Month: November 2007

by Seth Kantner

Conservation, consumerism and identity are central themes running through Ordinary Wolves. Cutuk Hawcly is a white boy raised in a sod igloo on a riverbank in the northern Alaska wilderness. When his siblings grow up they both leave for the city. Cutuk attempts to follow, moving first to the Native village where he is teased and ostracized for being white. After much trepidation he continues to Anchorage, where he finds the noise, bustle and waste of city life unsettling. Unable to fit in there either, he finally returns to his father\’s home on the riverbank where he finds that during his absence, civilization has been encroaching upon the wilderness he loves. This is a great book, vividly depicting the harsh reality of life in Alaska and what happens when the native Inupiaq culture runs up against modern lifestyles.

I thought it might be a matter of interest, in the spirit of \”rolling\” to mention what book titles I gleaned from Ordinary Wolves to add to my TBR:

From Where the Sun Now Stands– Will Henry
The Endurance– Caroline Alexander
Journals of Samuel Hearne
Hell\’s Bottom, Colorado– Laura Pritchett
The Tree of Red Stars– Tessa Bridal
Empress of One– Faith Sullivan
Larabi\’s Ox– Tony Ardizzone
Blue Taxis– Eileen Drew

Rating: 4/5 …….. 324 pages, 2004

Question from Booking Through Thursday:
Do you get on a roll when you read, so that one book leads to the next, which leads to the next, and so on and so on?

I don’t so much mean something like reading a series from beginning to end, but, say, a string of books that all take place in Paris. Or that have anthropologists as the main character. Or were written in the same year. Something like that… Something that strings them together in your head, and yet, otherwise could be different genres, different authors.

Yes. All the time. This is the reason behind my ever-growing never-ending TBR lists. There are many different things that spark one book leading to the next. Sometimes I like the author so much I immediately looking up something else they wrote. If there are books or authors mentioned in the text that sound interesting, I move on to those. If the book has a reference index I usually comb through that looking for more new titles (which may or may not be on the same subject). Often if the subject is interesting I\’ll go find more books on the same idea, and read say, six in a row about wolves, or immigration experiences, or autism. Usually my interest wanes before I\’ve read all the books in the list that derives from the first book, so then the titles go into the TBR to wait. The most new titles I glean from reading a book has been twenty-something; of which I probably only read two or three before moving on to a new subject.

by Kristen Randle

This is a superbly written young adult novel. One I literally couldn\’t put down. The characters and conversations are very realistic, the depictions of events and concerns in high school ring true. The Only Alien on the Planet is about a girl named Ginny whose family moves during her senior year. She adjusts to her new school and makes friends with the boy next door, Caulder. Before long another neighborhood boy catches her attention: Michael, nicknamed \”Smitty.\” At school and home, Smitty never says a word, never responds when people talk to him, never changes his facial expression. Yet he\’s evidently very smart, earning As and scoring high on all tests at school. The other kids call him The Alien and pretty much ignore him. Caulder gets Ginny involved in a mission to discover why Smitty is always silent and get him to speak. At first I thought Smitty was an autistic savant, but it turns out his silence resulted from psychological abuse. Near the end the story started to loose its credibility, but by then I cared so much about the characters I could overlook the faults. A very intriguing and captivating story.

Rating: 4/5                 228 pages, 1996

Lessons from a Life with Cats
by Jaqueline Damian

If you\’re not fond of cats, you probably won\’t find this book interesting. For those of us who love the felines in our lives, Sasha\’s Tail is a great book! Not just a rehash of cat stories, it has a literary flair and fluid writing style. It doesn\’t follow a chronological order, but is more along the lines of a collection of reminisces and reflections on events in the author\’s life with cats; arranged more or less by subject. She talks about growing up with cats and moving from city to country with her current long-haired black cat, Sasha. Sasha adjusts well (and surprisingly quickly, at least in terms of terrorizing the local rodent population with her sudden-found hunting skills) and is soon joined by several feline additions to the household. Damian discusses everything of interest to cat owners: introducing new cats to the home, dominance issues, litterboxes, cat food, venturing outdoors, meeting dogs, neighbors and strange cats, etc. A delightful, warm and interesting book on living with cats.

Rating: 4/5           192 pages, 1995

by An Na

A Step From Heaven is a quiet, elegant little book that tells the story of an immigrant family who moves from Korea to California. Narrated by the daughter Young Ju, it depicts the everyday struggles of adjusting to a new culture in a strange land. Everything is difficult: job searches, learning English, attending school, living as tenants; all these things slowly wear the family down. Disempowered by his inability to navigate through American culture, the father looses control as head of the family and slides into a pattern of drinking and abuse. Even as parents and siblings shift roles and come to live as strangers, Young Ju discovers the strength in herself to step forward and claim identity and hope in her new place.

Winner of the Printz Award in 2002 and the Asian Pacific American Award for Literature in 2004.

Rating: 4/5 …….. 160 pages, 2001

More opinions at:
The Zen Leaf
Hooser\’s Blook

by James Herriot

James Herriot is one of my favorite authors. He is a practicing veterinarian who works in Yorkshire on farmers\’ livestock as well as household pets. Not only is he a kind and understanding vet, he\’s also a great writer. His picturesque accounts of the Dales community is full of humor and wit, his portraits of the people and animals bring them vividly to life. He gives just enough information about vetting to satisfy the reader\’s curiosity about the trade, but doesn\’t bog down the story with dry or unnecessary details.

All of Herriot\’s books are based on his life experiences as a vet. The first four titles are taken from a hymn. In this, the second volume, Herriot is newly married to his wife Helen, and they are living upstairs from the veterinary surgery where he works with his boss, Sigfried Farnon and Sigfried\’s roguish younger brother, Tristam– a vet student himself. Each chapter of the book is a story that can stand alone. All Things Bright and Beautiful is a book I have read many times and enjoyed anew at each sitting. I\’ll probably read it a dozen more in the future. It\’s that delightful.

Rating: 5/5                 378 pages, 1973

by Kent Haruf

This is a quietly elegant portrait of a farming community in Holt, Colorado. It focuses on half a dozen characters: a high school history teacher whose depressed wife leaves him to raise two young boys alone, a shy teenage girl who becomes pregnant and decides to run away from home, and two crusty bachelor brothers who run a farm together. Another teacher in the same school becomes the catylist for all these characters\’ solitary lives to become intertwined and connected. Plainsong is full of guilt and pain, quiet passion and deeply felt compassion. It is a wonderful portrayal of how people\’s lives touch one another- for good more than ill.

Incidentally, I enjoyed this book better than The Tie That Binds.

Rating: 3/5                    310 pages, 1999

A Black Man\’s Tribute to His White Mother
by James McBride

This memoir tells the story of two members of a family: James McBride and his mother, Ruth. Ruth was the daughter of immigrant Orthodox Jews. She grew up in the South. Her own mother was crippled, and her father was an abusive merchant who mistreated his wife, his daughter and his Black clients. As soon as she was old enough, Ruth fled north, where she married a Black man, converted to Christianity, founded a Baptist church, and eventually raised twelve children. James was the youngest of these. He tells the story of growing up in a poor, bi-racial household alongside the story of his mother\’s life, which he had to wheedle out of her. As much as The Color of Water addresses issues of racism, identity and religion, it is more about family values. It is about how one rather eccentric woman lived the way she wanted to without regard to anyone\’s opinion, and instilled in her children strong moral codes and work ethic. They learned above all from their mother the value of education and how to make do for themselves- for they all graduated from college. However, other examples of Ruth\’s parenting skills leave something to be desired, as when she instructs one child \”if somebody hits you, take your fist and crack \’em\”. Her children suffered constantly from huger and poverty, and she was extremely secretive about her own past and family, even when questioned about it by her children. A very unsettling book, by any accounts.

Rating: 3/5                 328 pages, 1996

by Margaret Atwood

I really wanted to like this book. It is about the subtle manner in which girls cut down each others\’ self esteem…. as far as I could tell. The main character ended up being an artist; the first part of the book is mostly flashbacks of her schoolgirl days, with interspersing chapters of her dealing with a retrospective show of her artwork in Toronto… I wanted to read more about her as an artist, but it just wasn\’t getting there quickly and my interest lagged. Maybe I\’ll try this one again later.

Abandoned              480 pages, 1989

Edit 12/12/08: I\’ve read it now. Read what I thought here.

by Jane Hamilton

This quietly haunting story is about a family, Alice and Howard, and their two daughters. They\’ve recently moved to a small midwestern town to follow Howard\’s dream of being a dairy farmer. Unfortunately, Alice soon alienates the local people against her. Right as the story unfolds, her best friend and neighbors\’ daughter drowns in her backyard pond. Then she is accused of sexually abusing a child at the school where she works as a nurse. On the one hand dealing with profound guilt over a child\’s death, and on the other facing a courtroom full of people who think she\’s committed the most sordid act against another child, Alice struggles to hold onto her sanity and keep her family together while facing the ostracism of the entire town. A Map of the World can be depressing and heart-wrenching, or a startling clear look at how one small mistake can trigger other events and escalate into an unforseen catastrophe.

Rating: 3/5              390 pages, 1995

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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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