Month: October 2007

by Stella Brewer

It always gives me a thrill when a book I\’m reading refers to another one I know well. Many years ago I read In the Shadow of Man, a book on wild chimpanzees in Gombe by scientist Jane Goodall, and was totally enthralled. Last week I stumbled upon The Chimps of Mt. Asserik in a garage sale. It is also about chimps in Africa. The author, Stella Brewer, grew up in a house full of pets and rescued orphaned wildlife. Eventually she and her father established a piece of wilderness in the Gambia as a national park, where they built a center for orphaned chimpanzees. Brewer was shocked one day to see a chimp capture and eat a monkey, having assumed them to be vegetarian. She found through reading Goodall\’s book that chimps do eat meat, a discovery Goodall had recently made herself. Brewer visited Gombe to learn more from Jane Goodall and observe wild chimpanzees. She returned to Gambia with dreams of rehabilitating chimps to the wild and eventually found an area around Mt. Asserik in Senegal where she taught and released eight different chimps. The most wonderous aspects of this book are examples of the chimpanzees\’ high intelligence, keen observation and ability to learn, portraits of their strong personalities and the inspirational work of one woman dedicated to improving their lives.

Rating: 4/5                       302 pages w/77 photographs, 1978

What I\’ve Learned from Pets Who were Left Behind
by Ken Foster

Most of us probably don\’t notice a stray dog wandering on the street, or care when neighbors move away and don\’t take their dog with them. Not Ken Foster. He notices when lost dogs are in need, and takes them in, regardless of the inconvenience. In this heartwarming and frankly presented book, Foster tells of his experiences rescuing dogs off the street, caring for them and trying to find them homes. Many of them are pit bulls or similar breeds, so he addresses some of the issues with those types of dogs. Interspersed with the narrative are some helpful and sometimes wryly sarcastic lists on topics like \”how to loose your best friend\” (a dog), \”how to read a dog\” and \”how to prepare for the unexpected\” (disasters, as Foster discusses impacts of 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina on his life and the dogs). There is a lot of good advice on how to deal with strange dogs and negotiate rescues and re-homing. The Dogs Who Found Me is a very interesting book, with many particularly apt observations on the human/dog relationship in the modern world.

Rating: 4/5                      194 pages, 2006

Posted on Booking Through Thursday by Cereal Box Reader:
I would enjoy reading a meme about people’s abandoned books. The books that you start but don’t finish say as much about you as the ones you actually read, sometimes because of the books themselves or because of the circumstances that prevent you from finishing. So . . . what books have you abandoned and why?

I don\’t think I\’ve ever let circumstances make me abandon a book, except once. I felt my husband was getting addicted to a television show and he countered saying he was just as involved with the characters as I was with characters in the book I was reading, he couldn\’t stop watching every episode to find out what happened any more than I could quit reading the book. To prove him wrong I quit reading that book and picked up a new one! It was City of Joy by Dominique Lapierre. I really need to go back and finish it!

Other than that, I only abandon a book if I really don\’t like it. I\’ve actually abandoned many books, although I\’m not sure at what point it\’s abandonment and what point just quitting a trial reading. Often after skimming and determining I want to try a book, I\’ll find it intolerable or boring after just one chapter and quit. Sometimes I\’ll get halfway through a book before I realize I\’d rather be reading something else. I have no qualms about quitting then either. There\’s just too much to read out there to waste it on something I\’m not enjoying! Or learning from. Usually if I get more than halfway through, I\’ll make a good effort to finish, or at least skip to the end and see what happens. You can see a list of books I abandoned recently here. It really does say a lot about someone\’s taste in books to see what they don\’t like reading. I began keeping track of books I abandoned to prevent myself from trying them again after I\’ve forgotten all about them.

I usually don\’t like books that have too much sex or swearing, are full of action and little character development, have unrealistic or unbelievable characters, awkward dialog, silly phrases, dull writing, or that feel to me boring, contrived, cliche or pretentious. Or if I am just not interested in the subject matter. Really it\’s all a matter of taste. There have been occasions where I tried and abandoned a book several times, and on a later attempt absolutely loved it! National Velvet and The Plague Dogs are two examples. Sometimes I\’m just not in the mood for a certain type of book, but if it looks good enough I\’ll attempt it later.

Stories from the Other Side of Autism
by Kamran Nazeer

In the early 80\’s when Kamran Nazeer was four years old, he attended a small private school in New York that was one of the first of its kind, designed to help children with autism. Twenty years later, Nazeer seeks out his former classmates (and one of his teachers). Out of a dozen, he connects with three who allow him to visit them, and the family of a fourth (who had committed suicide). Nazeer takes us with him into the daily lives of four individuals with autism: a speechwriter, bicycle messenger, pianist and a computer engineer. Each with their own individual quirks, personal trials and significant accomplishments. His exploration of autism is full of reflection on his own experience, compassionate inquiry into how autistic people relate to the world, surprising insights into how relationships work and examination of how exactly we connect with one another through language, gesture and unspoken rules of courtesy. This book is a fascinating look into what it is that makes us human.

Rating: 4/5           230 pages, 2006

by Gary Richmond

The author is a pastor who used to be a zookeeper. He recounts his experiences with animals at the Los Angeles Zoo in the late \’60s. I enjoyed reading about the captive wildlife, but could have done without the little morality plugs at the end of each story. It got annoying enough that I started skipping the last few paragraphs of each chapter (which are pretty short), so I suppose I can say I only read three-quarters of A View from the Zoo. The author has written a second book on the same subject, but I\’m not tempted to read it unless he can stick to the anecdotes about animals. I don\’t mind observations and reflections on life lessons taught by animals, but his are just too preachy.

Rating: 2/5                206 pages, 1987

by Elizabeth McGregor

Something about this book just didn\’t catch my interest. Lost arctic explorers, reporters who can\’t put the story down, and a polar bear and cub on the ice seemed interesting enough but my mind kept wandering away. Made it through 45 pages and that was it.

Abandoned                372 pages, 2001

by Jodi Picoult

Kate is born with a rare form of leukemia. She needs a perfectly matched blood donor for a procedure. Since none of her family members match, and using an unrelated donor is too risky, her parents conceive a child that has been genetically selected to be her match. When Anna is born, initially they only take her umbilical cord blood for her sister, something she never knows about or misses. But when Anna turns five, she begins more painful procedures to donate platelets, blood, bone marrow etc to her sister. By the time Anna is thirteen, she\’s questioning if she wants to continue making donations to Kate, and just at the moment when Kate is in critical need that requires an invasive procedure on her sister to save her life, Anna instigates a lawsuit against her parents for the right to make decisions about the use of her own body.

Although this book has to do with genetic engineering and human rights, it\’s more about choices and decision making. It focuses on two main ideas: \”The safety of the rescuer is of higher priority than the safety of the victim. Always.\” Is it? And \”You don\’t love someone because they\’re perfect… you love them in spite of the fact that they\’re not.\”

I started out really enjoying My Sister\’s Keeper, but by the time I reached the end, I was getting tired of it. Some aspects of the story were just too contrived and obvious, like the purpose of the dog, and the lawyer meeting up with an old girlfriend he has to work on the case with. Then at the end Picoult throws in an unexpected twist that is supposed to make the story really wrenching but instead just made me mad! I didn\’t like the way it ended at all.

Rating: 2/5             423 pages, 2004

A True Story of Autism, Early Intervention, and Recovery
by Christina Adams

I don\’t recall when exactly I read A Real Boy, because somehow I failed to enter it in my booklog (a small notebook where I write down titles of books I\’ve read, to keep track). But it must have been around the same time as Mozart and the Whale and a half dozen other books I read on the subject at the time (when one catches my interest, I tend to run away with it!) Of all those books, this one was the most accessible and easy to read. Probably because it is a personal account: of one woman\’s struggle to achieve recovery for her son from autism. It tells of her emotional upheavals learning her son had an incurable developmental disability. Her persistence is unwavering in seeking out experts and innovative treatments, networking with other parents of autistic children, and implementing relentless routines and therapies at home, even to the point of exhaustion. To what end? You will have to read the book! I do not have any personal experience with autism, so I can\’t evaluate this book on that account; for a review from Kristina Chew, PhD at, go here. All I can say is I really enjoyed this book, it was compelling, inspiring and poignant, and I learned something about what it is like to live with autism in the family.

Rating: 4/5                   318 pages, 2005

Attitudes, Emotions, and the Psychology of Cats
by Dr. Nicholas Dodman

The author is a professor of behavioral pharmacology at the Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine. He specializes in the behavioral problems of domestic animals. In The Cat Who Cried for Help he writes about feline patients seen through the Behavioral Clinic at the University, where he is the director. All kinds of kitty troubles are brought to the doctor: litterbox aversion, overeating, furniture shredding and attack cats are some of the more common problems. There are also cats who suck holes in wool sweaters, cats who wail through the night, cats who chew their own fur off, gnaw apart sneakers, act like they see ghosts, and one male cat who had a strong romantic attraction to socks. Dodman explains in depth many of the reasons why cats behave so strangely: territorial issues, socialization problems, boredom, frustration, anxiety, stress and phobias among them. His patience in helping clients get to the bottom of their pets\’ misbehavior and find ways to remedy their situations is admirable. Contrary to popular belief, Dodman shows that cats can be trained to change their behavior and annoying habits. A great book for anyone who shares a home with a cat and wants to better understand the nature of these independent creatures.

Rating: 3/5                 235 pages, 1997

Tales From a Formerly Reluctant Dog Owner
by Emily Yoffe

I call What the Dog Did a great book not because it\’s great literature but because I really enjoyed reading it, and I\’d probably pick it up to put in my library if I saw it in a bookstore. It\’s about a cat-owner\’s induction into the world of dog lovers. Not just any dog lover, it turns out, but those specific to beagles. She goes from being the unwilling owner of a stray and neurotic beagle to participating heavily in a beagle rescue group and fostering rescued beagles who are waiting for homes. I learned a lot about the temperament of beagles, field hunting trials and why they can make difficult pets. It was amusing to read about the general adventures and mishaps in the life of a dog owner and all the different people and dogs she met. A good book if you\’re fond of dogs or want a laugh.

Rating: 4/5                 258 pages, 2005


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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