Aug 29, 2010


 My blog turned three years old on Aug 19th and I was so busy with family and vacationing I completely forgot! So for a little celebration here I'm giving away three of my favorite handmade bookmark sets.



and Koalas!

Do you want a set? Just let me know via the comments, and next weekend three winners will be drawn. Here's to many more years of book blogging!

Aug 28, 2010

lots of finds

It's been a while since I posted Friday Finds (and it's not friday, oops). Well, here's a list of more titles I want to read, with a nod to the blogger who made me add it to my list!

Plain Kate by Erin Bow- The Zen Leaf
Finny by Justin Kramon- Book Addiction
The Dirty Life by Kristin Kimball from At Home with Books
Better Off by Eric Brend- Sophisticated Dorkiness
Hannah's Dream by Diane Hammond- Ardent Reader
The Whale- Phillip Hoare- Just Book Reading
Foiled by Jane Yolen from Stuff as Dreams are Made On
Wild Comfort by Kathleen Moore- Caribousmom
Room by Emma Donoghue from Paperback Reader
Prep by Curtis Sittenfield- Kyusi Reader
Perfect Peace by Daniel Black- The Zen Leaf
Circus in Winter by Cathy Day- Indextrious Reader
Grizzly Heart by Charlie Russell- books i done read
Rediscovering Birth by Shelia Kitzinger- SMS Book Reviews
The Patron Saint of Butterflies by Cecilia Galante- The Zen Leaf
Tooth and Claw by Jo Walton- Things Mean a Lot
The Sound of a Wild Snail Eating by Elizabeth Bailey from The Black Sheep Dances

ratings: keep or no?

I'm considering doing away with my rating scale. For several reasons.

Too often, it is difficult for me to pin a number on a book. Many that I stick in the same rating category are really so different from each other; others I feel strongly about at one point but when I read them again don't find quite as good. Another reason is that although I've noted that the middle rating "3/5" is a good book, several times I've had readers make remarks like this in the comments: oh, I wanted to read this but you only gave it a 3, or: didn't you like this book? all it got was a 3. But on my scale a "3" is a good book! I don't know why this wasn't coming across more clearly.

Another reason is that it's just one more thing for me to do when I write up reviews; think of what to assign a book, and type it in. And does anyone even use it? I'm sure some readers click on the category labels in my sidebar, but I'm not sure if anyone ever uses the rating labels. I'm thinking of keeping the "Abandoned" category and turning the 5/5 into "Favorites" because those are both ones I feel strongly about, and think other readers might be interested in seeing together: all the books I didn't finish, or all the ones I really love. But perhaps it doesn't make much sense to have favorites and DNFs and nothing in between....

So I'm asking you, my readers. Do you use the rating labels? do you find them helpful at all? If I do away with rating books, should I keep the "Abandoned" and "Favorites" categories, or just ditch it altogether?

Aug 27, 2010

The Quiet Room

A Journey Out of the Torment of Madness
by Lori Schiller and Amanda Bennett

When Lori Schiller was in highschool, she started hearing voices. Her moods became erratic, swinging from ecstatic highs to depression so severe she wouldn't leave her bed for days. Suspicion and fear of other people eroded her friendships. Eventually, driven by the voices in her head which screamed insults, curses and constant criticism, Lori started using cocaine, and then attempted suicide. Even then her parents denied that she was seriously ill, so it was some time before Lori got an actual diagnoses, and admitted to a hospital for the mentally ill. For years Lori was in and out of hospitals, institutions and halfway houses, while doctors struggled to find out what was wrong. They tried every combination of drugs on her. At first they thought she had bipolar disease, then schizophrenia. Most of the early places she was in saw her wild behavior as a deliberate lashing out, and tried using medication to control her mood swings, without really delving into why she behaved that way. It was a long time before she was able to confide in a psychiatrist what the voices were actually saying to her, to find a drug that would calm her emotions, to learn that the voices really were just inside her head and she could learn to cope with them instead of trying to escape by running away or hurting herself and others. In the end, she improves enough to live on her own and hold down a job. The book wraps up with Lori discussing what things remain difficult and the everday challenges she faces in living with schizo-affective disorder.

What was really interesting about this book is that it wasn't all told from Lori's perspective. Her college roommates, parents, siblings and doctors all shared their views on what was going on, so the reader sees not only what Lori experienced but how her illness affected her family and friends, and the opinion of her doctors. I've read a few firsthand accounts of mental illness before, so the "quiet room", cold packs, heavy medications, use of force and even electroshock therapy in the mental hospitals did not surprise me. I was surprised at how long her family denied the true nature of her illness, especially as her father was a psychologist. And I was shocked to read about how, in between stays at mental institutions, Lori applied for and actually held a few jobs working in mental facilities, caring for and counseling other mental patients. The Quiet Room is a very interesting and personal story, showing how one person managed to overcome her illness against all odds (at one point she was afraid of that her case was considered hopeless, and she would be locked up in a state institution for the rest of her life. Luckily that didn't happen).

Rating: 3/5 ........ 270 pages, 1994

More opinions at:
Book Reviews
Armchair Travelers

Aug 25, 2010

dogeared progress

I don't usually read a book this worn, but it was pretty captivating, so I tried to ignore the marks. It's not the broken spine or tattered edges that bother me most
or even this torn page (although they are dismaying)
it's the liberal use someone made of pen and highlighter:
Thankfully this previous reader either got tired of making circles (which I could see no reason for; they didn't even mark interesting passages!) or quit reading the book halfway through; after the spread of photographs in the middle there were no more marks. But still, I don't like reading books that someone else has marked all over, so this copy will be moving on and I'll search for another one to add to my library for a re-read someday.

It's my eighth book for the Dogeared Reading Challenge. How are the rest of you doing? Anyone have interesting beaten-book photos to share? If you've done a review that points out the flaws in your poor dogeared book, please point us to it in the comments!

Aug 24, 2010


Shackleton's Incredible Voyage
by Alfred Lansing

In 1914 Earnest Shackleton and a crew of 28 men left England on a discovery expedition, intending to cross the Antarctic continent with sled dogs. Their ship became trapped in pack ice, then slowly crushed and sunk by pressure of the moving ice. The men were left stranded, setting up camp on a thick ice floe and hoping for a chance to reach land. Their original plan was to use lifeboats to reach land where they could travel with the help of the dogs. But long before they escaped the ice they were forced to shoot the dogs, at first because of short supplies, and later simply to eat them. I'd heard of Shackleton's voyage before, but this is the first account I've read of it. I knew it was about an expedition that got stranded and made it back to civilization by trekking long miles and enduring extreme conditions, but for some reason I had in my head a picture of them trudging overland to their destination. In fact, they scrambled between ice floes in their small boats, seeking mostly shelter from the raging elements, often stuck on one floe for months at a time because pack ice gave them no escape. Some times they had plenty to eat when seals and penguins were nearby. Warm weather was a threat, not a boon, as it would melt the floe underneath them and half-melted floating pieces of ice made the water too dangerous to navigate. At other times they suffered terribly from starvation, fatigue, bitter cold, frostbite, etc. In the end (no spoiler as you know well some of them made it out alive; the book is based on and quotes from the crew members' diaries and the ship logs) they made it to a far-flung island which offered scant shelter, and Shackleton made a final desperate move to get by boat to the nearest whaling port, in South Georgia. Even when stretching the limits of exhaustion he made it there, they landed on the opposite side of the island from the whaling station, and had to climb over a glacier to finally reach help. This is without much food or proper gear of any kind.

Endurance is a compelling read. I thought the beginning a bit dull, as it goes into lots of detail on the characters of each of the men, but later you see how they respond differently to their situation, to being in close quarters with one another for years in harsh conditions, and it is amazing what they went through. I can't remember the last time a book made me cry, but I had tears in my eyes when I read the final pages, of Shackleton's reception at the whaling station. I did wish for a bit of a postscript, telling me how each of the men fared afterwards (how did Blackboro's feet fare?) but that's really a minor complaint. If you like adventure stories, be sure to look for this one!

Rating: 4/5 ...... 282 pages, 1959

More opinions at:
The Seated View
The Badger's Set
Shelf Love

Aug 15, 2010

The Lives of Christopher Chant

by Diana Wynne Jones

This book, the second one included in The Chronicles of Chrestomanci Vol I, has some of the same characters from Charmed Life, but it takes place some twenty-five years earlier. Here we get the story of how the powerful enchanter Chrestomanci of Charmed Life, was once a young boy himself.

His name is Christopher Chant. He lives in a rich household, provided for but rather neglected (parents not on speaking terms) and his only enjoyment is nighttime travels. Through his dreams, Christopher visits other worlds, but he doesn't realize how unusual this is. When his family discovers his magical abilities, he is sent away to live at Chrestomanci Castle, for he will one day become the next Chrestomanci himself. Christopher doesn't want the job, he just wants to be an ordinary boy and play cricket. Unlike Cat of the previous book, Christopher is well aware of his powers and what is expected of him, but he is still just a young boy so of course he wants to do his own thing. And it is some time before he realizes that his charming uncle who has Christopher doing interesting "experiments" in the other worlds, is really an illegal smuggler, trafficking in dangerous magical goods. By the time young Christopher realizes what's going on, he's so deeply involved it seems near impossible to convince one side of his good intentions, and the other of his innocence.

This was a really fun story. It was interesting to read it from a different perspective, already knowing what it meant to be Chrestomanci and the implications of having nine lives, being able to see past the tunnel vision of Christopher's youth and understand what was really happening to him. I also liked seeing earlier events including characters from Charmed Life who in that book were rather aloof, in-the-background adults but in this one were the main characters, kids themselves. It made me want to go back and read Charmed Life all over again, just to see how I view the story different knowing more about the characters' past. That's a pretty good book for you.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 329 pages, 1988

More opinions at:
Page 247
Books and Chocolate

Aug 14, 2010

Charmed Life

by Diana Wynne Jones

I'm reading The Chronicles of Chrestomanci which includes two books,
Charmed Life and The Lives of Christopher Chant, but I thought I'd write about them separately. And yes, I was drawn to the book at first (seeing it up for trade on Paperback Swap) because it has a pugnacious looking tomcat on the front, but no, the story is not about a cat. Although there is a cat in it.

Charmed Life is about a boy named Eric whom everyone calls Cat, and his overbearing ambitious sister Gwendolen. They live in one of many worlds close to ours, and in this particular one magic is an everyday thing. Gwendolen has a natural aptitude for magic, but isn't well-taught and thinks too much of herself. She flounces around everywhere trying to get her own way and using magic to play mean tricks on people who thwart her. Rather like a great spoiled child, only one with an inordinate amount of power. Her brother Cat on the other hand, through whose eyes we see the story (although it's told in third-person, the reader only gets as much info as Cat himself is privy to) cannot seem to work magic at all, so he follows around in Gwendolen's shadow. He does, however, have extra lives, a thing which is so rare that its significance is not realized by many, it seems to be just considered another magical oddity in this world of wizards, enchanters and soothsayers. But his sister is making use of Cat's nine lives in a terrible way.

I really despised Gwendolen's character, but at the same time it was intriguing to read about her. When the children get sent from their humble beginnings to live in Chrestomanci castle with rich enchanters, their two stout children (who view magic as an everyday practicality) a slew of magic-working servants and a stern tutor, Gwendolen rebells against the rules and lack of attention she thinks she's due. The power struggle between her and the enchanter Chrestomanci, who seems to be simply ignoring her outbursts, slowly builds up tension until things really get out of control. That girl just did not know when to stop. I was sorry she didn't stay gone in the other world, because I liked her replacement much better! And I was puzzled why Cat never stood up to his sister or stepped out to be his own person, until I realized the full nature of that parasitic relationship.

I'm hoping I didn't say too much here and spoil the story, because part of the fun for me was not realizing what exactly was going on until the end. Let's just say I enjoyed this far more than Castle in the Air, and I'm once again eager to read more Diana Wynne Jones books, to find others I like. I'm so glad I didn't give up on her!

Rating: 3/5 ........ 263 pages, 1977

More opinions at:
Voracious Reader

Aug 9, 2010

short break

I'm taking something of a break for the next two weeks. I'll still be posting occasionally when I finish a new book, but not much beyond that, and probably very little stopping by to visit. If anything exciting happens among the bookish set while I'm gone, be sure to tell me about it when I'm back in full blogging mode again!

Aug 8, 2010


by Diana Wynne Jones

The planets and stars are sentient beings, vast and powerful. Sirius the dog star is accused of murder, looses his temper during the trial and is condemned to live on Earth, where he must find the supposed murder weapon, a thing called the Zoi. He only has the dog's lifespan in which to find it, or he will simply die as a dog.

When Sirius comes to himself after the trial, he is a tiny helpless puppy. He doesn't know who he is or where he came from, but as he grows something else starts to come through his dog's nature. A bit at a time Sirius patches together his memories and tries to figure out what he must do. It's not at all easy. He has no idea where the Zoi fell, and as a dog is under the power of people- some who mean him harm and others, like the girl Kathleen who adopted him, who tie him down with love. I love the way this story is told, through the dog's viewpoint. An ordinary pet who has a grander plan to carry out, but must navigate the daily indignities of flea baths, being tied in the yard, suffering the company of cats and being torn between his need to protect and comfort Kathleen, and the urgency to find the missing Zoi. For if it falls into the wrong hands the beautiful green Earth, which he is coming to know and love, could easily be destroyed...

There's a lot more to this story than just his search, though. Kathleen is staying with her aunt and uncle because her father is in prison, and she suffers being bullied by her unfeeling aunt, as well as her cousins and boys at school. Sirius is her only consolation, and the relationship between them is quite tender. I love Kathleen's character. She's kind, smart and bookish! and puts up with a lot of crap before she finally stands up for herself. Some of my favorite parts are how Sirius develops a relationship with the household cats, his encounter with the fox, the revenge Kathleen gets on her cruel aunt, and the ending. I find it very sad, and fitting at the same time.

I really like this book. And I was pleased to find I enjoyed it just as much with this re-read as all the times I read it as a kid. I liked it so much that when I couldn't find a copy with my favorite cover, I made my own out of text printed off my computer and a scratchboard drawing I did just for this. (The top image of this post).

Rating: 4/5 ........ 242 pages, 1975

More opinions at:
Letters and Sodas: Booknotes
Bookwyrme's Lair
Born Reader
Scholar's Blog
Books Under the Covers


According to, the winner of my mancala-themed bookmark is Sandy Jay. Congrats, Sandy! Send me your address and I'll ship it right along.

Aug 6, 2010

Castle in the Air

by Diana Wynne Jones

I feel almost shamed to write this. Not only did I start out late joining in on Jenny's marvelous Diana Wynne Jones week, but apparently I picked the wrong book to begin with! I wanted to read The Homeward Bounders, and more particularly the Puss in Boots rewrite Jones did, but turns out my library had neither (one was checked out, the other non-existant). I was there in the middle of the week and scrabbled through the shelves: must get me some DWJ! I could only find three shelved: Fire and Hemlock, something about a griffin, and Castle in the Air.

Perhaps I should have gone with the griffin book. I liked this one well enough to start with. It begins set in a desert country, with our hero Abdullah being a daydreaming carpet-seller. He unexpectedly comes to own a magic flying carpet, and it whisks him away to a beautiful garden where he meets a lovely princess straight out of his dream. Abdullah falls madly in love, but his princess is stolen by a djinn (who has, it happens, been stealing princess from all over the world) so he sets off in pursuit. The quest has lots of unexpected bumps, as Abdullah takes up with an out-of-work soldier, a genie in a bottle with evil intentions (every wish it grants goes bad somehow) and a mysterious black cat (whom the soldier is besotted with). I was enjoying the adventure well enough until I ran into characters from the first book- for this is a sequel. I knew that when I started off, but I thought it would be able to stand alone and I'd figure out what was going on. But when Abdullah gets mixed up with wizards, more than one djinn and a score of scheming princess (who aren't going to just sit around meekly being held captive) it just all got mildly confusing and I found I suddenly didn't care much about these characters. Abdullah's constant flattery was starting to get old. I'd been a bit taken aback how suddenly he fell in love with his princess at the beginning, but now discovered I didn't really care why she was upset and acting coolly towards him. My favorite character was the cat- until she became something else...

Sorry, Jenny. I just didn't like this one by the time I reached the end. I should have planned my week better! Maybe I'll quickly re-read Dogsbody so I can gush about that tomorrow.

Rating: 2/5 ........ 298 pages, 1990

More opinions at:
667B Baker Street
Anything but Everything

Aug 5, 2010

Support Your Local Library Challenge


This is the second reading challenge I've finished this year. I was actually surprised how much I started using the library again. I read more library books than I'm listing here, but these are all ones that I picked up from just browsing the shelves (plus a few sequels they led me to) or looked for because someone recommended them to me. They don't include books I picked up for other reading challenges. After this I'm going to have to focus on reading off my own shelves again! I feel those patiently waiting books have been neglected...

Here's the twenty-five books I read for this challenge:

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill by Mark Bittner
Tell Me Where it Hurts by Nick Trout
The Character of Cats by Stephen Budiansky
Mammoth by Richard Stone
The Truth About Dogs by Stephen Budiansky
A Lion Called Christian by Bourke and Rendall
The World According to Horses by Stephen Budiansky
Flyaway by Suzie Gilbert
The Girl Who Married a Lion by Alexander McCall Smith
Sea Turtles of the World by Doug Perrine
Winter's Tail by the Hatkoffs
Dewey by Vicki Myron
The Arrival by Shaun Tan
Wally's World by Marsha Boulton
The Wild Trees by Richard Preston
How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell
A Naturalist and Other Beasts by George Schaller
How to Be a Pirate by Cressida Cowell
How Animals Work by David Burnie
The Lion's Eye by Joanna Greenfield
Dog Boy by Eva Hornung
Tigerland by Eric Dinerstein
Shark Trouble by Peter Benchley
Plenitude by Juliet Schor
The Natural History Museum of Dinosaurs by Tim Gardom and Angela Milner

Can you tell which section of the library I've been frequenting? ha

The Natural History Museum Book of Dinosaurs

by Tim Gardom and Angela Milner

This last of the dinosaur books I've been reading is my favorite. It's just so fascinating, and so well presented. The text, while of course being very factual, is also written in a reader-friendly fashion and there's even bits of humor here and there! The Natural History Museum Book of Dinosaurs tells you all sorts of things you don't get from the other books. Like how detailed, long and tedious the work of paleontologists actually is- one chapter takes the reader through the work of presenting a single specimen, from removing it from the dig site, cleaning, figuring out how the skeleton fits together, comparing it to other known species and finally presenting it to the public and the scientific community. There's a lot of work involved! I'm always wondering how scientists learned things like how well a certain dinosaur could smell, or at what age it died, and this book explains a lot about the detective work (so to speak) that gains that knowledge. I also really liked the parts that explained dinosaur physiology by comparing them to present-day animals, and the section on how dinosaurs have been depicted by media and artists, capturing the imagination of so many (but often misrepresenting things like which dinosaurs co-existed). Other really intriguing chapters cover things like how scientists have figured out some aspects of dinosaurs' social lives, the history of early dinosaur fossil discoveries, and a layout of evidence on how dinosaurs evolved into birds. All really amazing stuff. The pages are illustrated with photographs of dig sites and museum exhibits, diagrams, drawings, paintings and models (both computer-generated and sculptures). This is a really rich reference source and fascinating reading as well. A great book to wrap up my week of dinosaur reading!

Rating: 4/5 ........ 144 pages, 2006

More opinions at: Dinosaur Books and Facts

Aug 4, 2010


by Dianne MacMillan

Of all the j-nonfiction animal books I've been reading with my kid lately, this one stands above the rest. All the pictures are good quality, some stunningly beautiful. It's well-organized and really informative. And it's also very well-written. The prose is lyrical and descriptive, while still being easy enough for a child to understand. I very much enjoyed reading it. I think it's a good example of how a kid's book can still have lovely writing even when it's just mostly stating facts. Cheetahs describes where cheetahs live, compares them to other big cats, describes how their bodies are adapted to speed, and mentions something of their history with man. Most of the book is a description of a cheetah's daily life, how it hunts, raises a family, interacts with other predators, etc. The final pages (a common theme in these books, I am finding) discusses why cheetahs are endangered. It goes a bit beyond the usual habitat loss and poaching issues to also talk about genetics and captive breeding programs. A beautiful little book overall, one that impressed me so that next time kiddo is looking for "true books" about animals in the library, I just might type in this author or series name to see what else comes up.

One thing jumped out and made me question; that was the information on how cheetahs (and other cats) purr. This book says they do it by the sound of blood flowing near the vocal chords. I thought the theory of vibrating blood making the purr was an outdated theory? and that it was established knowledge now that cats purr by vibrating muscles in their larynx. But this is something that has puzzled scientists for a long time, maybe we still don't know exactly how they do it.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 48 pages, 1997

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Aug 3, 2010

Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Life

Smithsonian Handbooks
by Hazel Richardson

This book is a sort of field guide to dinosaurs. If you're interested in prehistoric beasts, it's a great reference. The first part of the book has a family tree showing the classification of life forms and how dinosaur (and other ancient animal) groups are related to each other.There is an explanation of what classifies animals as dinosaurs, a geological timeline, details on how fossils are formed and then a description of each major time period with its characteristics and signature life forms. All of these things are presented in a lot more detail than the other books I've read. The bulk of Dinosaurs and Prehistoric Life is made up of animal profiles, highly pictorial, each pointing out key features of the animal and organized by both time frame and habitat. There are 200 dinosaurs, pterosaurs, early mammals and other creatures featured, and at the back is a list of 300 more that were not included in the main body. A lot of these bizarre and fantastical animals were ones I'd never seen or heard of before. Even my husband was exclaiming with amazement when I periodically interrupted what he was doing to show him one or the other. One thing I kept thinking as I looked at all the varied dinosaur forms, especially those with horns and spiky backs was, is this where the idea of dragons came from? Stick a pair of leathery wings on any of a number of these beasts and it would look like a really cool dragon. I wonder if early scientists put a few skeletons together wrong and thought they'd found evidence of dragons.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 224 pages, 2003

Aug 1, 2010

Waking Up in Eden

In Pursuit of an Impassioned Life on an Imperiled Island
by Lucinda Fleeson

Fleeson leaves behind her dissatisfying life in Philadelphia as a news reporter and goes to the relatively remote Hawaiian island Kauai to work as a fundraiser for a large botanical garden. I thought the book was going to be all about her work with plants, and how native Hawaiian plants are threatened with extinction and fast disappearing. I was intrigued by stories of the history of the island's plants, of the work of dedicated botanists who brought some back from the brink (although my husband said when he heard what I was reading: who cares if a few plants disappear? animals always get the attention, don't they! but their lives are intricately tied together, I believe. Did you know- blunt aside- there is a tree -in Africa I think- with huge, heavy thick-skinned fruits no animal can break open; scientists assume it must have been eaten by ancient giant creatures now extinct- prehistoric mammals or dinosaurs. Sorry, I can't remember where I read this now or which tree it is). But Waking Up in Eden is a jumble of subjects. It's also about the author's personal life, her struggles to get accepted by the Gardens staff, her fascination with unconventional (for their times) people who came to live on the island: the wealthy gay couple who owned the Gardens land before and built themselves a paradise there; a solitary woman from the 1800's who traveled the globe including Kauai, writing extensive descriptions about the island. I liked the island history parts but found I wasn't interested in the constant snubs Fleeson suffered from her co-workers, or her fling with the local hottie, or her digging to find out all about the gay men: what intolerance they fled in 1920's Chicago, where their money came from, how they got accepted by the island community, etc; or even her travels across the island following the footsteps of Isabella Bird. It felt like there were chapters and chapters about this stuff and I just wanted to get back to the plants. If several of those subjects sound interesting, you might well like this book! but for me, I was expecting something a bit more focused.

I was so disappointed. I really wanted to enjoy this book (which I found on a display shelf at the library). I actually made it two-thirds of the way through before realizing I my mind was wandering. I flipped through the rest of the pages to see if there were any more plant parts I wanted to read, but even the bit about where she finally visits the gardens of a reclusive man who grows only Hawaiian natives on his property and lets no one visit, failed to interest me anymore. Sad.

I did bring out of its pages the titles of more books I want to read now! A Country Year by Sue Hubbell, A Dreamer's Log Cabin by Laurie Shepherd. I was dismayed by Fleeson's discoveries of unpleasant truths about May Sarton's life, an author I've admired, but I'm adding her Plant Dreaming Deep to my list nevertheless.

Abandoned ....... 310 pages, 2009

More opinions at:
Devourer of Books
Hawaii Beach Girl