Sep 29, 2007


by William Service

Owl is a charming little book about an owl living in the home of an amateur naturalist. His daily habits and personality are well illustrated with prosaic writing and beautiful illustrations. It is quite funny at times. At first you wonder why in the world they put up with the mess caused by the owl, until you fall under his feathered charm yourself. I especially enjoyed the descriptions of the owl's interactions with the resident housecat.

Rating: 3/5                    93 pages, 1969

Sep 28, 2007

The Stolen Child

by Keith Donohue

Donohue's debut novel puts the old myth of changelings into a modern setting. His changelings are not anything like graceful fairies. Their race is ancient and deteriorating. They call themselves hobgoblins, decrepit child-sized beings that live decades, until they can find a suitable child with which to change places, and enter the human world. The Stolen Child follows the lives of Henry Day and the changeling who takes his place, alternating chapters between them as they struggle to understand their true identities. Henry Day becomes Aniday, one of the changelings that live furtively in the forest, subsisting on grubs and stolen goods. He attempts to understand his past via writing, piecing together the true story of his life slowly and painfully. The false Henry Day lives in comfort and guilt in a suburb, hiding the secret of his past, seeking expression through his music. As the story slowly unravels, it becomes clear that their two lives are even more closely intertwined than anyone suspects.

This book moves slowly, telling a story that has many brutal and violent moments in a gentle fashion. Aniday and Henry Days' lives are explored in gritty mundane details and sudden flashes of beauty. There are quite a few directions left unexplored, which can be frustrating to the reader. But I think that's rather realistic- in life, there are always some things we will never know.

Rating: 4/5          319 pages, 2006

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Sep 27, 2007


by Christopher Paolini

Eragon caught my eye sitting on the shelf: over 500 pages, a beautiful cover illustration, and the author was only 18 when he wrote it! Plus I liked the premise: a poor young farm boy finds a dragon egg in the forest. He raises the dragon, becomes bonded to it, learns magic and swordplay, and sets off on an epic adventure against evil.

I was ready to be impressed, but halfway through started feeling disillusioned. The characters were uninteresting. The dialog is forced and awkward. The plot felt predictable, and worst of all, I kept finding blatant echoes of other fantasy writers I love. It seems the author pulled signature concepts from other works and instead of reinventing them his own way, pasted them all together with a formulaic plot. I found myself bored and irritated by turns until I just gave up. My husband and I went to see the film. I thought it might be better. Nope. After about fifteen minutes we had to get up and leave, the dialog was so ludicrous.

I guess the old adage "don’t judge a book by its cover" works both ways. I keep looking at this fat volume every time I see it on a shelf and wish it was a better book, it looks so great. But there's no meat between those covers. Good marketing, that's all.

Rating: 1/5               544 pages, 2004

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Sep 26, 2007

Dances With Wolves

by Michael Blake

Dances With Wolves is about a retired Civil War veteran seeking action who gets sent out to a post on the frontier where he's supposed to help fight off the Native Americans. He finds it entirely abandoned. Lonely, he befriends a wolf and members of the local Comanche tribe. Eventually he becomes adopted into the tribe, marries a white woman who has been with them since childhood, and lives among them for some years, until the army remembers its forgotten post and comes back…

Unfortunately, this is one of the few cases where the film was better than the book. I love the movie Dances With Wolves, and when I saw the book on a shelf couldn't resist picking it up, even though I don't usually read westerns. I was sorely disappointed. The author told everything, showed nothing. The characters felt very flat. The writing style was so simple it did not engage my interest at all. I got so bored, and I didn't like the ending.

Rating: 1/5                     304 pages, 2001

Sep 25, 2007

One Small Boat

The story of a little girl, lost then found
by Kathy Harrison

Kathy Harrison has written two memoirs on her experiences as a foster mother, and this is the second one. The focus is on one girl's troubled past and slow recovery in Harrison's home. There are many other characters each given due attention- the half dozen other foster children, the author's own children, her husband, and various social workers. Harrison is quite blunt about the atrocities suffered by the children before they reach her care, and honest about the failures and successes she faces with them. She explains some of the workings of the social care system, and in the background is her teenage daughter's struggles with newly-diagnosed obsessive compulsive disorder. An engaging read, One Small Boat avoids being overly sentimental and comes across as straightforward and candid.

Rating: 4/5               224 pages, 2006

Sep 22, 2007

Meme: Monogamy

One book at a time? Or more than one? If more, are they different types/genres? Or similar?

I rarely read more than one book simultaneously anymore. Simply because I don't have time. If I do, the second book is of a different genre, usually light reading with brief chapters, or short stories, something I can put down and not have to keep track of a complicated story line in between reading sessions. I just can't focus on two or more books of the same genre or level of intensity.

Question from Booking Through Thursday

Sep 21, 2007

Watership Down

by Richard Adams

Although Watership Down is peopled by rabbits, the story is quite serious. It is an epic tale of leadership and adventure: a small group of rabbits escapes a warren doomed for destruction and flees through the countryside seeking a safe place to make a new home. It is full of unforgettable characters, drama, tall tales, humor, sorrow and warfare. The rabbits face dangers on all sides, from men, foxes, dogs and even established rabbits in other warrens who don't welcome newcomers. They show strength I never thought of rabbits having-- I used to see them as being weak and uninteresting (before I read this book). The author gives close attention to environment details so that the natural setting is easily painted in the reader's mind. The animals' behavior is accurately based on observations of wild rabbits, and is quite realistic. If you can accept the fact that these animals talk, you get drawn into their culture and mythology. The author depicts their entire world so well you can get the feeling that you live among the rabbits and see through their eyes. A wonderful book, one I have read time and time again.

Rating: 5/5 ........ 496 pages, 1972

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Sep 20, 2007


by J.R.R. Tolkien

Tolkien created this delightful little story in 1925, when his family was visiting the Yorkshire seashore. His young son lost a toy on the beach and to console him Tolkien invented a tale about a puppy who was turned into a toy by a grumpy wizard. The toy dog Rover wants to become real again so he sets off on an adventure to find the wizard. He goes to the moon and the bottom of the sea, meets lots of strange and magical creatures and gets into plenty of mischief along the way. Lighthearted, whimsical and charming, Roverandom is sure to please anyone fond of books like Kingsley's The Water Babies or Tolkien's other children's stories such as Mr. Bliss and Farmer Giles of Ham.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 144 pages, 1998

Sep 19, 2007

Red Sky At Morning

by Richard Bradford

Red Sky At Morning is the story of Josh Arnold's coming of age in a small New Mexican town. His family originates from the South in Mobile, Alabama where his father runs a shipyard. When his father joins the Navy in WW II, Josh and his mother go to stay in their summer home in Corazon Sagrado, New Mexico. While his mother shuns the locals for being coarse and unrefined, enclosing herself in the house to play bridge and get drunk, Josh makes friends with the servants, kids at school and a disreputable artist in town. He doesn't pay attention to all the cultural and racial boundaries his mother upholds. He learns Spanish and local customs, all of which rang true with me (my husband's family is from Mexico). I almost abandoned this book a third of the way through, because the bully at school spoke English with a Spanish accent that read like Speedy Gonzales from the Warner Brothers cartoon, and it was driving me crazy! Then I realized he was doing it to annoy everybody (it worked), and felt relieved that it wasn't ignorance or insult on the part of the author.

Red Sky At Morning is called a classic coming of age story, although I have to admit I never heard of it until it was mentioned on an NPR program about books one day. It is a very entertaining portrayal of a year in the life of a high school boy, who goes from being a cocky spoiled kid to a responsible, level-headed young man. His ribald banter with friends and subtle insults masked in politeness (to unwanted dinner guests) are just hilarious.

Rating: 3/5                253 pages, 1968

Sep 18, 2007

The Silver Wolf

by Alice Borchardt

I got to page 25 and just got tired of the incessant profanity and sex. I flipped ahead, glanced at more pages, found more of the same and figured this book isn't for me. The writing style failed to engage me as well. It's about a woman who's a werewolf in Roman times, just after the fall of the Empire. I found it curious that the part of her that was wolf was separate, like she had a split personality. I didn't expect that.

Abandoned             480 pages, 1999

Magic Street

by Orson Scott Card

Magic Street opens with the mysterious birth of Mack Street, after which he is abandoned in a shopping bag on the street of a predominately black suburb in Los Angeles. One of the local kids finds him, and he gets taken in by a nurse and raised by the whole neighborhood. He grows up in a rather idyllic setting (in spite of the drugs and gangs, which he avoids), reminiscent of Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine.

But there's something strange about this boy-- who is polite, friendly, and has a very uninspiring bland personality. He has dreams that bring people's deepest desires to life in horrible ways. Just as you're beginning to think this book is all about motivations, wishes and dreams, it takes a sudden slide into the realm of Shakespeare's Midsummer Night's Dream. There's a whole parallel world peopled with Puck, Titania and strange creatures, right behind someone's back door. As pieces of the puzzle start to fall into place, Mack finds himself in the middle of a battle against evil he never chose to fight.

Although the mixture of Fairyland and black suburbia can be incongruous, and Card's attempts at ebonics awkward at times, this book is rather captivating. It moves at a quick pace, unraveling a story that is a fantastic medley of disparate themes. The religious undertones might throw some people off, but I say it's worth reading through until the end.

Rating: 3/5             
304 pages, 2005

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Sep 17, 2007

The Drawing of the Three

The Dark Tower II
by Stephen King

I now know the premise of this series: the Dark Tower is the center of all the "universes" King created, and it is under some threat. Roland has to go there and save it. He has to find three people to help him. So in this book, he wanders a desolate beach, threatened by monster lobster creatures that eat half his hand and a toe off, and finds a door standing in the sand. When he opens it, he's inside somebody's head. After he gets that guy to come into his world and help him, they keep walking and find another door, open it and get into someone else's head. The whole book is about Roland collecting his three companions.

The Drawing of the Three could be interesting, but after 120 pages I realized I simply don't care for Stephen King. I don't care for violence and a book about the protagonist being inside the head of a drug addict (and then a schizophrenic, and then somebody else, I didn't get that far). So here's another one I didn't finish.

Abandoned               463 pages, 1987

Sep 16, 2007

The Gunslinger

The Dark Tower: I
by Stephen King

I didn't quite know what to make of this. The Gunslinger felt mostly like a western, but has elements of fantasy, mystery and horror all mixed into an epic quest. It opens with the protagonist, Roland the Gunslinger, following his enemy the man in black. The entire book is about his pursuit of this man, who will tell him information he needs in his greater quest to find the Dark Tower. It is set in a post-apocalyptic world where everything is pretty much dead, and the Gunslinger is the last of his kind. He traverses a horrific desert and runs into many different characters who either help or hinder him on his way. Gradually some of his background is revealed, as he tells it to others. In the end, I still felt like there was a lot left unexplained.

It became apparent that this book is mostly setting up the scene for the six others that follow. Although I found the violence and lascivious women disturbing, I'm intrigued enough to continue reading the series. The prosaic descriptions makes interesting what felt like a rather one-dimensional story. King says that the Dark Tower series was inspired by Tolkien's Lord of the Rings and Robert Browning's 1855 epic poem "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came."

Rating: 3/5               224 pages, 1982

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Sep 15, 2007

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

By Mark Haddon

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time is not about a dog. Nor is it a mystery story. It is a monologue with many digressions into mathematical musings, from the point of view of an autistic teenager. The boy has so many symptoms it's difficult to see through them, and I wonder if it is an accurate portrayal of an autistic person's thought process. That said, this little book does have a very unique voice. But the story is rather simple: Christopher finds his neighbor's dog dead in her yard. He determines to find out who did it. His investigations lead him to discover not only who killed the dog (halfway through the book) but to uncover a hidden family secret that throws his orderly life into chaos and unsettles his already dysfunctional family. The most poignant aspect of it all is that he relates the most emotionally wrenching incidents with no hint of emotion at all, or even understanding. For that contrast alone I found it interesting. But the ending was highly unsatisfying and rather unrealistic.

Rating: 2/5                 226 pages, 2003

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Sep 14, 2007

Meme: Comfort food

Okay . . . picture this (really) worst-case scenario: It’s cold and raining, your boyfriend/girlfriend has just dumped you, you’ve just been fired, the pile of unpaid bills is sky-high, your beloved pet has recently died, and you think you’re coming down with a cold. All you want to do (other than hiding under the covers) is to curl up with a good book, something warm and comforting that will make you feel better.

What do you read?

I think I would either read either Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach, or The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exuprey. Both are books I've loved for years, they're not too long and full of uplifting messages and great lines to quote from. Or if that got too sappy, maybe something from the Chronicles of Narnia.

Question from Booking Through Thursday

To Say Nothing of the Dog

by Connie Willis

Another time-traveling historical fiction novel by this author. It has some of the same characters as Doomsday Book, but a totally different scenario. In To Say Nothing of the Dog, an obsessed woman called Lady Shrapnell wants to rebuild Coventry Cathedral exactly as it was before it got destroyed. So she sends historians from a futuristic Oxford back in time to study every little detail (because "God is in the details"). Ned Henry's been on so many time-trips he's suffering from time-lag illness but to escape Shrapnell sending him on another mission, he goes back in time to Victorian England to rest up for a week. Only instead of resting he ends up on another mission to solve/find something, with a time-traveling historian cohort and a bulldog and cat in tow.

I never got far enough to appreciate the cat. I slogged through 93 pages and thought to myself: why don't I quit now and read something I enjoy? Perhaps it's because I don't appreciate slapstick comedy? Or that I never read Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome, which apparently Willis based much of this book on (and made no pretense to hide it; her characters quote heavily from it). I just could not get into this one. Maybe I'll try it again in ten years...

Abandoned            499 pages, 1999

Sep 13, 2007

Doomsday Book

By Connie Willis

The year is 2054. Kivrin is a history student who travels back to the 14th century. She's supposed to arrive a decade before the black plague breaks out in Europe, but there's a mistake and she shows up in 1348, right when plague starts appearing. Only she can't figure it out because she's ill herself- and so is everyone else back in the future. The story is told in two parallels: one of Kivrin struggling to understand medieval Europe, which is not at all what she expected. The other is a confusion of woefully inept technicians and students in the future trying to figure out what went wrong so they can bring her back, while dealing with an outbreak of influenza.

Doomsday Book was pretty fascinating. The medieval setting was the most interesting part. Connie Willis spent five years researching and writing it. It won Hugo and Nebula Awards for science fiction, but I'm not quite sure why, because the futuristic part of the book has some obvious flaws. The most glaring is the lack of even adequate communication systems, which made no sense when they have advanced enough technology for a time machine. There are a few other problems with the story, like the early revelation of what's going on while the characters still are clueless for a few hundred more pages. But overall I found it a very good read.

Rating: 4/5                445 pages, 1992

Sep 12, 2007


by Jerry Spinelli

Susan Caraway calls herself Stargirl. When she arrives at high school in a small Arizona town, nobody knows what to make of her. She is the ultimate non-conformist. She doesn't even care about trying to fit in. Her daily mission in life appears to be showering utter strangers with random acts of kindness. For a while she inspires the other students to express their individuality as well, but when her altruism goes too far, they all turn against her. Everyone except the narrator, Leo, a fellow tenth-grader who has a crush on her. Only he can't quite bring himself to accept the outcast role that being Stargirl's friend puts him in. Stargirl has strong themes of conformity, individualism and friendship. It has an unadorned writing style that flows easily. However, I was a little disappointed at the end. I felt there were several avenues the author could have explored more to give Stargirl's character greater depth (her prior homeschooling, her parent's attitudes, her inability to understand conformity- was she mildly autistic? her absolute selflessness- was she a Christian?). Instead, we were left to puzzle over her motives and in the end left just as unknowing as Leo himself.

Rating: 3/5                  186 pages, 2000

Sep 11, 2007

Chicken Soup for the Cat Lover's Soul

Stories of Feline Affection, Mystery and Charm
By Jack Canfield

This collection of 90 short stories about cats is alternately funny and touching. There are many different felines in its pages: pampered pedigree cats, adored children's pets, tough alley cats, resourceful barn cats, healing therapy cats. The brief tales are written by lifelong cat lovers, and people who never had a cat before. They look at all kinds of roles that cats hold in our lives, traditional and unexpected. My favorite stories were of the cat who brought his mistress flowers, the cat who got his head stuck in a garbage disposal, the kitten who sat on a fax machine and answered phones, the black jellybean cats, the cat who had a pet lobster, and the duo who would not tolerate closed bathroom doors. I laughed a lot. Great light reading for any kitty lover.

Rating: 3/5                   Published 2005, 400 pgs

Sep 10, 2007

A Naturalist In Alaska

by Adolph Murie

In the 1930's Adolph Murie and his brother Olaus traveled by dog team and on foot through Mt. McKinley National Park in Alaska, working as field biologists for the National Park Service. Their main goal was to study populations of Dall sheep and wolves in the park. The Park had just opened in 1917, and the Murie brothers were among the first men to observe wildlife in the area. In order to fully understand the balance of wolves and sheep, they also considered other species whose lives intertwined: arctic foxes, coyotes, caribou, grizzly bears, black bears, wolverine, lynx, snowshoe hares, even gulls and mice.

A Naturalist in Alaska is mostly about the general habits and movements of the various animals. There are a number of unique descriptions: mice who create weasel-proof tunnels and make hay, porcupines which are mistaken for bears, gulls that wash their food. I found most interesting the chapter on the wolves' hunting methods and tactics the sheep used to escape them. It is an informative volume, but lacks the lyric charm of A Sand County Almanac or the humor of Never Cry Wolf.

Rating: 3/5 ........ Published: 1961, 302 pgs

Sep 9, 2007

The Plague Dogs

by Richard Adams

Two hapless dogs escape from an animal research lab into the barren wilderness of England's Lake District, where they take up company with a wild fox. A journalist finds out about them and spreads inflamed reports that the dogs carry bubonic plague, causing the whole countryside to rise up against them in fear and horror. There are two strong appeals to The Plague Dogs: the fast-paced adventure of the dogs fleeing for their lives; and the wonderful characterization and word play that bring them to life. The two dogs are a large black mongrel that suffered psychological tests by repeated near-drowning, who still tries to hold firm to his belief in man, and a small fox terrier full of humor and wit who underwent brain-surgery experiments that make him hallucinate. The mongrel's sober speech and the terrier's wandering hallucinatory nonsense are offset by the language of the fox, who speaks an Upper Tyneside dialect known as Geordie. It is the dialog between the three that gives the story its life: full of pathos, humor and courage.

Rating: 4/5                    389 pages, 1978

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Sep 8, 2007

Don Coyote

by Dayton O. Hyde

Surrounded by sheep ranchers who hate, revile and try to exterminate the coyote, Dayton Hyde takes a stand to protect and study this fascinating and resourceful animal on his cattle ranch in Oregon. His informal investigations include examining the ecological benefits of having coyotes on his land and hand-raising a litter of coyote pups. Through his first-hand experiences with coyotes, Hyde proved wrong the long-held belief that they prey upon cattle. Don Coyote was a ground-breaking wildlife study in its day, and the American Library Association named it one of the ten top books of the 1980s.

Far from being a dry, scientific volume, Don Coyote is full of humor and set against the background of the author's life with his family-- who view his coyote dealings with long-suffering patience and continual amusement. It is a very personable story, and an old favorite of mine.

Rating: 4/5                  245 pages w/19 black and white photographs, 1986

Sep 7, 2007

Harry Potter

by J.K. Rowling

I finally finished it, the last Harry Potter book! Last time I read the most recent of the series, I actually went back and read the previous book, just to catch up on all the details. This time I didn't bother with that. Rowling does a pretty good job at reminding you what important things mean or where they came from, without spelling it out in your face.

Well. It was really good. Suspenseful, although the part where Harry and his friends are in the wilderness really started to drag. I kept thinking: why don't they do something!? The odd thing was that the fight scenes lost my attention. The opening chapter is one big battle, and there's many smaller ones interspersed until you reach the grand finale at the end: and every time I actually had to put the book down, go do something else and come back. I don't know what it was. Maybe she just doesn't write action scenes well, or I don't read them well.

I was glad that there were still surprises, all the way through. Rowling kept the last twist there, and I didn't see it all coming. Dumbledore turned out to be more of a complex character than I'd figured, with his own faults and flaws as a person. Makes him more believable, to me. I also appreciated finding out more about Snape; I always figured there was more to him than just a bitter, nasty revengeful and spiteful man. I did regret that many of the other minor characters were not described as well in this last book, the author kind of depended on you already knowing them, and didn't give them much attention besides simply what they did.

There were a few things that annoyed me: like what was the point of the gift Dumbledore gave Ron? I didn't agree that it was something Dumbledore would have foreseen a need for; and the more common use they put to it could have been done by other spells? Also, two-thirds through the book the magical object suddenly seemed to disappear; at least I saw half a dozen instances where they really could have used it, but it wasn't around. Maybe they lost it and I forgot when. The other thing that really bugged me was that they keep using the same old spells in the most crucial moments. Always expelliarmus... My last gripe is that I don' t like how the main characters got paired up in the end. Even though Rowling made it pretty obvious it was coming, I don't think they were a good match.

I won't say anymore. Suffice that I really liked reading all her books, they were highly entertaining and had enough puzzles to keep me enthralled. However, I don't think they're destined to become classics, nor due to be called great literature. They're great stories, and I'm sure I'll enjoy reading them again, but that's about all for me. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows had some quite original magic ideas in the second half, but there's other books that stand out more in that regard. Actually, I enjoyed all her previous books that were more about a schoolboy experience in a magical setting over this last one which was about the final battle between good and evil. Now I wonder what she'll write next?

Rating 4/5                   Published: 2007, 759 pgs

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Sep 6, 2007

The Time-Traveler's Wife

by Audrey Niffenegger

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is a love story in a pseudo sci-fi setting of time travel. Unlike other books about time travel, in this one there's no machines or tunnels through space. Instead, Henry has a genetic condition that causes him to spontaneously time-travel to moments in his own past or future. It seems his episodes are triggered by stress and similar to epileptic fits. He can't control where he goes or how long he stays, and he always arrives naked. In order to survive during his trips this apparently very nice guy hones skills at pick-pocketing, breaking and entry and especially running-- to procure food, clothing, shelter and escape from thugs and policeman. As the story progresses, Henry's unpredictable disappearances into the past and future become increasingly dangerous.

The story is full of twists. When Henry first meets Claire, she is twenty and he is twenty-eight. He's a good-looking librarian at the Newbery Library in Chicago, and she's an art student who creates large sculptures out of handmade paper. He's never seen her before, but she's known him since she was six years old, when he first visited her from his future. It can be really confusing, but if you ignore the dates and ages heading the chapters and avoid trying to match every event up, you can sit back and enjoy it.

I had a difficult time putting The Time-Traveler's Wife down. It was one of the best reads I'd had in a while! When I was done I had quite a number of unanswered questions, though. Henry's genetic time-traveling condition is rather sketchily presented and you have to suspend some belief to read about it. I wished the author had spent more time on the medical treatment and discoveries related to it. I also thought that living in such a confusing non-linear state would eventually cause some kind of major mental breakdown. But the thing I really couldn't figure out was who first wrote the list? It really bugged me that there was no answer to that.

Rating: 4/5              Published 2003, 518 pages

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Sep 4, 2007

Meme: Multiples

Do you have multiple copies of any of your books? If so, why? Absent-mindedness? You love them that much? First Editions for the shelf, but paperbacks to read? If not, why not? Not enough space? Not enough money? Too sensible to do something so foolish?

The only reason I ever have multiples of a book is if I went browsing in a bookstore and forgot I already own it, or somebody bought me a copy as a gift and didn't know I had it. I consider space on my shelves too precious to waste on extra copies. That's also why I try and buy only hardbound books, so they last longer! Occasionally I have found a beautiful copy so much nicer than the one I already owned that I bought it to replace my original. Then the duplicate copy gets donated to someone else who needs a good book to read! I'm not a lending library, so I just don't see the sense in having duplicate copies, when someone else could own the other one.

From Booking Through Thursday

Sep 3, 2007

When the Legends Die

by Hal Borland

I found this book to be sombre and powerful. If you read other reviews, you'll find that some people are bored by the main character's lack of integrity and the dry writing style. But I thought that it precisely reflected the protagonist's state of mind: a paucity of feeling. There was no other way he could deal with the betrayal and heartbreak he faced than by denying his very identity and emotions. It created a lonely desert in his heart, and after a lifetime of pursuits that lead to nowhere, he finally travels a full circle back to confront his origins and seek healing.

I'm getting ahead of myself. When the Legends Die is about a Native American from the Ute tribe, who called himself Bear's Brother but came to be known as Tom Black. When all of his tribe and family either died or was assimilated into turn-of-the-century American culture, Tom as a young boy remained alone in the wilderness, struggling to survive by himself in the traditional ways of his people. Eventually he is discovered and betrayed by one of his Americanized tribe members, and coerced to live at an English school. There he is ridiculed and shamed into abandoning his heritage. He strongly resists adapting to the American culture and Christian beliefs that are forced upon him, and grows up to become a man full of bitterness.

Seeking an avenue of life that doesn't bore or disgust him, Tom becomes a bronco rider and for years travels the rodeo circuit venting his anger and suppressed sorrow on the horses. He becomes famous for his brutality to the animals and is feared by many people. Anyone who tries to get near him is pushed away by his abrasive personality and outright rejection of friendship. The number of people who try to take advantage of him doesn't help any. He does everything he can to forcibly renounce the memories of his past.

But he can't run away from it entirely. The message of the book is strong: attempting to remove yourself from the heritage that shaped you and gave you identity creates a vacuumn in your soul that cannot be filled. As the quote that gave the book its name states: "When the legends die, the dreams end. When the dreams end, there is no more greatness." A very good read, this book is a poignant story full of sights and sounds of the Southwest. It presents a clear portrayal of what many Native Americans faced when their culture was stamped out.

Rating: 4/5 ............Published 1963, 288 pgs

Sep 2, 2007

The Craggy Hole In My Heart & the Cat Who Fixed It

Over the Edge and Back with My Dad, My Cat and Me
by Geneen Roth

Okay, did the title have to be so long? And wasn't it long enough without a subtitle attached, too? I felt it wasn't really an apt title for the book, either. After reading the first lines: When my friend Sally called to tell me that I needed a kitten, her cat Pumpkin was pregnant, I said no, absolutely not. I didn't want a pet, I didn't like cats, and I didn't want to love anything that could die before me... I was looking forward to at least something about how Roth went from disliking cats to being so deeply attached to her "Mister Blanche". But there was none of that. After the first descriptions of how cute Blanche was as a fluffy kitten, the book suddenly skips ten years and launches into an exploration of the author's struggle to overcome years of eating disorders and emotional instability. The cat was the key to her turning point. He was the first being she could love unconditionally, without reservations. He enabled her to let down her defenses. Soon after letting Blanche into her heart, she met her boyfriend (now husband), Matt: "for continuing to beam his living light on me day after day, I thank Matt Weinstein. Blanche opened the door to my heart, and you walked through it."

Not long after that, Roth had to face the possibility of her father's death; and went through a difficult spiritual and emotional journey to finally understand the true nature of her relationship with him (it wasn't as rosy as she'd always thought). Through the heart-wrenching passage of her loss, Roth finally came to an emotional freedom she had never been able to reach with all her therapists, gurus and spiritual retreats. As if that wasn't enough, then she had to face the loss of her beloved cat. Finally, he comes back into the story at the end!

I found it particularly sad that it was love that ruined Blanche's health. He was grossly overweight because she showered him with so much luxury. He even got carried all over the house, never had to walk! All the acupuncture and holistic healers couldn't do much for his failing kidneys... if you read between the lines, this book says a lot about a spoiled rich lifestyle. But mostly it is about love, trust and parent-child relationships. The chapters are short, and written with a witty self-deprecating humor. Overall, The Craggy Hole in My Heart is a very engaging book and an easy read.

Rating: 3/5                        Published 2004, 238 pgs

Sep 1, 2007

The Bridge Across Forever

by Richard Bach

I picked this book up from a secondhand store in Seattle many years ago, and was pretty dubious about it. In the first place, I'm not much into romances or love stories. In the second, the out of body experiences, astral projections and dreams in which the author visits the future seemed a little far-fetched to me. I questioned whether those things really happened the way he stated. This book was written as a nonfictional account, but now some people have been finding it in the fiction section of bookstores.

That said, I really did enjoy reading The Bridge Across Forever. I found it an engrossing story, partly because it described a life so different from mine: a writer finds himself a sudden success, and goes through a bunch of ups and downs as he alternately spends his money on airplanes and looses it again. The descriptions of what it feels like to fly an airplane enthralled me. But the heart of the story is about a man seeking a perfect relationship. The problem is that he isn't perfect, and the woman he finally finds is portrayed as being so. He comes across as rather immature, self-centered and rude, whereas his soul-mate is full of phrases of wisdom and philosophical advice on life and love. The dialog between them is very frank and realistic, and made me laugh quite a number of times.

The sad thing is that recently I discovered that Bach left the soul-mate he wrote about in this book, after being married for twenty years, and returned to being the womanizer he was before he met her. Apparently he had left a wife and six kids before he ever met her, too! Children are never mentioned in the book at all, not as part of his past or plans for his future. It was quite disappointing to realize that he never followed all the beautiful-sounding advice he made in his book.

Rating: 3/5
           Published 1984, 316 pgs