Month: September 2008

by Anne Ursu

A family takes their two young children to the circus. Their usually shy, withdrawn little boy volunteers to be part of the clown\’s final magic trick. At first his parents are pleased with James\’ participation- then shocked, angered and dismayed when he actually disappears from the stage. The Disapparation of James then examines all the emotional turmoil following the incident- ranging from sorrow and rage to disbelief and denial. It not only covers the reactions of parents and sister, but delves into responses by the police, media, neighbors, even the clown himself. Interesting, but the brief chapters covered so many characters it was hard in the end to really care about any of them. The most intriguing one was the little girl, who seemed more determined than her parents to solve the mystery of James\’ disappearance. Being a parent myself, the book certainly did touch a chord: what would I do if my child suddenly vanished in a public place? how would I feel, how would I deal with it? how would I find her again? But as a reader, the lack of a final explanation for what happened to James left me feeling frustrated, and as a whole it was rather disappointing.

Rating: 2/5                     288 pages, 2003

by Robin McKinley

I actually finished reading this a few days ago, but my head has been too stuffy to think. So this may not be as coherent as usual, but here goes. Dragonhaven takes creatures of fantasy and puts them in the everyday world, realistic except that in this alternate universe there is a loch ness monster (with male suitors) and intelligent life on Mars (in the form of sentient lichens). Dragons are a rare, endangered species, and only exist in a few protected areas- one of which is Smokehill National Park. Jake grew up there at the park\’s Institute of Integrated Dragon Studies- which studies the dragons, fights to protect them, and displays their lizard relatives in a zoo to make (barely) enough money to stay afloat. Dragon conservation is a highly controversial thing- so this book has plenty of animal rights activists, conservation laws, politics, discussions of scientific attitudes, questions of animal intelligence, funding difficulties, dealings with tourists, and rescued orphaned wildlife. Most of which are ordinary things like raccoons and squirrels. It\’s against the law to save a dragon (because they\’re so dangerous). So when Jake finds an orphaned baby dragon and tries to raise it, he\’s doing something no one has attempted before, and causes a huge uproar. Told from Jake\’s point of view, the book is mostly a rambling account (with many asides) of being \”mom\” to the baby dragon. I liked the story, even though it requires a lot of patience to get through all Jake\’s wandering thoughts. There\’s not much action until near the end, and then some loose ends are wrapped up in the quiet final chapters.

I first heard of this title on It\’s All About Books.

Rating: 3/5                 342 pages, 2007

by Ruth Stiles Gannett

I have been reading this book to my daughter over the past several days. I believe it is one my mother read to me as a child, but I remembered it only vaguely. My Father\’s Dragon is a cute little story about Elmer, a boy who runs away from home to rescue a baby dragon. The dragon is being held prisoner on an island full of wild animals. They keep him tied up next to a river, and use him to ferry across. Advised by an old alley cat he befriended, Elmer fills his backpack with some unlikely-sounding items: chewing gum, colored hair ribbons, pink lollipops, six magnifying glasses, etc. Each of these things eventually comes in handy as Elmer uses them to help and/or thwart the wild animals he meets in his journey. It\’s really quite clever. My daughter loved this book and all the distinctive, charming illustrations by Ruth Chrisman Gannett. She kept looking ahead at the pictures to guess what would happen next, and turning to the map across the endpapers, following the route of Elmer\’s journey. As soon as we were done reading the last chapter, she wanted to open the next book immediately.

Rating: 3/5                   87 pages, 1948

More opinions: Come With Me If You Want to Read

If you read any book blogs, I\’m sure you\’ve noticed that Book Blogger Appreciation Week is going on right now, organized by My Friend Amy, and tons of people have gotten involved, lots of giveaways and cool stuff going on. I did want to do something here too, but find that I just can\’t get into it. First, because a very nasty headcold is running through my household, and right now when my head isn\’t hurting, I just want to be asleep. Which is difficult with a three-year-old who doesn\’t quite understand that mommy isn\’t feeling well. So I don\’t have the concentration for much beyond my normal routine. Second, I have just been reading about the devestation in Texas from Hurricane Ike, and it makes my heart sick. If you go to this link on Daily Kos, especially read through the comments. I followed a few more links out, including those that went to photos, but at some point just could not handle knowing any more.

Between these two things, my heart is just not in celebration mood right now. I will be following along what others are doing, and posting when I finish a current book, but that\’s about it for the time being.

by Robin McKinley

This is the first vampire story I\’ve ever read. I\’m not big into horror or romance, so what appears typical in the vampire genre just never appealed to me. But McKinley is one of my favorite authors, and I heard this isn\’t your usual vampire tale. It\’s set in a world very like our own, only steeped in \”all the mangling and malevolent kinds\” of magic. Demons, werewolves, succubi, etc. The vampires are the worst, the most deadly. Society has all kinds of laws and protections against them. Most people try to stay safe, and turn a blind eye. Including Sunshine. She\’s a baker in a coffehouse, with a nice, ex-biker boyfriend and an eccentric old landlady. She doesn\’t know that magic blood is in her veins- from her missing father\’s side of the family. One day she drives out to an abandoned cabin on the lake for some alone time. Where she gets caught by a gang of vampires, then locked up with another vampire the gang is holding captive. Incredibly, he doesn\’t eat her. More incredibly, when she manages to escape, she takes him with her. And finds that in saving the vampire\’s life, a bond has been created between them- one which draws them together more and more, until Sunshine is pitched into a battle against evil, using abilities she never knew she had, feeling that not only are her loyalties divided, but that \”they had hacked me in two and were disappearing over the horizon in different directions.\”

Throughout the book, Sunshine struggles to accept what she is learning about herself, and to come to terms with the unlikely alliance she has struck with one of mankind\’s deadliest enemies. The intricate details of the urban fantasy world McKinley created in Sunshine kept me riveted. I really liked the juxtaposition of magic and technology, and the contrast of the two main characters- one who embodied light, the other darkness. How they found themselves working together, when by nature they would be totally repelled by each other. I\’m glad the author explained a lot of vampire lore, because I\’m unfamiliar with most of it, and don\’t know how much is her own spin on things. So now I\’m tempted to go read the original Bram Stoker Dracula, just to see where it all started.

Rating: 4/5                 389 pages, 2003

by Karen Hesse

It \”began as a book about speech development, and evolved into something very different,\” the author says. The Music of Dolphins is the story of a feral child, a teenage girl found after living with dolphins in the ocean for twelve years. Rescued and taken to a research facility where scientists try to teach her to speak and act human. They also want to learn from her how dolphins communicate. Mila, the dolphin-girl, is confused by her new surroundings, ambiguous human behavior, and why people who profess to care about her keep her imprisoned. Although she likes learning English, and especially music, her greatest desire is to return to the ocean and the dolphins. Alongside her story is that of another girl, Shay, taken from neglectful parents who had kept her locked in a dark room. While Mila is constantly learning and thriving, Shay\’s rehabilitation goes very poorly. Told through Mila\’s diary, which begins as awkward sentence fragments (and presented in a very large font size), the story grows in complexity as Mila continues to learn and understand more and more (whereupon the font gets smaller). Targeted to a younger audience, the story is still well-enough crafted to be enjoyed by older readers who are interested in such examinations of human and animal nature.

Rating: 3/5                 181 pages, 1996

by His Mother,
Lucy Mack Smith

When I began reading historical books about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, I thought this one was a great find. What better source of information on Joseph Smith than his own mother\’s account? Through The History of Joseph Smith we get a clearer picture of his family life, their search for spiritual truth, the constant pressure and persecutions they suffered, their work in organizing and building up the early church. Several acquaintances who saw me reading this book praised it highly- but I did not find it as spiritual as they did. It was frustrating to read. There are huge gaps in the narration, many which I found confusing and inexplicable. Sometimes the text did not even make sense. When I discovered the edition I was reading had been edited by the church, I was very disappointed, and wondered what was missing from the original. I never got my hands on an earlier edition to find out but you can read something about the different versions here and here. The date I have on this post is from the edition I read; the original document was (as far as I know) first published in 1853.

Rating: 2/5 355 pages, 1954

Creating Beautiful Gardens to Attract Butterflies
by Jerry Sedenko

This book starts out with a brief overview of butterflies in art, literature and history. Then it describes a bit about butterfly biology and the life cycle of the monarch. Next is a portfolio of photos and descriptions displaying the twenty-five most common or beloved butterflies found in the United States, then an illustrated plant list of trees, shrubs, herbs and flowers that attract butterflies (with notes telling which caterpillars or adult butterflies like to feed on them). As a side note, The Butterfly Garden also has information about flowers that are attractive to moths and hummingbirds. The final section gives examples of a few garden designs that are well-suited for butterflies. The book has a nice design, pretty photographs, and taught me quite a bit about butterflies. But I felt like it was just an introduction, that every section could have included so much more. It almost came across as a juvenile nonfiction book, albeit for the older half of that audience. I enjoyed it, but was not at all satisfied and if I really want to encourage butterflies to visit my garden, feel the need to read a more in-depth book.

This is the last one from that stack of gardening books I brought home from the library so many weeks ago! I\’ve had my fill of reading about plants, food, and gardening for now- so it\’s back to a lot of fantasy, fiction and (of course) books about animals of all kinds…

Rating: 2/5                  144 pages, 1991

by Andre Brink

This novel is composed of overlapping stories about three men in modern South Africa, whose lives are subtly interconnected. In the first two tales, the protagonist faces a sudden change which makes him question his very identity. A painter arrives at his studio to find an unknown family waiting for him; they enfold him into their lives with total familiarity, yet he has no idea who they are. When in confusion and guilt (at how delightful he finds this new woman who thinks she\’s his wife) he tries to return to the home he remembers, there ensues a Kafkaesque scene of frightening futility as he cannot locate his old apartment in the building. He has no choice but to return to his new family, now afraid of exposing how much he is a stranger to them.

The second story is about a successful white man who is an architect. He wakens one day to find that his skin color has suddenly, inexplicably changed- it is now black. At first terrified of being discovered as an intruder in his own home, he soon realizes that no one else notices anything amiss. Yet his sense of self has altered so much he cannot help acting differently to those around him- with some disturbing results.

The last story lacks a sudden, dreamlike change as impetus; its surreal elements move in undertones. It centers around the relationship of a concert pianist and the beautiful, famous soprano singer he accompanies. He is strongly attracted to her, but all her previous relationships ended badly, with suspicious and mysterious deaths. She makes him promise he will never, ever touch her. She says \”I cannot risk dividing my concentration\”- professing a need to focus all her passion on her music. But then they find themselves alone in her family\’s old, half-abandoned rambling farmhouse…

As the characters each engage in self-examination, many secrets they keep from each other become slowly revealed, betrayals that link each story to the next like threads twisted under the ground. Sex is a large part of these stories; some scenes are tender, others rather horrific. I have to say the architect\’s confrontation of his children\’s au-pair disturbed me the most. I found the first two stories more fascinating, the last one lost me at the beginning with a plethora of musical references (mostly names) unfamiliar to me. Mention of culture and political situations in South Africa went over my head as well, but did not detract from my enjoyment of the book, which I could hardly put down. Trust (or lack of it), self-identity and racism are all strong themes in Other Lives, which raises unsettling questions: how well can we know each other? and: how well do we even know ourselves? Like my last experiences reading short stories, the endings left so many unanswered puzzles- and yet that made them all the more intriguing to me.

This title I received as an ARC from Sourcebooks.

Rating: 4/5               321 pages, 2008

Unexpected Ideas for Landscaping with Colorful, Low-Maintenance Ground Covers
by Barbara W. Ellis

Eh, I just couldn\’t get into this one. I think my brain is simply too saturated with gardening information right now. The first few pages I was really enjoying the easy prose and beautiful pictures, but before long my mind began just glazing over the words and sliding away. Covering Ground has a lot of how-to\’s and facts about selecting and growing plants to blanket the naked (or weed-ridden) earth. Not only ones that hug the soil at about the height of your lawn, but also some taller plants, low shrubs and diminutive trees are discussed. The book is nicely arranged into chapters about design, plant care, and species according to site conditions. This really is a lovely book, but I just wasn\’t in the right mood for it. It\’s one I think I\’ll come back to someday.

Abandoned                                224 pages, 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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