Jun 30, 2009

bookmark giveaway!

My daughter picked a name this morning. The winner of the zebra bookmark is Cath of Read Warbler. Send me your postal address, Cath, and I'll mail you a zebra!

I've been thinking about this, and decided that until future notice, my giveaways are going to be of just bookmarks. Several reasons. Economical: I can afford to mail bookmarks more often than I can mail books. Every week! I can also send them overseas, so my giveaways won't be limited geographically anymore. Creative: I'm making the bookmarks myself, (some from my own artwork, more from my scrap file) which I really enjoy doing (especially since I'm not painting anymore). The only funny thing is, I don't use bookmarks myself. (But I love making them!) And I wonder how many other people do, since I don't get as many entries for these giveaways. Is there just more interest in free books than free bookmarks? I could go back to doing book giveaways, but they'd be far less frequent, perhaps just one a month... any kind of input appreciated, here. Let me know! You're the recipients!

Well, for now, the next giveaway features this handpainted, ribbon-edged giraffe bookmark. Do you like giraffes? Leave a comment for a chance to win, by tuesday July 7th. Happy reading!

Jun 29, 2009

The Journey Home

Some Words in Defense of the American West
by Edward Abbey

This was not as good as Desert Solitaire. It doesn't feel as cohesive, there's not nearly as much nature writing, the descriptions of the desert climate aren't as vivid, the humor began to fall flat with me, and the constant complaints against industrialization and development became tiresome. The Journey Home is still all about southwest desert country- describing parts of Utah, Arizona and the Yosemite Valley, among others. But it's more about the strain that population growth and economic pressures have put upon the natural habitat, than about the habitat itself. While the degradation done to wilderness by strip mining, tourism and suburban sprawl needs to be addressed, the way Abbey went on and on about it in this book got very -well, boring. I would have rather read more about the wildlife and the desert landscape, but that's just me. I found parts of the book describing a season he worked as a fire lookout on a mountaintop in Glacier National Park, and another about a trip he took down the Green River through winding canyons, the most interesting. More difficult to get through were chapters about when he lived in Hoboken with descriptions of New York City, and a strange segment about the author being carried above the desert country by an "angel" in a hawaiian shirt and hiking boots, who pointed out all the pollution that needed cleaning up. Overall an interesting book, which discusses some important environmental issues, but by the end I was just skimming the pages. I don't think I'll read it again. I'm going to look for some different works by Abbey. I like the way he writes, but this one's just not to my reading taste.

Rating: 2/5 ........ 242 pages, 1977

Jun 26, 2009

Desert Solitaire

A Season in the Wilderness
by Edward Abbey

This is one of those books that I devoured in a mere two days, wondering why in the world I'd never opened it before. Desert Solitaire is a collection of writings Edward Abbey penned about time he spent as a park ranger in Arches National Monument, a spectacular desert near Moab, Utah. Sandstone cliffs, winding gullies and canyons, fantastic formations erosion has created out of rock. Spiny and sinister fauna and flora, amazing sunsets, brutal heat and chill nights.... but not all of his words are about the beauty and strangeness of the desert wilds. He writes about working as a park ranger, frustrations with tourists, searching for lost hikers, railing against litter and waste and development which (in his opinion) spoils the wilderness. He describes days spent gathering range cattle on horseback, exploring the beautiful Glen Canyon right before it was doomed to be drowned by a dam, visiting the depths of the Havasu (whose people I met once before in a book called People of the Blue Water), and an encounter with a runaway horse that had lived alone in the desert for ten years. He muses on the plight of the impoverished Navajo, the place of national parks in the nation's consciousness, and the importance of solitude and wide-open spaces for the health of one's soul. Abbey has lots of strong opinions, and delivers them in a frank, blustering fashion that is at the same time poetic and humorous. I was sometimes taken aback by his sentiment, and I know this is one of his tamer books, too. (I have yet to read The Monkey Wrench Gang but it's on my list now). Even though I don't agree with all of his radical opinions on how to keep wilderness pristine, I find his voice so fresh and invigorating, so unique and lively, that I can't wait to read more of his works.

Another book I read for the TBR Challenge

Rating: 4/5 ....... 269 pages, 1968

More opinions at:
Blogging for a Good Book
Sapphoq reviews books
Ranger Nathan's Adventures
Laurisa and Samara's Reading Blizzard

Jun 24, 2009

It's Not About the Bike

My Journey Back to Life
by Lance Armstrong
and Sally Jenkins

All I knew about Lance Armstrong before I read this book was that he was famous, and he won that grueling cycling race, the Tour de France. I picked it up out of idle curiosity at a book sale. Like the title aptly says, it's not just about cycling. The beginning of the book describes Armstrong's childhood, how he got interested in bicycles, and his intense involvement with the sport from an early age. I knew very little about bicycle racing before, so all the little details were fascinating. I had no idea it got so technical- during training he would spend hours hooked up to computers, doing performance tests to adjust his position on a bike by the slightest increments, to find the position that used his body's energy most efficiently. Even when in the middle of a race the athletes had monitors hooked up to their bodies, radios in their ears. Here was a man whose entire occupation was about strength, endurance, and pushing his body to its limits. To go from all this to deathly illness in a matter of weeks. As I'm sure a lot of you know (but I didn't), Armstrong was suddenly diagnosed with very aggressive cancer- in the testicles, lungs and brain. For a year he battled for his life, against the worst odds. He made an amazing recovery, and discusses in depth the experience of surviving cancer, both physical and psychological. When he tried to get back into the sport, he was dismayed to find that no one wanted him on their team- and then when he found a sponsor and got into racing, many publicly doubted that he could make a comeback. He proved them all wrong, in a blistering win that practically made him an American hero.

It's Not About the Bike is a well-written, engaging, and inspirational book. There were a few times when it got dull- the chapter about his creating a foundation for cancer patients was kind of boring to read about, I'm embarrassed to say. And the epilogue, about his second win of the Tour de France (he went on to win it seven times in a row) was just too densely packed with details of the race and people involved, my eyes started glazing over. But overall a good read. An amazing story. My husband kept raining on this book, though. Every time he saw me reading it he scoffed, and pointed out the allegations against Armstrong, especially for performance-enhancing drug use, which were denied in the book. Having these negatives brought to my attention spoiled my enjoyment of the book somewhat. I feel like Armstrong was honest about his faults- he could be really aggressive and cocky, for example- but I guess you never know, when reading someone's autobiography, exactly how much is true or what's left out. In this case, I'd like to believe the author.

This one I read for the Non-Fiction Five Challenge.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 289 pages, 2000

More opinions at:
Ramblings of a Bibliophile
Clearly Confused
Reading Railroad
By a Hopeless Bookaholic

wondrous words

New words that I have found in my reading this week, from Almost Perfect:

Brux- "He's bruxing. That's the noise a rat makes when it's really happy."
Definition: grinding the teeth

and from It's Not About the Bike:

Peloton- "The spectator rarely sees the technical side of cycling, but behind the gorgeous rainbow blur of the peloton is the more boring reality that road racing is a carefully calibrated thing..."
Definition: the main group of riders in a cycling road race

Velodrome- "We went into a velodrome to look at my position on the bike and determine where I was loosing power.
Definition: an indoor arena with a banked track for bicycle races

Collate- "That first week my mother picked up all of my prescriptions, collated my medical records, scoured bookstores for cancer material, and organized my schedule."
Definition: to gather or arrange pages into a proper sequence

for more wondrous words, visit Bermudaonion's Weblog!

Jun 23, 2009

The Fur Person

by May Sarton

May Sarton is an author I really enjoy, although I have only read a handful of her books. The Fur Person is a lovely little volume all about- of course- a cat. At first a homeless vagabond, the Cat sets about to find himself a permanent home, with a decent person (or two) to "keep house" for him. He comes across several different sorts that aren't quite the right fit before settling in with none other than Ms. Sarton's own household. Based partly on the doings of her own cat, this book is full of wonderful depictions of how cats compose themselves, what they might be thinking, how they like to be treated, etc. The parts about his experience with catnip, and his routing of a mouse through the house, are just great. It's lyrical and funny and just a bit sad at times. Some exquisite line drawings by David Canright illustrate the pages, giving it just the right touch. Anyone who's loved a book like The Silent Miaow, or shared a home with a cat, is bound to cherish The Fur Person. I only wish I had a copy to give to you, but I'm keeping mine!

Rating: 4/5 ........ 106 pages, 1978

bookmarks giveaway

The kitten helped me pick a name this morning. And she's got her paws on Holly, of 2 Kids and Tired Book Reviews. Holly, you've won two flower bookmarks! Send me your address and I'll mail them along.
I'm having so much fun making these bookmarks to give away, I've decided to do it every week. Next up is a ribbon-edged zebra (from my own artwork). Anyone want a zebra bookmark? Leave your name here for the drawing next tuesday, 6/30.

Jun 22, 2009

Apologies

to those of you who are seeing numerous posts in gibberish chinese in your reader. I don't know how this happened. I burned my feed this morning, because I thought I ought to provide an option to subscribe via email, and that's the only way I know how to do it. Then I was feeling ill and took a four-hour nap. When I woke up, found out someone had hacked into my feed. I've deleted the feed- gone back to the regular one- sorry, no email updates for anyone! and hopefully it won't occur again. If problems continue, this blog might be migrating soon...

Black Like Me

by John Howard Griffin

This is the story of a man who changed his skin. In the late 1950's John Griffin, a white journalist, stained his skin dark brown and traveled into the deep south to experience racism firsthand. He was shocked at what he found. Being educated and well-spoken did not help him find employment or be treated with courtesy from white people. On the contrary, he was often treated despicably by them, and many white men defended to him with complete candor and confidence their racist attitudes. He encountered prejudice, anger, fear and mistrust- on the part of both black and white people, towards each other. He was also recipient of compassion and acts of kindness from his fellow men... and returned to his own home months later a changed man. Black Like Me is a very moving account, one that still makes an impression on me just as it did when I first read it back in high school (not as an assignment).

Rating: 4/5 ........ 200 pages, 1960

More opinions at:
Book Addiction
The Reader's Cafe
The Readers Review

Jun 20, 2009

Almost Perfect

Disabled Pets and the People Who Love Them
edited by Mary Shafer

This short book is a collection of true-life stories about pets who have touched and inspired the people around them. But these are not ordinary cats and dogs- all of them are disabled in some way. Dogs with missing or paralyzed legs- one even continuing to work as a service dog after loosing a limb. Blind dogs and cats who learn to navigate their surroundings with ease. A white cat with chronically sunburned ears. A kitten with a brain disorder. Animals suffering from serious injury or illness who make remarkable recoveries, beating all the odds. I expected all the stories to have happy endings, but that wasn't the case- there's a few real tear-jerkers here. And a few surprises- who would have thought that a parapalegic pet rat could be inspiring? Cagney's story was probably my favorite; I've read lots of heartwarming tales about dogs and cats, but not that many about a rat! I've sometimes wondered how humane it would be to let a pet live with a serious disability, but after reading Almost Perfect it's clear to me that most animals adjust and simply move on, living their life in the moment. I do wish more stories had been included, and a few times an awkward phrase distracted me from the reading- but overall this was a pleasant, quick read. The voices here vary as widely as their pets- some of the writing is brisk and straightforward, others eloquent. Some humorous even in the saddest moments. Almost Perfect is a book that will warm the heart of any animal lover or pet owner.

I received a copy of this book from Roberta Jacobson, one of the authors.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 128 pages, 2008

More opinions at:
Something About Barbaro

Jun 19, 2009

Ariel

A Book of the Change
by Steven R. Boyett

Ariel is a post-apocalyptic fantasy. The world has suddenly changed. Modern technology no longer works- electricity, firearms, cars, etc.- and magic has come into the world. (It's really cool that the author laid out rules -like the laws of physics- for how the magic worked, too.) Chaos and confusion is everywhere, as mythical beasts stalk the land and bullies wrest scant resources from others. The main character, Pete, manages to survive the turmoil of the first few years after "the Change" and is on his own until one day he comes across a unicorn. A beautiful, graceful, magical creature- who is also stubborn, frank, cracks jokes and likes to swear. They strike up a friendship and travel together, eventually adding to their party a bumbling kid who thinks he has to kill a dragon and a woman named Shaughnessy. Like many fantasy novels, it winds down to a battle between the good guys and the bad guys- Pete has to learn swordsmanship from a martial arts master, trek on foot from Atlanta to New York City, choose his friends wisely and avoid his enemies. It turns out that the bad guys want to capture the unicorn, and even if he can keep her away from them, he might loose her to a human relationship- as he and Shaughnessy begin to find each other attractive- but only a virgin can be a unicorn's companion... This novel is just amazing. Full of adventure, great characters, a wonderful tale of friendship and loyalties.

What's even more fantastic is that I just found out the author wrote a sequel, Elegy Beach, coming out in November. I can't find a synopsis of it anywhere online, though...

Rating: 5/5 ........ 325 pages, 1983

more opinions at:
Ready When You Are, CB

Jun 18, 2009

Reindeer Moon

by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas

I've read a few of this author's non-fiction books, but I had no idea she wrote fiction until I picked up Reindeer Moon, a story set twenty thousand years ago in a cold northern region of forest and steppes. Like Clan of the Cave Bear, it's full of harsh realities and bitter struggles for survival, especially when it comes to people's interactions. In Thomas' novel, the people are so few that one individual's error or misdeed can jeapordize the entire group. The main character is a young woman named Yanan, who after a streak of catastrophic events finds herself alone with her younger sister, traveling through the wilderness to try and find her people again. They take shelter in an old abandoned lodge, only to find a mother wolf has made it her den. For a time they co-exist with the wolf and its cub. In this incident and the following events, I could see a scenario arising of how the first wolf was tamed. Only it didn't happen in the span of the book- which rather disappointed me, but also made it more realistic; I think the development of a partnership with animals would probably have taken more than one person's lifetime. I also really liked (of course) parts of the story where when a person died, their spirit could take on the form of an animal- and at times the spirit would just live the animal's life, forgetting what it had originally set out to do in that form. It was really interesting to see the different animal perspectives: deer, lion, bear, owl etc. The first time it happened I was surprised: wait, she's a wolf now? but then I eagerly awaited the person-into-animal moments.

Anyway, I'm getting off track. The wolf thing was not the focus of the story, although I found it fascinating. It's mostly about Yanan's efforts to live her life the way she wants to- sometimes against the tenants of her society. Not nearly as dramatic (or rich in detail) as Clan of the Cave Bear (which I couldn't help comparing it to, as one of the few other novels I've read set in prehistory) but full of grim realities- death in childbirth is common, many children never survive to adulthood, winter brings starvation, people fight over food and mates, illness and injury go ignored. It was sometimes hard to read descriptions of them suffering in ways which the reader knew were totally preventable but the characters were ignorant of. Often the people acted totally callous towards each other. And yet they were also skillful, manipulative and imaginative- very human. This is one of the few books I've ever read where in the society arranged marriages made complete sense- the population was so small, and life so risky, the people had to carefully choose who joined with whom. Resistance to these arrangements could cause lots of turmoil .... Reindeer Moon is a story of a woman growing up, learning some hard lessons in a very harsh land, a book about nature and nurture, about discovery and loss...

This book reminded me of so many others. The part where the girl and her sister are struggling to survive alone brought to mind Into the Forest. The way they came to live in the wolf's den made me think of Incident at Hawk's Hill. The closeness to nature, paired with brutality and a sense of wonder, echoed themes of An Imaginary Life. Needless to say, I really enjoyed this book and I'm eager to get my hands on the companion novel, The Animal Wife. (I'm hoping it continues to speculate, even as backdrop to the main events, how someone tamed a wolf...)

I read this book for the TBR Challenge

Rating: 4/5 ........ 336 pages, 1987

Jun 16, 2009

winner and giveaway!

The winner of One Good Turn is Kimmie! Congrats! Send your address to jeanenevarez AT gmail DOT com and I'll mail out your book.

My next giveaway is of these two flower bookmarks. To enter, leave a comment here. Name will (as usual) be drawn from the hat next tuesday, 6/23

Jun 15, 2009

Hatchet

by Gary Paulsen

As a younger reader, I was a big fan of Gary Paulsen. The first book of his I read was Hatchet. It's a survival story, set in the northern wilderness. After his parents' divorce, thirteen-year-old Brian survives a plane crash on a remote lake while on the way to visit his father in Canada. He finds himself all alone, miles off course (which makes search and rescue success unlikely) with nothing but a hatchet in his belt. Brian must learn quickly how to make a fire, build a shelter, find food, etc. At the same time he struggles internally with the anger he feels at his parents. There are several things I really liked about this story. First, it doesn't shy away from the gritty details. Right after the landing Brian is in shock, it's freezing cold, he almost gets eaten alive by mosquitoes, he gets sick all over the place, etc. Even after he gets the hang of things, there's still lots of unpleasantness- rain and mud, porcupines and skunks, fish slime and bird guts. You get the picture. Very realistic. Secondly, the story is just as much about how Brian changes because of his ordeal, as it is about what he does to survive. He comes to appreciate the beauty of the wilderness. He learns patience and problem-solving skills. He matures a lot emotionally, and comes out of the experience a very different person. Great book.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 195 pages, 1987

A few more opinions:
BookSnake Reviews
Bookaholic's Book Blog
Reading Railroad
Sarah the Librarian

Jun 14, 2009

Clay Walls

by Kim Ronyoung

This novel is about a family of Korean immigrants and their experience in America. It spans several generations, the back cover copy tells me. I was very curious to read it, but after several days of sitting down and becoming bored within a few pages, I just let it go. I probably wouldn't even mention Clay Walls except it was one I had intended to read for the TBR Challenge. I'm trying to pinpoint exactly what it was that felt so dull to me- the flat narrator's voice? the lack of a foreign culture "flavor"? the way the I kept getting told why the main character felt certain ways, from events in her past... all I know is it just wasn't interesting me, which was rather sad. So I'm moving on!

Abandoned... 0/5 ... 301 pages, 1986

Since I did not really give this book its due, read a few more blogger opinions:
Galaxy Review
Narrative and Silent Fury
Duke in Los Angeles 2009

Jun 13, 2009

Oooo I'm MAD!

Wow. I've been spammed. In the worst way. My post of yesterday was duplicated by someone here: http://diary.edublogs.org/2009/06/12/dogear-diary-my-orphans-of-the-wild/ (I won't give them the honor of a live link) with a terrible translation- it's looks like someone ran it through one of those automatic online translators from english to something (russian?) and back. I'd be more angry if I wasn't laughing so hard at the horrible way my sentences got mangled. I guess it's time to copyright my blog. I really don't mind if someone wants to quote me or something, as long as they give due credit, but this is just a rip-off stealing my content. Has this ever happened to you? what did you do about it?

Jun 12, 2009

My Orphans of the Wild

Rescue and Home Care of Native Wildlife
by Rosemary Collett

Rosemary Collett was a wildlife rescuer. Her entire home and backyard was dedicated to taking in orphaned or injured animals, and caring for them until they could be released back into the wild. Located in Florida, she had the usual influx of young 'coons and squirrels, but also possums, the occasional armadillo, and many, many pelicans. Lots of other shore and seabirds, too. I thought this book would be something like The Swan in My Bathtub, but it's actually much more formal, a handbook for wildlife care. For each species, Collett briefly outlines its habits and diet. She gives recipes for infant mammals and birds, describes how to care for them, when to give basic first aid, when to call the vet, when to humanely euthanize, and when and how to finally release them. Also provided are instructions on how to safely capture an injured wild animal or bird, and how to build various cages. She describes her work with the public visiting schools, libraries, nursing homes and hospitals to give educational programs on wildlife, always taking along several animals- particularly those which for one reason or another could not be released into the wild again (other animals that were too disabled to go free were often given to zoos).

Actual stories were few, but I still found it interesting reading. I learned a lot about different birds- songbirds, owls, hawks, seagulls, etc. I was surprised to learn that owls are so sensitive they can die from heart attacks caused by fright at being mishandled. I learned the answers to some questions A Paddling of Ducks had left me with. In that book, the author described coming upon waterfowl with oil on them, and his attempts to clean them. First he tried gasoline; the fumes killed the bird. Then he tried industrial soap, which stripped the birds' natural oils. When re-released into the water, they died soon from the chill. Collett dedicates an entire chapter to the care of birds caught in oil spills- she explains clearly that gasoline or industrial soaps will kill birds; and even after proper cleaning they have to be kept dry until their natural waterproofing is restored. Sometimes this takes months, until after the bird has molted and grown new feathers.

There's another entire chapter about an otter, kept by one of Collett's friends, which made me think of Ring of Bright Water... I wouldn't say that My Orphans of the Wild is a very compelling book to read, or particularly fun. (My four year old even got bored looking at the photos- she liked the cute baby raccoons, squirrels and bunnies in the front part of the book. Then it was all birds and she said "is this it? just more birds?" and quit) But it's a very thorough resource, especially considering that when Collett wrote the book, there were no general handbooks published for wildlife care (at least, she couldn't find any).

I read this book for the TBR Challenge.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 288 pages, 1974

Jun 11, 2009

Meme: Niche Reading

From Booking Through Thursday:

There are certain types of books that I more or less assume all readers read. (Novels, for example.) But then there are books that only YOU read. Instructional manuals for fly-fishing. How-to books for spinning yarn. How to cook the perfect souffle. Rebuilding car engines in three easy steps. Dog training for dummies. Rewiring your house without electrocuting yourself. Tips on how to build a NASCAR course in your backyard. Stuff like that.What niche books do YOU read?

I think books about making compost tops the list. Vegetable gardening books, natural history, animal training/behavior and novels from an animal's viewpoint are more favorites of mine that don't seem that common with other readers. What about you?

Jun 10, 2009

wondrous words

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Bermudaonion where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our reading. These first few words I came across in Sandy:

Caruncular- ".... when the feathers began to rub away, exposing more and more of the caruncular red of maturity."
Definition: a fleshy naked outgrowth, like a chicken's wattles

Termagant- "For almost sixteen years, Sandy dominated my marriage like a termagant mother-in-law..."
Definition: an overbearing or nagging woman

The rest are from A Paddling of Ducks:

Cote- "The birds were reared in their pigeon cotes with small jackets around their wings preventing their stretching or exercising."
Definition: a small shelter for birds (or sheep)

Trophic- "Baby wood ducks have an instinctive, almost a trophic response for the first forty-eight hours after hatching."
Definition: stimulating growth? the meanings I found all had to do with nutrition...

Gudgeon- "It looked to me like some green greasy gudgeon of the Limpopo..."
Definition: A small eurasian freshwater fish related to the carp and used for bait

Cytologist- "Dr. Yamashina, the well-known Japanese cytologist and ornithologist, has proposed a new theory about these birds."
Definition: one who studies the structure, formation and function of cells

Welter- "Sir David carefully unlocked the cabinet, reached in, and abstracted from the welter a small package wrapped in a sheet of newspaper."
Definition: a confused mass or jumble

Fatuously- "... the birds will swim upstream, as it were, into the breeze, curious to see the dog, and led along by the fatuously tame mallards."
Definition: unreal, delusive

I started doing a new thing with my discovered words this week. Every time I jotted down a word on my notepaper, I also wrote next to it what I thought the word meant. I found that more often than not, I already had a pretty good idea, sometimes it was a word I'd run into before. The ones I share with you here are words I totally had no idea on, or the definition was a lot more specific than what I guessed. Happy reading!

Jun 9, 2009

Book giveaway!

win a free book!

Time for a free book! I've got this nice hardbound copy of One Good Turn, which is "A Natural History of the Screwdriver and the Screw." Interested in reading about the evolution of a simple, all-pervasive and useful tool? This book is looking for an appreciative reader! Leave a comment here, and a name will be drawn from the hat next tuesday, 6/16.

Jun 8, 2009

A Paddling of Ducks

by Dillon Ripley

A Paddling of Ducks was written by a man passionate about waterfowl. From a young age he always wanted to have a duck pond of his own- and he did just that, building enclosed ponds and over the years keeping a wide variety of ducks and some geese. He traveled afar with other duck enthusiasts to collect eggs and find specimens- sometimes to try and bring home live ducks, other times to shoot them (enjoying a roast duck dinner) and at other times simply relishing at seeing a certain species in the wild. Most interesting to me was reading about his efforts to raise ducks, and a few anecdotes of duck behavior. I had just read in Sandy that bantam hens make the best foster mothers for baby cranes, and here Ripley advocates the same hen for hatching ducklings, explaining why bantams are better than incubators, or other hen breeds. Unfortunately, I am not really crazy about ducks, just mildly curious about them, so a lot of this book was rather dry reading. There are pages and pages describing the geographic distribution of the many different duck species, their migrating patterns, how they are related to each other, how the plumage of the ducklings varies, and particularly, enthusiastic descriptions of their beautiful colors. The book is graced by many fine black-and-white line drawings by Francis Lee Jaques, but without any titles to the pictures, I often had no idea which duck I was looking at. I wished for some color illustrations, and ended up looking up a few of the more spectacular-sounding or oft-mentioned ducks online, including the author's favorite eider duck, and the presumed-extinct pink-headed duck. If you know someone who loves ducks, this book would be an excellent read. For me, it was just piddling.

I read this book for the TBR Challenge.

Rating: 2/5 ........ 256 pages, 1957

Jun 6, 2009

Life of Pi

by Yann Martel

Pi is the son of a zookeeper in India. When his family emigrates to Canada- taking as many zoo animals along with them as possible- the ship sinks, and Pi finds himself alone in a lifeboat with several animals, including a large bengal tiger. Before long, of course, the tiger has eaten the other animals- and Pi must use all his wits to stay alive in the confined space, on the rocking, endless ocean, with a hungry tiger. I loved all the details of this book- especially about animal behavior. This is a survival story, an animal story, a moral story, all in one. It was a shock to me to reach the end and find out that what I thought had been going on- and taken so much enjoyment in reading about- could have been something totally different. And I was a bit annoyed. For days I wavered back and forth, arguing to myself which way to interpret the story- and I'm still not sure! Life of Pi is one of those books that I found utterly engrossing- and totally frustrating at the end. It is lyrical, funny, and haunting. I can't give away the ending- but if you've read it, you must tell me which premise you believe in- was Richard Parker on the boat, in his beautiful furred coat? or was there some cannibalism going on....?

Rating: 4/5 ........ 326 pages, 2001

More opinions at:
The Curious Reader
Book Chase
A Novel Menagerie
Rabbit Reader
Andrew Blackman
You've GOTTA Read This!

Jun 5, 2009

Sandy

The True Story of a Rare Sandhill Crane Who Joined Our Family
by Dayton O. Hyde

I really loved this author's book about coyotes. The crane one, well, it just wasn't as captivating. Bird behavior and biology has never fascinated me quite as much as that of mammals, and so when the book felt lacking in detailed descriptions, my attention started to flag. Sandy is about a rancher's devoted efforts to save the greater sandhill crane, a relatively rare subspecies that at the time he began his studies was not getting much attention or protection. Parts of the book describe his work- rescuing eggs from floods, raising the chicks, trying to discover the whereabouts of his birds when they migrated alone and failed to return (one trio ended up in a zoo, but recognized him when he visited!). Other sections go into lengthy discourses on the importance of wetlands conservation, land management, and wildlife protection- mostly on behalf of the cranes, but also in consideration of other waterfowl and animals. There's several chapters full of reminiscings of the ranch he worked on as a young man, and while the author talks a bit about how he first became enchanted with sandhill cranes back then, it felt like a digression to me and at one point I nearly put the book down, because I wanted it to get back to the cranes! Also, in many cases he described the end result of some studies, but not how he reached them- which details I would have found interesting, but maybe that's just me. Hyde was the first to successfully raise sandhill chicks (with chickens as foster mothers!) and release them into the wild, instead of just ending up in zoos. He also carried out extensive surveys of their population numbers, and after years of work was considering something of an expert on cranes, giving advice on their management to some wildlife conservation organizations. These large, ancient birds (fossil records date back at least two and a half million years) are impressively elegant, I just wished they had graced the pages more fully.

I read this book as part of the 2009 TBR Challenge, hosted by MizB.

Rating: 2/5 ....... 214 pages, 1968

Jun 4, 2009

Meme: Sticky Books

At first when I saw this meme from Booking Through Thursday on so many blogs, I thought it was a "sticky post" about favorite books, but actually it's about books that stick in your mind. "Don’t take too long to think about it. Fifteen books you’ve read that will always stick with you. First fifteen you can recall in no more than 15 minutes." For me these are books I might have read years ago, but they made such a lasting impression on me I could easily tell you all about the characters, the setting, the plot, practically quote lines and conversations right out of the book. Perhaps when I'm not quite so tired I'll come back here and mention something about the less familiar ones...

Roots- Alex Haley
Amy's Eyes - Richard Kennedy
Gentle Gorilla- Susan Green
Ratha's Creature- Clare Bell
Ender's Game- Orson Scott Card
The Poisonwood Bible- Barbara Kingsolver
Watership Down- Richard Adams
Call It Sleep- Henry Roth
The Chosen- Chaim Potok
Dogsbody- Diana Wynne Jones
The Hobbit- J.R.R. Tolkien
Ariel- Steven Boyett
Dragonsbane- Barbara Hambly
An Edge of the Forest- Agnes Smith
The Clan of the Cave Bear- Jean M. Auel

Jun 3, 2009

Vet on the Wild Side

Further Adventures of a Wildlife Vet
by David Taylor

I just finished reading David Taylor's Vet on the Wild Side yesterday. It's a collection of stories about the experiences of a zoo vet; I've written about two other of his books here and here. For some reason, Vet on the Wild Side didn't enthrall me as much as the other titles. I think this is because it didn't feel as focused. While relating one story about a certain animal, the author would often begin musing on other experiences he'd had working with the same species, or in the same country, or with a certain individual. It made the accounts feel rather disjointed. The constant, sideline mention of stories I'd read in his other books also started to distract me. But, as always, it was still a fascinating read. During the time frame covered by this book, Taylor was frequently traveling, as a vet specializing in wildlife and exotic animals. He recounts working in a special hospital in Arabia just for sick falcons, solving a mystery of poisoned baboons, rescuing a pair of dolphins that had been abandoned in a posh hotel swimming pool, collecting semen (to a crowd of curious onlookers and press) from the famous albino gorilla Snowflake and devising methods for transporting large sharks, among other tales. I learned quite a bit about sharks- did you know they don't have bony skeletons, but cartilage? Their skin is comprised of dentine scales, and so rough its abrasion alone can cause injuries. One of the most astonishing stories in the book included a scene where a shark had busted out of its tank on a truck, fallen onto the roadbed, and had to be rushed to the nearest aquarium in the backseat of a taxicab! Another really interesting collection of anecdotes related his work doing tv programs about animals- with frank disclosures about how much they faked things. If you like reading about wildlife, or veterinary work, this book is recommended.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 224 pages, 1990

wondrous words

Quiet here, but I've still been reading! All the new-to-me words this week come from Vet on the Wild Side.

Greasepaint- "What we needed were three good-natured circus elephants, brought up to the roar of the greasepaint, the shouting of clowns..."
Definition: theatrical makeup, from grease mixed with paint. This one doesn't seem quite right, but I couldn't find any other meaning of the word.

Caliph- "To make way for the mighty albino, lying like a dead caliph on his bier, two security guards with whistles and batons went ahead."
Definition: a successor of Muhammad, a leader of Islam

Inglenook- "The pair of tigers were magnificent animals, adolescents who still retained some cubbishness, and as friendly and stroke-happy as any inglenook moggy."
Definition: a corner beside the fireplace

Compos mentis- "By now Savari should have been up on his feet, groggy, but more or less compos mentis."
Definition: of a sound mind

Pantechnicon- "The pantechnicon's engine wouldn't fire, so we had to push-start the enormous vehicle."
Definition: large van used to move furniture

Plonk- "Perhaps the wine of the Plaza Mayor was colored chemical plonk."
Definition: cheap or inferior wine (slang)

Suzerainty- "By democratic standards the Cubans are not a free people, but they are free of grinding poverty... and of the diseases of poverty, and they're free of American suzerainty."
Definition: the power or domain of a suzerain, a feudal lord

Dauphin- "The arts of falconry and the love of the possession of those 'kingdom of the daylight's dauphins' courses in his blood."
Definition: formerly, the eldest son of the King of France

Shahin, Houbara- "... but what did they know about the shahin in practice, the ways of the houbara and gazelle, such subtle quarry?"
S: a swift Asiatic falcon
H: a large bird of the bustard family

Thermidor- "Several of us were looking forward to having a thermidor for Saturday dinner, but we had reckoned without Andrea."
Definition: a dish of cooked lobster meat mixed with cream

Boffin- "I'll get us an appointment to see a boffin!"
Definition: (archaic) a scientist or technician engaged in research

Priapic- "... the male madrill's startling colours, perfeclty normal in mature adults, did add a certain dramatic quality to these handsome animals' frequent priapic revels."
Definition: phallic

Trish asked me in the comments last week what my retention is like on the new vocab I find. Truthfully, half the time I forget them! I know I've come across caliph and suzerainty before, but the meaning escaped me so I looked them up again. Often I have to look up a word two or three times before it sticks well. For a while, several years back, I wrote out new words and their definitions by hand in a notebook; the physical act of writing them seemed to help me remember them better. Typing doesn't quite have the same sticking-factor, for me. (But it's faster! And easeir to search). To find more wondrous words, visit this meme's host at Bermudaonion's Weblog.