Jul 29, 2013

bookmarks giveaway!

Time for a giveaway. Who would like a pair of kitty paws and noses to grace their pages? Just leave a comment here and you'll be entered for this free bookmark set!
Giveaway ends a week from now, Mon Aug 5. Open to anyone with a mailing address in the US or Canada. Happy reading!

Jul 27, 2013

Curious George

by Margaret and H.A. Rey

I've missed reviewing children's books lately, and so am trying to get back into that. Especially as my youngest is starting to move beyond the board books and into regular picture books, which are a bit more interesting to write about. She's really into Curious George lately, and this is the one where it all started (we have five Curious George books on our shelf at home, and keep finding others to borrow from the library).

The basic storyline here is that a man who seems to always dress in yellow with a wide-brimmed hat captures a young monkey from the jungle, takes him home to put in the zoo but ends up rather adopting George (in a subsequent book) to live in his house. George causes all kinds of mischief but it always turns out alright in the end.

All the stories about George follow a similar pattern, although I find the originals more endearing; the later books that have been written by a different author are a bit too formulaic for me. But the originals have a few issues of their own. One is that they definitely show evidence of being written in a different era. There seems to be no problem with the idea that a man on vacation (or whatever he was doing there- exploring? collecting more likely) can just bring a wild animal home with him. I find the method of capture charming, as it reflects the insatiable curiosity of the little monkey- the man simply puts his hat on the ground, George approaches and tries to put it on himself, hides his own eyes, and is caught.  On the way home via ship George falls overboard and is rescued; once back in America he spends the night at the man's house and eats dinner at the table, then smokes a pipe (hello- what?!) before going to bed. The next day the monkey is left alone for a while and plays with the telephone (a very archaic-looking instrument to my kids!) which gets him in trouble with the fire department and thrown in jail. He escapes, walks across telephone wires, flies away with a bunch of balloons and eventually is found by the iconic man-with-the-yellow-hat (this fellow never has a real name) who takes him to the zoo where he appears happy despite the austere environment- a bare cage with just a swing.

I'm guessing most of the issues here won't bother kids at all. The one that actually bugs me most is that George is consistently called a monkey when he looks like a chimpanzee- although his fur is reddish brown, not black.

It's funny though; even though when I think closely about it I find some things odd or inappropriate about the original stories, I still like them better than the newer books. (There are two sets of these, which we've found at the library. One which mimicks the original style closely, the others seem to be based on a tv series and has a smooth, animated look, not hand-illustrated. I have another set of minor issues with these, which will come up later if I continue to write about them). The originals just have more charm, and of course are loaded with nostalgia for me. My mom read them to me over and over, when I was a kid.

Rating: 4/5 ......... 64 pages, 1941

Jul 25, 2013

Tales of Wonder

by Jane Yolen

Jane Yolen's collection of short stories draws on traditional folk tales, legends, myths and fairy tales to make something new. The stories all feel familiar, but with different characters, unexpected turns and fabulously original interpretations. If I remember rightly, they're not really kid's stories but have dark undertones and are probably more geared towards adult readers. Once again, this is a book I'm making a note of mostly to remind myself that I'd like to read it again someday if I can ever find it. I believe the book is out of print. Have any of you read it?

Rating: 3/5 ........ 275 pages, 1983

Jul 24, 2013

My Animal Kingdom, One by One

by David Taylor

This is the first book I read by David Taylor, and it got me hooked on the author. He's a wildlife veterinarian, who worked mostly for zoos and owners of private animal collections, during the late 1950's through the sixties. I remember thinking when I first started reading Taylor, finally an author who lives up to the comparison to James Herriot. So many books about animals (vets in particular) claim to be as good as Herriot, and none every quite matched up until now. Taylor's books are engaging, humorous, and include all kinds of interesting facts about wild animals and their medical treatment, seamlessly woven into the story. I enjoy them a lot.

Unfortunately, this is one volume I haven't been able to get my hands on again (I intend to have all his books in my personal library, some day) so I can't relate any individual stories of the animals, because I no longer remember them clearly. I will be eager to read it again someday. Have any of you read his books?

Rating: 3/5......... 196 pages, 1984

Jul 22, 2013

A Clash of Kings

by George R.R. Martin

The strife goes on. Warring factions take sides, shift and betray and battle it out. Everyone wants their own outcome, hardly anyone gets it. The weight of choices. Four different men have proclaimed themselves king over part of the land (or all of it) so everything is turmoil. I admit I had a bit of difficulty keeping track of what was happening when it came to the tangle of warfare, especially the chapter that comprised a battle at sea, that was just a blur to me. But the viewpoints of individual characters and how larger events affected them kept me grounded. To my surprise I found myself more invested in Sansa's plight than the other characters. I still admire her fierce sister Arya, the young noblewoman wandering the realm in the guise of a lowborn boy, at first just trying to survive but now finding ways to take vengeance on those who have killed her family members. But Sansa's difficulties lie in keeping her head while held in the castle of her enemies and betrothed to a cruel boy-king who turns out to be a vicious sadist- I really felt for her. Also I'm more admiring of Tyrion the dwarf, his ways of holding good his word and standing up for others even whilst going after his own interests and view of justice within his role as Hand of the King. And even though I don't like him, the parts about Theon Greyjoy were interesting. The guy was raised as ward in someone else's household; to all appearances treated well, but felt himself held captive and came back to overthrow Winterfell and claim it for his own when the place was not well-manned. His success and rule was bitter and short-lived; everyone seems to hate the miserable fellow. Seems to just be desperate for some recognition and power of his own.

Perhaps because the book gives far more details, I got better at understanding the motives behind different characters' actions. Even the plotting and war strategies started to make sense to me. It was intriguing to see the differences made when the tv series was created- I noticed quite a few shifts in plot, mostly regarding when various characters were introduced. Also in what happened during some of the battles, although the outcome was always the same. I continue to carry in my head the faces the film introduced me to, when reading the pages.

I wasn't quite sure if I was going to actually make it all the way through this book (any volume that requires an extensive appendix to keep track of characters makes me weary- too much work to remember them all!) but I found myself getting more and more interested the further I read. Definitely continuing onward.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 1009 pages, 1999

More opinions:
Blood Rose Books
The Fake Steph
The Mad Reviewer
Tongue Sophistries
Ivan's Brain

Jul 18, 2013

more new-to-me titles

found via the fellow bloggers listed below
Primates by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks- Things Mean a Lot
The Sociopath Next Door by Martha Stout- Shelf Love
Confessions of a Sociopath by ME Thomas- Estella's Revenge
Paleofantasy by Marlene Zuk- Things Mean a Lot
Mortality by Christopher Hitchens- Farm Lane Books Blog
Bird by Rita Murphy- Stuff as Dreams are Made On
The Blueberry Years by Jim Minick- Sophisticated Dorkiness
My Animals and Other Family by Clare Balding- Read Warbler
A Place Called Wiregrass by Michael Morris- You've Gotta Read This!
Slammerkin by Emma Donohue- Reading the End
The Lucy Variations by Sara Zarr- It's All About Books and Reading the End
Buddy by Brian McGrory from Maggie Reads
The Journal of Best Practices by David Finch- Caroline Bookbinder
Memoirs of an Imaginary Friend by Matthew Dicks- Farm Lane Books Blog
The War at Ellsmere by Erin Faith Hicks- You've Gotta Read This!
Dandelion Hunter by Rebecca Lerner- Bookwyrme's Lair
In Great Waters by Kit Whitfield- Reading the End
Parrotfish by Ellen Wittlinger- Stuff as Dreams are Made On
The Yonahlossee Riding Camp for Girls by Anton Disclafani
Soonchild by Russell Hoban- Things Mean a Lot
The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker- Indextrious Reader
A Zeal of Zebras by Whoop Studios- Carol's Notebook
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco- Bookpuddle
The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate- Kyusi Reader
books not available in my library system:
The Pill by Bernard Asbell- Reading the End
Unmastered by Katherine Angel- Things Mean a Lot
The Summer Girls by Mary Alice Monroe- Bermudaonion's Weblog
Speed of Dark by Elizabeth Moon- Farm Lane Books Blog
In the Garden of Stone by Susan Tekulve
The Twin by Gerbrand Bakker- Iris on Books
Saved by Ben Hewitt- Cold Antler Farm
Jewleweed by David Rhodes- The Lost Entwife
Mark of the Grizzly by Scott McMillion- Ardent Reader
these found while browsing said library system:
The Lucky Ones by Jenny Brown
My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell

Jul 16, 2013


by Robin Lee Graham

Fine adventure story from the sixties about a young man who determined to circumnavigate the world in his 24-foot sailboat. He was only sixteen when he set out on his solo journey. Well, not exactly solo. He had the company of a variety of ship's cats throughout the trip, met and fell in love with a girl, later married her and she accompanied him on the sailboat for different legs of the journey. She also spent a lot of time jumping from place to place around the world to meet him at different ports. In fact, a large part of the book is their love story. There are lots of mishaps, storms, explorations in foreign places and other adventures. And loneliness. He talks a lot about feeling alone on the high seas in that boat with perhaps just a cat or two for company. The journey ended up taking Robin five years, and he didn't exactly make it all the way- if I remember correctly, he set out from Hawaii and finished up in California... But still it's an incredible (true) story one that I enjoyed much. Especially the survivalist bits and about how he did things "the hard way" because there was no other way back then! He didn't have GPS or even a two-way radio but navigated using the stars and various time-honored instruments. It's a book I'd like to revisit someday and I'm rather surprised my library system doesn't have a single copy!

The book came out after the National Geographic serialized his adventures. I'd like to see those articles, I can't recall now if I've read them or not (my parents had a large collection of National Geographics I used to go through as a kid... but more looking for pictures of animals than reading stuff!) Robin's story has also been made into a film- has anyone seen that? what did you think?

Rating: 3/5 ........ 199 pages, 1972

a few more opinions:
Craftsman Character
Hans is Great

Jul 15, 2013

The Wolf Hybrid

by Dorothy Prendergast

Although quite short, this book has a lot of practical information on acquiring, caring for and raising wolf-dog hybrids. The book describes how difficult it can be to handle for these animals, which have a lot of wolf traits (of course) and different behavior patterns from domestic dogs. This can be a plus or a terribly negative impact depending on what sort of wolfish companion you want, how able you are to care for it, meet its unique needs and keep it from being too destructive (high energy and intelligence attribute to that mostly, I gather). Curiously, if I remember rightly, the book points out that some hybrids seem to inherit the desirable personality traits of the wolf- sociability, high intelligence, intensity etc while others seem to have more of the undesirable aggressiveness, desire for dominance, general wildness. You might never know what you're getting into.... For me who read the book as a mere curiosity, it was a great caution about these animals. They must be properly trained and conditioned to living alongside humans or can be very dangerous, as the large numbers of rescued hybrids attest to- having been abandoned or got rid of when their behavior becomes a problem. 

To make it brief- the book was interesting and I learned quite a bit about wolf-dog hybrids, especially how much the author cautions against owning one unless you know how to treat the animal and handle its behavior.

Rating: 3/5 ......... 151 pages, 1989

Jul 12, 2013

The River

by Gary Paulsen

A book I really liked as a kid was The Hatchet (I think I still have a copy). I noticed Paulsen had written a few companion volumes to the book, so gave them a try also (several years ago). In The River, our protagonist Brian -a teenager- is now famous for how he survived solo in the wilderness and has been hired by government men to re-enact his escapade in the woods so they can learn his techniques. Brian gets dropped off once again into the northern wilderness, but this time with a back-up team and some supplies. He convinces his adult companion to ditch the supplies, on the grounds that they won't be forced to really survive on what they can find in the woods if easier goods are within reach. But then disaster strikes, Brian finds himself nearly alone again (the other guy incapacitated) and in a moment of desperation builds a raft to try and move downriver to reach help.

So it did end up being a similar type of survival story, with river rapids and an injured companion to haul around thrown in. But the story didn't speak to me nearly as well. I still recall vividly many parts of The Hatchet, especially the psychological stress the kid went through, the encounters with wild animals and unflinching weather. In this later book, things weren't quite so raw. It didn't feel as real, either. Too pat. Plus I never bought into the idea that government would need a teenager to teach them survival skills....

Rating: 2/5 ........ 144 pages, 1991

Jul 10, 2013

cleaning house

I have felt the need to clean out my reader recently. I simply don't have as much time as I used to and it would be nice to focus on the blogs that I actually interact with, or find interesting books on, rather than have a bunch of posts to go through that I just end up skipping. I tried to be very systematic about this. In case anyone's curious, these are the criteria I used to decide which blogs to keep in my reader, or let go:

How much I look forward to reading a blog
If I distinctly recall visiting a blog recently, or noticed that the blogger visited me
If we have conversations via comments or email
If I added a book to my TBR within the past two years, from reading their blog

Blogs that I haven't felt compelled to read frequently or gotten book recommendations from, for the most part got moved off my reader. Not to mention blogs that haven't posted anything new in the past six months or more, going defunct themselves (it happens).

I was rather surprised to find that 25 of the blogs I've followed for a long time and am quite familiar with, haven't actually interacted with me in months, or mentioned any books I'd like to read. I had not really noticed that our reading interests no longer converge...

These changes will be reflected in the list of book blog links posted on my sidebar. Please, if you feel you've been unjustly shuffled off my list, do let me know!

I did realize that I'm discovering new blogs in a different way now. I used to go through other bloggers' link lists, but it's been a long time now since I've done that. What I have been doing lately, is searching for other reviews of books I've read to link to when I make my posts. Often I find new blogs that way, with more similar reading tastes.

Jul 9, 2013

The Ape In Our House

by Cathy Hayes

I read this book back in 2003, when going through a spate of reads about ape language experiments- efforts made by the scientific community to teach gorillas and chimpanzees sign language or vocal speech (mostly a failure, but quite interesting nonetheless!) This particular book was written well before most of those experiments, but is along a very similar vein. The author was curious about how intelligent chimpanzees actually are, and if one could learn to speak if it were raised like a human child. So assayed to raise a chimp within her family, named Viki. The Hayes soon discovered that although the chimp was quite intelligent, Viki could also be very stubborn and willful, so it was not always easy to discern whether she understood a request or was just refusing to follow it. Viki proved incapable of learning to speak, although with some physical manipulation ("speech therapy") she was able, with a lot of coaxing, to pronounce four simple words. Not always able to use them in proper context, though. She also learned quite a few routines and human behaviors, although again, not consistently, and was never learned to use the toilet, despite all efforts to train her. I am sure there were a lot of anecdotes from Viki's story that intrigued me when I first read this book, but cannot quite recall them now. If I come across it again will certainly make an effort to read it one more time.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 247 pages, 1951

Jul 8, 2013

Longing For Darkness

Kamante's Tales from Out of Africa
compiled by Peter Beard and Isak Dinesen

This is one of those books I read once long ago and dearly wish I could get my hands on again someday. I don't even recall now how or where I found it, must of been in a library or I think I would still have a copy. One of my very favorite books is Out of Africa, Isak Dinesen's tale of its lands and people during a bygone era. The richness of that text comes alive in a new way in Longing For Darkness, where we experience a different view of it all. Kamante was Dinesen's major-domo, a native African who helped run her household and mainly worked as her cook. He had his own collection of stories; many of them are included in this volume, in his own words. Some are familiar Dinesen tales told in a new voice, others are Kamante's own animal fables, and a few tales from his family history. There are also photographs and many delightful drawings and watercolors by Kamante himself. It's a book to treasure and one I will certainly snatch up if I ever spot it on a shelf again.

Rating: 4/5 ....... 264 pages, 1991

Jul 3, 2013

A Game of Thrones

by George R.R. Martin

Last year I watched the tv series that was based on this fantasy epic. I didn't realize they were books first until my sister gave me her paperback copies to read. It's one of those detailed fantasy tales full of multifaceted characters. It's a world full of strife, different factions battling for power, who will sit on the Iron Throne. Not easy to describe, but as when watching the films, I was drawn in by the characters. My favorites are Jon Snow- illegitimate son of a lord, sent to the outskirts of the world to stand guard against dire things that roam in the frozen forest "beyond the Wall". His young half-sister Arya, a fierce little girl who would rather learn to use a sword than do stitchery and ladylike things. The dwarf Tyrion has grown on me. I didn't care for his bawdy preoccupations at first, but his jokes cut to the quick of things and he has a way of stating the obvious that others would rather avoid. He looks out for himself but in his own way has more integrity than a lot of the other people crawling around on those pages. My other favorite character is Daenerys, an exiled princess making her way back a homeland she can't even remember. Early on in the book she was sold by her brother to be the wife of the lord of a band of barbaric nomads. Through the course of the story she had to learn their customs and came to hold her own, win their respect and wield her own power. If you're looking for strong female protagonists, Daenerys is your woman.

There are plenty more characters I like and tend to follow their threads of the storyline when all the intrigue, politicking and battles get tedious (although the recommendation I read on another blog about Martin writing battles well was accurate. I don't get too bored!) Truthfully, this is one case where I liked the film version better than the novel. If I'd read this book first, I don't know if I would have made it through. It's a bit light on description, which fails to draw me in and make me turn the pages eagerly as I'd like. Having seen the film, my mind fills in the visuals and instead I enjoy seeing where the story has been changed. Not much; so far the tv series has been very faithful to the book.

I like the grim realism of it all. There's mysterious doings and religious fanatics, scheming courtiers and common people simply trying to live their lives who get caught up in things. I thought at first it was going to just be a story about kings and knights and ladies and warfare, but there are hints of darker stuff going on, and there's magic although realistically the people doubt it themselves. There are things that make the dead walk, seers who can enter dreams and the vision of animals, and dragons. Those appeared only at the very end of the story, so I am full of anticipation for the next installment.

Rating: 3/5 ....... 835 pages, 1996

more opinions:
Book Geeks
Ardent Reader