(at my library)
The Perfect Distance by Kim Ablon Whitney
The Island of Horses by Eilis Dillon

 

(not at the library)

My Horsey Life by Janet Rising
Snow Cloud, Stallion by Gerald Raftery
We Couldn’t Leave Dinah by Mary Treadgold
The Brumby by Mary Elwyn Patchett
Come Home, Brumby by Mary Elwyn Patchett
The Boundary Riders by Joan Phipson
The Horse in the House by William Corbin
Wild Pony by Lucy Rees
The Silver Brumby by Elyne Mitchell
Shasta and Rogue a Coyote Story by Robert Behme
Death in the Long Grass by Peter Hathaway Capstick
My Wild Animal Guests by Ernest Harold Baynes
The Voice of the Coyote by Frank J. Dobie
Catfantastic edited by Andre Norton and Martin Greenberg
True Cat Toons by Roberta Gregory
I Am a Cat by Soseki Natsume
The Moon in the Cloud by Rosemary Harris
Lives and Times of Archy and Mehitabel by Don Marquis
Song of the Wild by Alan Eckert
The Great Auk by Alan Eckert
The Crossbreed by Alan Eckert
The King Snake by Alan Eckert
Savage Journey by Alan Eckert
The Dreaming Tree by Alan Eckert
The Silent Sky by Alan Eckert

by Ursula Murray Husted

My ten-year-old and I both liked this one a lot. It is a very touching story about two young cats who live on an island in Malta (the seaside setting made me think of The Cats of Lamu). Betto is content with their lot- sleeping under a fisherman’s boat and eating fish scraps on the docks. But Cilla wants more in life- a comfortable home with humans perhaps. Another cat tells her about the quiet garden, from an old kitten tale, where humans are always kind and food is plentiful. Cilla is determined to find the garden. Betto doesn’t believe it exists but goes along to make sure his friend is safe. Their journey takes them far from home, through many encounters. They navigate the streets, jump on a bus, ride a ferryboat, have a mishap on the sea, and meet several cats who give them directions. One particularly speaks in obscure riddles. When Cilla finally locates what they think is the quiet garden, it isn’t exactly the paradise they were hoping to find. A poodle tells them a story suggesting they shouldn’t be in want of anything at all. Later when the cats are discouraged and confused, hiding from the rain and feeling their quest failed, they comfort themselves by telling their own story to each other- a story of friendship above all.

I won’t tell you the ending- I did find it satisfying whereas others might think the narrative just went nowhere. But this book is philosophical more than anything else. It’s a story within a story, it’s about finding out what’s important in life. It has nods to The Little Prince and delightfully, pictorial homage to many famous works of art. Sometimes these are in the background as the cats journey through their world, on other pages the cats are actually walking through the art- a tropical fantasy painted by Rousseau, the Bayeux tapestry, ancient tiles from Persia, cave paintings from Lascaux etc- many I recognized, some I did not. On certain pages the artwork depicted seemed to fit what was happening in the cats’ story, but other times it appeared to be a random choice, so I just shrugged and went with it. The author explained in the back which artworks she had chosen to depict, which I appreciated reading. Her own style- well, let’s just say sometimes I thought it looked a bit rushed with awkward lines or poses- occasionally the drawings even appeared childish, but it started to grow on me. They’re certainly very expressive and lively, and there’s lots of detail in the surroundings. Mostly I just really liked the story about the cats, their little arguments, observations on humans, and earnestness in their quest to find what ‘home’ means.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5
182 pages, 2020

by Terri Libenson

Another book off my kid’s stack. She thought it boring, didn’t read far and put it in our return pile. It has some issues, but for the most part, I really connected with the main character so overlooked some awkward things. It’s obviously a humorous look at how awful middle school can be, but some things just seemed too over the top. (Wet paper towels stuck to the wall and kids that spit on the floor, okay. Dead rats in the hall? what?) It’s kind of a merge between graphic novel and illustrated chapter book. The story is told in alternate viewpoints- Emmie’s has explanatory paragraphs with lots of illustrations, whereas Katie’s pages are pure comic-book style. Emmie is very shy and quiet. She has a lonely home life (both parents work), likes drawing (but doesn’t hang out with the art club kids) and often doesn’t know what to say when other kids are chatting away. She mostly tries to avoid being noticed at school, but then wonders why nobody sees her. Her contrast Katie is popular, pretty and surrounded by gossiping friends- a girl who seems to have it all, but isn’t snobby about it and tries to be nice to others. Through the story each girl is seen in the background of the other’s pages, and then they intersect over a boy Emmie has a crush on. Emmie wrote a love poem to him in jest, but she drops it and another kid picks it up- and of course he shares it around. Emmie is mortified. Then her crush asks Katie out, which complicates things. Will she suffer in silence? or finally speak up for herself?

While it’s got a lot of detail, this story covers only one school day. The ending surprised me. I was glad to see Emmie find ways to stand up for herself, but I was thrown off by the final reveal (Katie’s not real. She’s a character Emmie drew). There was a clue earlier on, I just didn’t pick up on it. For all that, what I really liked about it was Emmie’s character. Because I was like that in middle and high school. I was the super quiet one that preferred drawing to watching television, and couldn’t manage to make small talk. Other kids on the bus even made jokes that I was mute, because they never heard me talking to anyone. And this wasn’t a thing when I was a kid obviously- but I’m the one now who has an ‘ancient’ flip phone! haha.

This book is part of a series, but the others don’t look quite as appealing to me. Probably because it’s the Emmie character I related to most, and some reviewers have said all the books have a similar kind of twist ending. Not sure I’m in the mood for that. Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5
185 pages, 2017

More opinions: Pages Unbound
anyone else?

I did this 1,000 piece puzzle last week. Made by Sunsout, a brand I haven’t owned before, artwork by Greg Alexander. Took a chance and broke my rule to not buy opened thrift store puzzles: luckily this one didn’t have any missing pieces! They all have the same cut: two holes, two knobs, but within that limitation enough variation that it wasn’t too hard to visualize fits. Only a few times did I have a piece in the wrong spot which threw me off for a while. What made it tricky was all the dark hues- I kept confusing pieces of elk fur with the rocks, and dark of the water with the lichens. It was just the right level of challenge.

Use the arrows to see photos I took of the assembly- just for fun:

by Nova Weetman

Another book I picked up off my daughter’s library pile, taking a break in the middle of a chunkster. This is a middle-grade fiction about two girls in sixth grade. They’re facing the end of elementary school with mixed feelings (I rather appreciated the negative comments on the grade school “graduation” celebration, haha- having that opinion myself). The girls are not really friends but cross paths when they’re in the nurse’s office for different reasons.  Riley has type I diabetes and often has to stop in with the nurse to manage her condition. She has an overbearing mother and is in a group of popular girls who pressure her to do unsafe things, not understanding how serious diabetes really is. Meg on the other hand, is neglected. Her mother suffers from severe depression after her father died, rarely leaving the house (or even her bed) and Meg often goes hungry and doesn’t have new clothes to wear. She has panic attacks, but also hangs out in the nurse’s office because the nurse will give her food from the teacher’s lounge. Meg doesn’t really have friends, yet starts to have a tentative connection with Riley, which gets rocky when Riley’s popular friends tease and harass Meg. Both girls are having a hard time with things emotional and physical and their contrasting issues with parents. Riley wants to take care of her diabetes by herself instead of her mother micromanaging it- even though she’s not doing a great job with the things she is responsible for- whereas Meg wishes her mom would do anything for her at all.

When I saw the bright cover of this book, I thought it was going to be a light, maybe silly story. Not at all. It addresses some serious issues- kids having to live with a medical condition, mental illness, dealing with grief over the death of a parent, difficulties with friendships, and more (there’s another kid in the story who has asthma). I expected at the start that the girls would quickly become friends, but they don’t begin interacting much until near the end of the book- which felt like a realistic development. The story feels very current, full of phrases kids use nowadays (that didn’t exist when I was that age!) And yet something felt a bit off to me. The portrayal of what Meg went through when she wasn’t at school- I kept thinking, is that what it’s really like, for a child living in poverty? I wondered why nobody at the school noticed she was wearing the same clothes day after day, or insisted she put on proper shoes instead of slippers (my child’s school is pretty adamant about shoes) and why other adults didn’t investigate the situation when it was clear Meg often came to school hungry. On the other hand, a review I read written by someone who actually has diabetes, had criticism about how Riley’s story was portrayed. And there’s the questionable revelation at the end, that sometimes Meg is faking her panic attacks to avoid situations. I’m sure there’s kids who would do this, but it didn’t sit well with me.

On a better note, there’s the delightful inclusion of many quotes from Anne of Green Gables. Meg is an avid fan, has read the book many times, and quotes lines from it to people in conversation which throws them off but made me giggle. This prompted my ten-year-old to request a graphic novel version of Anne of Green Gables from the library. I’m glad she’ll finally access the story. I’ve tried to get her to sit and watch a movie version with me- one I’d seen and loved as a teenager- with no success. She thought the story moved way too slow. The novels are a bit beyond her reading level yet, but a graphic novel might be a great introduction.

Borrowed from the public library. Originally this was published in Australia with the title Sick Bay.

Rating: 3/5
244 pages, 2019

More opinions: Kids’ Book Review
anyone else?

by Ernest Hemingway

Set in World War I, narrated by an ambulance driver on the Italian front who gets injured and falls in love with a nurse. I did not get very far- just past the part where he was wounded and in the hospital, about sixty pages. Then started to wonder why am I using up my time reading this? I thought I could see what the author was doing- showing how casual people kept their attachments when anyone might die senselessly at any moment, how pointless the war was, how inane their conversations- but I found nothing artful in the way he did it. The dialog particularly felt very stiff. I suppose the style was intended to be the way things were, but it was hard to stay interested in the words. So brief and matter-of-fact and unemotional. I couldn’t find it in me to care about any of the characters, and I wasn’t drawn into the surroundings or events either. Another case where a classic falls totally flat for me. I think I just really do not like Hemingway. I am baffled why he is considered a great writer- honestly. Even more baffled why this edition contains not only visual reproductions of his handwritten manuscript with crossed out lines and rewritten passages- so readers can admire how he crafted the novel- but also a myraid of alternate endings in the appendix (like movie outtakes, haha). I do like studying preliminary sketches by artists- sometimes I feel like I can see how their mind was thinking to lay down certain lines- and often I even like the sketches better than the finished paintings! but reading how phrases were different before the writer committed to his final draft, I get nothing from that. Probably because I didn’t care for the final product, here.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: Abandoned
330 pages, 1927

by Barbara Kingsolver

This book has literally sat on my shelf for years, even though it’s by one of my favorite authors. I was so intimidated by it. Historical fiction can get heavy, and this one especially has significant events and looming figures- from revolutionary times in 1920’s Mexico to McCarthyism era America. The viewpoint is an ordinary man (but one I slowly came to respect and admire so much). As a young man he was dragged around Mexico by his flamboyant flapper mother who chased after a string of wealthy boyfriends after separating from his father back in America. Petty much ignored, he spends time swimming in the ocean, enthralled by the beautiful fishes and hidden underground caves- and hanging out in the kitchens where he learns culinary skills. Later as a young man on his own, he becomes employed in the house of Rivera- at first mixing plaster for Diego Rivera’s murals, then working as a cook, eventually becoming a secretary and finally, overseeing shipment of paintings for Frida Kahlo. Who strikes up a kind of friendship with him. He is there when Trotsky takes refuge in exile, and witnesses firsthand violence against the man. In fact it is so traumatic the entire household disbands, he ends up back in the States, suffering probably from post-tramuatic stress disorder, often afraid to leave his home, uncomfortable around other people. Builds a new life for himself as a writer- he always was a writer, keeping diaries and sending letters- now he writes historical novels about ancient peoples from Mexico- the Aztecs, the Maya. They sound fantastically thrilling! and reading about how popularity swamped him, how amusing the reviews of these books that don’t really exist- I loved that part.

I don’t know what else to say. I don’t know how to convey how rich and thoughtful and surprising this story was- even when I had trouble keeping track of what was going on with the politics and history- the strength of Kingsolver’s words kept pulling me onward through the pages, to a startlingly hopeful conclusion, when I thought all had gone to crap.

This book is kind of overwhelming. It’s about humanity, and art, and kindness- even when cruelty and ignorance are rampant. Mostly it’s about a quiet man, who seems hardly present in his own story, seeking to find a place where he belongs. I was not expecting to read (once again!) a novel with a gay character, and I appreciate how subtly that was handled. I was enthralled with the portrayal of culture, art, music, wonderful food in Mexico, and the contrast when the story moved to America. How servants were treated in Mexican households- as people regardless of their employment status- compared to segregation and racism in the States. The clear look at the revolutionaries he lived with in Mexico, in contrast to the political furor in the States, a place full of strangers pointing fingers. I feel like there was a strong message there for me that I’m not quite picking up on. This was a very compelling book, and it’s one I’m definitely going to have to read again someday, I think I’ll get so much more out of it a second or third time around.

It helped that not so long ago I saw the 2002 movie Frida. A lot more would have gone over my head otherwise. I kept visualizing how she was depicted in the film, right down to the voice, and I think it fit well.

Rating: 4/5
507 pages, 2009

by Federico Bertolucci

Like the other Love books by Bertolucci and Frédéric Brrémaud, this graphic novel is a wordless story about survival. In dinosaur times. The main character is a very small, feathered dinosaur that runs around underfoot trying to avoid trouble and find food, though the cover depicts another aspect of the book: its violence. One page shows a pterosaur getting dashed against a rock by a much larger dinosaur- its flockmates approach with looks of concern, then something appears to snap in their expressions, and the next minute they’re eating- literally ripping the guts out of their former companion. There is, of course, also a battle between tyrannosaurus rex and a triceratops- seems to be a given for any dinosaur story. But also scenes of caring- a mother t-rex protecting her young and providing them with food. Mostly it’s the little bambiraptor (yes, that’s the real species name) scurrying about, catching small mammals and slugs to eat, avoiding getting crushed by bigger animals. It shelters a lot under a certain long-necked dinosaur, evading predators by literally putting the big one between itself and danger. Many of the encounters between different species will veer off for a page or two- showing what happens to other animals the bambiraptor briefly interacted with. But it always comes back to this spunky little feathered dinosaur. The final pages show doom coming- various dinosaurs looking up in baffled surprise as fiery meteors start raining down from a clouded sky and a comet blazes over. Actually, the final pages are sketches and drawings of various dinosaur species- a good fourth of the book is the sketchbook pages. Which I didn’t mind at all, I really like the way Bertolucci draws animals. Not a complex storyline, but very compelling to look at regardless- the artwork is so stunning.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
80 pages, 2017

More opinions: Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails
anyone else?

by Mark L. Cushing

Written by a lawyer who specializes in regulations and policies regarding animal health and welfare, this book is about how pets have become so overwhelmingly popular and pampered over the last few decades. While most of the focus is on dogs and cats, one of the final chapters also highlights birds, reptiles, fish, small mammals and other exotics. It’s got a lot of history and in-depth looks at current trends too. There is a little overlap with the last book on domestic dogs that I read, interestingly. Telling how important dogs were to primitive man, native peoples and early settlers- doing important tasks on farms and in fields. When such jobs for canines became more or less obsolete, they were relegated to backyards or left roaming the streets. Only relatively recently have they become members of the household- receiving special food and sleeping on people’s beds, with their antics and cuteness displayed online. The look at their rising popularity was not particularly new to me, although the numbers are telling. Of more interest was the chapter about how veterinary care has changed, and the one about what seems to be a shortage of dogs in shelters for adoption- this author argues that the spay and neuter campaign of past decades was actually too successful, so that now shelters import dogs from other places that have surplus! He also states that commercial breeders have an unfairly bad reputation, puppy mills are not the norm, and if breeders were regulated and felt comfortable to open their doors and show the public their operations, that could quickly turn around. There’s also a lot touting the benefits of pets in these pages- so much so, that it becomes clear that the goal of the book is to encourage more people to keep more animals, urging us to reach a hundred percent of homes owning dogs or cats, which should be allowed to accompany us anywhere in public. I could not really tell if this was tongue-in-cheek or not.

The book is certainly well-researched with lots of data supporting the author’s views. So why the low rating? Sorry, but I really found it hard to read. The writing style and humor just did not work for me. (I know cleaning the litter box can be unpleasant, but I don’t think of it as torture). There was just so much in this book, presented in brief to-the-point chunks with bold headings that made it feel jumpy. The frequent use of lists, bullet points and pop culture references (some I got, some I didn’t) did not appeal to me. I felt that some things were explained unnecessarily, but then stumbled over acronyms that I had to look up. More than once I was left scratching my head over a conclusion, or having to read a phrase a few times over, because it didn’t click. Overall, I think I just wasn’t the right kind of reader for this book.

Seems this is an updated issue, just a year after the initial publication. To include new snippets of data on how covid affected pet ownership, I suppose. Personally I think the original cover was more appealing, but the current one visually matches the style of the book, so I’m showing that. The subtitle has also changed. Originally it was The Love Affair That Changed America. Now it says on the front The Inside Story of How Companion Animals Are Transforming Our HOMES, CULTURE and ECONOMY. (Yes, with bold caps).

I received a copy of this book from the publisher, in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 2/5
323 pages, 2020

by Lucy Knisley

Another kid’s graphic novel I picked up off my daughter’s library pile. (I’m actually reading a nonfiction book right now, Pet Nation– but keep putting it aside for something else in between chapters!) This one is about Jen, whose parents have recently divorced. She and her mom move to the country, where she has to tolerate her mom’s new boyfriend, and share her room with his two daughters when they visit on weekends. The oldest Andrea (Andy) is her age, the other girl is younger. They have trouble getting along at first. Andy is smart, brags about her good grades, and is kinda bossy. Jen likes drawing pictures and struggles with math. But she knows a lot about animals, and it’s annoying (to me the reader as well!) when Andy insists she’s right about animal facts (chickens, frogs, snakes) when she’s obviously not. I liked all the details about life on their farm- Jen has to do chores taking care of the chickens, loves hanging out with the barn kittens in the empty hayloft (her secret space) and trying to catch frogs in the pond (though this incident turns into a fight with Andy). Her mom struggles to keep a garden going while the pesky deer keep eating parts of it. A big part of the story is their farm stand at the local market, though. Jen has trouble making change for customers when her mom steps away. Her frustration and shame are very palpable- and heightened when Andy flippantly takes over the task and the adults point out she needs to practice her math skills more. I was really gritting my teeth at the attitude of Andy’s dad! Didn’t like him at all. However by the end, Andy and Jen have found some common ground and companionship, and Jen’s proved herself to have another skill set useful at the farm stand as well. Apparently this book is part of a series about the Peapod Farm. I look forward reading the next one!

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
218 pages, 2020

More opinions:
Waking Brain Cells
anyone else?

DISCLAIMER:

All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it

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