Apr 30, 2012

Who is the Beast?

by Keith Baker

This little board book is rich with texture and color. The reader follows creatures through a jungle as they chant about their fear of "the Beast" naming his striped coat, strong legs, long tail, wide whiskers, etc. as bits of him are seen through the foliage on each page. I thought at first it was coaxing young readers to guess the identity of the tiger, but instead we see the tiger come out of the undergrowth to peer at himself in a pool of water: is the Beast me? Then the tiger goes back through the jungle meeting the various animals that had fled from him, pointing out all the things they have in common: the bee also has stripes, the monkey a long tail, etc. On the final spread the tiger smiles at all the animals together: we all are Beasts! And he's not a fierce-looking tiger, he has a gentle, even timid expression. It's a nice little book and I just love the rich textures of all the plants that fill the pages. As an additional visual treat, there's a little snail hiding on each page to find.

I found this one at a library sale, bought it for my little one.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 32 pages, 1990

Apr 29, 2012

library sale!

One of my favorite pastimes is poking through the tables at the library sale and coming home with stacks of books, books, books! This year I had someone to share the thrill with. My seven-year-old has been bemoaning the fact she doesn't have any "chapter books" of her own so I said come to the library sale and get some. I let her loose at the kid's table and she picked out twenty-five books.

Her stack includes some Littles books (new to her but I have fond memories of that series), a few Junie B. Jones, the entire Caroline Years (precedent to the Little House series, which we are still stuck in the middle of!), a few Magic Tree House books, a few Ramona books, a bunch of Fairy Chronicles, and some kind of graphic novel series about girls with magic powers over the elements. Plus a few other random things. I had to clear off a shelf of picture books from her room (saved in a box for when the baby gets older) so she'd have a place to keep her new reading material. Fun!
I only got a handful for myself.
None of these were actually on my list of books-I-must-have, of course. A few notes on them: 

Beach Music- years ago I read Prince of Tides and thought it fantastic. I've never read any Pat Conroy since, but when I'm in the mood for a nice long book this will be it.

William Golding- only ever read Lord of the Flies (loved it), and made an attempt at Pincher Martin (bleh). I was curious about these. There was a fourth one I left behind- about a man obsessed with building a huge spire on top of a church. Didn't sound interesting.

Zookeeper's Wife, Old School and Heart of a Shepherd all caught my eye because I've added them to my TBR list due to book bloggers. Better yet to have my own copy at hand!

How to Speak Dog- Even though I don't have a dog I always like books about animal communication.

Through Animal's Eyes- about a wildlife sanctuary. Another of my favorite types of books.

Garden Secrets- the publication date seems a little outdated, but this book promises to explain the reasons behind all those little garden rules you hear and put into practice without really knowing why. I'm eager to read it.

The bird book on top is a cute little thing full of interesting facts on birds, plus crosswords, other kinds of puzzles, brain teasers and jokes- all to do with birds. I'm not crazy about birds, but flipping through was intrigued by some of the facts in there so I wanted to read it. I probably won't do the puzzles so I can pass this on to a real bird-lover someday.

Got a few for the baby as well (they get a very thorough cleaning before going into her hands!)
We also got this really cute button book for her that had ten buttons on ribbons, each page having a round shape cut out of a picture that you could fit a button into, going from one to ten. Unfortunately the baby um, "lost her cookies" pretty badly all over that book and I've wiped it off with mild bleach but it still smells terrible. It's sitting out in the sunshine now but if that doesn't do the trick, the poor book is a goner. Too bad, it was really adorable!

Apr 28, 2012

The Adventures of Poor Mrs. Quack

by Thornton W. Burgess

This little story is about a new visitor to the community of friendly wild animals Thornton Burgess wrote of. Mrs. Quack is a migrating duck who arrives at the Smiling Pool in a terrible state. Several of the animals find her there and coax her to tell her story. While traveling she was shot at multiple times by hunters, loosing her children and mate in the chaos of fleeing ducks. She doesn't know if her family is injured, dead, or merely lost. The other animals are concerned and make a plan to help Mrs. Quack find her missing husband and a safe place to live for the season. It's a nice little story about helping those in need and showing compassion. Of course, as the story is all told from the duck's viewpoint there is a very strong anti-human sentiment; it tends to go on and on about how unfair the hunter's tactics are and there is a lot of talk about death, pain and fear. This might be upsetting to younger children. Regardless, I still found the story charming and if you pay attention to the details there's quite a bit about wildlife behavior; how the ducks live and raise their families.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 96 pages, 1917

Apr 27, 2012


by Laurie Halse Anderson

It was just after reading Wasted that I saw another review for Wintergirls, and remembered that it was on my TBR list. Found a copy at the library and immediately dove in. Despite the disturbing and depressing content, it was a book I just could not put down.

It's about a teenage girl named Lia struggling with an eating disorder. Her best friend suffers from bulimia and at the beginning of the book has just died from the disease (the two girls had engaged in a private competition to see who could loose the most weight, which got frighteningly out of control). Lia has to deal with grief and guilt at feeling partly responsible for her friend's death, which only push her further into destructive behavior. It's pretty horrible to read about. But it doesn't go into as much depth as Wasted did, which carefully examined all the environmental and emotional factors that led to her disorder. In this case, the book focuses more on the present struggle and the emotional upheaval that Lia is experiencing. The writing is lyrical and full of imagery that reflects the main character's skewed thinking very vividly. In spite of how well I could picture what she felt, it was hard to feel close to her as a character. She felt... empty in a way (which makes sense). I find I liked Speak better. This book gives me the shivers.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 278 pages, 2009

more opinions:
At Home With Books
Caught Between the Pages

Apr 25, 2012

Herbs Gone Wild

Ancient Remedies Turned Loose
by Diane Kidman

I've always been kind of skeptical of herbal medicine, probably an attitude I absorbed from my family (my dad's a doctor). But the more herbs I plant in my garden, the more curious I am about what else they can do besides feed me. I know from my experience with one cup of mint tea, what strong effect plants can have on the body. So when I saw this offered as a free e-book I thought I'd read it and learn something.

Herbs Gone Wild is a very light, easy read that introduces lots of herbs and their medicinal uses. The author makes it sound simple to use various plants you might find in your yard or further afield, to treat many simple ailments ranging from the sniffles to aches and pains, upset stomach, even migraines. Of course, she cautions to always seek a doctor's advice and to use the smallest does of herbal remedies when starting out with them. I was surprised to find I recognized a few I've actually used before without hardly thinking- putting aloe on burns, or baking soda paste to soothe a bee sting (my mom always used that one). Teas sound simple enough; making your own salves and tinctures a bit more complicated but when you read her directions even that doesn't seem too hard.

One that made me raise my eyebrows was about a weed I've been trying to eradicate from my lawn: plantain (no, not related to fried bananas). Kidman says that if you crush a leaf and put it on a splinter, the sliver of material will work its way to the surface. My kid seems to get splinters often. And trying to get them out with tweezers (or worse yet, a needle) means dealing with lots of squirming, screaming and begging. So the most recent time she got one in her finger I suggested we try this little remedy, and picked a leaf of plantain off the lawn. She was intrigued. We secured it over the little splinter with a bandaid, and guess what, by morning the splinter was gone. Hm.

So, I'm keeping this one around. It's the second book I've ever read on my kindle, and I was pleased to make lots of use of the highlighting feature. There was something odd about the formatting- twice as much spacing between the paragraphs than necessary- which I found annoyed up to the end of the read, but other than that I'm finding it easy to adapt to reading on the electronic device. Not that I think it will ever replace physical, paper books for me. But for those I can't find elsewhere, it's great.

rating: 4/5 ........ 130 pages, 2011

My Neighbor Totoro

vol 1-3
by Hayao Miyazaki

This is another japanese comic that's read left-to-right, back-to-front. Honestly, I found it a bit more confusing to follow than Happy Happy Clover because there is very little dialog, so instead of following words I'm following pictures, and often my eyes would jump to a panel out of sequence. It's pretty obvious, even before I started looking at the copyright page, that this book is taken straight from an animated film. Often the pictures include awkward gestures, small figures against a large background that don't read well visually without the movement, one character in exactly the same position for several frames as the other one talked. I really felt like the books could have been condensed by being more selective with the image choices, but that's just me. That said, the story is wonderfully imaginative, and the landscape rendered beautifully. My favorites were the last two volumes, where the little girls explore the forest.

So, My Neighbor Totoro is about two girls who move with their father into an old farmhouse on the edge of a forest. In the first volume, they move in, explore the empty house, and the youngest daughter finds that little mischevous dust sprites are living in the house (the kid next door thinks it's haunted). An older woman nearby tells them how to get rid of the dust sprites. In volume two, Mei (the little girl) wanders into the forest and finds three strange creatures which she follows around. When she tells her family, her older sister doesn't believe her, but her father tells her they are forest spirits and she's blessed by seeing them. Then the older sister wants to see them, too. In the third volume, the girls are waiting at a bus stop in the rain for their dad to come home when the largest totoro comes and waits with them, but he gets on a bus shaped like a huge cat with many feet. Later they wake up at night, find the totoro outside, and join him near  small garden plot they planted with gathered acorns. The totoro leads them in a kind of dance gesturing upwards that magically makes the acorns grow into huge, impressive trees. There's more going on- scenes at school, encounters with the neighbor boy, but that's really the gist of it. I think the three volumes could easily have been made one book, though. Apparently there's a fourth volume, but my library doesn't have it. These books would probably appeal most to kids who have seen the film; if I'd know it I would have just watched the animation instead.

Here you can see some clips from the film.

Rating: 2/5 ........143 pages (each), 2004

Apr 24, 2012


by Hope Larson

I recognized this one immediately when I saw it on the library shelf, having noticed it on a few book blogs. So I picked it up out of sheer curiosity for something more realistic than the other graphic novels I've brought home. Chiggers is about a girl's experience at summer camp. Abby is missing her best friend, who as a counselor this year has little time for her, and not sure about the girls who share her cabin. She likes a new girl Shasta who arrives late, but the other girls don't like Shasta at all; they think she's lying about having an older boyfriend and getting struck by lightening. Abby has to deal with the other girls talking behind her back, the awkwardness of finding who to sit next to at meals, the excitement and insecurity of liking a boy, then finding out he might like her friend instead...

This book had great potential, but didn't quite work for me. In the first place, I had some trouble telling the characters apart. The faces are all the same, and the hairstyles not different enough. I was often confused who they were talking about, and felt like pertinent information was frequently left out. The characterization didn't quite come through to me, either- I could never figure out why the other girls didn't like Abby. She didn't seem at all stuck-up to me. The parts where Abby daydreams added a nice fantasy element, but the parts about lightning and electric balls of fire was just kinda weird. I also missed that there was never a real explanation for Shasta's illness- was she just making it up? did she have migraines from the lightening strike? I thought at the end she was going to tell Abby about it and there would be a moment of understanding or explanation, but that never happened. It left me feeling annoyed and unsatisfied.

Rating: 2/5 ........ 170 pages, 2008

more opinions:
Prose and Cons
Puss Reboots

Apr 23, 2012


by Neil Gaiman
adapted by P. Craig Russell

Coraline is a spooky little fantasy story about a girl who moves into a big old house with her parents, in the middle of a rambling garden. Bored, she starts exploring her flat, meeting two old ladies and an eccentric man who live in the basement and attic flats, respectively. Then she finds a door that leads into an alternate universe, where she has an alternate set of parents. This other-mother treats her kindly, cooks her favorite foods, but she is also controlling, sadistic, and has frightful buttons instead of real eyes. As Coraline explores this new world, she starts to learn some unsettling truths about the other-mother's true intentions. She not only has to trick the other-mother into letting her go, but also free several child-spirits the other-mother has trapped, and find her parents which have gone missing. The other-mother proves to be terribly clever and difficult to thwart, but Coraline has the help of a nameless black cat who moves freely between this world and the real one.

In this case, I saw the film adaptation but haven't read the original book. I really enjoyed reading this version. At first glance I thought the faces, drawn in a realistic style, looked too stiff, but up close they're actually very animated. The other-mother's face was decidedly creepy. I was surprised to see how many differences there were between the movie version and this. For one, there's no little boy to be Coraline's friend (but I think that's where the movie deviates from the book by itself). The garden played a far less important part, which disappointed me a little- I was looking forward to some fantastic illustrations of plants! Also I don't recall the part where Coraline goes into the cellar, nor the final bit where she must get rid of the other-mother's hand. I may have just forgotten some things, though. There were other scenes that were new to me, which I liked, and some that weren't very long, like the burlesque show, I recall being move developed in the movie.

I loved the cat. His expressions, demeanor and the way he was drawn were just perfect.

Rating: 4/5                            186 pages, 2008

more opinions:
Savidge Reads
Wandering Librarians
Reading Rants

Apr 22, 2012


Random.org picked a winner for my flower bookmarks (I think they're some kind of miniature orchid), and it's Trish! Yay, Trish! email me to claim your new bookmark pair.


the Graphic Novel
by Brain Jacques
adapted by Stuart Moore

Redwall is one of those J fiction series I looked at, thumbing through the pages of the first book, and realized I had no interest in reading. However, the visual appeal of the graphic novel version got me to sit down and read it. The story is about a group of mice and a few other talking animals that live peacefully in an abbey. Young Matthias longs for days of adventure; he constantly admires a tapestry of Martin the warrior-mouse and wishes to be like the legendary hero. His dreams come true soon enough as a gang of evil rats storms the abbey and the storyline is quickly launched into battle plans and defense tactics. There is a varied cast of characters- squirrels, badgers, otters and hares on the protagonist's side; weasels and foxes support the villains. Matthias soon goes off on a self-appointed quest to find the ancient sword of Martin, hoping to use it to defeat the rats. He meets up with a community of secretive shrews, an old owl and cat who have a quarrel, and a kingdom of sparrows. Surprisingly, the cat is a pacifist and the sparrows are fighters.

I really enjoyed the artwork. It's all black-and-white, with washes of gray. It's very atmospheric, has lots of different viewpoints and angles, making for a wonderful visual story. I had a few problems with how the characters were drawn, though. The mice and rats all had rather pointy ears, I kept thinking they didn't quite look like mice or rats. The rats look perfectly evil, but their snouts are so long and full of teeth they almost appear crocodilian. One particularly sneaky one also has a long neck- he looks more like a weasel than a proper rat. Another thing that bugged me was the scale- the foxes and badgers the mice interact with are only twice as big as the mice, which makes them either look smaller than normal, or the mice particularly large. This seemed normal in the context of the story until Matthias met the cat- who appeared a giant monster, having the usual size relationship to a mouse. But foxes are normally bigger than cats... It was a very nicely-drawn cat, I just couldn't get over the visual discrepancy.

Well, I can't compare how closely this book follows the original novel, as I haven't read that. I'm sure it's left a lot of material out. But as a stand-alone the story is good enough, moves with a quick pace, and Matthias has plenty of interesting adventures dealing with spies, thieves and villains as well as finding friends in unexpected places. I'm sure kids who like battles, adventure stories and animals would really enjoy this book.

rating: 3/5 ........ 143 pages, 2007

more opinions:
Story World Border
Good Between Reads
Books to the Ceiling

Apr 21, 2012

The Lion King

adapted by Bobbi J. G. Weiss

Here's a little confession: I always did like The Lion King. So when I was idly browsing through the junior-fiction graphic novel shelf at the library, I picked this one up, just to see what it was like. I was pleasantly surprised. I was afraid the book would just have still shots of images from the movie, but instead it was all drawn by artists Sparky Moore and Jo Meugniot- and very well done. The style felt true to the film but also had its own character which I liked very much. Except for the hyenas. They felt just a bit too cartoony and gangly to me. The storyline follows the original very close; it's been years since I actually saw it so I don't recall all the details, but not much felt left out. Except for the parts where the mandrill marks the lion cub in a ceremony, it was just alluded to, not really part of the story and might not make sense if you hadn't seen the original version. But who hasn't seen The Lion King?

In reading all these books I've come to realize quite quickly that each graphic novel has its own character, its own style and feel. I don't quite know how to describe it, or if there are terminology for these styles. Something about this one reminded me very much of the Prince Valiant comics I used to see in the sunday papers (but never read- it was one of the very few comics I found boring). Well, if you like the movie, I'd recommed this one for a quick, enjoyable little read. Even better, looking around online I stumbled across this graphic novel about lions that escape from a zoo in wartime- it looks fantastic and my library has a copy! I'm so excited to read that one next.

rating: 3/5 ........ 48 pages, 2007

Apr 20, 2012

Sticky Burr

Adventures in Burrwood Forest
by John Lechner

This graphic novel is aimed at younger kids. It's about a little sticky burr in the forest who lives with a bunch of other burrs in a little village (very cute). The other burrs all have prickly personalities, but Sticky is different. He's kind and considerate. He likes doing art and music. His ways get him ostracized by the group, and while running away from them, he gets lost inside a "maze tree" where he helps some fireflies who are lost, too. Upon returning home Sticky, with the help of his new firefly friends, saves his village from some rampaging dogs. Then he's a hero and the others welcome him home, deciding it's not so bad to have someone around who's different.

The book is fun. Woven into the story are some facts about forest wildlife and such, as Sticky makes observations to share with the reader. And since he's a burr, he's always getting stuck to things by accident- a dog's tail, a bird's feather, a mossy tree trunk! It's got a nice message for kids about accepting others for who they are. There's a website, too.

rating: 3/5 ........ 56 pages, 2007

more opinions:
 Literature Blog
There's a Book
Books 4 Your Kids

Apr 19, 2012

Happy Happy Clover

vol 5
Sayuri Tatsuyama

Clover tries to get out of preparing for her tests, again. She wants to invite Rambler to stay in her house when it rains, but he mysteriously refuses to leave his tent. Clover and Hickory magically exchange bodies- but will they reverse the spell in time? (and of course they discover that it's not all roses, being someone else). Mallow tries to figure out what she wants to be when she grows up. She finds she has an admirer, and Kale meets his pen-pal- who isn't at all like he'd pictured. I liked most of these stories, but I didn't really care for how the book ended. I was expecting to see an entire storyline about Clover's adventures with Rambler, and instead there's build-up to the event: the entire forest community shows their support for Clover to follow her dream, and a forest fire threatens to ruin her plans. Then we see her go off, and the next page she returns to the forest to see all her friends grown up. I felt cheated. I wanted to see some exploring adventures! Plus the author stated quite clearly throughout the book that this was the last one, so there won't be another volume just of her travels, like I half-hoped.

There is a very sweet bonus-story at the end that shows how Clover and Rambler first met. I liked that. He's my favorite character of them all, next to the quiet, unshakable Hickory (flying squirrel).

rating: 3/5 ........ 192 pages, 2010

Apr 18, 2012

Happy Happy Clover

vol 3
Sayuri Tatsuyama

In the third volume of Happy Happy Clover, the bunnies and their friends navigate friendships, crushes and the ins and outs of Heart-Leaf Day (a tradition like Valentine's day) They wake Blackberry the bear too early from his hibernation, and attempt to journey to another forest to make a mail delivery. There are more magical elements in this volume: Clover uses a charm to try and avoid a test she's not prepared for, she gets transformed into a monster by Cinnamon Fox's magic stone, and the animals all get taken in by a story about beans telling their future. I liked the story that showed one of Rambler's travels to another forest, and also the one where Clover convinces her parents to let her stay home alone while they go on a short trip. There was more of the moles in this volume- I find them kinda strange, but not as annoying as the rapping birds. At the end of the book is a little strip that shows some of the daily trials the main characters have to deal with- Shallot's is getting buried under the piles of his beloved books!

rating: 3/5 ........ 192 pages, 2009

more opinions:
Slightly Biased Manga

Apr 17, 2012

Happy Happy Clover

vol 2
by Sayuri Tatsuyama

Another volume of manga for kids, about a little rabbit and her friends. Because this is still a rather new format for me, I've been enjoying the little stories and not focusing much on its structure. On the third book, though, I started to notice some things. The stories roughly follow the seaons: usually the opening tale is during winter, then spring comes, followed by summer, autumn but the final stories are in winter again. I like that, it feels like I'm reading through an abbreviated year. At the end of each tale is a small panel giving further details or events related to the story, it's called "Clover's Fun Doodle Pad" and is sometimes even funnier than the main story. I like how each of these has a month named by something that occurs at that time in nature: "the month when fireflies dance" or "the month when leaves turn red" etc. Although most of the content is grounded in nature- the rabbits love veggies, are afraid of humans, their bear friend hibernates, etc. - there are also lots of human elements too: they live in houses, cook, sleep in beds. The young ones go to school, there's a postal service, the birds (annoying) rap everything they say, they play musical instruments...

Well, anyway, some of the things that happen in this book: Clover tries to trick Rambler into taking her traveling with him by challenging him to an obstacle race, but Rambler gets stuck. She runs into a human girl who wants to keep her as a pet, but Clover's having none of that! Shallot- a very bookwormish bunny- prefers reading to playing and is puzzled when the other young rabbits want to be his friend. The rapping birds (their rhythm and rhymes are awful) compete with the bunnies to see who can deliver a message more accurately. Clover confronts a ghost. Kale's little brothers try to turn themselves into a package so they can be part of the mail delivery. The animals' teacher, an owl, goes away for a conference so the young one's fathers take turn substituting; Clover is embarrassed by her dad's ineptitude (at first). Clover tells a story about Santa Claus to the baby bunnies, but when she discovers Santa only delivers to human children, she and her friends have to make gifts (quite a challenge!) to avoid disappointing the little ones. But the best part of the book to me was at the end- a little afterword segment that highlighted some of the characters. In Rambler's piece, everyone admires him and speculates what hardships and trials he braved in his travels- as evidenced by his tattered ears, of course. Then he tells what they really came from, all mundane injuries like scratching a bug bite too hard. It made me laugh.

rating: 3/5 ........ 192 pages, 2009

more opinions:
Manga Maniac Cafe
Slightly Biased Manga

Apr 16, 2012

Happy Happy Clover

vol 1
by Sayuri Tatsuyama

Over the past few days I've been enjoying reading the Happy Happy Clover manga series alongside my kid. (I needed a break from the seriousness that was the last book). I have to keep reminding her not to spoil the surprises by telling me all the funny and cool things that happen in the books- she read through them a lot quicker than I (having more time on her hands).

So in volume 1, the reader meets Clover the bunny just as she is making a new friend, the shy lop-eared rabbit Mallow. Other events in the book: Clover finds a haunted part of the forest, a wandering rabbit makes a visit, Mallow braves a steep sledding hill, a monster prevents the bunnies from gathering mushrooms, the young animals try to hide their dismal report cards, and Clover tries to find out what Hickory the flying squirrel is afraid of. I think my favorite story was the one where Clover is given the task of delivering a secret love letter. The drawings are cute, the stories fun and full of little morality lessons at the same time (but its not so obvious as to be annoying).

rating: 3/5 ......... 188 pages, 2006

Apr 14, 2012


a memoir of anorexia and bulimia
by Marya Hornbacher

Wasted is a first-person narrative about nine or ten years of a severe eating disorder. What began as mere curiosity- what would happen if I do this? - combined with a skewed sense of self-image and body consciousness, the author began binging and purging when she was just nine years old. She tried it again, more and more often until it became a dangerous habit. Overly concerned with her appearance, she obsessed over her weight and food intake. Hornbacher is very scrutinizing about the dynamics of her family and her personality traits that combined to catapult her into a way of life that threatened to destroy her. She chronicles the downward spiral of her health in a very stark manner. I kept thinking: now it will stop, now surely she will listen to all those around her begging her to turn around, but it didn't. Eventually she became anorectic and simple started to starve. The details of what happens to your body when you do that are simply horrifying. I kept feeling astonished that she could be so aware of what was happening to her, and so powerless to stop it at the same time. I wondered at her strong presence of mind, that she could write so clearly about her experiences and feelings; she even read her own medical records and shared in the book what her doctors and therapists had to say about her condition. She was hospitalized and institutionalized on several occasions, started to recover, had relapses, did her best to fool the doctors and continue the destruction of her body. It makes the reader squirm.

Quite a few of the reviewers on Amazon decry this book with alarm- they say in the hands of the wrong person it can enable someone to do this to themselves, because it goes into such honest detail about how the author fed her disease. I know I'm not going to let my daughter read it until she's an adult, and I'm not one to censor her reading by any means. You might ask: why keep it on the shelf at all? but I found it an astonishing read, a valuable one- and it is so well-written. So eloquent, vivid, precise. (She's also a reader, one who took solace in books, which made me sympathize, and liberal quotes from Alice in Wonderland sprinkled throughout, which I loved). I don't want to get rid of the book, I just want to be careful. My daughter, only seven, is already quite conscious of her body image and occasionally asks me if she weighs too much or little (she doesn't, either one). I just don't want her getting any unhealthy ideas from this book.

This book is powerful, frightening and utterly riveting. I had a difficult time putting it down, even though several times I wanted to stop reading. Sometimes I had to take a break when a particular description just made me feel sickened, but I always picked it up again, had to know how far she went, how she recovered, where she stood now.

She is no longer dying, but doesn't sound completely healthy yet, either- according to what the afterword relates. It seems that this disease is one that never really leaves one, even when you think you have overcome it.

Picked up this one at a library sale, on a whim. I think this is a book Nymeth ought to read....

rating: 4/5 ........ 298 pages, 1998

more opinions:
Women and Writing
Crazy Girl Reads
It's Couch Time

Apr 11, 2012

bookmarks giveaway

I came across my collection of handmade bookmarks in the drawer and realized I haven't done a giveaway in a long time. These bright flower ones match the spring mood, so I thought I'd put them up for grabs! I think these are some kind of tiny orchid species, but not sure. Anyway, they're pretty! If you'd like to have these laminated bookmarks, simply leave a comment before next weekend (4/21) when I'll pick a winner at random. Open worldwide.

Apr 10, 2012

unicorn books

I have a new favorite place.
About once a year we take a little drive (well, four hours- seems pretty long with the baby) through Maryland to Ocean City to spend a few days at the beach. I usually make the effort to visit Mason Books which is just a few blocks from the beach, but as it was easter sunday this time the shop was closed. I was pretty disappointed. So this time we plotted to stop at a used bookstore I've always seen from the highway. Every other year we've been either too tired to stop, or didn't see the building until it was too late to slow down. This time we used my husband's navigation tool on his iphone to see exactly where were were in relation to the shop so we could find it.

It's in a little town called Trappe. Unicorn Bookshop looks like a small building, but inside it is just amazing. The rooms are simply crammed with books- shelves to the ceiling, cases and stacks on the floor. It's the kind of place you could poke around in for hours and never notice the time going by. It's very well-organized too, which I really appreciated- everywhere in the shop are signs posted telling you just where to find which kinds of books. The first room of interest I found had a wall of children's books and there I came upon my first treasures- a group of old books by Ernest Thompson Seton!

This is an author I have long admired, but seldom had the chance to read- most of his stuff is out of print. And several of the titles here were ones I'd in particular been wanting to get my hands on- Two Little Savages (boys' adventures in the woods) and Lives of the Hunted. I simply snatched them all.
Nearby found a Thornton Burgess- I'm amassing quite a collection of those. I have about fourteen of his books of animal stories, now, and keep looking for more. Then I stepped across the aisle and found myself facing the shelves of nature writing. There was Gerald Durrell! and Hal Borland! and Sally Carrighar! and I simply had to stop before I went even further. I didn't even go into any other rooms, or dig through any of the stacks on the floor (though regretfully I feel certain I could have found more Burgess there) because I knew what was in my hands would already cost me a pretty penny.
When I got to the counter I promptly said: "I love your shop!" and the man smiled at my stack of books and said "I can see that you do." He who rung up my purchase was a little old man with a stooped back but quite spry. He did everything old-school. He wrote down each title and price in a huge ledger book, by hand, humming the titles and numbers quietly to himself. Then he added it up on an adding machine, used a carbon-copy to take my card and wrote the receipt by hand, too. There was a new-looking flatscreen Apple monitor on the book-cluttered desk, but otherwise no sign of modern technology. It was completely charming. The ledger book was held open by a heavy clasp in the figure of a unicorn, too. I came out of that place simply beaming with delight.

I begged my husband to forgive the cost, promised I would not make any more extravagant book purchases this year, and that we must come back next time!

If you visit the bookshop's website, there's a nice little video there. I didn't even notice the clocks when I went in! And if you're so inclined, you can see a few pictures of our little beach vacation here. I probably should have named this post The Splurge, ha ha!

Apr 9, 2012

Happy Happy Clover

vol 4
by Sayuri Tatsuyama

I'm still feeling my way in terms of reading graphic novels; not sure yet what all the different distinctions are. This one, I think, is considered kids' manga. I found it cute and amusing. Happy Happy Clover is a series about a little bunny and her friends in a forest. The book contains a dozen little stories that can stand alone. Of course, I started with volume four, the one I found on the library shelf, so I don't have all the backstory, but it was pretty easy to figure out what was going on. Clover seems to be quite the mischievous little bunny; she's stubborn, has a quick temper, and is something of a tomboy, as I realized while reading "A Star is Born", wherein Clover finally consents to attend a girls' party full of baking cookies, embroidery and girly talk. She'd really rather be outside doing some extreme sledding! In another story, Clover wants to visit her grandfather, and sets off on the journey by herself, even though she's been forbidden to travel so far. Migrating ducks spread horror stories among the animals in another, making them all terrified of a mysterious black chestnut. A fourtune-telling fox pays a visit, Clover's friend Kale relates what it was like to become a new big brother, and Clover's hatred for her green veggies comes to haunt her, in other stories.

The tales are all quite entertaining, as well as presenting a subtle lesson for kids. In the end, there's even a little segment showing how the author/illustrator goes through the process of creating the book and getting it printed. I liked it quite a bit, and when I was done handed the comic book to my seven-year-old. She read it all during our drive to the beach, and when we got back I promptly picked up volumes 1-3 from the library so we can read more of Clover's little adventures.

This is the first time I've read a book printed the same way it is in the original Japanese, that is read from right to left, back to front. It took quite a bit of getting used to, but wasn't too difficult an adjustment. My daughter loved the novelty of "reading a book backwards" and when I showed her the shelf where I'd found children's graphic novels at the library today, she wasn't interested much in the characters or plots presented, but only wanted to find another book she could read backwards!

rating: 3/5 ........ 188 pages, 2006

Apr 6, 2012

The Vineyard

by Louisa Hargrave

This is a book I picked up just out of curiosity, at a library sale one year. It was a really good read. It tells the story of a young couple who decide to try growing grapes for winemaking on Long Island, where no-one had successfully done so before. They had no experience managing a vineyard or making wine, but loved wine and so set out to make their dreams a reality. Their story is all about what it took to purchase land, establish the vines, learn to care for them, pick the first harvest, learn to make wine, etc. Also details about how they had to create marketing strategies, attract customers and fend off rivals- it turns out the wine industry is full of people who want to sabotage each other's work! It's also about their family life- how they raised two children, eventually sending them off to boarding school so they could focus on the work in the vineyard. About their division of labor- the author (and wife) ended up doing most of the outdoor labor, since her husband had medical issues he ended up in the office dealing with paperwork, marketing, etc. There's everything in here from pests and unreliable employees to regulations, inspections, tourists and family problems. I'm not one who enjoys drinking wine, but I still found reading about the process very interesting. I knew it was an intricate and complicated business, but had no idea how much!

rating: 3/5 ........ 254 pages, 2003

more opinions:
Loving Long Island
Purple Liquid: a wine and food diary
Books Drinks & Beverages

Apr 3, 2012

The Adventures of Hamtaro

A Home for Hamtaro and Other Stories
by Ritsuko Kawai

I was following my seven-year old through the juvenile section of the library and just happened to glance over and notice a shelf full of juvenile graphic novels. This was the first one that caught my eye, so I picked out a handful to read for fun.

I haven't seen the animated show this book corresponds to, but I have to say this volume is pretty darn cute. I did look at some of the animated clips on youtube, and I like the artwork in the book better. It has a soft, gentle feel, looks like it was all drawn with colored pencils.

So the book is about a hamster who finds a new home when he is given to a little girl as her birthday present. The separate stories are incredibly short- some a bare few pages long, and I often found myself wishing there was more to it. But I liked that part of the story always reflected real hamster behavior- Hamtaro feels upset when his cage is cleaned and his stash of food removed; he likes to hide in small places; he feels frustrated at being shut up in his cage. Other parts of the story showed Hamtaro and his little girl learning from each other; this I especially liked. When Hamtaro watches Yukari practice math with his sunflower seeds, it inspires him to solve his own problem when he can't fit a hamster biscuit through his doorway! Yukari sees Hamtaro trying to climb on the ceiling of his cage and is encouraged to try again at something she'd failed to do on the playground. My favorite was the page where the Hamtaro is roaming the house and starts digging tunnels in a potted plant! The last story especially disappointed me with its brevity: Yukari takes Hamtaro outside in her pocket. He chews a hole in the pocket and falls out. You'd expect all sorts of things to happen but no: he just runs and climbs up her legs, gets immediately rescued. O well. It's still cute enough I might look for the three other books in this series.

rating: 3/5 ........ 76 pages, 1997

more opinions:
the Kitsune's Den
anyone else?

Apr 1, 2012


I did it! I finished the TBR Double Dare. Well, kind of. In the past three months, I've read seventeen books, all off my TBR shelf here at home. I was sorely tempted a few times with books I saw on display at the library, but managed to restrain myself (jotting down their titles for later). I did post quite a number of times about board books which were from the library, but as I got those for the baby and not my own reading, I didn't think they counted. A few times though, I forgot and read a book my older daughter had brought home from the school library- four Junie B. Jones books. So... I guess those broke my challenge? I'm not sure now if I can consider myself having stuck to this or not.