Month: March 2009

the Cowhorse
by Will James

This book is about the life of a ranch horse. Smoky was born free on the range in the wild west, and wandered about just living his life amongst the wide open spaces and half-wild range cattle, until at the age of four he was caught by a cowboy named Clint. The cowboy broke him to ride, and trained him to be a cutting horse, working cattle. They became an excellent, skilled team with deep affection for each other. Halfway through the book drama ensues (beyond the everyday excitement of rounding up cattle) when Smoky is stolen from the outfit by an outlaw. This man continually mistreats the horse, until he becomes mistrusting of and vicious towards people. He becomes a famous bronco in the rodeos, then when that nearly wears him out, is sold again to be hired out from a livery stable, and finally winds up as a plow horse on a farm. By the end of the book, Smoky has been treated so badly by humans that his health is ruined and his life almost over- when in the nick of time he gets rescued by a familiar face from his days back on the ranch.

In many ways this book reminded me a lot of Black Beauty. It had very similar themes- showing how the horse grew up relatively free, his experiences being broken in and trained to work, several relatively happy years being properly cared for, and then going through a string of ignorant or cruel people who mistreat him, until at the end he is found by a friend and nursed back to health. It shows in great detail how the horse feels and perceives his situations, and how he can excel at a skill working in harmony with humans, or suffer terribly at their hands. The section of the book that describes his life as a rodeo horse made me think of When the Legends Die (although in that case it was the man who became broken and bitter towards men). The one thing I found difficult about Smoky is its language. Will James lived and worked as a cowboy for much of his life, and the grammar and spelling in his book, while adding some authentic flavor of cowboy dialect and culture, was at first very awkward to read. It took me some time to get used to it. I haven\’t read many books about the \”wild west\”, but this one certainly brings it alive for me- especially the vivid descriptions of the scenery. You can almost taste the dust in your mouth.

Rating: 4/5          263 pages, 1926

More opinions at:
Bookin\’ It
Children\’s Lit and Other Bits
The Newbery Project
All the Newberys
Read the Newberys

I have found it. The book bonanza!! I discovered the sale where all the books culled from local school libraries end up. And they don\’t have this sale once a year like the one I used to frequent back in Seattle, they have it once a week. The prices are fantastic (if you buy a lot) sixteen cents a book! I simply cannot resist, and yesterday my personal collection groaned to a whopping total of 602 (yikes). I\’ve vowed not to go more than once a month… Here\’s what I hauled home recently:

The Summer Country– It looked Arthurian. So I picked it up.
The Quiet Room– Never heard of this one, but I do find books about kids with mental illness interesting.
Love, War and Circuses– about \”the Age-Old Relationship Between Elephants and Man.\”
The Dolphin Doctor– Dolphins are fascinating, and so are veterinarian books (to me).
The Secret Language of Life– \”How Animals and Plants Feel and Communicate.\” Plants can feel? Hm. This should be interesting.
Liquid Land– \”A Journey Through the Florida Everglades.\” That\’s all I know.
Return to Wild America– \”A Yearlong Search for the Continent\’s Natural Soul\” Ditto.
Beasts of Eden– I\’ve had an abiding curiosity about prehistoric mammals since reading Ratha\’s Creature and its kin.
The Lost Years of Merlin– This book caught my eye because I had Nymeth\’s review in mind.
Seaworthy– Another book about an adventurer who took a raft across the ocean! This guy followed the fame of Kon-Tiki, just to see if he could do it.
Infidel– This one has been on my list a while. I don\’t remember where I first heard of it.
Raccoons: A Natural History– Hopefully better than Raccoons Are the Brightest People.
Wolf Totem– For some reason when I read the flyleaf on this book, it makes me think of Ordinary Wolves. I hope it\’s as good!

And I always drool over coffee-table type books about nature, so I grabbed all these. I really hope the reading is as good as the pictures look:
About pandas, orcas, alligators and crocs, lions, penguins, greylag geese and siberian tigers!

My only dismay was the condition of some of the books I found. True, most are library discards- only a few are clean, donated books. (They have tons of other stuff at the sales, too- old computers, office furniture, we brought home a standing kid\’s easel for my daughter). I\’m used to buying ex-library books, so I don\’t mind the eyesore of library stamps or the task of removing the stickers. And many of the books aren\’t worn-out or broken, but in excellent condition (I\’m guessing discarded because of low demand- just not popular). A lot of them had the library barcodes blacked out with fresh ink- that I can also deal with. But some had been deliberately damaged in order to remove the library labels. I found lots of hardbacks with gaping square holes cut out of the bottom of the spine and a back piece of the cover. This isn\’t too bad- you can just remove the dust jacket, after all. But there were some paperbacks with the stickers cut out of their covers, too! To me, that\’s just as bad as having the cover torn completely off- the book might as well go in the recycling bin. I don\’t mind a book on my shelves that has library stickers, or \”discard\” stamps or old card pockets inside- they\’re still perfectly readable and look nice on the shelf. But I can\’t imagine who would want to keep a book that had a hole in its skin like this:

Would you?

by Ted L. Nancy

I sorely needed a break from Emma, so I breezed through this amusing little book. I don\’t usually read stuff that\’s strictly humor, and this is certainly like nothing I\’ve ever encountered before. The author (I\’m assuming he writes under a pseudonym) makes up letters pretending to be various wacky people in distress, or having odd requests, or wanting to make marketing suggestions- to huge corporations, famous people, large establishments, ritzy hotels, etc. The crazy thing is that then he mails them off- and more often than not, gets a response that tries seriously to deal with the customer service problem he presents- although I have to think many of the people who sat down to write him a reply were sniggering to themselves or scowling, and many are left unanswered, or get a flat refusal.

Some of Nancy\’s pretenses in Letters From a Nut? He saw a mannequin in a Nordstrom\’s window, thinks it looks just like his deceased neighbor, and wants to purchase it, to present to the bereaved family. He claims to have worked in a Florida hotel in 1960, where while cleaning a room he acquired Mickey Mantle\’s toenail clippings and now wants to send them to the National Baseball Hall of Fame Museum. He belongs to a nudity club and wants to attend an all-nude gambling tournament in Las Vegas. He is traveling to a resort and wants to bring his own vending machine (or ice-making machine, or stuffed easy chair, etc.) into his room. (All of these examples got replies). My favorite was the one about the ants. (You\’ll have to read the book.)

I have to admit some of the premises were rather lame, and a lot of them are repeated with only slight variations. But I read at least half of the letters out loud to my husband, and we laughed ourselves silly over it.

I read this book for the 9 for \’09 Challenge. It\’s been on my bookshelf since around the time I was dating my husband- over four years ago. I won it at a game night with some church friends. I was tickled pink at having won a book- and my roommate at the time wanted to swap prizes with me- you won\’t even like that book! she protested. True, at the time I had no idea what it was, and maybe back then I wouldn\’t have appreciated the humor. But I\’m glad to say that even though it took me a long time to get around to reading this book, I did like it.

Rating: 3/5          192 pages, 1997

More opinions at:

Okay, I know I used to dismiss challenges \”I never do reading challenges!\” because I hated feeling obligated to read a book that was boring or annoying me (which is what I\’m going through right now with Emma, augh!) But I still have all these heaps of books in my bedroom, and I\’ve just found two more challenges that look really cool. So…. I\’m signing up for Trish\’s Non-Fiction Five! Here\’s the rules:

1.Read 5 non-fiction books during the months of May – September, 2009

2.Read at least one non-fiction book that is different from your other choices

3.If interested, sign up with the link to your NFF Challenge post

At first I was going to do five books about animals, and one different, but then I decided that\’s not really a challenge for me, since I already read tons of animal books. So here\’s my picks (off my shelf):

Ice Bound by Dr. Jerri Nielsen- I won this book in a givewaway from someone, but now I can\’t remember who it was. If you gave away this book on your blog (months and months ago) can you remind me?

Invincible by Vince Papale- This one\’s about a bartender who became an NFL football player at age 30. A tribute to my husband\’s love for football.

It\’s Not About the Bike by Lance Armstrong- I don\’t know much about Armstrong, but when I found this one at a library sale it looked interesting.

The Ra Expeditions by Thor Heyerdahl- I enjoyed reading Kon-Tiki so much, I ordered this one from Paperback Swap as soon as I could find it.

The Other End of the Leash by Patricia McConnell- This one has been on my TBR forever. I could never find a copy at the library or to swap for, but finally picked up one at a local surplus sale a few weeks ago. I was so thrilled!

from Booking Through Thursday, the flip side of last week\’s question:

What’s the best ‘worst’ book you’ve ever read — the one you like despite some negative reviews or features?

I can\’t really think of any books I\’ve liked that got lots of bad reviews. I have plenty of favorites that seem to be kind of obscure or unpopular- like Call It Sleep, The Bone People, The Lute Player…. Oh, and I do still like The Clan of the Cave Bear (read it at least four or five times) even though it\’s sexist, the protagonist is practically a Neanderthal superwoman and a lot of the historical details are totally inaccurate. (The rest of the series was junk, though. I struggled through The Valley of Horses and quit a few chapters into The Mammoth Hunters. Too much sex, flat characters, pointless plots).

As for a book I really liked in spite of negative features, I still have admiration for Richard Monaco\’s books Parsival and The Grail War, even though I found a lot of the details distasteful, nothing admirable in the characters, and the storyline wandering to the point of confusion, there was just something about the descriptions and the writing that enthralled me. I continue to puzzle over those books and wonder what to do with them- I can\’t imagine reading them again, yet I can\’t quite bring myself to pull them off my shelf for good, either.

by Thalassa Cruso

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Even though it is a bit outdated, the basic advice on plant care is very applicable. Thalassa Cruso writes from her own experience gardening in her yard, so the information has its limits, but as her New England climate is similar to mine and she discusses many of the things I am trying to improve in my own yard, I found it very helpful. True, I\’m mostly enthusiastic about growing vegetables right now, and Cruso only addresses that in one of the final chapters of the book, but she\’s given me the encouragement I need to go ahead and try some new things. She discusses all the basics, from simple landscaping design (and when to call in the experts) to making your own compost and improving the soil, successfully overwintering flowering bulbs (to get more than one season\’s bloom out of them), lawn care, growing hedges, establishing shrub borders, controlling weeds, managing ground covers and the essentials of gardening tools and workspace. Although her growing experiments aren\’t as prevelant in this book as in To Everything There is a Season, she still shares many of her mistakes and failed attempts as well as innovative ways she managed plants. I appreciated that she talks about when to simply give up on a plant, make compromises in how perfect the yard looks compared to how much work it takes, and how to find positives in negative situations you can\’t control.

It was interesting to see some gardening culture she brought with her from England, and her comparisons of the two climates. I didn\’t know, for example, that English climate is perfect for grasses, so there it\’s easy to have a lush, immaculate lawn. I learned the difference between a sickle and a scythe (thought I doubt I\’ll ever have to use either one!) and that a flame gun can be effective in controlling weeds on driveways (this seems to me more dangerous than the power tools I fear to use!) Cruso is very conscientious about the dangers of pesticides and chemical fertilizers, so she has lots of other methods for getting healthy plants using safe and practical methods. Overall, I found Making Things Grow Outdoors to be an exellent resource, and the friendly style in which it is written makes it easy to absorb all the information.

Rating: 4/5 …….. 350 pages, 1971

More opinions at:
Perennial Passion

I found some new gardening terms this week from reading Making Things Grow Outdoors:

Tilth: \”This, by the way, is what the experts mean when they tell us to keep the soil rich and in good tilth.\”
Tilth is the rough texture in soil

Spit, Humus: \”If you have not found it [subsoil] by the time you have gone down two spits, the garden has an excellent depth of humus…\”
S- the depth of a shovel blade
H- dark brown or black substance consisting of decayed animal and plant matter in soil

Crozier: \”A whole generation of so-called gardeners are living in houses surrounded by land in which beans never uncurl like croziers from the soil…\”
The curled end of a young frond, or a crook on the end of a bishop\’s staff

Visit the host of Wondrous Words Wednesday at Bermudaonion\’s Weblog.

by Lucien Malson

Another book I read about feral children several years ago. Wolf Children and the Problem of Human Nature examines numerous cases of \”feral children\” who for the most part were abandoned at a young age and left to fend for themselves in the wild before being discovered by someone and brought back into civilization. Unlike the other books I read which tried to determine if these children could have been raised by animals and picked apart which aspects of human behavior are learned or intuitive; this book focuses (more practically, I felt) on how the lack of social contact at such an early age affects the overall development of the child. In most cases it was pretty severe and almost irreversible. Most of the accounts were very brief with little details available; some editions of this book also include the entire text of The Wild Boy of Aveyron, as it is one of the more well-documented accounts. I expected this book to be very dry, technical reading, but was surprised to find that it felt more like reading an essay, and the writing style reminded me a lot of Konrad Lorenz.

Rating: 3/5                          179 pages, 1972


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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