, who would they be and what would the event be?

I would like to sit in a life-drawing session with Asher Lev, Eben Adams and Kerewin Holmes (from Chaim Potok's My Name is Asher Lev, Robert Nathan's Portrait of Jennie and Keri Hulme's The Bone People). They're three of my favorite characters who are artists, and it would be cool to see how they draw, learn from them and critique each other!

You are told you can’t die until you read the most boring novel on the planet. While this immortality is great for awhile, eventually you realize it’s past time to die. Which book would you expect to get you a nice grave?

Robinson Crusoe. I've never made it through the first chapter. But since it's a classic, I guess I could cram it down. Maybe I'd even like it.

Come on, we’ve all been there. Which book have you pretended, or at least hinted, that you’ve read, when in fact you’ve been nowhere near it?

I am honest to a fault. I can't remember having claimed to read a book I haven't. Maybe in high school I once did, and forgot the incident? But I've embarrassed myself and stopped many a conversation by admitting ignorance of a book!

As an addition to the last question, has there been a book that you really thought you had read, only to realize when you read a review about it/go to ‘reread’ it that you haven’t? Which book?

I don't think I've had this happen either, though I know I've done the opposite- once I started to read a book a roommate loaned me, and realized halfway through I'd read it before. It made such little impression on me the first time, I'd forgotten all about it! I felt really bad, she loved it, and said it made her cry, and I handed it back to her after thirty pages saying "sorry, I've already read this and I didn't like it." I think she got offended. It was The Joy Luck Club.

You’ve been appointed Book Advisor to a VIP (who’s not a big reader). What’s the first book you’d recommend and why?

I've got a headache from thinking about it for an hour so I'll just say: I don't know.

A good fairy comes and grants you one wish: you will have perfect reading comprehension in the foreign language of your choice. Which language do you go with?

Spanish! I've a meager enough grasp of the language to have tasted some fine literature and been left frustrated with the vastness I could not comprehend. I'd like to feast on Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Miguel de Cervantes, Jorge Luis Borges and many others in their original voices...

A mischievious fairy comes and says that you must choose one book that you will reread once a year for the rest of your life (you can read other books as well). Which book would you pick?

The Little Prince. An easy read, and it always reminds me of what is most important in life- those we love.

I know that the book blogging community, and its various challenges, have pushed my reading borders. What’s one bookish thing you ‘discovered’ from book blogging?

A genre I've never attempted before that's in my TBR now is vampire and werewolf stories. I've read lots of good blog reviews on some, and it's gotten me mighty curious about trying to read them.

That good fairy is back for one final visit. Now, she’s granting you your dream library! Describe it. Is everything leatherbound? Is it full of first edition hardcovers? Pristine trade paperbacks? Perhaps a few favourite authors have inscribed their works? Go ahead-let your imagination run free.

The dream library! Built in floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, that won't bow from the weight of books. Pale oak, maybe. One of those cool library-ladders with wheels on it to reach the top shelves. Soft carpet, windows looking on a garden, a few comfy armchairs, really good lighting. And all my favorite books, of course! In hardbound editions, with the best jacket illustrations or cover designs on them. The classics bound in leather. The YA books with excellent illustrations. That would be plenty for me.

Now I have to tag four other book bloggers for this meme:
Laura, Charlene, Lauren & Dana and Petunia, your turn!

Jan 24, 2008

The Nanny Diaries

by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus

This over-hyped book is about a college student in New York who nannies for a rich family. It's kind of funny, but the characters and storyline are rather flat (based on thirty different nanny jobs the authors had). Basically, it's all about how badly the "X" parents treat their child, each other and their domestic help. The little boy is pathetically ignored by his mother, and his father is never home. The sad thing is that even though the nanny was a smart college girl, she didn't quit and get a better job when her employer started making unreasonable demands. She stayed and took loads of abuse, claiming it was because she cared so much for the kid, but unable to stand up to the parents or make much of a difference for him. She admitted to being there for the money. It was discouraging. The Nanny Diaries is a quick read, somewhat entertaining, but in the end mostly I just felt sad for the poor kid.

Rating: 2/5 ........ 306 pages, 2002

More opinions at:
It's All About Books

Jan 23, 2008

The Gulag Archipelago

by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
translated by Thomas P. Whitney

I found this item in a box of unwanted books at my mother's house during my last visit. I asked if I could take some reading material and she said sure, nobody wants those. Now I know why The Gulag Archipalego was passed up. It is a headache (for me) and full of horrors. It is a very detailed account of the prison system in the Soviet Union, 1918- 1956. I read forty pages about the various manners in which people could be arrested, and why no citizens protested. Then got bombarded with names, dates and history of notable peoples and groups who were oppressed/attacked/imprisoned. Then it launched into descriptions of the awful tortures, psychological and physical, that prisoners were subjected to. And there were 620 more pages, and two more published volumes which I've never seen, after that. I couldn't take it. So I quit reading it.

Abandoned ...0/5... 660 pages, 1974

McSweeney's 24

various authors, edited by Dave Eggers

Like a siamese twin, McSweeny's 24 is a volume in two parts, with two spines and one back. As much an anomaly in literature as in the human frame, I am sure. You have to hold it in your hands to believe the curiosity of it. It is a publication of short stories. The first half contains six tales of troublesome events-- crime, drugs, murder, etc:

"How to Make Millions in the Oil Market" - about an American soldier in Iraq
"Stockholm, 1973" - about a ludicrous bank robbery attempt in Sweden
"Bored to Death" - a Raymond Chandler fan pretends to be a private investigator and gets himself into a mess
"Look at Me" - bloody shooting of patrons in a restaurant for what reason I could not ascertain
"Death of Nick Carter" - a very strange, surreal portrait of an insane asylum with a violent end
"The Last Adventures of the Blue Phantom" - a man breaks into a home, tells a small boy he is a superhero, and takes him along on a criminal escapade...

Strangely enough, I liked the first of these best. And I'm not one to enjoy war stories, especially battle scenes. But the descriptive language was so precisely vivid and new like sparkling water, that I enjoyed it for the words alone, not necessarily the scene they described. The other two I found intriguing were "Bored to Death" and "The Last Adventures..." that was interesting. But to be truthful, the writing I liked most in this volume isn't even listed in the contents. It's a pamphlet-like sheaf of pages pasted onto the free end paper, a selection from an upcoming volume to be published by McSweeney's called A Bowl of Cherries, by Millard Kaufman. I want to read this in its entirety.

If you turn the blue volume around, you find a compilation of writers' reminisces on the author Donald Barthelme, and two of his short stories which are (the editors explain) difficult to come by in print (until now). I am not surprised I never heard of Barthelme before; I don't read many short stories. I was dubious at first, but some of the essays on Barthelme were quite convincing of his brilliance and excellent writing. George Saunders' essay on Barthelme's art in the short story gave me a greater understanding of what short stories are. But, at the end I'm afraid I was puzzled. "The Bed" left me unmoved, and I could not make head or tails of "Pages from the Annual Report". It felt like reading a conversation in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, or pages of Kafka; and I felt like there was a big joke I just didn't get.

I intend to hand this volume over to A. and see what he makes of it. I am sure he will like the six short stories much better than I; after all he can enjoy films that portray crime and violence, whereas they make me uncomfortable or bored. Perhaps he can explain to me what is going on in some of these stories...

Rating: 4/5 ........ 125 and 82 pages respectively, 2007

Jan 22, 2008

A Clergyman's Daughter

by George Orwell

Having read several of Orwell's novels, I don't think this is the best of his work. A Clergyman's Daughter tells of eight months in the life of Dorothy, a young woman who lives alone with her father. He's the preacher in a small town. A very domineering, almost cruel man. Dorothy's entire days are spent doing housework and endless jobs for her father and his church. She's very dutiful. Her one break from the drudgery is occasional visits to the town scoundrel (who tries to seduce her every time). Then in an unexplained incident, Dorothy looses her memory and wakes up on the streets, far from home. She begins a journey through London's lower class society, spending time picking hops with itinerant workers in Kent, teaching in a shabby private school, and attempting to survive living on the streets.

Through all her trials, Dorothy never really changes. She suffers everything in a very docile manner, and it becomes apparent that this novel is not about growth of character but an exposé of social conditions in London. Small town life, gossip, greed, the condition of private schools, the deplorable situations of homeless people. It is not as in-depth on these subjects as Down and Out in Paris and London, but still quite interesting and a good read.

Rating 3/5 ........ 324 pages, 1950

Jan 21, 2008

Zamba

the True Story of the Greatest Lion that Ever Lived
by Ralph Helfer

Ralph Helfer always dreamed of working with animals. From his beginnings as an assistant in a small pet store, he worked his way up to owning his own establishment, a ranch full of exotic animals which he trained and performed with in movies, commercials and other productions. Helfer believed that it was safer and more humane to train animals with affection, communication and trust rather than the fear, domination and force commonly used on large exotic beasts (like lions and tigers in circuses) at the time. He got his chance to prove his methods when a friend brought home a four-month old lion cub from Africa. Named Zamba, the lion was raised in Helfer's home (he even shared his bed!) and their bond of love and trust was complete. Zamba was the only lion trustworthy enough to perform in films with child actors. His remarkable story unfolds smoothly in these pages, full of laughs as well as sad moments.

Zamba was a really easy read. I finished it in a few days. I only wish I could have read more about training methods used to teach Zamba his special commands, rather than all the gushing about how much the guy loved his lion. While reading it, many other books came to mind. It made me think of Born Free, the story of a game warden in African raising a lioness, who was remarkably gentle with people. Of Here Keller, Train This!- about a man who trained big cats for the circus without using whips and guns. Of The Man Who Listens to Horses, because in that book the author was the first to use body language communication instead of brute force to tame horses (instead of "breaking" them). There is even a vivid scene in Zamba that strongly echoed a scene in Jane Yolen's fantasy novel Heart's Blood- if you've read that one, I'll tell you what it is (I don't want to write a spoiler).

Rating: 3/5 ........ 256 pages, 2005

Jan 20, 2008

Fifteen Rabbits

A Celebration of Life
by Felix Salten

Fifteen Rabbits was written by the same author of the original Bambi. It tells about the day to day life of a group of rabbits in the forest. Naturally, the rabbits face many dangers (Hop, a rabbit featured in Bambi, is the sole survivor of his litter) yet still keep up their hope and zest for life. This book isn't a cute children's story, it has many serious moments and sober scenes. Even though they talk, their speech is presented so tastefully the rabbits don't feel too personified. One of the scenes I remember very clearly was of a rabbit who was caught by a child, taken home and kept in captivity. Salten described very vividly what stress and terrors the rabbit felt in its new surroundings. It is interesting to compare this book to Watership Down; both are a realistic fictional account of what life is like for such a humble creature as a rabbit.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 224 pages, 1988

Jan 19, 2008

Charlotte's Web

by E.B. White

I haven't read Charlotte's Web in years, but I feel that I know it very well. It's a classic children's story about a pig who is befriended by a spider. Wilbur the pig was the runt of the litter and due for death but the farmer's eight-year-old daughter Fern rescued him. She raised him as a pet. When he got too big, he went to live on her uncle's farm. There Wilbur soon learned that his life wasn't secure after all; he was being fattened up for Christmas dinner. But Charlotte the spider came up with a plan to save his life... by creating what some considered a miracle. Charlotte's Web is a wonderful little story. The spider is calm and wise, and shows off an advanced vocabulary. The pig is charming, sweet and prone to emotional hysterics. There's a large cast of other animal characters, and the little girl Fern, whose mother worries about her because she claims the animals talk. This was one of my favorite books as a child, and I still like to go back and read it now and again.

I thought of it today because of a dream I had last night. In part of the dream, my apartment was covered with spiders and spiderwebs. I snipped the threads to collapse the webs, but couldn't bring myself to touch the round sticky egg-sacs. I said to myself in the dream: "Wilbur should have crushed the egg-sac on his tongue. Then the world wouldn't be peopled by spiders. I wonder what it would have tasted like? Ticklish, maybe..." What a strange thing to think of a lovely book!

Rating: 4/5 ........ 184 pages, 1952

More opinions at:
Things Mean a Lot

Jan 18, 2008

Annapurna

A Woman's Place
by Arlene Blum

My older sister is a climber, and she gave me this book for Christmas. It felt quite fitting to be reading it during the first substantial snowfall of the year in Baltimore. I could look out the window at white coldness and imagine being among the Himalayan heights. Annapurna tells of the American Women's Himalayan Expedition that in 1978 attempted the summit of Annapurna I, the world's tenth highest peak. At the time, no woman had ever climbed a 8,000 meter peak (26,200 ft. Annapurna is 26,540 ft.)

I really had no idea what mountain climbing is like before reading this book. The amount of planning, logistics, manpower and supplies was staggering. The ten-women team had to overcome male prejudice, disagreements amongst themselves, fatigue, frostbite, altitude sickness, and disgruntled porters. The colorful character of Nepal contrasted sharply with the austere beauty and danger up on the mountain. The last twenty pages were particularly gripping. I was frightened just reading about the dangers they faced. Why exactly do climbers put themselves at such risk? Blum makes it clear that mountain-climbing is not just about the challenge, thrills or proving that women can do it. There is a serenity and peace to be found at high altitudes- they climb because they love to do so, in spite of how difficult it is. I particularly liked this quote at the front of the book:

You never conquer a mountain.
You stand on the summit a few moments,
Then the wind blows your footprints away.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 247 pages, 1980

Jan 17, 2008

Meme: Reviews

Question from Booking Through Thursday:
How much do reviews (good and bad) affect your choice of reading? If you see a bad review of a book you wanted to read, do you still read it? If you see a good review of a book you’re sure you won’t like, do you change your mind and give the book a try?

I'm rarely convinced to read a book I'm certain I won't like even if it gets an excellent review. It can be a very well-written book, but that doesn't mean I'm going to like it personally, if I don't care for the subject matter or genre. So those don't make it into my reading pile.

Bad reviews of books I want to read influence me about half of the time. If a book I've wanted to read gets a number of bad reviews and they're for reasons I can see myself being put off by too (not just all personal opinion), then I might knock that one from my list.

On the other hand, I add lots of book to my TBR lists that I've never heard of before at all, because they get good reviews that spark my interest. Since I've begun blogging, I've found about fifty books from just reading blog reviews.

So if I've already made up my mind about a book, a review won't do much to sway me, unless it's very strong and multiple reviews say similar things. But reviews introduce me to many, many new books that I want to read.

Jan 16, 2008

Ender's Game

by Orson Scott Card

This is one of my absolute favorite books. I still remember when I first read it as a teenager- a youth-group leader from my church named Patty gave me a copy. I was hooked right from the beginning. Card's easy, precise prose and realistic dialog make the book vivid and quick to read. And the story is like nothing I'd read before at the time.

In Ender's Game, Earth has faced previous invasions of an alien species, and is preparing for another possible attack. The government has selectively bred geniuses, hoping for a child prodigy that can be trained to command Earth's armies against the aliens. Andrew Wiggin (nicknamed Ender) is one of their best results. He is sent to "Battle School" in a space station at the age of six years old, where selected children are trained for future intergalactic warfare. Among the most skilled and intelligent, Ender faces enormous pressure to succeed, and pushes himself to the limits. He also faces alienation and bullying from the other children, fears of the coming alien invasion, and doubts about what the government's real intentions are for him.

In all of the fiction I've read, it's hard to find a more lonely and distressed kid than Ender, who has a good heart and yet can't help doing things he regrets. Even his siblings are engaged in rivalry with him- for they're just as smart and have their own ideas and plans about the future of Earth. If they work together, they just could possibly save the world, even though they're only kids. Card makes it pretty believable. I feel like this book really transcends its genre; even if you don't really like sci-fi, there's a good chance you'll like this one. It's a lot about human dynamics and destiny; the manipulation and control of one very precocious child's life.

This book won the Hugo and Nebula Awards for fiction in 1985 and 1986.

Rating: 5/5 ........ 226 pages, 1977

Read more reviews at:
Bottle o'Shine
Everyday Reads
Trish's Reading Nook
A Striped Armchair
Things Mean a Lot

Jan 15, 2008

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

by Mark Twain

I never heard of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court until I chanced across it on a library shelf. It is quite different from Twain's other novels. It tells of a 19th century engineer who gets hit on the head and inexplicably wakes up in medieval England during King Arthur's time. A knight finds him and takes him to court, where his manner of dress and speech arouses suspicion and he's going to be burned at the stake. But he remembers an eclipse will occur on the same date, and uses this knowledge to make himself appear powerful and magical, frightening everyone and landing himself a position as King's advisor. Before long he's practically taken control and uses his ingenuity to introduce technological advances. He attempts to teach the whole country things like the use of soap, democratic ideas, and the falsehood of superstitions. He runs up again Merlin, who is portrayed as a charlatan and fool, but dangerously in the people's favor. More than an adventure story, this book is a satire on English society, criticizing the power of monarchy, poking fun at the knights, ridiculing the ignorance and squalor of medieval society. I don't know how accurate it is historically, and I really questioned if one man (even if he is an "ingenious Yank") could have had in his head all the knowledge needed to "re-invent" and build everything he did (like railroads, printing press, gunpowder, electricity and dozens other things) but it is very funny with lots of tongue-in-cheek type of humor.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 307 pages, 1889

Jan 14, 2008

Alive

the Story of the Andes Survivors
by Piers Paul Read

I cannot say much about this book. It relates the harrowing experience of the survivors of a plane crash in the Andes mountains in 1972. They were traveling to Santiago, Chile: fifteen teenage boys from a Catholic school headed for a rugby match, along with twenty-five relatives and other people who went along for the passage. When the plane crashed high in the cordillera, it landed in deep snow in an area totally barren of any plant or animal life. Of the forty passengers and several crew members on board, thirty-two survived the crash. At the end of their seventy-two day ordeal, only sixteen were left alive. They managed to live by consuming the bodies of those who died in the crash. The details are gruesome and it can be difficult to read. After their rescue, many of the survivors' attitudes towards life had been irrevocably changed. Reading Alive, it's hard to avoid wondering: if you were in a similar situation, would you resort to the only means of staying alive? It is so difficult to imagine, I don't think anyone can ever know unless they are faced with such an extreme ordeal.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 318 pages, 1974

Jan 13, 2008

The Giving Tree

by Shel Silverstein

My three year old has just discovered the Shel Silverstein books on our bookshelf, so I have read The Giving Tree to her about ten times in the last six days, and its been on my mind. It is a simple story about the friendship between a tree and a boy. At first the boy comes to the tree to play and eat her apples. As he gets older, he has different desires and takes her fruit, branches, etc to use for things. In the end, the boy is old and the tree is just a stump. When I was younger, I thought this was a beautiful story about selfless, unconditional love like that of the Christ story or a mother for her child, always giving and never needing anything more than love in return. Now I'm not so sure; reading it again as an adult it makes me pause. It could also be seen as a one-sided, almost abusive relationship; the boy takes everything and what does he do for the tree? Why does she have to say she's sorry she has no more apples or branches? He took them all away! It makes me feel kind of sad; but I guess that's how life is sometimes. Love isn't always evenly reciprocated; sometimes it's sad, and sometimes there's peace in the end anyways.

Rating: 3/5 ......... 64 pages, 1964

Thinking in Pictures

and Other Reports from My Life with Autism
by Temple Grandin

This is the book that sparked my interest in and curiosity about autism. But when I first picked it up, for some reason I thought it was about art. I had just come from a college art class where we had been discussing if "most people" see images in their mind or think in patterns of words, like sentences. We postulated that artists were more likely to think via images. Then I visited the college bookstore and spotted this on the shelf. Immediately I associated it with the class discussion and couldn't resist picking it up. I was quite unprepared for the actual subject matter; but it caught my interest right away.

Before I read Thinking in Pictures, all I knew of autism was the stereotypical idea of a kid huddled in a corner, non-speaking, closed out from the world. But I learned that there are many forms of autism, some quite high-functioning, some unrecognizable from what I had assumed. Temple Grandin describes her own experiences, her journey through school, her amazing aunt who helped her channel an obsessive interest and turn it into a career at which she became very successful. Grandin explains how autism causes her senses to function differently from normal people's (mostly in being more sensitive). Because of this, she can understand why animals respond in certain ways to their environment; and she used this ability along with her drawing skills, to design more humane livestock-handling systems. Her work was innovative and award-winning.

This is a fascinating book on many levels. It can feel a bit disjointed, moving from one theme or subject to another unexpectedly, and sometimes you have to step back from the book to see how it all connects together. But I did not find this bothersome, seeing how difficult it was for the author to learn to write at all and present her thoughts in writing. From this book I went on to read other works Grandin has written, Emergence and Animals in Translation, followed by a plethora of books on autism and related disorders. The variations of the human mind and how it works hold a never-ending fascination for me.

Rating: 5/5 ........ 222 pages, 2005

Jan 12, 2008

Treasure Island

by Robert Louis Stevenson

I got to page 110. I don't know why this one lost me. I did like Stevenson's Kidnapped, and Treasure Island is more famous, but I just lost interest in the fighting and greed for gold. Pirates, adventure, high seas, yay. Long John Silver is such a curious, creepy character did you know he can run around on one leg and attack people? Here's the thing that bugged me right from the beginning: this kid Jim, lives with his parents at an inn. An old pirate comes and terrorizes their inn, his father dies of illness, scoundrels come after the pirate, murder is committed there, and what does Jim do? He goes off to chase after gold, leaving his widowed mother behind. Why did she let him go? I don't get it.

Abandoned ..0/5.... 229 pages, 1914

Read another review at Things Mean A Lot

Artemis Fowl

by Eoin Colfer

This just wasn't for me. The premise looked interesting: rich powerful genius kid chases down criminals, then twists the arm of an ancient fairy who ends up giving him trouble. But I didn't like the writing style at all. Granted, it's for kids but there's young adult books out there that are excellent, and this wasn't one of them.

Abandoned ...0/5... 416 pages, 2003

Jan 11, 2008

Pastwatch

the Redemption of Christopher Columbus
by Orson Scott Card

Pastwatch is a real thinker. It posits the question: if you could really go back in time and change the past, would you? Constructed around a future hundreds of years ahead of our time, and the life of Christopher Columbus in the past, this book is both a science-fiction mind-bender and a thoughtful historical novel. The premise is that in the future, historians can use machines to look back in time and study any person they want. They fixate on Columbus as having been a key figure in propagating misery upon humankind, and aim to go back in time and change what he did... at a great cost to themselves.

I found that the parts of the book describing how Columbus thought and acted sprang to life for me- I was really picturing what it was like to live in his time, how he came to set off on his famous voyage of discovery. But the future-time scenes left something to be desired; they focused so much on dialog and what was being done, I didn't get much sense of the characters' surroundings and several times got lost because I missed a small cue as to what was happening in the plot, hinted at in someone's conversation. By the time the book wound to a close, I was beginning to loose interest. It all wrapped up too quickly.

Card is a great writer about human relationships. There were lots of observations on marriage and the subtle balance of control between men and women (I'm thinking Queen Isabella and the King in particular). The issues of slavery, racism and how religion was used as an oppressive force are a very large presence in this book.

This is the first book I have read concurrent with my husband since we went through a half-dozen Orwell novels together. He was so eager to discuss things in the book with me, yet didn't want to give away the plot, I actually got encouraged to spend time sitting in bed reading in order to catch up with what he'd read on the train. It was thought-provoking and fun.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 402 pgs, 1996

Meme: Introduced

Question from Booking Through Thursday: 1. How did you come across your favorite author(s)? Recommended by a friend? Stumbled across at a bookstore? A book given to you as a gift?
2. Was it love at first sight? Or did the love affair evolve over a long acquaintance?


The first author that comes to mind was Chaim Potok. I first read his novel The Chosen as a high-school assignment, and loved it. My sister T. did too. We read the sequel together, and over several more years I chanced upon more of his books. Before long I was seeking them out, and I've now read (and own) all of his fiction works. I was very sad when he passed away a few years ago...

Anne McCaffrey I discovered because a childhood friend gave me Dragonflight for my birthday. Barbara Hambly I found by picking up one of her books at a second-hand shop, same with James Herriot. Tolkien, my father read us The Hobbit when we were children. Mark Twain, as well. I remember sitting on a chair looking over his shoulder at the pictures in Heritage Press editions of Tom Sawyer. Barbara Kingsolver I discovered because my mother told me that my sister was reading and liked The Poisonwood Bible. Orwell- I first read Animal Farm in school, and 1984 off my father's bookshelf. In more recent years my husband and I discovered and began reading more of Orwell's novels; we sought them out. Now they're a household favorite. Steinbeck is another author that high school introduced me to; I remember discussing The Grapes of Wrath in class. I have gradually come to know and love more of his works.

I don't remember how I first came across Robin McKinley's works, or Mary O'Hara but I've read and loved them since childhood. I think I first stumbled across them at the public library. C.S. Lewis is a very old favorite, too. I think perhaps my mother first read or introduced us to The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe. Maybe my sisters can help me remember that one...

I could go on, because I have lots of favorites. I think those are the top dozen, though!

Jan 10, 2008

The Hungry Ocean

A Swordboat Captain's Journey
by Linda Greenlaw

This fascinating, adventuresome book details one trip aboard the swordfishing boat Hannah Boden captained by Greenlaw with a crew of four. The book starts out at the beginning of the trip, and follows every step through to the end. From the moment they load the boat with some $40,000 of supplies, the crew is racing against the clock to catch enough swordfish to make the trip profitable. If they don't get a good catch, there's no paychecks. First they have to find the fish. Then there's battling awful weather, swarms of sharks that eat up the bait, illness, breaking equipment, fights among the crew, and competition from other swordboats. The work can be painstaking, backbreaking and dirty, and the reader is spared no details. The appendix even includes an itemized list of expenses and profits made on this particular trip, and a map of the boat's course. Besides just telling the story of what it's like to work in the fishing industry, The Hungry Ocean also includes some superstitions, legendary tales and funny stories about fishing and her own thoughts and philosophical musings on life. She is a successful woman captain in an occupation dominated by men, and you can see why. She always wanted to captain a boat, and poured her whole heart into it. She is stubborn, humorous, and smart. And a good writer.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 288 pages, 1999

Jan 9, 2008

In the Company of Newfies

A Shared Life
by Rhoda Lerman

Rhoda Lerman is a breeder of Newfoundlands. But this book is not a technical description of the breed, or a training manual. Rather, it is a novel about one year in her life with nine adult dogs and a litter of new puppies. There is a lot of information on the history of the breed and what breeders go through to raise the dogs included as part of the narrative. Mostly, though, the book deals with the dogs' personalities, and their relationship with Lerman herself. These great, gentle dogs are really part of Lerman's family, as she makes quite clear. Her communication with them is so intuitive that she makes them appear nearly human. At times, her statements about the dogs' yearning to be human, and her her desires to be more like a dog can make the reader pause... But the overall story is so well-written, interesting and prosaic that I can overlook this. In the Company of Newfies was out of print for many years, having just come back in 2002. A great book for anyone interested in dogs or animal behavior, one to sit and cherish for the beauty of its words.

Rating: 4/5 ......... 162 pages, 1996

Jan 8, 2008

The Polysyllabic Spree

by Nick Hornby

A Christmas gift from my sister K. Being "a hilarious and true account of one man's struggle with the monthly tide of the books he's bought and the books he's been meaning to read" there is nothing about The Polysyllabic Spree that I could not love. Except the fact that I never read most of books he talks about. No matter. It's still a delight! Funny, intelligent, witty and honest. And I even felt excused when at the end I read Hornby's quote of another author (Gabriel Zaid, So Many Books): " 'it would take us fifteen years simply to read a list of all the books every published.' I think he intends to make us despair..." So that's why I haven't heard of all these titles!

"Zaid's finest moment, however, comes in his second paragraph when he says that 'the truly cultured are capable of owning thousands of unread books without losing their composure or their desire for more.' " That would be me, certainly, if there were not financial restraints and common sense. Though I do feel like I loose composure with too many unread books around. I feel like I ought to read what's in my "unread" pile before acquiring more books (right now that shelf is about static at forty-six). So does that mean I'm not cultured? It's probably a good thing; I think my husband would go utterly mad if all our walls were lined with bookcases, and the floors would groan.

Back to the Spree. Unbeknown to me beforehand, there exists a monthly literary publication called The Believer, in which Hornby writes a column called "Stuff I've Been Reading." This book is a collection of those essays. At the head of each Horby lists what books he bought that month (or some of them) and what he's read, then plunges into observations on said books. How good or poor they are, what they make him think of, tidbits about the authors, the competition they have with football-viewing and the arrival of a new child, because "reading is a domestic activity, and is therefore subsceptible to any changes in the domestic environment." Oh, isn't that so! My book-reading soared the first month after my baby was born and I was stuck in bed recuperating with a nursing infant; it plunged thereafter when the kid got more active...

My two other favorite quotes from Hornby are "what one wants to read, most of the time, is something that bears no reference to one's life and work" and "There is enough money in the music and movie industries to ensure that we get to hear about most things that might interest us; books have to remain a secret, to be discovered only when you spend time browsing. This is bad for authors, but good for the assiduous shopper." I just love that feeling of discovery when I find a treasure tucked on a dusty shelf in a second-hand shop, or open a book I picked up on chance because it was only a dollar, only to find it's the best thing I've ever read...

This is the longest post I've written in months, but it was also the most enjoyable thing I've read in that long and I need somewhere to gush! As a result of reading The Polysyllabic Spree, my first impulse was to go online and search for other collections of his essays on literature, and I found Housekeeping vs. the Dirt which was published last year. I can't wait to get my hands on it.

As a matter of interest, out of the 99 books he mentioned, I've only read five:
Great Expectations- Dickens
Franny and Zooey- J.D. Salinger
The Catcher in the Rye- Salinger
The Lord of the Rings- Tolkien
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

and these are the ones I now want to read:
George and Sam- Charlotte Moore
Old School- Tobias Wolfe
Clockers- Richard Price (for my husband)
How Mumbo Jumbo Conquered the World- (also for husb)
Bobby Fisher Goes to War- Edwards
Random Family- Nicole LeBlanc

Rating: 5/5 ........ Published 2004, 143 pgs

Read another review at:
Passion for the Page
Books 'n Border Collies

Jan 7, 2008

Down and Out in Paris and London

by George Orwell

This is a detailed account of living in poverty in Paris and London. The narrator, an impoverished writer, describes his experiences living in Paris as a dishwasher for a posh French restaurant, and wandering the streets of London usually homeless, searching for lodging and food, consorting with pawnshops, sleeping in charity shelters, rubbing shoulders with bag ladies and tramps. His descriptions of what goes on in the bowels of the French hotel where the restaurant food is prepared makes my stomach turn- for weeks I vowed never to eat in a restaurant again! The attitudes of British law towards vagrants was utterly depressing and raised indignation in my heart for the squashing of human dignity and lack of proper succor for the poor and homeless. Mostly the book described pure misery and frustration trying to live without stable income and thus, a proper roof over one's head. In spite of how depressing it is, Down and Out in Paris and London remains one of my favorites of Orwell's. It's a very engaging read.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 213 pages, 1933

More opinions at:
Shelf Life
Sophisticated Dorkiness

Jan 6, 2008

The Book of Ruth

by Jane Hamilton

I don't know why but when I kept seeing The Book of Ruth on shelves I thought it was about Ruth from the bible, some historical fiction or retelling in a modern setting. I couldn't have been more wrong! It's about a girl from a poor family that I can only describe as "white trash" (sorry if the term offends!). She's rather naive. She grows up and has a kid and never seems to change her situation or better herself much. If you've ever wondered why people continue to live in squalor, with others who treat them miserably, read this book. Even though Ruth's value system and interests were totally different from my own, the author did such a good job of portraying Ruth with frankness and honesty that I found myself thinking: well, I can see how she thinks/feels that way. The context of the story is so outside my experience I kept asking my husband "what does this mean" and "what does this refer to?" until he said "what are you reading?!" This story is brutal, hilarious and strange. I liked it just because it was so different and so realistic in a gritty mundane sort of way.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 328 pages, 1988

Jan 5, 2008

One Child

by Torey Hayden

One Child made a lasting impression on me when I first read it. It is the story of an abused and neglected child who showed up in Hayden's special education class one day. The child, Sheila, had been found tying another child to a tree and setting him on fire. She was six years old. She was supposed to go to a mental institution but there was no room, so in the meantime she got stuck in Hayden's classroom. At first Sheila was violent, destructive and mute. She caused a lot of tumult in a classroom of children who already had various developmental and emotional problems. Eventually Hayden won her trust and began helping her heal. Unfortuantely, she was unable to prevent further tragedy happening to Sheila, but she certainly gave the child a big boost on her road to recovery. I am eager to read the sequel and find out what heppened to Sheila as a teenager. Her feisty personality and intelligence shine through the pages and make it quite a memorable book. It is well-written, full of lively dialog and vividly emotional scenes. The story of what happened to Sheila would break anyone's heart.

Rating: 4/5 ......... 251 pages, 1980

Read another review at: SMS Book Reviews

Jan 4, 2008

Child of the Wolves

by Elizabeth Hall

This came from a book-swapping site in the mail; I added it to my order on a whim. Read about two-thirds and got tired of it. Maybe I'm done with juvenile reading, unless it's nostalgic. What really got me was the porcupine scene: no way a half-grown dog could pull quills out of itself; he'd just gnaw on them. And with quills in his throat he'd be severely injured and likely die. (please correct me if I'm wrong) But his recovery from that was hardly dealt with, and it made the book feel cheap, which continued with more non-descriptive scenes. Told and not shown. Dull.

Abandoned ....0/5.. 184 pages, 1996

The Monday Horses

by Jean Slaughter Doty

This book is sure to please any young horse lover. It's about a young girl whose horse gets injured while riding past a large show stable. They take in her horse in for the duration of his recuperation, and the girl stays too, working in the stable to defray costs of her horse's boarding and be involved with the horses. Eventually she finds herself training and riding horses in shows. But it's not all as glamorous as she'd dreamed. The show horses often change hands when their owners sell them, and she has to face parting with several horses she has come to love. An easy, enjoyable read, The Monday Horses is full of details about horses and the world of horse shows. It doesn't shy away from the darker side of the show ring, especially that of drugging horses to affect their performance...

Rating: 3/5........ 166 pages, 1979

Jan 3, 2008

What Do You Do with a Kinkajou?

by Alice Gilborn

I read this on a five hour plane flight. It was slightly interesting, but not very compelling. What Do You Do With a Kinkajou tells about a woman named Cynthia called "Cee" who collects animals. Rasied by a prim and proper woman who dreamed of her daughter attending bridge clubs and presiding at societal functions, Cee was afraid of horses as a child until her mother forced her to ride, not wanting her child to be "a sissy." Her plan kind of backfired when Cee became so enamoured with animals that she spent the rest of her life working for or with them, utterly devoted. In a farmhouse that at first was miles out of town but then became gradually enveloped by sprawl, Cee kept a ever-growing menagerie of animals: dogs, cats, geese, goats, sheep, cows and especially horses. Her attempts to justify the number of horses by running a horse breeding operation was admirable, but she barely made any profit. The most interesting chapters were chapter 7 "Just a Few Horses" where she describes her attempts to rescue horses from slaughterhouses (they were all incorrigible) and how she discovered and fell in love with Arabians, and chapter 8 which describes the kinkajou, coatimundi and raccoon that lived at the house. Most of the rest of the book is easily forgettable, unfortunately. I suppose that's why it is out of print.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 206 pages, 1976

Jan 2, 2008

The Last Free Man

the True Story behind the Massacre of Shoshone Mike and his Band of Indians in 1911
by Dayton O. Hyde

I pulled The Last Free Man off my father's shelf to read during a holiday visit. It tells the story of one of the last remaining native americans, a Bannock named Mike Dagget, who with his family remained living off the land in a semi-nomadic existence in Nevada after all other natives had been killed off by white settlers or driven onto reservations. In 1911, Mike's band was accused of murdering four sheepmen, tracked down and killed, leaving only four surviving children. Hyde became fascinated with the story of "Shoshone Mike" and determined to track down details and forgotten truths about what really happened to him. Part of the book relates his search for men who knew Mike or were involved in the posse that killed his family; and his journey to follow the trail of Mike and visit sites where his band had camped. Other sections of the book are told in a more narrative style, portraying what Mike's experience may have been like. In an attempt to understand the natives' perspective, Hyde even spent some time living in the desert solitary, attempting to support himself on what he could catch or gather, just as the natives had done. He relates how white settlers with their cattle and sheep altered the range so much that wildlife was driven out, making it so hard for the natives to survive in their traditional fashion that most gave up and moved to the reservations or assimilated themselves into white society. All except Mike. I cannot say that Hyde was entirely unbiased in his presentation of facts about Mike; but he was certainly attempting to tell Mike's side of the story, as most accounts before treated Mike in a negative light. This book is pretty interesting, although it gets kind of dry and at times I wondered where the text was taking me. I might have given it four stars if it had been easier (more pleasurable) to read.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 264 pages, 1973