Dec 31, 2009

2010 TBR Challenge


I'm signing up for the 2010 TBR Reading Challenge, hosted by Miz B. The rules are as follows:

* the challenge is to read 12 TBR books in 12 months — you can read those all in one month if you want, or one a month, or however you wanna do it.
* you should have a list posted somewhere for others to see
* you CANNOT change your list after January 1st, of the current year!!!
* you can create an Alternates list of MAXIMUM 12 books, if you want, in order to have options to choose from (you can read these in place of books on your original list).
* audiobooks and e-books ARE allowed
* re-reads are NOT allowed, as they aren’t TRUE “TBRs”
* you CAN overlap with other challenges

Here is my official list of books to read:

Gorillas in the Mist by Dian Fossey
Memoirs of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Theodore Roszack
The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier
Inkheart by Cornelia Funke
Enrique's Journey by Sonia Nazario
No One Thinks of Greenland by John Griesemer
Endurance by Alfred Lansing
The Moon by Whalelight by Diane Ackerman
The Lost Years of Merlin by T.A. Barron
Beautiful Swimmers by William Warner
An American Childhood by Annie Dillard
Walden by Henry David Thoreau

And here is my "alternates" list:

The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
The Last of Her Kind by Sigrid Nunez
Split Estate- Charlotte Bacon
Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper by Harriet Chessman
The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint by Brady Udall
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
Sweetness in the Belly by Camilla Gibb
Pale Fire by Vladimir Nabokov
Rules for Old Men Waiting by Peter Pouncey
Shattering Glass by Gail Giles 
The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle

I only have ten of these books on my shelf, so this challenge will get me to use the public library a little more, too!

Dec 23, 2009

Love, War and Circuses

by Erioc Scigliano

I could not get through this book. I tried, and some parts at the beginning were really interesting, but it just became too jumbled with a multitudinous miscellany of elephant lore, often referring to incidents I knew little about without much explanation, before jumping on to the next point. It just was hard to follow. I need something a little more focused. Not to say that Love, War and Circuses doesn't have a focus. It's all about elephants- their evolution, their mammoth ancestors, their role in history: used in warfare, exploited for logging, venerated in religion, trained to perform in circuses, pining away in zoos, etc etc. Elephants in art, myth and legend. Anything you could imagine wanting to know about how elephants have shown up in human culture. More about elephants in Asia than the African ones I'm more familiar with. Maybe that's part of the reason my interest began to slide; the chapter about elephants in India and Thailand mentions so many stories featuring them in folklore and religious canon that my eyes began to glaze over and my head to swim. But if you are besotted with elephants, this would be a perfect book for you!

Abandoned ........ 358 pages, 2002

Dec 20, 2009

a note

The closer it gets to Christmas, the more spotty my posting here will be. Not only am I spending more time with family than reading or blogging, but we just got the biggest snowfall I've seen in years, and somehow it's more thrilling to sit and look out the window at all the beautiful whiteness, glittering with tiny ice specks, than in front of a computer screen that glares my eyes. So for the next few weeks I'll be reading rather sporadically, posting when I finish a book and occasionally otherwise. Wishing everyone the best of the holidays!

(Here's my daughter standing under a wreath I made from branches trimmed off our Christmas tree, and up to her knees in the snow.)

Dec 18, 2009

Raccoons

by Samuel Zeveloff

I didn't finish this one. I picked it up at a library sale some weeks ago. It has all kinds of data about raccoons and their closest relatives, the coatis, kinkajous and olingos. Everything from their evolutionary origins and current distribution to their habits and diet, threats from humans and management issues. It's a very informative book, well-organized and clearly written, but just not very interesting to me right now. A bit dull. If I wanted to write a report on raccoons, this would be fantastic, but as I'm reading for enjoyment as well as to satisfy curiosity, I feel differently. Even in my nonfiction reading, I like something with a bit more flair, rather than just dry statements of facts. Moving on!

Abandoned ......... 200 pages, 2002

Dec 17, 2009

The Culture Clash

by Jean Donaldson

This book is about dog behavior and training. It tries to look at dog training from the animal's point of view, and posits that dogs are highly anthropomorphized and should be treated as simple-minded self-obsessed creatures that respond best to operant conditioning. That's it in a nutshell. It goes into a lot of detail about how most people train their dogs wrong, then how to do it with positive reinforcement techniques. I agree that sometimes people see too much of human traits in their pets and this might get in the way of understanding your dog's behavior and training it, but on the other hand I'm not sure I agree with all of Donaldson's ideas, and I certainly didn't like her tone. She is very disparaging and insulting to other dog owners and trainers who use different methods (and, ultimately, to the reader- assuming you got this book because you want to train a dog). So some parts of the book sound like whiny name-calling, whereas in other parts the language gets so technical it's dry and difficult. Overall, I'd say The Culture Clash is a good resource to round out your knowledge of dogs and various training methods, but not to follow it as the only way to do things. That said, although I grew up with a dog and worked in a boarding kennel for some time, I never trained my own dog. So take what I say here with a grain of salt, as well.

Rating: 2/5 ........ 223 pages, 1996

Dec 16, 2009

Frogs

by David Badger

I don't think I ever read a book about frogs before this one. I found it at a library sale and was attracted by the stunning photographs by John Netherton. Frogs is, of course, all about frogs and toads. It's full of interesting facts and observations, including quotes referencing frogs and toads in literary works - Shakespeare, Aristophanes, Beatrix Potter, Kenneth Grahame, Emily Dickinson and many others. Not all the species are represented (there being over five thousand known!) but many of the more common, beautiful and curious ones are featured here. I learned lots of stuff about frogs and toads- that they were the first land animals with vocal chords, that they have teeth, that some remain in the tadpole stage for two years before metamorphosizing into an adult! There is a marsupial frog that carries its eggs in a brood pouch, a breed of frog where the male carries the eggs until they hatch (like a seahorse!) and another that carries its eggs inside its vocal sac. Some don't hop or leap but only walk. There's even a flying frog that can glide short distances on the outstretched membranes between its long toes. I did not know before that frogs not only absorb water through their skins, but also oxygen, and besides the poison-dart frogs that exude strong toxins from their skins, there are some frogs that can withstand having sixty percent of their body fluids freeze during hibernation because they produce antifreeze components. Another amazing fact is that some frogs can change their skin color, like a chameleon. Those little slimy frogs sure are incredible creatures. I have to say the most bizarre one featured in this book is by far the surinam toad. And the descriptions of their various calls- from the stereotypical ribbit (which only one frog species actually utters, according to this book) to sounding like the mewing of a cat, bleating of a lamb, bellowing of an ox, singing of a bird, etc- had me on youtube listening to different frog voices. Well, if you've any interest in frog and toads, this is definitely a book to pick up. The pictures are awesome.

I read this one for the What An Animal Challenge.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 142 pages, 1995

Dec 15, 2009

winners!

The winners of my latest bookmark giveaway (names drawn on Random.org) are

Nymeth and Esperanza!

You've both been winners before (no rules against it!), so unless your address has changed, no need to email me. I'll just drop them in the mail! Please come again next tuesday, for another giveaway event.

Dec 14, 2009

Breed to Come

by Andre Norton

I had this book on my TBR because it was mentioned on Clare Bell's blog and sparked my interest. So when I found it at a thrift store, of course I snatched it up. Breed to Come is a futuristic tale about a planet once inhabited by humans, who fled hundreds of years ago in the face of a terrible contagion. After humans abandoned the planet, the domestic animals they left behind- cats, dogs, rats and pigs- evolved into sentient beings with separate societies (the cat and dog tribes usually enemies but united in hatred of the rats). They remember the humans as a horror from the legendary past, calling them Demons. The story is told through the eyes of one of the cat-people, who at his coming of age leaves home on an adventure to the long-abandoned human buildings, where it is rumored that some of his kind have begun unearthing secret knowledge the Demons held. Among the mysteries and wonders the feline companions find there, where they battle with the rats for access to knowledge databases and technology, is the suggestion of a universal threat- that someday soon the Demons might return...

This was a fun read. I did wish the characters were developed a bit more, and the ending felt kind of rushed, but it's a very imaginative sci-fi story with some vividly feline characters. Done with the book, I read up a bit more about it. I had always assumed when I heard the name that Norton was a man, but I was wrong. She wrote scads of books- many featuring cats or cat-like creatures. I'll definitely be on the lookout for more of her books!

Rating: 3/5 ........ 285 pages, 1972

More opinions at:
Olman's Fifty
anyone else?

Dec 12, 2009

Almost Adam

by Petru Popescu

Almost Adam is a story about some anthropologists who discover an existing tribe of protohumans in a remote part of Kenya. Thrilled with their find and excited at having possibly found a "living missing link", they start to study the small tribe but things turn disastrous when civil war breaks out in the area. One of the anthropolgists, Ken, suddenly finds himself abandoned in the wild. His only means of survival is to assimilate into the protohuman tribe. One of them, a young boy, eventually accepts him and slowly they develop a close father-son relationship. There's lots of adventure, a love story, a bit of a mystery. I didn't much care for the focus on how sexuality “evolved” among primitive man, or the political violence and corruption in Africa (that was sometimes distracting and confusing). But the basic story was interesting, and the comradeship between the boy and Ken reminded me of another book I really love, An Imaginary Life.

I read this book several years ago, borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 544 pages, 1996

Anyone else written a blog post about this book?
let me know and I'll add your link here

Dec 11, 2009

DogEar Reading Challenge Wrapup

This is the last post for my DogEar Reading challenge. I finished it yesterday. The five books I read were:

The Snowflake

The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle
Growing Your Own Vegetables
Search for the Golden Moon Bear
Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

If you've completed the challenge, use the Mr. Linky below to link to your wrap-up post (you have to click through to view the mister linky- it doesn't show up in the reader I don't know why). At the end of the month I'll draw a name and one lucky participant will win the prize (your choice of any three books from my swap shelf- 228 titles- some of my handmade bookmarks, or BookMooch points). I know several of you have already completed the challenge and written up your final posts; please leave your link here again so your name is sure to be included in the drawing.



I'm trying to decide if I want to host a reading challenge again next year. I liked doing it, but didn't get many participants. I feel like a different (more focused) theme would be more interesting, and perhaps I had poor timing in when it started- everyone was already involved in so many other reading challenges! Any feedback on this is appreciated- what can I do better next time? is it advisable to host the challenge on its own site? should I let it run all year instead of six months? or are there just so many other reading challenges already out there that it's kind of pointless adding mine to the mix...?

Dec 10, 2009

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

by Susanna Clarke

This book was an amazing read. And it felt immensely satisfying to finish it, because recently all the extra-long books I've picked up have dragged on me and been abandoned. Not this one! Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell kept me intrigued and reading day after day, almost reluctant to finish the last chapters because I didn't want it to end!

It's set in an alternative version of 19th century England- a period in which the art of magic has languished for decades and become quite a disreputable occupation. Mr. Norrell, a quiet, scholarly, reclusive gentleman, determines that he alone can restore English magic to its former glory. He tries influencing government and high society with his opinions on magical issues, while at the same time squelching other magicians' aspirations and monopolizing the resources of magical books. Then along comes Jonathan Strange, a daring adventuresome man quite unlike Norrell, who seems to have a natural talent for magic and makes himself Norrell's pupil, later becoming more of a colleague and finally his worst rival. When one of them raises a woman from the dead, a malevolent fairy fixes his attention on them, and it quickly becomes apparent how little these esteemed men actually know about magic; they are only scratching the surface of things far more dangerous and mysterious than they can imagine. I loved how the fairy world was depicted, as existing side-by-side with England, accessible through mirrors and pools, shifting just under the surface of things, like a second skin. The plot is complex, introducing scores of characters and numerous little stories (many in the form of footnotes) that add flavor and flair to the main narrative. I found all these just as interesting as the main events, and lapped up all the rich details. This book feels as much a historical fiction novel (of a time period and style I don't usually read about, so maybe it's opening another door for me there) as it does an epic fantasy. I read about it on so many other blogs before coming across my own copy at a thrift store (fifty cents!) that I don't really know who to give credit for first sparking my interest in reading it. It's one of those listed below; if anyone else has read it and wants to pitch in their voice, I'll be glad to add your link- just let me know.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 782 pages, 2004

More opinions at:
A Reader's Journal
Shelf Love
Across the Page
Educating Petunia
The Literary Word
This Delicious Solitude
The Novel World
Jenny's Books

Dec 9, 2009

The Midwife's Tale

an Oral History from Handywoman to Professional Midwife
by Nicky Leap and Billie Hunter

When I borrowed this book from the library to read (several years ago) I thought it was going to be a narrative about a midwife's experiences, something like Babycatcher by Peggy Vincent, or a nonfiction version of Bohjalian's Midwives. It's not. The Midwife's Tale is a look at the practice of midwifery in England before the National Health Service was established in the early 1940's. It is drawn mostly from oral histories and interviews with women who were midwives, or women who recall being tended by midwives during that time. It's not only a book about how midwives practiced and how women experienced childbirth in an earlier era, but how women (and society in general) viewed related issues like contraception, abortion, intercourse, motherhood and work outside the home. Also how midwifery contrasted to early doctors' more scientific methods and hospitalization of women, and how midwives were edged out of their profession by men. Overall a very interesting read, if a bit dry in parts.

Rating: 3/5 ....... 215 pages, 1993

More opinions at:
Wellcome Institute for the History of Medicine
anyone written a blog review about this book? let me know and I'll post a link here

Dec 8, 2009

bookmarks giveaway!


This week's giveaway is a pair of stylized bookmarks featuring a small African wild cat, the several. The image came out of my sketchbook. The bookmarks are painted in watercolor, signed on the back, edged with pink ribbon and laminated.

There will be two winners, each to get a bookmark! To enter the giveaway, just leave a comment here. Be sure there's an easy way for me to find your email, to notify you if you win. Names will be drawn at random next tuesday, Dec 14th.

Dec 7, 2009

The Wonderful Adventures of Nils

by Selma Lagerlof

Somehow this title got onto a book list of mine years back, and I finally had to request an interlibrary loan in order to read it. I'm glad I did. The Wonderful Adventures of Nils, by a Swedish author, is a fun adventure about a naughty boy named Nils who delights in teasing and tormenting animals on the farm. One day he goes too far, and in punishment is shrunk to the size of an elf (tomte). The animals are eager for revenge now that Nils is small, but he escapes by jumping onto the farm goose as it takes off after a flock of wild geese. The wild geese aren't too happy to have a domestic goose in their midst, nor is the goose happy at first to have Nils aboard. As the goose must prove itself to its wild cousins, so too must Nils demonstrate that he can have a change of heart. On his journey with the geese, traversing many parts of Sweeden, Nils learns about the natural world and the lives of the animals. He comes to see that he has badly mistreated them, and hopes that by proving he can be kind to animals, his misdeeds will be forgiven and he can be restored to his natural size. There's more to this book than just Nils' adventures, though. There are vivid descriptions of all different parts of the country, and local folktales included as stories Nils hears from people and animals he encounters along the way. There's even an environmental theme, as the use of the land and its resources are addressed as well. The is the only book I've ever read (as far as I know) that includes lore from Sweeden, and it's a lovely introduction to the country's natural beauty and lively folktales. There's also a sequel called The Further Adventures of Nils, but I've never come across it yet.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 219 pages, 1906

More opinions at:
Things Mean A Lot
A Fort Made of Books
anyone else?

Dec 6, 2009

Paddle to the Amazon

by Don Starkell

When I was growing up, my family did lots of camping and we went on many canoe trips down river stretches, some quiet and peaceful with glimpses of wildlife, others challenging and exciting with rushing whitewater. There were a number of books on canoeing (both instructional and inspiring) that sat on the family bookshelves, and this is one that got read enough times it began to fall apart. It's just that fantastic.

Paddle to the Amazon is about a father and son team that traveled from Winnipeg, Canada down the Mississippi river and through ocean waters to the mouth of the Amazon river in Brazil, by the power of their own arms in a canoe. On the long journey -over 12,000 miles- they suffered from sunburn, salt sores, illness and sometimes even faced starvation. They traversed numerous foreign countries- sometimes welcomed and assisted by friendly strangers, other times facing thievery or arrest by hostile natives (often exacerbated by the language barrier). Then there's the dangers of weather, not to mention wild animals. In particular I still recall vivid scenes with crocodiles, huge snakes and fearsome insects, even though it's been years since I read the book! It's amazing what hardships the Starkells went through to complete their journey, especially in the face of setbacks when they forgot (or lost) crucial supplies and gear. It's one of those stories that makes you catch your breath, amazed at the frequent scrapes with danger, astonished at what some people will put themselves through, and cheering when they finally reach their goal. A great adventure story.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 320 pages, 1987

More opinions at:
Ace and Hooser Blook
Helen Foster James
anyone else?

Dec 4, 2009

Buck, Wild

by Glenn Balch

This is one of those books I read over and over again from the elementary school library when I was a kid. I even remember to this day which shelf it was kept on. It's the story of a wild mustang, beginning at his birth and following various adventures as he scrapes out a life with his wild band in the scub county of Idaho around the Snake River. The little horse looses his mother early, but gets partly adopted by another mare with a young foal, and grows up strong and free. He has to learn his place among the wild horses- which mares are friendly, how much he can pester the stallion, how far he can wander, etc. The dynamics change as he grows older until as a yearling he is ousted by the stallion and must make his way alone with a few other young bachelors. He dodges coyotes and cowhands, lives alongside antelope and wild burros. Eventually a rancher notices the wild horse, now a young stallion, and determines to catch him in order to use for stud to improve his own stockhorses. Shut up in a corral, for the first time in his life the wild horse knows what it is to be free of danger and well-fed. But our equine hero will never submit to man's hand, he has a strong will and burning desire to be free... Buck, Wild is a wonderful story for any young horse lover. The author has written a number of books about horses, but this is the only one I've read so far. I mean to remedy that someday.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 136 pages, 1976

Dec 2, 2009

Raven Seek Thy Brother

by Gavin Maxwell

This is the third book in Maxwell's series that began with Ring of Bright Water. Like the second, The Rocks Remain, it focuses more on the author's personal trials than on the otters. Maxwell explains in an opening chapter that when he wrote The Rocks Remain he could not share all details of what was happening at Camusfearna, but now in Raven Seek Thy Brother all is divulged, to make clear why his idyll was spoiled and eventually abandoned. He states early in the book that after a failed relationship his ex cursed the rowan tree on his land and following that misfortunes one after another came upon Camusfearna. The reader learns about various accidents, management problems and financial straits, as well as the author's debilitating health problems. There is a curious chapter about local tales of supernatural events, including a poltergeist that appears to haunt Maxwell's own house for a time. Another chapter describes his travels to Iceland in order to learn about eider duck colonies, in the interest of establishing his own to gather the down for profit. I enjoyed reading about when he took his two deerhounds (older and inexperienced compared to the other dogs) coursing for hares on the moors with a local club. The book ends, sadly, with the disintegration of Camusfearna and his efforts to ensure a safe future for the otters. My assumption at the end of The Rocks Remain that he had let go free otters which were not native was mistaken; here it was made clear to me that only the Scottish otters were released into the wild (and some years later one returned to him after it had been injured, in a remarkable reunion); the foreign species he tried to place in zoos when he could no longer keep them. The chapters about the otters are the highlight of this book, but as the best one comes at the very end it felt kind of belated. The narrative is sometimes a muddle (I could not make sense of the section describing how he was incriminated by the Italian law after publishing God Protect Me From My Friends) but I still really enjoy the quality and style of Maxwell's writing.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 233 pages, 1968

Dec 1, 2009

winner

The winner of my latest book giveaway is sharon54220! Sharon, send me your address and I'll mail your book and accompanying bookmark out soon. Visit again next week for a new giveaway!