Month: June 2010

by Mike Tomkies

Story of a man\’s life with his amazing dog. Tomkies lived alone in a cabin in the remote wilderness of the Scottish Highlands. He decided he needed a dog as companion and protector, so he specifically picked out a german shepherd. Moobli (I can\’t remember the reason for the silly name, makes me think of a moose though) turned out to be an enormous dog, incredibly strong but also very gentle. Being the man\’s sole companion, they were very close. Moobli was there whatever Tomkies was doing- observing wildlife (he worked a lot to protect local wildlife, particularly the red deer), making repairs to his house, exploring, etc. Several times Moobli saved his life. I remember one incident where Tomkies was working to fix his roof and named out loud a tool he needed (not wanting to climb down). Moobli went and got it. Surprised, Tomkies asked Moobli to fetch another item, and he did. I was amazed when I read this- could a dog really do that? he\’d never been taught to respond that way, but did so on his own. Parts of this book can be hard to read- Tomkies believed in disciplining his dog by hitting him, and in the end (inevitable in any book about the life of a pet, it seems) the dog\’s health declines and it\’s sad to read about his suffering. But aside from those downers, this really is an incredible story. I loved reading of the wilderness, of the amazing things Moobli did, of this man\’s working relationship with his dog.

Rating: 4/5 ……..240 pages, 1988

by Albert Camus

I thought it would be interesting to read another account on similar subject, after The Dancing Plague. This novel tells about a French town in Northern Africa that suffers a plague outbreak in the 1940\’s. The citizens are not much concerned when they start to see dead rats everywhere, even when the animals come out and start dying by the thousands in the streets they feel horrified and repulsed but not yet fearful for themselves. Then people start to die of suspicious symptoms- high, raving fever, swollen buboes in the armpits and groin. A few isolated cases which quickly escalate until there are hundreds a day. There are long passages about the emotional unrest of people separated from their loved ones when the city gates are locked, of the preacher\’s sermons harping guilt into the people, of the magistrate\’s futile efforts to enact laws that halt the spread of disease. The main characters are a doctor, a reporter and a few other French men. But I found I didn\’t care much about them. And I kept taking breaks from the book to read other novels in the meantime. Each time I had less interest in coming back to this one until I just decided I didn\’t want to read any more. I wasn\’t interested in any of the characters and the long passages were so dull. I read a bit about this book on wiki to find out how it ended, and it said there that the novel was in part a metaphor of French resistance to Nazi occupation during WWII. I didn\’t see any of that in the novel, but then I wasn\’t looking for it while reading. Made it halfway through. Moving on.

I had The Stranger on my TBR list but after my experience with The Plague I don\’t feel very interested in reading more Camus.

Abandoned …….. 278 pages, 1947

More opinions:
Tony\’s Book World
I Wish You\’d Have Told Me

A Childhood Lost and Found
by Jennifer Lauck

Memoir of the author\’s childhood, from the time she was about five years old to eleven. She had a rough time. As a preschooler she tended to her mother, who was chronically ill but they had a very close relationship, just her and her mom in the house together while her dad was at work and her older brother in school. After many years of suffering her mother died. The grief-stricken little girl was confused by her father\’s apparent relief and hasty remarriage, their move to a newer, bigger house, her stepmother\’s unkindness, her father\’s increasing absence… things go from bad to worse, blow after blow. She\’s not physically abused by the family, but constantly ignored and made to feel unwanted. Soon it becomes clear that her stepmother doesn\’t care for them at all, only wants the money from social security checks. Her older brother strikes out in anger and aloofness but Jennifer learns to be self-sufficient beyond her years, sticking it out even when she doesn\’t understand what\’s going on. It\’s really very sad but she\’s such a determined character, my heart ached and I wanted to know what would happen next, every page. I really enjoyed the way the story was written, from her perspective as a child. The voice felt very authentic. Even though at times I was a bit frustrated not knowing details that were obscure to her as a little girl, but obviously had an answer somewhere- particularly, where were her relatives when she was left alone with the cruel stepmom? I was shocked at different turns the story took- the events at the summer camp, the commune her stepmother dumped her in- how many heartless abandonments could one child absorb? but she comes through it all with gritty determination to show everyone she can survive. I think I want to read the sequel, too; it\’s the kind of book that leaves you wanting to know what happened after- especially because this one is true!

I got this book at a library sale, read it for the random challenge.

Rating: 3/5 …….. 406 pages, 2000

More opinions:
Girls Just Reading
Ladyslott\’s Bookspot
novel lovers
Lilac Wolf and Stuff

by Ursula Synge

If you\’re familiar with the fairy tale in which seven brothers were turned into swans and rescued by a sister who wove them shirts of nettles, you might find this little book interesting. It\’s a quiet story that contemplates what happened to the one brother whose shirt was unfinished, left with a white swan\’s wing in place of an arm. His only desire is to be restored, to find a cure. In his journey he picks up two companions- a goose girl who falls in love with him, and an artist who finds his beautiful wing (which the young man loathes) a thing of perfection. I don\’t remember many details of this story, except that it was full of unhappy people; the man with the swan\’s wing was continually bitter and miserable, the goose girl loved him without her affections being returned…. it seems the story had an aspect of tenderness to it as well, but my memory is rather fuzzy. Has anyone else read this little book? what do you recall of it? how did it end? I can\’t even remember if he got his arm back (but I think he didn\’t and just learned to accept it).

Rating: 3/5 ….. 160 pages, 1981

by Pamela Dickson

Selected for me by random.org, this is another book I probably wouldn\’t have read for a long time. It\’s one I picked up a book sale somewhere, just because I liked the looks of it.

Noble Friends is a memoir of sorts, about the life and work of Pamela Dickson, owner of Fursman Kennels. It tells of her childhood on an English farm, her love of all animals particularly horses and dogs. She poured her love into a runt pig she raised by hand, her first childhood pony and the family dogs. When she was sixteen she helped her father run a riding school, then a boarding kennel. Later she moved by herself to America where she made her way across the country working for various stables and got involved for a time in harness racing. She bought a German Shepherd puppy, whom she trained with particular patience and love. The dog learned quickly to perform amazing feats of agility and intelligence, from jumping through hoops and crawling through obstacles to play-acting and identifying colors. Proud of her dog\’s accomplishments, Mrs. Dickson took him to perform for groups of children and the elderly in nursing homes. She bought some derelict property in Virginia and built her own kennels from the ground up, doing most of the work herself and turning it into a beautiful facility that attracted customers from all over the area. Curiously, at the end of the book there is one chapter told in a more storylike format, form the viewpoint of a dog who stays at the kennel. He describes his anxiety, the care and friendliness of the staff, how everything is kept spotlessly clean, how he watches the comings and goings of different dogs and their owners (mostly wealthy clientele; some dogs were delivered to the kennel by their master\’s maids chauffeured in a limo!)

It was unclear at first, to me, why the dog Rocky was so famous and admired, in spite of his incredible obedience skills I didn\’t quite see what all the fuss was about him. It wasn\’t until I visited the kennel site and read more about him (and his successors) that I learned Dickson was \”a pioneer in the field of pet therapy.\” The idea of pet therapy is so familiar nowadays it was hard for me to remember I was reading the account of someone using it for the first time. I was also surprised to learn near the end of the book that the setting in Virginia was very close to where I live now, out in the beautiful countryside only a half-hour away. I was curious them, to read more because it was so local. Despite all this, the book left me rather unmoved. It\’s a nice memoir, well-enough written, and all the photos are stunning. The book is beautifully bound, with heavy, glossy pages. But I can\’t help feeling it won\’t appeal to many readers unless you know the author personally or have used her kennels. Then I\’m sure you\’ll find it a treasure.

Rating: 2/5 …….. 215 pages, 1996

by Mary Jo Stephens

I loved this book as a young girl. It was found on a small shelf of paperbacks in my teacher\’s classroom (I don\’t remember which grade- fourth maybe?) and I borrowed it to read several times. I think I had my own copy once but it fell to pieces and I\’ve never found another.

It\’s about a girl who wins a contest at a pet shop. The prize is twelve animals, delivered one a month for a year. Some of the pets are rather ordinary- like the bulldog and guinea pig. Others are a bit more unusual- turtle, duck, caterpillar, etc. I remember in particular a pair of siamese fighting-fish, or bettas. Zoe loves them all in their own unique way, but her family and friends don\’t always feel the same! Can she convince them to let her keep all the pets, as the household soon begins to feel like a menagerie? More important, can she keep up with the care and attention each deserves? The story is fun, amusing, full of little adventures and unexpected friendships. I know she finally had to let some of the pets go (like the caterpillar-turned-butterfly) and others were found more appropriate homes- but I don\’t really recall the ending well. I\’d like to find this book, so I could read it again… have any of you read it?

Rating: 4/5 …….. 220 pages, 1971

by Paige Dixon

A nice enough book that tells the story of a grizzly bear\’s first three years of life. The young bear lives first with his mother\’s protection, following her around to forage for food, learning to fish, playing with his sibling. Halfway through his second year the mother bear leaves her cubs to start a new family and after their initial confusion the two yearlings gain in confidence and den together for their second winter. The following summer the siblings drift apart, until our main bear is finally living on his own. The story is mainly just about the bears\’ daily lives, experiences with the weather and encounters with other wildlife. There\’s also a subplot of two men who habitually tramp through the woods- a father who loves to hunt and shoot bears, and his son who likes the bears alive and tries to convince his dad not to kill them. When the father gets overeager to go after an older grizzly no matter what the risks, it does not end well. While it\’s interesting enough in showing how bears live, the story itself is not very compelling, and the descriptions rather plain. The illustrations are poor. One shows two bears and at first glance, one looked to me like a giant hamster, the other rather like a pig! The nicest drawing showed a bear\’s face with some flowers, and I wonder why they didn\’t choose it for the cover (it\’s better than the one on the dustjacket, shown here). Another drawing is downright inaccurate- the story mentions a moose, but the picture shows a caribou. I did learn a few things from the book, such as that groundhogs (also called woodchuck) can climb trees! (Apparently, so can dogs). Well, it was an okay read but not a book I\’ll be keeping.

I acquired this one free, at the Book Thing. Picked it up for the Random Reading Challenge, random.org gave me #11 off the shelf.

Rating: 2/5 …….. 106 pages, 1974

a Guide to Growing Roses Coast to Coast
by Rayford Clayton Reddell

I\’ve never grown roses, but am a little familiar with them from the ones in my mother\’s garden. My daughter has been begging me to plant a rosebush, so I figured I should learn a bit more about them before committing to a real live plant. The first thing I learned from this book is that a person who cultivates or has a special interest in roses is called a rosarian.

A Year in the Life of a Rose seems an excellent book for basic, sound advice on growing healthy, beautiful roses. Written by an expert rosarian, it gives clearly-written, straightforward instructions on how to select, grow and care for roses. Everything from how to prepare the hole and plant your rose, check the soil pH, when and how to prune, what to feed your roses (different for every stage of growth) and how to properly cut roses and keep them fresher longer. All these details have specific variations depending on whether you\’re growing roses for garden display, indoor cuttings or for rose shows and competitions (which he points out, don\’t judge on scent or color, so I\’m not sure what they judge on- form and size alone?) Most helpfully, in the final chapter \”rose gurus\” from all across the country give their advice on feeding and pruning schedules and other care specific to different climate zones. Not only do they help you know how to care for roses properly wherever you may live, and what varieties do best there, but also show there are many different methods of winter protection, mulching, etc.

Also very interesting is the author\’s assessments on rose cultivation practices and his theories on how it will develop in the future. As the book was written fourteen years ago, I was curious and looked some stuff up. Reddell thought there would never be a blue rose, but some Japanese geneticists created one in 2004 (still looks a bit violet to me though). As far as I can tell, he\’s still correct that there are no black roses although some very dark red varieties come pretty close!

So, if you\’re interested in roses or trying to grow some, this book is short, easy to read and full of helpful information. I\’m certainly hanging onto it until I have roses in my garden! Found this book at a library sale. I read it for the Random Reading Challenge, it was #126 off my shelf.

Rating: 4/5 …….. 176 pages, 1996

by John Waller

After just finishing Awakenings, it sparked in my mind that I had another book on the shelf about a similar subject. Another account of people driven to move their bodies uncontrollably. In this case, it was dancing. In medieval times. During the 1500\’s a plague struck several hundred people that caused them to involuntarily dance for days on end- until their feet were bloody and they collapsed. Onlookers were stricken with the same impulse to madly dance. Some even died from dancing in the summer heat with no rest and little food or water. It all sounds very bizarre, but having just read about some very strange human behavior caused by disease in the brain, I was ready to find a reason. I was ready for the author to unravel some clue that pointed to an infection, incomprehensible to the medieval mind but understandable to us today. That\’s not quite what I got.

Waller thought that the crazed dancing was caused by a psychological condition, a mass hysteria that was somehow contagious. To support this, he builds up a very careful picture of what life was like in the 1500\’s and how desperate the common people would have been. After years of bad harvests and near-starvation their minds and bodies were weakened, with no hope of succor from the city leadership or the church (who only squeezed them tighter by engaging in usury). Having religious and superstitious beliefs that filled them with terror, the people\’s minds literally broke and they fell into inescapable trances of dancing. I was pretty skeptical all the way through, until I got to a part near the end that described something very similar happening among some native peoples of Madagascar in 1863. To further solidify his hypothesis, the author then describes other psychological tricks the mind is capable of, even in modern times (phantom pains, hypnosis, etc). It was all very puzzling, really. I don\’t know what to think.  I still believe it must have been some kind of infection that reached the brain, but there\’s no way to know.

Well, if anything, the book gives a fascinating picture of what life was like in 1518 (sure glad I didn\’t live back then!) and made clear to me the impact of Martin Luther\’s new ideas. I remember learning about him in school but I had no idea how horribly oppressive the church had been, and how groundbreaking Luther\’s stance. I got this book from C.B. James, who also felt pretty skeptical about its ideas. I\’m happy to pass it on to another reader- if you\’d like to have this copy, just tell me in the comments and I\’ll pick (randomly) a name next week.

Note: this book has also been published with the title A Time to Dance, A Time to Die.

Rating: 3/5 …….. 278 pages, 2009

More opinions at:
Adams Country Book Reviews
Bensozia
Mel\’s Words on Words
Cornflower

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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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