Month: November 2010

by Mark Levin

Hm. Famous guy writes about his dog. I know his family loved the dog very much, and he was special to them, but I just didn\’t feel anything special about this book. There was nothing amazing about Sprite like, say, the feats of Moobli, nor was the book funny like Marley. It\’s not very well-written (in my opinion) so aside from that, just a nice (rather sad) story about a family dog. On the one hand, there are tons of families out there with beloved dogs who can relate to his story, on the other hand I\’m not sure why the effort to write Rescuing Sprite. Half of it seems to be the author gushing about how wonderful and special his dog is, without making me understand why; and the other half he\’s just talking about himself and outpouring his guilt for not having prolonged the dog\’s life more. Sprite was an older dog adopted when he already had most of his life behind him and a plethora of health problems. Unfortunately by the time his new family figured out what was going on, it was pretty much too late to save him. They only owned him for two years. (All the more reason why I kept wanting to know what was so special about Sprite? He says the dog gave their family so much more than they ever did for him, and yet I didn\’t see it). The ending is really very sad, especially the months of grief and guilt he went through after the dog\’s death. So… I would say unless you are a dog-lover, or have owned and lost a dog, or don\’t mind crying at the end of a dog story, this book probably won\’t have much for you. It was merely an okay read for me. It\’s simply that I\’ve read so many other dog stories that were much better told.

Rating: 2/5 …….. 216 pages, 2007

More opinions at:
American Dog Blog
Thoughts, Commentary and other Various Ramblings

by Glenn Balch

Another old but good horse story from Glenn Balch (but still doesn\’t live up to my favorite.) This one is about a teenage boy on a ranch who admires the wild horses that run in the hills. He feels certain there\’s some good blood in those wild horses, and has his eye on a particular black colt. But his father adamantly claims none of them are worth the effort to catch and train- they\’re just loco, or their spirits would break at being caught and tamed. Ben gets his wish however, when one Christmas he returns home from school (boarding in the city with his aunt to attend high school) and finds that the black colt was caught just for him and \”green-broke\” by the ranch hand.

Ecstatic at owning the black colt, Ben\’s joy soon turns to dismay when he realizes he won\’t be able to train the horse himself when he\’s away at school. Eventually he finds a solution in boarding his horse at a nearby riding stable in town, but that doesn\’t quite solve his problem. Ben has to work in the stables to pay for his horse\’s keep, and with schoolwork as well, there\’s little time left to ride his horse. Compounding the issue is his embarrassment when a girl he admires at school finds out he works mucking out stalls. At first she doesn\’t believe he has a wild horse, then she doesn\’t believe Ben can ride it. He\’s determined to prove himself to her as a horseman, and finally gets his chance in a spectacular way.

This book was a slow start. Nice enough, but not very interesting until it got to the part where he was trying to juggle school, work and horse-training, as well as impress the girl. Later in the story Ben takes his horse back to the ranch for the summer, where he moves on from just teaching it to be obedient to commands and introduces the horse to ropes and cattle, intending to make it a skilled cow pony. All the while he\’s anxious to show his father that this wild horse amounted to something good.

It\’s a pretty good story, if you like horses. I got a chuckle out of the horse\’s name: Inkpot. Ben\’s sister named it after it was caught, before he came home for Christmas and had a chance to name it himself. He didn\’t like the name at first, but it stuck. I thought it was funny.

Rating: 3/5 …….. 252 pages, 1949

by David Henry Wilson

Yesterday I decided to pick up a familiar book and just enjoy it. One I read so long ago the ending was just a blur in my memory, so still a re-discovery of sorts. The Coachman Rat. You can read my previous thoughts about it here.

The Coachman Rat is, of course, a re-telling of Cinderella from the rat\’s point of view, who was turned into a coachman for one night. Robert the rat had always been fascinated with humans, to the point of being estranged from his rat family, so becoming a human, even momentarily, was like a dream come true for him. After the stroke of midnight made him a rat again (but retained his human speech), his life\’s mission became to find the \”woman of light\” (fairy godmother) who could change him back again. In the meantime he got snatched up by men fascinated by his ability to speak. First he was displayed in the market and forced to talk as a freak show to earn coins, then handed off to a scientists who wanted to study his abilities and find an explanation. Sadly, those who professed to be Robert\’s friends only had their own interests at heart and although his quest to find Amadea (Cinderella) lead him to her again, it also made the public believe she was consorting with witches and talking animals. In one of the most horrific scenes in the story, Amadea and her prince are killed by a mob, even as Robert gets his wish and becomes human again. Embittered against humans, he turns all his conniving rat\’s wits against the people, working his own scheme to not only get revenge on the mob leader now in power but to destroy the whole town as well. I liked that this story has elements of not just Cinderella but also of the Pied Piper. It\’s not a very pretty tale. After the mob scene all the events tend to go downhill, and the ending, while dark and violent, was also fitting- considering the historical role rats have played in connection with the Black Plague. All in all a very interesting read, if you like your fairy tales with a twist.

Rating: 3/5 …….. 171 pages, 1985

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

by Doris Schwerin

When I picked up this book at a used sale, I thought it looked familiar and perhaps I\’d read it a long time ago. After getting fifty pages in I realized I tried it once from the library and never got far. This time I made myself finish, if only for the pigeons, but pretty quickly found why I gave up the first time.

Diary of a Pigeon Watcher isn\’t quite what the title implied to me. Yes, it\’s about a New York woman\’s observations of some pigeons that take up housekeeping on a ledge outside her window, but that\’s only a small part of the book. At first it was about the pigeons, her struggles dealing with breast cancer, and flashbacks to her childhood (most often triggered by things she observed in the pigeon family) but before I got halfway through it was mostly about her family, their history, and what it was like growing up Jewish (but non-practicing) in a very religious neighborhood that frowned on any professed atheists (such as her father, the town physician). So, I liked the pigeon parts. How they raised their chicks, how the young ones learned to fly, the strain of the parents in feeding them, attacks by more aggressive pigeons that coveted their ledge, etc. The parts about cancer were less interesting, mostly because I was confused by her rambling musings and didn\’t always quite get the allusions and metaphors she made. The family history parts were even less interesting; ie I couldn\’t connect and it wasn\’t written well enough to make me live a foreign experience. So I ended up skimming through to read about the pigeons and more immediate childhood memories, and left the rest. Rather a disappointing read.

Rating: 2/5 …….. 288 pages, 1976

by Philippe Lechermeier

My daughter and I have been waiting and waiting to read this book. Ever since I read about it on Bookfoolery and Babble, I knew I\’d have to find this book for her. We\’ve been on the waiting list at the library for what seems like ages, in the meantime playing a few puzzles on the princess site and wondering what all the secret princesses look like.

And now we know! The Secret Lives of Princesses is a beautiful, lavishly illustrated book featuring all the princesses you never hear about. The ones who like to sleep all day, or eat delicious goodies, or sneak around and spy on people. The ones who have rather ordinary tempers, get jealous or sad, are spoiled or even quite bratty- but have unique hobbies and beautiful bedrooms. It\’s easy to see yourself in one of these princesses, and the puns in their names made me giggle, even if my daughter didn\’t catch on to that part. Besides beautiful spreads illustrating each princess, there\’s a page showing the princesses\’ coat of arms, diagrams of castles, an extraordinary traveling elephant, descriptions of common princess pets, enchanted forests, gardens, and a mind-boggling map. This was my daughter\’s favorite page and she wanted to read every little description of every little dot but in the end we despaired of finding them all!

My favorite princess was the Eco Princess, who communes with birds, ties up her hair with tree vines, and like beetles. I also feel kin (of course) to Princess Paige who loves to read, but I\’m not quite the writer she is! And I liked best the page about Princess Oblivia. Her face is so charming, and her plight so easy to sympathize with- I loose and forget things frequently, too. I also loved the illustration of the Princess-for-a-Day, a beautiful graceful one decked out like a dragonfly. My daughter\’s favorite princesses were Princess Oblivia (\”she\’s the most beautiful\”) and Princess Quartermoon (\”because her hair is so pretty\”).

Any little girl who likes princess is sure to fall in love with this book!

Rating: 4/5 …….. 92 pages, 2004

More opinions at:
A Year of Reading

I have an extra copy of Gift from the Sea (in much better shape than the one I\’m keeping!) so if someone else would like to read it, here\’s your chance. I\’m including in this giveaway two of my scrap-made bookmarks. I didn\’t have any of seashells, but these seemed fitting with their seaside subjects. If you\’d like to win the set, just leave a comment on this post.
I\’ll draw a winner\’s name at random the following weekend, Dec 4th. Happy reading, everyone!

by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

This quiet, introspective little book surprised me with its candor and depth. I really didn\’t know what to expect when I picked it up. All I knew about Anne Morrow Lindbergh is that she was the wife of famed Charles Lindbergh who made the first solo flight across the Atlantic ocean. In art school I once did a painting of Lindbergh and thus read quite a few books about him.

Gift from the Sea reflects a period of time Anne spent alone at the seaside; a quiet vacation she used to reflect on her life and reconnect with her inner self. She walks the beaches collecting shells and contemplating their beautiful shapes, finding metaphors in the seashells for her musings on the need for simplicity in life, the renewal of solitude, and most of all how relationships change and grow over time. I read it in one sitting but found myself pausing frequently over the words. Even though her perspective on women\’s roles is a bit outdated, I still found it relevant and appreciated what she had to say about women as mothers, the nurturing core of the family who must always be giving, reaching outside of herself, but also needs to find time to be alone and regenerate. It\’s a peaceful, thoughtful kind of book that I feel almost anyone could find a treasure in. In a way its reflective tone and friendliness reminded me of Gladys Taber\’s Conversations with Amber.

A few short passages that stood out to me:

The most exhausting thing in life, I have discovered, is being insincere. That is why so much of social life is exhausting; one is wearing a mask. 

I find there is a quality to being alone that is incredibly precious. Life rushes back into the void, richer, more vivid, fuller than before. It is as if in parting one did actually loose an arm. And then, like the star-fish, one grows it anew; one is whole again, complete and round- more whole, even than before, when the other people had pieces of one.

When one is a stranger to oneself then one is estranged from others too. If one is out of touch with oneself, then one cannot touch others…. Only when one is connected to one\’s own core is one connected to others, I am beginning to discover. And for me, the core, the inner spring, can best be refound through solitude.

I\’m curious now about Anne Morrow Lindbergh\’s other writings. I\’m not too keen on poetry, but has anyone read her diaries or other works? Let me know what you thought of them, what I should try next.

My copy of Gift from the Sea is quite worn with tattered edges on the dust jacket as you can see here; so I\’m counting it towards my Dogeared Challenge.

Rating: 3/5 …….. 127 pages, 1955

More opinions at:
Book Clutter
A Book a Week

Watermen, Crabs and the Chesapeake Bay
by William Warner

This book got boring. It\’s pretty much what the subtitle says: all about watermen, the crabs they catch and local history regarding crabbing on the Chesapeake Bay (also details on oysters, and the herring used for bait, waterbirds and a few other related things). I liked the parts about the life cycle and behavior of the crabs. They seem like fairly smart animals for a crustacean, and some of the details of their lives are pretty interesting. All the other stuff about exactly how the watermen go about catching crabs, whether by pots or trotline, with descriptions of every bit of equipment that left me just as unfamiliar with it as I was before I never knew it existed, started to really dull my brain. Then there\’s plethora of details on how crabs are processed, how restaurants serve them, how local people cook them in their own homes, etc etc. Really, if you\’re fascinated by crabbing or by the locale, I\’m sure you\’d like this book with all its minutiae. But it just lost me on page 187 (a shame, I got so far!). Beautiful Swimmers even won the Pulitzer Prize in 1977, so by no means take my abandonment of it as the last word. It\’s just not keeping the interest of this reader.

I\’ve had this book on my TBR for ages; not quite sure how it got there. I tried to read it for my TBR challenge but guess I\’m going to have to reach for another title.

Abandoned ……… 304 pages, 1976

More opinions at:
Out of the Woods
Words, words words
anyone else?

by David Oliver Relin

In 1993 mountain climber Greg Mortenson went to Pakistan to climb one of the world\’s most forbidding peaks, K2. His attempt failed, and during the descent he lost the trail and stumbled into a remote village. The villagers nursed him back to health, and during his stay Mortenson was moved by their compassion for a stranger, and also by their need. He saw children attempting to hold classes in the open air, scratching their lessons in the dirt, and promised the villagers to one day return and build them a school.

Back in America, Mortenson stumbled about attempting to raise money for the school, and when by a mixture of luck and determination he\’d scraped together enough, he returned and made good his promise. A lot of the book seems to be about his mistakes. He had no experience fundraising, or constructing buildings, or running a non-profit organization, but the failures left him undaunted and he kept on until his goals were reached. After the first school he went on to build more across the region and into Afghanistan. With the help of donors and volunteers, his one-man effort grew into a charitable organization that not only built schools but also bridges and community centers, laid pipes to bring water into villages, paid teacher\’s salaries, established medical clinics and assisted refugees. I was amazed that he continued to travel through areas that were dangerous after war broke out, and how many times he got himself into frightening situations. His understanding of the local culture and aptitude for learning the language helped a lot. And the people overcame their suspicion of American foreigners when they saw that he simply wanted to help their children become educated. I think part of his rapport with the locals also came about because he didn\’t just bulldoze in and take over. He sat down to meet with tribal leaders, and got the communities involved- most of the villages donated land for their schools and supplied labor to do the construction themselves. Three Cups of Tea is a wonderfully inspiring story about how one man\’s dedication to help those in need. The latter part of the book was a bit harder for me to read; what with all the conflicts and bombings, but I did love seeing how near the end Mortenson returned to some of the villages where he\’d first built schools and saw children who were ready to move on to a higher education, who wanted to become teachers or nurses themselves, who had already thanks to their schooling, been able to help their communities. It\’s amazing what a difference he made.

Rating: 3/5 …….. 349 pages, 2006

More opinions at:
Read a Book Review
Ardent Reader
In Consideration of Books
Tia\’s Book Musings

of my reading challenges. Because the end of the year is coming up quickly, and I\’m not reading any faster lately. Of the three challenges I have left to complete, I\’ve read half the books off my list for the TBR challenge, leaving me with six to go. I need to read nine more books for the New Authors, and two more for my Dogeared one. With only a month and a half I know I really can\’t hope to get through seventeen books, so I\’m aspiring to just finish the TBR, and the Dogeared if I find a book or two that fits for both. How are your challenges going?


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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