Month: January 2009

by Barbara Hambly

This is the second book I\’ve ever read about vampires (unless you count Dracula). I snatched it off the shelf when I found it at The Book Thing, as I\’ve loved all of Hambly\’s books from the Winterlands series, and my husband has high praise for her Star Wars novels.

Those Who Hunt the Night is set in London, early 1900\’s. Its main character, James Asher, comes home one night to find a vampire in his house, a being more than three hundred years old named Don Simon Ysidro. The vampire is seeking his help because someone is killing off other vampires in the city, and they need human assistance. Asher fits the bill perfectly: he\’s a retired secret spy from the Queen\’s service, now a university professor who\’s studied the lore of vampires in depth. His wife is a medical researcher and in spite of the danger she gets involved as well, wanting to study their pathology (she believes that vampirism has organic causes). In unraveling the mystery of the vampire killer, she searches endlessly through confusing paper trails in London while Asher travels abroad with Ysidro to underground crypts of Paris, tracking down a legendary vampire older than the Black Plague- only to find in the end that the answer to their questions is closer to home -and far more horrifying- than anyone could have imagined. Echoes of Frankenstein in my head.

This book was definitely creepy. I had to put it down a few times and take a break, especially when reading at night! Hambly\’s descriptive writing and fascinating characters kept me intrigued from the beginning. Some parts of the mystery I never really followed well (including Asher\’s backstory, that was confusing). But I loved the historical details of Victorian-era London, and the examination of vampire physiology. The development of Asher\’s relationship to Ysidro is one of the best parts of the novel: at first it is dangerous just being in Ysdiro\’s presence. Gradually Ysidro is moved to protect Asher from other vampires who see his involvement as a serious threat, and in the end they are working like partners. Some themes of morality and redemption thread through the novel; Asher wrestles occasionally with his conscience over murders he committed when he was a spy, and one of the vampires they encounter is an ancient priest wracked with guilt over what he has done to survive as a vampire. Ysidro himself appears to have a sense of integrity which sets him apart from others of his kind, that and his sense of humor make him a bit sympathetic, even though he\’s still a malevolent character.

Such a good read! I learned that Hambly wrote another vampire book, Traveling with the Dead. I\’ll have to hunt that one down someday and read it, too.

Rating: 3/5                   242 pages, 1988

More opinions at:
The Uvula From Betelgeuse-4!
Jenny\’s Books

This isn\’t the kind of meme I usually do, but Lezlie tagged me, so here goes. The idea is to grab the nearest book to you and share three to six lines from page 56, starting with the fifth sentence. I\’m sitting at the computer and for once there aren\’t any books lying on the floor, couch, filing cabinet, so the closest to me- are the four-hundred-plus books on the shelves across the room! So I\’m going to just walk over with my eyes shut and grab one:

This is from Doomsday Book, by Connie Willis:

Mary took Montoya\’s tach bracelet off and handed her the last set of papers. \”Mr. Latimer? You\’re next.\”

Latimer stood up, holding his papers. He looked at them confusedly, then set them down on the chair he\’d been sitting on, and started over to Mary. Halfway there, he turned and went back for Mary\’s shopping bag. \”You left this at Brasenose,\” he said, holding it out to Mary.

That was so random. And I don\’t think it gives you much idea of the book, or its style. Hm. Well, to follow along with the meme I tag Heather, Becca, Jess, Kristi and Matt.

by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
translated by Katherine Woods

When I was a teen I loved The Little Prince. It was one of my comfort reads, and I turned its pages many, many times. Now it rests on the shelf of \”big-kid books\” my daughter is always anxious to peruse, and she chose it for bedtime stories through the past week.

And I\’m sorry to say I was disappointed. I don\’t know if my memories are nostalgically rosy, or I\’ve become more cynical, or it\’s just not really a suitable book for kids. But I found reading it aloud tedious. The sentences are not smooth, or at least they didn\’t feel so coming off my tongue. It might be the translation, I\’m sure it\’s more lyrical in the original. The story jumps back and forth with little explanation, and it was quite confusing for my four-year-old. (Reading it in very short segments became easier, because she would forget what came before and not expect it to follow a linear time-line). It begins with the author (who is a pilot) describing how as a child he made drawings which grown-ups could not understand, then jumps to an incident when as an adult he crashed his airplane in the desert and met a child wandering there alone. This little boy he called \”the Little Prince,\” and their first meeting is a conversation about a drawing of a sheep the Little Prince wants. The author tries to find out what the Little Prince is doing in the desert, where he came from, why he wants a sheep, etc. but he never gets a straight answer and has to piece it all together, slowly.

It turns out the Little Prince is a visitor from a star, a little planet far away. Rebuked by a vain, proud rose he cares for (yes, the flower talks) he runs away to visit other planets. He meets grown-ups obsessed with singular occupations whose purpose make little sense to the Little Prince. He applies a child\’s logic and perspective to everything and shows the reader how foolish grown-up concerns can be. He learns some wisdom about friendship from a fox, and teaches the pilot his pearls of wisdom. The shining message I glean from The Little Prince is about the importance of friendship, about the value of things you love. My favorite quote from the book sums it up very well: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.

Rating: 3/5                       92 pages, 1943

More opinions at:
Overdue Books
Giving Reading a Chance
Uniquely Priya

by Charles Maclean

Of all the books about feral children supposedly raised by wolves that I\’ve come across, this is one of the more comprehensive. Maclean did extensive research into the story of Kamala and Amala, two children found by Indian villagers in a wolf\’s den and rescued by an English missionary in the 1920\’s. The first part of his book describes the setting where the girls were found in the forest and of Singh\’s orphanage. The end of the book describes how the story of the wolf girls became known to the world, and what kind of fact-checking was done. The bulk of the middle is Maclean\’s summary of all the facts he dug up- written in a fluid, narrative style that while lacking in exact details, makes for easy reading. He brought to light many original documents and reports, and adds some historical background which gives more depth to the story. Maclean comes to his own conclusions about the veracity of the account- were Amala and Kamala really raised by wolves? Personally, I don\’t agree with his conclusion, but I can see how he reached it, with the limited knowledge at his disposal in the seventies. One thing that became clear to me, gleaning through his presentation of the facts, was that Singh omitted some things from his diary in order to glorify his role as the girls\’ rescuer, and sensationalize the story for its publicity. The Wolf Children is a fascinating account, and reading between the lines makes it even more intriguing to puzzle over.

Rating: 4/5                   324 pages, 1977

Have you written a blog review about this book? Let me know and I\’ll add your link here.

The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting
by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn

I must first say that I read this book back in 2004, so it\’s not quite fresh in my mind. But I still remember how much it resonated with me. Everyday Blessings is a thoughtful book about using Zen concepts and practices in raising children. Now, I\’m not into Zen, and some of the ideas in the book were quite a bit over my head. (I picked it up just thinking it was about being a more thoughtful parent, not realizing at first it was about zen-based parenting). Here you\’ll find lots of advice on being calm, thoughtful, patient and even meditative when dealing with your children. This book is full of beautiful language and inspiring ideals. Each time I sat down to read it I came away encouraged to be a better person, a better parent, to stop and think about why I did things a certain way with my child, instead of just reacting in the moment. Everyday Blessings is kind of lacking when it comes to actually describing how to apply some of its high-minded precepts, but I found it encouraging nevertheless. Its tone reminded me a lot of Thomas Moore\’s Care of the Soul. It contains so many ideas and ways of being that I would like to incorporate into my own life with my husband and children.

Rating: 4/5               416 pages, 1998

More opinions at:

by Jodi Picoult

I had never heard of Jodi Picoult before my mother recommended this book to me, years ago. I was curious about it at first because the novel depicted Amish life. It also harbors a mystery, and a murder. The story begins with a lawyer from a big city visiting her distant aunt in a small Amish town. While she’s there a dead baby is found in the barn, and an unwed teenage girl is suspect- as both its mother and murderer. Reluctantly the lawyer takes on the girl’s defense, and gradually she becomes more and more involved, personally as well as professionally. To better understand things she lives in the Amish community while working on the trial. While I found the details of Amish culture interesting (but I have no idea how accurate they are), the characters were flat, the storyline became predictable, and some of the lawyer’s actions were decidedly unprofessional- which added plenty of drama but made it feel unrealistic to me. One of the more interesting aspects of the story is that in spite of plain evidence pointing to her guilt, the Amish girl steadfastly denied not only harming the child, but even bearing it, and her mental stability and perception of reality were questioned. I did puzzle over “who did it” up until the end, so that kept me going through the novel. But I left it not caring a whit about the characters, and forgetting them quickly. The Plain Truth was an enjoyable read, entertaining for the moment, yet holding nothing spectacular or memorable.

I know I’m one of the few who dislikes this author, so please read some of the other bloggers’ views, in the links below. And if you’ve got one to share, let me know and I’ll add your link.

Rating: 3/5
432 pages, 2000

by Gavin Maxwell

This is Gavin Maxwell\’s sequel to Ring of Bright Water, his famous novel about the otter. I found it interesting and enjoyable, and kept finding excuses to sit down in quiet so I could finish it. But I also felt let down and confused by it. I remember having trouble at first getting into Ring of Bright Water because the first chapter or two describe some of Maxwell\’s experiences traveling abroad, and it took some time for the story to get around to the otter, which was my main interest in reading it. As most of the events led up to how Maxwell acquired his first otter, Mijbil, and how he transported it home, it was, however, still pertinent.

I can\’t say that about the chapters that appeared superfluous to me in The Rocks Remain. It opens with an entire chapter about an earthquake in Agadir. While I appreciate that Maxwell was in Morocco at the time and could describe first-hand the devastation there, I failed to see how it related to his story about otters. But then, half the book was not about the otters. Maxwell describes difficulties living at his remote Scottish hideaway, efforts he made to modernize the place, and frustrations when fans of his first book discovered the location and came visiting without notice, as tourists. He goes into detail about many mishaps and accidents that befell them: a near-shipwreck on an island in the dark, a fire in the kitchen, a broken tank that flooded half his house. Other chapters veer even farther, covering more of his travels in Morocco, and one section all about a local man named Dugalt who played elaborate pranks on the local priest. While these divergences were annoying, they were also very well-written and entertaining.

I was expecting that the real meat of the book would be the parts about the otters: two from North Africa and two European otters, which he acquired from various people who could not keep them. It was fascinating to read about the otters\’ very different personalities, and how they responded to people, each other, and Maxwell\’s dog. It also quickly became apparent that the otters were very much wild animals, difficult to keep contained, and potentially dangerous. When Maxwell finally gave up trying to keep some of his otters from escaping and let them roam free, I was surprised that he gave no thought (or did not express it) to the impact of releasing a foreign species, and a predator at that, into the local environment. The book ended abruptly at this point, and even though I felt dissatisfied, I\’m anxious to read the next one and find out what happened, as I can only assume there were negative consequences.

Rating: 3/5                  192 pages, 1963

More opinions at:

by Jim Corbett

Jim Corbett was a sportsman famous for hunting down man-eating tigers in India between 1910 and 1938; often the government implored him to rid certain areas of a tiger that had been terrorizing the people for years. Some villages were so devastated by tiger predation that the entire population had abandoned their homes. In his pursuit of tigers, Corbett traveled on foot to many remote areas, taking teams of men to assist him. If it came to stalking a tiger on foot through the jungle, he usually did that solo, and explains why it was actually safer that way. One chapter describes his hunting dog Robin, and how it helped him to track tigers. Although the reading is often quite dry (the author\’s main profession was a hunter, not a writer) the accounts are full of fascinating details. Corbett describes much of his hunting lore: what information he could glean about the tigers from villagers\’ accounts and inspecting tracks, abandoned kills and other signs the big cats left behind; how his understanding of a tiger\’s habits enabled him to plan his encounters with them; how he could learn of a tiger\’s whereabouts by observing the behavior of other jungle animals; how he could lure the beast right to him by imitating tiger calls. He also explains why most tigers became man-eaters, usually from injuries that kept them from hunting their normal prey, and debunks some misconceptions about them. The descriptions of close encounters with tigers, whether Corbett\’s own cautious and carefully executed maneuvers or an ordinary villager\’s act of bravery, are truly hair-raising.

Even though Corbett was using his skills to hunt down man-eating tigers, he was not one who enjoyed hunting for the sake of killing. He was a naturalist, and spent just as much time tracking tigers to simply observe their behavior, photograph or film them. He writes of their beauty and power with respect. He shares observations of many other kinds of wildlife, including encounters with leopards and snakes, and one whole chapter is just about a day spent fly-fishing on a jungle stream. Man-Eaters of Kumaon is an intriguing book. It appears to have been written near the end of his career, and I\’m curious to see if I can find some of the earlier volumes Corbett wrote about his experiences.

Rating: 3/5                  233 pages, 1946

More opinions at:
Mind of a Mortal
Timbucktoo Blog

I saw this meme going around the book blogs several weeks ago, first spotted it at Eva\’s The Striped Armchair. I kept thinking I wanted to get around to it myself, but never did until finally Janet from Across the Page tagged me, so I figured I\’d better do it soon! These questions took a lot more thought than I expected.

Tell about the book that’s been on your shelves the longest.

Can I do more than one?

My daughter has inherited most of my picture books. I think The Little Red Caboose is the oldest one. I can\’t remember where it first came from, it\’s just always been there in my memory.

The oldest book on my own shelves, that\’s harder. Most of the paperbacks I kept for years and years have gradually been replaced by newer copies of themselves. Here\’s one of the few mass market paperbacks I have left; as you can see, it\’s about ready to fall apart. I can\’t count how many times I\’ve read Tolkien\’s Smith of Wooten Major and Farmer Giles of Ham. It\’s charming and funny and very insightful, too.

Tell about a book that reminds you of something specific in your life (i.e. a person, a place, a time, etc.). . .

When I was a young girl I used to visit an elderly woman in my church, and read to her from the scriptures, as her eyesight was failing. When she was in the hospital I visited her there as well, and I remember reading the 23rd Psalm aloud until I had it almost memorized.

This book, Ride the Laughing Wind, was a gift from her. It took me a long time to read it, but when I finally did I enjoyed it very much. It\’s a curious novel placed in history, among Native Americans of the southwest. I think they were Anasazi, but I\’m not sure. The story is about a young woman who remains alone with two young boys from her tribe, and how they survive in the desert. Whenever I pick this book up I remember of the woman who gave it to me.
A book you acquired in some interesting way (gift, serendipity in a used bookstore, prize, etc.):

Once when on a road trip with my family, we stopped in a small town somewhere to eat and there just happened to be a used book store across the street. Of course, I had to go in. I was thrilled to find two books I really wanted, String Lug the Fox by David Stephen and Davita\’s Harp by Chaim Potok. I didn\’t have enough money on me for the two books, so after leaving them on the counter I ran back to the car and begged my mom for some more change. When I went back in the bookstore, I still didn\’t have enough for both, so I reluctantly put Davita\’s Harp aside. I was astonished and delighted when the lady at the counter said it was so nice to see a young person who loved reading (I think I was about fifteen) and she gave me both books for the price of one. It was totally unexpected, and I was so happy.

Tell about the most recent addition to your shelves. . .

Last week I got Invincible from Paperback Swap, because my husband recommended it, in his unceasing efforts to get me to appreciate football. Hopefully it turns out better for me than Get Your Own Damn Beer did. I had to wait a long time for it, though.

(Now we\’re waiting for a Scrabble Dictionary, so we won\’t have to jump up in the middle of our games to check definitions on the computer!)

Tell about a book that has been with you the most places. . .

Well, right now I really don\’t carry any one book with me on trips, as I\’m usually reading something different every time. And most of my favorites have survived numerous cullings when I move, so I can\’t think of one that\’s been in more of my previous homes than the others. But for many, many years when I was religious, I took this book with me everywhere I traveled. And read it almost every night, too. It\’s been a while since I opened it, but I still have several well-worn and marked-in copies, one on the shelf and several others in closeted boxes.

Tell me about a bonus book that doesn’t fit any of the above questions. . .

This is probably the most treasured book on my shelves, and one I\’m betting none of you have heard of before. It\’s a slim, aged volume called Echos from Tiverton, by one Fanny A. Durfee. The book itself is old, published in 1909 by a printer on Rhode Island named Thomas Clapp. The book is full of poems, and its author is an ancestor of mine. I\’m not really keen on poetry, but I\’ve read this volume all the way through. Many of the poems (if I remember rightly) are odes to people- family members, friends, members of the community, who had passed away. Others commemorate weddings and births, or speak of faith. I handle this book with care when I open its pages to glimpse into the past.

Now I\’m supposed to tag some other bloggers. So (if you haven\’t already done this meme!) I tag Chris, Nymeth, Chartroose, Raych, Jessica, Bookfool, Natasha– oh wait, did it say five? (see rules below) well whoever\’s reading this and wants to join in, please do, because I\’d like to tag all of you!

The Rules
1. Tag 3-5 people, so the fun keeps going!
2. Leave a comment at the original post at A Striped Armchair, so that Eva can collect everyone’s answers.
3. If you leave a comment and link back to Eva as the meme’s creator, she will enter you in a book giveaway contest! She has a whole shelf devoted to giveaway books that you’ll be able to choose from, or a bookmooch point if you prefer.
4. Remember that this is all about enjoying books as physical objects, so feel free to describe the exact book you’re talking about, down to that warping from being dropped in the bath water…
5. Make the meme more fun with visuals! Covers of the specific edition you’re talking about, photos of your bookshelves, etc.


Announcing the winner of my Book Mooch points giveaway…..

Nymeth of Things Mean a Lot!

My daughter picked the name out of a fan of paper slips, so you have her to thank. Nymeth, congratulations! I’m headed over to Book Mooch right now to gift you the points. I hope you can find a copy of Speaker for the Dead. Happy reading, everyone! I’ll be back with regular book-writing tomorrow.


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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