May 31, 2012

Old Mother West Wind

by Thornton W. Burgess

When I made my list of Thornton Burgess books to read, I didn't realize this was the first one he'd ever published. I found that the style was a little different from the later stories I've been reading. For one thing, this book is a collection of many short stories that can easily stand alone; they often contain the same characters but the events don't depend on each other. In the other books I've read the events more or less followed each other in a sequential order, so the storyline was entire. Also, a few of the stories in Mother West Wind are like the Just So Stories in nature; they explain why an animal has a certain feature. This book was also missing the repetition that is starting to slightly annoy me in the later books; often a chapter will start by reiterating what has just happened in the previous chapter with a few sentences. Over and over, throughout the book. It starts to feel a little redundant and slightly tedious, like listening to a person who tends to repeat his sentences all the time.

But! This was another amusing, quick little read that tells about charming animal characters while teaching some morality lessons and also about nature. The how-and-why stories tell about why the skunk has white stripes on his black coat, and why frogs don't have tails. The other stories usually have a moral, which is subtly presented, or teach about how animals live in nature. Reddy Fox tries to play a trick on Johnny Woodchuck but gets surprised himself how bold a woodchuck can be. The fox and owl plan to pounce on and eat a family of bobwhites, but the merry little breeze warns them in time to move their hiding place. The fox tries to go fishing like he's seen Billy Mink do, but all he gets is a thorough soaking. Jimmy Skunk goes looking for beetles and inadvertently keeps destroying other animals' homes; when Peter Rabbit sees what he's doing and prompts him to unwittingly pull a snake's tail, the plan backfires on Peter. Jerry Muskrat invites a bunch of animals to a party, but forgets that lots of them don't like swimming; however he manages to find a way for everyone to have a good time. Sammy Jay steals someone's cache of nuts and the other animals come together to figure out who was the culprit. Spotty the turtle enters a race and patiently finds a way to win even though he's slow.

I haven't mentioned them all here, but each story is delightful and I could imagine how they would be wonderful picture books for children. Lessons about being fair, not teasing your friends or playing tricks on people, having patience, showing compassion, and being honest are well-embedded in these tales that are sure to charm.

rating: 3/5 ........ 96 pages, 1910 ........ find it at Powell's Books or on Amazon

May 30, 2012

A Game of You

The Sandman
by Neil Gaiman

New York city girl Barbie has recently gotten divorced from Ken and is living in a shabby tenement building with a group of odd women. There's a lesbian couple, her friend Wanda who used to be a man, and a decidedly creepy guy named George upstairs. Oh, and the most demure-looking lady of the bunch is Thessaly, but she turns out to be one of the most aggressive characters in the whole story. Barbie doesn't seem to have any particular goals in her life, but her dream world is becoming more vivid, bursting into her real life as she herself sinks deeper into the dream (where she's a princess on a quest, of course). When her friends realize she's trapped in the dream-world they make efforts to follow her and bring her back, with completely unexpected consequences. There's a wicked little girl, a mysterious villain called the Cuckoo, some friends who are turncoats and others who stay true... and in the end Sandman himself makes an appearance.

This is the sixth Sandman book I've read. And hm, it didn't quite work for me again.  It was just such a strange story. A lot of it didn't feel cohesive to me. The part about Wanda who stayed behind in the real world to keep watch was probably the most interesting to me, but it also had a lot to do with gender identity, an issue I'm not very familiar in reading about. The story overall had quite a lot of gruesome parts too, which doesn't sit well with me. I found the whole thing rather dissatisfying and a bit confusing. I'm willing to press on and try the next Sandman volume, though- unless there's a lot more gore in further volumes. Anyone? give me a heads-up, please! 

Readers interested in Sandman, please take a look at some of the other bloggers I linked to below. They give a much more thorough idea of this book and its concepts than I could.

rating: 2/5 ........ 192 pages, 1992 ........ find it at Powell's Books  or on Amazon

more opinions:
new readers start here
Michelleliana
The Incurable Bluestocking

May 27, 2012

Jemima Puddle-Duck

with sliding pictures
by Beatrix Potter

I haven't been posting about baby books lately because we've been reading the same ones over and over again. But just the other day visited the library and found a few new ones. This one is kinda cute. I usually don't care for adaptations of famous stories that use little gimmicks, but when the kid has a very short attention span this will keep her sitting in my lap through all the pages. It's quite simple: each page has a very abbreviated part of the story about Jemimah Puddle-Duck and the sneaky fox who wants to eat her for dinner. There's a picture with another picture made out of strips; you pull a tap and all the strips shift and the picture changes. My one-year-old finds this fascinating, and she also loves it because the book is so teeny, just a few inches square, that it fits perfectly in her little hands. I can't leave it within reach or let her read it by herself though because I'm worried she would tear it. And even though the story is abbreviated it's still hard to make sense of- parts are left out, the sequence is not complete and the sentences a bit complex, so I end up just making up simple phrases about the goose and fox. The pictures don't really show what's going on in the story, either. Really, all this book has going for it is the sliding pictures which intrigue the baby.

rating: 2/5 ........ 10 pages, 1994 ........ find it on Amazon

May 26, 2012

The Adventures of Mr. Mocker

by Thornton W. Burgess

Unlike the other Burgess books I've read so far, the titular character isn't really the center of the story until the end. Or rather, the mystery about him is what the story revolves around. Any astute reader will know right away what is confusing all the animals of the Green Forest when voices are heard while their owners are sound asleep or in other parts of the forest. Sammy Jay is accused of waking everyone at night with his screams, Sticky-Toes the tree frog is grumbled at for being noisy, and plenty of other animals think they hear their friends saying unkind things about them, until everyone is upset and hardly anybody will talk to anyone else. Except for the possum who plays a central role here as he is friends with the mockingbird who is fooling everyone with his voice. He carries things a bit too far and is afraid no one will want to be his friend after how he's tricked them, but Billy Possum makes amends and when he is finally introduced the other animals are so amazed by his beautiful song and voice skills that they are eager to forgive and get to know him.

The obvious message here is to not deceive your friends, but I also noticed that the story illustrates some good problem-solving. When Sammy Jay adamantly protests that he's not screaming in the night and nobody believes him, he simply moves away so that it's obvious he's not the source of trouble. It's not the first time Burgess has shown how the characters use logic to figure out things that puzzle them, but it stood out to me for some reason this time.

I read this one on my kindle.

rating: 3/5 ......... 72 pages, 1914 ........ find it at Powell's Books  or on Amazon

more opinions:
Across the Page
Topenlaces

May 25, 2012

The Adventures of Unc' Billy Possum

by Thornton W. Burgess

I've never been sure quite where the Green Forest and Sunny Meadow of Burgess' animal world is supposed to be, but a few books make it clear that it's a northern state. This one features a possum who is from "Old Virginny," often stated to be far away down south, so that makes it fairly clear. Plus, the possum and a few other animal characters with a certain style of name (Ole Mistah Buzzard, Unc' Billy Possum) also talk in a strong southern drawl, quite different from the other creatures. What I found most entertaining about this book, though, were the little songs Billy Possum made up, especially the one about his wife's duties.

So... the story is about how the possum misses his family, and travels south to bring them back to his new home. While he's gone the rabbit throws a surprise party, which the mischief-making quartet of fox, weasel, crow and jaybird try to crash so they can steal the food. Instead, they get trapped inside a hollow log by a porcupine's butt and laughed at by all the animals who figured out their plan. When the possum returns with his wife and eight little ones, the story shifts into telling of his misdeeds. He has a weakness for eggs, and makes a mistake during one raid on the farmer's henhouse. Gets himself caught inside and can't escape for some time. It doesn't seem that he learned his lesson from getting stuck in the henhouse; to the end of the story I could easily picture a realistic fat, leering possum waddling around in a sneaky manner, not the cutesy-dressed ones in the illustrations.

I read this one on my e-reader. It felt a lot shorter than the other books (which are short enough) but that might just have been the format.

rating: 3/5 ........ 54 pages, 1914 ........ find it at Powell's Books or on Amazon

The Adventures of Reddy Fox

by Thornton W. Burgess 

I'm enjoying delving once again into a little collection of Thornton Burgess that is gathering on my shelves (and in my kindle). This one is about a young fox who gets himself into trouble. Reddy thinks he's so clever he starts showing off and of course he goes too far. He steals one of the farmer boy's pet hens and the boy comes after him with his hound, determined to catch the fox. Reddy tries to evade him but fails and Granny Fox has to step in and save him. Unfortunately, because of how Reddy's actions endangered them, the foxes have to move from their home. The other animals in the forest are aware of what's going on. When they see Reddy get hurt, many of them say he well deserved it, and were even glad. But some felt sympathy for him (in spite of the fact that Reddy had often tried to catch and eat them for breakfast!) and a few took pity on him and helped him out. It was a great example of showing compassion to your enemies.

I've noticed there's a broad character arc happening throughout the entire series with Farmer Brown's Boy. In this book, one of the earliest ones, he's sneaking through the forest with full intent to shoot the fox, the birds screaming in alarm at his presence. In one of the later books, he's obviously a friend of all the animals, and the resident creatures try hard to persuade newcomers that he's perfectly safe and harmless. I wonder in which book he has the change of heart. It was sort of apparent in the one about the squirrel, but didn't seem entire yet. So I've been trying to read them in order, as far as that's possible. I only have about half the books and very few are at my library, so I search whenever I go to a used bookstore, trying to complete the collection on hand. Burgess published several a year (they're short) so just looking at the list of works on wikipedia doesn't quite do it- they're a bit out of order. But the author himself left clues: at the end of nearly every story he mentions an animal character and announces that the next book will be all about him. So you can line them up in order and get the events chronologically throughout the entire series. Except, as noted, I only have half of them so there's gaps. Well, that just makes reading these all a bit more interesting!

 rating: 3/5 .......86 pages, 1913 ........ find it at Powell's Books or on Amazon

May 24, 2012

rearranging

I have just spent the better part of two days rearranging furniture and shifting some 750 books in order to have them all situated in my bedroom. This is because before the bookshelves were mostly in the room the kids use as a playroom, and the baby was starting to pull books off shelves, or (worse, I think) pick at and tear the edges of dust jackets. This is one of her favorite activities; she has more fun pulling all her books off her shelf than actually reading them (lately she tries to turn the pages herself and sometimes gets frustrated trying to open the book at its spine! lots of screaming ensues- it's so funny).
So I moved them all. In the process everything got thoroughly dusted and all the adjustable shelves flipped (because they start to bow from the weight of books- does anyone else do this? flip their shelves periodically?) and the nonfiction section re-organized a little bit. I also pulled a short bookcase out of my closet and dedicated it to TBR books. It all looks so nice and tidy, now. Before, there were plenty of books tucked in horizontally across the others because I didn't have more shelf space. With the addition of one little bookcase I was able to spread everything out evenly, with room to spare. The TBR is in the little bookcase, but doesn't quite fill it completely, and also the last lower shelf of the tall cases. The tall case next to the lamp is all non-fiction, which continues around the corner and fills the second bookcase too (except the bottom shelf which has oversize books). The rest is all fiction. Bottom two shelves behind the rocking chair has random stuff like magazines and sketchbooks, which I could move out when the room is needed for books. Across the top are the puzzles and games.

I'm pleased overall. Something about moving and re-organizing and re-familiarizing myself with all my books feels very satisfying. I keep turning over in my hands titles I'd dearly love to re-read! And now my bedroom feels like a little library, which is very cozy.
If you look real close, you can see a flat black thing on top of the small shelf- that's my kindle. It has twenty-three books on it now! You can click to zoom in on the photo, but I don't think it's clear enough to read many titles.

Season of Mists

The Sandman
by Neil Gaiman

This volume, unlike the others I've read so far, is one straight storyline. It opens with Morpheus at a family meeting- which I appreciated, as I hadn't quite been clear on who all the other "Endless" were before, or their roles. The others convince Morpheus that his condemnation of Nada (a woman he once loved) to Hell was unjust, and he must set it right. So the Dream King goes to Hell to set her free, but he gives Lucifer due warning that he's arriving- and the devil has an interesting plan in store that he is sure will destroy Dream.

It was a good story. I am coming to really like the character of the Dream King. Even though he can be a bit haughty at times. And I recognize, in reading it, that all these volumes twine together in an intricate way that probably won't be fully realized until I get to the final volume. Here for example, we come across Hobb again briefly, and other characters and incidents are mentioned or related to in subtle yet important ways (or so it seemed to me). But still, this book didn't quite captivate me like the others were on the verge of doing. I find I prefer the short, stand-alone stories, or the ones that have dreams enmeshed in them. And some things are still unclear to me- what is with Dream's odd mask, for instance?  it's creepy-looking and I don't understand why he wears it sometimes when he travels. Was this explained somewhere in an early volume and I just missed it? Hm. I did like the artwork better in this book. The edition I read was an older one, not the newer copy like the three I borrowed before, which all proclaimed they had been recolored. Sometimes the art in those was so dark with heavy contrast it was hard to see. I find I like the lighter contrast of the older books better, where I can see exactly where the ink lies.

rating: 3/5 ........ 224 pages, 1990 ........ find it at Powell's Books or on Amazon

more opinions:
Book Bloggy Blog
Rabbit Ears Book Blog
Incurable Bluestocking

May 23, 2012

Skyclan and the Stranger

by Erin Hunter and Dan Jolley

This little trilogy is about another Warriors clan I never heard of (having not read the novels): Skyclan. It's a small group of cats living in an isolated gorge. When the book opens the leader, Leafstar, is expecting her first litter of kittens. She's anxious and distracted, and very proud when they finally arrive. But not soon after, an elderly woman who lives in a cabin nearby finds the young family and "rescues" them from their forest life. Leafstar can't find a way to escape the cabin with all three kittens, but despairs at having them grow up as pets- she wants them to live as wild clan cats. The woman's resident cat tries to convince her to stay, that life is good in a house, but Leafstar is just waiting for an opportunity to get out.

In Beyond the Code, Leafstar continually struggles with managing her leadership duties and being a good mom cat at the same time. It's tough work, even with the help of her mate and the other clan cats. Things are made even harder with the presence of Sol, the "kittypet" Leafstar met in the woman's cabin who followed her into the wild. He's determined to join the clan but doesn't quite fit in. The other cats quickly start complaining that he doesn't pull his weight and can't manage to learn simple skills. Even worse, though, is the foreign viewpoints he introduces. Sol has entirely different ideas of how to solve the clan's problems, most of which don't fit within the warrior code, and could even place the entire group of cats in danger.

As the title might have you guess, when After the Flood begins the cats are reeling from a flood that swept through their gorge, nearly destroying their home. Not only is everything a mess, but branches and litter from humans create a potentially dangerous situation. Leafstar's mate, who spends his nights in a house as a pet cat- wants their kittens to go home with him, where he feels they'll be safer.  Arguments abound over who is better able to care for the kittens. Then in the busyness of cleaning up, the kitten suddenly go missing- have they wandered off? or did their father take them away? In the midst of accusations and worry, Leafstar's troubles soar when other clan members start to think of deserting the group, too. She has all she can handle with keeping her clan together and finding her lost kittens as well.

Compared to all the other Warriors "manga" I've now read, this one was my favorite, in spite of the superior artwork in The Rise of Scourge. It was just a better story. There was far more going on here than just cats fighting over resources and territory. The leader struggles to balance her parenting duties with her work as a leader (I think any mom can relate to that!). The cats have to recover from a natural disaster that nearly wipes out their home and question the wisdom of who chose that place to live in. They face threats not only from natural predators, but from alien ways of thinking- from outsider cats as well as members of the clan, Leafstar's very own family! The little segment of Sol's backstory- telling of his kittenhood with an absent father and a miserable mom who eventually abandoned them- was actually the saddest part of the whole miniseries for me. It's deep stuff for these little kitty books.

The Rescue- at Powell's Books or on Amazon
Beyond the Code- at Powell's Books or on Amazon
After the Flood- at Powell's Books or on Amazon

rating: 3/5 ......... 112 pages (each), 2011, 2012

more opinions:
Portland Book Review

May 22, 2012

Dream Country

the Sandman
by Neil Gaiman

This volume only had four stories, but I found them all interesting. The first, "Calliope," is of a writer who's at a dead end, lost his creativity. He ensnares one of the ancient muses and keeps her captive for years while his popularity as an artist flourishes. Calliope begs Morpheus to help free her and he does- by granting the writer his desire in excess- quite a clever and horrific thing to do, it appeared.

In "A Dream of a Thousand Cats" a cat embittered by her human family drowning her kittens seeks out the Dream Cat (now, I realize, Morpheus in a different shape, just as there was a large dark Dream Fox) for answers and learns a secret of the past. The enlightened cat returns to the world to preach to all cats she encounters, telling them they can rise up against the humans- if only the cats would deign to do things together. It was so clever I laughed.

"A Midsummer Night's Dream" has Morpheus heavily involved in the inspiration and initial production of Shakespeare's play- with fairies and all kinds of imps curiously looking on. It was intriguing, but didn't captivate me as much as the cat story.

The last tale, "Facade" was the one I had the hardest time with. I think again, it's because I'm not familiar with comics and the figures that normally populate them. This one seems to be about a woman superhero figure who is not longer active and finds herself fading, to the point where she just wants life to be over (she's been around a long time). But try as she might, she just can't die- she's invincible, of course. Death (Dream's older sibling, personified as a punky girl here, which surprised me the first time I saw her character) happens by and gives her some assistance, not in the way you'd expect. If I've got this wrong, will someone please correct me? I'm still not quite sure what was going on there.

I am finding that the more of these Sandman volumes I read, the more I like them. I'm definitely continuing now. This volume also has a script included in the back- Gaiman's original writings of the comic- dialog and scenes described- with notes added into the margins by Neil Gaiman and Kelly Jones (one of the artists). I didn't read that, but found Gaiman's introduction to the script interesting, as it described some of his creative process. Also something I haven't mentioned yet is how wonderful the introductions to all these volumes have been. They're written with gorgeously rich language extolling Gaiman's praises and describing the wonders of his imaginations. I was fascinated and wonder-struck merely by reading the intro- which did just what it aimed to do, I suppose- draw another reader into the Sandman universe.

rating: 3/5 ........ 160 pages, 1990 ....... find it at Powell's Books or on Amazon

May 21, 2012

The Doll's House

The Sandman
by Neil Gaiman

It took me some time to finally get through this one. I was unsure at first if I wanted to continue reading Sandman at all but some of your comments convinced me it was worth the effort. I found I had to be in the right frame of mind to read this stuff, it can be pretty dark. I find it really interesting that the main character who ties all this stuff together, the Sandman himself (who has so many different names!) usually isn't central to the stories. He comes in at the end, or on the side, as someone consulted or who shows up to solve problems. Then it turns out that he is the crux of what happens, but the main character is actually usually someone else. If that makes any sense at all.

Well, as far as I can follow, Doll's House has two stories that stand alone, and others that tie into previous Sandman volumes and follow a common theme. These are about a girl Rose Walker whose mother was born to a woman unaware of her existence because she was a victim of the "sleepy sickness" (told of in Preludes and Nocturnes) and Rose herself, though she doesn't know it- is a dream vortex. Some parts are a muddle to me, but what's clear is that Rose ends up living in a tenement house with some very strange fellow tenants in the other rooms. In one storyline she's trying to find her brother who's disappeared, and in another the hotel she's in (while searching for her brother) gets turned over to a convention for serial killers (very bizarre, but also humorous in a dark way). Rose isn't aware of her powers, but she starts warping the dreams of those around her, dissolving the borders between dreams and reality and of course Sandman himself has to step in and set things right.

The other two stories I liked better. "Tales in the Sand" is of a woman named Nada, a queen of ancient times who was wooed by the Dream King. After discovering his true identity and that to be with him she'd have to enter his realm, she spurns him and in a rage he condemns her to Hell. The other story "Men of Good Fortune" was my favorite. Morpheus (the Dream Lord) visits a tavern in medieval times and hears a man Hobb proclaiming that he never intends to die. Amused, Dream grants the man his wish, and arranges to meet him once every century from that time forward. The story shows their meetings throughout several ages. It was interesting to see how Morpheus' attire and hairstyle changed to fit the different times, but he was still recognizably himself. Overall I found the stories in this volume a bit more intriguing, if sometimes also disturbing.

rating: 3/5 ........ 232 pages, 1989 ........ find it at Powell's Books or on Amazon

more opinions:
Geeker Joy
Book Bloggy Blog
Reading in Winter
Rabbit Ears Book Blog

May 20, 2012

note

I admit I've been reading a lot of easy stuff lately. Fluff. Books I can't even really give high ratings too. I don't love them much at all, really. Unfortunately there's reasons. Going through some serious family troubles right now, and books that take my mind off things, make me smile without requiring much effort are just what I need. So even though they might be kinda lame and of little interest to other readers I'm appreciating them in a small way. If all these silly cat comics are boring you rest assured I'll get back to more regular reading soon enough! Also apologies for my lack of involvement here in general. I've been simply awful about commenting on or visiting other blogs of late, and I can tell that reflects back on me because no one seems to come by here much lately. When things get back to normal -whatever that is- I'll become a more active blogger, but for now I'm pretty much just coasting along.

May 19, 2012

Ravenpaw's Path

by Erin Hunter and Dan Jolley

It makes more sense to just write one post for each little trilogy, so that's what I'm doing now. The Ravenpaw's Path series follows the adventures of another cat who has left the clans, but still finds himself involved with them. I don't know Ravenpaw's backstory, having not yet read the novel series, but he's left his home in the forest and taken up living on a farm with his friend Barley. Ravenpaw finds that farm life suits him very well, and he's perfectly content. In Shattered Peace, a gang of five cats shows up at the farm. First they abuse the friends' hospitality, then they use the knowledge Ravenpaw and Barley have shared against them and drive them out.

When A Clan in Need opens, Ravenpaw and Barley are wandering deeper into the forest, having been forced out of their home. They take up with Thunderclan again, asking for help to take back the farm. But Thunderclan is facing its own troubles- the cats from the city, Bloodclan, are reorganizing themselves and launching raids against the forest cats. Before they can do anything to help Ravenpaw and Barley, Thunderclan has to focus on its own battle against the city cats. Are Ravenpaw and Barley willing to assist in the battle? There's some surprises in store for everyone.

Of the three books, The Heart of a Warrior was most full of battle scenes. Having successfully dealt with Bloodclan, Thunderclan now sends a group of cats back to the farm with Barley and Ravenpaw to help them regain their home. But things don't go as easily as they'd forseen. The gang at the farm has strong reinforcements, and it takes several heated battles to properly drive them out. Even after they've regained their rightful place, Ravenpaw and Barley face more problems in the form of two brothers who've begged to stay peacefully with them, but turn out to be scoundrels that continue to cause trouble.

There's more to these stories than just cats fighting over territory, of course. Ravenpaw and Barley face lots of ups and downs in their friendship. Barley is feeling his age and reluctant to talk about his past with the clans. Ravenpaw is happy on the farm and reluctant to live as a warrior, yet finds himself involved in more and more fights as he pursues his goals. The cats have to decide where their loyalty lies: with the cats who taught them the warrior code? which are stronger, ties of family or those of friendship? it was a rather good story arc overall, mostly gets the two stars because of the continually lame artwork.

Shattered Peace- find it at Powell's Books or on Amazon 
A Clan in Need- find it at Powell's Books or on Amazon
The Heart of a Warrior- find it at Powell's Books or on Amazon

rating: 2/5 ........ 112 pages (each) 2009, 2010

more opinions:
Reading All Year Long
anyone else?

Return to the Clans

by Erin Hunter and Dan Jolley

In this third book about Sasha, she has just left her home with man and returned to the forest to birth her kittens. But raising young on her own is difficult. One day when she's out hunting the kittens wander off into the nearby town and get themselves into trouble. A friend tries to help Sasha find a place on a farm, but the resident barn cats push her out. Knowing she needs support, Sasha finally decides to join the Riverclan. But she must keep the parentage of her kittens a secret, or they'll all be in danger.

Another quick read.


rating: 2/5 ........ 112 pages, 2009 ........ find it at Powell's Books or on Amazon

May 18, 2012

Escape from the Forest

by Erin Hunter and Dan Jolley

This story starts abruptly, continuing right where the last one left off. Brokenhearted by the revelation of Tigerstar's true character, Sasha rejects his invitation to join the Clan and wanders off to try and find herself yet another new home. She keeps dreaming of finding her previous owners but a brief search in the city proves futile. Frightened and confused by all the new surroundings, Sasha keeps wandering until she ends up on a boat where she gets trapped. Then the boat owner discovers that her company is good for his business, so he coaxes her to stay. Sasha comes to feel comfortable in her new place with the Captain, but still feels uneasy about her future. I have to say, it came as a complete surprise to me at the end that she was pregnant. I got no hint of that from the first book of this little trio where she was keeping company with Tigerstar. I even turned back through those pages to see if there was a clue that I missed, but no. It really wasn't even alluded to. So her conflict about staying on the boat or leaving to return to the forest made more sense. She wants to raise her kittens in a place of freedom, not coddled by humans.

rating: 2/5 ........ 112 pages, 2008 ....... find it at Powell's Books or on Amazon

Into the Woods

by Erin Hunter and Dan Jolley

Gah! That was my first thought on picking up this book. Because it doesn't have Bettina Kurkoski, but yet another illustrator, Don Hudson. Who was some improvement over the first guy, so I sighed and settled in to just enjoy the little tale. This one tells about a pet cat named Sasha who gets left behind when her elderly owner goes into a nursing home. Bereft, she wanders into the forest and makes a new home for herself there. Living in the forest is more thrilling and dangerous than she'd imagined. So when she meets some Clan cats, Sasha wonders if she should join them. Even after falling for the attractive leader Tigerstar, she still has her doubts. When she discovers that Tigerstar isn't quite what she thought him to be, she isn't sure what to do.

rating: 2/5 ....... 112 pages, 2008 ....... find it at Powell's Books or on Amazon

more opinions:
This Kid Reviews Books

May 17, 2012

The Rise of Scourge

by Erin Hunter and Dan Jolley

What a relief to find that this book has a different illustrator, Bettina Kurkoski, and with that the comic series has suddenly much improved. Instead of being blocky and nearly featureless, the cats in these pages look much more realistic. They're lively, expressive and have the most wonderful luminous eyes. Reading a book with good illustrations made me want to continue through the series (I checked out the entire Warriors comic book collection at once from the library, ha ha!) where I was doubtful before.

So. All I know of Scourge in the main Warriors series is that he's apparently the leader of one of the clans and an incredibly evil, bloodthirsty cat. This little book tells of his beginnings. As a kitten he was just called "Tiny" because he was the runt of the litter. His siblings picked on him and refused to play with him. Bitter and lonely, Tiny flees his home and runs into some forest cats, who beat him up. Then he ends up in the city where by a stroke of luck he intimidates some alley cats and thus procures food. Now calling himself "Scourge," the little black cat continues to bluff his way around until he's the leader of a gang of alley cats. But then one day some strange cats come asking for him to get rid of a large problem dog. Scourge isn't sure he can really face the dog: what will he do? In the end he also meets up with the forest cats again and has his chance for revenge.

It's a good little story and I'm already curious enough about the character of this mean little cat that I want to keep reading about his adventures.

Edit 5/23/12- I'm a bit disappointed to find that this is a stand-alone in the Warriors comics. There aren't any other books just about Scourge. And some things were never quite explained to me- like why all of a sudden in the later battles Scourge has astonishingly large claws (see the cover illustration). Probably there's an explanation for that in the novels, if I ever get around to reading them.

rating: 3/5 ........ pages ....... find it on Amazon or at  Powell's Books

more opinions:
The Curious Reader

Warrior's Return

by Erin Hunter and Dan Jolley

The third volume here completes the little storyline about Graystripe's time away from his clan. I realize now that these Warriors comic books are extra stories not a part of the main series, but connected to it. I kind of like that they're adding to the main story instead of just retelling it.

In this one, Graystripe and Millie continue their journey to find the Thunder clan. A cat at a truck stop tells them he saw the clan and they went to the "sun-drown place" (the ocean). He tells them how to get there but Graystripe has issues with the recommended mode of travel: in the back of a truck! A main theme of this story was the conflict between the two cat companions: Graystripe despises anything connected with humans and is scornful of Millie when she uses her knowledge of the human world to solve problems. Yet at the same time he finds her attractive and struggles to tell her his true feelings.

I enjoyed reading this one, even as the visuals continue to disappoint. The books are so short, though, you can read each one in a single sitting. It would make sense to have them in one volume, as three chapters.

rating: 2/5 ....... 112 pages, 2008 ........ find it at Powell's Books or on Amazon

May 16, 2012

Warrior's Refuge

by Erin Hunter and Dan Jolley

This short comic book picks up where The Lost Warrior left off. Graystripe the cat and his new friend Millie are on a journey to find Graystripe's missing clan. They have to navigate dangerous roads, find food, avoid territorial cats and evade dogs. After an incident in a cornfield with terrifying large machinery, they hole up for a while in a barn with some resident cats who are kept trapped there by the household dogs. Millie proves that even though she grew up a pampered housecat ("kittypet" in their lingo) she has valuable skills: she knows how to deal with the dogs. Eventually the two move on and finally locate Graystripe's old home, but everything has changed...

The storyline was a bit more interesting this time, but the artwork still disappointing. I also found it odd to discover that although Erin Hunter's name is on the cover, she didn't actually write the book. On the title page it says created by Erin Hunter, written by Dan Jolley. Wondering what exactly that means. The author of the series hatched an idea and Jolley fleshed it out? Not sure.

rating: 2/5 ........ 112 pages, 2007 ....... find it at Powell's Books or on Amazon

The Lost Warrior

by Erin Hunter and Dan Jolley

I was in the mood for some light reads but still interested in experiencing more graphic novels. The pictorial adaptations of the Warriors series was just right for this. True, I didn't care much for the Warriors books when I first tried the series out but like Redwall, I thought it might be a case where the writing didn't work for me, but a visual kind of book might. I was right. The manga Warriors series is still a bit insubstantial for me (it's geared at middle-grade readers, I believe) but it's nice for a quick read.

I'm still not sure exactly how these comic books tie into the main series; do they just include portions of the original story, or tell parts that aren't included in the books? Well, this first one, The Lost Warrior, is about a cat named Graystripe who belongs to a clan of cats that lives in a forest. When their territory is seized by humans for development and the cats are trapped for removal, Graystripe helps free some of his comrades but in the process gets caught himself. He ends up living in a home as a pet cat, which frustrates him to no end. Eventually he finds a way to escape the house, but is lost in a maze of suburban backyards. He thinks all is lost when he meets a friendly female willing to help him find the way back to his forest home. It's a nice enough story, with a pretty straightforward plot. The illustrations leave something to be desired. I liked it as a light, distracting read, but nothing more.

rating: 2/5 ........ 96 pages, 2007 ........ find it at Powell's Books or on Amazon

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May 15, 2012

The Last Dragon

by Jane Yolen illustrated by Rebecca Guay

It's just coincidence that I happened to read The Last Dragon right after The Last Unicorn. Upon finishing Foiled I looked in my library's catalog to see if they had any other graphic novels by Jane Yolen and this was the one so I requested it immediately. Read it in about a day. It's a wonderfully original fable-like story about a village threatened by a dragon, ages after mankind has supposed all the dragons to be dead. The healer's daughter puts her wits to figuring out what might defeat the dragon, while some young boys from the village go to other towns seeking a hero. They bring back a man who is full of tall tales and false bravado- he's never really done anything heroic in his life. The villagers anxiously put their trust in him, but the healer's daughter sees the truth and realizes she must help him or all will be lost. Their solution to the enormous dragon problem was so clever and unique. I loved that it was a plant which helped them. I was a bit annoyed at the completely vapid, flat character of her sisters, but overall found the people in these pages intriguing and full of human weakness and boldness like any other. The illustrations are a wonderful mix of sketchy linework and painterly strokes that I enjoyed looking at. It's such a nice book.

rating: 3/5 ........ 144 pages, 2011 ........ find it on Amazon or at Powell's Books

more opinions:
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Books and Other Thoughts
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Page 247

May 14, 2012

The Last Unicorn

by Peter S. Beagle adapted by Peter Gillis

I haven't read the original Last Unicorn in years, but I remember it dearly. Saw this graphic novel version on the library shelf and had to bring it home. It's a fitting tribute to the original tale of a unicorn on a quest. She lived peacefully for centuries in her wood until one day overhearing some men talking about how unicorns have disappeared from the world. Afraid of being the only one, she sets off on a journey to find others of her kind. Along the way she meets many different characters, most of whom fail to recognize the unicorn for what she is (they just see a white horse) others who still believe. Although she never asked them, two companions accompany her to discover the fate of the unicorns- a bumbling magician and a bitter woman (who still believes in unicorns). The ending is bittersweet, and the cat is my favorite character (although his personality comes across much fuller in the original book).

 I liked the artwork by Renae de Liz for the most part, except that the unicorn herself often looked awkward to me, the head too small and the lack of a chin kept bugging me - even though I know in the original Beagle said her head was like a deer, and this is, it still doesn't quite fit the image in my mind. And the story often felt fragmented- it was okay because I remember the book so clearly, but I'm afraid that someone reading this who hadn't already read the original might get lost. For example, the part where Lir is writing poetry to Amalthea- it wasn't clear at all that he was even writing poems, or for what reason. For all appearances, he's just saying random things... well, even so I enjoyed it. If you're a fan of The Last Unicorn, definitely give this one a look. If not, I'd suggest reading Beagle's words in full first.

rating: 3/5 ........ 152 pages, 2011 ....... find it at Powell's Books

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May 13, 2012

Pride of Baghdad

by Brian K. Vaughan and Niko Henrichon

Based on a true incident during the Iraq War, this graphic novel illustrates what happens to a group of lions when the zoo is hit by bombs and the wild animals escape. The story is brief; the lions only wander for a short time before encountering soldiers, but the strength of the book is in their characters. And in the amazing illustrations. The animals are drawn so life-like and expressive. I must have gone back through the book two or three times just to look at the pictures. It's one I want to add to my own shelves someday. Ah, back to the tale: so the lions all have different personalities and perspectives; some are cautious, others remember their days in the wild with nostalgia; the cub is just in awe of every new thing he sees. The animals are bewildered by the chaos and novelties they encounter outside the zoo, also the uncertainty of their plight: who will feed them? they attempt hunting but aren't practiced at it, or get interrupted by bombs falling. They meet other animals: a turtle who remembers a previous war, a band of horses, antelope and baboons also escaped from the zoo, and in the end a huge bear (apparently some rich person's pet?) who battles the male of the pride. The ending is very sad and feels abrupt: I would have liked to walk in these lions' footsteps longer. It definitely gets across the message of how wasteful and horrific war is. Not a book for children: there are graphic scenes of animals getting hit by bombs and gunfire, there are moments when the lions mate, there is plenty of blood and violence. The orange color palette is very striking; it's not a color scheme I really like but it worked excellently in this case. And did I say the pictures are beautiful? for all their violence and disturbing depictions. they are beautifully drawn.

This was wonderful. I'm glad my library had a copy.

rating: 4/5 ......... 136 pages, 2006 ........ find it at Powell's Books

more opinions:
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May 12, 2012

Preludes and Nocturnes

The Sandman
by Neil Gaiman

 The King of Dreaming gets caught by some muddling fools who are just clever enough to entrap him but can't get who they really want- Death. Sandman is enclosed in their glass prison for ages. While he is trapped people all over the world get stuck in their dreams or suffer otherwise because the dream world is gone rampant without his rule. When he finally gets free he wants revenge but first he has to retrieve three magical objects that were taken from him, without which he is powerless. Most of the story seems to be about his quest to get his belongings back, which includes a trip into hell.

Perhaps I shouldn't have been so eager to read it. I liked Dream Hunters so much, but Preludes and Nocturnes did not work for me. I had trouble following the storyline from the very beginning, sometimes the images would not make sense to me, or I couldn't see how they progressed the story. Characters come in and out without much introduction and I felt like I was supposed to know who they were just because they were part of a comic- the format is still relatively new to me so there were references and allusions to things that I figure I would know about if I read comics all the time but I don't, so I didn't. I made myself keep reading and I did find the bit about Sandman visiting hell to retrieve his objects and having a magical duel with a demon interesting, but after that things just mattered less and less to me and pretty soon I realized I didn't want to read anymore.  Which disappoints me, because so many people seem to rave about Sandman, and it seems like a lot of fans aren't big on reading other graphic novels at all; this is one series that is supposed to transcend the genre. But I gather from other reviews as well that it gets better with the next book, so I might give at least one more volume a try before I give up on Sandman as being not-for-me.

Abandoned ........ 240 pages, 1993 ........ find it at Powell's Books

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May 11, 2012

Jungle Book Stories

by Rudyard Kipling adapted by P. Craig Russell

I've always been fond of the Jungle Book stories, perhaps the second volume even more than the first, as there's more variety to the tales (not all about Mowgli) and they're not as well-known. This richly illustrated graphic novel includes three of the later stories.

"The King's Ankus" relates how Mowgli is shown a treasure in a ruin beneath the jungle, guarded by a white cobra. Mowgli is puzzled at why men value the jewels and riches, he doesn't understand the worth of something you can't eat. He's intrigued by the design of an instrument used to prod elephants and wants to carry it away into the light but the cobra warns him that it will bring death to many. Mowgli doesn't believe this, but when he later tosses aside the ankus, he discovers that indeed, men will kill each other in order to possess it (there are jewels in the handle). He and Bagheera follow the trail of six men who die over the ankus, then they recover it and return it to the treasure cave, disgusted with the waste of human life.

In "Red Dog", rumor of a large dhole pack coming into the area makes all the animals anxious. Mowgli is advised to leave the area until the dhole are done hunting there, but instead he comes up with a scheme to outwit them in battle with the help of Kaa the python. First he taunts the dogs into a fury, then he leads them through swarms of bees, over a cliff into a tumultuous river, and finally the survivors are met by the wolf pack who engage them in bloody battle.

The last story, "The Spring Running" shows Mowgli feeling out of sorts. All the animals in the forest are infected with spring fever and seeking mates. Mowgli doesn't know what to do with himself or why he feels unsettled. He visits his mother, returns to the jungle again, then finally takes his leave of his animal friends, deciding to go back to mankind.

I remembered all these stories from when I read the books long ago, although I had forgotten many details. It was nice to revisit them in a format completely new to me.

rating: 3/5 ........ 88 pages, 2003 ........ find it at Amazon

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May 10, 2012

The Dream Hunters

The Sandman
by Neil Gaiman and P. Craig Russell

Set in ancient Japan, this is the story of a shape-shifter fox and a young monk who fall in love. The fox at first has a bet with a badger to see who can drive the monk from his temple and take it for their own home. They both fail, but during the process the fox (after taking the form of a woman) unexpectedly falls in love with the monk. She overhears some demons in the forest plotting to take the monk's life, and has to use all her fox wits to save him if she can. It was such a wonderful, intriguing story. Each turn of the plot had me sitting up all alert and fascinated again. The artwork is superb (there must be a few versions of this novella, because I found the same book with different artists as you see in links below).

I am not familiar with the Sandman universe at all, so I wasn't sure until I looked it up how this one fit into the rest of the series. Turns out it's kind of a stand-alone story, published after the main Sandman series was finished. I enjoyed it a lot. The character of Sandman has a small appearance here, when the monk visits dreamland, and I was intrigued to find there was also a master dream-fox that the fox-woman visited for counsel. I also found curious the idea that dreamland was somehow equated with the land of death.... I'm eager now to read all the Sandman graphic novels in order, at least as far as my library has them (sometimes I woefully discover they only have part of a series, or are missing a few books in the middle... )

rating: 4/5 ........144 pages, 2011 ........ find it at Powell's Books

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Page 247

May 9, 2012

Mirrormask

by Neil Gaiman

Helena lives with a circus. When her mother suddenly becomes hospitalized, the circus halts in a grimy tenement building and the performers anxiously wait to get on the road again. Worried about her mother's condition, Helena escapes into the world created by her drawings, where she meets some strange characters who remind her of people she knows in real life.... At first she's just wandering around there, but then she realizes that she's trapped, the dream-world is getting destroyed, and she has to find a hidden Charm to restore things to order. To make matters worse, a girl who looks like her has taken her place in the real world where she's causing all kinds of trouble, and her mother's well-being is somehow tied into this as well... The story is really a wonderful mix of emotions and dream imagery, echoing the real world but also very much influenced by it. 

Mirrormask is one of my favorite fantasy films, so when I saw this graphic novel version at the library, I thought I was in for a treat. I had kind of a mixed reaction to it, though. I really liked the text by Neil Gaiman. The words flowed just right, and in fact made some things clear to me that didn't come across well in the film. The imagery was something else, though. It's a mixture of drawings by Dave McKean and stills from the film. The film images were usually dark, though, and often blurry or unclear. They didn't at all communicate the quirkiness and rich imagination that made the film so wonderful. I would have preferred all the visuals in this book to be illustrations, and more of them. It felt like it was a heavily illustrated book, not a true graphic novel. So overall, I felt like the book kept reminding me how much I like the film, but didn't stand well on its own.

rating: 2/5 ........ 80 pages, 2005 ........ find it at Powell's Books

more opinions:
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Yup, Reading is Sexy

May 8, 2012

Foiled

by Jane Yolen

I know almost nothing about fencing, which made this graphic novel all the more interesting to me. It's about a teenage student who doesn't really fit in with any of the cliques at school. She stands by herself, as her main interest is fencing and practice leaves her little time for other activities. She's really good at it, too. Then a new boy comes to school, happens to be very attractive but he's also a little strange. He's her lab partner and slowly they sort-of-become friends (over the grossness of dissecting frogs). Ali (our heroine) also happens to be color-blind, so most of the pictures are in shades of gray. When color starts coming into the book, you know it means something significant! Anyway, Ali has always felt awkward around boys and she's pretty stunned when the new guy asks her out on a date... and then things happen. I was quite surprised. Surprised at the sudden turn into fantasy, surprised at the boy's secret identity. Expectant of a sequel, as the book's close just seemed to be introducing some wonderful possibilities. It was a careful set-up for who Ali is and I'm expecting some big adventures in the future.

The artwork was very good. I went through the book a second time, just to look at all the pictures again. The first time I was focused on how the images told the story, and the main characters. But if you look at the scenery and background figures there is so much more expressed there in people types and other things going on in the background. Like the birds. I'm really curious what meaning those crows had.... Guess I have to wait for the sequel to find out. I knew Yolen was a very prolific writer, but I didn't know before that she had authored a graphic novel! It was a really fun, engaging read.

rating: 3/5 ........ 160 pages, 2010 ........ find it at Powell's Books

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May 7, 2012

Oogy

the dog only a family could love
by Larry Levin

This is the story of a family adopting a dog who survived against the most horrendous odds. As a small puppy, Oogy was used as bait for fighting dogs. When a policeman rescued him, his head had been severely mauled. The vets didn't think they could save him, and it was doubtful they could find him a home even if he did live (he looked like a pit bull). But something about the puppy's calm demeanor and friendliness even when he was suffering horribly and had been awfully abused, made them determined to save his life.

Levin's family met the dog when they came to the veterinary hospital with their cat who was ready to leave this life. The puppy hurled himself at them with love and after their initial shock at his appearance, they felt he simply belonged to them. They took him home. The book tells the story of how he became part of their family, the trials he survived, and the bond that grew between them. It's a pretty organized little book, each chapter having a strong focus. One tells all about the author trying to discover more about Oogy's backstory, another details a daily routine in their household, so the reader can see how completely the dog integrated himself into their lives. Another chapter relates his destructive puppy years, another focuses on the veterinary care and surgeries Oogy required to keep him healthy, another talks about reactions the public had when he was taken for walks, and how he enjoys dog parks. Surprisingly, it turns out that Oogy isn't a pit breed at all, but a Dogo (which pretty much explains his wonderful temperament). Near the end of the book, the author had decided to train Oogy to be a therapy dog. He hoped that the dog's friendliness and survival story would touch the hearts of hospitalized children or veterans who could relate to having disfiguring injuries. I kind of wish he'd waited a bit before writing his book, so the reader could find out about his experiences working as a therapy dog as well... All in all, it's a very touching story and a rapid, easy read.

Borrowed this one from the public library.

rating: 3/5 ......... 214 pages, 2010 ........ find it at Powell's Books

more opinions:
 Broken Penguins
A Foodie Bibliophile
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Pull up a Chair and Have a Cup of Tea

May 5, 2012

Born Wild

the Extraordinary Story of One Man's Passion for Africa
by Tony Fitzjohn

This book caught my eye sitting on a library display shelf: a man embracing a lion, now that looks like the kind of book I like! It's a memoir of Tony Fitzjohn's several decades spent working in Africa to help reintroduce wildlife. He started out as an assistant to the famous George Adamson (Born Free) and worked at his side for about two decades before moving on to establish wildlife sanctuaries and national parks in Kenya and Tanzania. The efforts they made were astonishing; living in remote, harsh conditions, dealing with corrupt government, political unrest, violence, poachers, and all kinds of difficulties. For every moment actually working with the animals it seems they had to spend hours struggling with other, mundane or exasperating tasks. I'm sure that's pretty accurate, as he writes later in the book about spending ten years setting up infrastructure and manpower before they could bring the first black rhino into Tanzania. It was a bit tedious for me, because I'd rather read about the animals themselves- their personalities, behavior, anecdotes about actually working with them- and aside from the first few chapters, the parts about animals are just scattered here and there throughout the book. Most of it is about the efforts in all other aspects that were necessary to deal with living in the area, getting proper permits and dealing with locals and officials in order to work with the wildlife. It kind of makes your head swim all the names Fitzjohn mentions, but at the same time he is a good writer, and you can tell he was determined to give everyone credit, who helped him along the way. It just shows the reader how many people are involved in saving wildlife. And the work they did was amazing- rehabilitating numerous lions and leopards into living fully wild lives, as well as elephants, rhinos and wild dogs. These people were incredibly brave and hardworking- they were mauled by lions, barely escaping with their lives, and quite a few staff members get killed. Some of the animals they loved and successfully rehabilitated also get killed by poachers, so be aware there are very sad moments. The ending is very upbeat, as the author had achieved his goals and continued working hard to forward the cause of African's wildlife as well as helping and educating its people.

Phew. It was a hard read to finish, as I found the constant litany of names and events a bit tiresome. Fitzjohn is a good writer, or I never would have made it all the way through. It was interesting to come across a few names I recognized- of course Joy and George Adamson (sad to read of their deaths) also Christian the lion! If you've read of him, or seen the clips on Youtube, know that the story of his reintroduction to the wild is in the first few chapters here. Fitzjohn also writes about meeting Roberto Canessa, who was one of the survivors of the plane crash recounted in Alive. There's really lots of incredible stories here; the man has led an amazing life and does wonderful work for wildlife; I just wish more of the book had actually been about the animals themselves.

rating: 2/5 ........ 318 pages, 2010 ........ find it at Powell's Books

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Opions of a Wolf

Lion Cubs

Planet Earth
by Scholastic

This sturdy little book shows the family life of lions- how the babies are cared for by the adults. How they play and practice roaring. Their mother shows them where to drink and carries them to safety. They nap together. My favorite was the page that says no matter what, they stay together with a line of little lions marching along, so many blurring together in the rear that you can't count them. The photos are all nice and clear. For some reason this book doesn't interest my baby much, but I liked it. Maybe I'll borrow it again when she's older.

From the public library.

rating: 3/5 ........ 12 pages, 2009 ........ find it at Powell's Books

May 3, 2012

Daddies and Their Babies

by Guido van Genechten

Adorable little board book with bold, black-and-white illustrations showing animal babies and their fathers.The pictures all include patches of grey texture to add detail and visual interest. There are owls and crocodiles, dogs and frogs, birds, fish and seals. A cute hedgehog pair, a rhino who looks a bit too skinny- and a pair of caterpillars.

Um, hello? Caterpillars aren't daddies. They're a juvenile stage. It should be the daddy butterfly with his baby caterpillar. I find it really annoying when books for kids include blatant misinformation like this. Would it bug you?

There's a companion book called Mommies and Their Babies which includes cats, snakes, turtles, spiders, horses, sheep, penguins (with too-long beaks) and the most beautiful illustration of elephants. I have no problems with the Mommies book.

Found these at the public library.

rating: 2/5 ........ 20 pages, 2012 ........ find it at Powell's Books