Jan 26, 2015

From Baghdad, with Love

by Lt. Col. Jay Kopelman
and Melinda Roth

In 2004, a military unit stationed in Iraq finds an abandoned puppy and starts feeding and caring for it in their quarters. It's strictly against the rules for Marines to feed stray animals or keep pets, but their colonel becomes so attached to the puppy he becomes determined to get it out of the country and home to America. So the story isn't really about the dog. It's about all the events that surround the dog- the secrecy, emails and letters and pulling strings and getting support of big-name pet product companies and volunteer groups back home, to do whatever it takes to get the puppy out. Then the smuggling operation to move the puppy across boarders and home on a plane. It's also about military life, local politics and conditions in Iraq- the stress and fear and confusion. Most of all, Kopelman doesn't want the little dog to die, as so many strays do there on the streets (shot to control disease and keep them from eating dead bodies). He succeeds in rescuing the puppy- but unfortunately I lost interesting in all the technical details of how. I really wanted to like this book- it's such an inspiring story and apparently had a lot of media coverage, but unfortunately it's not very well-written and couldn't hold my attention. The chapters are really too short to be called such, there's very little depth and too much casual slang (it's written the way someone talks) and in the end, even the font started to annoy me. If you like military stories, you might appreciate this one, and if you like animal stories it's good to know the dog doesn't die- but for me this wasn't it.

Abandoned      196 pages, 2006

more opinions:
anyone else?

Jan 23, 2015

Doctor in Love

by Richard Gordon

In this installment of the Doctor series, young Gordon is still pretty fresh out of medical school. He's given up hopes of passing the exams to become a surgeon and establishes himself in a general practice instead. Far from being resigned and resentful at giving up his dreams of surgery, he pitches himself into the practice with eagerness to do his best- I admire that attitude. When the residing doctor goes on extended leave for his own medical problems, Gordon has to run the practice with all its upheavals- an irritatingly irresponsible partner, lack of staff and so on. There's also stories about the various lodging houses and odd flatmates (as before) and a new development when he falls in love with a new partner (surprised that this doctor is a woman), sets his sights on marriage and goes house-hunting. All good tales, and it still got a few chuckles out of me, but somehow I wasn't quite as entertained this time around. I think because there simply weren't as many medical stories, no case studies. It wasn't as much about how he practiced medicine, as his dealings with co-workers, prospective employees, annoying roommates, his new love interest and the like. It was interesting to see the different mindsets from the fifties- still a lot of stereotypes about women, although feminism was a newfangled idea here- and also the National Health system seemed to be new as well. There were a lot of complaints about it, from doctors and patients alike, and comparisons to the "old way" of doing things. So it's a bit of a historical read, as well. Light fun, but one I'm not going to keep. I had to make myself finish it.

Rating: 2/5       188 pages, 1957

Jan 22, 2015


by Janell Cannon

Stellaluna is an adorable young fruit bat. She is accidentally separated from her mother, and adopted by a family of birds- but only if she can follow mother bird's rules of conduct. So Stellaluna tries to adjust and learn to live like the birds- although some things make her miserable (eating bugs) and she's particularly awkward at landing upright. When Stellaluna learns to fly she is discovered by other fruit bats and learns her true identity. Then she wants to introduce her bird friends to her bat family- only to discover that they find bat manners just as strange!

This is a lovely picture book. It's a wonderful story about friendship and acceptance, teaching children about the biology of bats and birds at the same time. The end of the book has some facts on bats as well, for those who want to learn more. I have to share some of my favorite pictures with you:
especially this one

Rating: 4/5       48 pages, 1993

more opinions:
The Well-Read Child
The Reading Tub

Jan 20, 2015

The Secret Life of Squirrels

by Nancy Rose

Mr. Peanuts is not an ordinary squirrel. He has quite the refined life- playing the piano, baking cakes, reading from his tiny library. He mails a letter inviting his cousin to come visit, and is shown making preparations- tidying the bedroom, doing laundry and so on. When cousin squirrel arrives, the two enjoy visiting an ice-cream parlor, going on a picnic, and playing chess among other things. Mr. Peanuts is sad to see his cousin go when the visit is over- having discovered that your favorite activities are more fun when you have a friend to share them with!

The pictures in this book are just delightful- showing real life squirrels among miniature furniture and sets. I thought at first these must be tame squirrels, but it turns out they are wild animals that visit the author's backyard. She describes in the back of the book her process for taking the photographs (creating tiny sets, baiting them with peanuts, waiting for the curious squirrels to arrive and taking dozens of photographs to capture just the right pose). My kids really enjoyed this book- the youngest loved seeing a squirrel doing "people things" and her older sister spent a long time looking at the pictures, to guess how the author made all the miniature items. The author has a website too. There's an article about her work here, with more pictures.

Rating: 4/5          32  pages, 2014

more opinions:
Indextrious Reader

Jan 18, 2015

Doctor at Large

by Richard Gordon

This third installment of Ostlere's Doctor series (I don't have the second volume) follows young Dr. Gordon soon after qualifying. Searching hopelessly for a good job. Filling in as assistant for different general practices- varying widely in quality and all which turn out to be intolerable circumstances. Or just don't last. So he ends up back at St. Swithin's hospital, working as assistant to the house surgeon, trying to polish his skills and keeping an eye out for a better position. There's flirtations with nurses, dealings with unscrupulous hiring agencies, to-and-fro with his friends and rivals. Lots of laugh-out-loud moments. Some puzzlement from this reader at bygone practices- I don't quite know enough to be sure, but every time the young doctor groaned that a practice didn't have the most up-to-date instruments and equipment, I felt sure that the items he mentioned would nowadays be found in a museum! And I did wonder at how many surgeries involved removing the stomach. It seemed to be a certain surgeon's favorite procedure. Did that really cure the ailments they were hoping to? All in all, a good fun read.

Rating: 3/5      208 pages, 1955

more opinions:

Jan 14, 2015

I, Freddy

by Dietlof Reiche

Cute book about a golden hamster with high ambitions. Freddy is born in a crowded pet shop cage. He doesn't like tussling with the other hamsters (contests of strength) and questions the matriarch's tales of a promised land of Assyria (where golden hamsters originated). He wants to get out of the cage and find a better life, so is thrilled to finally be bought as a pet for a little girl. The move into a new home is stressful for Freddy, but he soon overcomes his fears and starts observing. From watching the little girl do homework he learns to read (quickly surpassing her skills) and he also figures out how to open his cage and roam the house. This is not without danger. The Mom (presented as a really negative character) turns out to be allergic to hamsters, so Freddy ends up in a different household where he must confront a very self-assured cat and two nutty guinea pigs who like to crack jokes at his expense. Freddy despises them, but must enlist their help if he is to follow his dreams- to improve his reading skills, and learn to write. He wants to communicate with his human captors, although the cat warns against this. It's a fun look at things from a hamster's perspective (sensitive to smells, passionate about mealworms, proud of his clean and tidy habits) with an engaging story that actually surprised me a few times.

Rating: 3/5        203 pages, 1998

Jan 13, 2015

Doctor in the House

by Richard Gordon

From the fifties, the retelling of a young man's forays through medical school at an imaginary teaching hospital in London called St. Swithin's. As the author was a surgeon himself, I'm pretty sure he was drawing on his own experiences (probably with embellishments) and gather that the picture of medical practice in that bygone era is more or less accurate. It's full of humorous incidents and very lighthearted. My knowledge is very general from a layman's perspective, but I was still horrified at some of the ways patients were treated- surgery was used to cure all manner of ills that seemed entirely unrelated, for one thing. Most of it though, is about life as a student- dealing with roommates, inscrutable professors, cramming for exams, ineffectively trying to date nurses and so on. The shock of being presented with his first cadaver to dissect. How quickly the students got used to such things. The chapter where he was sent out on midwifery rounds, on a rickety bicycle through damp streets to dirty tenement houses, reminded me so much of The Midwife. I felt sorry for the patients the medical students had to practice on, but they often seemed proud of the attention their ailments garnered! It's an amusing read and the writing even reminds me a bit of James Herriot.

I picked this book (and two of its sequels) at random from a secondhand sale once. Never heard of them before. I've found out that they were very popular in the sixties, the author (whose real name is Gordon Ostlere) wrote thirty-seven books in the series, and there was a television show made. Apparently the first handful of Doctor books are semi-autobiographical, after that they (according to wikipedia) get fictional, including a lot more "sexual innuendo and farce." I have a hunch I'll prefer the early novels. Not to go searching for, but if I come across more on book-hunts I'll probably pick them up.

Rating: 3/5       190 pages, 1952

Jan 11, 2015

The Alley Cat

by Yves Beauchemin

Florent has a dull job as salesman for a record company in Quebec. He's always wanted to own a restaurant. One day an act of kindness to a stranger on the street attracts the attention of an elderly wealthy man, who puts him on the path to buy a local restaurant. Florent is thrilled but baffled at his benefactor's intentions. As the restaurant changes hands and Florent with his young wife and several friends work to get things running smoothly, strange incidents begin to occur. Several of which threaten to ruin their budding restaurant business. Eventually it throws them into poverty, and Florent must search out other means to make a living. He tries his hand at various business ventures, but every time the old man crops up again, seems to have his hands behind everything. It gets very convoluted and distressing. Florent starts finding connections between all kinds of disparate people in his life, and just when things start to look up again and they think the strange benefactor has disappeared, the creepy old man shows up yet again. Eventually Florent does manage to establish his own restaurant again, and his conflict with the old man reaches a drastic conclusion.

There are all sorts of interesting things going on- descriptions of the restaurant business, antiques dealing, overseeing a building restoration, and even a venture which never becomes actualized but sounded interesting- making beauty products with grapefruit leaves. By far the most interesting character is a beastly little boy whose mother practically ignores him- he's discovered alcohol and buys or steals it whenever he can, dragging around his pet alley cat. He behaves hideously, but firmly attaches himself to Florent and his little family, somehow winning their affections and getting himself mixed up in all kinds of stuff. I was also intrigued by a character who was pretty much disparaged or pitied by all the others- a priest who had a passion for books, neglecting his duties and boring everyone with his quotations- it was obvious that reading was considered by the others an irresponsibly escapist pastime! Also the constant raging of a certain chef against American concoctions that he claimed were ruining culinary interests all over the world amused me.

This is a strange book. I almost put it down several times, but the story kept taking interesting turns, even though I couldn't always follow the intrigue. As events progressed it got more laughs out of me, and a lot of puzzlement as well. It's one of those books I might read again, just to see if I can figure it all out. The more I think about it, the more I actually like it.

The Alley Cat was originally published in French, it's been translated to English by Sheila Fischman.

Rating: 3/5         450 pages, 1981

Jan 8, 2015

another TBR list

for the new year- catching up on a backlog of book titles I have noted in the past weeks, but not listed out or looked up (source) until now:
The Sixth Extinction by Elizabeth Kolbert- Shelf Love
Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan - Stuff as Dreams Are Made On
Dirty Chick by Antonia Murphy- So Many Books
Burma Chronicles by Guy Delisle- Ardent Reader
Cooked by Michael Pollan- Farm Lane Books Blog
As You Wish by Cary Elwes- It's All About Books
Eating Animals- Jonathan Safran Foer- Stuff As Dreams Are Made On
What We See When We Read by Peter Mendelsund- Indextrious Reader
Feral by George Monbiot- Shelf Love
Proust and the Squid by Maryanne Wolf - Indextrious Reader
The Sleeper and the Spindle by Neil Gaiman- Iris on Books
Between Gods by Alison Pick- Indextrious Reader
While You're Reading by Gerard Unger- Indextrious Reader