Month: June 2009

A Book of the Change
by Steven R. Boyett

Ariel is a post-apocalyptic fantasy. The world has suddenly changed. Modern technology no longer works- electricity, firearms, cars, etc.- and magic has come into the world. (It\’s really cool that the author laid out rules -like the laws of physics- for how the magic worked, too.) Chaos and confusion is everywhere, as mythical beasts stalk the land and bullies wrest scant resources from others. The main character, Pete, manages to survive the turmoil of the first few years after \”the Change\” and is on his own until one day he comes across a unicorn. A beautiful, graceful, magical creature- who is also stubborn, frank, cracks jokes and likes to swear. They strike up a friendship and travel together, eventually adding to their party a bumbling kid who thinks he has to kill a dragon and a woman named Shaughnessy. Like many fantasy novels, it winds down to a battle between the good guys and the bad guys- Pete has to learn swordsmanship from a martial arts master, trek on foot from Atlanta to New York City, choose his friends wisely and avoid his enemies. It turns out that the bad guys want to capture the unicorn, and even if he can keep her away from them, he might loose her to a human relationship- as he and Shaughnessy begin to find each other attractive- but only a virgin can be a unicorn\’s companion… This novel is just amazing. Full of adventure, great characters, a wonderful tale of friendship and loyalties.

What\’s even more fantastic is that I just found out the author wrote a sequel, Elegy Beach, coming out in November. I can\’t find a synopsis of it anywhere online, though…

Rating: 5/5 …….. 325 pages, 1983

by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas

I\’ve read a few of this author\’s non-fiction books, but I had no idea she wrote fiction until I picked up Reindeer Moon, a story set twenty thousand years ago in a cold northern region of forest and steppes. Like Clan of the Cave Bear, it\’s full of harsh realities and bitter struggles for survival, especially when it comes to people\’s interactions. In Thomas\’ novel, the people are so few that one individual\’s error or misdeed can jeapordize the entire group. The main character is a young woman named Yanan, who after a streak of catastrophic events finds herself alone with her younger sister, traveling through the wilderness to try and find her people again. They take shelter in an old abandoned lodge, only to find a mother wolf has made it her den. For a time they co-exist with the wolf and its cub. In this incident and the following events, I could see a scenario arising of how the first wolf was tamed. Only it didn\’t happen in the span of the book- which rather disappointed me, but also made it more realistic; I think the development of a partnership with animals would probably have taken more than one person\’s lifetime. I also really liked (of course) parts of the story where when a person died, their spirit could take on the form of an animal- and at times the spirit would just live the animal\’s life, forgetting what it had originally set out to do in that form. It was really interesting to see the different animal perspectives: deer, lion, bear, owl etc. The first time it happened I was surprised: wait, she\’s a wolf now? but then I eagerly awaited the person-into-animal moments.

Anyway, I\’m getting off track. The wolf thing was not the focus of the story, although I found it fascinating. It\’s mostly about Yanan\’s efforts to live her life the way she wants to- sometimes against the tenants of her society. Not nearly as dramatic (or rich in detail) as Clan of the Cave Bear (which I couldn\’t help comparing it to, as one of the few other novels I\’ve read set in prehistory) but full of grim realities- death in childbirth is common, many children never survive to adulthood, winter brings starvation, people fight over food and mates, illness and injury go ignored. It was sometimes hard to read descriptions of them suffering in ways which the reader knew were totally preventable but the characters were ignorant of. Often the people acted totally callous towards each other. And yet they were also skillful, manipulative and imaginative- very human. This is one of the few books I\’ve ever read where in the society arranged marriages made complete sense- the population was so small, and life so risky, the people had to carefully choose who joined with whom. Resistance to these arrangements could cause lots of turmoil …. Reindeer Moon is a story of a woman growing up, learning some hard lessons in a very harsh land, a book about nature and nurture, about discovery and loss…

This book reminded me of so many others. The part where the girl and her sister are struggling to survive alone brought to mind Into the Forest. The way they came to live in the wolf\’s den made me think of Incident at Hawk\’s Hill. The closeness to nature, paired with brutality and a sense of wonder, echoed themes of An Imaginary Life. Needless to say, I really enjoyed this book and I\’m eager to get my hands on the companion novel, The Animal Wife. (I\’m hoping it continues to speculate, even as backdrop to the main events, how someone tamed a wolf…)

I read this book for the TBR Challenge

Rating: 4/5 …….. 336 pages, 1987

more opinions:
Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tales

The winner of One Good Turn is Kimmie! Congrats! Send your address to jeanenevarez AT gmail DOT com and I\’ll mail out your book.

My next giveaway is of these two flower bookmarks. To enter, leave a comment here. Name will (as usual) be drawn from the hat next tuesday, 6/23

by Gary Paulsen

As a younger reader, I was a big fan of Gary Paulsen. The first book of his I read was Hatchet. It\’s a survival story, set in the northern wilderness. After his parents\’ divorce, thirteen-year-old Brian survives a plane crash on a remote lake while on the way to visit his father in Canada. He finds himself all alone, miles off course (which makes search and rescue success unlikely) with nothing but a hatchet in his belt. Brian must learn quickly how to make a fire, build a shelter, find food, etc. At the same time he struggles internally with the anger he feels at his parents. There are several things I really liked about this story. First, it doesn\’t shy away from the gritty details. Right after the landing Brian is in shock, it\’s freezing cold, he almost gets eaten alive by mosquitoes, he gets sick all over the place, etc. Even after he gets the hang of things, there\’s still lots of unpleasantness- rain and mud, porcupines and skunks, fish slime and bird guts. You get the picture. Very realistic. Secondly, the story is just as much about how Brian changes because of his ordeal, as it is about what he does to survive. He comes to appreciate the beauty of the wilderness. He learns patience and problem-solving skills. He matures a lot emotionally, and comes out of the experience a very different person. Great book.

Rating: 4/5 …….. 195 pages, 1987

A few more opinions:
BookSnake Reviews
Reading Railroad
Sarah the Librarian

by Kim Ronyoung

This novel is about a family of Korean immigrants and their experience in America. It spans several generations, the back cover copy tells me. I was very curious to read it, but after several days of sitting down and becoming bored within a few pages, I just let it go. I probably wouldn\’t even mention Clay Walls except it was one I had intended to read for the TBR Challenge. I\’m trying to pinpoint exactly what it was that felt so dull to me- the flat narrator\’s voice? the lack of a foreign culture \”flavor\”? the way the I kept getting told why the main character felt certain ways, from events in her past… all I know is it just wasn\’t interesting me, which was rather sad. So I\’m moving on!

Abandoned                  301 pages, 1986

Since I did not really give this book its due, read a few more blogger opinions:
Narrative and Silent Fury
Duke in Los Angeles 2009

Wow. I\’ve been spammed. In the worst way. My post of yesterday was duplicated by someone here: (I won\’t give them the honor of a live link) with a terrible translation- it\’s looks like someone ran it through one of those automatic online translators from english to something (russian?) and back. I\’d be more angry if I wasn\’t laughing so hard at the horrible way my sentences got mangled. I guess it\’s time to copyright my blog. I really don\’t mind if someone wants to quote me or something, as long as they give due credit, but this is just a rip-off stealing my content. Has this ever happened to you? what did you do about it?

Rescue and Home Care of Native Wildlife
by Rosemary Collett

Rosemary Collett was a wildlife rescuer. Her entire home and backyard was dedicated to taking in orphaned or injured animals, and caring for them until they could be released back into the wild. Located in Florida, she had the usual influx of young \’coons and squirrels, but also possums, the occasional armadillo, and many, many pelicans. Lots of other shore and seabirds, too. I thought this book would be something like The Swan in My Bathtub, but it\’s actually much more formal, a handbook for wildlife care. For each species, Collett briefly outlines its habits and diet. She gives recipes for infant mammals and birds, describes how to care for them, when to give basic first aid, when to call the vet, when to humanely euthanize, and when and how to finally release them. Also provided are instructions on how to safely capture an injured wild animal or bird, and how to build various cages. She describes her work with the public visiting schools, libraries, nursing homes and hospitals to give educational programs on wildlife, always taking along several animals- particularly those which for one reason or another could not be released into the wild again (other animals that were too disabled to go free were often given to zoos).

Actual stories were few, but I still found it interesting reading. I learned a lot about different birds- songbirds, owls, hawks, seagulls, etc. I was surprised to learn that owls are so sensitive they can die from heart attacks caused by fright at being mishandled. I learned the answers to some questions A Paddling of Ducks had left me with. In that book, the author described coming upon waterfowl with oil on them, and his attempts to clean them. First he tried gasoline; the fumes killed the bird. Then he tried industrial soap, which stripped the birds\’ natural oils. When re-released into the water, they died soon from the chill. Collett dedicates an entire chapter to the care of birds caught in oil spills- she explains clearly that gasoline or industrial soaps will kill birds; and even after proper cleaning they have to be kept dry until their natural waterproofing is restored. Sometimes this takes months, until after the bird has molted and grown new feathers.

There\’s another entire chapter about an otter, kept by one of Collett\’s friends, which made me think of Ring of Bright Water… I wouldn\’t say that My Orphans of the Wild is a very compelling book to read, or particularly fun. (My four year old even got bored looking at the photos- she liked the cute baby raccoons, squirrels and bunnies in the front part of the book. Then it was all birds and she said \”is this it? just more birds?\” and quit) But it\’s a very thorough resource, especially considering that when Collett wrote the book, there were no general handbooks published for wildlife care (at least, she couldn\’t find any).

I read this book for the TBR Challenge.

Rating: 4/5                  288 pages, 1974

From Booking Through Thursday:

There are certain types of books that I more or less assume all readers read. (Novels, for example.) But then there are books that only YOU read. Instructional manuals for fly-fishing. How-to books for spinning yarn. How to cook the perfect souffle. Rebuilding car engines in three easy steps. Dog training for dummies. Rewiring your house without electrocuting yourself. Tips on how to build a NASCAR course in your backyard. Stuff like that.What niche books do YOU read?

I think books about making compost tops the list. Vegetable gardening books, natural history, animal training/behavior and novels from an animal\’s viewpoint are more favorites of mine that don\’t seem that common with other readers. What about you?

Wondrous Words Wednesday is a weekly meme hosted by Bermudaonion where we share new (to us) words that we’ve encountered in our reading. These first few words I came across in Sandy:

Caruncular– \”…. when the feathers began to rub away, exposing more and more of the caruncular red of maturity.\”
Definition: a fleshy naked outgrowth, like a chicken\’s wattles

Termagant– \”For almost sixteen years, Sandy dominated my marriage like a termagant mother-in-law…\”
Definition: an overbearing or nagging woman

The rest are from A Paddling of Ducks:

Cote– \”The birds were reared in their pigeon cotes with small jackets around their wings preventing their stretching or exercising.\”
Definition: a small shelter for birds (or sheep)

Trophic– \”Baby wood ducks have an instinctive, almost a trophic response for the first forty-eight hours after hatching.\”
Definition: stimulating growth? the meanings I found all had to do with nutrition…

Gudgeon– \”It looked to me like some green greasy gudgeon of the Limpopo…\”
Definition: A small eurasian freshwater fish related to the carp and used for bait

Cytologist– \”Dr. Yamashina, the well-known Japanese cytologist and ornithologist, has proposed a new theory about these birds.\”
Definition: one who studies the structure, formation and function of cells

Welter– \”Sir David carefully unlocked the cabinet, reached in, and abstracted from the welter a small package wrapped in a sheet of newspaper.\”
Definition: a confused mass or jumble

Fatuously– \”… the birds will swim upstream, as it were, into the breeze, curious to see the dog, and led along by the fatuously tame mallards.\”
Definition: unreal, delusive

I started doing a new thing with my discovered words this week. Every time I jotted down a word on my notepaper, I also wrote next to it what I thought the word meant. I found that more often than not, I already had a pretty good idea, sometimes it was a word I\’d run into before. The ones I share with you here are words I totally had no idea on, or the definition was a lot more specific than what I guessed. Happy reading!

win a free book!

Time for a free book! I\’ve got this nice hardbound copy of One Good Turn, which is \”A Natural History of the Screwdriver and the Screw.\” Interested in reading about the evolution of a simple, all-pervasive and useful tool? This book is looking for an appreciative reader! Leave a comment here, and a name will be drawn from the hat next tuesday, 6/16.


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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