Dec 31, 2009

2010 TBR Challenge

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

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

Here is my official list of books to read:

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

And here is my "alternates" list:

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

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

Dec 23, 2009

Love, War and Circuses

by Erioc Scigliano

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

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

Dec 20, 2009

a note

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

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

Dec 18, 2009


by Samuel Zeveloff

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

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

Dec 17, 2009

The Culture Clash

by Jean Donaldson

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

Rating: 2/5                  223 pages, 1996

Dec 16, 2009


by David Badger

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

I read this one for the What An Animal Challenge.

Rating: 3/5                 142 pages, 1995

Dec 15, 2009


The winners of my latest bookmark giveaway (names drawn on are

Nymeth and Esperanza!

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

Dec 14, 2009

Breed to Come

by Andre Norton

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

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

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

More opinions at:
Olman's Fifty
anyone else?

Dec 12, 2009

Almost Adam

by Petru Popescu

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

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

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

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

Dec 11, 2009

DogEar Reading Challenge Wrapup

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

The Snowflake

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

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

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

Dec 10, 2009

Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell

by Susanna Clarke

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

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

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

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

Dec 9, 2009

The Midwife's Tale

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

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

Rating: 3/5                      215 pages, 1993

anyone written a blog review about this book? let me know and I'll post a link here

Dec 8, 2009

bookmarks giveaway!

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

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

Dec 7, 2009

The Wonderful Adventures of Nils

by Selma Lagerlof

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

Rating: 3/5                        219 pages, 1906

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

Dec 6, 2009

Paddle to the Amazon

by Don Starkell

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

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

Rating: 4/5                  320 pages, 1987

More opinions at:
Hooser's Blook
Helen Foster James
anyone else?

Dec 4, 2009

Buck, Wild

by Glenn Balch

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

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

Dec 2, 2009

Raven Seek Thy Brother

by Gavin Maxwell

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

Rating: 3/5                      233 pages, 1968

Dec 1, 2009


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

Nov 30, 2009

The Horse Boy

A Father's Quest to Heal His Son
by Rupert Isaacson

I first found out about this book from Stuff As Dreams Are Made On. I've always been interested in reading about autism, and of course I love books about animals. So I was eager to pick this one up, especially after reading Wolf Totem, which is also set in Mongolia. Whereas Wolf Totem was all about the warlike side of Mongolian culture, and its interaction with wolves and other wildlife, The Horse Boy is a story of healing, about a people who embrace Buddhism and shamanism.

It began when Isaacson learned that his son Rowan was autistic. They tried many traditional therapies and diet changes; nothing seemed to help. At five years old Rowan failed to interact with other children, threw enormous temper tantrums, could barely communicate and was not toilet trained. His behavior was becoming harder and harder for his parents to manage. Then Isaacson took Rowan along to a convention of traditional healers from native tribes around the world, which he attended in capacity as a journalist. He was surprised and delighted to see Rowan's behavior improve at the convention. Later he found that Rowan, fascinated by all animals, seemed to have a special connection with a neighbor's horse- his temper tantrums dissipated and his communication improved while on horseback. He wondered if some kind of therapy involving horses and faith healing could help his son, and came up with a plan to take Rowan across Mongolia on horseback, to seek healing from their shamans.

It is an incredible journey to read about. The family traveled over vast stretches of steppes, treacherous bogs and mountain passes, pausing to visit sacred lakes, streams, and shamans along the way. The trip was fraught with difficulties, not the least that Rowan often refused to get on a horse at all, and threw screaming tantrums at transition points. And by the end of it all, although their son was still very much autistic, he had made incredible strides, including making friends with other children for the first time in his life.

It's amazing what this family went through to try and help their son. At the same time, it was often a dull read for me. There's nothing spectacular about the writing or descriptions. The story seemed to focus more on the parents' frustrations and difficulties, especially when things did not go the way they had envisioned, than on Rowan himself, or his relationship with the horses, which was what I had looked forward to reading about. It's a painfully honest story, one that still leaves me feeling skeptical: was Rowan really healed by the shaman's rituals? was he responding positively to being in nature and around animals? or were his improvements something that would have occurred anyways, whether in Outer Mongolia or at home? No one can say. While I greatly admire the family for the incredible lengths they went to (upon returning home Isaacson also established an equestrian therapy program for autistic children) the book itself was just not very engaging for me.

I borrowed this book from the public library.

Rating: 3/5                    357 pages, 2009

More opinions at:
Bermudaonion's Weblog
Age 30+ A Lifetime of Books

Nov 25, 2009

Wolf Totem

by Jiang Rong
translated by Howard Goldblatt

I feel a bit inadequate to say anything about this sweeping novel. Wolf Totem is a semi-autobiographical work about a Chinese student from Beijing named Chen Zhen who goes to live among the nomadic people of Inner Mongolia during the Cultural Revolution. During his ten or so years there, he lives among the sheep and horse herders, learning about the Mongolian way of life and most of all, about the wolves. The Mongolians wage constant war against wolves because they prey on the sheep and horses, yet at the same time they revere the animals, understanding that without this key predator the mice and marmots would quickly overrun the grassland and ruin the habitat. The more Chen learns about the wolves, the more fascinated he becomes, until he moves to steal a live wolf cub from its den and raise it in captivity, in order to study it. His plan is met with outrage by the Mongolians, who feel that keeping a wolf in captivity is demeaning to the animal, as well as dangerous. As Chen struggles to keep his wolf cub alive and deal with the problems it presents, a greater threat looms. Migrating Han Chinese come into the area to establish farms on the grassland, heedless of the elders' warnings that this will be destructive to the fragile grassland environment. And one of the first things they do is start a campaign to exterminate all the wolves.

This book has a lot of political themes which I did not fully comprehend, but I gather have made it very controversial. I was more interested in the environmental issues, and fascinated by the dual relationship the Mongols had with wolves- waging fearsome bloody battles against them, learning tactics of war from their pack behavior, and honoring their dead by giving them in "sky burials" to the wolves. It was fascinating to read about the Mongolain culture, something entirely new to me, and also heartbreaking to see how incoming farmers quickly affected the landscape. The fate of the captive wolf cub was also very sad. I nearly cried at the end.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 527 pages, 2008

More opinions at:
Olduvai Reads
The Stay at Home Bookworm
Farm Lane Books Blog

Nov 24, 2009

The Horse Whisperer

by Nicholas Evans

Tragedy happens when Grace goes out riding early one winter morning with her best friend. Their horses slip on an icy slope and collide with a semi truck on the road below. Grace and her horse barely survive, the animal so badly injured the vet wants to put it down. But Grace's mother Annie begs him to keep it alive, fearing that her  daughter will loose her own hold on life if her beloved horse dies. The horse is so traumatized and crazed with pain that he becomes vicious and unapproachable, and seeing him in that state throws Grace into a black depression. Desperate to find healing for daughter and horse, Annie drives them across the country to Montana, where she's heard of a horse trainer that can connect to frightened and troubled horses, calming them with his understanding. So The Horse Whisperer leads them on the rocky path to healing. Made even more difficult when Annie falls in love with the horse trainer, and the daughter discovers her mother's betrayal. The ending is tragic, in a fitting kind of way. It's quite different from the movie version, which I've also seen and liked, though the book is better. Incidentally, I believe it was this book that made the term "whisperer" popular (as in dog whisperer, baby whisperer, etc).

Rating: 3/5                      404 pages, 1995

book giveaway

win a free book
This week I'm giving away a book and two bookmarks. I have a nice, hardbound copy of The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans, and two laminated bookmarks made from my scrap file, of horse pictures. (Reverse sides are plain pattern and scenery). For a chance to win this giveaway, simply leave a comment here! Make sure there is an easy way for me to contact you, in case you're the winner! (If your email isn't in a google profile or easy to find on your blog, please leave it with your comment). Open to mailing addresses in the US and Canada. Winner will be chosen next tuesday, Dec 1st.

Nov 23, 2009

Where You Once Belonged

by Kent Haruf

I read this one several years ago, from the library. I didn't like it quite as well as the other Haruf novels I've read. This one is also set in small farming community in Colorado. The plot builds its way backwards as a former local football hero returns after eight years' absence to his hometown, where he receives a very sour welcome. Gradually the story is pieced together to show the reader why all his neighbors hate him, portraying this young man's series of selfish, manipulative acts that not only devastated the lives of his wife and children, but nearly the entire town as well. Whereas the other two books gave me a real picture of individual characters and the closeness of small town life, this one almost felt more like a crime or mystery novel to me. The ending is really quite sudden, and unsettling. I'm still not sure if I liked it or not. The previous two I read felt like they portrayed the good, community side of small town life, and this one showed the bad underbelly. Where You Once Belonged is just the kind of story that leaves the reader (at least this one) feeling frustrated (more at the characters' shoddy actions than at the book itself).

Rating: 2/5                          176 pages, 1990

More opinions at:
Under the Dresser
Reads for Fun
Living to Read

Nov 20, 2009

Jack of Kinrowan

by Charles de Lint

This book was only vaguely familiar to me when I first added it to my pile at the library, but after reading a dozen pages and thumbing through more, I realized I've actually read it before. And didn't want to read it again, now. But I remember enough to tell you a little about it.

Jack of Kinrowan contains two novellas, Jack the Giant-Killer and Drink Down the Moon. These are urban fantasies, retelling Jack and the Beanstalk in a modern setting where the fae live alongside but hidden from the human world. One of the twists of de Lint's version is that a heroine takes the role of Jack- a frustrated woman named Jacqueline who discovers she has ties to the fae world and gets involved in altercations between the "good" and "bad" factions of magical beings. There's a fae princess who needs rescuing (she's been bewitched into the form of a pig!) motorcycle-riding fae thugs, and of course, giants and gnomes and other strange creatures. I liked seeing how some familiar mythology was reworked by de Lint, with his own take on things along the way- for example, when the fae were trapped between worlds by their enemies, they were stuck with swan's wings instead of arms. In the first story, Jacky and her friend Kate go on the rescue mission, that I recall pretty well. The second story didn't make much impression on me and I've forgotten most of it. It's about a fiddler who can draw on the powers of the moon, the bad fae want to steal this magic, and Jacky and her friend get called in to help. But they have a relatively minor role. All in all a fun enough read.

Rating: 3/5                    412 pages, 1990

More opinions at:
The Boston Reader
anyone else?

Nov 19, 2009


by Charles de Lint

In a small quiet seaside town, Miguel meets an exotic girl- Lainey with the red-gold hair and the accompanying red-gold dog. She's from Australia, but he soon finds out that there's something more strange about her than just a foreign accent. She is a shape-shifter, a "were-dingo" on the run with her twin sister from an ancient persona who simply calls himself Dingo. He wants her life, in order to free himself from a tree he's been trapped in for centuries. Miguel must convince another boy from highschool- his enemy no less- to join with him in the quest to save the dingo girls. They travel into the dreamland and back, involving some adult figures in preparations and plans but having to face the final test alone. I liked the beginning of the book, when Miguel was puzzling out the true identity of his new girlfriend, and I liked the end, when the final meeting with Dingo turned all expectations inside out, but the middle dragged on rather dully. Again, I don't know for sure if it's just that this writer's style doesn't fully engage me, or that I've outgrown YA fiction and should leave it well alone, but although the story was interesting and the inclusion of Australian mythology new to me, my mind kept sliding away from it all. I think I'm going to put the de Lint books aside for now, and look for something else to read. They just aren't grabbing me.

Rating: 2/5 ....... 213 pages, 2008

More opinions at:
Melody's Reading Corner
Becky's Book Reviews
Rhinoa's Ramblings
Someone's Read it Already
Book Clutter

Nov 18, 2009

Little (Grrl) Lost

by Charles de Lint

A few days ago I decided to ignore the heaps of books lying beside my bed and visit the library. I checked out half a dozen books by Charles de Lint. The first one I picked up was Little (Grrl) Lost. It's an urban fantasy about two teenage girls, one just moved from the countryside into the city, the other running away from home. Besides the fact that the country girl is a "goody two-shoes" and the runaway a punker with a prickly attitude, there's another huge difference between them: size. Runaway-girl is only six inches tall. She's one of the "Littles"- diminuitive people who reside in the walls of houses, out of sight of their hosts. Now, I read all the books in the Littles series by John Peterson when I was a kid, and some of the Borrowers by Mary Norton too, so I liked approaching a modern take on this idea. But sadly, Little (Grrl) Lost did not keep my attention. The characters felt kind of flat, the dialogue uninteresting, and not much seemed to happen. Even when it did, I found I didn't much care. This frustrated me, because I really wanted to like the book. But after getting halfway through and realizing I was only skimming, I put it down. Maybe it's just my mood. Try some of the other reviews, listed here. They liked it better!

Abandoned ........ 271 pages, 2007

More opinions at:
Ravenous Reader
Someone's Read it Already
Words by Annie
Bookshelves of Doom
Rhinoa's Ramblings
Stuff as Dreams Are Made On
Puss Reboots

Nov 17, 2009

Elsewhere in the Land of Parrots

by Jim Paul

Here's a book I gave a second chance. I found it at a library sale and immediately picked it up, because I've lived in San Francisco and seen those parrots (cherry-headed conures) in the park. A novel featuring them really intrigued me. Elsewhere in the Land of Parrots is about two individuals fascinated by the parrots: a graduate student struggling to locate wild parrots in the mangrove swamps of Ecuador for research, who unwittingly gets tangled up with some illegal wildlife trafficking, and a self-isolated eccentric poet in San Francisco who doesn't like the parrot his father gave him and ends up releasing it from his apartment window. Eventually feeling guilty at letting the parrot go, he explores the city to find dozens of parrots living on Telegraph Hill, reads up about them in the public library, and finally travels to South America in search of the wild flock they must have originated from. While this book got off to a slow start with me- I was at first put off by the frequent use of the past perfect tense, and felt distanced from the characters- I liked reading the details about the city-living parrots. I knew the two people would end up together- the researcher enthralled with parrots from the beginning and frustrated in her efforts to get close to them, and the reluctant poet gradually drawn out of his isolation by a desire to know more about them. Their two stories wove together in a surprising fashion to the final meeting point. The further I read the more I was drawn into this book, until by the end I had difficulty putting it down.

Rating: 3/5                      305 pages, 2003


Jenny has won the horse bookmarks. Congrats, Jenny!

Nov 16, 2009

The Boy of the Painted Cave

by Justin Denzel

Set in the stone age, The Boy of the Painted Cave is about a young orphan boy named Tao who was born with a club foot. His greatest desire is to become an artist, and paint in the Sacred Cave. But the tribe will never choose him for this honor because of his unknown parentage and crippled foot. Finding himself more or less an outcast, Tao starts roaming the wilds around his home and through observation discovers that some things his tribe has taught the people to fear are falsehoods. He also befriends a wild dog, a creature the tribe fears and loathes. Eventually Tao convinces a shaman to teach him the painter's skill in secret, and then tries to find a way back into his tribe; not just as an accepted member, but as one who can bring them advantages (the dog) and honor (his art). Not too in-depth (written for ages 8-12) but a well-written imaginative story that kept me curious to see what would happen next.

Rating: 3/5                     160 pages, 1988

Nov 14, 2009


The Fascinating Saga of the World's Most Revered and Reviled Bird
by Andrew D. Blechman

A book about people who are passionate about pigeons. Love them, hate them. Breeders, sportsmen, activists, rescuers, chefs. Pigeons have a long history with man including doves that were sent from ships to find land, birds raised or hunted to be eaten in pies, and pigeons that delivered crucial messages during war. Then there are hobbyists: men who breed fancy pigeons for their colors, shapes and fantastic feathers, others involved in the dying sport of pigeon racing, or the clandestine pigeon shoots. Pushing a bit further beyond these obvious interests, the author also sought out famous people who loved pigeons (Queen Elizabeth, Mike Tyson), men whose livelihoods are built on deterring pigeons from hanging around buildings, and others who work in processing plants that sell pigeon meat to fine restaurants. Then there's the city ladies obsessed with feeding pigeons, those that furtively net pigeons to sell to the shoots, and animal-rights people who try to thwart them. Blechman finds out about them all, in the meantime sharing a wealth of pigeon lore. He claims that pigeons really don't spread disease, in spite of the mess they leave around, and that their current status as reviled "rats with wings" is relatively new; for a much longer time period pigeons have been appreciated as one of man's first domesticated animals. They can be birds of great stamina, natural athletes, and complete homebodies- racing pigeons, after all, are just speeding their way back home to their comforts and city pigeons like to hang around people because the pickings are easy. I learned a lot of interesting stuff from Pigeons, but sometimes wished it stuck a little closer to topic (more on the pigeons and less about the people) particularly the chapter about the famous boxer. It was all about how the author kept getting the runaround when trying for an interview, with a smattering of info he picked up on Tyson's pigeons. That part could have used some editing.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 239 pages, 2006

More opinions at:
Diary of a Suburban Gardener

Nov 13, 2009

The Dolphin Doctor

by Sam Ridgway

Another older book I found at a library sale one time. The author of this one was a veterinarian for the Navy, and became involved in early studies of dolphin sonar and diving abilities, and training programs that used dolphins to assist scientists at sea (retrieving objects, delivering messages between divers, etc). The Dolphin Doctor is mostly about one particular dolphin named Tuffy, but also about the extent of dolphin work in the sixties and seventies, when the field was very new. Not much was known about dolphins; much of the work Ridgway did was just as much to learn about their physiology as it was to keep them in good health. He was the first vet to come up with a way to safely anesthetize a dolphin. It was really interesting to read about his work with the dolphins- and to see Tuffy's transformation. He was a wild-caught dolphin, at first truculent, resistant and fought off any human contact. Won over by patience on the part of biology assistant Debbie (and many fish), Tuffy became cooperative and proved to be intelligent and highly trainable. Remarkably, he was even trained to work at sea- swimming freely, following the boat, diving to great depths for tests. Eventually Debbie had to leave for graduate school, and when she came back to visit after three months their reunion was very touching. Dolphins are really incredible animals, and when this book was written scientists were just beginning to learn more about their abilities. It's a bit awkward in the beginning- jumping from one time period to another, and including a section about Ridgway's youth on a farm that felt a bit out of place- but overall an interesting book.

Rating: 3/5                      159 pages, 1987

blog award

I have hedged and hesitated over acknowledging this award received from Sherrie at A View of My Life, simply because it's getting hard for me to choose blogs to pass awards on to. I like them all so much! Maybe someday I'll just put all the blogs from my Google reader into and award whoever comes up (just kidding)! Well, here's the rules for this award:
•Each Superior Scribbler must in turn pass The Award on to 5 most-deserving Bloggy Friends.

•Each Superior Scribbler must link to the author & the name of the blog from whom he/she has received The Award.

•Each Superior Scribbler must display The Award on his/her blog, and link to This Post, which explains The Award.

•Each Blogger who wins The Superior Scribbler Award must visit this post and add his/her name to the Mr. Linky List. That way, we'll be able to keep up-to-date on everyone who receives This Prestigious Honor!

•Each Superior Scribbler must post these rules on his/her blog.
and here's some blogs I want to give it to:

A Work in Progress
The Book Tiger
Across the Page
Musings of a Bookish Kitty

go check them out!

Nov 12, 2009

Red Fox

by Charles G.D. Roberts

Reading Red Fox was nostalgic for me. I can't remember where I first picked this book up, at my elementary school library or the Burien public branch. I do know I must have read it half a dozen times when I was young. It's out of print now, but I was happy to find a copy via Book Mooch and read it one more time.

The book tells the lifestory of a fox in the Canadian woods. It is based on observations of wild foxes, many true-life incidents all complied into one adventurous story. The hero of Red Fox is the largest of his litter, stronger, braver and smarter than the rest. He learns survival lessons and hunting skills from his mother, also from his siblings' blunders and his own mistakes. He must outwit his prey, deal with changing weather conditions and confront or avoid other predators- mink, lynx, eagles, bears, rival foxes. By the time he is an adult he knows how to outwit dogs and farmers, but then a young boy who has been quietly watching him helps trap the fox and tries to tame him. That failing, he sells the fox, thinking the animal will be taken to a zoo. But Red Fox is let loose on the grounds of a foxhunting club, where he must use all his wits against the hounds if he wants to gain his freedom again. The story ends a little abruptly, but otherwise I enjoyed it. Some passages jumped out from my memory, others I had entirely forgotten and that made reading it anew a discovery all over again. The pen-and-ink illustrations by John Schoenherr are quite nice.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 187 pages, 1972

Nov 11, 2009

Next Panda, Please!

Further Adventures of a Wildlife Vet
by David Taylor

I was so glad to enjoy a David Taylor book again, after my last disappointment. This one describes Taylor's work with animals at Belle Vue Zoo in Manchester, as well as his travels abroad to treat sick falcons in Saudi Arabia and the first panda to live in a zoo in Madrid (the panda's story is a continual thread throughout the book). Among his animal patients are an armadillo who was kicked down a street by teenagers, a dolphin that needs a limb amputated, a deer with a dislocated eye, some killer whales with frostbite, cheetahs which have mysteriously been drugged, and young giraffes suffering from stress, on account of being included in a filmmaking project. This chapter delighted me the most, as here I "met" people known to me from other books. A few years ago I read two books on giraffes, one Raising Daisy Rothschild by Betty Leslie-Melville. Taylor knew Leslie-Melville, and went to Kenya to visit the ranch when they were making a film about how she had raised an orphan giraffe. The funniest chapter (although not its ending) was about a traveling circus where a chimpanzee took revenge on a parrot that constantly taunted him by sitting and crapping on his head while screaming dirty words at the crowd. The saddest chapter was reading about how the Belle Vue Zoo finally closed, and the difficulties finding places for all the animals to go. And of course, like always in Next Panda, Please! I was completely engaged with Taylor's easy writing style and learning the interesting facts about animals. Did you know, for example, that one of the very few animals to suffer from leprosy alongside humans are armadillos? Lucky for us (but unhappily for the armadillos) this means they were used in research on treatments for leprosy.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 196 pages, 1982

Nov 10, 2009

The Three-Legged Stallion

and Other Tales from a Doctor's Notebook
by Siegfried Kra, M.D.

I read this book for the Random Reading Challenge. It was #14 on my list. The first story almost dampened my interest for the rest- but I continued reading and the puzzle of each little tale was intriguing enough to get me through the book. It's a collection of "medical mysteries"- people suffering from various unusual conditions and illnesses, and how the doctor finally figured out what it was. Most of them had good outcomes, for a few the solution came too late, or there was no known cure. Among the stories are a ladies' man who looses his potency, a man who is constantly blue in the face, a dentist who is slowly going crazy and a man being poisoned by the wine from his own vineyard. But interspersed are a few different kind of stories- the longest being one of the author's own childhood illness, a continuous fever of unknown cause- and a sad little chapter about time he spent as a medical student in a tuberculosis sanatorium in the early 50's, where he fell in love with one of the patients. There's also one about a trip he took on a night train to Paris, where a poor, Italian family (due to a language barrier) misconstrued his attempts to help their ill, elderly father as an attack on his life! In style it's kind of like an Oliver Sacks book, but not nearly as well-written, more casual in a light storytelling vein. I read through it pretty quickly.

Rating: 2/5                         213 pages, 1989

bookmarks giveaway

Win two free horse bookmarks!
Two bookmarks up for grabs this week; a pair of horses. Laminated, with a short ribbon tassel. I didn't show the back this time because it's pretty plain, blue color on the one, golden brown on the other with a dancing horse at one end. If you'd like to win these horsey bookmarks, just leave a comment here before tuesday 11/17 . Name will be drawn at random. Open worldwide.

(click image for larger view)

Nov 9, 2009

Hillbilly Gothic

A Memoir of Madness and Motherhood
by Adrienne Martini

New moms are supposed to be all smiles and delight over their tiny little bundles of joy, right? So what happens when they're not? In this heartachingly wry memoir, Martini takes us through her experience with postpartum depression. She knew going into motherhood that her family history was peppered with women who habitually "went mad" after giving birth, not to mention those who suffered from depression or bi-polar disorder, and a number of relatives who were suicidal. These things went unspoken in her family, but they began to make more sense to her when soon after the arrival of her first baby she felt her emotions sliding out of control, into an abyss of tears and helplessness. Insomnia, difficulties breastfeeding, frustrations at the baby's demands, at her own inability to live up to her concept of the ideal mom. When her infant was barely a month old, she finally admitted herself to a psychiatric ward and sought help. Martini takes the reader along as she plumbs the depths of her emotions and patches her life back together: what triggered her depression? can she recognize it if it happens again? can she face the birth of a second child? She also talks a lot about place, about living as the descendant of Appalachian mountaineers, but I didn't really get a sense of the "hillbilly" aspect of it. Most of all, I was intrigued by her discussion on the stigma of mental illness; even though we now know that mental health problems are caused by genetics and chemical imbalance - not weakness of character or sin- it is still a difficult and sometimes shameful thing to admit. At one point in the memoir, Martini mentions how she picked and chose which friends she would tell the truth of her condition to; at another point she's recently moved into a new neighborhood and introduces herself with this information, choosing which people to befriend by their reaction to it. More than anything, Hillbilly Gothic feels so painfully honest. Here's a normal, perfectly nice woman who just couldn't hold it together when the new baby came. I am sure there are hundreds of others like her with stories untold. People don't like to think about moms who fail to go ga-ga over little babies, but they exist, and they're not horrible people, and perhaps this book will help them be more understood.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 221 pages, 2006

More opinions at:
Rebecca Unpublished
Library Goddesses

Nov 8, 2009

Nov reviews- DogEar Challenge

Here's the place to put review links this month, for books read for the DogEar Reading Challenge. Only one month left!

I know two readers have finished already, but I'm still searching for my last book to read, an adult fantasy. I tried all the ones left on my shelf, and for one reason or another none of them worked for me- Moon Called got boring, Tolkien's Silmarillion and Book of Lost Tales had such an archaic, dry writing style I could not understand it, much less enjoy- and The Summer Country was just bleh. I didn't even make it through the first chapter of that. The rest of the unread fantasy books in my house are YA, so I started going through my TBR list, but dismayed to find most aren't even in my public library system, and the few that are, reside in other branches. So I'm going to have to request them and wait a bit...

Anyhow, if you're reading along for my little challenge, leave your links here for the month of Nov!

Nov 7, 2009

Diary of a Cat

True Confessions and Lifelong Observations of a Well-Adjusted House Cat
by Leigh W. Rutledge

Another brief read, that was mildly entertaining. Diary of a Cat is just that: a few entries per month in one year of a cat's life. I thought it was going to give inner cat-perspective on why they do things like stare at the wall, go crazy running around, etc. But the cat's voice would just state things like: watched a speck on the wall for almost an hour or I was eating the wrapping paper without any explanation (where are the confessions?). That kind of disappointed me. Nevertheless, it's an interesting little book, mostly in the ongoings of the neighborhood described through what the cat sees: an elderly lady who goes missing, a couple who hordes cats, another who keeps a huge, destructive dog in her backyard, a third who argues constantly with her teenage daughter, a depressed little boy constantly yelled at by his father. Some of these scenarios had surprising outcomes, others a bit more disturbing. None turned out the way I expected. Then there's the doings of our narrator's own household: his elderly owner adopts a new kitten, then an emaciated stray- I was expecting a long, drawn-out adjustment period but the cat just stoically accepted the newcomers after what seemed to be a few days of mild spitting and ignoring each other. (Maybe other people's cats act like this when new cats come into the home, but mine sure didn't! It was outright warfare and jealous wailing rages for weeks on end). Then the cats' owner becomes seriously ill and the caretaker who arrives happens to hate cats. A friendly neighbor tries to interfere when she determines to get rid of them all... One of the funniest things is the expression in the cat's face on the cover- he has little prim smirk, just like you'd expect. And something I found odd, but has nothing to do with the writing: the pages were not numbered. There's a little cat sitting at the bottom of each page, but no numbers. This book came to me via Paperback Swap, and it will go right out again that way; it was nice enough but I don't think I'll read it again.

Rating: 2/5                   176 pages, 1995

Nov 6, 2009

The Dog of Knots

by Kathy Walden Kaplan

I read this gentle, subtle little story in one sitting. It's quiet style reminds me very much of another book read several years ago -My Friend the Painter, by Lygia Bojunga Nunes- unrelated in time or place but with a similar theme: a child trying to make sense of difficult feelings, with the help of family, friends and close neighbors. The Dog of Knots is about a young girl named Mayim, living in Israel in 1973. She's worried about her future- two years of service in the Israeli army is mandatory at age eighteen- and the impending threat of war with the Arabs. She's wrapped up in plans to visit a friend in Jerusalem, and dealing with grief for a father who died when she was very young. Among these concerns is a little mystery- that of the stray dog who lives nearby in the wadi, living on handouts from the neighbors. Everyone knows the old dog, and they each find a different kind of comfort in caring for him and have a different name for him. But the dog answers to none of them, and nobody knows where he came from, only that he's been there a long, long time. Mayim visits her various neighbors and relatives, piecing together the puzzle of the dog's origins and at the same time finding strength through her friendships. This book is full of cultural references that were unfamiliar to me, but presented through the constricted view of a child, so not too complex. There's a helpful glossary in the back, for foreign terms used in the text. Even though I don't know much about the history of this locale or the war it discusses, the book is very moving, although quiet in tone, and it touched me. I found this one at a library sale.

Rating: 3/5                       131 pages, 2004

Nov 5, 2009

The Wicked Day

by Mary Stewart

I really enjoyed Mary Stewart's trilogy that tells the Arthurian stories from Merlin's viewpoint- and The Wicked Day is a continuation of that storyline, but through the eyes of Mordred this time. It shows Mordred in a sympathetic light, but he was never a favorite character of mine, and this book does nothing to endear him to the reader. He is a cool, calculating man, responding in kind to the manipulations of his mother and suspicions of his half brothers. He stands in the shadows watching what goes on and biding his time to make his move, but his impassioned stance on everything made it rather boring. By the time the narrative reached one of the most impassioned scenes- Arthur's men bursting into the room catching Guinevere and Bedwyr (Lancelot) together, Mordred getting mixed up in the fighting- I still cared so little about the man himself that it was dull and my mind could not stay on the page. I made it halfway through, but gave up on this book at p. 290. It just wasn't interesting me anymore. Nothing like the quality of the Merlin books.

Abandoned ........ 453 pages, 1983

More opinions at:
Steve's Books
Carla Nayland Historical Fiction