Month: August 2009

by Sydney van Scyoc

I have found it is not hard to read a 600-page-plus book at all, if it\’s one you\’re interested in! This was my last attempt to complete the 9 for \’09 Challenge, and I finally did it. I\’m finding it difficult to know what to say about Daughters of the Sunstone, though. The entire time I was reading I kept wanting to discuss with someone, and tell my husband about it. But the little I told intrigued him so much, he made me quit saying anything, for fear I would give it away. Because now he wants to read it himself! And I don\’t want to write spoilers here, either, but it may be difficult to say anything without saying too much! So I\’ll try to be discreet, but you\’ve been forewarned.

Well, here goes. Daughters of the Sunstone is actually three volumes in one: Darkchild, Bluesong and Starsilk. It is set eons in the future, when humankind has left Earth to populate other planets, scattered far and wide. Such a long time has elapsed that humans have evolved differently on the new plantes, to adapt to new environments. Brakrath was a planet not really suitable for settlement. Humans only landed there by accident, stranded for what they thought would be a brief while, that stretched out into centuries. In the meantime, they found a way to survive the harsh environment and built a culture around a few women invested with tremendous power- the very power of the sun. A power drawn to warm the valleys and extend the growing season but also very dangerous to wield. Khira is born into this culture as a palace daughter, and due to strictures of tradition, finds herself all alone in the palace for the long winter.

One morning she wakens to find someone in the empty palace with her- a strange boy, devoid of emotion or personality, lonely, empty and lost. She befriends him and teaches him everything, unaware that he is really a tool sent from an alien race, a child whose mind has been programmed to gather information in order to exploit her planet\’s resources. Although she sees Darkchild only as her friend, others see something more sinister in him and recognize the threat. While Kira struggles to know what she must do- protect her friend, or her people? flee from or embrace her duties? the boy Darkchild wrestles with the duplicity he comes to recognize in himself. Can he be more than just a pawn, working out the hostile intent of an alien race? can he assert his own will and be whole?

The second novel, Bluesong, is the story of the next generation. Due to new contact with offplanet humankind, some children are born with entirely new characteristics. They don\’t fit in the rigid structure of Brakrath society. There is no place for them in tradition. Danior and Kira are born in different valleys, yet they are both desperately searching for a sense of belonging, and share a common destiny. When their paths cross, they find themselves traveling to strange unknown places on Brakrath, into harsh lands where savage tribes war constantly. Kira finds that against her will, her very presence in the desert stirs up greater violence, yet she may be the only one who can bring peace, if she can learn to control the power of the sunstone in a way no one has done before. And Danior must find the answers to his own quest, to return to his home valley with tales of wonders greater than anyone has ever heard, with answers to questions no one had thought to ask…

The final story, Starsilk, finds Danior\’s sister Reyna confronted with new information that will change forever how her culture operates. Driven by desperation to fulfill her role in society and yet avoid the grim outcome she now knows is inevitable, she sets off on a quest further than any palace daughter has ever gone- to a distant planet. With a companion and a guide, she seeks to find a man who has been lost for a hundred years, yet whose voice still speaks across the stars. If against all odds he still lives, Reyna intends to find him. What she and her companions encounter is a land with sentient creatures bound together in a way stranger than anyone could have imagined.

And now I\’ve got to stop myself before I say to much. Really, I\’ve only scratched the surface here. These stories are complex, with very real characters who inhabit an entirely unique universe thought-out in every detail. They grapple with enormous dilemmas, facing emotional turmoil, trying to make sense of their lives and the new changes happening to their once-isolated planet. Each of the stories has wide-reaching implications, yet they\’re told from a very personal perspective that makes them so engaging. It\’s a fascinating trilogy, with unexpected complications at every turn. I was full of anticipation to the very last page. Now I\’m eager to find any other books by Sydney van Scyoc- she\’s a fantastic writer and I\’d love to visit whatever other strange worlds she\’s created.

Rating: 4/5 …….. 697 pages, 1984

More opinions at:
Jenny\’s Books
anyone else?

I\’ve finished my third reading challenge, the 9 for \’09 Challenge! For this challenge I read nine books of various categories. I had to find a few replacements for ones that didn\’t work for me, so the ones I ended up reading were:

My Beaver Colony by Lars Wilsson
Letters from a Nut by Ted Nancy
Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl
The Sheepdog by Tim Longton
Chalice by Robin McKinley
Emma by Jane Austen
Sand by Will James
The Grail War by Richard Monaco
Daughters of the Sunstone by Sydney van Scyoc

by Heather Angel

After reading about the golden moon bear, I wanted to know more about bears, so I searched through my book pile and found this brief, informative volume on pandas. Written by a wildlife photographer, Pandas gives an overview of the species accompanied by many gorgeous photographs. The book tells about panda habitat, diet, behavior and mostly, why they are so endangered. Its main focus is conservation, and to that end, there seem to be more descriptions of the unique habitat than of the pandas themselves. This book states that according to the conformation of their skulls, pandas are part of the raccoon family. Yet in the book on moon bears I read that DNA studies have shown pandas to be bears. The smaller red panda is still a puzzle- is it part of the bear family, raccoon family, or one all its own? I was surprised to learn that pandas have canine characteristics- including their teeth and digestive system- and yet their main food source is a plant, bamboo. They can\’t digest it entirely, so they have to practically eat all day in order to get enough nourishment. And bamboo has a peculiarity that once every seventy, hundred years or so, a variety will all bloom at once, set seed, and die. It used to be that when the bamboo died off, pandas simply migrated to another area. Now with developments cutting the forest into smaller sections, the pandas have nowhere to go to find new bamboo. The other food sources they turn to aren\’t sufficient, and they slowly starve. These are only a few of the facts I learned about pandas from this book. I\’m really curious to know how a canine animal evolved to be so dependent upon a plant species, yet unable to utilize it efficiently. I suppose science hasn\’t figured that out yet.

Rating: 3/5                          72 pages, 1998

Science and Adventure in Pursuit of a New Species
by Sy Montgomery

This interesting book is about a writer and a scientist\’s quest to unravel the puzzle of a golden bear in Southeast Asia. Was this unfamiliar bear a new species, or merely a color variation of the Asian black bear, otherwise known as the moon bear? The author and her companion Dr. Gary Galbreath traveled through Cambodia, Laos and Thailand in search of bears and local people who could share information about them. There they found that the bears were seriously endangered by habitat loss and poaching, and heard stories of yet another possibly unknown bear species in remote mountains. From things simple as asking a Hmong refugee living next next door what he knew of bears, to the technicalities of extracting DNA from bear hair, the story encompasses every aspect of their search for answers. It ranges from feeling like a travelouge, to describing bear behavior, to explaining the scientific methods of their study. It\’s about bear genetics, evolutionary history, and distribution; about the presence of the bear in local folklore and, sadly, diet and medicine. The bears are not the only animal to get mention here. There is the mysterious Khting vor, known only by its twisted horns. There are dogs rescued off the streets where they would face abuse, or end up in someone\’s stew pot. There are elephants suffering from injuries sustained by stepping on land mines. There is a plethora of wildlife whose names are strange to me, and I had to look them up: kouprey, binturong, hog badger, markhor, etc. Search for the Golden Moon Bear is a book with many facets. While the bear is a dominant thread, there is also so much about the history and culture of various Southeast Asian countries that sometimes I felt lost. And so much of it made me feel upset, not only for the plight of moon bears, but also for the ravages of war and commerce on those countries.

Rating: 3/5                             324 pages, 2002

More opinions:
What We Are Reading
anyone else?

Gentle Reader, who writes Shelf Life, has given my blog the Literary Blogger Award. This award is for blogs that make you feel comfy and warm inside (doesn\’t that picture look so cozy? I wish I had a window seat to read in!) I\’d like to pass the Literary Blogger Award on to

Trish, Caribousmom, Bookfool, Maggie and Petunia.

A few more awards came to me lately, the second time around:
Jules and Jenny and Nan all gave me the Zombie Chicken Award, and Jessica The Curious Reader gave me the Lemonade Award. I\’m sorry I\’m a little late recognizing them. I just wanted to say thank you all!

I\’m passing the Zombie Chicken Award on to
LisammBooks on the Brain
BybeeNaked Without Books
LeahThe Octogon
CathRead Warbler

and the Lemonade Award to
Amanda– A Patchwork of Books
Suey- It\’s All About Books
EvaA Striped Armchair
HeatherBook Addiction

These words I came across when reading The Voyages of Dr. Dolittle:

Obstreperous– \”He was such an enormous man there was no knowing what he might do if he got really obstreperous.\”
Definition: noisy, aggressively defiant and difficult to control

Embrocation– \”… the Doctor took a large bottle of embrocation and began rubbing the sprain.\”
Definition: an ointment or lotion

Enteric– \”They would go back to their old unsanitary ways: bad water, uncooked fish, no drainage, enteric fever, and the rest.\”
Definition: of the intestines

These words are from The Snowflake:

Nanoscale– \”Yet self-assembly is hard to fathom because it usually involves either nanoscale objects, like the molecules in a crystal, or tremendously complex objects, like living things.\”
Definition: on a scale of nanometers, which is one billionth of a meter

Morphogenesis– \”A flower is a biological example of morphogenesis, the spontaneous creation of form- nature using chemistry and self-assembly to generate complexity.\”
Definition: formation of the structure of an organism, or a part thereof

And from the books I\’m currently reading, Search for the Golden Moon Bear:

Igneous– \”In a great igneous spine, they run for more than six hundred miles from the northeastern corner of Cambodia up along the border of Vietnam and Laos.\”
Definition: formed by molten rock cooling

Lyse– \”The chemicals would lyse, or burst the cells, and cause them to release their DNA.\”
Definition: to cause the disintegration of cells, by a chemical substance, antibody or enzyme

Montane– \”If Africa is a good analogy, montane rain forest spread down, but the lowland forest became savanna in what is now the Congo Basin.\”
Definition: of a mountain area

and Daughters of the Sunstone:

Compunction– \”I was busy,\” he said lamely, wondering how he had turned her away twice with no compunction.
Definition: uneasiness caused by guilt; feeling of regret

Inimical– \”He should have known before he encountered the arrogant Bullens, should have known before he challenged the Arnimi force curtain, that the Arnimi would be inimical to him.\”
Definition: harmful, injurious; hostile or unfriendly

Insipid– \”Tastes and scents grew insipid, colors dull, textures bland.\”
Definition: lacking in flavor, tasteless

Venality– \”Or did the women who governed them see that their venality was directed entirely outward?\”
Definition: susceptible to bribery, corruption; using a position of trust for dishonest gain

Compendium– \”She was the oldest mare of her herd and she carried the knowledge of their kind in the very tissues of her body, carried it like a compendium of redmane wisdom.\”
Definition: a summary of a larger work

Ostentatious– \”It was a crude weapon, but she worked on it ostentatiously, hefting it, testing its balance.\”
Definition: showy, pretentious. That doesn\’t quite seem to fit here. Does anyone know another definition?

Extemporize– \”It means our fathers were the same man once,\” Danior said, extemporizing. \”Though they are no longer, of course.\”
Definition: to do something without preparation or practice

That\’s a lot of new words! To see more, visit the host of this meme, Bermudaonion.

by Doris Pilkington

I saw the film based on this book a few years ago, and it moved me so much I wanted to read the original story. Rabbit-Proof Fence is about three aboriginal girls in 1930\’s Australia who were taken from their mother and put in a camp where they were forced to learn English customs, beaten for speaking their own language, and taught to work as domestic servants. This was enforced by the government at the time because the children were of mixed race; their father was white. The girls, two sisters and a cousin, eventually escaped the misery of the camp and followed the rabbit-proof fence across the Australian outback to find their way home. Their journey was arduous and long. They walked most of the way, through desert conditions. They had to face heat, thirst, hunger and fatigue, and avoid professional trackers who were sent after them. They had no supplies or provisions, but survived on their own foraging skills and handouts from sympathetic people (both white and native) encountered on their journey. They traveled in total over 1,000 miles and sadly, even after reaching their home in Jigalong, were not safe from the government\’s attention.

While I find this story amazing, and my heart ached for the girls, for once the movie outshines the book. Even though the film was overly dramatic and a few aspects of the story were altered, it was far more engaging and moving than the book. The book was written by the daughter of one of the girls who made the trek, and she first heard about the incident through oral storytellers. She gathered information and documents verifying the story from a few other sources, and wrote it down as she would have told it to another person, some sixty years after the events had taken place. The result is a rather dry, sometimes scattered account with frequent awkward passages and stiff syntax. It is just not very engaging to read. It still strikes me as an important book; I did not know about how aboriginal people were treated in Australia before I read it, but it can be hard to appreciate. I would recommend seeing the film first, and then reading the book after if you want the more factual account.

Rating: 2/5 …….. 160 pages, 1996

More opinions:
World Lit
Eric\’s IAH Blog

by Zilpha Keatley Snyder

I must have first read this book some fifteen years ago, and the story has still stuck with me. It\’s about a lonely boy who gets a magic potion that makes him grow wings. Each night he sneaks out of the house to go flying- at first just learning how to do so safely, then exploring, and finally seeking ways to help strangers- when he\’s often mistaken for an angel. Of course it\’s not all fun and games- foggy nights are wet and cold, it\’s hard to find something suitable to wear while flying, and he\’s constantly worried about being found out. Black and Blue Magic is a really good story, one I want to read yet again someday.

Rating: 3/5                   196 pages, 1967

Winter\’s Secret Beauty
by Kennth Libbrecht

Stunningly beautiful, The Snowflake: Winter\’s Secret Beauty is a book all about snowflakes, or snow crystals- particularly how they are formed, and why there is such an enormous variety of pattern combinations that no two identical snowflakes have ever been observed (although two very close ones are pictured on pp. 28-29). There\’s even a bit of history: the first recorded observations of snowflakes were made by Descartes in 1637, the earliest snowflake photographs in 1885 by Wilson Bentley. A lot of this book is physics, and even though the information is presented clearly, I had to read some passages several times over. I learned so many fascinating things: what makes the halo around the moon, how scientists can make clouds produce rainfall, and what can suspend an ice crystal long enough to grow a snowflake in a laboratory- a rabbit\’s hair! The nucleus of a snowflake is actually a dust particle, and they are formed by the growth of ice crystals, very similar to how mineral crystals grow. The formation of snowflakes is affected very precisely by humidity and temperature- so a snowfall will often have all of a similar kind of snowflake, and when conditions change, the shape of the flakes changes, too. Although most of the photographs in this book are of beautiful, intricate and neatly symmetrical snowflakes, the great majority of snow crystals are actually irregular, small or deformed. It was really interesting to read about the methods photographer Patricia Rasmussen used to capture the images, too. You can see some of the gorgeous snow crystal photographs and read more about Libbrecht\’s work here. And the most wonderful thing? the author is a scientist who studies snowflakes not for any practical reason, but simply to understand their beauty, as aptly described in these two quotes included in the book:

The scientist does not study nature because it is useful; he studies it because he delights in it, and he delights in it because it is beautiful. – Jules Henri Poincare

What is the pattern, or the meaning, or the why? It does not do harm to the mystery to know a little about it. For far more marvelous is the truth than any artists of the past imagined it. – Richard P. Feynman

Rating: 4/5 …….. 112 pages, 2003

More opinions at:
Educating Petunia
Blogging for a Good Book
anyone else?


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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