Jan 31, 2009

Those Who Hunt the Night

by Barbara Hambly

This is the second book I've ever read about vampires (unless you count Dracula). I snatched it off the shelf when I found it at The Book Thing, as I've loved all of Hambly's books from the Winterlands series, and my husband has high praise for her Star Wars novels.

Those Who Hunt the Night is set in London, early 1900's. Its main character, James Asher, comes home one night to find a vampire in his house, a being more than three hundred years old named Don Simon Ysidro. The vampire is seeking his help because someone is killing off other vampires in the city, and they need human assistance. Asher fits the bill perfectly: he's a retired secret spy from the Queen's service, now a university professor who's studied the lore of vampires in depth. His wife is a medical researcher and in spite of the danger she gets involved as well, wanting to study their pathology (she believes that vampirism has organic causes). In unraveling the mystery of the vampire killer, she searches endlessly through confusing paper trails in London while Asher travels abroad with Ysidro to underground crypts of Paris, tracking down a legendary vampire older than the Black Plague- only to find in the end that the answer to their questions is closer to home -and far more horrifying- than anyone could have imagined. Echoes of Frankenstein in my head.

This book was definitely creepy. I had to put it down a few times and take a break, especially when reading at night! Hambly's descriptive writing and fascinating characters kept me intrigued from the beginning. Some parts of the mystery I never really followed well (including Asher's backstory, that was confusing). But I loved the historical details of Victorian-era London, and the examination of vampire physiology. The development of Asher's relationship to Ysidro is one of the best parts of the novel: at first it is dangerous just being in Ysdiro's presence. Gradually Ysidro is moved to protect Asher from other vampires who see his involvement as a serious threat, and in the end they are working like partners. Some themes of morality and redemption thread through the novel; Asher wrestles occasionally with his conscience over murders he committed when he was a spy, and one of the vampires they encounter is an ancient priest wracked with guilt over what he has done to survive as a vampire. Ysidro himself appears to have a sense of integrity which sets him apart from others of his kind, that and his sense of humor make him a bit sympathetic, even though he's still a malevolent character.

Such a good read! I learned that Hambly wrote another vampire book, Traveling with the Dead. I'll have to hunt that one down someday and read it, too.

Rating: 3/5                   242 pages, 1988

More opinions at:
The Uvula From Betelgeuse-4!
Jenny's Books

Jan 30, 2009

Meme: Bookworm

This isn't the kind of meme I usually do, but Lezlie tagged me, so here goes. The idea is to grab the nearest book to you and share three to six lines from page 56, starting with the fifth sentence. I'm sitting at the computer and for once there aren't any books lying on the floor, couch, filing cabinet, so the closest to me- are the four-hundred-plus books on the shelves across the room! So I'm going to just walk over with my eyes shut and grab one:

This is from Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis:

Mary took Montoya's tach bracelet off and handed her the last set of papers. "Mr. Latimer? You're next."

Latimer stood up, holding his papers. He looked at them confusedly, then set them down on the chair he'd been sitting on, and started over to Mary. Halfway there, he turned and went back for Mary's shopping bag. "You left this at Brasenose," he said, holding it out to Mary.

That was so random. And I don't think it gives you much idea of the book, or its style. Hm. Well, to follow along with the meme I tag Heather, Becca, Jess, Kristi and Matt.

Jan 29, 2009

The Little Prince

by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
translated by Katherine Woods

When I was a teen I loved The Little Prince. It was one of my comfort reads, and I turned its pages many, many times. Now it rests on the shelf of "big-kid books" my daughter is always anxious to peruse, and she chose it for bedtime stories through the past week.

And I'm sorry to say I was disappointed. I don't know if my memories are nostalgically rosy, or I've become more cynical, or it's just not really a suitable book for kids. But I found reading it aloud tedious. The sentences are not smooth, or at least they didn't feel so coming off my tongue. It might be the translation, I'm sure it's more lyrical in the original. The story jumps back and forth with little explanation, and it was quite confusing for my four-year-old. (Reading it in very short segments became easier, because she would forget what came before and not expect it to follow a linear time-line). It begins with the author (who is a pilot) describing how as a child he made drawings which grown-ups could not understand, then jumps to an incident when as an adult he crashed his airplane in the desert and met a child wandering there alone. This little boy he called "the Little Prince," and their first meeting is a conversation about a drawing of a sheep the Little Prince wants. The author tries to find out what the Little Prince is doing in the desert, where he came from, why he wants a sheep, etc. but he never gets a straight answer and has to piece it all together, slowly.

It turns out the Little Prince is a visitor from a star, a little planet far away. Rebuked by a vain, proud rose he cares for (yes, the flower talks) he runs away to visit other planets. He meets grown-ups obsessed with singular occupations whose purpose make little sense to the Little Prince. He applies a child's logic and perspective to everything and shows the reader how foolish grown-up concerns can be. He learns some wisdom about friendship from a fox, and teaches the pilot his pearls of wisdom. The shining message I glean from The Little Prince is about the importance of friendship, about the value of things you love. My favorite quote from the book sums it up very well: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

Rating: 3/5                       92 pages, 1943

More opinions at:
Overdue Books
Giving Reading a Chance
Uniquely Priya

Jan 28, 2009

The Wolf Children

by Charles Maclean

Of all the books about feral children supposedly raised by wolves that I've come across, this is one of the more comprehensive. Maclean did extensive research into the story of Kamala and Amala, two children found by Indian villagers in a wolf's den and rescued by an English missionary in the 1920's. The first part of his book describes the setting where the girls were found in the forest and of Singh's orphanage. The end of the book describes how the story of the wolf girls became known to the world, and what kind of fact-checking was done. The bulk of the middle is Maclean's summary of all the facts he dug up- written in a fluid, narrative style that while lacking in exact details, makes for easy reading. He brought to light many original documents and reports, and adds some historical background which gives more depth to the story. Maclean comes to his own conclusions about the veracity of the account- were Amala and Kamala really raised by wolves? Personally, I don't agree with his conclusion, but I can see how he reached it, with the limited knowledge at his disposal in the seventies. One thing that became clear to me, gleaning through his presentation of the facts, was that Singh omitted some things from his diary in order to glorify his role as the girls' rescuer, and sensationalize the story for its publicity. The Wolf Children is a fascinating account, and reading between the lines makes it even more intriguing to puzzle over.

Rating: 4/5                   324 pages, 1977

Have you written a blog review about this book? Let me know and I'll add your link here.

Jan 27, 2009

Everyday Blessings

The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting
by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn

I must first say that I read this book back in 2004, so it's not quite fresh in my mind. But I still remember how much it resonated with me. Everyday Blessings is a thoughtful book about using Zen concepts and practices in raising children. Now, I'm not into Zen, and some of the ideas in the book were quite a bit over my head. (I picked it up just thinking it was about being a more thoughtful parent, not realizing at first it was about zen-based parenting). Here you'll find lots of advice on being calm, thoughtful, patient and even meditative when dealing with your children. This book is full of beautiful language and inspiring ideals. Each time I sat down to read it I came away encouraged to be a better person, a better parent, to stop and think about why I did things a certain way with my child, instead of just reacting in the moment. Everyday Blessings is kind of lacking when it comes to actually describing how to apply some of its high-minded precepts, but I found it encouraging nevertheless. Its tone reminded me a lot of Thomas Moore's Care of the Soul. It contains so many ideas and ways of being that I would like to incorporate into my own life with my husband and children.

Rating: 4/5               416 pages, 1998

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Jan 26, 2009

Plain Truth

by Jodi Picoult

I had never heard of Jodi Picoult before my mother recommended this book to me, years ago. I was curious about it at first because the novel depicted Amish life. It also harbors a mystery, and a murder. The story begins with a lawyer from a big city visiting her distant aunt in a small Amish town. While she's there a dead baby is found in the barn, and an unwed teenage girl is suspect- as both its mother and murderer. Reluctantly the lawyer takes on the girl's defense, and gradually she becomes more and more involved, personally as well as professionally. To better understand things she lives in the Amish community while working on the trial. While I found the details of Amish culture interesting (but I have no idea how accurate they are), the characters were flat, the storyline became predictable, and some of the lawyer's actions were decidedly unprofessional- which added plenty of drama but made it feel unrealistic to me. One of the more interesting aspects of the story is that in spite of plain evidence pointing to her guilt, the Amish girl steadfastly denied not only harming the child, but even bearing it, and her mental stability and perception of reality were questioned. I did puzzle over "who did it" up until the end, so that kept me going through the novel. But I left it not caring a whit about the characters, and forgetting them quickly. The Plain Truth was an enjoyable read, entertaining for the moment, yet holding nothing spectacular or memorable.

I know I'm one of the few who dislikes this author, so please read some of the other bloggers' views, in the links below. And if you've got one to share, let me know and I'll add your link.

Rating: 3/5                    432 pages, 2000

More opinions at:
Trish's Reading Nook
On My Bookshelf
Piling on the Books
Book Nook
Books, Memes and Musings
So Many Books, So Little Time

Jan 25, 2009

The Rocks Remain

by Gavin Maxwell

This is Gavin Maxwell's sequel to Ring of Bright Water, his famous novel about the otter. I found it interesting and enjoyable, and kept finding excuses to sit down in quiet so I could finish it. But I also felt let down and confused by it. I remember having trouble at first getting into Ring of Bright Water because the first chapter or two describe some of Maxwell's experiences traveling abroad, and it took some time for the story to get around to the otter, which was my main interest in reading it. As most of the events led up to how Maxwell acquired his first otter, Mijbil, and how he transported it home, it was, however, still pertinent.

I can't say that about the chapters that appeared superfluous to me in The Rocks Remain. It opens with an entire chapter about an earthquake in Agadir. While I appreciate that Maxwell was in Morocco at the time and could describe first-hand the devastation there, I failed to see how it related to his story about otters. But then, half the book was not about the otters. Maxwell describes difficulties living at his remote Scottish hideaway, efforts he made to modernize the place, and frustrations when fans of his first book discovered the location and came visiting without notice, as tourists. He goes into detail about many mishaps and accidents that befell them: a near-shipwreck on an island in the dark, a fire in the kitchen, a broken tank that flooded half his house. Other chapters veer even farther, covering more of his travels in Morocco, and one section all about a local man named Dugalt who played elaborate pranks on the local priest. While these divergences were annoying, they were also very well-written and entertaining.

I was expecting that the real meat of the book would be the parts about the otters: two from North Africa and two European otters, which he acquired from various people who could not keep them. It was fascinating to read about the otters' very different personalities, and how they responded to people, each other, and Maxwell's dog. It also quickly became apparent that the otters were very much wild animals, difficult to keep contained, and potentially dangerous. When Maxwell finally gave up trying to keep some of his otters from escaping and let them roam free, I was surprised that he gave no thought (or did not express it) to the impact of releasing a foreign species, and a predator at that, into the local environment. The book ended abruptly at this point, and even though I felt dissatisfied, I'm anxious to read the next one and find out what happened, as I can only assume there were negative consequences.

Rating: 3/5                  192 pages, 1963

More opinions at:

Jan 23, 2009

Man-Eaters of Kumaon

by Jim Corbett

Jim Corbett was a sportsman famous for hunting down man-eating tigers in India between 1910 and 1938; often the government implored him to rid certain areas of a tiger that had been terrorizing the people for years. Some villages were so devastated by tiger predation that the entire population had abandoned their homes. In his pursuit of tigers, Corbett traveled on foot to many remote areas, taking teams of men to assist him. If it came to stalking a tiger on foot through the jungle, he usually did that solo, and explains why it was actually safer that way. One chapter describes his hunting dog Robin, and how it helped him to track tigers. Although the reading is often quite dry (the author's main profession was a hunter, not a writer) the accounts are full of fascinating details. Corbett describes much of his hunting lore: what information he could glean about the tigers from villagers' accounts and inspecting tracks, abandoned kills and other signs the big cats left behind; how his understanding of a tiger's habits enabled him to plan his encounters with them; how he could learn of a tiger's whereabouts by observing the behavior of other jungle animals; how he could lure the beast right to him by imitating tiger calls. He also explains why most tigers became man-eaters, usually from injuries that kept them from hunting their normal prey, and debunks some misconceptions about them. The descriptions of close encounters with tigers, whether Corbett's own cautious and carefully executed maneuvers or an ordinary villager's act of bravery, are truly hair-raising.

Even though Corbett was using his skills to hunt down man-eating tigers, he was not one who enjoyed hunting for the sake of killing. He was a naturalist, and spent just as much time tracking tigers to simply observe their behavior, photograph or film them. He writes of their beauty and power with respect. He shares observations of many other kinds of wildlife, including encounters with leopards and snakes, and one whole chapter is just about a day spent fly-fishing on a jungle stream. Man-Eaters of Kumaon is an intriguing book. It appears to have been written near the end of his career, and I'm curious to see if I can find some of the earlier volumes Corbett wrote about his experiences.

Rating: 3/5                  233 pages, 1946

More opinions at:
Mind of a Mortal
Timbucktoo Blog

Jan 22, 2009

Meme: the Bookshelf

I saw this meme going around the book blogs several weeks ago, first spotted it at Eva's The Striped Armchair. I kept thinking I wanted to get around to it myself, but never did until finally Janet from Across the Page tagged me, so I figured I'd better do it soon! These questions took a lot more thought than I expected.

Tell about the book that’s been on your shelves the longest.

Can I do more than one?

My daughter has inherited most of my picture books. I think The Little Red Caboose is the oldest one. I can't remember where it first came from, it's just always been there in my memory.

The oldest book on my own shelves, that's harder. Most of the paperbacks I kept for years and years have gradually been replaced by newer copies of themselves. Here's one of the few mass market paperbacks I have left; as you can see, it's about ready to fall apart. I can't count how many times I've read Tolkien's Smith of Wooten Major and Farmer Giles of Ham. It's charming and funny and very insightful, too.

Tell about a book that reminds you of something specific in your life (i.e. a person, a place, a time, etc.). . .

When I was a young girl I used to visit an elderly woman in my church, and read to her from the scriptures, as her eyesight was failing. When she was in the hospital I visited her there as well, and I remember reading the 23rd Psalm aloud until I had it almost memorized.

This book, Ride the Laughing Wind, was a gift from her. It took me a long time to read it, but when I finally did I enjoyed it very much. It's a curious novel placed in history, among Native Americans of the southwest. I think they were Anasazi, but I'm not sure. The story is about a young woman who remains alone with two young boys from her tribe, and how they survive in the desert. Whenever I pick this book up I remember of the woman who gave it to me.
A book you acquired in some interesting way (gift, serendipity in a used bookstore, prize, etc.):

Once when on a road trip with my family, we stopped in a small town somewhere to eat and there just happened to be a used book store across the street. Of course, I had to go in. I was thrilled to find two books I really wanted, String Lug the Fox by David Stephen and Davita's Harp by Chaim Potok. I didn't have enough money on me for the two books, so after leaving them on the counter I ran back to the car and begged my mom for some more change. When I went back in the bookstore, I still didn't have enough for both, so I reluctantly put Davita's Harp aside. I was astonished and delighted when the lady at the counter said it was so nice to see a young person who loved reading (I think I was about fifteen) and she gave me both books for the price of one. It was totally unexpected, and I was so happy.

Tell about the most recent addition to your shelves. . .

Last week I got Invincible from Paperback Swap, because my husband recommended it, in his unceasing efforts to get me to appreciate football. Hopefully it turns out better for me than Get Your Own Damn Beer did. I had to wait a long time for it, though.

(Now we're waiting for a Scrabble Dictionary, so we won't have to jump up in the middle of our games to check definitions on the computer!)

Tell about a book that has been with you the most places. . .

Well, right now I really don't carry any one book with me on trips, as I'm usually reading something different every time. And most of my favorites have survived numerous cullings when I move, so I can't think of one that's been in more of my previous homes than the others. But for many, many years when I was religious, I took this book with me everywhere I traveled. And read it almost every night, too. It's been a while since I opened it, but I still have several well-worn and marked-in copies, one on the shelf and several others in closeted boxes.

Tell me about a bonus book that doesn’t fit any of the above questions. . .

This is probably the most treasured book on my shelves, and one I'm betting none of you have heard of before. It's a slim, aged volume called Echos from Tiverton, by one Fanny A. Durfee. The book itself is old, published in 1909 by a printer on Rhode Island named Thomas Clapp. The book is full of poems, and its author is an ancestor of mine. I'm not really keen on poetry, but I've read this volume all the way through. Many of the poems (if I remember rightly) are odes to people- family members, friends, members of the community, who had passed away. Others commemorate weddings and births, or speak of faith. I handle this book with care when I open its pages to glimpse into the past.

Now I'm supposed to tag some other bloggers. So (if you haven't already done this meme!) I tag Chris, Nymeth, Chartroose, Raych, Jessica, Bookfool, Natasha- oh wait, did it say five? (see rules below) well whoever's reading this and wants to join in, please do, because I'd like to tag all of you!

The Rules
1. Tag 3-5 people, so the fun keeps going!
2. Leave a comment at the original post at A Striped Armchair, so that Eva can collect everyone’s answers.
3. If you leave a comment and link back to Eva as the meme’s creator, she will enter you in a book giveaway contest! She has a whole shelf devoted to giveaway books that you’ll be able to choose from, or a bookmooch point if you prefer.
4. Remember that this is all about enjoying books as physical objects, so feel free to describe the exact book you’re talking about, down to that warping from being dropped in the bath water…
5. Make the meme more fun with visuals! Covers of the specific edition you’re talking about, photos of your bookshelves, etc.

Jan 21, 2009


Announcing the winner of my Book Mooch points giveaway.....

Nymeth of Things Mean a Lot!

My daughter picked the name out of a fan of paper slips, so you have her to thank. Nymeth, congratulations! I'm headed over to Book Mooch right now to gift you the points. I hope you can find a copy of Speaker for the Dead. Happy reading, everyone! I'll be back with regular book-writing tomorrow.

Jan 19, 2009

The Whispering Land

by Gerald Durrell

A while back I read A Bevy of Beasts, about Gerald Durrell's apprenticeship in an English zoo. The Whispering Land describes one of Durrell's trips to collect wild animals, after he had established his own private zoo. I got off to an awkward start with this book, because I hadn't yet read its prequel, A Zoo in My Luggage. But after the initial confusion of the first chapter, I settled right into it. Here Durrell describes his travels with a team of assistants to remote areas of Patagonia, where he tracks down local wildlife, mostly those being kept as pets in people's homes, to buy for his collection. He gathered monkeys, coatimundis, peccaries, some odd south American rodents, parrots, macaws, diminuitive owls and numerous other birds. The rescue of a starving, abused ocelot and purchase of a gorgeous young puma rounded out his collection. I loved reading the detailed descriptions of the animals, especially the wildilfe he also observed- guanacos, rheas and armadillos in the forested areas, colonies of nesting penguins, fur seals and elephant seals on the beaches. There's a really funny passage about some foxes playing with a roll of pink toilet paper in one of their camps. Durrell's writing style isn't terribly eloquent, but the descriptions of the local culture, different people he encountered and the animals themselves make this a good read. I was only disappointed that there was a page missing in my copy, so I'll have to look for another one someday for my own library.

Rating: 3/5                        235 pages, 1961

Have you written a blog review about this book? Let me know, and I'll add your link here.

giveaway update

My husband works in DC and he actually got tickets for us to attend the Inauguration ceremonies tomorrow. So we'll be spending most of tuesday traveling into DC (usually not difficult, but I foresee it taking hours tomorrow), standing for hours outside in the cold (at a historic event!!) and then getting back home. I probably won't get the chance to blog again until sometime on wednesday. Thus my Book Mooch points giveaway is being extended an extra day. Go on over to the giveaway post and enter to win, if you haven't already!

Jan 17, 2009

Old Ramon

by Jack Schaefer

This quiet, moving little story is about a young boy who goes out with an old man to herd sheep for a season. With them are two herding dogs, an old brown one with lots of experience, and a young black dog, eager and foolhardy. The two older ones patiently teach the youngsters, sharing from their wealth of knowledge and experience. Through the desert season, together they face sandstorms, rattlesnakes, floods, wolves and coyotes. The boy must also confront tragedy, when the black dog's bravery gets him into trouble. (In many ways this book reminded me of Steinbeck's The Red Pony). Besides being a tender story about one boy's growing up, Old Ramon is also full of rich details of the Southwest, the culture and the wide, harsh desert landscape. It was interesting to learn some little facts about sheep- how the old man killed ticks by blowing smoke into their wool, how they could drown in a stream from the weight of their waterlogged fleece. Quite aptly, the book opens with the old man and boy arguing which is more stupid, a sheep or a chicken! Old Ramon is a nice little book, a glimpse into the life of a sheepherder, with his trials, struggles and nuggets of wisdom.

Rating: 3/5                   102 pages, 1973

Have you written a blog review about this book? Let me know, and I'll add your link here.

Jan 16, 2009

The Story Behind Modern Books

by Elizabeth Rider Montgomery

I picked up this little old book at random one day, and sat down to read it last night. It was very interesting. The Story Behind Modern Books contains accounts of how many popular children's books of its era came to be written. A lot of the books discussed were familiar to me: Babar, The Story About Ping, The Little House. Others I'd heard of but have never read: Andy and the Lion, Rabbit Hill . And some were completely obscure to me: Honk the Moose by Phillip Stong, Shuttered Windows by Florence Means. I enjoyed reading about the origins of a few of my childhood favorites- some, like Make Way for Ducklings, were very carefully planned out and researched, others, like Mary Poppins, came from the author's sudden inspiration one day. Many originated from stories the authors made up to tell their children (Babar is one). Quite a few of the accounts told how an author or illustrator's career changed paths: Virginia Lee Burton, who wrote The Little House, was first studying to be a ballet dancer and Mary O'Hara of My Friend Flicka composed music, before events in their lives moved them to write. If you've ever wondered about what was behind those childhood classics, this book is a nice little resource. It discusses thirty-seven books in all. There are six other titles in the series, but I don't know if I'll ever come across any more of them.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 208 pages, 1949

More opinions at:
Across the Page

Jan 15, 2009

Ratha's Courage

by Clare Bell

If you've read my Out of Love post, you'll know that a long time ago I was enthralled with Clare Bell's first two books, then a bit disappointed in the third and fourth ones. I was sad that I could not find any more of her books to read (this back when I was in high school). So I was thrilled when the author herself recently offered to send me a copy of her new book, Ratha's Courage. I wanted to re-read the rest of the Named series before opening the new book, to have the entire story fresh in my mind, so Ratha's Courage has been sitting patiently on my bedside table for many weeks, just begging me to open it.

It was worth the the wait. Smoothly continuing the storyline, Ratha and her clan of big cats become even more involved with the foreign tribe of mammoth-hunters who don't speak but have some kind of telepathic group mind. Attempting to befriend their strange neighbors and at the same time protect their resources from competition becomes difficult, as Ratha and her friends still struggle to understand the hunter tribe and their often unpredictable behavior. When the hunters give Ratha's clan some of their young "face-tail" animals, the Named cautiously approach the idea of sharing their use of fire in return. But this plunges them into a series of catasrophic events, with attacks on the Named in a manner no one could have forseen. One of the most intriguing new cats introduced in this novel is called Night-who-eats-stars, a member of the mesmerized hunter tribe who seems to also have the power of individual thought, who never speaks but haunts the Named with a serious threat they can sense but fail to understand until it's almost too late...

I really enjoyed the depth of characterization in Ratha's Courage, adding further dimensions to the feline personalities I first met back in Ratha's Creature. Here Ratha and her daughter both wrestle with their strongest emotions -love- Ratha struggling to accept and embrace love, and Thistle facing challenges to a love she's just recently come to know. Other characters have a significant part, but the story is mostly told from Ratha's perspective- with all the depth of feline senses and gestures that filled Bell's earlier novels. It doesn't shy away from the rawer details either- addressing very frankly how Ratha and her kind struggle against their animal instincts when it comes to mating behavior and fighting to defend their territory. They continue to use their intelligence to adapt, finding new techniques for handling animals and using resources. I was glad that the ending, while wrapped up nicely, left a lot open to continue the series. I really hope Bell writes another one, because I can't wait to read what happens next to the Named, especially the mysterious, fearfully brilliant Night-who-eats-stars.

If you're curious about the world Clare Bell has created, visit her website here. There's pages about the prehistoric mammals featured in her books, and lots of other information.

Rating: 4/5                 368 pages, 2008

More opinons at:
Into the Wardrobe
Charlotte's Library

Jan 14, 2009

Book Giveaway!

Or, book points giveaway! Win a book (and fractions) of your choice! Enter this giveaway for 1.7 Book Mooch points. You must be a Book Mooch member (it's free to join) in order to receive the points, and let me know what your Book Mooch name is so I can gift them to you. Just leave a comment here to enter the drawing! Tell me what book you'd really want to Mooch. Name will be picked out of a hat on Tues 1/20. Happy reading, everyone!

Just a note: I've been kind of lax about blogging lately. Things have been busy around here. I just finished reading a great book last night, Ratha's Courage by Clare Bell. I can't wait to tell you all about it! Hopefully I'll have a chance to write it up tonight and post in the morning. Cheers!

Jan 10, 2009

The Professor and the Madman

A Tale of Murder, Insanity, and the Making of the Oxford English Dictionary
by Simon Winchester

This is a book I read because my mother once recommended it. And I'm glad she did. At first glance I thought it might be dry reading, but that's not so at all. The Professor and the Madman is about a group of men (in particular Professor James Murray) who organized the enormous task of compiling definitions for the Oxford English Dictionary, starting in 1857 (the first edition took seventy years to complete). Before reading this book I had no idea what kind of effort went into creating dictionaries, or who would try and tackle such a task. Reading about it was fascinating. Not just for the love of words and language, and the curious details about life in Victorian England, but also the more sensational and intriguing aspects of the story. The book opens with a murder scene in London, a brutal act committed by William C. Minor who was later deemed insane and committed to an asylum where he remained for some thirty years. What does this have to do with the making of a dictionary? It turns out that the editorial team for the dictionary appealed to the public for word submissions (which had to include examples of usage quoted from books, and their source), and a staggering amount came from Minor, from behind the walls of the insane asylum. It's almost hard to believe this story is true. Some other book bloggers have written about this one in more detail than I (and it's been four years since I read it, so not everything is crystal in my memory) so check out some of the links below!

Rating: 4/5                    242 pages, 1998

More opinions at:
Two Weeks Notice
Rebecca Reads
Reading Blog
Sophisticated Dorkiness

Jan 9, 2009

Becoming a Tiger

How Baby Animals Learn to Live in the Wild
by Susan McCarthy

What does it take to grow up to be a successful tiger, from a bumbling little cub? How does an ape teach her child to crack nuts? Do mother animals know what's happening when they first give birth? What happens to an animal's skills when it is fostered by a different species?

This book looks at precisely how animals learn, from infancy through adulthood until they are ready to make their own way in the world. It's very organized, laid out in sections with headings like "Learning the Basics: How to Crawl, Walk, Climb, Swim and Fly," "How Not to be Eaten," or "Parenting and Teaching: How to Pass It On." Each chapter is packed full of anecdotes and stories that give examples of young animals practicing skills until they get it right, adults coaching and guiding their young, innovative methods and techniques animals have been observed using (my favorite was the herons who dropped bread crusts and other food items on the water to attract fish), and things observed during experiments or in captive situations which give insight into what goes on in the animals' minds. Usually I don't care for books that are full of other authors' stories (preferring to hear it from the source), but this one is so well structured and thoroughly researched that I didn't mind. The anecdotes shared are all very brief, usually less than a page, very concise and to the point (which made it easy to read in lots of little stages, like when my kid interrupts me for yet another drink or tuck-in after bedtime). About half of the animals featured seem to be big cats, primates or dolphins. There's also discussion of learning methods and strategies among birds, insects, elephants, fishes and bats (to name just a few). I appreciated reading about where learning overlapped with or was separate from instinct (the section about how birds know how to build nests was fascinating).

One of the things I enjoyed most about Becoming a Tiger was coming across researchers and individual animals I remembered from other books, often with new information or insights about them. Here I found again Bernd Heinrich's ravens, the apes Kanzi and Lucy, and several foxes studied by David Macdonald (I love his book Running with the Fox). If you like animals, or are curious about their learning abilities, Becoming a Tiger is a pretty good book.

Rating: 3/5               418 pages, 2004

Jan 8, 2009

Your Amazing Newborn

by Marshall and Phyllis Klaus

Have you ever wondered how much a newborn baby can actually perceive of the world around him? In this lovely book, the senses and abilities of infants are explored, from what they experience in utero during the final stages of pregnancy, the moments just after birth, and the first few weeks. The authors show that babies quickly adjust to their new world outside the womb, responding to people around them, and communicating via touch, eye contact, sounds, broad gestures and imitation of facial expressions. You'll be surprised to learn how much a baby can actually do. The pictures are beautiful, the text enthralling. Your Amazing Newborn is a great book for any new or expecting mother, but it may not be for everyone- there are many photos of babies nursing or laying on their mothers' breasts and some may find this objectionable.

Rating: 4/5                128 pages, 2000

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The Carioni's Adopt

Jan 6, 2009


We (my daughter and I) just chose a name from the hat, and the winner of my latest giveaway, Rumer Godden's The Dark Horse and two equine bookmarks, is


Congratulations! Traveler, send your address to jeanenevarez (AT) gmail (DOT) com, and I'll put your prize in the mail this week.

Jan 5, 2009

Ratha's Challenge

by Clare Bell

Ratha's Challenge continues the story of the Named. In this book, Ratha's group of intelligent cats has found a new prey species- woolly mammoths. But when they try to capture an individual, they discover the "face-tail" herd is protected by another group of clan cats, ones who seem to have a unified consciousness and follow their leader with fierce, mindless devotion. Ratha and her friends struggle to understand these new cats who walk around in a trance: are they like us? are they intelligent? can we be justified in just taking what we want? Thakur is willing to approach them slowly and try to communicate; Ratha sees them as inferior and wants to use fire to force their dominance. The only one who might be able to bridge the gap, by willfully entering the trance her fits often bring upon her, is Thistle (of the previous book). But that path seems fraught with danger for Thistle, as her subconscious is still haunted by old fears... As the Named struggle to understand the presence of different kind of intelligence in the strangers, Ratha and Thistle work their way through a painful reconciliation.

I enjoyed reading Ratha's Challenge more than Ratha and Thistle-Chaser. The storyline felt much tighter and suspenseful, with some interesting and unexpected turns in the plot. Coming to know the depths of Thistle's character and Ratha's fears brought these feline beings sharply to life. I still miss something from the first two books, which seemed to have more vivid details of the environment and went deeper into the characters' animal nature. But I'm looking forward to the fifth book, Ratha's Courage.

Rating: 3/5                   231 pages, 1994

Have you written a blog review about this book? Let me know and I'll add your link here.

Jan 4, 2009

Children of the Wolf

by Jane Yolen

In 1920, a missionary in India called the Reverend Singh brought to his orphanage two half-starved children that had been found by villagers in a wolf den carved out of a termite mound. The girls were named Amala and Kamala. Amala died in 1921, but Kamala remained at the orphanage eight more years, where they tried to teach her language and simple human behaviors like wearing clothes, using utensils, walking upright- all things the girls resisted.

Children of the Wolf, Jane Yolen's fictional account of the wolf girls, is told from the viewpoint of a boy who lives at the orphanage. While the other children view the girls with disgust or fear and constantly taunt them, Mohandas is intrigued by them. He tries to understand them and gain their trust. He keeps a diary in secret where unfolds a slow love of words and language. As Mohandas gets closer to Kamala, he tries to coax words out of her, encouraged by the Reverend who hopes the girls will one day speak and tell everyone details of their past with the wolves. But eventually Mohandas realizes that the girls' true nature and abilities do not match up with anyone's assumptions- they are not terrifying demons as the villagers fear, nor sources of hidden information as the Reverend hopes. They are something else altogether. Mohandas keenly observes how everyone reacts differently to the girls, and what that reveals about each person, including himself.

At the end of the book Yolen describes her sources, how much of it is based on historical fact, and how much of it is fictional. (Although if you read the Wiki article I linked to above, you'll find that the historical account may itself be fiction). Children of the Wolf is an intriguing story, just as much about one boy's growth and understanding as it is about the feral children themselves.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 136 pages, 1984

Have you written a blog review about this book? Let me know, and I'll add your link here.

Jan 2, 2009

Ratha and Thistle-Chaser

by Clare Bell

This third book of the Named series picks up where Clan Ground left off. Ratha's group of prehistoric cats are still battling for survival as they face a new threat: severe drought. Desperate to find new sources of water and more animals to add to their herds, the Named strike out exploring into surrounding territories. Thakur travels as scout to the coast, where he encounters the ocean for the first time. He finds some strange web-footed sea mammals there and even stranger still, a disabled cat living among them. This cat, who calls herself Newt, suffers not only from an old injury to her leg, but also an emotional trauma from her childhood which still strikes her with strange fits and terrifying nightmares. When Thakur arrives and befriends her, he begins a slow healing of both her physical and spiritual torments. But when the rest of the clan follows to settle on the coast, Newt must face the threat they pose to her livelihood as they begin to corral the "seamares" she scavenges from. And when she meets other clan members, Newt must finally confront the real terrors of her past.

The other face of this story is Ratha's. Not only does she struggle with living in a new environment, dealing with unfamiliar animals and the estrangement of her old friend Fessran, but she has to once again wrestle with the question of what makes the Named separate from other, less intelligent cats -especially when Fessran attempts to adopt an abandoned Un-Named cub and bring it into the clan.

Ratha and Thistle-Chaser has a lot of strong elements and themes running through it. The question of intelligence, the treatment of those who differ in their mental or physical abilities. Issues of controlling anger, child abuse, and the mis-management of animals whose needs are not understood. Unfortunately, the storyline isn't as compelling as Clan Ground or Ratha's Creature. The plot has some awkward points. I didn't feel as connected to or invested in the characters this time. And I was annoyed by the reminders of events from previous books in the series. I don't mind it when this is woven into story (with subtle remarks inserted into conversations perhaps, or things explained to a new character) or when it's relatively brief. But in this case the re-hash seemed to cover twenty pages, and I got tired of it. Nevertheless, I'm eager to continue and read the next story about the Named, in Ratha's Challenge.

Rating: 2/5         232 pages, 1990

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Aye, Captain
Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tales