Month: November 2009

A Father\’s Quest to Heal His Son
by Rupert Isaacson

I first found out about this book from Stuff As Dreams Are Made On. I\’ve always been interested in reading about autism, and of course I love books about animals. So I was eager to pick this one up, especially after reading Wolf Totem, which is also set in Mongolia. Whereas Wolf Totem was all about the warlike side of Mongolian culture, and its interaction with wolves and other wildlife, The Horse Boy is a story of healing, about a people who embrace Buddhism and shamanism.

It began when Isaacson learned that his son Rowan was autistic. They tried many traditional therapies and diet changes; nothing seemed to help. At five years old Rowan failed to interact with other children, threw enormous temper tantrums, could barely communicate and was not toilet trained. His behavior was becoming harder and harder for his parents to manage. Then Isaacson took Rowan along to a convention of traditional healers from native tribes around the world, which he attended in capacity as a journalist. He was surprised and delighted to see Rowan\’s behavior improve at the convention. Later he found that Rowan, fascinated by all animals, seemed to have a special connection with a neighbor\’s horse- his temper tantrums dissipated and his communication improved while on horseback. He wondered if some kind of therapy involving horses and faith healing could help his son, and came up with a plan to take Rowan across Mongolia on horseback, to seek healing from their shamans.

It is an incredible journey to read about. The family traveled over vast stretches of steppes, treacherous bogs and mountain passes, pausing to visit sacred lakes, streams, and shamans along the way. The trip was fraught with difficulties, not the least that Rowan often refused to get on a horse at all, and threw screaming tantrums at transition points. And by the end of it all, although their son was still very much autistic, he had made incredible strides, including making friends with other children for the first time in his life.

It\’s amazing what this family went through to try and help their son. At the same time, it was often a dull read for me. There\’s nothing spectacular about the writing or descriptions. The story seemed to focus more on the parents\’ frustrations and difficulties, especially when things did not go the way they had envisioned, than on Rowan himself, or his relationship with the horses, which was what I had looked forward to reading about. It\’s a painfully honest story, one that still leaves me feeling skeptical: was Rowan really healed by the shaman\’s rituals? was he responding positively to being in nature and around animals? or were his improvements something that would have occurred anyways, whether in Outer Mongolia or at home? No one can say. While I greatly admire the family for the incredible lengths they went to (upon returning home Isaacson also established an equestrian therapy program for autistic children) the book itself was just not very engaging for me.

I borrowed this book from the public library.

Rating: 3/5                    357 pages, 2009

More opinions at:
Bermudaonion\’s Weblog
Age 30+ A Lifetime of Books

by Jiang Rong
translated by Howard Goldblatt

I feel a bit inadequate to say anything about this sweeping novel. Wolf Totem is a semi-autobiographical work about a Chinese student from Beijing named Chen Zhen who goes to live among the nomadic people of Inner Mongolia during the Cultural Revolution. During his ten or so years there, he lives among the sheep and horse herders, learning about the Mongolian way of life and most of all, about the wolves. The Mongolians wage constant war against wolves because they prey on the sheep and horses, yet at the same time they revere the animals, understanding that without this key predator the mice and marmots would quickly overrun the grassland and ruin the habitat. The more Chen learns about the wolves, the more fascinated he becomes, until he moves to steal a live wolf cub from its den and raise it in captivity, in order to study it. His plan is met with outrage by the Mongolians, who feel that keeping a wolf in captivity is demeaning to the animal, as well as dangerous. As Chen struggles to keep his wolf cub alive and deal with the problems it presents, a greater threat looms. Migrating Han Chinese come into the area to establish farms on the grassland, heedless of the elders\’ warnings that this will be destructive to the fragile grassland environment. And one of the first things they do is start a campaign to exterminate all the wolves.

This book has a lot of political themes which I did not fully comprehend, but I gather have made it very controversial. I was more interested in the environmental issues, and fascinated by the dual relationship the Mongols had with wolves- waging fearsome bloody battles against them, learning tactics of war from their pack behavior, and honoring their dead by giving them in \”sky burials\” to the wolves. It was fascinating to read about the Mongolain culture, something entirely new to me, and also heartbreaking to see how incoming farmers quickly affected the landscape. The fate of the captive wolf cub was also very sad. I nearly cried at the end.

Rating: 4/5 …….. 527 pages, 2008

More opinions at:
Olduvai Reads
The Stay at Home Bookworm
Farm Lane Books Blog

by Nicholas Evans

Tragedy happens when Grace goes out riding early one winter morning with her best friend. Their horses slip on an icy slope and collide with a semi truck on the road below. Grace and her horse barely survive, the animal so badly injured the vet wants to put it down. But Grace\’s mother Annie begs him to keep it alive, fearing that her  daughter will loose her own hold on life if her beloved horse dies. The horse is so traumatized and crazed with pain that he becomes vicious and unapproachable, and seeing him in that state throws Grace into a black depression. Desperate to find healing for daughter and horse, Annie drives them across the country to Montana, where she\’s heard of a horse trainer that can connect to frightened and troubled horses, calming them with his understanding. So The Horse Whisperer leads them on the rocky path to healing. Made even more difficult when Annie falls in love with the horse trainer, and the daughter discovers her mother\’s betrayal. The ending is tragic, in a fitting kind of way. It\’s quite different from the movie version, which I\’ve also seen and liked, though the book is better. Incidentally, I believe it was this book that made the term \”whisperer\” popular (as in dog whisperer, baby whisperer, etc).

Rating: 3/5                      404 pages, 1995

win a free book
This week I\’m giving away a book and two bookmarks. I have a nice, hardbound copy of The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans, and two laminated bookmarks made from my scrap file, of horse pictures. (Reverse sides are plain pattern and scenery). For a chance to win this giveaway, simply leave a comment here! Make sure there is an easy way for me to contact you, in case you\’re the winner! (If your email isn\’t in a google profile or easy to find on your blog, please leave it with your comment). Open to mailing addresses in the US and Canada. Winner will be chosen next tuesday, Dec 1st.

by Kent Haruf

I read this one several years ago, from the library. I didn\’t like it quite as well as the other Haruf novels I\’ve read. This one is also set in small farming community in Colorado. The plot builds its way backwards as a former local football hero returns after eight years\’ absence to his hometown, where he receives a very sour welcome. Gradually the story is pieced together to show the reader why all his neighbors hate him, portraying this young man\’s series of selfish, manipulative acts that not only devastated the lives of his wife and children, but nearly the entire town as well. Whereas the other two books gave me a real picture of individual characters and the closeness of small town life, this one almost felt more like a crime or mystery novel to me. The ending is really quite sudden, and unsettling. I\’m still not sure if I liked it or not. The previous two I read felt like they portrayed the good, community side of small town life, and this one showed the bad underbelly. Where You Once Belonged is just the kind of story that leaves the reader (at least this one) feeling frustrated (more at the characters\’ shoddy actions than at the book itself).

Rating: 2/5                          176 pages, 1990

More opinions at:
Under the Dresser
Reads for Fun
Living to Read

by Charles de Lint

This book was only vaguely familiar to me when I first added it to my pile at the library, but after reading a dozen pages and thumbing through more, I realized I\’ve actually read it before. And didn\’t want to read it again, now. But I remember enough to tell you a little about it.

Jack of Kinrowan contains two novellas, Jack the Giant-Killer and Drink Down the Moon. These are urban fantasies, retelling Jack and the Beanstalk in a modern setting where the fae live alongside but hidden from the human world. One of the twists of de Lint\’s version is that a heroine takes the role of Jack- a frustrated woman named Jacqueline who discovers she has ties to the fae world and gets involved in altercations between the \”good\” and \”bad\” factions of magical beings. There\’s a fae princess who needs rescuing (she\’s been bewitched into the form of a pig!) motorcycle-riding fae thugs, and of course, giants and gnomes and other strange creatures. I liked seeing how some familiar mythology was reworked by de Lint, with his own take on things along the way- for example, when the fae were trapped between worlds by their enemies, they were stuck with swan\’s wings instead of arms. In the first story, Jacky and her friend Kate go on the rescue mission, that I recall pretty well. The second story didn\’t make much impression on me and I\’ve forgotten most of it. It\’s about a fiddler who can draw on the powers of the moon, the bad fae want to steal this magic, and Jacky and her friend get called in to help. But they have a relatively minor role. All in all a fun enough read.

Rating: 3/5                    412 pages, 1990

More opinions at:
The Boston Reader
anyone else?

by Charles de Lint

In a small quiet seaside town, Miguel meets an exotic girl- Lainey with the red-gold hair and the accompanying red-gold dog. She\’s from Australia, but he soon finds out that there\’s something more strange about her than just a foreign accent. She is a shape-shifter, a \”were-dingo\” on the run with her twin sister from an ancient persona who simply calls himself Dingo. He wants her life, in order to free himself from a tree he\’s been trapped in for centuries. Miguel must convince another boy from highschool- his enemy no less- to join with him in the quest to save the dingo girls. They travel into the dreamland and back, involving some adult figures in preparations and plans but having to face the final test alone. I liked the beginning of the book, when Miguel was puzzling out the true identity of his new girlfriend, and I liked the end, when the final meeting with Dingo turned all expectations inside out, but the middle dragged on rather dully. Again, I don\’t know for sure if it\’s just that this writer\’s style doesn\’t fully engage me, or that I\’ve outgrown YA fiction and should leave it well alone, but although the story was interesting and the inclusion of Australian mythology new to me, my mind kept sliding away from it all. I think I\’m going to put the de Lint books aside for now, and look for something else to read. They just aren\’t grabbing me.

Rating: 2/5 ……. 213 pages, 2008

More opinions at:
Melody\’s Reading Corner
Becky\’s Book Reviews
Rhinoa\’s Ramblings
Someone\’s Read it Already
Book Clutter

by Charles de Lint

A few days ago I decided to ignore the heaps of books lying beside my bed and visit the library. I checked out half a dozen books by Charles de Lint. The first one I picked up was Little (Grrl) Lost. It\’s an urban fantasy about two teenage girls, one just moved from the countryside into the city, the other running away from home. Besides the fact that the country girl is a \”goody two-shoes\” and the runaway a punker with a prickly attitude, there\’s another huge difference between them: size. Runaway-girl is only six inches tall. She\’s one of the \”Littles\”- diminuitive people who reside in the walls of houses, out of sight of their hosts. Now, I read all the books in the Littles series by John Peterson when I was a kid, and some of the Borrowers by Mary Norton too, so I liked approaching a modern take on this idea. But sadly, Little (Grrl) Lost did not keep my attention. The characters felt kind of flat, the dialogue uninteresting, and not much seemed to happen. Even when it did, I found I didn\’t much care. This frustrated me, because I really wanted to like the book. But after getting halfway through and realizing I was only skimming, I put it down. Maybe it\’s just my mood. Try some of the other reviews, listed here. They liked it better!

Abandoned …….. 271 pages, 2007

More opinions at:
Ravenous Reader
Someone\’s Read it Already
Words by Annie
Bookshelves of Doom
Rhinoa\’s Ramblings
Stuff as Dreams Are Made On
Puss Reboots

by Jim Paul

Here\’s a book I gave a second chance. I found it at a library sale and immediately picked it up, because I\’ve lived in San Francisco and seen those parrots (cherry-headed conures) in the park. A novel featuring them really intrigued me. Elsewhere in the Land of Parrots is about two individuals fascinated by the parrots: a graduate student struggling to locate wild parrots in the mangrove swamps of Ecuador for research, who unwittingly gets tangled up with some illegal wildlife trafficking, and a self-isolated eccentric poet in San Francisco who doesn\’t like the parrot his father gave him and ends up releasing it from his apartment window. Eventually feeling guilty at letting the parrot go, he explores the city to find dozens of parrots living on Telegraph Hill, reads up about them in the public library, and finally travels to South America in search of the wild flock they must have originated from. While this book got off to a slow start with me- I was at first put off by the frequent use of the past perfect tense, and felt distanced from the characters- I liked reading the details about the city-living parrots. I knew the two people would end up together- the researcher enthralled with parrots from the beginning and frustrated in her efforts to get close to them, and the reluctant poet gradually drawn out of his isolation by a desire to know more about them. Their two stories wove together in a surprising fashion to the final meeting point. The further I read the more I was drawn into this book, until by the end I had difficulty putting it down.

Rating: 3/5                      305 pages, 2003


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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