Month: August 2009

by Hugh Lofting

I always thought I would rather like this book, because it\’s all about a man who can talk to animals! What could be better? Sadly, I was a little disappointed. The beginning was good. In a charming style rather reminiscent of My Father\’s Dragon, the story tells how a village boy, Tommy Stubbins, becomes apprentice to the great naturalist and doctor, and sets off with him on a voyage to discover new animals and find the doctor\’s missing colleague, an Indian named Long Arrow.

Dr. Dolittle travels around without a care in the world, because he can speak animal languages and wherever he is, creatures come to his aid. Shipwreck? no problem- the dolphins push him to shore. Overwhelming battle odds? no problem- call in thousands of black parrots! But I was a bit disturbed how the jolly animal-loving man used this to impose his own views on other people. It started out midly enough- translating for a dog so he could stand witness in a murder trial, stopping bullfights in a small town in Spain, follow a beetle guide to rescue some men trapped in a rockslide. But then at the end of their journey the doctor, Tommy and the animal crew arrive on a floating island where the native inhabitants are so ignorant Dolittle has to teach them everything– starting with how to make fire! then building cities, sewer systems, introducing them to medicine, teaching them to use metal, etc etc. It just got to be a bit too much. Polynesia the parrot had it right when she criticized him: \”How do you suppose babies got along before you came, for Heaven\’s sake?\” I wanted to like The Voyage of Dr. Dolittle, but the conceit of those ending chapters just spoiled it for me. This is a sequel. The Story of Dr. Dolittle is the first book and then there\’s a whole slew of others, but I don\’t think I\’ll read any more. I think my copy is an edited one, too; I read on wiki that some racist terms for natives and offensive illustrations had been removed.

Rating: 2/5                         276 pages, 1922

More opinions:
The Newberry Project
Adventures in Reading
SMS Book Reviews
A Species of Storytellers
Karen Edits

I have some fantastic news and some more glum news.

My blog got nominated for two categories in Book Blog Appreciation Week awards- Best Special Interest (I\’m guessing for all the animal books!) and Best Non-Fiction Blog!! I couldn\’t believe it. I\’m so excited to be a part of this, and thank you thank you to whoever nominated me!

The glum news is I busted my toe. (In a really stupid way: I accidentally kicked a brick that edges the garden). You would not believe how much a broken pinkie toe hurts. It\’s really silly, but half my usual tasks of the day I simply can\’t do, and the other half is all more awkward and takes twice as long. So by the time I can lie down and put my foot up I\’m too tired to do much more than read a few pages and doze off. I have two reviews needing to be written, and feel like I\’ve been rather neglecting the commenting I usually do on other blogs. It might be a bit quiet here for a while, but I\’m still around and will catch up when I can.

I\’m doing my wondrous words a day late. They all came from West with the Night, a book full of unfamiliar words, many (not listed here) which I could not find meanings for and only guessed at.

Muram– \”I peer ahead along the narrow muram runway.\”
Definition: a type of heavy, red clay soil used to pave roads

Posho– \”… the cedar forest that bounded our posho mill and paddocks.\”
Definition: a staple food in Africa made from ground maize and water

Syce– \”… she could be handled even by the syces.\”
Definition: a groom or stableman (word origins in India)

Manyatta– \”I could only wonder if he had been hurt and taken into a manyatta by some of the Masai Murani…\”
Definition: a Masai community made up of several huts enclosed by a fence

Magneto– \”Woody and I were preparing to take off for Nairobi and a doctor- and a new magneto, if one could be had.\”
Definition: a device that produces alternating current for distribution to the spark plugs, used in the ignition systems of some internal-combustion engines

Kiboko– \”… Bwana Elkington, who is saying a great many words I do not know and is carrying a long kiboko which he holds in his hand and is meant for beating the large lion.\”
Definition: a heavy leather whip

Profligate– \”He was profligate with money- his own and what he could borrow; but he spent nothing on himself and was scrupulously honest.\”
Definition: recklessly wasteful

Reimpie– \”It began with the stirring of Buller alseep, as always, at the foot of my reimpie bed in the mud and daub hut we shared together…\”
Definition: having a seat (or in this case a platform) of woven rawhide thongs

Donga– \”The lion that stood in the donga was not intimidated by Arab Maina\’s stare.\”
Definition: a dry gully

Lucerne– \”She nibbles at a single leaf of lucerne, too small to be tasted, then shambles on sluggish feet across the box.\”
Definition: alfalfa (in Britian and Australia)

Enure– \”It is an ancient lamp…. It is crumpled and slatternly, enured to failure, as if no man with hope in his fingers had ever trimmed its wick.\”
Definition: inure; to habituate oneself to something unpleasant

Nonage– \”… he will walk behind me now, when once, in the simplicity of our nonage, we walked together.\”
Definition: a period of immaturity

Strabismus– \”Please report to the examiners within three months and, if you have not contracted strabismus, or a melancholy point of view in regard to this Board, we will be happy to renew your permit.\”
Definition: a condition where the eyes are not aligned with each other

Sansevieria– \”Land on sansevieria and your plane is skewered like a duck pinned for taxidermy- land in it and walk away.\”
Definition: a type of shrubby, succulent perennial plant native to the Old World

Nostrum– \”…. each beckoning with such enthusiasm that I concluded the gin, rather than the quinine, was the nostrum immediately required.\”
Definition: \”patented\” medicine with secret ingredients (usually a quack remedy)

Snickersnee– \”The only difference is that the steer has neither the ability nor the chance to outwit the gentleman who wields the slaughterhouse snickersnee…\”
Definition: a large knife (slang, of Dutch origin)

Virescent– \”I think we were simply depressed beyond words with the business of hanging for so long a time under such a flat blue sky and above such a flat virescent swamp.\”
Definition: becoming green

Lachrymose– \”They are silent, limp or lachrymose, and in their midst sits Blix the Unsinkable- a monument of miserable sobriety, bleak as a lonely rock jutting from a lonely sea.\”
Definition: being tearful, or causing one to weep

hosts this meme

Happy birthday to my blog! Two years ago today I started book blogging, and it\’s been a blast. Huge thanks go out to all of you who read and comment- it\’s the ability to share opinions on books that makes blogging so much fun, and why I come back to it day after day. What started as just a way to remember what I\’ve read has become a network of bookish friends, and a wonderful way to find out about more new books than I could possibly ever read.

This blogiversary, I thought I\’d share some stats, which I haven\’t really done before. So I\’m looking back over two years of blogging. For the purpose of this post, \”This year\” is 19 Aug, 2008 to 18 Aug, 2009. \”Last Year\” is 19 Aug, 2007 to 18 Aug, 2008.
\”New reads\” refers to book reviews I wrote immediately after finishing the book (also called \”Current reads\” in my tags). \”Past reads\” are reviews of books I read before I began blogging. \”Review copies\” are books that were sent to me by the author or publisher. What were all these books about?

It looks like my reading preferences haven\’t changed much over these two years. I\’ve done fewer reviews of books from the past lately, but that\’s because I\’ve been doing more memes, giveaways and other kind of posts. And for anyone who finds the other kind of stats interesting:

I\’d love to tell you how many comments have gone through my blog, or how many pages I\’ve actually read, but I don\’t know how to count that without getting a headache! I realize if you add up the numbers something doesn\’t match up, because many posts got put into two or more categories (for example, Ratha\’s Creature is both animal fiction and fantasy). This is as accurate as I can get in giving stats and looking broadly at what goes on on my blog over the past two years of reading and writing here. And there are so many more books I want to read, there is really no end in sight.

Announcing the winner of the curly-leaf bookmarks:
Liyana, of Royal Reviews!

Congrats, Liyana!

This week I\’m giving away the puffin bookmark pictured here. It\’s not one of my best- a bit crooked, and sadly the picture got a wrinkle in it while being laminated, but I still think this bird has a handsome face. If you\’d like a chance to have him keep place in a book for you, just leave a comment.

by Beryl Markham

This book was not at all what I expected. From the cover images (the author in flight helmet, and on the back, her plane crashed in a swamp) and synopsis I read online, I assumed it was about early aviation. The author lived in Africa at a time when planes were very new and roads scarce, so there was always work to do in her small plane flying people and medical supplies to remote areas of the country, or searching for other lost pilots. I thought the book would mostly be about these flights, but I was quite wrong. West with the Night contains memoirs of Markham\’s childhood on her father\’s horse farm, and later her own work training race horses as the first woman licensed to do so in the country. Her writing is beautiful and poetic, the words ones to savor and turn over in your mind. Besides some lovely passages about horses, there is a lot about the African countryside and its wildlife. As a small child, Markham was attacked by a semi-tame lion that lived about the horse ranch. When older (but still very young) she went on hunts for warthog, lion and elephant, accompanied by native tribesmen and her loyal dog Buller. Many times the hunted beasts turned against them, in some hair-raising situations. The wild countryside, broad and nearly untouched by man, is nearly a personality itself in her pages. As is her plane. Accounts of her flights over desolate country, through darkness and storm and across the Atlantic in a record-breaking trip, grace the beginning and end of the book. I can\’t say which I preferred, reading about the horses and African wildlife, or reading about her flights in a small plane- both were engrossing and captivating. And have you ever had the thrill of coming across a character in a book, who was friends with one you knew in a different book entirely? Markham knew the von Blixens, and Denys Finch-Hatton, whom I met in the pages of Out of Africa. In fact, this book reminds me a lot of Out of Africa, far more so than it does Wind Sand and Stars, or the many books I once read about Charles Lindbergh. You can read a bit more about Beryl Markham here. Her book is one that should not be forgotten, it is such a treasure to read.

Rating: 4/5 …….. 294 pages, 1942

More opinions at:
Jenny\’s Books
The Zen Leaf

by Bill Peet

It\’s been a long time since I picked up a J Nonfic book just for my own reading, but I was so curious about this I couldn\’t resist. I always loved Bill Peet\’s books when I was a kid, and have just started reading some to my daughter. We were in the juvenile nonfiction section so she could find books about hamsters (her favorite future pet still) when I saw this one on the shelf. It\’s about a capybara that Peet\’s son, an aspiring naturalist, once bought from an animal dealer and kept in their home. The story tells all about how the capybara settled down to be part of the family, its behavior, its sensitive nature, the mischief it got into. Not to mention the more mundane details like what it eats, the noises it makes, how it liked to have its fur combed. Eventually, of course, the capybara got too big to remain a housepet and had to go live at a zoo, where it shared a cage with two hippos! The illustrations are charming, the story is fun and informative. My husband and I have always been kind of fascinated with these huge rodents, and now thanks to Capyboppy I know quite a bit more about them. Sadly, if you visit Peet\’s online page, the story does not have a completely happy ending, as was given in the book.

Rating: 3/5                   62 pages, 1966

More opinions:
Capybara Madness
Discipline Answers

I\’ve been plugging along, reading the books off my challenge pile, occasionally disappointed in one and fishing around for a replacement title. And then I went back to look at my original list for the 2009 TBR Challenge and realized I\’ve finished it!

Here are the titles I read (with links to the reviews):

Adventures of a Zoologist by Victor Scheffer
Dolphin Chronicles by Carol Howard
Vet on the Wild Side by David Taylor
Sandy by Dayton O. Hyde
A Paddling of Ducks by Dillon Ripley
My Orphans of the Wild by Rosemary Collett
Reindeer Moon by Elizabaeth Marshall Thomas
Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey
Psycho Kitty by Pam Johnson-Bennett
The Burn Journals by Brent Runyon
Dust Bowl Diary by Ann Marie Low
Maggie-Now by Betty Smith

by Betty Smith

I am glad I finally got around to reading Maggie-Now. Like Smith’s other novels, it is set in Brooklyn during the early 1900’s. The story begins with Patsy, an Irish immigrant who married the daughter of the house where he worked as a stable boy in New York. Their first daughter was Maggie. But the mother was frail and died giving birth to her next child, a son. So Maggie spent her childhood raising her younger brother. She was not particularly intelligent but honest, generous and good at heart. She passed up a chance to marry a well-respected boy because she fell in love with a handsome stranger, who flattered and charmed her. None of her family liked Claude, who consistently dodged questions about his family and his past. After they were married, Claude took to disappearing every spring, coming home in winter and never telling where he’d gone. Maggie patiently waited for him every year, bearing the suspicions of family and neighbors, filling her days with caring for others. When I told my husband part of the story he laughed and said: “I know where he goes!” suspecting the guy had another family, a secret second life. But it turned out to be something quite different, after all.

This is a quiet story. It tells about ordinary people, who never do anything particularly spectacular. It shows how they live day-to-day (interesting in a historical sense), how Maggie and all those of her family connect to each other, reach out to their neighbors, influence and touch each other with their lives. In many ways the story is unbearably sad, ironic and unfulfilling. All Maggie wants is to pour herself into others, to care for them and feel needed. And yet the man she loves most always leaves her behind, and keeps secrets from her. Patsy’s sole aim in life appears to be making others miserable, yet at the end it seems he really did hold some grudging respect for the man his daughter loved- either that, or his last act (in the novel) was pure spite to poke a finger in her misery. I’ll never understand it, but that’s what compels me about the story.

This isn’t as wonderful as A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (one of my favorite books) but it’s still a good read. I had a copy of another Betty Smith novel, Joy in the Morning, which I had trouble getting into and quit once. But Maggie-Now has made me want to try the others again. Her fourth book, which I haven’t read yet, is Tomorrow Will Be Better.

Rating: 3/5
365 pages, 1958

More opinions at:
Shelf Love
The Neglected Books Page
anyone else?

It has just come to my attention that I made a mistake with my DogEar Reading Challenge. I was not aware that I can\’t put up more than one Mr. Linky at a time, so my first one got taken down. I\’m going to remove the Aug review-links post and reinstate the Mr. Linky on the sign-up post. At the end of the challenge, there will be a wrap-up post where you can leave a link to your own wrap-up and tell us of all the books you read, in the comments. Sorry for all the confusion! I hope this works out okay for everyone.

Edit 8/14/09
I have upgraded my mister linky account, so that should fix things. If anyone else has a problem signing up, please leave a comment or email to let me know. If the mister linky isn\’t working (or you don\’t have a blog), you can always just leave a comment on the signup post to let me know you\’re joining in! Sorry for the little mess, I\’m still learning as I go!


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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