Mar 31, 2010

Wild Horse Running

by Sam Savitt

I picked this book up (from a thrift shop) because of the illustrations. I recognized the lively, sketchy style immediately and wondered if it was the same illustrator who had made drawings for an old childhood favorite of mine, Summer Pony by Jean Slaughter Doty. So I brought it home. It was. In this case, the illustrator is also the author. After finishing The World According to Horses, I was in the mood to read another horsey book, and this was it.

Wild Horse Running is the story of a gray mustang stallion. Like a lot of other horse books I read as a kid, it starts out with the horse being born free on the range, growing up learning how to survive the elements and avoid predators. But when man comes along, there is no escape. Our gray hero, Cloud, is eventually captured and because he fights so hard, becomes a rodeo horse. A thunderstorm helps him escape the rodeo and he runs back to the range, only to be caught again, this time by a rancher's son who finds him injured on the ground after being chased by helicopters. This time Cloud is easily tamed by the boy, as he can't fight while injured, and is already used to rope and halter from being in the rodeos. But he still longs for his freedom...

I couldn't help noticing elements that were really similar in this book to other horse stories I've read. The wild horse gentling after being cared for while injured and sick brought back scenes from My Friend Flicka. The simple storyline showing a wild horse growing up, being captured, and always wanting his freedom again was very like Buck, Wild. And the rodeo elements reminded me a lot of parts of When the Legends Die. This book wasn't quite as well-written as any of those, but I still enjoyed it as a quick read. I also appreciated the historical elements; parts of the story address how wild horses in the Pryor Mountains were being rounded up and auctioned off to dog-food factories, until people rallied to save them.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 126 pages, 1973

Mar 30, 2010

The World According to Horses

How They Run, See and Think
by Stephen Budisansky

When I reserved this book at the library, I didn't realize it was a juvenile version of Budiansky's other book, The Nature of Horses. Still, I had it in hand while kiddo was involved in a library activity, so I started to read. It was pretty interesting, and well-written (not "dumbed down"). And it's been long enough since I read The Nature of Horses that the information in The World According to Horses felt fresh and new again. The book describes different aspects of horse behavior, biology and evolutionary history, answering the why's and how's. At the end of each chapter there's also a segment explaining methods the scientists used to answer their questions, which is just as interesting, and a final chapter brings up more questions that science hasn't answered yet, while encouraging young readers in the pursuit of scientific inquiry. Some of the things addressed in the book are how horses changed the course of human history when they were domesticated, how the natural social bonding between horses makes it easy for people to interact with them, the intelligence of horses, their communication methods, how their vision is different from ours, and why their physical conformation makes them good endurance runners. Any young reader interested in horses is sure to enjoy this book.

Rating: 3/5 ......... 101 pages, 2000

Anyone else read it? I'll add your link here.

Mar 29, 2010

Other People's Dirt

A Housecleaner's Curious Adventures
by Louise Rafkin

When she was a kid, Rafkin dreamed of being a spy for the CIA. As an adult, she got a degree in journalism, but ended up more often employed at something she had a natural knack for: cleaning houses. She turned it into a specialty, cleaning homes for a string of rich clientele. This book wraps it all together- her penchant for cleaning, her skills as a writer, and her inclination to snoop through stuff and figure out stories about her clients' lives. Other People's Dirt is the full scoop on housecleaners. What her pet peeves are, her favorite cleaning products, her critique of vacuum cleaner models. What she's learned on the job, and her forays into the lives of other kinds of housecleaners: agencies that employ teams of maids (usually poorly paid in the end), services that provide housecleaners who mostly pretend to dust and scrub while scantily clad, even a spiritual group in Japan that cleans toilets as a form of humble service. At one point she seeks out the woman who used to clean her own house when she was a kid, but communication is nil (her mom's housecleaner never learned English) and she doesn't get the revelations or make the bond she was seeking. This book reminded me a lot of Nickel and Dimed, and the breezy tone similar to that in Confessions of a Slacker Mom. At first I was enjoying it a lot, but then got annoyed at the times Rafkin would hint at some secret she knew about her employers, then refuse to tell. Or this blatant typo: "my need to tow the politically correct line" (it should be part of your foot, not a method of hauling)- usually I can gloss right over errors and ignore them but in a short book, it leaps right out and irritates me. And the final chapter, about her time in Japan, just became confusing. So in the end the story kind of fizzled, but I did like it most of the way through.

Rating: 3/5 ......... 195 pages, 1998

Mar 26, 2010

The Dogs Who Came to Stay

by George Pitcher

Two middle-aged men, university professors and housemates, found a pregnant stray dog hiding under their backyard toolshed. Although they didn't want the responsibility of pets, they didn't have the heart to oust the dog, and let her stay. She was feral and unapproachable, but eventually they managed to gain her trust and took in the mother dog and one of her puppies (the rest were found new homes). The dogs became an inseparable part of their lives, changing them forever. The Dogs Who Came to Stay is a heartwarming true story; alternately humorous and sad, and deeply emotional. Following the slowly unfolding relationship between the men and their dogs, from the first overtures of trust, to travels together, and tending them in their old age, makes an engaging read. Photographs and drawings illustrate the story nicely.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 176 pages, 1995

Mar 25, 2010

Growing and Displaying Bonsai

A Step-by-Step Guide
by Colin Lewis and Neil Sutherland

This is an excellent book. The pictures are stunning, the text is easy to understand and well-written in a conversational way, not just simply informative. It covers the art and design of bonsai, techniques and methods used to shape the trees, their care, feeding and health. But there's far more than that. Growing and Displaying Bonsai also tells the reader what the function is of each part of the plant, so you know exactly what effect you're having on it when you trim and prune, and understand why certain tasks must be done in certain seasons. There's also information on how to set up a display, pick out good trees from a nursery, and grow your own stock. I especially appreciated all the extra tips, like how to make do with what you have already on hand until you can afford specialized bonsai tools, how to redesign a plant you're dissatisfied with, or even when to give up and start over. Aside from their beauty, the pictures are particularly useful because they show each stage of a bonsai's training, and often plants showed at a very early stage are pictured later in the book, after several years' development (the author stresses keeping a yearly photographic record of your plants!)

I read it for the Random Reading challenge ( gave me #68 off my TBR shelf) but it was a perfect book for right now- I've been messing around with my rather pathetic little bonsai plants without any guidance and needed to just sit down and read a book already!

Rating: 5/5 ........ 124 pages, 1993

Mar 24, 2010


Back to Nature
by Thor Heyerdahl

This is just as wonderful as the other two Heyerdahl books I've read. It's about the year he spent on a remote island in the Marquesas, as a young man. With his new wife Liv, Thor wanted to escape modern civilization and see if he could live purely as a part of nature- no modern conveniences, little clothing, eating off the land, etc. For a while they found paradise on Fatu-Hiva where the local natives allowed them to live on a plot of land in the jungle that used to be the cultivated garden of an island king. At first their time on the island was blissful, they reveled in the natural beauty and fresh fruit, collected specimens of local insects and archeological finds for Thor's studies back home and learned about the island's cultural history from the locals. More and more Thor became convinced that the islands had been first populated by seafaring people from Peru, a theory he later tested (described in the other books).

But the blissful period did not last long. Bugs ate the very structure of their house, mosquitoes drove them crazy, and when the rainy season came sores in their legs got infected and threatened never to heal. They had to escape to a nearby island where a doctor lived to get treatment, but determined to come back. Their second stay on the island was shorter; misunderstandings with the locals plus their dread of communicable diseases rampant in the village (elephantiasis and leprosy) drove them to try living in the highlands (where there was little food) then later to cross the island to the sparsely populated east side, where they lived with an old man, the last surviving cannibal (fascinating chapter!) Eventually things went wrong there, too, and they ended up staying on a small isolated beach in a cave while waiting for a ship to pick them up off the island for good.

Fatu-Hiva: Back to Nature is full of adventure, musings on the nature of man, descriptions of the island's wild beauty, speculations into the origins of its inhabitants, and thoughts on environmental issues. One of the most sobering chapters is about an island called Motane (now known as Mohotani) they visited, which had once been full of jungle but after man brought goats and then abandoned the island, the introduced animals so overran the land that they destroyed the habitat and it was reduced to bare rock, withered scrub, and starving goats. In the end, the Heyerdahls realized they could not live apart from civilization, and the fire was sparked to set Thor on his next set of adventures. Wonderful read.

More opinions at:
Riverbend Journal
anyone else?

Rating: 4/5 ........ 276 pages, 1974

Mar 21, 2010


Janet at Across the Page gave my blog the Honest Scrap award. Thanks so much, Janet! So now I'm supposed to share ten honest facts about myself, and then pass it on.

Let's see....

1. I don't like ironing. I get frustrated with it.
2. When I was a kid, I didn't like tomatoes. Now I do!
3. My favorite color is blue.
4. I wear socks to bed all winter.
5. I've given up painting for the time being. Gardening is more exciting!
6. The first nightmare I ever remember having- when I was a kid- featuring a Care Bear recklessly driving a car I was in. I think he flipped it on a curve.
7. My hands are usually cold.
8. I find politics really really boring.
9. I'm not a very good house-cleaner. I get clutter out of the way, but things like dusting and washing windows tend to slide.
10. Up until last year, I'd never broken a bone. Busted my toe on a garden brick.

I know I'm supposed to pick ten bloggers to pass this on to, but I have a hard time choosing just a few out of the many, many I read. So if you're reading this and you'd like to participate, please join in! I'd like to hear some honest stuff about all of you.

Mar 18, 2010

bookmarks winners!

Forgot yesterday to do the drawing for fawn bookmarks, so here it is today! There were five entrants

1. Bermudaonion
2. Jenny
3. Lezlie
4. Sandy J.
5. Carolsnotebook

I asked to give me two numbers and they were 4 and 1

so the winners are

Sandy J. and Bermudaonion!

Happy readers, email me your address (jeanenevarez AT gmail DOT com) and I'll be sending a pink deer to mark you pages!

Mar 17, 2010

A Lion Called Christian

the True Story of the Remarkable Bond Between Two Friends and a Lion
by Antony Bourke and John Rendall

I first heard about Christian the lion when Jenny mentioned the YouTube video to me (in a comment), which I hadn't seen before. When I found the book at the public library, I snatched it up right away, and read through it avidly. A Lion Called Christian is the story of two Australian men visiting London who bought a lion cub from a department store (which professed to sell everything; at the time wild animal sales were not yet illegal). The young lion, whom they named Christian, had been born in a zoo in England. He was raised by Bourke and Rendall in an upscale furniture shop in London (where he was quite the local celebrity) until he grew too large. It became difficult to find room to exercise him and even though he was quite gentle, some customers were too frightened by his appearance in the window to enter the shop! Luckily, two actors who had been involved in the filming of Born Free visited the shop one day, were introduced to Christian the lion, and told the men about a project George Adamson was doing to rehabilitate lions in Africa and release them into the wild. Determined to give Christian the best life possible, not willing to stick him in a zoo or the entertainment business, they flew Christian to Africa (at great expense) and there for the first time in his life he was introduced to other lions and allowed to roam free. Eventually, although there were some bumps in the road, Christian learned to hunt and fend for himself, and wandered off into the bush to make his own life as a free lion. When Bourke and Rendall revisited the area a year after leaving Christian in Adamson's care, they were met with a huge affectionate welcome, which has become the video sensation. Two documentaries have been made of Christian's life in London, his reintroduction into the wild, and Adamson's work with lions. I'm eager to see them someday as well.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 226 pages, 1971

Mar 16, 2010

Guns, Germs and Steel

The Fates of Human Societies
by Jared Diamond

Phew! It is a relief to be done with this book. I've been reading it for three weeks! Granted, being sick and starting the garden distracted me a bit, but mostly it was just slow going with the book at times. The reading wasn't quite as heavy as the last book I waded through (Arctic Dreams), it's actually very reader-friendly, but the ideas could be complex and there's a lot of information to take in.

Basically, Guns, Germs and Steel examines how history has created the haves and have-nots of the world, what factors have given certain societies advantages over others. It tries to answer questions like why did agriculture arise in some parts of the world and not in others? why did technology develop faster in different areas? and how were some smaller groups able to easily overpower larger populations? A lot of the ideas were new to me, but made perfect sense the way Diamond described them. I enjoyed reading the parts about why certain animals were domesticated but not others, how agriculture probably began, and what language patterns reveal about how peoples spread and dispersed in ancient times. More difficult for me to process were the sections about things like why societies organized themselves the way they did, which got more and more complicated. What it all boils down to, in Diamond's opinion, is that environment was a huge factor in shaping early human history: local native animals and plants provided different resources for different groups, some far more useful to humans than others, and topography and climate dictated how quickly new technologies could spread.

I had a lot of discussions with my husband about ideas in this book, which helped me to understand them better, and he kept insisting that it was way too simplified to assert that certain societies overran others solely because their environment and resources gave them an advantage. How can you talk about China without considering Confucius? he kept saying to me. How can you discuss the reasons why one country overpowered another without taking into account the cultural reasons? I'm not very good at arguments so I had to just tell him to read the book! One thing I know for sure, Diamond's look at world history is very different from what I remember learning in school, and so many more things make sense to me now.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 494 pages, 1997

More opinions at:
The BookBanter Blog 
Seeking a Little Truth
I Me My
Read Quoi?
Anything is Possible

Mar 14, 2010

The Early Diaries of Anais Nin

by Anais Nin

Anais Nin was a famous feminist writer. She lived in France, and had a long friendship with Henry Miller. From an early age she knew she wanted to be a writer, and began writing poetry and short stories. She became famous for her erotic writing and is well-known for her extensive diaries, which she began at age 11 and continued for sixty years. At the time I read the first few volumes of her diaries, I really didn't know much about her, or why her writing was famous. All I knew was that I was reading the innermost thoughts and aspirations of a young girl who was a fabulous writer. She has a beautiful way with words that I still remember impressing me greatly, even though I can't recall any particulars now about the events described in the diaries.

I'm not sure what made me pick up the first volume of Anias Nin's diaries, which I first borrowed from the library as a teen, and later sought out further volumes at used bookstores. (I no longer have any of them). I know I had a goal in mind to read through them all, and took particular pains to search out the early volumes, so I could read them in chronological order. I never made it to the main volumes, which were published first, and start at the point where Nin was recently married to her first husband and about to meet Henry Miller. I made it through the first two early volumes, and perhaps part of the third. I'm not sure now what made me stop. Perhaps my interest lagged. Perhaps the hint of erotica to come unsettled me- sensuality in books could make me very uncomfortable as a teen.

Anais Nin's diaries are among those books I'm sure I didn't fully appreciate as a teenager, and think about revisiting someday. Have any of you read her diaries? What did you think? Should I try them again, or attempt some of her fictional works?

Rating: 3/5 ....... pages various, 1914-1927

Besides searching on Wiki, you can read more about Anais Nin (including extensive quotes from her diaries) on the Official Anais Nin blog.

Mar 13, 2010

Pit's Letter

by Sue Coe

Imagine a dog could tell her story, via a letter to one of her littermates. Pit's words gives us the barest outline of her life, but the illustrations show much more, in graphic detail. I found the artwork to be harsh, bloody and pretty disturbing, but the style fit perfectly with the brutality depicted. In the beginning, the dog's life was simple, all she wanted to do was love her boy Pat. But Pat himself struggled to find love and acceptance, living in an abusive home. The boy's father gets angry when the dog fails in a hunting trip, and separates the two. Then Pit wanders the streets, viewing all kinds of atrocities and unkindnesses humans wreak upon each other- violence, rape, cruelty to the homeless, etc. She ends up in an animal shelter and then a laboratory where the awful experiments are described in more detail than you want to know. Ironically, the boy the dog once loved is now a scientist at the very lab where Pit is now a subject.

This short graphic novel packs a staggering emotional punch. Pit's Letter is definitely not for the squeamish. There were little moments of kindness and human decency among all the base behavior, but it wasn't enough to balance it out for me. The book felt like a showcase of all the terrible things people can do to each other, and to dogs- something like Nop's Trials, only when it's visual it has a greater impact on me. I can't say I enjoyed it very much, but I was definitely moved.

borrowed from the public library

Rating: 2/5 ........ 48 pages, 2000

Mar 12, 2010

Four Horses for Tishtry

by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro

Here's a book I read a many years ago, as a child browsing in the public library. It's about a girl in Roman times who is a slave. Her dream is to save up enough money to buy her family's freedom. She works as a performer, driving and riding horses. As her skills improve, she passes through the hands of several different masters, until she finds herself about to perform for Nero himself in Rome. In an effort to make the best show ever, she attempts more complicated and dangerous stunts with the horses, doing things no one has ever tried before, even going against the advice of her trainer. Teaching herself dangerous new skills is not the only obstacle to freedom; she also runs up against corrupt and dishonest people, including her own master. I seem to remember that she wanted to buy the horses and own them herself, but I'm not clear on that. Has anyone else read Four Horses for Tishtry? I'd love it if you could remind me of some of the other details!

Rating: 3/5 ........ 218 pages, 1985

Mar 10, 2010

bookmarks giveaway

I haven't been posting these last few days because busy with the garden, and simply not reading much (or finding time on the computer).
Realized it's been a while since I did a giveaway, so I found these two handmade bookmarks (from my art, ink drawings painted with watercolor, laminated and edged with ribbon) which I like for their bright spring colors. If you'd like one, just leave a comment here before next wednesday (3/17). Two winning names will be drawn at random.

Mar 6, 2010

Non-Fiction Five

Um, I thought I had enough challenges for the year already (and I'm making pretty slow progress on them, because I keep coming across books that aren't on my lists!) but I'm joining Trish's Non-Fiction Five Challenge again. (I love her new buttons!)
The goal is to read five non-fiction books between may and september, one of which (at least) is of a different subject than the others. I've dug through my book stacks and come up with these to choose from (trying to avoid the animal books for once):

Awakenings by Oliver Sacks
Fatu-Hiva Back to Nature by Thor Heyerdahl
Enrique's Journey by Sonia Nazario
Going to Extremes by Joe McGinnis
Stewing in the Melting Pot by Robert Sanabria
The San Francisco Earthquake by Gordon Thomas
The Quiet Room by Lori Schiller
Other People's Dirt by Louise Rafkin
Mortal Lessons by Selzer
The Island of the Colorblind by Oliver Sacks
High School Confidential by Jeremy Iversen
Endurance: Shackleton's Incredible Voyage by Alfred Lansing
Alone: the Man Who Braved the Vast Pacific and Won by Gerard D'Aboville

Mar 5, 2010

The Rumpelstiltskin Problem

by Vivian Vande Velde

The Rumpelstiltskin story, says the author, is full of holes. Think about it. Why would the miller lie about his daughter's ability, when the consequences could be dire? Why does Rumpelstiltskin want a baby in the first place? why would he trade for the princess's ring, when he can spin any amount of gold he wants? To fill in the gaps, Velde retells the story six different ways, each with a new twist and an explanation to the briefer version we're all familiar with. In one story, Rumpelstiltstkin wants to eat the baby. In another he's a witch, then a hero, or a beautiful elf.  Different personalities for the miller's daughter are here too: she's a fanatic fan of the king, she's bullied by her own daughter, she's smart, she's lazy, she's confused. In one story she falls in love with Rumpelstiltskin himself! My favorite is the one where he was an elf and she slipped sideways through a magic gap to meet him. All the tales are brief, but intriguing and thought-provoking. If you like fairy-tale retellings, be sure to look for this one!

Borrowed from the library.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 128 pages, 2000

Mar 4, 2010

stinky box

Have you ever made a stinky book box?
I had this book acquired from a swap site that smelled so strongly of cigars I could barely stand to open it. But I really wanted to keep it! So I lined a small box with fresh kitty litter and baking soda, fanned the book slightly and set it down on its edge, so the spine faces up and the pages open a bit. Sealed it all in a large plastic bag for two weeks. Now the book still has some odor, but it's pretty faint and very tolerable.

I'm sure there's a better way to make a stinky book box; more air-tight and a better odor-eating material, but this is what I had and it worked pretty well for me!

Mar 3, 2010

The Power of Babel

A Natural History of Language
by John McWhorter

This book looks at how languages have evolved and changed over the centuries. I found particularly interesting some explanations of where odd phrases come from, that have lost their original meaning and come to be used for something quite different. (Not all things were easily explained. For example, this quote regarding a nursery rhyme that when you think about it, makes little sense:
“... Jack Horner pulling a plum out of a pie-- why did he stick his thumb in rather than his pointer finger? Presumably just in order to rhyme with plum-- but then what was a plum pie and how good could that have been? And why did dismembering the pie make him a good boy?” )
Sometimes the writing got a bit convoluted and I would have to read a sentence several times to figure out what it meant. Other times the author wanders off into a side-topic for pages- but those were usually interesting too, so I didn't mind too much. For the most part, it was easy to read, made me think about all sorts of things and kept me laughing, especially the author's footnotes and asides. That's a sure way to make me read a book to the end, even when it's dry or confusing in parts- make me laugh, and spark my curiosity. A pretty good book, if you're interested in the evolution and structure of languages, or the original meanings of words.

I noticed this title while browsing in a bookstore, and then found it at the public library.

Rating: 3/5 ....... 112 pages, 2001

More opinions at:
The Book of Merle
The Ignoramus Blog
Writers of Color 50 Book Challenge

Mar 1, 2010

What An Animal Reading Challenge

 I'm signing up for yet another reading challenge! What An Animal III, hosted this year by Socrates' Book Reviews. You can read the rules over at the challenge site, but basically it's to read six books featuring an animal, or with an animal in the title or on the cover, between now and the end of Feb 2011. I participated in this one last year, and it was lots of fun! I've picked some books off my TBR list I'd like to read for this challenge, depending on if I can find them at the library:

Chasing Kangaroos by Tim Flannery
For Love of Insects by Thomas Eisner
The Hidden Life of Deer by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
Voyage of the Turtle by Carl Safina
Suburban Safari by Hannah Holmes
Rats : Observations on the history and habitats of the city's most unwanted inhabitants by Robert Sullivan