Aug 31, 2009

Daughters of the Sunstone

by Sydney van Scyoc

I have found it is not hard to read a 600-page-plus book at all, if it's one you're interested in! This was my last attempt to complete the 9 for '09 Challenge, and I finally did it. I'm finding it difficult to know what to say about Daughters of the Sunstone, though. The entire time I was reading I kept wanting to discuss with someone, and tell my husband about it. But the little I told intrigued him so much, he made me quit saying anything, for fear I would give it away. Because now he wants to read it himself! And I don't want to write spoilers here, either, but it may be difficult to say anything without saying too much! So I'll try to be discreet, but you've been forewarned.

Well, here goes. Daughters of the Sunstone is actually three volumes in one: Darkchild, Bluesong and Starsilk. It is set eons in the future, when humankind has left Earth to populate other planets, scattered far and wide. Such a long time has elapsed that humans have evolved differently on the new plantes, to adapt to new environments. Brakrath was a planet not really suitable for settlement. Humans only landed there by accident, stranded for what they thought would be a brief while, that stretched out into centuries. In the meantime, they found a way to survive the harsh environment and built a culture around a few women invested with tremendous power- the very power of the sun. A power drawn to warm the valleys and extend the growing season but also very dangerous to wield. Khira is born into this culture as a palace daughter, and due to strictures of tradition, finds herself all alone in the palace for the long winter.

One morning she wakens to find someone in the empty palace with her- a strange boy, devoid of emotion or personality, lonely, empty and lost. She befriends him and teaches him everything, unaware that he is really a tool sent from an alien race, a child whose mind has been programmed to gather information in order to exploit her planet's resources. Although she sees Darkchild only as her friend, others see something more sinister in him and recognize the threat. While Kira struggles to know what she must do- protect her friend, or her people? flee from or embrace her duties? the boy Darkchild wrestles with the duplicity he comes to recognize in himself. Can he be more than just a pawn, working out the hostile intent of an alien race? can he assert his own will and be whole?

The second novel, Bluesong, is the story of the next generation. Due to new contact with offplanet humankind, some children are born with entirely new characteristics. They don't fit in the rigid structure of Brakrath society. There is no place for them in tradition. Danior and Kira are born in different valleys, yet they are both desperately searching for a sense of belonging, and share a common destiny. When their paths cross, they find themselves traveling to strange unknown places on Brakrath, into harsh lands where savage tribes war constantly. Kira finds that against her will, her very presence in the desert stirs up greater violence, yet she may be the only one who can bring peace, if she can learn to control the power of the sunstone in a way no one has done before. And Danior must find the answers to his own quest, to return to his home valley with tales of wonders greater than anyone has ever heard, with answers to questions no one had thought to ask...

The final story, Starsilk, finds Danior's sister Reyna confronted with new information that will change forever how her culture operates. Driven by desperation to fulfill her role in society and yet avoid the grim outcome she now knows is inevitable, she sets off on a quest further than any palace daughter has ever gone- to a distant planet. With a companion and a guide, she seeks to find a man who has been lost for a hundred years, yet whose voice still speaks across the stars. If against all odds he still lives, Reyna intends to find him. What she and her companions encounter is a land with sentient creatures bound together in a way stranger than anyone could have imagined.

And now I've got to stop myself before I say to much. Really, I've only scratched the surface here. These stories are complex, with very real characters who inhabit an entirely unique universe thought-out in every detail. They grapple with enormous dilemmas, facing emotional turmoil, trying to make sense of their lives and the new changes happening to their once-isolated planet. Each of the stories has wide-reaching implications, yet they're told from a very personal perspective that makes them so engaging. It's a fascinating trilogy, with unexpected complications at every turn. I was full of anticipation to the very last page. Now I'm eager to find any other books by Sydney van Scyoc- she's a fantastic writer and I'd love to visit whatever other strange worlds she's created.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 697 pages, 1984

More opinions at:
Jenny's Books
Feminist SF- the Blog!
Library Thing
anyone else?

9 for '09 Complete!

I've finished my third reading challenge, the 9 for '09 Challenge! For this challenge I read nine books of various categories. I had to find a few replacements for ones that didn't work for me, so the ones I ended up reading were:

My Beaver Colony by Lars Wilsson
Letters from a Nut by Ted Nancy
Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl
The Sheepdog by Tim Longton
Chalice by Robin McKinley
Emma by Jane Austen
Sand by Will James
The Grail War by Richard Monaco
Daughters of the Sunstone by Sydney van Scyoc

Aug 28, 2009

Pandas

by Heather Angel

After reading about the golden moon bear, I wanted to know more about bears, so I searched through my book pile and found this brief, informative volume on pandas. Written by a wildlife photographer, Pandas gives an overview of the species accompanied by many gorgeous photographs. The book tells about panda habitat, diet, behavior and mostly, why they are so endangered. Its main focus is conservation, and to that end, there seem to be more descriptions of the unique habitat than of the pandas themselves. This book states that according to the conformation of their skulls, pandas are part of the raccoon family. Yet in the book on moon bears I read that DNA studies have shown pandas to be bears. The smaller red panda is still a puzzle- is it part of the bear family, raccoon family, or one all its own? I was surprised to learn that pandas have canine characteristics- including their teeth and digestive system- and yet their main food source is a plant, bamboo. They can't digest it entirely, so they have to practically eat all day in order to get enough nourishment. And bamboo has a peculiarity that once every seventy, hundred years or so, a variety will all bloom at once, set seed, and die. It used to be that when the bamboo died off, pandas simply migrated to another area. Now with developments cutting the forest into smaller sections, the pandas have nowhere to go to find new bamboo. The other food sources they turn to aren't sufficient, and they slowly starve. These are only a few of the facts I learned about pandas from this book. I'm really curious to know how a canine animal evolved to be so dependent upon a plant species, yet unable to utilize it efficiently. I suppose science hasn't figured that out yet.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 72 pages, 1998

Aug 27, 2009

Search for the Golden Moon Bear

Science and Adventure in Pursuit of a New Species
by Sy Montgomery

This interesting book is about a writer and a scientist's quest to unravel the puzzle of a golden bear in Southeast Asia. Was this unfamiliar bear a new species, or merely a color variation of the Asian black bear, otherwise known as the moon bear? The author and her companion Dr. Gary Galbreath traveled through Cambodia, Laos and Thailand in search of bears and local people who could share information about them. There they found that the bears were seriously endangered by habitat loss and poaching, and heard stories of yet another possibly unknown bear species in remote mountains. From things simple as asking a Hmong refugee living next next door what he knew of bears, to the technicalities of extracting DNA from bear hair, the story encompasses every aspect of their search for answers. It ranges from feeling like a travelouge, to describing bear behavior, to explaining the scientific methods of their study. It's about bear genetics, evolutionary history, and distribution; about the presence of the bear in local folklore and, sadly, diet and medicine. The bears are not the only animal to get mention here. There is the mysterious Khting vor, known only by its twisted horns. There are dogs rescued off the streets where they would face abuse, or end up in someone's stew pot. There are elephants suffering from injuries sustained by stepping on land mines. There is a plethora of wildlife whose names are strange to me, and I had to look them up: kouprey, binturong, hog badger, markhor, etc. Search for the Golden Moon Bear is a book with many facets. While the bear is a dominant thread, there is also so much about the history and culture of various Southeast Asian countries that sometimes I felt lost. And so much of it made me feel upset, not only for the plight of moon bears, but also for the ravages of war and commerce on those countries.

Rating: 3/5 ......... 324 pages, 2002

More opinions:
What We Are Reading
anyone else?

blog award

Gentle Reader, who writes Shelf Life, has given my blog the Literary Blogger Award. This award is for blogs that make you feel comfy and warm inside (doesn't that picture look so cozy? I wish I had a window seat to read in!) I'd like to pass the Literary Blogger Award on to

Trish, Caribousmom, Bookfool, Maggie and Petunia.

A few more awards came to me lately, the second time around:
Jules and Jenny and Nan all gave me the Zombie Chicken Award, and Jessica The Curious Reader gave me the Lemonade Award. I'm sorry I'm a little late recognizing them. I just wanted to say thank you all!

I'm passing the Zombie Chicken Award on to
Lisamm- Books on the Brain
Bybee- Naked Without Books
Leah- The Octogon
Cath- Read Warbler
and Devourer of Books

and the Lemonade Award to
Amanda- A Patchwork of Books
Sharon- Ex Libris
Suey- It's All About Books
Eva- A Striped Armchair
Heather- Book Addiction

Aug 26, 2009

wondrous words

These words I came across when reading The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle:

Obstreperous- "He was such an enormous man there was no knowing what he might do if he got really obstreperous."
Definition: noisy, aggressively defiant and difficult to control

Embrocation- "... the Doctor took a large bottle of embrocation and began rubbing the sprain."
Definition: an ointment or lotion

Enteric- "They would go back to their old unsanitary ways: bad water, uncooked fish, no drainage, enteric fever, and the rest."
Definition: of the intestines

These words are from The Snowflake:

Nanoscale- "Yet self-assembly is hard to fathom because it usually involves either nanoscale objects, like the molecules in a crystal, or tremendously complex objects, like living things."
Definition: on a scale of nanometers, which is one billionth of a meter

Morphogenesis- "A flower is a biological example of morphogenesis, the spontaneous creation of form- nature using chemistry and self-assembly to generate complexity."
Definition: formation of the structure of an organism, or a part thereof

And from the books I'm currently reading, Search for the Golden Moon Bear:

Igneous- "In a great igneous spine, they run for more than six hundred miles from the northeastern corner of Cambodia up along the border of Vietnam and Laos."
Definition: formed by molten rock cooling

Lyse- "The chemicals would lyse, or burst the cells, and cause them to release their DNA."
Definition: to cause the disintegration of cells, by a chemical substance, antibody or enzyme

Montane- "If Africa is a good analogy, montane rain forest spread down, but the lowland forest became savanna in what is now the Congo Basin."
Definition: of a mountain area

and Daughters of the Sunstone:

Compunction- "I was busy," he said lamely, wondering how he had turned her away twice with no compunction.
Definition: uneasiness caused by guilt; feeling of regret

Inimical- "He should have known before he encountered the arrogant Bullens, should have known before he challenged the Arnimi force curtain, that the Arnimi would be inimical to him."
Definition: harmful, injurious; hostile or unfriendly

Insipid- "Tastes and scents grew insipid, colors dull, textures bland."
Definition: lacking in flavor, tasteless

Venality- "Or did the women who governed them see that their venality was directed entirely outward?"
Definition: susceptible to bribery, corruption; using a position of trust for dishonest gain

Compendium- "She was the oldest mare of her herd and she carried the knowledge of their kind in the very tissues of her body, carried it like a compendium of redmane wisdom."
Definition: a summary of a larger work

Ostentatious- "It was a crude weapon, but she worked on it ostentatiously, hefting it, testing its balance."
Definition: showy, pretentious. That doesn't quite seem to fit here. Does anyone know another definition?

Extemporize- "It means our fathers were the same man once," Danior said, extemporizing. "Though they are no longer, of course."
Definition: to do something without preparation or practice

That's a lot of new words! To see more, visit the host of this meme, Bermudaonion.

Aug 25, 2009

Rabbit-Proof Fence

by Doris Pilkington

I saw the film based on this book a few years ago, and it moved me so much I wanted to read the original story. Rabbit-Proof Fence is about three aboriginal girls in 1930's Australia who were taken from their mother and put in a camp where they were forced to learn English customs, beaten for speaking their own language, and taught to work as domestic servants. This was enforced by the government at the time because the children were of mixed race; their father was white. The girls, two sisters and a cousin, eventually escaped the misery of the camp and followed the rabbit-proof fence across the Australian outback to find their way home. Their journey was arduous and long. They walked most of the way, through desert conditions. They had to face heat, thirst, hunger and fatigue, and avoid professional trackers who were sent after them. They had no supplies or provisions, but survived on their own foraging skills and handouts from sympathetic people (both white and native) encountered on their journey. They traveled in total over 1,000 miles and sadly, even after reaching their home in Jigalong, were not safe from the government's attention.

While I find this story amazing, and my heart ached for the girls, for once the movie outshines the book. Even though the film was overly dramatic and a few aspects of the story were altered, it was far more engaging and moving than the book. The book was written by the daughter of one of the girls who made the trek, and she first heard about the incident through oral storytellers. She gathered information and documents verifying the story from a few other sources, and wrote it down as she would have told it to another person, some sixty years after the events had taken place. The result is a rather dry, sometimes scattered account with frequent awkward passages and stiff syntax. It is just not very engaging to read. It still strikes me as an important book; I did not know about how aboriginal people were treated in Australia before I read it, but it can be hard to appreciate. I would recommend seeing the film first, and then reading the book after if you want the more factual account.

Rating: 2/5 ........ 160 pages, 1996

More opinions:
Meet at the Gate
World Lit
Eric's IAH Blog

winner

The winner of the puffin bookmark is...

Sandy Nawrot, of You've GOTTA Read This!

Congrats, Sandy. I'll be sending you a puffin tomorrow. The next bookmark giveaway will be up the following tuesday, so if you didn't win one yet, do come again!

Aug 24, 2009

Black and Blue Magic

by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

I must have first read this book some fifteen years ago, and the story has still stuck with me. It's about a lonely boy who gets a magic potion that makes him grow wings. Each night he sneaks out of the house to go flying- at first just learning how to do so safely, then exploring, and finally seeking ways to help strangers- when he's often mistaken for an angel. Of course it's not all fun and games- foggy nights are wet and cold, it's hard to find something suitable to wear while flying, and he's constantly worried about being found out. Black and Blue Magic is a really good story, one I want to read yet again someday.

Rating: 3/5 ....... 196 pages, 1967

Aug 22, 2009

The Snowflake

Winter's Secret Beauty
by Kennth Libbrecht

Stunningly beautiful, The Snowflake: Winter's Secret Beauty is a book all about snowflakes, or snow crystals- particularly how they are formed, and why there is such an enormous variety of pattern combinations that no two identical snowflakes have ever been observed (although two very close ones are pictured on pp. 28-29). There's even a bit of history: the first recorded observations of snowflakes were made by Descartes in 1637, the earliest snowflake photographs in 1885 by Wilson Bentley. A lot of this book is physics, and even though the information is presented clearly, I had to read some passages several times over. I learned so many fascinating things: what makes the halo around the moon, how scientists can make clouds produce rainfall, and what can suspend an ice crystal long enough to grow a snowflake in a laboratory- a rabbit's hair! The nucleus of a snowflake is actually a dust particle, and they are formed by the growth of ice crystals, very similar to how mineral crystals grow. The formation of snowflakes is affected very precisely by humidity and temperature- so a snowfall will often have all of a similar kind of snowflake, and when conditions change, the shape of the flakes changes, too. Although most of the photographs in this book are of beautiful, intricate and neatly symmetrical snowflakes, the great majority of snow crystals are actually irregular, small or deformed. It was really interesting to read about the methods photographer Patricia Rasmussen used to capture the images, too. You can see some of the gorgeous snow crystal photographs and read more about Libbrecht's work here. And the most wonderful thing? the author is a scientist who studies snowflakes not for any practical reason, but simply to understand their beauty, as aptly described in these two quotes included in the book:

The scientist does not study nature because it is useful; he studies it because he delights in it, and he delights in it because it is beautiful. - Jules Henri Poincare

What is the pattern, or the meaning, or the why? It does not do harm to the mystery to know a little about it. For far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined it. - Richard P. Feynman
Rating: 4/5 ........ 112 pages, 2003

More opinions at:
Educating Petunia
Blogging for a Good Book
anyone else?

Aug 21, 2009

The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle

by Hugh Lofting

I always thought I would rather like this book, because it's all about a man who can talk to animals! What could be better? Sadly, I was a little disappointed. The beginning was good. In a charming style rather reminiscent of My Father's Dragon, the story tells how a village boy, Tommy Stubbins, becomes apprentice to the great naturalist and doctor, and sets off with him on a voyage to discover new animals and find the doctor's missing colleague, an Indian named Long Arrow.

Dr. Dolittle travels around without a care in the world, because he can speak animal languages and wherever he is, creatures come to his aid. Shipwreck? no problem- the dolphins push him to shore. Overwhelming battle odds? no problem- call in thousands of black parrots! But I was a bit disturbed how the jolly animal-loving man used this to impose his own views on other people. It started out midly enough- translating for a dog so he could stand witness in a murder trial, stopping bullfights in a small town in Spain, follow a beetle guide to rescue some men trapped in a rockslide. But then at the end of their journey the doctor, Tommy and the animal crew arrive on a floating island where the native inhabitants are so ignorant Dolittle has to teach them everything- starting with how to make fire! then building cities, sewer systems, introducing them to medicine, teaching them to use metal, etc etc. It just got to be a bit too much. Polynesia the parrot had it right when she criticized him: "How do you suppose babies got along before you came, for Heaven's sake?" I wanted to like The Voyage of Dr. Dolittle, but the conceit of those ending chapters just spoiled it for me. This is a sequel. The Story of Dr. Dolittle is the first book and then there's a whole slew of others, but I don't think I'll read any more. I think my copy is an edited one, too; I read on wiki that some racist terms for natives and offensive illustrations had been removed.

Rating: 2/5 ........ 276 pages, 1922

More opinions:
The Newberry Project
Adventures in Reading
SMS Book Reviews
A Species of Storytellers
Karen Edits
My Life in Books
anyone else?

Aug 20, 2009

good and not so...

I have some fantastic news and some more glum news.

My blog got nominated for two categories in Book Blog Appreciation Week awards- Best Special Interest (I'm guessing for all the animal books!) and Best Non-Fiction Blog!! I couldn't believe it. I'm so excited to be a part of this, and thank you thank you to whoever nominated me!

The glum news is I busted my toe. (In a really stupid way: I accidentally kicked a brick that edges the garden). You would not believe how much a broken pinkie toe hurts. It's really silly, but half my usual tasks of the day I simply can't do, and the other half is all more awkward and takes twice as long. So by the time I can lie down and put my foot up I'm too tired to do much more than read a few pages and doze off. I have two reviews needing to be written, and feel like I've been rather neglecting the commenting I usually do on other blogs. It might be a bit quiet here for a while, but I'm still around and will catch up when I can.

wondrous words

I'm doing my wondrous words a day late. They all came from West with the Night, a book full of unfamiliar words, many (not listed here) which I could not find meanings for and only guessed at.

Muram- "I peer ahead along the narrow muram runway."
Definition: a type of heavy, red clay soil used to pave roads

Posho- "... the cedar forest that bounded our posho mill and paddocks."
Definition: a staple food in Africa made from ground maize and water

Syce- "... she could be handled even by the syces."
Definition: a groom or stableman (word origins in India)

Manyatta- "I could only wonder if he had been hurt and taken into a manyatta by some of the Masai Murani..."
Definition: a Masai community made up of several huts enclosed by a fence

Magneto- "Woody and I were preparing to take off for Nairobi and a doctor- and a new magneto, if one could be had."
Definition: a device that produces alternating current for distribution to the spark plugs, used in the ignition systems of some internal-combustion engines

Kiboko- "... Bwana Elkington, who is saying a great many words I do not know and is carrying a long kiboko which he holds in his hand and is meant for beating the large lion."
Definition: a heavy leather whip

Profligate- "He was profligate with money- his own and what he could borrow; but he spent nothing on himself and was scrupulously honest."
Definition: recklessly wasteful

Reimpie- "It began with the stirring of Buller alseep, as always, at the foot of my reimpie bed in the mud and daub hut we shared together..."
Definition: having a seat (or in this case a platform) of woven rawhide thongs

Donga- "The lion that stood in the donga was not intimidated by Arab Maina's stare."
Definition: a dry gully

Lucerne- "She nibbles at a single leaf of lucerne, too small to be tasted, then shambles on sluggish feet across the box."
Definition: alfalfa (in Britian and Australia)

Enure- "It is an ancient lamp.... It is crumpled and slatternly, enured to failure, as if no man with hope in his fingers had ever trimmed its wick."
Definition: inure; to habituate oneself to something unpleasant

Nonage- "... he will walk behind me now, when once, in the simplicity of our nonage, we walked together."
Definition: a period of immaturity

Strabismus- "Please report to the examiners within three months and, if you have not contracted strabismus, or a melancholy point of view in regard to this Board, we will be happy to renew your permit."
Definition: a condition where the eyes are not aligned with each other

Sansevieria- "Land on sansevieria and your plane is skewered like a duck pinned for taxidermy- land in it and walk away."
Definition: a type of shrubby, succulent perennial plant native to the Old World

Nostrum- ".... each beckoning with such enthusiasm that I concluded the gin, rather than the quinine, was the nostrum immediately required."
Definition: "patented" medicine with secret ingredients (usually a quack remedy)

Snickersnee- "The only difference is that the steer has neither the ability nor the chance to outwit the gentleman who wields the slaughterhouse snickersnee..."
Definition: a large knife (slang, of Dutch origin)

Virescent- "I think we were simply depressed beyond words with the business of hanging for so long a time under such a flat blue sky and above such a flat virescent swamp."
Definition: becoming green

Lachrymose- "They are silent, limp or lachrymose, and in their midst sits Blix the Unsinkable- a monument of miserable sobriety, bleak as a lonely rock jutting from a lonely sea."
Definition: being tearful, or causing one to weep

Bermudaonion
hosts this meme

Aug 19, 2009

Blogiversary


Happy birthday to my blog! Two years ago today I started book blogging, and it's been a blast. Huge thanks go out to all of you who read and comment- it's the ability to share opinions on books that makes blogging so much fun, and why I come back to it day after day. What started as just a way to remember what I've read has become a network of bookish friends, and a wonderful way to find out about more new books than I could possibly ever read.

This blogiversary, I thought I'd share some stats, which I haven't really done before. So I'm looking back over two years of blogging. For the purpose of this post, "This year" is 19 Aug, 2008 to 18 Aug, 2009. "Last Year" is 19 Aug, 2007 to 18 Aug, 2008.
"New reads" refers to book reviews I wrote immediately after finishing the book (also called "Current reads" in my tags). "Past reads" are reviews of books I read before I began blogging. "Review copies" are books that were sent to me by the author or publisher. What were all these books about?


It looks like my reading preferences haven't changed much over these two years. I've done fewer reviews of books from the past lately, but that's because I've been doing more memes, giveaways and other kind of posts. And for anyone who finds the other kind of stats interesting:


I'd love to tell you how many comments have gone through my blog, or how many pages I've actually read, but I don't know how to count that without getting a headache! I realize if you add up the numbers something doesn't match up, because many posts got put into two or more categories (for example, Ratha's Creature is both animal fiction and fantasy). This is as accurate as I can get in giving stats and looking broadly at what goes on on my blog over the past two years of reading and writing here. And there are so many more books I want to read, there is really no end in sight.

Aug 18, 2009

bookmark giveaway

Announcing the winner of the curly-leaf bookmarks:
Liyana, of Royal Reviews!

Congrats, Liyana!

This week I'm giving away the puffin bookmark pictured here. It's not one of my best- a bit crooked, and sadly the picture got a wrinkle in it while being laminated, but I still think this bird has a handsome face. If you'd like a chance to have him keep place in a book for you, just leave a comment.

Aug 17, 2009

West with the Night

by Beryl Markham

This book was not at all what I expected. From the cover images (the author in flight helmet, and on the back, her plane crashed in a swamp) and synopsis I read online, I assumed it was about early aviation. The author lived in Africa at a time when planes were very new and roads scarce, so there was always work to do in her small plane flying people and medical supplies to remote areas of the country, or searching for other lost pilots. I thought the book would mostly be about these flights, but I was quite wrong. West with the Night contains memoirs of Markham's childhood on her father's horse farm, and later her own work training race horses as the first woman licensed to do so in the country. Her writing is beautiful and poetic, the words ones to savor and turn over in your mind. Besides some lovely passages about horses, there is a lot about the African countryside and its wildlife. As a small child, Markham was attacked by a semi-tame lion that lived about the horse ranch. When older (but still very young) she went on hunts for warthog, lion and elephant, accompanied by native tribesmen and her loyal dog Buller. Many times the hunted beasts turned against them, in some hair-raising situations. The wild countryside, broad and nearly untouched by man, is nearly a personality itself in her pages. As is her plane. Accounts of her flights over desolate country, through darkness and storm and across the Atlantic in a record-breaking trip, grace the beginning and end of the book. I can't say which I preferred, reading about the horses and African wildlife, or reading about her flights in a small plane- both were engrossing and captivating. And have you ever had the thrill of coming across a character in a book, who was friends with one you knew in a different book entirely? Markham knew the von Blixens, and Denys Finch-Hatton, whom I met in the pages of Out of Africa. In fact, this book reminds me a lot of Out of Africa, far more so than it does Wind Sand and Stars, or the many books I once read about Charles Lindbergh. You can read a bit more about Beryl Markham here. Her book is one that should not be forgotten, it is such a treasure to read.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 294 pages, 1942

More opinions at:
Jenny's Books
The Zen Leaf

Aug 15, 2009

Capyboppy

by Bill Peet

It's been a long time since I picked up a J Nonfic book just for my own reading, but I was so curious about this I couldn't resist. I always loved Bill Peet's books when I was a kid, and have just started reading some to my daughter. We were in the juvenile nonfiction section so she could find books about hamsters (her favorite future pet still) when I saw this one on the shelf. It's about a capybara that Peet's son, an aspiring naturalist, once bought from an animal dealer and kept in their home. The story tells all about how the capybara settled down to be part of the family, its behavior, its sensitive nature, the mischief it got into. Not to mention the more mundane details like what it eats, the noises it makes, how it liked to have its fur combed. Eventually, of course, the capybara got too big to remain a housepet and had to go live at a zoo, where it shared a cage with two hippos! The illustrations are charming, the story is fun and informative. My husband and I have always been kind of fascinated with these huge rodents, and now thanks to Capyboppy I know quite a bit more about them. Sadly, if you visit Peet's online page, the story does not have a completely happy ending, as was given in the book.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 62 pages, 1966

More opinions:
Capybara Madness
Discipline Answers

TBR Challenge done!

I've been plugging along, reading the books off my challenge pile, occasionally disappointed in one and fishing around for a replacement title. And then I went back to look at my original list for the 2009 TBR Challenge and realized I've finished it!

Here are the titles I read (with links to the reviews):

Adventures of a Zoologist by Victor Scheffer
Dolphin Chronicles by Carol Howard
Vet on the Wild Side by David Taylor
Sandy by Dayton O. Hyde
A Paddling of Ducks by Dillon Ripley
My Orphans of the Wild by Rosemary Collett
Reindeer Moon by Elizabaeth Marshall Thomas
Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
Psycho Kitty by Pam Johnson-Bennett
The Burn Journals by Brent Runyon
Dust Bowl Diary by Ann Marie Low
Maggie-Now by Betty Smith

Aug 14, 2009

Maggie-Now

by Betty Smith

I am glad I finally got around to reading Maggie-Now. Like Smith's other novels, it is set in Brooklyn during the early 1900's. The story begins with Patsy, an Irish immigrant who married the daughter of the house where he worked as a stable boy in New York. Their first daughter was Maggie. But the mother was frail and died giving birth to her next child, a son. So Maggie spent her childhood raising her younger brother. She was not particularly intelligent but honest, generous and good at heart. She passed up a chance to marry a well-respected boy because she fell in love with a handsome stranger, who flattered and charmed her. None of her family liked Claude, who consistently dodged questions about his family and his past. After they were married, Claude took to disappearing every spring, coming home in winter and never telling where he'd gone. Maggie patiently waited for him every year, bearing the suspicions of family and neighbors, filling her days with caring for others. When I told my husband part of the story he laughed and said: "I know where he goes!" suspecting the guy had another family, a secret second life. But it turned out to be something quite different, after all.

This is a quiet story. It tells about ordinary people, who never do anything particularly spectacular. It shows how they live day-to-day (interesting in a historical sense), how Maggie and all those of her family connect to each other, reach out to their neighbors, influence and touch each other with their lives. In many ways the story is unbearably sad, ironic and unfulfilling. All Maggie wants is to pour herself into others, to care for them and feel needed. And yet the man she loves most always leaves her behind, and keeps secrets from her. Patsy's sole aim in life appears to be making others miserable, yet at the end it seems he really did hold some grudging respect for the man his daughter loved- either that, or his last act (in the novel) was pure spite to poke a finger in her misery. I'll never understand it, but that's what compels me about the story.

This isn't as wonderful as A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (one of my favorite books) but it's still a good read. I had a copy of another Betty Smith novel, Joy in the Morning, which I had trouble getting into and quit once. But Maggie-Now has made me want to try the others again. Her fourth book, which I haven't read yet, is Tomorrow Will Be Better.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 365 pages, 1958

More opinions at:
The Neglected Books Page
DomeToTome
anyone else?

Aug 13, 2009

an update

It has just come to my attention that I made a mistake with my DogEar Reading Challenge. I was not aware that I can't put up more than one Mr. Linky at a time, so my first one got taken down. I'm going to remove the Aug review-links post and reinstate the Mr. Linky on the sign-up post. At the end of the challenge, there will be a wrap-up post where you can leave a link to your own wrap-up and tell us of all the books you read, in the comments. Sorry for all the confusion! I hope this works out okay for everyone.

Edit 8/14/09
:
I have upgraded my mister linky account, so that should fix things. If anyone else has a problem signing up, please leave a comment or email to let me know. If the mister linky isn't working (or you don't have a blog), you can always just leave a comment on the signup post to let me know you're joining in! Sorry for the little mess, I'm still learning as I go!

wondrous words

I forgot to do this post yesterday, but I have been jotting down the new words in my reading! All these came from Maggie-Now, which I've just finished.

Chromo- "Ah, well, he thought, 'tis better to have the old Chromo's picture in the house rather than the old Chromo herself in person, sitting here and coming between husband and wife."
Definition: slang for a useless, annoying person, or a person of low moral standard

Lisle- "Patsy... as was traditional with men, eying the women in their bathing suits, their legs in long, black lisle stocks and the ruffles of bloomers showing beneath knee-length skirts."
Definition: a finely spun cotton thread, used to make stockings and cotton underwear

Pot cheese- " 'I'll have pot cheese and chives,' said Mary, 'and coffee.' "
Definition: cottage cheese

Fagoting- "I could teach them hemstitching and darning and fagoting and how to make buttonholes..."
Definition: a type of decorative stitching that ties parallel threads together in groups

Shillelagh- "She gave him a present in return - a knotty shillelagh, a treasure that had belonged to her first husband. He was proud of it, Pat was, and carried it with him whenever he went out, wishing he could get into an argument and make use of it."
Definition: a club made of heavy wood

Bollix
- "... well, Denny got everything all bollixed up."
Definition: to throw into confusion, make a mess of something

Lagniappe- "Winer had never come across the word 'lagniappe'. Yet he and many other storekeepers observed the custom."
Definition: a small gift given by a store owner to a customer with their purchase

For more wondrous words, visit this meme's host, Bermudaonion.

Aug 12, 2009

Wolf Children and Feral Man

by J.A.L. Singh and Robert Zingg

After all those books I read on feral children, especially Kamala and Amala, the girls supposedly raised by wolves and then kept at an orphanage in India, I finally got ahold of the original (or as close to it as you can get) source material. Wolf Children and Feral Man is mostly comprised of the Reverend Singh's own diary entries about the girls. He tells how he first found them, how they were brought to the orphanage, attempts made to teach them to eat, walk, speak, etc. There are a number of black and white photographs, which I pored over with interest. Singh speculated a lot about the nature of their souls, especially what the girls' behavior suggested to him about original sin and the divinity of human nature (vs. animal). Some of his conclusions feel kind of forced, as he viewed the girls' situation only through the lens of his religious convictions, and gave no thought to other possibilities. (For example, reading detailed descriptions of the girls' behavior makes me think they were autistic, or had some other mental handicap, not that they were really raised by wolves). I have to wonder what Singh left out, or fabricated- did it all happen exactly as he wrote? was he mostly concerned for the girls' welfare, or using their novelty to bring funds into the orphanage? I've read elsewhere that the photos were fabricated, the diaries not authentic, and he charged visitors a fee to see the girls. In spite of my skepticism, it's still a very interesting book. There is also included an account of Kaspar Hauser, and some other case studies of feral children. Some of it is dry reading, but curiosity kept me turning pages to the end.

You can read an excerpt from the book here.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 379 ages, 1942

Aug 11, 2009

bookmarks giveaway

It's tuesday! The winner of my seahorse bookmark is Sandy Nawrot, of You've GOTTA read this! Sandy, congrats! Email me your address (jeanenevarez AT gmail DOT com) and I'll mail it to you soon.
win two leaf bug bookmarks
The next giveaway is for these leafy green ones! They're smaller bookmarks, about 2 x 6". One features a pretty leaf pattern, the other a curly stem with a funny bug on it. I don't know what kind of bug it is, but I just thought he looked cool. Put your name in the hat to win by leaving a comment here before next tuesday 8/18.

Aug 9, 2009

The Horse's Mouth

by Joyce Cary

Feeling rather glum about my reading lately. The last few books I've picked up just don't suit me. I tried reading The Horse's Mouth, interested because it's about an artist, and hopeful, as I really enjoyed Mister Johnson by the same author, some years ago. I just couldn't get into this one. Maybe it's because I haven't read the two other books Cary wrote as companions to this one. I really don't know. I gave it fifty pages and found I didn't particularly like the characters, and wasn't interested enough in them otherwise to continue. The depressing thing is that other readers say this book is really funny, and one of the best portrayals of an artist's life. What am I missing? Sigh, and reach for the next book.

Abandoned ........ 312 pages, 1944

Aug 8, 2009

The Origin

A Biographical Novel of Charles Darwin
by Irving Stone

I am giving up on The Origin. For weeks it has been my put-to-sleep book, meaning I know if I read it in bed, I'll be nodding off within ten minutes. The last few times I tried to read it, my mind was wandering within just a few pages. I can tell the author did a staggering amount of research- it seems that every available scrap of diaries, letters and publications written by Darwin or his family or companions was utilized. But the material is all put together in very choppy, cut and paste fashion. I'd be reading an interesting bit of conversation and the next sentence he's standing on the deck of the boat the following morning. No transitions to speak of. Also, there was tons of information about the background of all the other people involved- the captain of the ship, crew members, other scientists, people he ran into on the voyage, etc- when what I really wanted to read about was his discoveries and speculations; there wasn't nearly enough detail about those things. I did learn a lot about Darwin- I didn't know before that he was going to be a clergyman, that his first interest was geology, that during the voyage he saw a lot of things that suggested evolution, before he ever reached the Galapagos Island -sadly, I did not reach those shores with him. I think it is just me- my interests don't quite match up with what this author is presenting, and I can't get through the heft of some seven hundred pages to glean what I want. So I'll leave this tome for another reader, someone more keen on historical fiction than I am. And now I have to find another long book to read for the 9 for '09 Challenge...

Abandoned........ 765 pages, 1980

More opinions at:
FamGuy Today
50 Book Challenge
anyone else?

Aug 7, 2009

The Dragonslayer's Apprentice

by David Calder

This little book is about a smart-alecky young girl who wants to be the first ever female dragonslayer. She convinces the current dragonslayer of the realm to take her on as an apprentice, and sets out on a run of adventures as they travel from village to village, confronting dragons and other nasty creatures that are causing problems. The girl tries to bluster her way through fighting dragons even though she has no experience, and the Dragonslayer begins to wonder where she came from, with her annoying attitude and strange desire to do this dirty job that no one else wants. I thought The Dragonslayer's Apprentice was a fun and entertaining read, with a few nice surprises. The isn't a lot of character depth or plot complexity, but for a book this length aimed at younger readers, I didn't mind at all and just enjoyed the story.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 160 pages, 1997

Aug 6, 2009

Tales From a Dog Catcher

by Lisa Duffy-Korpics

This book was so good I read it in just two days. Lisa Duffy-Korpics is a high school teacher, but when she was in college she worked for the police department as the animal control officer. Tales From a Dog Catcher is a collection of stories from those years serving as ACO in a town north of New York City on the Hudson river. It was interesting to read about the inner workings of the police department, and how well she got to know many of the local residents due to her job. Her experiences include the usual calls to deal with abusive and uncaring owners, stray dogs, old ladies hoarding cats, dog bites, etc. But then there are some uncommon ones as well. A white dog who for twenty years haunts the grounds of an old convent. A dog who- to all appearances on purpose- lures other dogs to their death in a game of chicken on a busy street. A feral cat who escapes from his cage and keeps the officer "hostage" in her own home. A bereaved family who wants to bury an elderly man's dog with him- even though the dog is perfectly alive and healthy. A wealthy foreign woman who- because of a language barrier- thinks she is buying mink coats but ends up with four manx kittens, and has no idea how to care for animals. Sometimes the truth is stranger than fiction. The stories in these pages were entertaining, curious, sad and heartwarming all together. I laughed some, I almost cried, I smiled a lot. It was that kind of book.

I received a copy of this book from the author.
Incidentally, does the cover remind anyone else of this?

Rating: 4/5 ........ 252 pages, 2009

More opinions at:
Book Hound
Librarian Lady

Aug 5, 2009

Dust Bowl Diary

by Ann Marie Low

I've had a copy of this book sitting on my shelf since I picked it up from the Book Thing a few years ago. I'm glad I finally read it. Dust Bowl Diary is a book that really lets the reader step back in time. Told in diary entries and reminisces, it chronicles nearly a decade of life on a North Dakota farm. The book opens right before the Great Depression, and closes when years of drought, dust storms and economic failure had forced the farmers off their land. Throughout it all the voice of Ann tells us how much she loved the land, and her heartache at seeing things change, her family's constant struggles to keep going and hope for better times- until no hope was left and all she wanted to do was leave.

Ann was a farmer's daughter- used to getting up early for long hours of chores, riding horseback when she could, cherishing her hard-earned education. She talks about facing long winters with monstrous high drifts of snow, then bone-dry summers that left fields barren and cattle starving. She talks about fighting prarie fires, listening to coyote song, and harvesting wild chokecherries. She talks about changes in technology- seeing the first "talking picture" at the movie theater in town, the difference between backbreaking hours of work harvesting with manpower and horse teams, and using modern machinery. Some things which seemed like such an innovation to her then- a washing machine comprised of a wooden tub with a crank handle on the outside, an eight-track tape player in the cab of a truck- seem laughably antique to me, now. How far we have come. I often felt downright lazy while reading this book, because the overwhelming impression I got was how hard people worked back then, how hard for what little return. And they were patient, gracious, generous and kind to their neighbors. Ann was a spirited girl, one to keep her independence and refuse suitors as long as she could. She became a schoolteacher, one of the few opportunities available to women at the time, and worked to help support her family when the farm failed them. Her words are frank, and her use of expletives amusing- "Gee-whiz!" and "ixnay" were two favorite expressions.

The only other books I've read about the Great Depression and farms facing drought are The Grapes of Wrath in school (which we had to analyze to death) and The Time It Never Rained by Elmer Kelton, which I picked up from a secondhand shop in San Francisco, just because it looked interesting. I liked reading about the same circumstances from an actual diary, and comparing it to what the novels depicted.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 188 pages, 1984

More opinions at:
Bird in Hand Yarn
Tikimonkey
anyone else?

Aug 4, 2009

bookmarks giveaway


The winner of the cougar bookmarks is Serena, of Savvy Verse & Wit! Congrats, Serena! Send me your address and I'll mail your bookmark shortly.
win a free seahorse bookmark
My next giveaway is for this pink seahorse bookmark. Just leave a comment here for a chance to win by next tuesday, 8/11.

Aug 2, 2009

Dogear Reading Challenge

Aug reviews!

If you're participating in my Dogear Reading Challenge, come back to this post through the month of August to leave your reviews. It's nice to see what we're all reading! Just use the Mr. Linky below, with Your Name- Title of book and make the url go to your review post. (I haven't even finished my first one yet, so we'll see who goes up first!)

8/13/09 Edit:
Sorry, but due to a problem with Mr. Linky and my misunderstanding of how it works, I am removing it from this post so it can go back on the initial sign-up post. If you want to leave links to your August reviews, please do so in the comments. A final wrap-up post coming in the end of Dec, where we can all share about the books we read. My apologies for the confusion, I hope you don't mind signing up again, if your original links are missing.

8/14/09 Edit
I think I have fixed it, now! Everyone's links should still be available.

9/31 Edit: Well, I'm sorry it's still not working and I don't know why. If you could just leave links to your reviews in the comments, that would be great!


1. mel

2. Mel-"Dewey-The Small Town Library Cat Touched the World

Powered by... Mister Linky's Magical Widgets.

Aug 1, 2009

The Burn Journals

by Brent Runyon

I first found out about The Burn Journals on Can I Borrow Your Book? many months ago. At the time I thought it sounded like a good book, but what a horrifying subject: a fourteen-year-old boy suffering from depression attempts suicide by lighting himself on fire. The book, based on his journals, chronicles his long recovery in hospitals and rehab centers, re-adjustment to home again and facing going back to school. Reading the details of his care in the burn ward was full of wonders for me- I had no idea what was involved in burn care, it's amazing what they do. His recovery was remarkable, considering he had third-degree burns over eighty-five percent of his body. Pouring gasoline over yourself and lighting a match seems so drastic, I could not shake the question: why? why did he do it? (It was not his first suicide attempt; he had tried sleeping pills, cutting his wrists, hanging, contemplated jumping off bridges, etc) I kept expecting some revelation to come near the end of the book, some monumental confrontation with his family, some revelation of a deed that had wracked him with guilt, but it never surfaced. It was just wretchedly sad. Through it all, he seemed such an ordinary kid. The book feels so vividly honest: his constant thoughts about girls, need to feel noticed, to make people laugh, dismissive of his parents, denial of his feelings... I don't usually enjoy reading books written in the present tense, they tend to feel awkward to me, but this one read so smoothly, it was like listening in on someone's thoughts. It made me feel despondent how ordinary his family appeared, and yet they were all suffering silently, in some way, and distant from each other. I felt frustrated that there was no real resolution at the end- yes, he recovered physically, and was stable enough to return home, and go back to school- but there were still huge unanswered questions. I read in someone else's review that in the afterward the author talked about how he still struggled with depression even years later, and was finally seeking help with medication and therapy, but the edition I read didn't include this material. I would have liked to read that part, too.

Note to sensitive readers: there's lots of swear words in this book, and his constant thoughts about s-x and touching girls' bodies. I guess that's what goes through the mind of a teen boy, and for some reason I didn't find it as offensive as I usually would. Maybe because it felt so honest.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 374 pages, 2004

More opinions at:
Thirty Ninety
World's Strongest Librarian
A Literary Life
Y'all Come On In