Dec 31, 2008


A Natural History of the Unmentionable
by Nicola Davies
illustrated by Neal Lagton

Over the holidays I read this amusing and very informative little book my sister picked up at the Natural History Museum in DC. It tells all about something you might not want to know much of- poop. Things such as why feces are brown (and other colors too- like pink!) why some animals eat it, how different animals use it to communicate, and what scientists learn from it- not only what animals have been eating but other info like where otters travel and how many insects bats consume per night. Poop also reveals how nature recycles all the excrement animals produce- not only is it utilized by plants as fertilizer and to transport seeds, but some insects and birds use it for building materials as well. There's a few really crazy (but true!) stories in this book, and lots of amazing and random facts about feces- the largest, smallest, and most strange. Did you know there's a sixty-foot tall monument in Cootaburra, Australia dedicated to the dung beetle? Read this book to find out why!

Rating: 3/5                 61 pages, 2004

More opinions at:
Book Buds

Dec 24, 2008

The Cat Who Came for Christmas

by Cleveland Amory

At home in my mother's house, there is a box of books that comes out only at Christmastime. It has lots of lovely picture books like The Polar Express, Tasha Tudor's Take Joy! and The Velveteen Rabbit. One of the few "grown-up" books is Amory's The Cat Who Came for Christmas. When I was a teenager I must have started reading this book every year at least once, and never got very far. The beginning was interesting- a man who runs an animal rescue organization gets a pet for the first time in his life when a stray cat winds up in his home on Christmas eve. The parts describing the bachelor and his new cat getting used to each other I liked, but then the story veers into chapters solely about interesting (but very small) facts about cats in history, or how to name a cat, or famous people's cats. Now and then it jumps back to Amory's own experiences with his cat, then goes into dealings with his rescue organization again.

I know I made myself read this book all the way through at least once some day in the past, but not this time. Even though I felt really nostalgic about it when I found a paperback copy and brought it home, the dry humor, awkward puns and endless digressions from the story really lost me. It would have been okay if the book was just about his rescue organization and his own cat, or just about his own cat and all the cats he's ever heard about (historically, famous and otherwise) but all three together makes for a dull jumble. I skimmed through the rest just to make sure I really had read it all once, and then left it alone about halfway through. The Cat Who Came for Christmas has at least three sequels. I'm a bit curious to read one, just to find out if it stays more focused, but that will wait for later. There's other books on the TBR clamoring to be read.

Abandoned                     240 pages, 1987

More opinions at:
Read it or Weep

Dec 22, 2008


by Orson Scott Card

In this reworking of an old fairy tale in a modern setting, Sleeping Beauty runs headlong into some Slavic history and folktales, particularly that of Baba Yaga. The main character of Enchantment is Ivan, a young college student who while visiting the Ukraine to do research discovers a sleeping princess in a forest clearing, frozen in time. Ivan manages to free the princess, but finds himself catapulted back a thousand years to her village, where in order to save Katerina's kingdom he must become her betrothed. Only, he's already engaged back in his own time. And he finds that in spite of the extensive research he's done on Slavic culture, living in Katerina's world requires him to rework a lot of assumptions. Further along in the story Ivan and his princess wind up in the present day, where she in turn has to adjust to some serious culture shock. Through it all they struggle to make sense of their relationship and battle the persecution of the witch Baba Yaga.

Years ago when I first read this story I found it captivating. I liked reading about how the assumptions Ivan and Katerina made about each other's worlds were continually challenged. I even enjoyed the constant arguments the characters had about language, and the examination of gender roles. The mixture of magic and fantastical events with practical thinking and a modern setting also intrigued me (perhaps more so than in Magic Street). But the second time I tried to read this book it really fell flat for me. The characters felt really one-dimensional. The constant bickering between Ivan and Katerina got on my nerves, and the tangents from the storyline lost me before I made it through fifty pages. It's also got quite a bit of violence, which I didn't enjoy reading about. Even today, when I picked up a copy from the library to remind myself more of this book, I wasn't able to read it again. But it was pretty entertaining the first time around.

Rating: 3/5             390 pages, 1999

More opinions at:
Book Nut
A Striped Armchair
Things Mean a Lot

Dec 21, 2008

The Thirteenth Tale

by Diane Setterfield

I did not expect to like this book so much. Partly because back when I first saw it all over the book blogs, there was some controversy surrounding it, and that kind of put me off. Also, I usually shy away from mysteries and ghost stories, but my assumptions of what makes up those genres were not exactly what I found here.

The Thirteenth Tale revolves around the mystery of a fictional writer's past. Vida Winter, a popular and prolific author loved by millions, always gives a different story when she is asked about her past. Not until she is elderly and in failing health does Winter intend to reveal her story, and she is selective about its recorder. Enter Margaret Lea, a young amateur biographer whose father owns an antique bookshop. Margaret has spent her life immersed in books, hiding a secret pain. Arriving at the famous author's reclusive estate, Margaret finds that not only is she slowly unraveling the story of Winter's origins, (and doing her own research on the side to confirm what she is told) but also coming to grips with a suppressed secret from her own past.

This is a somber story, full of dark family secrets. At one point I almost quit reading, because the implications of what happened long ago in the author's family was so distasteful to me. But I was fascinated by the speculation of how closely connected twins can be, and the downward spiral of mental instability passed on through generations, dragging the family into decay. And of course I loved the bookishness of it all, the examination of how stories are told, the interwoven threads of the different characters' lives, and the lovely way Setterfield uses language.

The ending of this book took me completely by surprise. I was expecting a revelation that linked all the parts of the story together, but not the one that surfaced! It made me want to go back and read the whole book again in a new light of understanding, and now I really wish another story would be written, from another character's point of view.... It's curious what other books The Thirteenth Tale reminded me of. The fact that it's about a scholarly woman assisting a recluse in an old mansion reminded me of The Fire Rose. The mysteries wrapped around the house and its extensive gardens through which girls wander brought to mind The Secret Garden. And the way the Angelfield estate fell into ruin following the decay of its family made me think of The Picture of Dorian Gray. This is definitely a book I'm going to read again someday.

Rating: 4/5                406 pages, 2006

More opinions at:
Hooser's Blook
SmallWorld Reads
Things Mean A Lot
Melody's Reading Corner
Trish's Reading Nook
An Adventure in Reading
A Striped Armchair
Musings of a Bookish Kitten
Under the Dresser
Puss Reboots
Read Warbler

Dec 19, 2008

Seal Child

by Sylvia Peck

This haunting little book is a modern story based on the myth of selkies, seals who change themselves into people. Its main character is Molly, a young girl spending a vacation on a Maine island with her family. One day Molly hears a baby seal crying, and following the sound finds a horrible scene: a skinned dead seal on the beach. Shortly after, she discovers a strange girl named Meara living with her elderly neighbor. As the girls become acquainted, Meara's secret gradually unfolds: she is really a seal, and the dead body on the beach was her mother. Before long Meara and Molly are inseperable, until their friendship is finally tested and Meara must choose to stay on land or return to the sea. Seal Child is a lovely book, well-written and intriguing. It has a few quiet surprises. The secondary characters (the elderly neighbor, Molly's little brother, her parents) are not well-developed, but as the narrative is focused on Molly's concerns and Meara's oddities, this doesn't weaken the story much.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 200 pages, 1989

More opinions at:
Good Reads

Dec 17, 2008

Baby Catcher

Chronicles of a Modern Midwife
by Peggy Vincent

I read this book several years ago when expecting my own child. It recounts many of the experiences Peggy Vincent had as a midwife. She began her career as an obstetric nurse, then worked in an alternative birthing center in California before becoming a certified midwife and assisting women to give birth in their own homes. Most of the stories in this book follow the same pattern: Vincent meets the pregnant woman, learns her background story, gets called at an odd hour to rush over when contractions begin, describes the birthing experience with all its drama, mess and emotional glory, presents the baby to its mother, and they all have a feast afterward to celebrate. The families Vincent assisted as midwife were all different: hippies, recovering drug addicts, single teen mothers, couples who allowed their children or pets to be present at the birth. All the stories are rather sensational, and often told with a splash of humor. Baby Catcher has many interesting anecdotes and is very informative regarding the birth process, but it did not convince me that home births are safe or wise. Especially seeing that some of the birthing experiences she tells about did not have good outcomes, and a few of the stories are quite frightening, for an expectant mother. Still, I enjoyed reading this book and felt like I learned a lot from it. It also addresses some of the legal problems midwives run into against the conventional medical establishment, and I found it enlightening to read the factual account of what happened to Vincent, in comparison to the fictional book Midwives (by Bohjalian).

You can visit the author's website here.

Rating: 3/5                  336 pages, 2003

Read more opinions at:
Jo's Book Reviews
Birds' Books
(title in progress)

Dec 16, 2008

book giveaway

win a free book and two horse bookmarks
I'm giving away a book by Rumer Godden called The Dark Horse, along with two bookmarks featuring horses I made from magazine scraps. This particular hardbound edition is an ex-library book. It has a plastic cover over the dustjacket and a torn area on the back endpage where a card pocket was removed. Otherwise, this book is in very nice shape!

Here's what the inner flap says:

The dark horse of this touching and exciting novel is Dark Invader, a magnificent thoroughbred sold cheaply and exiled from England to race in Calcutta in the early 1930s. Almost all of the people around him- Leventine, his new millionaire owner; his trainer, Jon Quillan, an ex-cavalry officer... Ted Mullins, the doting middle-aged stable lad who brought him out of England- are, like himself, "outsiders" in one way or another.

Overlooking the racecourse is a convent of courageous nuns led by Mother Morag, who... has a sharp eye for both racehorses and miracles. The dark horse becomes a favorite to win the prestigious Viceroy's Cup, but then, three days before the race, disaster strikes... A mystery ensues, and it is Mother Morag who holds the key and knows just how to turn it.

With its remarkable cast of characters, its vivid evocation of India in the last days of the Raj, and its simple but powerful story, The Dark Horse is a wonderful short novel- and more: the story is true. It happened in Calcutta some fifty years ago.

This contest is open until Tue Jan 3rd (after Christmas bustle is over) when the winner will be chosen at random and announced here. Open to residents of the US and Canada. Just leave a comment to enter, or blog about my giveaway and link back to this post for a second chance!

Dec 15, 2008

I Raise My Eyes to Say Yes

by Ruth Sienkiewicz-Mercer and Steven Kaplan

This is the memoir of a woman with cerebral palsy. Ruth was born in 1950. From infancy her body was almost completely paralyzed and she never learned to walk or speak. Eventually home care became too difficult for her family, and at the age of twelve Ruth went to a state institution where she spent the next sixteen years of her life. Although Ruth was mentally sound and quite smart, her communication was very limited, and the minimal facial signals she had used with her family were misunderstood or ignored at the institution. For years she was treated callously like one of the many residents with severe mental handicaps. She suffered from neglect and observed horrific conditions, but in the book mostly describes the people around her and how she struggled with depression and tried to maintain hope for her future.

Eventually Ruth gained companionship when another girl with similar physical disabilities occupied the bed next to her, and together they slowly worked out a repertoire of gestures which allowed them to converse in a limited fashion. Over the years Ruth watched situations at the state facility gradually improve, until there was a better staff-to-resident ratio which allowed staff members to give her more individual attention. Her intelligence was finally recognized, and Ruth was included in the first classes to provide basic education for the residents. She learned rudimentary reading and spelling skills which along with new computerized communication devices, gave her a voice for the first time when she was about twenty years old. Even then, forming sentences and getting her message across was very painstaking.

Reading the first chapter of this book about how Kaplan worked with Ruth to write her life story is astonishing. It took hours of mostly yes-and-no questioning for Kaplan to learn about each incident and opinion Ruth had to share. Then Kaplan would spend more time writing out each passage and read it back to Ruth for her approval or correction. It took about ten years for this book to take shape. I Raise My Eyes to Say Yes is an inspiring story of courage and perseverance. It will forever alter your perception of people with physical disabilities.

You can visit the book's website here.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 225 pages, 1989

secret santa!

book blogger secret santa christmas swap
I finally know who my Secret Santa was! The Literary Feline very kindly sent me a lovely Christmas card and a Borders gift card. Thank you, Wendy, that was so sweet. I've ordered for myself two books to complete some fantasy series: Sabriel by Garth Nix and Silver on the Tree by Susan Cooper. They might just arrive in time for me to read them over Christmas holidays!

Dec 13, 2008

The House at Pooh Corner

by A.A. Milne

I have been reading The House at Pooh Corner gradually over the past few weeks with my daughter. We enjoyed this second collection of Pooh stories just as much as the first (Winnie the Pooh). The various adventures are full of a childlike wonder and imagination. My favorite stories in the book are where Pooh and Piglet build a house for Eeyore, and another where Tigger gets stuck up a tree. My daughter really liked the one where Owl's tree fell down and Piglet saved the day.

I thought a lot this time about the different characters in the book; each seems to represent a different kind of person, some which could be annoying when you meet them in real life: Rabbit the self-important busybody, Owl pretending he knows more than anybody else, Eeyore always finding a reason to be morose and depressed, Pooh well-meaning but bumbling, Kanga forever practical, Piglet shy and self-effacing, and Tigger (perhaps my favorite) always optimistic and quick to save face. Even though the characters often express their dislike of others' behavior, sometimes outright (like when Rabbit plans to get Tigger lost because his incessant bouncing is so irritating) they always make efforts to be kind and considerate, to be true friends. It's admirable and makes the stories all the more endearing. I've noticed that in the cartoons Tigger is excessively cheerful, to the point of being a serious annoyance, but in the book he's not like that at all. I remember when I was a child and my mother read me the story, I felt sorry for Tigger when he first showed up that rainy night, a stranger who doesn't seem to even know himself well (they spend the whole chapter trying to figure out what Tigger likes to eat for breakfast). Pooh welcomes him and introduces him to the others, but Tigger seems to feel uncomfortable as a newcomer for quite some time, anxious to make himself look good and find ways to fit in with the close community of the Forest. I felt sympathetic towards him.

The stories are all fun and charming, and the only one I didn't recognize from my childhood was the final chapter, where Christopher Robin says goodbye to Pooh in a rather muddled way. It was unclear to us where he was going. Off to school? Simply growing up and not playing with his old toys anymore? This was the only story upon which my daughter shut the book, but as we were already at the end, I didn't mind.

Rating: 5/5 ........180 pages, 1928

Another opinion: Come With Me If You Want to Read

Dec 12, 2008

Cat's Eye

by Margaret Atwood

This is the second time I've picked up this book, and this time I made it all the way through, but not without a struggle. I don't know if it's because I had extra distractions this week, and difficulty concentrating. Or because the subject of the book was a little too close to home, which made me want to step away from it and distance myself.

Cat's Eye is about woman who is an artist. The book opens with her preparations for a retrospective exhibition of her work in Toronto, Canada, where she grew up. As she revisits the town and notices its changes, Elaine reminisces about her childhood during the 1940's. Most of the book is about those memories, described through the opaque perspective of her younger self. Her parents were slightly eccentric, and they moved often when she was young. Elaine spent her early years in her brother's company, learning boys' games. When she began attending school, she found it hard to relate to the other girls. She longed to fit in, but found their play full of unexplained rules, their friendships conditional. It's very sad how she was constantly seeking their acceptance, struggling to understand her failure, internalizing her pain. The petty cruelty of her "best friends" haunted Elaine for her whole life, and she finally expressed it all in her paintings, which were then misunderstood and misinterpreted- by other artists, gallery reps and the public.

I suppose it was a buildup of many small things that made Elaine so miserable, but I was unable to feel most of it, even though I could closely relate to some aspects of her story. The quiet, dull mood and constant understatement of this book reminded me of others: Never Let Me Go and one by Chaim Potok called In The Beginning. The conclusion of Cat's Eye depressed me. I appreciated reading about her experience as an artist, but I lost respect for Elaine's character because of some choices she made.

At first I loved the picture on this book's jacket. Originally I found it so captivating I kept pausing to look at it while I read, eager to find out what it signified. When I finally came to the description of Elaine's painting which the cover shows, I was disappointed in the illustration. It's supposed to be a cat's eye marble, but the detail of that inner swirl of spun color is not there. Silly perhaps, but that really bugged me... I know a lot of readers really liked this novel, but I just don't at all. I guess because it's so realistic. Very effective, but not enjoyable for me to read, just depressing.

Rating: 2/5              462 pages, 1988

More opinions at:
Trish's Reading Nook

Dec 11, 2008

Meme: Time

booking thursday
Time is of the Essence says Booking Through Thursday, so I answer this question:

Do you get to read as much as you WANT to read? If you had (magically) more time to read–what would you read? Something educational? Classic? Comfort Reading? Escapism? Magazines?

Of course I'd like to have more time for reading! If I did, I'd probably read more serious non-fiction. I'd probably read more classics. too. I used to read classics in high school when I spent my free time just buried in books. Since becoming a mother, I hardly know what free time is. Sadly, I've found it difficult to get through any classical literature in the past few years. Like these failed attempts. I think it's just because reading those sorts of books, which are slower paced, have more complex plots and in-depth character studies, take a kind of leisurely concentration I don't have anymore. I find myself just getting frustrated, and loosing focus. Hopefully someday when life slows down I'll be able to get back into classics. I'd like to.

And if I had even extra time on top of that, I'd probably re-read all my favorites again, as well.

thank you's

I've had two nice surprises this week. First, I received this lovely little handmade book from my Book Blogger Secret Santa. It's so pretty. I also got a box of chocolates from a Secret Santa, but I don't know if this is from the same person, or someone in my family. I love them both, thank you, whoever you are!
Second, the lovely Chartroose of Bloody Hell, It's a Book Barrage! included me in her Blog Nog Awards. Thanks, Chartroose! I love it.

Dec 10, 2008

All My Patients Are Under the Bed

Memoirs of a Cat Doctor
by Louis J. Camuti

This book is about a veterinarian, particularly fond of cats, who made house calls to his patients in New York City. There's lots of amusing anecdotes, but most were too brief in description or duration to really satisfy me. Camuti describes the inevitable search for cats who hide when he arrives, the quirks of cat lovers and the eccentricities of rich and famous cat owners. He gives some advice on taking care of cats, warning against household hazards and recommending what to feed your cat (baby food!). A holiday risk I had not thought of was Christmas trees- one of Camuti's patients died from toxins after eating the needles. Some of the stories I remember were of a siamese cat who liked to get its fur groomed with the vacuumn cleaner, a long-haired cat which was allowed on the dinner table and frequently set its tail on fire from the candles, and a butler who purposefully overfed his employer's cat because he wanted it to beat the world record for weight. One of my favorite parts of the book describes when Camuti kept practicing into his eighties, and could no longer climb stairs. A lot of the apartment buildings he visited had no elevators and he would treat patients in the downstairs hallways, running equipment off yards of extension cords strung from the owners' rooms and startling casual visitors who found him standing in the hall holding a syringe. All My Patients Are Under the Bed will be of interest to a cat lover, but most of the book really did not stick with me.

Rating: 2/5                   222 pages, 1980

More opinions at:
Words by Annie

Dec 9, 2008

The Goats

by Brock Cole

I found this book for a quarter at a garage sale once. I'd never heard of it before, but the premise sounded interesting: two social outcasts at a summer camp (boy and girl) get stripped of their clothes and stranded on an island for a prank. When the other kids sneak back to spy on, humiliate and finally rescue them, they find that "the goats" have inexplicably disappeared from the island. They've gone on the run until the weekend when the girl's mother comes to collect her from camp. I got halfway through this book before realizing I didn't really care about the characters and there was nothing else to interest me. The prose felt stiff, the dialog awkward and unrealistic, and there's a few holes in the story. Apparently The Goats has been on some banned lists because of some nudity and discussions of puberty (there's no s-x). But it's so poorly written I don't even think it deserves that attention.

Abandoned                    184 pages, 1987

More opinions at:
Reader's Corner


book giveaway winner announcement

Even though there were only three names to choose from, my daughter insisted on throwing them over the book instead of simply picking one from a hat. It took her about sixteen tosses to get a name to land on a book. And the winner is- Susan B. Evans! She writes Susan's Zoo. Send your address to jeanenevarez AT gmail DOT com Susan, and I'll mail your book and bookmarks promptly.

Dec 8, 2008

The Tiger Rising

by Kate DiCamillo

This short but touching story is about a boy overcoming grief. His mother has recently passed away, and he lives with his father in a motel on the edge of town, struggling to make a new start. He's also got some kind of rash on his legs which makes the other kids either pick on or avoid him at school. Rob is feeling very wretched and lonely when one day he discovers a tiger locked in a cage in the woods behind the hotel. Unexpectedly, a new girl from school (belligerent and full of contempt) shows up at the hotel and Rob lets her in on his secret. She immediately plans to set the tiger free. Rob wants to, but also knows this might be dangerous. As they try to figure out what to do about the tiger, he begins to gradually build a friendship and let out some of the feelings he's bottled up inside. The two children are opposites- the girl flaunts all her feelings while Rob tries to hide his- and they both have a lot to learn from each other. Some aspects of the story made me think of Bridge to Terabithia and Stargirl. And the tiger in a cage reminded me of The Prince of Tides, a book that I haven't thought of in years. The Tiger Rising really is a beautiful little story, I just wish it was longer! The ending felt rather abrupt; I wanted to know more about final circumstances surrounding the tiger. The characters' various personalities and difficult emotions they wrestled with were so well portrayed, I longed for just a little more depth. But it's perfect for children.

Rating: 3/5                  116 pages, 2001

More opinions at:
Stuff as Dreams are Made On
Parma Kids

Dec 7, 2008

The Dogs of Babel

by Carolyn Parkhurst

A grief- stricken husband tries to unravel the cause behind his wife's death. Did she accidentally fall from their backyard apple tree, or jump on purpose? The only witness was their dog, so he (a linguistics professor) attempts to teach the dog to speak. The story is told through Paul's inner thoughts, alternating between memories of his wife Lexy, his puzzled musings over what clues she might have left behind, and his interactions with other people -some sympathetic and tolerant of his odd project, others decidedly strange and threatening- during his search for answers.

I thought this book was going to be mostly about Paul's absurd efforts to get the dog to talk, but instead found I was reading a love story that is also a mystery. The Dogs of Babel is a sad, haunting and intriguing novel. The more Paul reveals as he unfolds his wife's story, the more it becomes apparent that there were darker aspects of her personality he did not know well or understand at all. Motifs of masks and dreams are woven throughout the story, and I also liked how the tale of Tam Lin was included. Parts of the novel disturbed me, especially the scene of Lexy's prom night (only hinted at) and the Cerberus Society Paul gets mixed up with (reminding me of things from Animal Crackers). I kept thinking of The Time Traveler's Wife while reading this book too, though I'm not sure why. Maybe because of how the romance parts are written.

This book has two covers, and I'm not sure which one I prefer; I feel they both strongly illustrate different aspects of the story. I kept picturing to myself a combination of the two, a cover with a venetian mask of a dog, which I think would capture the essence of the novel perfectly.

Rating: 3/5                      
264 pages, 2003

Read more opinions at:
Book Chase
A Guy's Moleskine Notebook

Dec 6, 2008

found by...

It's been a while since I've done this kind of post. Most people who type in keywords to google search find me via a book title or sometimes author name, but every now and then I get a really funny or odd one. Here's a few from the past six months.
I always get some that include "dog" one way or another:

syphilis in dog ear
how to steal the love of a dog
how to teach a young toddler not to hit dogs
dog ear full of pus
eating dog ears
dog carrot allergic reaction
do dog's ears have to be the same
ideas for potty training dogs
hawaiian juvenile book eating a dog
dog fears weeds swimming
mild mannered dogs available in south africa
what happens if you bite a dog's ear?
write on my favourite animal and label it a dog

Someone was apparently looking for The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, because I got these repetitive attempts:

the man who mistook his wife for a cat
the man who mistook his cat for his hat
the man who think that his dog was a hat

I'm really curious what page these people landed on:

endless moutain labradors
civil war ear novels
redhead duck claws on feet
toilet slave directory non fiction
attitude fearless boxing how to instill fearless courage like mike tyson

And these ones just made me go what? I have no idea what these people were looking for, and I'd sure like to know what the answer was!

what city or town? it doesnt matter how big the ear is, you never be able to pick it up

i like green lobsters. i am usually hungry. i am potty trained. i am intelligent though stubborn. what is my name?

looking for history picture of tom o' bedlam with a chicken in his ear

I find it hard to believe someone actually came across my blog by typing one word into a search box, but that's what my stat counter reports:


This last one is a nice quote. I think it's from a song:

when i turned the page, the corner bent into a perfect dog-ear, as if the words knew i'd need them again

Dec 5, 2008

Get Your Own Damn Beer, I'm Watching the Game!

A Woman's Guide to Loving Pro Football
by Holly Robinson Peete and Daniel Paisner

I'm almost embarrassed to mention this book, but the record of my blog would not be complete (or honest) without it. It's been floating on and off my bedside table for more than two years. I picked it up a library sale once because my husband is a football fan (of the San Francisco 49ers) and I wanted to learn a little and appreciate his enthusiasm for the sport. But this book did not give me what I was looking for. It does have tons of information about football- how the game is played, breakdowns of all the positions, spotlights on famous players, even historical aspects- like how certain plays originated, or what the first football was made of. Some of it was interesting, other parts really technical. What I couldn't stand was reading over and over about how the author (a famous football player's wife) has a childhood association of football with ice cream, or of all the things football-related she finds cute, or the name-dropping of her husband's famous friends. I'm sure all her little interjected woman-to-woman remarks were meant to be engaging. But I didn't feel connected, or amused, just annoyed. So after plodding though sixty pages of this book, I've finally pulled it off my shelf for good.

I think I'd do better with a novel that describes someone's experience learning to play football, rather than an instruction book. Something like The Power of One, which taught me a bit about boxing through the personal story of its main character. I hardly ever read fiction that features sports, so I don't know where to start looking. Any ideas?

Abandoned                        228 pages, 2005

Read more opinions at:
Elizabeth Willse

Dec 4, 2008

Hope is the Thing With Feathers

A Personal Chronicle of Vanished Birds
by Christopher Cokinos

This book caught my eye from a library shelf when I was looking for something else. Hope is the Thing With Feathers tells about the author's search for information on six North American bird species which are now extinct: the Carolina parakeet, ivory-billed woodpecker, heath hen, passenger pigeon, Labrador duck and great auk. I'd heard of the parakeet and pigeon before and recently saw book about the ivory-billed woodpecker featured on Maggie's blog but knew nothing of the other birds. The information on some of them is very scant, but Cokinos digs up all the facts he can find. I liked reading his historical accounts, the awesome descriptions of passenger pigeons blocking out the sky, of how Carolina parakeets would refuse to leave their wounded companions, of how great auks waddled awkwardly on shore, completely fearless of man; and especially his scrutiny of all the different factors that played together in leading to the birds' extinction. Cokinos also shares his personal journey in finding all his info: digging through dusty files and forgotten records in basements, talking to people who now live on the land where the last known bird of its species was killed, visiting museum storage rooms where specimens lie in drawers, stepping inside the aviary where the last passenger pigeon lived (and died) in a Cincinnati zoo. Following the author as he unraveled all the stories to glean some bits of uncovered truth got a bit tiresome, though. After a while, the names and facts of these parts of the book blurred in my mind. It was dry reading, whereas his portraits of the birds used much more eloquent and poetic language. This switch back and forth of writing styles frustrated me, it kept interrupting the flow and I felt like I was missing something.

Some of the interesting things I learned were that Carolina parakeets are the only birds that eat cockleburs, honeybees are an introduced species (from Europe), the sport of trapshooting originally used lived passenger pigeons as targets (reminding me of Wringer), and the Labrador duck apparently was already scarce in numbers and may have been on the way to extinction before man affected them.

Edit: My daughter began looking at the pictures when I was done and asking me about the birds; I ended up telling her as simply as I could that these birds are not here anymore, and why (people killed them to eat them in pies, or put their feathers in hats, or cut down their trees and the birds had no homes...) She shut the book halfway through, on a page of heath hens: "this book is sad! I'm not looking at it anymore."

Rating: 3/5                    359 pages, 2000

Dec 3, 2008

A Journal of the Plague Year

by Daniel Defoe

I didn't know Defoe wrote anything other than Robinson Crusoe until I happened across A Journal of the Plague Year, which I read in college. My notebook from then reads: the horrors of this book are mitigated by the background distractions of busy waiting rooms: three hours at the DMV and two at the dental office. Thank goodness for distractions, sometimes. It's not a very long book, but crammed with such awful details that I struggled to get through it. Defoe's narrative is fiction, but based so closely on actual events and circumstances of the Black Plague in 1665 that it has been favorably compared to Samuel Pepys' diary of the same time period.

A Journal of the Plague Year describes life in London during the bubonic plague epidemic, through the eyes of one man. There's no real plot, just endless descriptions about what he went through, what he saw, and every bit of news and stories he heard. There are tons of anecdotes, (many which are examined for accuracy within the narrative) descriptions of efforts to halt or evade the disease, the havoc that fear caused, the plethora of superstitions and quack treatments that sprang up, how people turned to (or away from) religion, and much more. Statistics are also listed, and the numbers are staggering. This book is so terribly depressing, yet curiosity kept me turning the pages. What horrible things the people lived through- I don't know if I've ever read anything worse, other than accounts of the Holocaust. I doubt I'll want to pick this book up again, but I do feel it was worth reading once, to bring a piece of history alive for me.

Rating: 3/5                           186 pages, 1722

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Dec 2, 2008

book giveaway!

Win a free book and two bookmarks!
I'm giving away a copy of this book, Animals of the North by William O. Pruitt. (It's also published under the title Wild Harmonies: Animals of the North.) My copy is a hardbound 1967 edition. It used to belong to a library, there are some remainder marks on the endpapers where card pockets were removed. It has some wear and underlining (mostly just in the introduction), but is still very readable! There are lots of drawings by William D. Berry illustrating the pages. This book describes the lives and habits of wildlife in the colder regions of North America. Personally, I didn't care for this book much, but here's a review on Amazon which rates it highly.

I'm hoping this book will find an appreciative reader! Just for fun, I'm also including two laminated bookmarks in this giveaway- one features a red fox on snow, the other some stone cairns in a field.

To enter this drawing, leave a comment here by tue 12/09 . The winner will be chosen at random and announced that day. If you want a second entry, blog about this post and link back here.

Dec 1, 2008

Clan Ground

by Clare Bell

Clan Ground is the sequel to Ratha's Creature. If, like me, you become enthralled with the feline characters, it's hard not to immediately open this next volume to follow their struggle for survival. I breezed right through the book. It's full of drama, suspense and action.

To give a little bit of the plot: Ratha is the leader of an organized society of prehistoric big cats (something like cheetahs or pumas, I think). In Clan Ground she faces difficulties in her new role as leader after permitting a stranger to join their clan, a larger cat called Shongshar. He has a different lineage than the Named: longer fangs (like a sabertooth), a larger chest and shoulders. But it's not just his physical strength that makes Shongshar intimidating, it's his powers of persuasion and manipulation of the underlying fear everyone still has of what they call the Red Tongue- the power of fire which Ratha brought into the clan. The Named are still learning about the use of fire, and when Ratha's friend Thakur finds a way to handle it more safely, Shongshar's subtle acts of insurrection escalate into an outright battle for power and control. Not only does Ratha have to face Shongshar's threats to her authority, but also strained friendships and shifting loyalties among her followers.

One of the most interesting aspects of this story is how for some of the characters, fear of fire became awe, which turned into worship that overshadowed their rational thought and ability to reason. As animals imbued with intelligence, Ratha and her companions begin expressing a need to find something larger than themselves to inspire them... The storyline here is just as strong as in Ratha's Creature, but somehow personally I still prefer the story of Ratha's individual journey through her exile, to this one about clan politics and power struggles.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 258 pages, 1984

More opinions at:
Things Mean a Lot
Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tales