Month: May 2009

by Victor Scheffer

I finished reading this book yesterday. It\’s the first one off my list for the 2009 TBR Challenge. Adventures of a Zoologist is a memoir of Scheffer\’s work as a wildlife researcher, specializing in marine mammals. He graduated from the University of Washington in Seattle in the late 30\’s, and I was pretty excited at first to be reading a book set in the area I grew up in- his mention of the Pacific Northwest wildlife, climate, of Puget Sound islands, rocky beaches, hillsides of salal and wild blackberries- all felt familiar to me. Scheffer gives an overview of the various projects he was involved in during fifty years of his career, from being a ranger in Mount Rainier National Park, to counting seal populations on remote islands to teaching wildlife ecology in university classrooms. Most of his career was spent studying marine mammal populations, and it was very interesting to see how the attitude towards marine wildlife shifted during his time- when he began his work, fur seals were regarded as simply a resource, studied so they could know how many could be \”harvested\” for their skins without seriously decimating the population. Gradually people began to appreciate these animals for more than just commercial value, and by the time Scheffer was writing books and teaching in classrooms himself, marine mammals were first becoming protected. Sadly, I did not enjoy this book nearly as much as I wanted to. Much of it relates the author\’s work with other famous biologists, outlines different symposiums he attended, his involvement in treaties between nations regarding the use of marine wildlife resources, etc etc. Lots of names, dates and other data fill the pages which sound very important and significant, but are just not that interesting to the casual reader like myself. I found that I was skimming pages for the bits that talked about his direct work with animals. I do want to read more by this author- I think I would really enjoy his Year of the Whale or Year of the Seal. But by the end, this book was just really making me yawn.

Rating: 2/5 …….. 204 pages, 1980

by Neal Stephenson

I have given up on this book. It was the last one I was reading for the first reading challenge I\’ve ever done, so I guess I\’ve failed that, too. This was the chunkster of the list. It was a thrilling book to read at first- the language and descriptions are very rich, and each page has to really be savored. But the storyline was incredibly difficult for me to follow. It\’s set in the seventeenth century, and the main character is one Daniel Waterhouse, who works among a soceity of Natural Philosophers, making discoveries astonishing for their time, studying everything with vivid fervor and imagination (which sometimes takes them to grisly places) under the shadow of Isaac Newton. The problem I had was that the book is simply so heavy with gorgeous language it was hard to tell what the heck was going on. It didn\’t help either, that every other chapter jumped a decade or so, so two storylines were going on simultaneously (I always struggle some when a writer does this). I made it through 185 pages and then it just felt so tedious. I guess this kind of historical fiction is just not my thing. It\’s a fantastic piece of writing, and I love the way this author describes things, but I just can\’t follow along and it makes me tired. Too bad. Well, at least I tried. If anyone else has read Quicksilver and has a clearer picture on it, I\’d love to hear what you made of it.

Abandoned                 927 pages, 2003

More opinions at:
Capacitor Fantastico

by Thor Heyerdahl

I finished reading The Ra Expeditions yesterday. Some twenty years after Kon-Tiki, Heyerdahl observed similarities in the ancient cultures of the Olmecs and the Egyptians, and surmised that a reed boat may have long ago crossed the Atlantic Ocean, carrying Egyptian ideas and technologies into South America decades before Columbus. So of course, he set out to prove it was a possibility. More so than Kon-Tiki, this book describes the long and tedious route Heyerdahl had to take to get the boat built, his many visits to remote lakes in Africa, his theories and comparisons of the ancient cultures. There\’s not much of the oceanic nature writing I enjoyed in Kon-Tiki, and the personality differences among the crew members (from seven different nations and only one of them a sailor!) causing frictions to arise under the stress of months spent on a small boat, was addressed a lot. I was continually astonished by things I read in this book. Papyrus reeds no longer grow in Egypt, so he had to travel to the source of the Nile to find them. He had to go to lake Chad to find people who still knew how to build reed boats (and there the local people live on floating reed islands!) The building crew copied designs meticulously from ancient paintings on the walls of Egyptian tombs, and failed to understand the significance of one rope on the boat, which caused the first Ra to start to fall apart before they made it across the ocean. He had a second boat built, properly this time, which sailed all the way in record time. Amazing. I didn\’t enjoy it quite as much as Kon-Tiki, but still thrilled to read the account. I can\’t believe people would do this sort of thing- sail across an ocean on a boat made of reeds! that started to fall apart on them! attacked by portuguese man-of-war (whose paralyzing affect they cured with fresh urine)! and more.

I read this one for the Non-Fiction Five Challenge

Rating: 4/5                    341 pages, 1970

The bulk of these words, again, are from Quicksilver.

Scrivener– \”That is his money-scrivener.\”
Definition: a professional copyist or scribe

Moiety– \”The Admirality…. or some moiety or faction thereof.\”
Definition: a small portion or share

Claque– \”But the sect was shattered into a thousand claques and cabals.\”
Claque: a group of fawning admirers
Cabal: a conspiring group of plotters

Cochineal– \”Daniel and Charles and Hooke had been making them for some weeks out of yard-long glass tubes, filled with spirits of wine, dyed with cochineal.\”
Definition: a vivid red dye made from an insect

Ricercar– \”…they were taught to play a little lute and dance a passable ricercar.\”
Definition: a musical form of the 16th century

Turpitude– \”Not that anyone would pay any notice, anyway, if the son of Drake were to level an accusation of moral turpitude against the Duke of York.\”
Definition: depravity

Obloquy– \”… no one would hear them above the roar of obloquy.\”
Definition: abusive language or blame

Limn– \”Now as the day went on and it sank toward the horizon, it turned orange and then red, and began to limn vast billows and towers of smoke…\”(describing the sun sinking, in a haze from fire)
Definition: to depict in a painting or drawing

Theophany– \”Like a theophany of the Old Testament.\”
Definition: divine manifestation

Corsair– \”John Churchill was one of the few courtiers who actually did things like go to Barbaray and go mano a mano with heathen corsairs…\”
Definition: a pirate, a swift pirate ship

Argent– \”Once he\’d focused on that, a couple of tiny adjustments brought Isaac\’s waterfall of ardent hair into view…\”
Definition: silver colored

These two from The Ra Expeditions:

Hermetically– \”Archeologists had recently discovered that a large ship lay buried on each side of this large pyramid; four ships in all were lying there, hermetically preserved.\”
Definition: sealed to prevent air from entering, or escaping

Tricorne– \”The papyrus reed was six to eight feet long and about two inches thick at the root, with a tricorne-shaped cross section.
Definition: having three corners

Visit the host of wondrous words wednesdays at Bermudaonion\’s Weblog.

win free hummingbird bookmarks!

Time for another giveaway! I\’ve got these two hummingbird bookmarks ready to keep place between your pages. Just leave a comment to enter, and on next tuesday 5/12 I\’ll pick the winner out of a hat.

They\’re double sided. The back has flowers:

Note: my cat has been sleeping in the box of bookmarks. If you have severe cat allergies, you might not want to enter- sorry!

by Margaret Atwood

I don\’t think I can say much about this book that hasn\’t already been said (see a small sampling below), and I read it several years ago, so the details aren\’t clear. But the chilling feeling the book gave me was. The Handmaid\’s Tale, like 1984, is set in a frightening version of the future, in a society totally constricted by government -and religious- control. Some catastrophe has caused fewer and fewer children to be born, until women are pretty much only valued for their childbearing ability- and used as objects to that purpose. They have no rights. Their manner of dress, who they speak to, where they go- all is restricted. The protagonist, Offred, is one of the \”handmaids\” kept to bear children- and as she slowly unfolds her story, we learn more and more exactly what that role entails. Probably one of the most depressing things about the story is that Offred can remember what life was like before- she used to have a family, a job, live in a society we could recognize. Comparing her current situation to how she remembers life used to be, Offred observes how quickly everyone\’s perceptions – even her own- have changed to fall in line with the prevailing brainwashing. She tries to find little ways to keep her spirits up and assert her personality without bringing undue attention to herself -that would be dangerous- but it\’s a stark life, a depressing existence, with no happy ending.

The only other book I\’ve read by Atwood, Cat\’s Eye, didn\’t really touch me strongly, but Handmaid\’s Tale is a compelling, horrifyingly fascinating book. I really ought to try more by this author.

Rating: 4/5……… 350 pages, 1985

More opinions at:
Read Warbler
The Curious Reader
Melody\’s Reading Corner
Passion for the Page
Things Mean a Lot
Under the Dresser
Reading Reflections
Jenny\’s Books
BlackSheep Books

by Cherie Bennett

Laura is one of the most popular girls in school- pretty, smart and of course, thin. Then she begins to inexplicably gain weight- in spite of hard dieting and exercise. After an extra hundred pounds or so puts her in the hospital, the doctors discover she has a rare (and fictional) metabolic disorder which causes her to gain. Returning to school, Laura finds she\’s no longer popular, taunted or ignored by her former friends, and offered well-meaning (but insulting, she feels) dieting advice by other girls she hardly knows. She feels it\’s all grossly unfair since she didn\’t get fat due to bad eating habits or lack of will power, but from her illness- and continually whines and complains about her condition, while looking down her nose at other overweight people. She becomes friends with another girl who is also overweight, but continually sees herself as superior because her weight problem is medical, and the other girl\’s isn\’t. I felt annoyed with her that this attitude never changed. Life in the Fat Lane just winds up showing how despicably people treat (and think of) each other based on body image, and how shallow this one girl is- obsessed with her looks even after this experience. I read the book all the way to the end hoping to see her mature or learn something from it, but that didn\’t happen. The characters are pretty realistic, Laura\’s uneven home life and difficulties dealing with the changes in her social circle make it interesting nonetheless. While I found the main character annoying, I did enjoy the book, but I feel it doesn\’t send a very good message to teen girls with similar concerns who might read it.

Rating: 2/5 …….. 260 pages, 1998

More opinions at:
Reading Log
Christine\’s Review Blog

Earl Emerson

Set in my hometown (Seattle), Vertical Burn is an intense story about John Finney, a firefighter who while fighting a blaze in a warehouse, leaves his partner behind and returns for help, giving directions to his partner\’s location. But he isn\’t reached in time- and the blame is laid on Finney. In the aftermath of the fire and his partner\’s death, Finney finds himself suspect and his reputation at stake- yet he is convinced that the fire was set by an arson, a conspiracy is going on among his fellow firefighters, and he\’s being framed. This book reads like a movie: action, suspense, a misunderstood main character, love story and plenty of intrigue. The characters are kind of flat and the plot feels predictable in places- but what really got me hooked on this story was the details of the life and work of firefighters. Descriptions of their experiences inside burning buildings make you feel the thick choking smoke, the weight of equipment, the exhaustion and heat. The technical aspects of the job- how they determine where fires began, what caused them, how to stop them, all the work involved- is so interesting it sustained my interest when the story faltered. An engaging read. (It wasn\’t until after I finished this book that I discovered it\’s part of a series- and the author is a firefighter chief himself -thus the excellent technical details).

Rating: 3/5                   340 pages, 2002

More opinions at:
everyday wonder


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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