Mar 31, 2009

bookmarks giveaway!

win two free bookmarks
I'm giving away these two tiger bookmarks! If you'd like a chance to win, just leave a comment here. A name will be drawn from the hat on tuesday, 4/7.

Mar 30, 2009


the Cowhorse
by Will James

This book is about the life of a ranch horse. Smoky was born free on the range in the wild west, and wandered about just living his life amongst the wide open spaces and half-wild range cattle, until at the age of four he was caught by a cowboy named Clint. The cowboy broke him to ride, and trained him to be a cutting horse, working cattle. They became an excellent, skilled team with deep affection for each other. Halfway through the book drama ensues (beyond the everyday excitement of rounding up cattle) when Smoky is stolen from the outfit by an outlaw. This man continually mistreats the horse, until he becomes mistrusting of and vicious towards people. He becomes a famous bronco in the rodeos, then when that nearly wears him out, is sold again to be hired out from a livery stable, and finally winds up as a plow horse on a farm. By the end of the book, Smoky has been treated so badly by humans that his health is ruined and his life almost over- when in the nick of time he gets rescued by a familiar face from his days back on the ranch.

In many ways this book reminded me a lot of Black Beauty. It had very similar themes- showing how the horse grew up relatively free, his experiences being broken in and trained to work, several relatively happy years being properly cared for, and then going through a string of ignorant or cruel people who mistreat him, until at the end he is found by a friend and nursed back to health. It shows in great detail how the horse feels and perceives his situations, and how he can excel at a skill working in harmony with humans, or suffer terribly at their hands. The section of the book that describes his life as a rodeo horse made me think of When the Legends Die (although in that case it was the man who became broken and bitter towards men). The one thing I found difficult about Smoky is its language. Will James lived and worked as a cowboy for much of his life, and the grammar and spelling in his book, while adding some authentic flavor of cowboy dialect and culture, was at first very awkward to read. It took me some time to get used to it. I haven't read many books about the "wild west", but this one certainly brings it alive for me- especially the vivid descriptions of the scenery. You can almost taste the dust in your mouth.

Rating: 4/5          263 pages, 1926

More opinions at:
Bookin' It
Children's Lit and Other Bits
The Newbery Project
All the Newberys
Read the Newberys

Mar 29, 2009

more books!

I have found it. The book bonanza!! I discovered the sale where all the books culled from local school libraries end up. And they don't have this sale once a year like the one I used to frequent back in Seattle, they have it once a week. The prices are fantastic (if you buy a lot) sixteen cents a book! I simply cannot resist, and yesterday my personal collection groaned to a whopping total of 602 (yikes). I've vowed not to go more than once a month... Here's what I hauled home recently:

The Summer Country- It looked Arthurian. So I picked it up.
The Quiet Room- Never heard of this one, but I do find books about kids with mental illness interesting.
Love, War and Circuses- about "the Age-Old Relationship Between Elephants and Man."
The Dolphin Doctor- Dolphins are fascinating, and so are veterinarian books (to me).
The Secret Language of Life- "How Animals and Plants Feel and Communicate." Plants can feel? Hm. This should be interesting.
Liquid Land- "A Journey Through the Florida Everglades." That's all I know.
Return to Wild America- "A Yearlong Search for the Continent's Natural Soul" Ditto.
Beasts of Eden- I've had an abiding curiosity about prehistoric mammals since reading Ratha's Creature and its kin.
The Lost Years of Merlin- This book caught my eye because I had Nymeth's review in mind.
Seaworthy- Another book about an adventurer who took a raft across the ocean! This guy followed the fame of Kon-Tiki, just to see if he could do it.
Infidel- This one has been on my list a while. I don't remember where I first heard of it.
Raccoons: A Natural History- Hopefully better than Raccoons Are the Brightest People.
Wolf Totem- For some reason when I read the flyleaf on this book, it makes me think of Ordinary Wolves. I hope it's as good!

And I always drool over coffee-table type books about nature, so I grabbed all these. I really hope the reading is as good as the pictures look:
About pandas, orcas, alligators and crocs, lions, penguins, greylag geese and siberian tigers!

My only dismay was the condition of some of the books I found. True, most are library discards- only a few are clean, donated books. (They have tons of other stuff at the sales, too- old computers, office furniture, we brought home a standing kid's easel for my daughter). I'm used to buying ex-library books, so I don't mind the eyesore of library stamps or the task of removing the stickers. And many of the books aren't worn-out or broken, but in excellent condition (I'm guessing discarded because of low demand- just not popular). A lot of them had the library barcodes blacked out with fresh ink- that I can also deal with. But some had been deliberately damaged in order to remove the library labels. I found lots of hardbacks with gaping square holes cut out of the bottom of the spine and a back piece of the cover. This isn't too bad- you can just remove the dust jacket, after all. But there were some paperbacks with the stickers cut out of their covers, too! To me, that's just as bad as having the cover torn completely off- the book might as well go in the recycling bin. I don't mind a book on my shelves that has library stickers, or "discard" stamps or old card pockets inside- they're still perfectly readable and look nice on the shelf. But I can't imagine who would want to keep a book that had a hole in its skin like this:

Would you?

Mar 28, 2009

Letters From a Nut

by Ted L. Nancy

I sorely needed a break from Emma, so I breezed through this amusing little book. I don't usually read stuff that's strictly humor, and this is certainly like nothing I've ever encountered before. The author (I'm assuming he writes under a pseudonym) makes up letters pretending to be various wacky people in distress, or having odd requests, or wanting to make marketing suggestions- to huge corporations, famous people, large establishments, ritzy hotels, etc. The crazy thing is that then he mails them off- and more often than not, gets a response that tries seriously to deal with the customer service problem he presents- although I have to think many of the people who sat down to write him a reply were sniggering to themselves or scowling, and many are left unanswered, or get a flat refusal.

Some of Nancy's pretenses in Letters From a Nut? He saw a mannequin in a Nordstrom's window, thinks it looks just like his deceased neighbor, and wants to purchase it, to present to the bereaved family. He claims to have worked in a Florida hotel in 1960, where while cleaning a room he acquired Mickey Mantle's toenail clippings and now wants to send them to the National Baseball Hall of Fame Museum. He belongs to a nudity club and wants to attend an all-nude gambling tournament in Las Vegas. He is traveling to a resort and wants to bring his own vending machine (or ice-making machine, or stuffed easy chair, etc.) into his room. (All of these examples got replies). My favorite was the one about the ants. (You'll have to read the book.)

I have to admit some of the premises were rather lame, and a lot of them are repeated with only slight variations. But I read at least half of the letters out loud to my husband, and we laughed ourselves silly over it.

I read this book for the 9 for '09 Challenge. It's been on my bookshelf since around the time I was dating my husband- over four years ago. I won it at a game night with some church friends. I was tickled pink at having won a book- and my roommate at the time wanted to swap prizes with me- you won't even like that book! she protested. True, at the time I had no idea what it was, and maybe back then I wouldn't have appreciated the humor. But I'm glad to say that even though it took me a long time to get around to reading this book, I did like it.

Rating: 3/5          192 pages, 1997

More opinions at:

Mar 27, 2009

Non-Fiction Five Challenge

Okay, I know I used to dismiss challenges "I never do reading challenges!" because I hated feeling obligated to read a book that was boring or annoying me (which is what I'm going through right now with Emma, augh!) But I still have all these heaps of books in my bedroom, and I've just found two more challenges that look really cool. So.... I'm signing up for Trish's Non-Fiction Five! Here's the rules:

1.Read 5 non-fiction books during the months of May - September, 2009

2.Read at least one non-fiction book that is different from your other choices

3.If interested, sign up with the link to your NFF Challenge post

At first I was going to do five books about animals, and one different, but then I decided that's not really a challenge for me, since I already read tons of animal books. So here's my picks (off my shelf):

Ice Bound by Dr. Jerri Nielsen- I won this book in a givewaway from someone, but now I can't remember who it was. If you gave away this book on your blog (months and months ago) can you remind me?

Invincible by Vince Papale- This one's about a bartender who became an NFL football player at age 30. A tribute to my husband's love for football.

It's Not About the Bike by Lance Armstrong- I don't know much about Armstrong, but when I found this one at a library sale it looked interesting.

The Ra Expeditions by Thor Heyerdahl- I enjoyed reading Kon-Tiki so much, I ordered this one from Paperback Swap as soon as I could find it.

The Other End of the Leash by Patricia McConnell- This one has been on my TBR forever. I could never find a copy at the library or to swap for, but finally picked up one at a local surplus sale a few weeks ago. I was so thrilled!

Mar 26, 2009

Meme: Best Worst Book

from Booking Through Thursday, the flip side of last week's question:

What’s the best ‘worst’ book you’ve ever read — the one you like despite some negative reviews or features?

I can't really think of any books I've liked that got lots of bad reviews. I have plenty of favorites that seem to be kind of obscure or unpopular- like Call It Sleep, The Bone People, The Lute Player.... Oh, and I do still like The Clan of the Cave Bear (read it at least four or five times) even though it's sexist, the protagonist is practically a Neanderthal superwoman and a lot of the historical details are totally inaccurate. (The rest of the series was junk, though. I struggled through The Valley of Horses and quit a few chapters into The Mammoth Hunters. Too much sex, flat characters, pointless plots).

As for a book I really liked in spite of negative features, I still have admiration for Richard Monaco's books Parsival and The Grail War, even though I found a lot of the details distasteful, nothing admirable in the characters, and the storyline wandering to the point of confusion, there was just something about the descriptions and the writing that enthralled me. I continue to puzzle over those books and wonder what to do with them- I can't imagine reading them again, yet I can't quite bring myself to pull them off my shelf for good, either.

Mar 25, 2009

Making Things Grow Outdoors

by Thalassa Cruso

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Even though it is a bit outdated, the basic advice on plant care is very applicable. Thalassa Cruso writes from her own experience gardening in her yard, so the information has its limits, but as her New England climate is similar to mine and she discusses many of the things I am trying to improve in my own yard, I found it very helpful. True, I'm mostly enthusiastic about growing vegetables right now, and Cruso only addresses that in one of the final chapters of the book, but she's given me the encouragement I need to go ahead and try some new things. She discusses all the basics, from simple landscaping design (and when to call in the experts) to making your own compost and improving the soil, successfully overwintering flowering bulbs (to get more than one season's bloom out of them), lawn care, growing hedges, establishing shrub borders, controlling weeds, managing ground covers and the essentials of gardening tools and workspace. Although her growing experiments aren't as prevelant in this book as in To Everything There is a Season, she still shares many of her mistakes and failed attempts as well as innovative ways she managed plants. I appreciated that she talks about when to simply give up on a plant, make compromises in how perfect the yard looks compared to how much work it takes, and how to find positives in negative situations you can't control.

It was interesting to see some gardening culture she brought with her from England, and her comparisons of the two climates. I didn't know, for example, that English climate is perfect for grasses, so there it's easy to have a lush, immaculate lawn. I learned the difference between a sickle and a scythe (thought I doubt I'll ever have to use either one!) and that a flame gun can be effective in controlling weeds on driveways (this seems to me more dangerous than the power tools I fear to use!) Cruso is very conscientious about the dangers of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, so she has lots of other methods for getting healthy plants using safe and practical methods. Overall, I found Making Things Grow Outdoors to be an exellent resource, and the friendly style in which it is written makes it easy to absorb all the information.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 350 pages, 1971

More opinions at:
Perennial Passion

wondrous words

I found some new gardening terms this week from reading Making Things Grow Outdoors:

Tilth: "This, by the way, is what the experts mean when they tell us to keep the soil rich and in good tilth."
Tilth is the rough texture in soil

Spit, Humus: "If you have not found it [subsoil] by the time you have gone down two spits, the garden has an excellent depth of humus..."
S- the depth of a shovel blade
H- dark brown or black substance consisting of decayed animal and plant matter in soil

Crozier: "A whole generation of so-called gardeners are living in houses surrounded by land in which beans never uncurl like croziers from the soil..."
The curled end of a young frond, or a crook on the end of a bishop's staff

Visit the host of Wondrous Words Wednesday at Bermudaonion's Weblog.

Mar 24, 2009

Wolf Children and the Problem of Human Nature

by Lucien Malson

Another book I read about feral children several years ago. Wolf Children and the Problem of Human Nature examines numerous cases of "feral children" who for the most part were abandoned at a young age and left to fend for themselves in the wild before being discovered by someone and brought back into civilization. Unlike the other books I read which tried to determine if these children could have been raised by animals and picked apart which aspects of human behavior are learned or intuitive; this book focuses (more practically, I felt) on how the lack of social contact at such an early age affects the overall development of the child. In most cases it was pretty severe and almost irreversible. Most of the accounts were very brief with little details available; some editions of this book also include the entire text of The Wild Boy of Aveyron, as it is one of the more well-documented accounts. I expected this book to be very dry, technical reading, but was surprised to find that it felt more like reading an essay, and the writing style reminded me a lot of Konrad Lorenz.

Rating: 3/5                          179 pages, 1972


Announcing the winners of my Mary Higgins Clark giveaway:

Debs Desk won No Place Like Home

MOMFOREVERANDEVER won Let Me Call You Sweetheart

Happy readers, send me you address and I'll mail out your books!

Mar 23, 2009

mailbox monday

Two books came to me this week, both from Book Mooch (maybe I should make Mailbox Mondays a biweekly event, that might be more exciting). I found a new copy of Kon-Tiki to replace my old stinky one (the one I read was actually a borrow paperback copy), and got another book Heyerdahl wrote about his experiences living on the Polynesian Islands before he made his famous raft trip, Fatu-Hiva: Back to Nature. I'm really eager to read this one!

Visit The Printed Page to see what came in everyone else's mailbox!

* Update at 5:30 pm: I just got one more, by the same author! The Ra Expeditions, in which Heyerdahl attempted to sail from Egypt to Easter Island on a raft made out of reeds. More adventures on the seas.

Mar 21, 2009

Raccoons Are the Brightest People

by Sterling North

I always liked Rascal, which I read at a young age, so when I found this book at the local library as an adult, I picked it up with avid curiosity. In Raccoons Are the Brightest People, Sterling North describes the local wildlife that visited his backyard, his observations of and interactions with them. Most of the photos in the book are of raccoons, but he also talks about deer, foxes, birds, and other animals. While I enjoyed reading about his personal experiences with wildlife, I was actually disappointed at how much of the book contained material by other people. North said very little himself about raccoons in this book, but shared dozens of anecdotes and observations made by others. I felt like the voices of others overshadowed North's own, and it really lessened the value of this reading experience for me. If he'd left out the stories gathered from his friends and acquaintances, his own words would have barely been enough to add a chapter or two onto the end of Rascal. At least, that was my impression.

I find it curious that the title font on the cover of this book is a near match for that on My Beaver Colony. It must have been a popular look in the sixties. Or the books had the same designer... Anyway, this guy really did love raccoons.

Rating: 2/5         192 pages, 1996

Anyone else written about this book? I'll add your link.

Mar 20, 2009


a retelling of the story of Beauty and the Beast
by Robin McKinley

Beauty is the first McKinley book I ever read, way back when I was about fourteen. And I fell in love with it. I can't count how many times I read it over again. I think I was first intrigued by how incongruous the title and the girl pictured on the cover of my old paperback (shown here) seemed- she's just so homely. Even one of my school friends remarked: wow, that girl's ugly (in a totally dismissive voice). By that point I was so enthralled by the book I felt indignant at her judgment of it by its cover!

It's quickly explained in the story that Beauty's given name is actually Honour, but when she learned at five years old what it meant, she said "Huh, I'd rather be Beauty!" and the nickname stuck. Compared to her two pretty, graceful sisters, Beauty was the tomboy of the family. She preferred working with her hands, loved studying books, and faced everything with a very down-to-earth attitude. So when her father lost his fortune and the family had to move from the city to a humble little village, Beauty tried to see the adventure in it all. Far from being intimidated by the dark forest their house butted up against, rumored to harbor an enchanted castle and a ferocious beast, Beauty was curious. When her father (as the familiar fairy tale goes) became lost in the forest and enraged the beast, Beauty offered herself up and went to live in the magic castle. The mysterious enchantments of the castle and Beauty's reactions to them are so well-described in this book. Floating candlesticks, dishes that serve themselves, self-pruning roses, and a library full of books from the future! At first, of course, she is frightened, but gradually she becomes bolder and grows used to the strangeness of her surroundings and even the fearsome Beast himself. I loved how she asserted herself, arguing with the invisible servants and trying to accustom her terrified horse to the Beast's presence. The love story here unfolds very gradually, Beauty and her Beast slowly growing more and more comfortable with each other until they find they are good friends, and perhaps something more. I also liked that the good first third of the book is about her family, how they face their initial hardships and settle into their new surroundings. It established the characters as very real people; and I was glad that her family members reappeared later in the story. The final scene was a grand confusion, but I didn't mind much.

I thought of this book today because my four-year-old was watching the Disney version. My husband was unfamiliar with the fairy tale when he first watched the film with her, and I remember him asking me afterward: but at what point did Beauty fall in love with the Beast? He couldn't pinpoint it. We talked for a bit about his gradual transformation into a more well-behaved, friendly persona, but then I looked at him sideways and said "I know the moment when she fell in love with him."
"It was when he gave her the library."
"Ah! Don't tell me that!"
And what a library it was. I think my dream library looks like the one in the Beast's castle.

Rating: 5/5 ........ 247 pages, 1978

More opinions at:
Bean Bag Books
Things Mean A Lot
An Adventure in Reading
Rhinoa's Ramblings
Book Clutter

Mar 19, 2009

Meme: Worst Best Book

From Booking Through Thursday, suggested by Janet:

What’s the worst ‘best’ book you’ve ever read — the one everyone says is so great, but you can’t figure out why?

Well, if we're talking about classics, two jump right to mind: The Great Gatsby- I couldn't stand that one. And Madame Bovary, it just felt so tedious and the characters unlikeable. But I didn't finish either one of those, so I don't know if they really count.

Of the more popular titles, I really didn't like My Sister's Keeper (or anything Picoult) but that's no news here. I didn't care much for Cat's Eye, though I can see why others loved it. And although I recognize that Truman Capote is a great author, I fail to appreciate his stuff. Most recently, I was pretty disappointed in Chalice, and a lot of other blogs rave about that one, too.

Wow, I didn't expect to think of so many. I guess just like it's hard to think of the one all-time favorite book, it's hard to pick out the worst one, too!

Mar 18, 2009


by Robin McKinley

In a land where magic is commonplace, the natural setting- land, plants, animals, even the weather- is sentient and responds to the people who live in it. Among the ruling body, Chalice is a woman who influences the entire domain through her rituals, incantations and potions stirred into special goblets and presented at ceremonies. Her role is to spread peace, calm and wellbeing through the land, and most importantly, to bind the land and its people together.

The Chalice usually works her magic through a particular liquid medium: water, wine, milk, etc. Mirasol is the first Chalice whose medium is honey. She was living modestly as a beekeeper when unexpectedly chosen as the new Chalice. Mirasol never went through an apprenticeship, so she has to learn everything on her own. What makes her task even more difficult is that the land has been in turmoil for seven years, the ruling body is full of unrest, and the new Master of the land is himself terribly unfit, being called back suddenly from his initiations into priesthood- of Fire. Fire which has become a part of his body so that he is no longer quite human, and strikes fear in all the those around him....

Chalice has probably the most original premise of any fantasy story I've read. The mythology, history and very fabric of the land is pretty complex, and its structure unfolds slowly piece by piece throughout the story. It is one stiff with formal traditions and politics, only slightly sweetened by the presence of honey. I am sorry to say I did not like this book very much. There's very little conversation, and most of the narrative has a musing, inward-looking tone which worked okay for me in Dragonhaven but here was tedious and dull. I did not care much about the characters, and the love story was too subtle to be very interesting. I wish there had been more details about the beekeeping, and I felt frustrated that no explanation was given for the Master's final transformation. Disappointing. My reaction, however, is in the minority, so do visit some of other blogs listed below.

I read this book for the 9 for '09 Challenge. It was for the category of a Free Book; I won it from a giveaway on Presenting Lenore. Thanks, Lenore!

Rating: 2/5          261 pages, 2008

More opinions at:
Sun and Shield                          Librarian DOA
Writing and Ruminating           Krystel's Book Blog
The Book Drop                         Bluecat Books
Jenny's Books                           Em's Bookshelf
Book Nut                                  Deep Thought
Books and Other Thoughts

wondrous words

My wondrous words of the week come from three different books. These new words I found while reading Kon-Tiki:

Cachalot- Use: "Most often they were small porpoises and toothed whales which gamboled about us in large schools on the surface of the water, but now and then there were big cachalots, too..."
Definition: a sperm whale

Spurious- Use: "On this little sailing trip up to the spurious reef we had learned quite a lot about the effectiveness of the centerboards..."
Definition: not genuine; false, invalid or lacking in authenticity

Anemometer- Use:"Herman was out all the time with his anemometer measuring the squalls of gale force..."
Definition: an instrument that measures the force and speed of wind

Polyps- Use: "But this group of islands is also known as the Low or Dangerous Archipelago, because the whole formation has been built up entirely by coral polyps and consists of treacherous submerged reefs..."
Definition: a small sea creature with a hollow cylindrical body and a ring of tentacles around the mouth

Do you know what's crazy about this word? I keep a dream diary. In one years back, I dreamt I was in a long dark room full of saltwater aquariums, and tiny marine creatures were escaping and floating in the air. I was trying to catch them, yelling about "the polyps!" But when I woke up I thought: what the heck is a polyp? I must have met the word before, as I could draw it from the dream (something like this), but consciously I had no idea what it was. (If I can find my old drawing, I'll share it with you.)

Copra- Use: "Teka had gradually acquired the supreme position because he could speak French and count and write, so that the village was not cheated when the schooner came from Tahiti to fetch copra."
Definition: dried coconut flesh

These words I came across in The Sheep Dog:

Scour: Use- "Some milk is good, but too much will cause scour."
Definition: diarrhea in livestock

Mollycoddle: Use- "We don't want to encourage mollycoddling, but we do want to give the pups a chance."
Definition: to be overprotective and indulgent

Wether: Use- "... going so fleet of foot as would outstrip a four-year-old mountain wether."
Definition: a castrated ram

Tup: Use- "A 'clean gather' must be achieved... otherwise some ewes will be missing when the tups go out, and their year's production will be lost."
Definition: a male sheep

Raddle: Use- "... the tups are caught to be fed, and raddled with bright color on their chests to mark the ewes."
Definition: to mark sheep for identification

Speaned: Use- "At this stage some of the lambs may be speaned, and the process of taking the lambs off the ewes causes some of the hardest work of the dog's year."
Definition: to wean

And these words I read in Chalice:

Demesne: Use- "... nearly the entire citizenry of the demesne seemed to have found an excuse to be somewhere in or near the House..."
Definition: realm, domain, estate or landed property

Suborn: Use- "The rods could not lie nor be suborned."
Definition: to bribe or incite (a person) to commit a wrongful act

Crabbed: Use- "...while she was urgently reading all the crabbed and fusty old records she could lay her hands on..."
Definition: difficult to read or understand

Tisane: Use- "If you're going to offer me something to drink, Mirasol, tisane would be nice, but your mead would be better."
Definition: a drink made of leaves, herbs or flowers

Sennight: Use- "Could you say to yourself, 'Yes, here is a break- a roughness, a troubling- that was not here a sennight ago'?"
Definition: a week

Perforce, Volatile: Use- "Last minute changes were destabilising, which was why battlefield cups, which were perforce rare, were also notoriously volatile."
P definition: by necessity, forced by circumstances
V definition: inconstant, fickle; easily evaporating, fleeting

Orotund: Use- "The Grand Seneschal managed to insert an orotund phrase or two..."
Definition: pompous, bombastic; or full of sound

Stooker: Use- "And once, as Mirasol skirted along a freshly cut field, she saw the late stookers lifting and tossing their sheaves."
Definition: one who sets up sheaves of grain in the field

Eligary: Use- "Before the Master had been sent to Fire by his brother, he would have been trained to use a sword, an eligary and a bow..."
I could not find a definition for this word. I'm assuming it's some kind of weapon. Does anyone know it?

Visit Wondrous Words Wednesdays for more newly discovered words!

Mar 17, 2009

Book Giveaway!

Win Two Free Books!Any Mary Higgins Clark fans out there? I'm giving away two of her books, a hardback copy of Let Me Call You Sweetheart and a paperback of No Place Like Home. These books have been loved before, and show some reading wear. You can enter to win one or both of them, just let me know your preference. Leave a comment to enter; blog about this on your site and link back here for an extra chance. Names will be drawn from a hat next tuesday, 3/24. Sorry, only open US residents this time.

A Sending of Dragons

by Jane Yolen

The third in Jane Yolen's Pit Dragon series, this book continues where Heart's Blood left off. Jakkin and his girl Akki are living as fugitives in the mountains, their only company a fast-growing, half-wild brood of young dragons- the offspring of Jakkin's first dragon. They've undergone a transformation that gave them with some of the dragon's powers- including the ability to withstand the desert night's below-freezing temperatures, and to communicate telepathically. But then they encounter a strange, primitive tribe of people who live deep in the mountain caves- and who have also discovered the changes dragons can make in human minds and bodies. These people have lived for generations without speaking, using mental telepathy to bind themselves together. Their society is full of rituals and dark secrets. Jakkin and Akki reluctantly get drawn into their world, finding it hard to resist because on the one hand, they want to rescue the dragons which are being ritually sacrificed by the mountain people, and on the other, they are susceptible to the primitive society's powerful mind-control. If anything, the storyline in A Sending of Dragons is more suspenseful than the previous two books, and it delves even deeper into the exploration of self, and moral questions about how people use dragons on Austar IV.

Thinking about it now, I find it interesting that this series looks so closely at how a society uses its animals- in the first two books, Jakkin didn't like that the dragons were raised for their meat and hides, but had no qualms about fighting them in the betting pits. In this third book, he encounters a society that sacrifices the dragons, but also honors and reveres them. I think if Jakkin had his own way, all the dragons would live wild, free of human control- but then people would barely be able to survive on the forbidding world of Austar IV.

I also couldn't help comparing this series in my mind to Clare Bell's Ratha books. In both series, the main characters encounter another society that is based on group thinking, and have to deal with the threat this difference poses. And both are series I read when I was younger, and have just discovered their continuation as an adult. I was excited to read in a wiki article that Yolen has written a fourth book about the Pit Dragons, called Dragon's Heart, which will be released in May this year. I can't wait to read it!

Rating: 4/5 ........ 312 pages, 1987

More opinions at:
First Blog
Nicole's Book Corner

Mar 16, 2009

The Sheep Dog

its Work and Training
by Tim Longton and Edward Hart

This informative little book is all about border collies. After reading Nop's Trials, The Dogs of Bedlam Farm and Dogs: A New Understanding, I was even more curious about this breed. The Sheep Dog was written by a man who worked sheep in the Lancashire hills and raised and trained his own dogs, always having at least a dozen on the farm. He describes what makes a good sheep dog, how to choose one from a litter, how the young dogs should be raised, and details of their training (fascinating, and very involved!) Longton also explains the workings of sheep dog trials, questions some of the judging standards, and goes into obedience work trials, too. He gives some of the background and history of the International Sheep Dog Society. Midway through the book there is also a chapter describing a year's work for the average sheep dog; the different tasks and conditions they face as the seasons change, working with the sheep during lambing time, breeding, dipping, shearing, sorting for market, etc. One thing I really enjoyed about this book was the numerous little anecdotes about individual dogs, which showed just how much their personalities and abilities can vary. There is a helpful glossary in the back, as the book contains a lot of words particular to the region and occupation. One small flaw I found was that I came across an unfamiliar word in the text, and next to it in partenthesis "see Glossary" but when I turned to the back, this word wasn't included! It was easy to figure out from the context, though.

I read this book for the 9 for '09 Challenge. Almost halfway done!

Rating: 3/5                     124 pages, 1976

mailbox monday

Only one book came to me through the mail this past week:

Send in the Idiots
, by Kamran Nazeer, which I got from Book Mooch. What came through your mailbox this week?

Mar 14, 2009


by Thor Heyerdahl
translated by F.H. Lyon

Wow, this was a great book. It's been a while since I read something so enthralling, that caused continual verbal outbursts of amazement from my usual reading silence. Kon-Tiki is the story of an adventure Heyerdahl set upon to prove a point. In the 1940's this young Norwegian scholar came up with a theory that the South Sea Islands had been settled by peoples from Peru, who crossed the Pacific Ocean on balsawood rafts, traveling on the Humbolt Current. Heyerdahl could not get any scholars to read the papers he wrote summing up his theory, they thought it was so ridiculous. So to prove that it could have been possible, he decided to cross the ocean himself on a raft built in the same manner the indigenous people had used in pre-Columbian times. With five other men, he set out on a 4,300 mile journey across the empty ocean. While the raft itself had no modern fittings, being constructed entirely of natural materials like balsa wood, bamboo, palm leaves, and hemp rope, the crew carried lots of technical instruments in order to keep records, conduct experiments, and keep in touch with the mainland via radio. They were supplied with recently-developed equipment and provisions by the US Army (to test on the voyage) and each member of the crew had a particular speciality- one worked the radio, another was in charge of navigation, etc. They even experimented with two different diets- some of the men ate Army rations, others food the indigenous people would have carried- coconuts, sweet potatoes, etc- and they all supplemented this with fish caught at sea.

It was thrilling to read of their sea journey. The descriptions of their surroundings- the limitless horizon, the huge swells, the impressive weather- is vividly written. It was fascinating to read about the different things they learned by experience- like how to navigate by the stars, or how to steer the raft effectively (it had no motor power, and could not be halted en route). I was astonished to read about them drinking seawater, eating plankton, making ice, and creating a dangerous game of catching sharks (with bare hands) by the tail! And of course, I loved reading about the ocean life they encountered. In addition to whales and many kinds of fish, they saw large squid, giant whale shark, snake mackerel (never before seen live), octopus, flying fish and sea turtles. Many mysterious creatures came up to the surface at night, drawn by the lights on board. I was continually confused by references to dolphins, which here meant mahi-mahi, not the porpise-like mammal I kept picturing. They also had a parrot on board for some time, and his antics were amusing.

Lots of Polynesian culture and history is discussed in this book, and I was fascinated by the explanations of how those huge statues on Easter Island were raised. When the Kon-Tiki finally reached the South Sea Islands, the natives there went crazy with excitement seeing a craft just like those their ancestors had used. I felt a thrill at this recognition, just like the thrill I felt in reading Roots, when the author set foot in the village his great-great-whatever-grandfather had originally come from, and the villagers, upon hearing how his ancestry matched up with their own oral lineage, welcomed him as a long-lost family member, with joy. The tone and themes of this book also brought to my mind two others- Paddle to the Amazon by Don Starkell and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, by Jules Verne.

I read Kon-Tiki for the 9 for '09 Challenge. I did have to replace my first copy. Even after being sealed up with some deodorizing agents for over a week, the book still smelled offensive and I had to put it in the recycling bin. I don't think I've ever actually thrown away a book before, and felt shamed doing it! But worse would be to pass that copy on to someone else, and inflict the same discomfort on them, when reading it should be pure enjoyment.

Rating: 5/5                    240 pages, 1950

More opinions at:
All Manner of Thing
Books and Literature for Teens
Do you have one? Tell me, and I'll add your link here.

Mar 12, 2009

blog award

A few days ago I met a new book blogger, and received an award at the same time! Diane who writes Bibliophile by the Sea gave me the PROXIMIDADE award. Thank you so much, Diane! I followed this blog back through more than a dozen to Marie of A Day in My Life... Photos and More, where she credited the blogger who passed it to her, but there was no link so I couldn't follow it further. I found a lot of new blogs along the way- first many book blogs, then several knitting and sewing blogs, then a few general blogs. Here's the description of what the award means:

"This blog invests and believes in the PROXIMITY-nearness in space, time and relationships. These blogs are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in prizes or self-aggrandizement! Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers! Deliver this award to eight bloggers who must choose eight more and include this clever-written text into the body of their award."

I'd like to pass this award on to:
Bookfool of Bookfoolery and Babble
Leslie of Books 'N Border Collies
Wendy of Caribousmom
Trish of Hey Lady, Whatcha Readin'?
Natasha of Maw Books Blog
Chris of Stuff as Dreams Are Made On
Nymeth of Things Mean a Lot and
Susan of You Can Never Have Too Many Books

You are among the friendliest bloggers I know!

Mar 11, 2009

wondrous words

These new words (including some I've seen before, but was unsure of their exact meaning) came from Enslaved by Ducks:

Bovid- " 'I had no idea,' I marveled, still stricken by the bovid apparition."
Definition: Of the family Bovidae, which includes hoofed, hollow-horned ruminants such as cattle, sheep and goats (I had to look this one up because I thought bovine were just cattle. I didn't know it also meant sheep and goats)

Filbert- "His smorgasboard included Cheerios, freshly grated filberts, succulent garden peas, sweet corn sliced off the cob each morning, and an occasional dollop of pasta."
Definition: A hazelnut

Hokum- "I like to think that my decisions in life are guided by the rudder of common sense rather than blown willy-nilly by folkloric hokum and balderdash."
Definition: Something that is nonsense, untrue (balderdash has almost exactly the same meaning)

Sebum- "Weaver would land on my head and gleefully begin drilling for dander and sebum."
Definition: Oily substance secreted by the sebaceous glands, naturally lubricates your hair

Bromeliad, Docent- "Truly he belonged in the open sky or, at the very least, in a large aviary packed with palm trees, bromeliads and docents."
B- a type of tropical american plant with long, stiff leaves (including pineapples)
D- a tour guide (or professor)

Mesmer, Grommet, Phlogiston- "Here and there a flanged mesmer valve or grommeted phlogiston regulator emerged from the heaped earth like a Chichen Itzan artifact, but the body of the antique pump remained hidden."
M- Mesmer was an Austrian physician in the 1700's. I still don't know a mesmer valve is
G- an eyelet reinforced with metal or plastic
P- an imaginary element formerly once believed to be the substance of fire

And these words are from Kon-Tiki:

Mole- "I intentionally stopped the car a long way off and walked the whole length of the mole to stretch my legs thoroughly for the last time for no one knew how long."
Definition: a stone wall built in the sea as a breakwater

Dolphin-"...when a big flying fish thudded on board we used it as bait and at once pulled in two large dolphins weighing from twenty to thirty-five pounds each. This was food for several days."
Definition: a large, brightly colored marine game fish with a steep blunt forehead and a long continuous dorsal fin (also called dolphinfish or mahi-mahi)

Philologist- "... philologists have pointed out that on all the widely scattered South Sea islands the name of the sweet potato is kumara, and kumara is just what the sweet potato was called among the old Indians in Peru."
Definition: a classical scholar or student of the liberal arts

Pelagic- "And so the Kon-Tiki soon began to swarm with stowaways. They were small pelagic crabs."
Definition: of ocean waters, especially those far from land

Check out Wondrous Words Wednesdays on Bermudiaonion's weblog for more new vocab!

Mar 10, 2009

The Intelligence of Dogs

Canine Consciousness and Capabilities
by Stanley Coren

This book delves into the canine mind. It addresses such questions as: how smart are dogs? do different breeds vary in their level of intelligence? how do dogs manage to communicate with people so well, and understand our spoken commands? do they feel emotions the same way we do? can they remember the past, or anticipate future events? Coren breaks down dog smarts into three categories: instinctual intelligence, adaptive learning ability, and obedience work. There's a chapter of simple tests you can give your dog to assess his problem-solving abilities or IQ, discussion of the very specialized abilities different breeds have, an evaluation of which breeds perform certain tasks better (watchdog, guard dog, etc) and a list ranking 79 popular dog breeds by intelligence. Another author I read just before picking up this book criticized how Coren ranked the breeds, but I thought his explanations made good sense (and of course it's just a general guideline). I found particularly interesting the explanation of how dog breeds have evolved to be so specialized, and learned many interesting facts about dogs in history. For example, did you know that English sheepdogs were bred to have no tail because it exempted them from the tax of livestock, defined as "animals born with tails"? The one thing I didn't like about this book were the awkward drawings sprinkled throughout the text (my brain kept redrawing them and feeling annoyed). But the plates of engravings in the middle are quite lovely and more than make up for that. Alongside Dogs: A New Understanding by the Coppingers, The Intelligence of Dogs is wonderful, comprehensive reading about the mental abilities of our canine companions.

Rating: 4/5                      271 pages, 1994


I picked a name out of a hat this morning.
The winner of my bookmarks giveaway is:

Confuzzled Shannon of Confuzzled Books!

Congrats! I've sent the winner an email.
Come back next week for a new chance to win!

Mar 9, 2009

Gentle Birth Choices

by Barbara Harper

Here's another book I read back when I was pregnant. Gentle Birth Choices, written by an RN, is a fairly in-depth guide of alternatives to giving birth in a hospital. It starts off by giving a history of childbirth practices in America, particularly focusing on how it became the norm for women to give birth in hospitals, and explaining why some common preconceptions about hospital births are not necessarily true. Then Harper describes the history and roles of midwives, how birth can be a natural, non-medicated process, and goes into detail about giving birth in water. There's a section on the "mind-body" connection during childbirth, and some of the information here took me by surprise (like that some women find childbirth to be almost an erotic experience- this idea was very foreign to me!) The book wraps up with a section all about planning your birth, complete with suggested questions to ask a hospital, doctor or midwife in order to help you make decisions. Gentle Birth Choices feels well-researched, quoting from medical journals, research studies, national statistics, etc. It really made me think about what all the different options were, and can be a helpful resource in choosing how you and your child will experience birth. It's easy to read, informative, and illustrated with lovely photographs.

Rating: 4/5                      302 pages, 1994

More opinions at:
Birth at Home in Arizona
Do you have one to share? Let me know and I'll add your link.

Mar 8, 2009

Enslaved by Ducks

by Bob Tarte

After getting through the The Grail War I needed some lighter reading, so I opened Enslaved by Ducks and read it cover to cover again (the first time was a few years ago). This book tells the story of Bob Tarte and his wife Linda as they move from city to country and go from being naive first-time pet owners to part of an endlessly growing animal family. It started when they decided to get a small bunny. Binky turned out unfriendly, destructive and aggressive to other animals, but this did not dampen Linda's desire to have more pets (although it did spur them to do a bit more research on choosing them). Next they brought a canary into their household, a few cats and more rabbits. But the majority of their new friends were feathered- parakeets, a dove, parrots, ducks, geese, etc. At first the author was a very reluctant pet owner, but eventually the animals won him over (even though their behavior was often demanding and very annoying) and he spent endless hours caring for them, nursing them through illness, and trying to win over an African gray parrot who preferred his wife's company. Even when the Tartes decided they had enough animals and quit purchasing them, they could not refuse when a creature needed help, and took in parrots that needed homes, neglected turkeys, and orphaned starlings. Their amusing (and sad, at times) story of life with the birds showed me just how much personality a duck can have (I don't find birds as interesting as other animals). Sometimes I felt that the puns and self-deprecating humor were a bit too much, but overall it was an enjoyable read.

The author has a website where you can find more about his life with the animals, see photos of them, and read about his new book, Fowl Weather (which is now on my TBR!)

Rating: 3/5                   308 pages, 2003

More opinions at:
Bookfoolery and Babble
Stuff as Dreams Are Made On
My Life by the Book
Rockbooks Review

Mar 5, 2009

The Grail War

by Richard Monaco

This is the second book I've finished for the 9 for '09 Challenge. It fit in the category of a used book I bought. It's almost disappointing to say how relieved I was to finish it! I have the same ambiguous feelings about The Grail War as I did with Parsival- much of the book confuses or disgusts me, but at the same time something about the way Monaco crafts a sentence and brings alive the gritty details is very compelling. I could feel the thick mud sucking down the feet of people plodding across the countryside on poorly kept roads. I could feel the bitter wind and biting rain hammering down, and later the choking smoke and stink of burning villages laid waste by warfare. By the time I reached the book's end, its structure had finally become more clear to me. It is a tale set in the aftermath of King Arthur's death, the kingdom ravaged by war and chaos. Several of the key characters are seeking to lay hands on the grail- Parsival to find the thing he had once held and lost, the evil Clinschor (who reminded me of Darth Vader) to wield its power, and the wise peasant Broaditch drawn on by visions he doesn't quite understand, yet puts full faith in. The storyline also includes the wife of Broaditch and some other minor persons, and it jumps back and forth frequently between them all, even before closing a scene or chapter (which can really get annoying. It's like having commercial breaks in the middle of your book all the time, only instead of zoning out on products, you're suddenly wondering whose shoes you're standing in now, and what happened last time you were with this person, just a few pages back.) Parsival's character has grown more solemn. He tries to avoid senseless fighting, but hasn't at all lost his weakness for women. I found it a lot easier to sympathize with Broaditch; even though I failed to understand why he was compelled to go on his journey, at least his goal was fairly straightforward and his path easy to follow. Those of the other characters were a lot more convoluted and unclear.

Has anyone else read this book? I'd dearly love to hear your opinion, and perhaps some clarification.

Rating: 2/5                 319 pages, 1979

Mar 4, 2009

Heart's Blood

by Jane Yolen

In this sequel to Dragon's Blood, young Jakkin has reached his dream of owning his own dragon, and his freedom. But being a master is not exactly as he'd imagined. He often finds his new role awkward, especially in the strained relationship with one of his old friends and companions, who has become Jakkin's bondservant. Even though being a master gives him greater privileges, Jakkin still prefers to spend time working with his dragon rather than immersing himself in the seedier entertainments of the city. But when he learns that his girlfriend Akki, who he hasn't seen in a year, is mixed up with an underground rebel organization and could be in danger, Jakkin suddenly finds himself involved in a confusing world of politics and intrigue, and eventually on the run for his life. The plot of Heart's Blood gets a bit complex, and at first it was confusing for me (at a younger age) to follow. It was probably the first book I read that dealt with politics and kept me interested- because I could relate to the main character's perspective. At first he didn't care about political unrest, until he saw how changes in society would impact his personal life and those (people and dragons alike) he cared about. Then he could not help but get involved. A great story, set in a far-away world that is very believable. I find this book compelling every time I re-read it.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 352 pages, 1984

wondrous words

All of the new words I found this week came from The Grail War, which I am still trudging through (almost done!) You can visit Bermudiaonion's weblog to see what new words other readers have discovered.

Spang- "Prang saw Parsival move: a blur, a flying shadow, a flashing of steel, spangs, crunchings, screams, sighs, curses, men scattering and falling like rats before a striking cat."
Definition: To leap, cast, jerk or bang. It can also be an adverb meaning precisely, exactly.

Putative: "...he stayed and resisted and frustrated his putative master."
Definition: Inferred, or or accepted as true on inconclusive grounds (implying it wasn't his true master?)

Sardonic: "She shook her sardonic head."
Definition: Scornfully or cynically mocking

Nonce: " 'I care little for the nonce, whether it be demons or mooncalfs you follow.' "
Definition: The present or particular occasion

Laconically: " 'This is my command,' he said laconically. 'Who in hell asks?'"
Definition: Using few words, terse or concise

Vagary: "Because of a vagary in the air currents, the fog was thinner here."
Definition: An extravagant or erratic notion or action

Mar 3, 2009

bookmarks giveaway!

win three free christian bookmarks

This trio of laminated bookmarks goes to one lucky winner next tuesday 3/10! Just leave a comment here for an entry to win.

Mar 2, 2009

mailbox monday

This is my first time participating in Mailbox Mondays, hosted by Marcia of The Printed Page. Usually only one or two books a month come to me through the mail, not much to shout about. But this past week was something else!

I had a bunch of credits on Powell's, and at first thought I'd get lots of books from my wishlist. But to my (at first) dismay, they don't carry many of the titles I wanted. So I picked out a few, and got nicer editions than I would normally pay for. Check it out!

A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute- this is a book I remember always seeing on my mother's shelf, and I finally read it myself a few years back. Now I have my own copy!

Smoky the Cowhorse by Will James- I've been trying to find a copy of this book for a few years. It's the story of a wild mustang that gets caught by a cowboy and works on the range. The only hardback copy I could find at Powell's also happened to be a first edition one illustrated by the author.

Mary Shelly's Frankenstein illustrated by Bernie Wrightson- this is the most fabulous book I now own. Ever since I was introduced to Bernie Wrightson's work in art school, I've drooled over this edition. And I didn't realize it until the book was in my hands, but the cover is some kind of black velvety material. I'm keeping my old paperback copy, because this is one book that will stay treasured on the shelf and not get pulled out for ordinary reading wear!

And two more:

Inkspell by Cornelia Funke- I won this book from Heather at a giveaway on her blog Book Addiction. Thanks, Heather! Now I've really got to read Inkheart, so I can enjoy this one.

Making Things Grow Outdoors
by Thalassa Cruso- after reading To Everything There is a Season, I wanted more gardening books by this author, and found this one at Paperback Swap. Now as soon as it warms up, maybe I'll be ready to head outside and apply some of her tips to my own yard and garden (we just got dumped on by several inches of snow last night, after a week of warm weather that coaxed the crocuses out of the ground.)

What books have come through your mailbox lately?