Feb 23, 2011

Great with Child

Reflections on faith, fullness, and becoming a mother
by Debra Rienstra

Contemplative, thoughtful writing on the inner changes that take place in a mother's soul, that's how I think of this book. Great with Child was written during and just after the author's pregnancy with her third child, and she chronicles with tender insightfulness all the impacts that bringing a new life into the world can have on a woman. Not just the physical changes- although those are addressed- the hormonal upheavals, pains and fatigue, wonders of first feeling the baby move- but more specifically the emotional territory and how being pregnant (and later, a new mom) alters her outlook on everything in life. Cultural norms, gender roles, shifting relationships with her parents and in-laws, body image, the nature of work, learning patience... More than any other this book is so honest about what's hard in becoming a mother (even though this is her third time)- painful breastfeeding sessions, severe lack of sleep (I'm glad to know I'm not the only one who falls to pieces on less than four hours!) the feeling of loosing your sense of self when all attention and energy must be focused on this helpless, demanding little infant- and what little is left divided among your other children and spouse. There is also great beauty here, love that unfolds, depth of character that grows through the trials of motherhood.

This is the kind of book you want to read slowly, to think over every passage. Although I have to admit I did quite a bit of skipping. Her writing is very faith-orientated, and sometimes the musings on God just did not resonate with me. Eventually I found myself glossing over every paragraph that started quoting scripture. I did appreciate more the metaphors and examples she drew from literature and art. Still, I don't feel like I missed much. I love how she writes about the inner workings childbearing can have on a woman's soul, so much that I'm contemplating adding this book to my personal collection.


Rating: 4/5 ........ 295 pages, 2002

unplanned hiatus

Our computer died. I've managed to get to the library toady for a bit of computer use, but don't know how often I'll be able to do so in the coming week, so posting here will be sporadic for a while and my visiting to other blogs pretty much on hold. Never fear! I'll, be back to blogging as soon as we get "the Beast" (as my husband affectionately calls this electronic brian he built himself) running again.

In the meantime, enjoy your books!

Feb 21, 2011

What I Thought I Knew

by Alice Eve Cohen

Cohen had come to terms with the fact that she would never bear her own child, due to having a deformed uterus. She had an adopted daughter, a new happy relationship and a budding career. Then at age forty-four she starting having mysterious symptoms. Doctor after doctor told her she was just experiencing menopause, explaining away her sore breasts, frequent need to urinate, nausea and fatigue. None of them thought to question her years-old diagnosis of infertility. It wasn't until she had a CAT-scan to see if her bulging stomach had cancer that it was discovered she was actually six months pregnant. Thus began an immense emotional and physical trial in her life.

She didn't want the baby. Her first thought was to abort it, and later when she found out the myriad problems her infant could have- due to the fact that she had no prenatal care for six months, had been drinking and taking hormone supplements, etc. etc.- to possibly put it up for adoption. To make matters more complicated, she had awful insurance that wouldn't cover the medical costs and extreme difficulty finding a doctor willing to take her as a high-risk patient. It was overwhelming. I can't imagine having to fight the medical establishment for care while at the same time struggling with feelings of ambivalence towards the unborn child itself. Even after her baby was born (with unexpected health issues) she struggled to find love in her heart for it and wrestled with postpartum depression.

What I Thought I Knew must have been an incredibly painful book to write. I can't imagine going through what she experienced. The issues of her considering aborting or adopting out her child didn't bother me so much as the indifferent attitude of medical and insurance people. I couldn't believe that a gynecologist examined her at five months and didn't recognize she was pregnant! That infuriated me. And I was most disturbed by the lawsuit at the end of the story, where in order to pay for medical costs that were sinking her family, she had to go to court and present a wrongful-life case. Which basically states that if the doctors hadn't erred in not detecting her pregnancy for six months, she would never had had a child, that this baby shouldn't have been born. Can you imagine being that child, growing up and discovering that your mother went to court suing that you shouldn't have been allowed to live? Of course the author discusses how she struggled with that herself, but she really could see no other way to get money to pay for the astronomical medical costs. Still, it was the part of the book that I stewed over the most.

Somehow, I was expecting a bit more depth from this book. I breezed right through it; the storytelling is quick and vivid, the words flow easily. It's a book that can tear at your emotions and leave you closing the last page too quickly. I longed for just a bit more introspection, to slow me down and keep me immersed in the book longer. Yet I heartily admire the author for writing and sharing with all us readers what must have been a harrowing time in her life, and her complete honesty in sharing her ambivalent feelings and depression in the face of what many women would greet with unrestrained joy.

Rating: 3/5 ....... 194 pages, 2009

more opinions at:
Bermudaonion's Weblog
Book Addiction
Shhh, I'm Reading
Carolina Bookbinder
At Home with Books
Books and Movies

Feb 20, 2011

winners!

I used Random.org to draw a winner for my latest bookmark giveaway. This time the winner is he who left comment #3- CB James! (No, you weren't too late!)

Rhonda has won the cougar bookmarks from the week before.

Congrats, readers! Send your address to me and I'll get them out in the mail to you.

I'm thinking I need to make my giveaways more tempting, only had three entrants this time... wait and see if I manage to come up with something better next week...

Feb 19, 2011

Birth Day

A Pediatrician Explores the Science, the History, and the Wonder of Childbirth
by Mark Sloan

I think this is my favorite yet of all the baby/pregnancy books I've read so far this year. Pediatrician and father Mark Sloan examines the miracle of birth in all its myriad ways. There are so many subjects covered in his book, and they were all relevant and fascinating. Drawing on his personal experiences helping deliver babies, on the event of watching his own child being born, on medical studies and historical events, he delves into everything from how childbirth is managed to what the baby itself is experiencing. Some of the topics include: the role of fathers has changed throughout the centuries, how attitudes towards birth have changed through the centuries, methods of pain management, the infant's abilities right after being born, why we have evolved to need so much assistance giving birth (all other primates manage quite fine by themselves), and how newborn health is assessed. Of course, being written by a doctor who worked in a hospital there are quite a few alarming stories of births that go wrong, and lots of details that might tell you more than you ever wanted to know- but for the most part it's a very positive book. It also manages to be un-biased; even when discussing issues that can be controversial like circumcision, alternative birthing options, invasive procedures, the rise of cesarean sections, etc. he always presents the pros and cons quite fairly, leaving the reader to draw her own conclusions. I learned so much that I had never even wondered about before! Like how exactly a baby transitions from living in a dark, aquatic environment to suddenly breathing air and circulating its own blood, or what all those funny reflexes babies have are actually for. Birth Day is on the whole an intriguing, informative and wonderful book, not without plenty of humor as well.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 370 pages, 2009

more opinions at:
Fabulous Miss S.
Enjoy Birth
Mari Reads
Natural Birth and Baby Care

Feb 18, 2011

Just Herb Gardening

by Karen Kenny

As spring is approaching and things poking out of the ground outside, I'm finding the urge to read some of the gardening books that have been sitting on my shelf for ages.

Just Herb Gardening is exactly that: a little book about growing herbs. It's pretty brief. That was my main problem with it: a lot of the information seemed incomplete or just not detailed enough for me. The history on herb uses in the beginning didn't really teach me anything at all. The growing information: how to start seeds, propagate from cuttings or dividing plants, etc. seemed solid enough, but it didn't always tell you which plants were most suitable for which methods (nor is this info available in the glossary). There's a little bit about garden layout and design, and scattered spotlights on certain plants throughout the book. Again, the level of information here is spotty. Some plants it tells you their uses- medicinal, cooking, attracting/deterring insects in the garden, etc.- but others just get named and that's it. I wish there had been the same level of detail on all the plants. Even the illustration quality was uneven- some of the photos are just beautiful, one was badly pixelated! There are also hand-drawn and watercolor illustrations, nice enough but very plain- not enough descriptive detail. Most aren't labeled, so sometimes I didn't know what plant I was looking at.

I did learn a few things about herbs that really intrigued me: like that nettles are high in nitrogen and can be used to activate your compost pile, or that russian comfrey can be used to feed plants that like lots of potassium. Lots of herbs were mentioned that I'm completely unfamiliar with: hyssop, marjoram, angelica, etc. I never used any of these before. All in all, the book had just enough in it to whet my appetite to know more. So far I only use basil leaves to deter pests, and a few other herbs for cooking. I'd like to learn and apply more uses for them. So really what this book has done for me is galvanize my desire to find a good, detailed book on herbs that will teach me more!

I think this one came from a swap site online, because I remember being surprised (in a disappointed way) with its format. My edition is spiral-bound, which dismays me because I know if I use it much the pages would start to fall out. Another annoying thing is that the page numbers are spelled out, and printed in a handwriting kind of font, both of which make them hard to read. I don't think I'd need to though, as there's no proper index. It does have a glossary of herbs in the back, which is laid out in a kind of grid made of colored stripes (that was hard to read, too). All in all, it's a cute little book but a lot of the ways it was formatted and organized just bugged me. However, there are enough little nuggets of info I don't have elsewhere that I'm going to hold onto this book until I get a better, more comprehensive one about herbs.

Rating: 2/5 ........128 pages, 2005

Feb 17, 2011

Caribou and the Barren-Lands

by George Calef

One of those oversize, coffee-table books full of large, beautiful photographs that I picked up at a library sale once just because it seemed a shame to leave it there!

Caribou and the Barren-Lands is mostly about survival of these animals in Northern Canada and Alaska. How the deer manage to live in the harsh northern environment; the land covered with snow much of the year, six months of winter, nights on end with barely any light at all in the depths of it. At every season it seems they have something to struggle against- the cold and deep snow of winter, the maddening onslaught of insects in summer, the energy-sapping frenzy of the fall rut that coincides with hunting pressures by man. And yet they still roam the tundra in countless thousands. I found myself educated out of a few misconceptions, particularly at the end of the book when it discusses how caribou herds have been affected by man. One preconception I had was that caribou mostly eat lichens; that's not true. They eat a wide variety of plants, and could not survive on lichens alone. Another idea was that wolves only kill the sick and weak deer, keeping the herds healthy. Studies have shown that wolves are capable of and often kill healthy calves; there are also quite large herds that remain  healthy in areas where wolves have been exterminated. Yet another was that habitat encroachment in the form of roads, pipelines, etc. would adversely affect the caribou herds. More threatening to them (at least when this book was written) is overhunting made extremely easy by modern weapons and aircraft.

The book is organized in a manner I haven't seen before, each section (describing in order the migration, calving time, summer aggregations, the fall rut, and winter survival) begins with a narrative describing typical events. In the calving section it tells of a female caribou leaving the herd to give birth, and how she first cares for and bonds with her calf. In the autumn section it begins describing a hunt from the viewpoint of a native hunter, then moves into the behavior of a particular bull sparring with other bulls and seeking females. After each narrative are a few more pages delving into purely factual information, ecology, behavior patterns, etc. I rather liked this setup. I'm more used to non-fiction animal books either being just all facts, or narrative with the facts wedged in. This was a bit different, and refreshing.

I thought at first the caribou were rather dull creatures: they seem to walk around a lot, search for food, sleep and that's it. But the more I read about them the more I was intrigued by their survival skills; like why they choose certain areas to bear their calves and travel so far to get there, or why only pregnant females keep their antlers through the entire winter. They're a lot more interesting than you might think!

Rating: 3/5 ........ 176 pages, 1981

Feb 16, 2011

my eyes

are always bigger than time allows; or: I will never be able to read all the books I want to! Especially when fabulous bloggers like the ones below keep tempting me. Ah, well. It's fun to stack the titles all up and hope I'll get to them someday...
Among Others by Jo Walton- Things Mean a Lot
Annabel by Kathleen Winter- Reading Through Life
Fiela's Child by Dalene Matthee- found somewhere else (not on a blog)
Zoo Story by Thomas French- At Home with Books
A Blue So Dark by Holly Schindler- Melody's Reading Corner
Alone in her Garden by Elizabeth von Armin- A Work in Progress
Labor of Love by Cara Muhlhahn- Superfast Reader
The Summer Book by Tove Jansson- A Work in Progress
Your Baby is Speaking to You by Nugent- SMS Book Reviews

Feb 15, 2011

Most of My Patients Are Animals

by Robert Miller

Double-duty again, on an old book I thought I'd never find. But just a few weeks after I mentioned it here, it came up on a swap site and I got my own copy! So I sat down and read it again. Very enjoyable.

The author set up his veterinary practice during the 1950's in the Conejo Valley of California, near Thousand Oaks and not too far from Los Angeles. There were quite a few wild-animal parks and circuses in the locale- most of which trained animals for use in films and performances. Also lots of ranches and farms, so not only did he treat the usual small clientele of pet cats and dogs, as well as ordinary livestock, but also tigers, elephants, chimpanzees and other exotic beasts. Miller's stories are pretty brief but well-written and often amusing. Funny incidents that happen, and also pranks he used to play on co-workers and sometimes even clients that annoyed him! I was surprised to find this time that I recognized quite a few other people mentioned in the book- something I don't remember noticing before, perhaps I hadn't read of them yet back then. James Herriot, my favorite-ever animal author, was Miller's contemporary and wrote the forward. Miller mentions treating a sick lion that belong to Ralph Helfer (who wrote Zamba and Modoc). He also several times tells of interactions with George Keller, treating his big cats for poisoning and other ailments. It always makes me smile to come across people I've "met" in a previous book in the one I'm currently reading. I have the same response when I find characters discussing books I know from other fiction, but even more so when it's real-life people I come across in non-fiction. Have you ever had that happen? Does it give you a little thrill of recognition, too?

Rating: 3/5 ........ 181 pages, 1985

Feb 12, 2011

bookmarks giveaway

This week's giveaway features a pair of laminated bookmarks I made from my scrap file, with a sort of Asian theme. If you like them, just leave a comment for an entry to win! I'll use random.org to pick a name next weekend.

By the way, last week's adult cougar bookmarks are still available. The winner never contacted me with mailing info. I think waiting a week for them to be claimed is fair enough. If you'd like to have the cougars, just let me know. If more than one person wants them, I'll draw a name for those too.

Feb 11, 2011

Woman's Doctor

A Year in the Life of an Obstetrician-Gynecologist
by Dr. William J. Sweeney and Barbara Lang Stern

A collection of stories from the practice of an OBGYN who at first focused mostly on obstetrics but by the end of the book had decided to make cancer surgery his speciality. His stories encompass many aspects of women's health: menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, ovarian cancer, menopause, infertility, etc. The stories are all candid and show a great compassion and sensitivity this doctor had towards his patients. They're also easy to read; he's a pretty good storyteller (or his co-author is). The hardest chapter for me to read was the one about abortions, which had just recently been legalized when this book was published. It's pretty dated. So I know medicine isn't practiced this way anymore, but it was still intriguing to read about. Reminded me quite a bit of Intern. Some things really jumped out at me, like when the author referred to Alzheimer's as a rare condition- was it really uncommon some forty years ago, or just not diagnosed as frequently? I was also surprised to read things like the doctor thinking that smoking eight cigarettes a day wouldn't hurt a pregnant woman's baby, that he used hypnosis to help women in labor manage pain, or that to procure sperm for an infertile couple to use for artificial insemination they would simply ask young doctors and medical students at the hospital to provide a sperm sample on the spot, paying them $15 or $20! (Which apparently was a lot of money back then. Sperm banks that screened donors were a very new thing at the time). Things sure were different. But people were still people, and women faced many of the same problems they do today; I guess that's what makes these stories still interesting to read even though treatments are so different now.

I picked up my copy of Woman's Doctor at a thrift store, out of pure curiosity. It wasn't a disappointing read!

Rating: 3/5 ........ 318 pages, 1973

anyone else read it?

Feb 10, 2011

Scent of the Missing

Love and Partnership with a Search-and-Rescue Dog
by Susannah Charleson

This wonderful book is about a dog handler involved in search-and-rescue work. She began first by flying light aircraft, then later assisting search teams on the ground. The book gives a little background on how she got involved in this intense volunteer work, but mostly chronicles her first year with the search dog she trained and lived with- from first acquiring the puppy through training sessions, practice runs and final certification. I've read a little about search-and-rescue before, but this book really gets into the details of exactly how trying and rewarding it can be. I'm amazed that people do this work all night, often after long drives, tramping over rough terrain, and then get up next morning and go to their normal jobs. Add to that all the hours she had to spend training her dog- although it sounds more like a joy than a chore. And the adorable golden retriever, Puzzle, certainly loved to work! I was amazed not just at how well the dogs could use their noses, but also how subtly they could indicate to their handlers what they had found- no human scent at all, scent but not of the right person, scent of the person but too old, or fresh scent- and each dog communicated this differently. Although they trained for work at disaster sites, in burned or semi-collapsed buildings, most of the stories Charleson shares are of smaller searches through neighborhood streets. For wandering Alzheimer's patients, missing children, drowning victims. Some end happily, with the missing person found quickly, others are left open-ended, the volunteers not knowing if the case was ever solved. It can be a very emotional read. Scent of the Missing is a well-written, intense heart-tugger of a book. I'm really glad I got the chance to read it.

I first added this book to my TBR after reading Caribousmom's review, and then the publisher so kindly sent me a copy to read. Thanks to both of them. I'll probably be holding onto this book for several re-reads. It's that good.    

Rating: 4/5 ........ 288 pages, 2010

Feb 9, 2011

Belly Laughs

the Naked Truth About Pregnancy and Childbirth
by Jenny McCarthy

I don't really follow the doings of celebrities, or even recognize who they are half the time, so I had no idea who Jenny McCarthy was when I picked up her book to read. All I can tell you is she's rather funny. And blunt. In Belly Laughs she shares anecdotes about all the uncomfortable, embarrasing things about being pregnant that most people won't talk about (at least in public). The nausea, constipation, vivid dreams (mine are much weirder than hers!) mood swings, bloating, acne, etc. I haven't experienced all the things she mentioned (nor did she; some of the stories are of her friends) but recognized plenty of what she went through. It's nice to know you're not alone, and nice to be able to laugh about it. But the book doesn't give you much more than that. You can read it all in one sitting. The stories are all very short, and not very descriptive. I was expecting a little bit more. She uses lots of profanity and crude humor, so be forewarned, if those things offend you. It did get rather tiresome (as did the constant mentions of her celebrity lifestyle).

Rating: 2/5 ........ 165 pages, 2004

more opinions at:
Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Shh, I'm Reading

Feb 8, 2011

Mormon Enigma

Emma Hale Smith
by Linda Newell and Valeen Avery

Not sure how many of you blog readers know this, but I grew up in the LDS church. I don't recall learning much about Emma beyond that she was Joseph Smith's first wife and founded the Relief Society. So it was with a lot of curiosity that I approached this book. For being a well-researched, historical text, Mormon Enigma is also a surprisingly good read. It's engaging and well-written and didn't bog me down like a lot of historical books tend to do. Although the authors are both members of the church, the book doesn't feel biased but simply presents facts. I appreciated that they only included information that was verified by at least two separately documented sources (including diary entries, letters, public and church records, and news articles). The book encompasses the life of Emma Smith, and tells a lot about early church history, particularly from the perspective of women. Emma was a very strong character and it's hard to imagine living through her trials. She faithfully followed her husband through all kinds of difficulties but bitterly opposed the introduction of polygamy. After her husband's death she raised his children by herself, and one of her sons became the leader of the Reorganized church, which she also joined. An interesting read, if you're curious about early church history or this remarkable woman.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 432 pages, 1984

more opinions at:
Shelah Books It
Sarah's Musings

Feb 7, 2011

How to Talk to Your Cat

by Jean Craighead George

I initially picked up this book at a used sale because of the author; I still remember how thrilled I was as a kid to read her descriptions of wolves communicating via body language with a lost child in Julie of the Wolves. What can this author teach me about communicating with my cat? I thought. A few days ago when I actually picked up the book to read, I felt a little more dubious. It's pretty brief, and kinda old, so I wondered if I'd actually learn anything new. Glad to say that I did, and this one is worth holding onto.

How to Talk to Your Cat isn't just about feline body language, although there are detailed sections on what different postures, tail waves, whisker positions, vocal sounds etc. can mean. But it's also a lot about cat behavior, what your cat does and why, that lets you understand it better. I didn't know how far an outdoor cat could roam; according to George my Irwin could have a ranging territory of up to 2 square kilometers! (That's twice what I'd previously imagined). I also had assumed that cats claim a patch of land and defend it against all other cats, keeping them out, but she says they're not like dogs in that regard. They keep other cats out of their particular home turf- which in this case would be my house- but in the greater ranging territory don't mind other cats using their pathways and hunting grounds, as long as they don't encounter each other doing so. They just like to keep their distance. It gave me a very different picture of what my cat does when he walks outside by himself.

One section I particularly enjoyed reading was about how a mother cat communicates with and teaches her kittens; the author had a cat who raised several litters in their house, and wrote about her observations (most things in the book are described via little anecdotes about her cats or the cats of people she knows). I can't ever picture myself allowing one of my cats to reproduce, so it was charming to read about what that's like, watching kittens be born and raised in the house.

This little book is actually an abridged version of a longer text. The opening and closing chapters talk about all kinds of animals communicating with people, and I gather that the original book then had a section on dogs and maybe a few other domestic animals too; this volume just focuses on the cat. I also gather there's a much newer edition with lively illustrations, which seems more geared towards children than my older copy (and I wonder if the newer version edited out all the parts that describe in detail the cat's mating behavior).

Rating: 3/5 ....... 101 pages, 1985

Feb 6, 2011

The Birth of Love

by Joanna Kavenna

Four stories are woven together in this novel, each in some fashion related to birth. They span the centuries; the first is placed in the year 1865 when one Ignaz Semmelweis has realized that childbed fever or puerperal sepsis, which killed hundreds of women in hospitals annually, could be prevented by doctors simply washing their hands. He tries to convince other doctors to follow this simple practice but is ridiculed, ostracized and eventually goes mad (the story is actually centered on a man interviewing him in an insane asylum). The second storyline focuses on an author who decades later has just published a book about Semmelweis and is struggling to deal with the sudden publicity, which he finds very uncomfortable. Then there is a modern-day setting of a woman in London preparing to give birth to her second child at home with a midwife. The last story is set in a futuristic dystopia, when every womans' eggs are "harvested" and only those eggs considered genetically superior are fertilized and raised in laboratories. One woman is condemned for having given birth naturally, as a threat to the survival of the species.

All of the stories in The Birth of Love seemed to me to have a common theme of lack of control, on the part of those giving birth. Not only the women going through childbirth, but also those, in a sense, birthing new ideas. Semmelweis suffered mental agonies trying to make his ideas of cleanliness a reality that would save the lives of childbearing women. The fictional author Michael Stone is overwhelmed by events when his book is finally published (or "born")- being hustled here and there to events planned by others, forced into meetings with strangers, etc. The mother in London expects her second birth to be easier than the first, but instead finds herself struggling through hours of pain and finally capitulates to being moved to the hospital, things not at all going the way she'd planned. And of course the dystopian story is all about women having lost control of their bodies, not only can they never give birth, but some are forced to work in "sexual release centers" solely to please men, and when one does bear her own child, others refuse to even acknowledge that it happened.

I found every one of these storylines intriguing, even though none of the segments really went into the kind of character depth I love. After finishing the book, I was anxious to read more about Semmelweis and discover what finally convinced doctors in later years to follow his practices (germ theory was not yet known when he claimed that handwashing would stop the spread of contagion). Being interested in things bookish, I was curious to read about the turmoil the author went through after his words, written in solitude, were suddenly thrust into the public view and scrutinized. I could really relate to the woman in London, who worried about how her first child would adjust to having a new sibling, while she anticipated her new baby's arrival (although I thought it amusing that every time the older child- still not quite talking clearly- needed distracting he was offered food or drink. Didn't they ever give him a toy or game, but always ply him with food?). And of course it's always horrifyingly fascinating to think of the future and what extreme measures might be taken if we actually do destroy our planet with global warming, pollution and overcrowding, as the final tale vividly portrays.

Altogether a most interesting book. The interweaving of birthing themes kept me intent. I borrowed this one from the public library, read it after seeing the review on Farm Lane Books Blog.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 304 pages, 2010

more opinions at:
Savidge Reads
The Literateur
Reading Books, Reading Stories, Reading Life

Feb 5, 2011

winners!

Random.org has chosen the winners for my cougar bookmarks!

Jenny won the baby cougar set

Esperanza won the adult cougar set

If the winners would email their address to jeanenevarez (at) gmail(dot) com, I'll send your bookmarks out on Monday! If you didn't win the cute cougars, don't be sad. Check back again the coming weekend for my next giveaway!

Feb 3, 2011

The Midwife

A Memoir of Birth, Joy and Hard Times
by Jennifer Worth

As a young nurse, Jennifer Worth moved into a convent in the 1950's, to become a midwife for the very poor. The dockside slums where she worked were dismal, squalid and packed full of humanity- many buildings were condemned and yet families with ten or more children often lived in just a few rooms. Birth control was non-existent, antibiotics barely making their appearance on the scene; doctors were mistrusted and the hospital setting feared. It was quite a different time period, and Worth really makes it come alive. Her storytelling is full of wonderful characters and descriptions of human suffering that will wring your heart. Two of the stories really moved me- I admit I literally cried tears when I read about the workhouse conditions that had rendered an old lady destitute with grief. And the family with twenty-four children (yes, twenty-four!) whose last baby was born under dangerous circumstances, very frail indeed, kept me breathless on my seat. I was amazed at that mother's love and tenderness for her child, even when her own life was in jeopardy.

There are darker sides, too. Neglect and ignorance, women beaten by their husbands, young girls forced into prostitution, children starving. To it all Worth brought her helping hand, sometimes extending herself beyond the call of duty. She absorbed the love of the nuns who taught her. On first arriving at the convent she (not being a religious sort) found the nuns and their way of life odd, perhaps even amusing, but throughout the book you see her attitude slowly changing towards them. It was just as intriguing to read about life in the convent as it was to read about her visits to patients; the book wasn't all entirely stories of childbirth as I rather expected. The Midwife is really about people, people doing their best and keeping their humor in the worst of circumstances.

I happened to really enjoy the appendix, where the author explains the Cockney dialect as its own language; it was very interesting and I enjoyed reading the sentences as they were written phonetically out loud, to see if I could figure out what they said before she explained it to me! It really added some extra flavor and depth.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 340 pages, 2002

More opinions at:
The Curious Reader
Pondering the Pages
The Book Nest
Ardent Reader

Feb 2, 2011

Baby Owl

by Aubrey Lang

Baby Owl  is a lovely little book about how great horned owls grow up. I really picked it up for the beautiful photographs (acquired when the author's husband, a wildlife photographer, built a platform 25 feet up in a nearby tree to observe the owl nest for nearly three months!) but was quite pleased with the text as well. It's easy to read and although written for a younger audience, very informative. Together the words and pictures describe how the young owls grow and develop, from the moment the eggs are laid until they are old enough to fly off on their own. It's really neat to see how the owlets change, from fuzzy little blobs, to getting the first patterned feathers, then finally becoming sleek adults. All the stages of their first year are well-illustrated; at first they just sit around the nest eating and sleeping, when a little bigger they stretch their legs and flap their wings, eventually the biggest one hops out of the nest to glide down to the forest floor where he perches on a short tree and the parents continue to feed and protect him. The owls are really striking animals and it's amazing to see how well-hidden they are with their stippled plumage blending into the surrounding tree bark. I'm so taken by this little book that I now want to look for others in the series and share them with my kid.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 36 pages, 2004

Feb 1, 2011

the Dare month!

Well, I've done it! Made it through January only reading off my shelves, thanks to CB's TBR Dare. I feel like I kinda outdid myself, reading a total of twelve books (usually my monthly reads only average to about six, I think). As you can see, there are now some nice leaning gaps opening up in my shelves! Soon I'll have to rearrange (and make space for more books, ha ha!)
In the last few days there I really crammed in a bunch of shorter books, because I have already reserved quite a few pregnancy books from the library and am anxious to get to them right away (some on hold by other patrons so I can't renew them) and thus I didn't want to have a new, longer book half-started on the first day of Feb. Silly me. The last one I read last night, a juvenile non-fiction about great horned owls, will get a review tomorrow as I feel I've already posted enough today!

It really feels nice to clear some of these books off my shelves, that have sat there so long waiting to be read. Even though I'm not officially going to be part of the Dare anymore I'll still be following along in spirit, reading as much off my shelves as I can between the books I borrow from the library. And now I'm going to dive into the pregnancy titles!

Good luck to the rest of you, who are sticking it out until April!

Animal Attractions

A Tribute to the Love Between People and Animals
edited by Diana Edkins

Rather like the previous two books I read these last few days, Animal Attractions is a mostly pictorial work with a few brief essays about the connections we share with other species (particularly cats and dogs). For the most part, this is a really beautiful book. The presented photographs, by a myriad of world-renowned artists, are absolutely beautiful. They depict many sorts of animals. Not just cats and dogs but also chickens, horses, goats, pigs, cows, parrots, elephants, sheep, chimpanzees, a rabbit and a few snakes. The only disappointment I have with the book is (again) the writing. The introduction by Diane Ackerman is eloquent and thoughtful, and really made me anticipate more of the same quality. But there are only three other essays in the book, and they all fell flat for me. The one about cats just tells about the different cats one woman owned throughout her life. The one focused on dogs was a bit more interesting but still, just about one guy's dog and how amazing his personality and intelligence was. The final essay, by Peter Beard "on population pressure and the plight of wild animals" really confused me. It was several very long sentences listing atrocities mankind has wrecked upon the earth (and ourselves). Shall I give you a sample?

Yes, this could be known as the century when all of us sanctimonious, anthrophomorphic, bleeding hearts from Walt Disney country, "man kind" pushed by excessive densities and stress and innumerable stress-related horrors- all echoes of Dr. Strangelove- hugging darling Dumbo- "buy an elephant a drink"- desperate disillusioned adults displaying infantile regression longing for their nursery pets- obsessive avoidance of their own natural aggressiveness- Sigmund Freud- Charles Darwin- Thomas Malthus- Dr. Norman Borlaug- from the biolabs in Bangladesh to the Calhoun rat study cages in Bethesda, Maryland: "separation of the sexes," "territorial neuroses"- heart disease from stress and pollution, competition from diminishing resources, cancer, HIV, personality disorders, hormone screw-ups, a sharp decline in tolerable human behavior- Somalia, Rwanda, Zaire, Mozambique, South Africa, Bosnia; and beyond- Hate and Blame- genocide, knife rape, kidnapping, incest, serial killing... we are literally going crazy, breaking the back of Nature, pressuring, squeezing, forcing our gross intrusion beyond the point of no return.... e.g. East Africa after a century of missionary manipulations: endless slum squalor, AID and AIDS, lost heritage, lost identity, corrugated iron, crime, pollution, garbage everywhere, tribal clashes, army rule, torture, assassinations, voodoo, overpopulation, unemployment, rape, rap, gangrenous graffiti, occasionally an open air zoo; tourism! - highway robbery.

Phew! That's one sentence. I looked very carefully. There's loads of commas, at least two ellipses, semicolons, colons and more dashes than my brain can process (can you do that all in the same sentence? isn't there some kind of rule?) Please tell me if you make sense of that. Because I don't. Maybe it's just the way Beard writes; horrors if I ever opened a book of his! Although I really shouldn't say that, I do have his End of the Game  on my TBR, which I once perused in a bookstore and it was quite comprehensible, none of this jumble. So I really don't know what happened here.

It just made my head spin. The Beard essay, I mean (though the end of it was more readable). Overall I was surprised at the unevenness of writing quality in this book. Which is really a shame, as the photographs are so outstanding. I recommend it just to look at, if you like fine-art of books that feature animals.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 132 pages, 1995

Second Chances

More Tales of Found Dogs
by Elise Lufkin

This book is a collection of stories about lucky dogs that got found and given a new home. Dogs picked up off the street, rescued when neighbors abandoned them, adopted from shelters, etc. Every one is a story with a happy ending, showing how a dog that was lost, wandering, or waiting for its end in a cage, was taken in by a loving family. Some had a rocky adjustment, coming from an unknown background (that was in many cases probably abusive) they were fearful and mistrusting at first, but all of them ended up happy dogs after realizing they were among people who loved them. Most became loved family pets, but there are also stories of rescued dogs that became service dogs or trained search-and-rescue dogs- just goes to show how much potential a creature can have.

Each story in Second Chances is accompanied by one or two images. While nothing spectacular, the photographs are all good, and many of the dogs are adorable or very handsome indeed. But what makes this just a nice book and not a great one, is that the pictures outshine the words. The stories are all incredibly brief, most no more than a page. They're written simply, most in a tell-don't-show fashion that just left me not feeling the emotion very much. I know these are all really special dogs to their people, but it just didn't come across very well. Sacrificing the number of stories to be able to give them more depth would have made a better quality book. I haven't seen the book's predecessor, Found Dogs, but I gather from a few reviews read online that the stories in that one are even more brief, which makes me not at all inclined to read it.

So... it's a nice enough book, lovely photographs, but just not a lot of substance and honestly an hour after reading the book I couldn't remember one of the stories to repeat to you.

Rating: 2/5 ........ 180 pages, 2003