Month: January 2010

I have a nice copy of Linda Greenlaw\’s The Lobster Chronicles here, that I\’ll give away to one lucky winner! Includes one of my handmade bookmarks of a cloud over bright ocean. If you\’d like to have it, just leave a comment here. Contest closes, winner chosen at random the coming sunday, Feb 7th.

A little while back I was tagged for this meme, and when I saw it on Paperback Reader this morning, realized I hadn\’t done it yet! The rules are:

1.) Go to your bookshelves…
2.) Close your eyes. If you\’re feeling really committed, blindfold yourself.
3.) Select ten books at random. Use more than one bookcase, if you have them, or piles by the bed, or… basically, wherever you keep books.
4.) Use these books to tell us about yourself – where and when you got them, who got them for you, what the book says about you, etc. etc…..
5.) Have fun! Be imaginative. Doesn\’t matter if you\’ve read them or not – be creative. It might not seem easy to start off with, and the links might be a little tenuous, but I think this is a fun way to do this sort of meme.
6.) Feel free to cheat a bit, if you need to…

 So I walked along my permanent collection shelves, which line one wall of our living room, and closed my eyes to grab ten books. Here they are:

Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell- this is one of those books I would never have read, if I hadn\’t met my husband! When I was in school I read 1984 and Animal Farm, but I never knew Orwell wrote novels, too. My husband and I discovered this together, and for a time every visit I made to a used bookstore I would search their shelves for any Orwell novels. We read and discussed most of them together. We\’re still trying to finish off our Orwell collection. This one\’s not really a novel; it\’s based on true experience, but it has the same style and feel.

The Book of the Dun Cow by Walter Wangerian- even by my standards, this book is kind of weird. It\’s about a group of talking animals on a farm ruled by the rooster Chanticleer, in a world before humans existed and ends up as a battle between the rooster and a monster from the deep. It has a lot of subtly religious themes; sometimes I feel like it\’s all supposed to be allegorical about something Biblical. I really don\’t know how to explain this one. I love it just because it\’s a great story and the characters are vivid and fascinating, and it makes me laugh out loud. I guess it just shows how much I like animals, fantasy, and books that are different from the rest. When I first read this book I was prone to underlining, it\’s full of pencil marks all over the place.

At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald- I can\’t remember how I first stumbled upon this book, but it\’s one I\’ve read several times since childhood. I read all the George MacDonald I could get my hands on, at one time, and this one was always my favorite. It\’s a gentle little story about a quiet boy, different from the rest, who befriends the mystical North Wind, and she carries him away on a strange dreamlike journey.

Pinocchio by G Collodi- My copy of this book is very old, shabby and falling apart. I think I found it in a used bookstore somewhere. Once I found out that some of the well-known Disney fairy tales were based on actual books, I sought most of them out- Bambi, the Hundred and One Dalmations, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, etc. Pinocchio the book is quite different from its film counterpart- the storyline is a lot longer, and wandering, and full of many different adventures.

The Moorchild by Louise McGraw- a story about an odd girl who doesn\’t fit in with the other children in the village, until she discovers that she has fairy blood, and seeks out the fey people under the hill, to steal back the child that was switched with her at birth. What does this one say about me? I like reading fantasy, and books about strange children…

A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeline L\’Engle- I loved the Wrinkle in Time series as a kid, but this book was always one of the more difficult ones for me. I loved that it had a flying unicorn in it, but the parts about Charles Wallace inhabiting different people in different times really confused me the first time I read it. It\’s one of those books I\’m almost afraid to go back and read again, for fear the adult me won\’t like it quite as much as the young me did, and I\’ll be disappointed.

Illusions by Richard Bach- I was surprised and delighted when I first read Jonathan Livingston Seagull, and afterwards tried several other Bach books. None of the others struck me quite the same way, but this one was pretty good- it\’s about a pilot who travels the countryside giving rides to people in his small plane, and at the same time taking an inward journey into spiritualism. I haven\’t read it in ages.

In the Company of Newfies by Rhoda Lerman- love books about dogs, what more can I say? This one is about a woman who loves newfoundlands, and her life with the huge gentle dogs. It\’s very beautifully written as well, I really like the way Lerman uses words. If I can ever find another book she\’s written, I want to read it.

Eye of the Albatross by Carl Safina- another one of my favorite subjects is books about the experiences of naturalists in the field. Usually those are about mammals in Africa or something similar, but this one is about a small ocean island, and mostly focuses on the bird populations there. It\’s well-written and fascinating.

Making Things Grow Outdoors by Thalassa Cruso- I\’ve always had something of a green thumb, but never really got into gardening until we owned our own house with a backyard I could dig up! It\’s only been two years, but already I\’ve got a small collection of gardening books. Thalassa Cruso is my favorite author on gardening so far- she\’s so easygoing, fun and informative to read.

Well, I\’m not sure I did that quite right. I didn\’t really get any hardcore fantasy or sci fi in there, or any of the classics that are on my shelf, but it\’s a pretty good sample of the books I own and love. I don\’t know how much this told you about me, but I do know it\’s made me want to go back and re-read a bunch of those books!

I can\’t think who to tag for this right now, and my husband and kid are bugging me to go cook up a huge waffle breakfast while the snow is falling outside, so I have to skip off the computer and into the kitchen. If you\’ve read this and find it interesting, consider yourself tagged! I\’d love to see what\’s on your shelves.

(If you\’re the person who originally tagged me for this meme, please let me know so I can give you credit! I can\’t remember and I thought I had your meme bookmarked but now I can\’t find it sorry).

by Lynn Sherr

This wonderful book is all about giraffes. Tall Blondes tells how giraffes astonished the first Europeans who saw them, and recounts many intriguing tales about these beasts that people made up when they were still a mystery. It moves the reader through culture and art, showing how the giraffe has paced along into modern times, still giving us things to wonder at, even as scientists and naturalists explain some of the mysteries of giraffes. (Like how do they lift their heads from drinking without blacking out?) Ending up featuring giraffes in zoos, safari parks, and even making an appearance in films. Lots of intriguing stories, myths and facts. The photographs and illustrations are beautiful, the content informative and often amusing as well. I also liked that the dimensions of the book itself mirror the subject- the copy I read was 9.5 x 6.5 inches, a narrow book that held in the hand felt taller than its fellows.

And to top it all off, here\’s a little sketch I did of some giraffes yesterday. I read this book a few years ago, borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5 …….. 167 pages, 1995

I haven\’t been reading much lately. Usually I\’d finish a book like The Truth About Dogs (which is really fascinating, by the way) in two or three days, but here it is four days gone and I\’ve barely read two chapters. There\’s a good reason, though! For two years I haven\’t done any art at all. Then a week ago I wondered if I\’d lost my skills, and sat down to try drawing. I was ecstatic to discover my eyes and hands have not forgotten how to work together! So, as I only have a limited amount of free time in a day, reading is getting shuffled aside. I\’m just enjoying sketching so much. Posting here will be sporadic for a while, as well as commenting on other blogs. But I haven\’t disappeared, and I certainly haven\’t stopped reading! I\’ll still drop in from time to time, or whenever I finish a book.

You can see my drawings here.

The Resurrection of an Ice Age Giant
by Richard Stone

Although the subtitle and jacket flaps make it sound like this book is all about trying to bring the woolly mammoth back to life through cloning, there\’s really much more to Mammoth than that. It\’s written by a journalist who visited the site in Siberia where a huge block of ice was slowly being thawed out with hairdryers in the hopes of uncovering an intact frozen mammoth carcass. That endeavor ended uncertainly, with the scientists still searching for cell tissue that wasn\’t too degraded from being in ice for thousands and thousands of years. However, although they didn\’t clone a mammoth, the research done in the attempt yielded a lot of fascinating information about these and other extinct ice age mammals, as well as their habitat.

So the bulk of this book, between the opening chapters which lead the reader on a journey into Arctic regions in search of frozen megafauna and the closing ones that describe the failed attempts to find intact DNA samples, is all about research on mammoths. Their evolution, their relationship to modern elephants, and the big questions about their demise: did they die out because of climate and habitat change? because early humans hunted them to extinction? or could it have been a viral disease that wiped them out? All these ideas are examined in depth. I also found it really interesting to read about the indigenous peoples of Siberia, who once thought the huge bones were from legendary giant rats that lived underground, dying when exposed to fresh air, and were against the disinterment of mammoth bones, believing that whoever disturbed the remains would be stricken with a curse and die.

There\’s also quite a bit of discussion about the ethical issues of reviving extinct species, if it ever can be done. It sounds crazy, doesn\’t it, to make the mammoth come back to life- but perhaps not entirely impossible. They have been able to clone mice from dead frozen ones, and microbes that have been frozen for thirty thousand years or more show signs of life when thawed out. So maybe someday in the distant future, they could clone a mammoth. I don\’t really think it ought to be done, though. Even though the book also addresses the issue of where would such a creature live? (reconstructing the mammoth\’s steppe habitat) it all seems pretty sketchy to me. However, I didn\’t know much about mammoths before I read this book, so all the additional information on discoveries about mammoths was pretty interesting.

When I tried to read Love War and Circuses, the chapters on mammoths held my attention. So when I saw this book at the public library, I picked it up.

Rating: 3/5 …….. 242 pages, 2001

The Origins, Intelligence, Behavior and Stratagems of Felis silvestris catus
by Stephen Budiansky

I thought I knew quite a bit about cats, until I read this book. The Character of Cats turns a lot of my assumptions about our feline friends right on their heads. Things such as: did the Egyptians really worship cats? did ancient man domesticate the cat, or did cats domesticate themselves? how have cats retained so much of their wild behavior and instincts? are cats really solitary creatures? can you teach a cat to do anything? just how smart are they?

Cats are fascinating animals, but I never realized just how much of an anomaly they are in the animal kingdom until I read this book. It discusses many things about cats; from their evolution, genetics and behavior to how they learn and perceive the world and what exactly many of our long-held assumptions about them are based on. It made me question many of my preconceptions about cats, and in a way that made perfectly logical sense. Wonder why your cat acts the way he does, what makes him tick? This book is a must read!

I borrowed this book from the public library.

Rating: 4/5 …….. 227 pages, 2002

More opinions at: The Stay at Home Bookworm

by Cormac McCarthy

I’m sure you’ve all heard about The Road by now. It’s a bleak post-apocalyptic story about a father and son trudging along a road through desolation, trying to reach the southern coast where they might find a warmer climate and survive the winter. Everything is burned to ash, most people and all animals are dead, stores and houses have already been looted so it’s difficult to find anything to eat. And the few survivors they meet are extremely dangerous men. The only thing really keeping them going is their love for each other, their despair in seeing each other suffer, the faint glimmer of hope that on the coast they might survive. Because alone, neither one of them would last long.

I didn’t really have this book on my TBR but when my neighbor having just finished it, offered to loan it to me, I figured why not see what everyone’s talking about? Plus, his copy was pretty beat up and it’s an author I haven’t read before, so I could count it for both the New Authors and the Dogeared reading challenges. Although I read through it pretty quickly, in a matter of two days, not really wanting to put it down, somehow it left me unmoved in the end. Plenty of awful things happen in this book. It is disturbing and depressing and dismal. But I didn’t cry. I don’t feel devastated and horrified, although I think I ought to.

Perhaps it is the writing style: brief, clipped sentences which readily reflect the atmosphere of the book. Not to say they aren’t descriptive; at the end I looked up some twenty-four words that were unfamiliar to me, and found they all had a very precise meaning. But the concise writing, while enabling me to read through the book very quickly, failed to connect me emotionally. And the few hints at what had happened prior to the book’s events- what caused it all, where is the boy’s mother- are scanty enough to leave you to come up with your own ideas, which I found frustrating. I just wanted to know more. To feel more. This might be one case where the film outshines the book, I just might respond more to a visual impact than I did the paucity of details in the text.

So… I didn’t hate it, but I didn’t love it either. It’s a good book, I was engaged and intent to find out what happened next all the way through. But it didn’t leave much of an emotional impact on me, despite all the horrors therein and the heartstring-tugging relationship between father and son.

Rating: 3/5
287 pages, 2006

by Mary O\’Hara

One of my favorite books of all time. I don\’t remember what made me first pick it up at the public library, but for years I would periodically go back and read it, over and over. Eventually I discovered there were two more books by O\’Hara about the same horse ranch, and I read those too.

My Friend Flicka is a coming-of-age story about a boy on a Wyoming horse ranch. Ken is something of a daydreamer, and struggles to please his authoritarian father and find direction for his future. More than anything else he wants a horse for his own, like his big brother. His father feels he isn\’t ready for that responsibility, but his mother talks him into letting the boy have a horse. Ken chooses an unbroken filly which proves to be the most difficult horse to tame on the entire ranch. Even when attempts to catch and break in his filly cause accidents and crisis, Ken is stubborn and sticks to his decision: he loves this horse, and never will give it up. I will let you know that while both Ken and the horse suffer, everything comes out right in the end!

More than just a book about boy and his horse, My Friend Flicka is a vivid picture of ranching life. The decisions his parents face in managing the ranch, dealing with financial issues, taking care of their stock, nurturing their marriage and raising their two boys in a remote area are an integral part of the story. The father worries that he\’s made the wrong choices in running horses on his range as opposed to sheep, the mother worries about her boys riding across pastures where they might meet dangers like half-wild stallions and bulls, or mountain lions come down from the hills. Although fiction, this novel (and its sequels) are based on a ranch the author lived on, and many of the characters and events in the stories are drawn from real life. To my mind, that makes reading them all the more intense and delightful.

Rating: 5/5 ……..285 pages, 1941

More opinions at:
Reading to Know
anyone else written about this book? all I find when I search are film reviews!

Win a free book and two horse bookmarks!

I\’m switching my giveaway days to the weekends. For the first one of 2010, here is one of my favorite novels, My Friend Flicka. I found this copy at a library sale and couldn\’t resist picking it up, just so I could give it away to one of you! It is a little dogeared, the cover and spine creased, but still readable, and has some nice lively line drawings inside illustrating the story (I cannot find the name of the artist). I\’m including two bookmarks featuring horses in this giveaway. If you\’d like to win, all you have to do is leave a comment here! winner will be picked at random next sunday.

(Bookmarks shown twice because there is an image on both sides. Click to view larger.)


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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