May 29, 2009

blog awards!

While I was on hiatus, two awards came to this blog!
Jessica from The Curious Reader gave me the Lemonade Award, which is to be passed on to 10 blogs that show great attitude or gratitude (with the usual blog-award rules). I followed this award back to Missy's Book Nook, and I'm passing it on to:

Devourer of Books
The Book Lady's Blog
It's All About Books
Pages Turned
Book Addiction
Ex Libris
Jenny's Books
Books on the Brain
The Octogon

Caspette from the Narrative Causality gave me the Heartfelt Award, which goes to 9 blogs which make you feel comfy or warm inside. (I feel really silly admitting this, but I don't know how to upload a gif image to my blog, so the award isn't shown here. If someone can tell me how to do that, I'll edit to add it! It's really cute). It originated at The Book Resort. My Heartfelt Award nominees are:

Bookfoolery and Babble
Stephanie's Written Word
Books 'n Border Collies
Chain Reading
What KT Reads
Maggie Reads
Reading Reflections
Melody's Reading Corner
A Striped Armchair

May 28, 2009

Ice Bound

A Doctor's Incredible Battle for Survival at the South Pole
by Jerri Nielsen

Whew! It feels like I've been reading this book for a long time. And it's not a very lengthy book, I've just had lots of distractions this week. Way back in december I was intrigued by this book from reading two reviews on Hooser's Blook. I'm glad I finally got around to it. Ice Bound is the incredible story of a woman who worked at a South Pole research station for a season, serving as the only physician there for some forty people. Struggling through the aftermath of a bitter divorce, Nielsen saw a season "on the Ice" as a grand adventure, a challenge in her career, and a place to get away from everything. For eight months of the year, Antarctica is totally isolated, and totally dark. No light except from the moon, stars, and aurora borealis. Subzero temperatures- a hundred degrees below zero!- make it impossible for planes to land. No new supplies can be brought in, so they have to make do or do without- sometimes in ingenious ways. Something I didn't know about Antarctica is that the atmosphere is very thin there- so people often suffer from things like altitude sickness, and the long, dark winters cause mental strain as well. It takes a certain kind of person to live there- and to find such a hostile environment beautiful. (Maybe that's why I kept thinking of Annapurna as I was reading). Members of the station- from research scientists to mechanics and cooks- came to form a close community that Nielsen often described as being tribal. When a few months into winter she discovered a lump in her breast that could be terminal cancer, she found out just how solid her friends were, as she literally had to place her life in their hands- training her companions to help perform biopsies and administer chemotherapy, until at the end of winter a rescue plane could get through. A great survival story, full of fascinating information about what it's like to live in the coldest place on earth.

I read this book as part of the Non-Fiction Five Challenge.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 362 pages, 2001

More opinions at:
Rice on Ice

May 26, 2009


The name was drawn this morning. The winner of this booklet of bookmarks is Mari of MariReads. Congrats, Mari! Send your postal address to jeanenevarez AT gmail DOT com and I'll mail them off to you!

On other news, I feel I've really neglected this blog lately. What with the kitten, new garden, and other things, I've been rather busy and disorganized. I'm trying to get back to more reading and blogging, which I really enjoy, but probably at a slower pace. So for a while I might just be posting as I finish books (and I'm only halfway through Ice Bound, which is excellent!) and not doing very many memes or other extra kind of posts... Please don't feel neglected if I fail to comment as often on your blog, or respond personally to remarks left on mine. I'm still here, and will be back to full blogging strength when things at home lighten up!

May 22, 2009

wondrous words

I've been so out of it I missed posting for wondrous words on wednesday- so here are my finds, on a friday. Hope no one minds.

These new words are from Dolphin Chronicles:

Proprioceptive- "A dolphin might have a hard time conveying an accurate acoustic image he'd echolocated on if the other party didn't also have access to his proprioceptive information..."
Definition: the ability to sense the body's location, position and orientation

Antiphonal- "They often whistle in antiphonal fashion- when one whistles, another calls in response."
Definition: occurring or responding in turns

Vicissitude- "She'd suffered through the various vicissitudes of the project, all the waiting and all the uncertainties."
Definition: a change or variation

Prophylactic- "Forrest prescribed a prophylactic regimen of antibiotics for both Echo and Misha..."
Definition: acting to defend against or protect something

Anthropogenic- "Excluding the mad slasher, anthropogenic causes include fishing nets, pollution, and boats."
Definition: caused by humans

Seriatim- "Not all at once- they don't necessarily need to broadcast along the whole length of the bay- but seriatim."
Definition: one after another, in a series

These words are from Ice Bound:

Antipodal- "Other points of departure for the huge continent include Cape Town, South Africa; Punta Arenas, Chile; and a few other antipodal ports."
Definition: situated on opposite sides of the Earth

Austral- "But it was late in the austral summer, and almost everybody was already in place at the three US bases."
Definition: relating to or of the southern region of the globe

Ablate- "I had to surgically ablate the dead skin, cut below it to loosen and stretch it and repair the wound..."
Definition: to remove an organ or body structure

Sastrugi-"We were airborne, skimming the tops of sastrugi."
Definition: a long wavelike ridge of snow formed by wind

May 19, 2009

Bookmarks giveaway!

A little deviation from my normal blogging to introduce our new kitten! Adopted from the local humane society this last weekend- and our house has been very busy since. Having a small kitten reminds me a lot of having a baby in the house- but she's so cute and delightful. We call her Numa. It's hard for me to get a good photo of her because she's very quick- and blends in with our awful gray carpet. I've hardly had time to read, or blog- sorry if I don't respond to or leave as many comments as usual...

Next item: a giveaway! I was going to do a book this week, but then while gathering books at the local thrift shop found this little treasure. It's a small volume of removable bookmarks with bookish quotes on them. They're for putting in books you lend out- each one has two tags on the top, one to remind a borrower whose book it is, and the other to keep so you remember who you lent it to. Personally, I rarely loan out my books, but I thought someone else might like to have this. Sorry, two of the bookmarks have been used- but all the rest are free! To someone who leaves their name in the comments here- the winner will be drawn next tuesday, 5/26.

May 17, 2009

Dolphin Chronicles

by Carol Howard

Last night I finished this book. It's about an amazing project- two "teenage" male dolphins were caught from the wild near Florida, taken to California for some research- mostly on echolocation- and then released back into their home waters. Then for a year, follow-up studies were conducted to see how the dolphins readjusted to life in the wild, and for many years thereafter they were sighted on occasion. The two years the dolphins spent in captivity were full ones, and the author makes it clear how intense working with dolphins can be. She's honest about the dirty aspects of the job- handling raw fish all day, cleaning algae out of the pools- and the frustrations. Dolphin Chronicles describes all stages of the project- how the capture and transport to California was carried out, how the dolphins adjusted to life in captivity, how they were trained and their responses to humans, how the echolocation studies were done, some trials when one of the dolphins became ill, the difficulties involved in their release, the follow-up efforts, and conclusions summarizing what they learned about dolphins. Along the way there's lots of discussion about dolphin communication, and looking at how -via what we understand of their senses- they probably perceive things. While reading about the work with the dolphins was very interesting, the few final chapters about their behavior in the wild and their physiology and mental capacities really grabbed my attention. Did you know that dolphins don't dream? The two hemispheres of a dolphin's brain are so separate they each get their own blood supply- and when he rests, only half his brain goes to sleep at a time. They can't breathe without being conscious, so they don't have unconscious sleep like us. I've only read one or two books about dolphins before, so this one was full of new info for me about these fascinating animals.

I almost forgot to mention this is the second book I've read for the 2009 TBR Challenge. (The first one was Adventures of a Zoologist).

Rating: 3/5                304 pages

May 14, 2009

Meme: Book Glutton

from Booking Through Thursday:

Are your eyes bigger than your book belly? Do you have a habit of buying up books far quicker than you could possibly read them? Have you had to curb your book buying habits until you can catch up with yourself? Or are you a controlled buyer, only purchasing books when you have run out of things to read?

Of course I'm a book glutton! I simply can't resist. The last time I remember having actually read everything on my shelves was back in high school. Usually I have more books on hand than I can catch up to and still acquire more, somehow. Currently (if my Library Thing tags are up to date) I have about 125 books sitting in the bedroom that haven't been read yet. The only way I make any inroads on the piles is due to the fact that if a book just isn't interesting me, I have no qualms about clearing it off my shelf. So out of those 125, I probably won't like -and won't finish- maybe a third of them. And just yesterday I was thinking it's about time to go to that thrift store nearby where I can get thirty books for four dollars.... wouldn't you?

May 13, 2009

wondrous words

Here's the new words I found in my reading during the week:

From Adventures of a Zoologist:

Noncom- "... we watched through the windows as noncoms fried steaks on a grill among the snowdrifts."
Definition: a subordinate officer appointed from enlisted personnel

Otolith- "Students at Evergreen State College, on Puget Sound, are finding out what seals eat by examining fish otoliths in seal scats recovered from the beach."
Definition: a calcerous particle found in the inner ear; in bony fishes it forms a hard shape distinctive to each species

From Dolphin Chronicles:

Purview- "Even in a boat it's difficult to track dolphins at sea for any length of time, and then we generally see only the surface of their lives- most of their activity takes place under water, beyond our purview."
Definition: range of vision, comprehension, or experience

Necropsy- "They were about to perform a necropsy on Arrow, Jane said, and would let us know the results."
Definition: what an autopsy is called when performed on animals

Sobriquet- "So what better sobriquet than Mikhal Baryshnikov's nickname?"
Definition: an affectionate or humorous nickname (one of the dolphins was named Misha)

Gelid- "A true athlete- triathlete, actually- with the smoothly muscled physique of a competitive swimmer, she swam regularly in the gelid waters of Monterey Bay."
Definition: very cold, icy

Umbrage- "After some initial umbrage at the appellation, we decided to claim the title as our own: we were the dolphinettes, and proud of it."
U: feeling of anger, taking offense
Appellation: a name or title (see above usage)

For more wondrous words, visit the host of this meme at Bermudaonion's Weblog.

May 12, 2009


A name has been drawn.
The winner of my hummingbird bookmarks
is cpullum!
Congrats! Email me you address and I'll send them along.

May 11, 2009

Fast Food Nation

by Eric Schlosser

This is one of those books I find fascinating and disgusting at the same time. Schlosser digs out all kinds of facts and horror stories about what goes on in the making of fast food- everything from how the beef is processed to what goes on behind the scenes in fast food restaurants, and how -of course- corporate decisions are not in the best interest of consumers who end up putting the stuff into their stomachs. It's not just about burger joints either, but all kinds of processed foods, and how they have become so pervasive in American supermarkets. While the data information, stats and numbers could be a bit tedious for me, there's plenty of personal and collected anecdotes in here too. Fast Food Nation is a book that will make you think twice about getting a meal on the go- at least it did for me. Knowing at surface value that this kind of stuff isn't healthy for you is one thing, having specific nitty gritty dirty details about why is quite another.

Rating: 3/5                     270 pages, 2001

More opinions at:
Passion for the Page
Betty's Books

May 10, 2009

Adventures of a Zoologist

by Victor Scheffer

I finished reading this book yesterday. It's the first one off my list for the 2009 TBR Challenge. Adventures of a Zoologist is a memoir of Scheffer's work as a wildlife researcher, specializing in marine mammals. He graduated from the University of Washington in Seattle in the late 30's, and I was pretty excited at first to be reading a book set in the area I grew up in- his mention of the Pacific Northwest wildlife, climate, of Puget Sound islands, rocky beaches, hillsides of salal and wild blackberries- all felt familiar to me. Scheffer gives an overview of the various projects he was involved in during fifty years of his career, from being a ranger in Mount Rainier National Park, to counting seal populations on remote islands to teaching wildlife ecology in university classrooms. Most of his career was spent studying marine mammal populations, and it was very interesting to see how the attitude towards marine wildlife shifted during his time- when he began his work, fur seals were regarded as simply a resource, studied so they could know how many could be "harvested" for their skins without seriously decimating the population. Gradually people began to appreciate these animals for more than just commercial value, and by the time Scheffer was writing books and teaching in classrooms himself, marine mammals were first becoming protected. Sadly, I did not enjoy this book nearly as much as I wanted to. Much of it relates the author's work with other famous biologists, outlines different symposiums he attended, his involvement in treaties between nations regarding the use of marine wildlife resources, etc etc. Lots of names, dates and other data fill the pages which sound very important and significant, but are just not that interesting to the casual reader like myself. I found that I was skimming pages for the bits that talked about his direct work with animals. I do want to read more by this author- I think I would really enjoy his Year of the Whale or Year of the Seal. But by the end, this book was just really making me yawn.

Rating: 2/5 ........ 204 pages, 1980

May 7, 2009


by Neal Stephenson

I have given up on this book. It was the last one I was reading for the first reading challenge I've ever done, so I guess I've failed that, too. This was the chunkster of the list. It was a thrilling book to read at first- the language and descriptions are very rich, and each page has to really be savored. But the storyline was incredibly difficult for me to follow. It's set in the seventeenth century, and the main character is one Daniel Waterhouse, who works among a soceity of Natural Philosophers, making discoveries astonishing for their time, studying everything with vivid fervor and imagination (which sometimes takes them to grisly places) under the shadow of Isaac Newton. The problem I had was that the book is simply so heavy with gorgeous language it was hard to tell what the heck was going on. It didn't help either, that every other chapter jumped a decade or so, so two storylines were going on simultaneously (I always struggle some when a writer does this). I made it through 185 pages and then it just felt so tedious. I guess this kind of historical fiction is just not my thing. It's a fantastic piece of writing, and I love the way this author describes things, but I just can't follow along and it makes me tired. Too bad. Well, at least I tried. If anyone else has read Quicksilver and has a clearer picture on it, I'd love to hear what you made of it.

Abandoned                 927 pages, 2003

More opinions at:
Capacitor Fantastico

May 6, 2009

The Ra Expeditions

by Thor Heyerdahl

I finished reading The Ra Expeditions yesterday. Some twenty years after Kon-Tiki, Heyerdahl observed similarities in the ancient cultures of the Olmecs and the Egyptians, and surmised that a reed boat may have long ago crossed the Atlantic Ocean, carrying Egyptian ideas and technologies into South America decades before Columbus. So of course, he set out to prove it was a possibility. More so than Kon-Tiki, this book describes the long and tedious route Heyerdahl had to take to get the boat built, his many visits to remote lakes in Africa, his theories and comparisons of the ancient cultures. There's not much of the oceanic nature writing I enjoyed in Kon-Tiki, and the personality differences among the crew members (from seven different nations and only one of them a sailor!) causing frictions to arise under the stress of months spent on a small boat, was addressed a lot. I was continually astonished by things I read in this book. Papyrus reeds no longer grow in Egypt, so he had to travel to the source of the Nile to find them. He had to go to lake Chad to find people who still knew how to build reed boats (and there the local people live on floating reed islands!) The building crew copied designs meticulously from ancient paintings on the walls of Egyptian tombs, and failed to understand the significance of one rope on the boat, which caused the first Ra to start to fall apart before they made it across the ocean. He had a second boat built, properly this time, which sailed all the way in record time. Amazing. I didn't enjoy it quite as much as Kon-Tiki, but still thrilled to read the account. I can't believe people would do this sort of thing- sail across an ocean on a boat made of reeds! that started to fall apart on them! attacked by portuguese man-of-war (whose paralyzing affect they cured with fresh urine)! and more.

I read this one for the Non-Fiction Five Challenge

Rating: 4/5                    341 pages, 1970

wondrous words

The bulk of these words, again, are from Quicksilver.

Scrivener- "That is his money-scrivener."
Definition: a professional copyist or scribe

Moiety- "The Admirality.... or some moiety or faction thereof."
Definition: a small portion or share

Claque- "But the sect was shattered into a thousand claques and cabals."
Claque: a group of fawning admirers
Cabal: a conspiring group of plotters

Cochineal- "Daniel and Charles and Hooke had been making them for some weeks out of yard-long glass tubes, filled with spirits of wine, dyed with cochineal."
Definition: a vivid red dye made from an insect

Ricercar- "...they were taught to play a little lute and dance a passable ricercar."
Definition: a musical form of the 16th century

Turpitude- "Not that anyone would pay any notice, anyway, if the son of Drake were to level an accusation of moral turpitude against the Duke of York."
Definition: depravity

Obloquy- "... no one would hear them above the roar of obloquy."
Definition: abusive language or blame

Limn- "Now as the day went on and it sank toward the horizon, it turned orange and then red, and began to limn vast billows and towers of smoke..."(describing the sun sinking, in a haze from fire)
Definition: to depict in a painting or drawing

Theophany- "Like a theophany of the Old Testament."
Definition: divine manifestation

Corsair- "John Churchill was one of the few courtiers who actually did things like go to Barbaray and go mano a mano with heathen corsairs..."
Definition: a pirate, a swift pirate ship

Argent- "Once he'd focused on that, a couple of tiny adjustments brought Isaac's waterfall of ardent hair into view..."
Definition: silver colored

These two from The Ra Expeditions:

Hermetically- "Archeologists had recently discovered that a large ship lay buried on each side of this large pyramid; four ships in all were lying there, hermetically preserved."
Definition: sealed to prevent air from entering, or escaping

Tricorne- "The papyrus reed was six to eight feet long and about two inches thick at the root, with a tricorne-shaped cross section.
Definition: having three corners

Visit the host of wondrous words wednesdays at Bermudaonion's Weblog.

May 5, 2009

bookmarks giveaway!

win free hummingbird bookmarks!

Time for another giveaway! I've got these two hummingbird bookmarks ready to keep place between your pages. Just leave a comment to enter, and on next tuesday 5/12 I'll pick the winner out of a hat.

They're double sided. The back has flowers:

Note: my cat has been sleeping in the box of bookmarks. If you have severe cat allergies, you might not want to enter- sorry!

May 4, 2009

The Handmaid's Tale

by Margaret Atwood

I don't think I can say much about this book that hasn't already been said (see a small sampling below), and I read it several years ago, so the details aren't clear. But the chilling feeling the book gave me was. The Handmaid's Tale, like 1984, is set in a frightening version of the future, in a society totally constricted by government -and religious- control. Some catastrophe has caused fewer and fewer children to be born, until women are pretty much only valued for their childbearing ability- and used as objects to that purpose. They have no rights. Their manner of dress, who they speak to, where they go- all is restricted. The protagonist, Offred, is one of the "handmaids" kept to bear children- and as she slowly unfolds her story, we learn more and more exactly what that role entails. Probably one of the most depressing things about the story is that Offred can remember what life was like before- she used to have a family, a job, live in a society we could recognize. Comparing her current situation to how she remembers life used to be, Offred observes how quickly everyone's perceptions - even her own- have changed to fall in line with the prevailing brainwashing. She tries to find little ways to keep her spirits up and assert her personality without bringing undue attention to herself -that would be dangerous- but it's a stark life, a depressing existence, with no happy ending.

The only other book I've read by Atwood, Cat's Eye, didn't really touch me strongly, but Handmaid's Tale is a compelling, horrifyingly fascinating book. I really ought to try more by this author.

Rating: 4/5......... 350 pages, 1985

More opinions at:
Read Warbler
The Curious Reader
Melody's Reading Corner
Passion for the Page
Things Mean a Lot
Under the Dresser
Reading Reflections
Jenny's Books
BlackSheep Books

May 3, 2009

Life in the Fat Lane

by Cherie Bennett

Laura is one of the most popular girls in school- pretty, smart and of course, thin. Then she begins to inexplicably gain weight- in spite of hard dieting and exercise. After an extra hundred pounds or so puts her in the hospital, the doctors discover she has a rare (and fictional) metabolic disorder which causes her to gain. Returning to school, Laura finds she's no longer popular, taunted or ignored by her former friends, and offered well-meaning (but insulting, she feels) dieting advice by other girls she hardly knows. She feels it's all grossly unfair since she didn't get fat due to bad eating habits or lack of will power, but from her illness- and continually whines and complains about her condition, while looking down her nose at other overweight people. She becomes friends with another girl who is also overweight, but continually sees herself as superior because her weight problem is medical, and the other girl's isn't. I felt annoyed with her that this attitude never changed. Life in the Fat Lane just winds up showing how despicably people treat (and think of) each other based on body image, and how shallow this one girl is- obsessed with her looks even after this experience. I read the book all the way to the end hoping to see her mature or learn something from it, but that didn't happen. The characters are pretty realistic, Laura's uneven home life and difficulties dealing with the changes in her social circle make it interesting nonetheless. While I found the main character annoying, I did enjoy the book, but I feel it doesn't send a very good message to teen girls with similar concerns who might read it.

Rating: 2/5 ........ 260 pages, 1998

More opinions at:
Reading Log
Christine's Review Blog

May 1, 2009

Vertical Burn

Earl Emerson

Set in my hometown (Seattle), Vertical Burn is an intense story about John Finney, a firefighter who while fighting a blaze in a warehouse, leaves his partner behind and returns for help, giving directions to his partner's location. But he isn't reached in time- and the blame is laid on Finney. In the aftermath of the fire and his partner's death, Finney finds himself suspect and his reputation at stake- yet he is convinced that the fire was set by an arson, a conspiracy is going on among his fellow firefighters, and he's being framed. This book reads like a movie: action, suspense, a misunderstood main character, love story and plenty of intrigue. The characters are kind of flat and the plot feels predictable in places- but what really got me hooked on this story was the details of the life and work of firefighters. Descriptions of their experiences inside burning buildings make you feel the thick choking smoke, the weight of equipment, the exhaustion and heat. The technical aspects of the job- how they determine where fires began, what caused them, how to stop them, all the work involved- is so interesting it sustained my interest when the story faltered. An engaging read. (It wasn't until after I finished this book that I discovered it's part of a series- and the author is a firefighter chief himself -thus the excellent technical details).

Rating: 3/5                   340 pages, 2002

More opinions at:
everyday wonder