Month: April 2008

by Gordon R. Dickson

The Dragon and the George is a fun, adventuresome fantasy. The hero, Jim Eckert, finds himself accidentally transported from modern times back into medieval history, where he is trapped in the body of a dragon and his girlfriend has been kidnapped by the bad guys. Of course he sets off to rescue her, collecting a motley group of companions in the process. Several of them he doesn\’t really want to have along at first, but they are very convincing (and stubborn) about being part of Jim\’s quest. Things go wrong with Jim\’s plans, but his new friends help him out and in the end they pitch themselves into a battle of good against evil. When it\’s all over Jim finally gets his human form back and has to decide if he wants to stay in this fantasy land or go back to his old life (where he had a boring job at a college).

Some of the things I really enjoyed about this book were the humor, how Jim experienced being a dragon (he had to struggle against the instincts of dragon nature, and learn to control the body) and the fact that the fantasy world had rules. As in Ariel, magic here worked by rules just like laws of nature, and Jim has to learn to understand them and work within them. There is also a bit of philosophy thrown in. One of my favorite scenes is where Jim and a knight companion have to battle some creatures that make gibberish noises to drive them crazy. Jim and his companion each had to find a mind-trick to keep their concentration and sanity: one used prayer, the other recited mathematics.

There are eight other books in Dickson\’s \”Dragon Knight\” series. I tried to read the second, The Dragon Knight, but got bored with it pretty quick, so although I really enjoyed The Dragon and the George (enough that I\’ve read it several times) I\’m not planning to continue with this series.

Rating: 4/5                244 pages, 1976

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Tomorrow is our actual moving day. So for a while here I may have limited internet access, and posts will slow down again for a short period. I don\’t know how long that will last, but I\’ll be back to daily posting as soon as I\’m able!

And don\’t worry, I won\’t forget to select the winner of my Book Mooch points giveaway on monday. I\’ll use the local library to wrap up that contest, if need be.

by Norah Lofts

This grand novel is set during the Third Crusade. Although its largest characters are Richard the Lion-Heart, his mother Eleanor of Aquitaine and other great historical figures, the story is actually told through the eyes of minor ones such as Richard\’s musician the lute-player, and a lady of the court who is physically disabled, yet subtly wields influence on all the others. I can\’t say which I loved more about the book, its rich descriptions of everyday life so long ago: the inner workings of a monastery, the boredom of court ladies cloister in the castle, the struggles of a ruler to make decisions, the sufferings of soldiers on crusade; or the utterly human frustrations and longings its characters undergo in their separate yet intertwined quests for love and power. A strange love triangle unfolds through The Lute Player: the musician is hopelessly in enamored of the princess Berengaria, who will stop nothing at seeking Richard\’s attention, who himself appears to care for no one at all, which frustrates Queen Eleanor, who is trying to arrange his marriage. My knowledge of history is rather weak, so I cannot say where this story is true to the facts. But every time I read it I marvel at its depiction of the strengths and weaknesses of human nature. I really do mean to read more books by Norah Lofts someday.

Rating: 4/5                     445 pages, 1951

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Win a book (or two!) of your choice. I have 2 Book Mooch points to give away. So all you Moochers out there, leave a comment here and tell me: what is the most obscure book in your inventory, that you fear will never be requested? The winner will be announced on monday, 4/28.

by Doctor X

I took too long in reading this book. Partly because of things happening in my family regards to moving; for two weeks I\’ve hardly read anything, and just in bits and pieces. Intern was well suited for that, actually. Based on a diary, it tells of an intern\’s first year inside a hospital: covering at various times two different internal medicine wards, obstetrics and gynecology, two general surgery units, orthopedic surgery and pediatrics. Although the narrative moves fluidly and with no lack of humor, it doesn\’t really have a storyline. Most of the characters are met for only a brief paragraph that describes their malady and how the intern dealt with it. Some stories were left hanging, as the author didn\’t see a patient through to the end of his hospital stay, or just didn\’t mention them again. Even the other interns and doctors on the staff are so sketchily presented that I had no real sense of who they were. What I did gather was how overwhelmingly demanding the work was. I don\’t think I\’ll ever get impatient waiting in an ER room again, having an idea of what hospital staff deal with.

One of the most interesting sections to me was about the obstetrics unit: the time frame was just after doctors had quit using \”twilight sleep\” all the time, and Lamaze had yet to become popular. The author described how at first he actually preferred to have delivering patients under \”twilight sleep\” because then he, as intern, was more likely to be given chance to actually do something. If the patient was awake, they didn\’t want to see the intern delivering their baby. Yet how else was he to get experience? He cleverly figured out a way to get the experience he needed, without making the delivering mothers nervous or robbing the doctors of their moment in the spotlight.

Although many treatment methods in this book are surely now outdated- it being written at a time when polio was still a major threat, people routinely died of hepatitis and cancer treatment was mainly just pain management until the end- the actuality of how doctors reach a diagnosis, deal with troublesome or confusing patients, and occasionally make grave errors (being only human, after all) is probably still true today. I\’d be interested to hear what someone in the medical field thinks of this book.

Rating: 3/5                    404 pages, 1965

Beyond Cognition to Consciousness
by Donald R. Griffin

When I read this book two years ago I jotted the following note down in my book log: \”rather dry and technical but very salient in its points and proofs.\” I would restate that now: this book is so particular in arguing its point that it gets extremely difficult to read. Animal Minds was written to refute the long-held notions that animals act solely on instinct, just responding to stimuli and not thinking for themselves. The author presents a multitude of examples from recent scientific studies into animal mentality, describing the research in detail. This is the part that is hard to read, especially when he goes into the similarities of brain function in animals and humans on the neurological level. I am almost surprised that I even finished the book. I can\’t deny that it is well-researched and thorough; the number of references listed in the back is really staggering.

Donal Griffin shows examples of animals displaying a wide array of behaviors that suggest thinking ability: making tools, solving problems, making and executing plans, practicing deception, responding to new situations in novel ways, showing evidence of having complex memories, a sense of time and awareness of future. He demonstrates that not only can animals think, but they have a sense of self and can perceive the mental state of others. Dolphins, bees, otters, a variety of apes, monkeys and other animals show their mental powers in the pages of this book, if you can wade through the technical language to find them. Then again, if you enjoy reading scientific works, this may be just the book for you.

Rating: 2/5                355 pages, 2001

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This question comes from Nithin on Booking Through Thursday:

I’ve always wondered what other people do when they come across a word/phrase that they’ve never heard before. I mean, do they jot it down on paper so they can look it up later, or do they stop reading to look it up on the dictionary/google it or do they just continue reading and forget about the word?

I used to look them all up. I had a notebook I kept definitions written in, it was even alphabatized. I had a huge fat unabridged dictionary and I even marked the words with a little penciled box around them so I\’d know if I\’d already looked one up! A bit obsessive.

I don\’t look up most words anymore. I just figure them out from the context, or skim over. If a word sounds really interesting, or the meaning is important to the story, I\’ll jot it down to look up on dictionary.com. Or just ask my husband. He yells \”what\’s this word mean?\” more than I do, but half the time I re-direct him to the dictionary. Although just the other day I impressed him by using the word hasp in a sentence (part of a latch). It came out intuitively; after I\’d said it I wasn\’t sure it was the right word. Until the next day installing the latch on the shed door I read the word hasp in the directions; so I knew then that I was right!

Incidentally, how many of you like visiting sites such as Free Rice that have vocabulary games? Or this one that tells origins of English words? I think my enjoyment of these sites has overtaken my use of a printed dictionary. And, as a funny note, I can\’t count the number of strange sites I\’ve come across when mis-typing dictionary in order to look up a word online. It seems there\’s dozens of sites out there that thrive on people\’s inability to spell dictionary with their fingers!

A Novel of Politics
by Anonymous

I bought this book for A. a few years ago; he is very into politics. He liked it alright, and wanted me to read it as well so we could discuss. But I couldn\’t do it. I don\’t even remember how far I got; no more than a few chapters. It\’s not that the subject matter bored me, even though I don\’t have much interest in politics. It was something about the writing style and the fact that I couldn\’t keep the characters straight. My first impression was that there was an overload of dialog and I failed to get a sense of who the characters were, what they were like, even the setting or train of events. I couldn\’t keep enough straight to follow the storyline and just quit. I gathered that Primary Colors is mostly about the inside workings of a political campaign. Perhaps I was just in the wrong frame of mind and ought to try it sometimes later. If anyone else has read this book and enjoyed it, I\’d be glad to hear your opinion!

Abandoned                  366 pages, 1996

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News. My husband and I have just purchased our first home. It requires a bit of fixing-up before move-in at the end of the month, so for several weeks here I will have little time to read books, much less write about them. Posting will be rather sporadic for a little while. Don\’t feel neglected if I fail to respond to comments immediately or visit your blog in the next few weeks! I\’m still here and will resume blogging after the move is all settled.

In the meantime, Happy reading! I\’m sure when I get back to Google Reader there\’ll be a zillion new books you\’ve all written up that I want to read, and I\’ll have good reason to haunt the public library that\’s four blocks from my new house!

by David Taylor

This charming sequel to Zoo Vet relates more adventures of David Taylor, zoo veterinarian. In Is There A Doctor in the Zoo? Taylor tells about his childhood interest in animals, convalescing rabbits and hedgehogs in his family\’s bomb shelter, learning from his grandmother how to sew stitches, applying denture paste to injured amphibians and bicycle tire patches to broken turtle shells. His career began in a normal vet practice, where he worked on cattle, dogs and cats as well as more exotic pets like parrots and pythons. Eventually Taylor worked his way onto the grounds of the zoo, becoming one of the first vets to specialize in wildlife. His services were in enough demand that he traveled to foreign countries to treat colicky giraffes and assist in the capture and transport of wild dolphins. Back at home in the zoo, the regular patients included a diabetic camel, a monkey who hid razor blades in his cheek, a puma which unraveled and swallowed an entire ball of string, vitamin deficient sea lions, a semi-paralyzed lion cub, and many more. Several amusing incidents are also told- like the time a monkey tore apart the interior of a bishop\’s car, the celebrity \”pets\’ luncheon\” disaster, and a chimpanzee who decided to assist in the treatment of a dozen mangy camels. Hilarious, interesting, and sure to be loved by any fan of James Herriot.

Rating: 4/5                 250 pages, 1978

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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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