Month: January 2008

by John Knowles

I picked this book up months ago at the Book Thing, because I love A Separate Peace (same author). This one is about a young man returning home from war, where he was a bomber. He wants to learn to fly airplanes (instead of just ride in them), and establish a cargo airline between Washington State and Alaska. And he always liked the idea of farming, so he starts out by learning to fly a crop-duster plane… I read twenty pages and just found it dull. The character and his story did not interest me. Nothing rose off the page or tickled my mind with wordplay. Moving on, I opened The Years of Rice and Salt. Now I\’ve got something in my hands I can\’t put down!

Abandoned …0/5… 243 pages, 1966

by Michele Paver

I\’ve had trouble finding something good to read today. I tried a J fiction book, Wolf Brother, having seen it at Not enough Bookshelves. It sounded interesting, but I couldn\’t get into it. I didn\’t like how it jumped immediately into high drama in the first scene, without any introduction to the characters, solid setting or nice descriptions for establishment. Action, panic, danger, mystery. A demon bear haunting a forest six million years ago; and one boy who has secret special powers he\’s unaware of and can talk to wolves, has to hunt it down… But I just couldn\’t get a sense of being there. I\’m beginning to realize that juvenile fiction just doesn\’t work for me anymore, unless it\’s entertaining and charming (like Ordinary Princess was) or wonderfully descriptive. This book just wasn\’t my style. I read on the jacket that it is the author\’s first book of juvenile fiction. Perhaps I\’d like her adult works better.

Abandoned ..0/5…. 320 pages, 2006

by M.M. Kaye

Tired of reading endless fairy tales featuring blond, beautiful, perfect princesses, M. M. Kaye wrote a story about a princess whose fairy godmother gifted her with Ordinariness (after she had already received Wit, Health, Courage, etc.) Her six sisters all gorgeous, Princess Amy grew up to have mousy brown hair, freckles, a snub nose, and no suitors. She preferred climbing trees to attending Court, and walking barefoot to wearing stiff, itchy finery. Alarmed at the idea of a spinster princess, her parents contrived a wild scheme to get her married off. But Amy put on peasant\’s clothes and ran away to find her own kind of happiness. She\’s such a pleasant girl, and a nice contrast to the laughably pompous royalty. The Ordinary Princess is a really charming little book. Especially if you get tired of all the stereotypical princesses in other fairy tales.

Rating: 3/5                  112 pages, 1980

More opinions at:
Jenny\’s Books

edited by Beryl Reid and Michael Wilson

Looking for some light reading between heavier books today, I picked up this one. It caught my eye because of the images. It\’s a collection of paintings, drawings and figures from the Victoria and Albert Museum, tastefully arranged with selected writings by various authors over the centuries, (from as far back as the year 1260!) all regarding cats. Quotes by Lewis Carroll, T.S Eliot, May Sarton, and many other writers and notables I never heard of before. Drawings and paintings by Beatrix Potter, Sir John Tenniel, Louis Wain, Sir Edwin Landseer and many others. Altogether a delightful and pleasant book on the nature of cats. My favorite was a poem written in the 1600s by Paul Scarron, about a gentlewoman who dressed her tomcat in pearls and fine clothes, then held him up to the mirror. When the cat escaped out onto the roof, the distraught Lady sent her servants out searching for him all night. She was upset not about the loss of her pearl necklace, but the cat himself who carried it away! It made me laugh.

Rating: 3/5 …….. 96 pages, 1989

Life on a Very Small Island
by Linda Greenlaw

I didn\’t like this book as much as The Hungry Ocean, but it was still a very good read. After years of swordboat fishing on the ocean, Greenlaw went back home to the small New England island where her parents still lived, to become a \”lobsterman\”. The island is so small it only has some forty year-round inhabitants, increasing to about seventy in the summer months when vacationers come. I was fascinated by the accounts of trapping lobsters, but even more so enthralled with Greenlaw\’s stories of her neighbors and friends on the island. More than a treatise on lobsters and fishing, The Lobster Chronicles describes what life is like in such a small, family-centered town. It\’s really interesting and quite funny at times. There\’s so many fascinating characters, intrigues, small-town politics, and the spirit of community pride and solidarity. And in the last twenty pages you\’ll find two scrumptious-sounding recipes for lobster! Boiled and casseroled. Yum. Mostly, I would say this book is about life. Capitalize that: LIFE with all its ups and downs.

My favorite line was this (describing a walk through a piece of forest in the dark): \”A startled rabbit skittering from ditch to ditch like a bead of hot water in a skillet would pace my heart at the same beat.\”

Rating: 3/5                     238 pages, 2002

by Jesse Stuart

Jesse Stuart grew up in the high hill country of eastern Kentucky. As a young man, he taught seventy students in a one-room rural schoolhouse, some of them older than himself. He taught them to love learning, take responsibility for their education, and apply their knowledge to everyday life in the community. He made such a difference for these students and their community that he was asked to be the principal of a city high school. From there he went on to serve as superintendent of the county\’s schools. Through his entire career as an educator, Stuart worked hard to improve the school system, and met with lots of bitter opposition. The Thread That Runs So True is mostly about his efforts to make positive changes, the importance of education and the wide-ranging influence good teachers have. It reads very easily, in economic sentences that sound, after a while, as if the author were speaking aloud. Many of the incidents with his students are funny, some outrageous. I really admired reading about how he could bring people together on issues. After one PTA meeting where Stuart revealed to parents how the fathers\’ gambling and drinking was reflecting on the students, the parents quickly changed their behavior and truancy and tardiness nearly disappeared in the school. Then one man remarked: \”All you have to do to solve a town problem that hurts your school, is to get the women on your side. Show \’em what\’s wrong, and they\’ll clean it up.\” That made me smile.

Rating: 3/5                   336 pages, 1949

A reading meme from Eva; I was tagged by ravenous reader:

Which book do you irrationally cringe away from reading, despite seeing only positive reviews?

I have to say The DaVinci Code. After hearing so much about it, and what the premise was, I just couldn\’t bring myself to read it. Plus, A. tried to get me to watch the movie version with him and I fell asleep in ten minutes! I still feel sure it\’s a great book, though…

If you could bring three characters to life for a social event, who would they be and what would the event be?

I would like to sit in a life-drawing session with Asher Lev, Eben Adams and Kerewin Holmes (from Chaim Potok\’s My Name is Asher Lev, Robert Nathan\’s Portrait of Jennie and Keri Hulme\’s The Bone People). They\’re three of my favorite characters who are artists, and it would be cool to see how they draw, learn from them and critique each other!

You are told you can’t die until you read the most boring novel on the planet. While this immortality is great for awhile, eventually you realize it’s past time to die. Which book would you expect to get you a nice grave?

Robinson Crusoe. I\’ve never made it through the first chapter. But since it\’s a classic, I guess I could cram it down. Maybe I\’d even like it.

Come on, we’ve all been there. Which book have you pretended, or at least hinted, that you’ve read, when in fact you’ve been nowhere near it?

I am honest to a fault. I can\’t remember having claimed to read a book I haven\’t. Maybe in high school I once did, and forgot the incident? But I\’ve embarrassed myself and stopped many a conversation by admitting ignorance of a book!

As an addition to the last question, has there been a book that you really thought you had read, only to realize when you read a review about it/go to ‘reread’ it that you haven’t? Which book?

I don\’t think I\’ve had this happen either, though I know I\’ve done the opposite- once I started to read a book a roommate loaned me, and realized halfway through I\’d read it before. It made such little impression on me the first time, I\’d forgotten all about it! I felt really bad, she loved it, and said it made her cry, and I handed it back to her after thirty pages saying \”sorry, I\’ve already read this and I didn\’t like it.\” I think she got offended. It was The Joy Luck Club.

You’ve been appointed Book Advisor to a VIP (who’s not a big reader). What’s the first book you’d recommend and why?

I\’ve got a headache from thinking about it for an hour so I\’ll just say: I don\’t know.

A good fairy comes and grants you one wish: you will have perfect reading comprehension in the foreign language of your choice. Which language do you go with?

Spanish! I\’ve a meager enough grasp of the language to have tasted some fine literature and been left frustrated with the vastness I could not comprehend. I\’d like to feast on Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Miguel de Cervantes, Jorge Luis Borges and many others in their original voices…

A mischievious fairy comes and says that you must choose one book that you will reread once a year for the rest of your life (you can read other books as well). Which book would you pick?

The Little Prince. An easy read, and it always reminds me of what is most important in life- those we love.

I know that the book blogging community, and its various challenges, have pushed my reading borders. What’s one bookish thing you ‘discovered’ from book blogging?

A genre I\’ve never attempted before that\’s in my TBR now is vampire and werewolf stories. I\’ve read lots of good blog reviews on some, and it\’s gotten me mighty curious about trying to read them.

That good fairy is back for one final visit. Now, she’s granting you your dream library! Describe it. Is everything leatherbound? Is it full of first edition hardcovers? Pristine trade paperbacks? Perhaps a few favourite authors have inscribed their works? Go ahead-let your imagination run free.

The dream library! Built in floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, that won\’t bow from the weight of books. Pale oak, maybe. One of those cool library-ladders with wheels on it to reach the top shelves. Soft carpet, windows looking on a garden, a few comfy armchairs, really good lighting. And all my favorite books, of course! In hardbound editions, with the best jacket illustrations or cover designs on them. The classics bound in leather. The YA books with excellent illustrations. That would be plenty for me.

Now I have to tag four other book bloggers for this meme:
Laura, Charlene, Lauren & Dana and Petunia, your turn!

by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus

This over-hyped book is about a college student in New York who nannies for a rich family. It\’s kind of funny, but the characters and storyline are rather flat (based on thirty different nanny jobs the authors had). Basically, it\’s all about how badly the \”X\” parents treat their child, each other and their domestic help. The little boy is pathetically ignored by his mother, and his father is never home. The sad thing is that even though the nanny was a smart college girl, she didn\’t quit and get a better job when her employer started making unreasonable demands. She stayed and took loads of abuse, claiming it was because she cared so much for the kid, but unable to stand up to the parents or make much of a difference for him. She admitted to being there for the money. It was discouraging. The Nanny Diaries is a quick read, somewhat entertaining, but in the end mostly I just felt sad for the poor kid.

Rating: 2/5                   306 pages, 2002

More opinions at:
It\’s All About Books

by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
translated by Thomas P. Whitney

I found this item in a box of unwanted books at my mother\’s house during my last visit. I asked if I could take some reading material and she said sure, nobody wants those. Now I know why The Gulag Archipalego was passed up. It is a headache (for me) and full of horrors. It is a very detailed account of the prison system in the Soviet Union, 1918- 1956. I read forty pages about the various manners in which people could be arrested, and why no citizens protested. Then got bombarded with names, dates and history of notable peoples and groups who were oppressed/attacked/imprisoned. Then it launched into descriptions of the awful tortures, psychological and physical, that prisoners were subjected to. And there were 620 more pages, and two more published volumes which I\’ve never seen, after that. I couldn\’t take it. So I quit reading it.

Abandoned                660 pages, 1974

various authors, edited by Dave Eggers

Like a siamese twin, McSweeny\’s 24 is a volume in two parts, with two spines and one back. As much an anomaly in literature as in the human frame, I am sure. You have to hold it in your hands to believe the curiosity of it. It is a publication of short stories. The first half contains six tales of troublesome events– crime, drugs, murder, etc:

\”How to Make Millions in the Oil Market\” – about an American soldier in Iraq
\”Stockholm, 1973\” – about a ludicrous bank robbery attempt in Sweden
\”Bored to Death\” – a Raymond Chandler fan pretends to be a private investigator and gets himself into a mess
\”Look at Me\” – bloody shooting of patrons in a restaurant for what reason I could not ascertain
\”Death of Nick Carter\” – a very strange, surreal portrait of an insane asylum with a violent end
\”The Last Adventures of the Blue Phantom\” – a man breaks into a home, tells a small boy he is a superhero, and takes him along on a criminal escapade…

Strangely enough, I liked the first of these best. And I\’m not one to enjoy war stories, especially battle scenes. But the descriptive language was so precisely vivid and new like sparkling water, that I enjoyed it for the words alone, not necessarily the scene they described. The other two I found intriguing were \”Bored to Death\” and \”The Last Adventures…\” that was interesting. But to be truthful, the writing I liked most in this volume isn\’t even listed in the contents. It\’s a pamphlet-like sheaf of pages pasted onto the free end paper, a selection from an upcoming volume to be published by McSweeney\’s called A Bowl of Cherries, by Millard Kaufman. I want to read this in its entirety.

If you turn the blue volume around, you find a compilation of writers\’ reminisces on the author Donald Barthelme, and two of his short stories which are (the editors explain) difficult to come by in print (until now). I am not surprised I never heard of Barthelme before; I don\’t read many short stories. I was dubious at first, but some of the essays on Barthelme were quite convincing of his brilliance and excellent writing. George Saunders\’ essay on Barthelme\’s art in the short story gave me a greater understanding of what short stories are. But, at the end I\’m afraid I was puzzled. \”The Bed\” left me unmoved, and I could not make head or tails of \”Pages from the Annual Report\”. It felt like reading a conversation in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, or pages of Kafka; and I felt like there was a big joke I just didn\’t get.

I intend to hand this volume over to A. and see what he makes of it. I am sure he will like the six short stories much better than I; after all he can enjoy films that portray crime and violence, whereas they make me uncomfortable or bored. Perhaps he can explain to me what is going on in some of these stories…

Rating: 4/5 …….. 125 and 82 pages respectively, 2007


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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