Month: September 2018

Animorphs #13
by K.A. Applegate

I find I like these books when: new animal experiences are interesting, and the author throws something totally unexpected in. The Change is from Toby\’s point of view- he has adapted well to living as a hawk, but sometimes still really misses being human. Starts to experience some strange moments of being in one place, then suddenly another, or having visions. A lot like the confusions Jake and Rachel went through last two reads. Turns out one of the omniscient Ellimist is messing with Toby. I had forgotten about those godlike beings, and I find them rather annoying- how conveniently they can alter the storyline. I guess that\’s the point. Toby finds the involvement extremely annoying, too- until a hint of a promise is dangled in front of him- that he might be able to regain his human form. So he takes the Ellimist\’s offer. Oh, and during all this inner turmoil, the kids are racing around the forest trying desperately to avoid the enemy- who have deployed all their forces to tracking down two escaped aliens- called Hork-Bajirs, who look vicious and deadly but in reality were a peaceful species until the Yeerks overtook them. So the kids learn quite a bit about the Hork-Bajir- including that they\’re not so smart- and you think they\’re all going to die at enemy hands but they pull an escape off last-minute- very cleverly this time, I thought. Their plan actually worked. And they are using their morphing skills more ingeniously, as well. Mostly they draw on their already-existing arsenal of animal forms, but Tobias re-acquires the ability to morph, and he turns himself into a raccoon in order to avoid being eaten by that same raccoon. And Rachel voluntarily morphs an alien in order to throw off the enemy. That was interesting. Of course, quite maddeningly but I am sure great for future plotlines, the promise Toby thought he\’d gotten from the Ellimist isn\’t exactly what he thought it was. . .  and yet that final scene, the last sentence of the book, is very moving. While I usually wish for more detail, sometimes the understatement is great in these books.

Enjoyed this one on my e-reader.

Rating: 3/5           162 pages, 1997

more opinions: Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tales

Animorphs #12
by K.A. Applegate

This one was better! (I\’m starting to wonder if the Animorph books that don\’t interest me as much are written mostly by one of the author team, and the ones I like, written by the other, hm.) Sorry for spoilers below, I can\’t help it with these books.

So, Rachel morphs a crocodile in order to rescue a kid who falls into the croc enclosure at a zoo- a reckless move she barely pulls off without being discovered. Later she finds herself suddenly out of control- her body morphs animals randomly, and she can\’t stop it. Her elephant morph destroys part of her house, luckily avoiding harming some of the family members who are home. It\’s something different to see Rachel feeling vulnerable, and talking about what it\’s like to live in constant fear, but not letting it take over your life. She hides her alarming problem from her friends for a while. Then the team discovers that the enemy have a new plan to convince a TV star who has a huge teen fan base to accept a Yeerk- so he can then bring in masses of young people to their side via the Sharing (most idiotic name ever for a youth group, ha). The kids are desperate to put a stop to this- the boys don\’t really get it until they see how Rachel and Cassie fall all over themselves in their eagerness to get close to the guy as part of the mission. Rachel uses the internet (first time I notice it mentioned in the series) to find out where he\’s going to be- coincidentally there\’s filming taking place near their town- and the team converge on a private yacht in the form of seagulls. Rachel\’s morphing goes out of control again, attracting the attention of the enemy leader, and they narrowly escape. Their next plan is to meet the star on a talk show- because Rachel got on the local news for \”falling into\” the crocodile pit- though what they actually intended to do is unclear. I don\’t think they knew themselves. Rachel fibbed to her teammates that her problem with morphing was over- but it wasn\’t, and they find themselves frantically trying to control a wild crocodile on live TV while Rachel is morphed as a bear, Marco as a llama and Cassie as a squirrel. It was pretty darn funny. Of course they just manage to get out of the situation without blowing their cover again.

I can see what made this book a good one for me. It had plenty of amusing moments and witty remarks by the kids. The descriptions of Rachel facing fear, feeling uneasy and baffled at her morphing condition, was pretty acute. Also how she momentarily lost her sense of human self while being a seagull. Marco as a llama really made me chuckle. (And I don\’t think I laughed once in the prior book). The concept of what caused Rachel\’s problem was pretty unique- again something I didn\’t see coming in the storyline which made me sit up and take interest. I also like how ridiculously infatuated the girls were with this teen idol, until they heard him talking on the back of the yacht and realized he really had an unpleasant personality. They ditched their admiration in an instant, but still wanted to save him from the fate of being enslaved by the Yeerks, just because it would endanger so many other people. Good, fun read.

Rating: 3/5             176 pages, 1997

Animorphs #11
by K.A. Applegate

Back to the Animorphs. I breezed through this one in just two sittings. The story moves at a very fast pace- I guess that makes it exciting for kids (the intended audience). I do wish for more details, but am still able to enjoy it. In this one, the Animorphs discover the enemy has a Bug Fighter in a burnt-out wrecked grocery store. They sneak in as flies (disgusted by the form but thrilled at its powers of flight) and steal the spacecraft. Zoom up out of the atmosphere- their Andalite friend Ax can drive it (seemed implausible, but whatever) and are intercepted by an enemy ship- when they fire on each other the beams cross causing a crash and a time-warp. The kids suddenly find themselves in the rain forest, while the enemy are also crashed nearby and searching for them. They morph into a tiger and bear to fight the enemy, but also acquire two new ones- monkey and jaguar. The monkey is easy (being so close to humans) and fun, but their un-monkeylike actions in a crisis attract the enemy\’s attention (who then start killing all the monkeys in sight). Also, they encounter some tribal natives, who see them morphing out of monkey form and assume them to be some kind of forest spirits. The rough conversation they had with the natives was awkwardly easy because one of the kids spoke some Spanish, and the native language was close to Portuguese- but wouldn\’t Ax have been able to understand it anyway? Oh well. They morph into jaguars- which is also familiar, at least to Jake, because he\’s been a tiger before. At first, being human, they found the rain forest oppressively hot and humid, crawling with frightful insects, dangerous snakes, and difficult to move through. As jaguars though, they saw its beauty and wild diversity- able to see in the dark, noticing more individual life forms than they\’d ever seen. There\’s a terribly one-sided battle with the Visser when they get back to the crashed ship, but everything resolves suddenly- death is the passage back to their proper time- and it turns out only Jake can remember what happened (due to things I won\’t explain, not wanting to spoil all of the story). A bit disappointingly, it\’s one of those storylines where you get all invested in the drama, only to have the character wake up at the end, realizing it was all just a dream. Kind of.

Read this one on my kindle.

Rating: 2/5            176 pages, 1977

more opinions:
Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tales

by R.K. Narayan

I am not sure what to make of this book. Spoilers below, I relate in brief beginning to end so you may know my irritation. Ostensibly, this is a tale about a tiger\’s life, from his viewpoint. The tiger grows up in the jungle, testing his strength, delighting in his power and scorning other creatures- until man kills his mate and cubs. The tiger strikes out in revenge at villages, killing livestock. He is captured by poachers and sold to a circus owner. Here the story starts to get a little disjointed. The tiger describes his circus experience- starved into submission, bewildered by the actions of men trying to force him to do tricks, somehow comforted by the companionship of the other animals in cages around him. The animals communicate with each other silently, the tiger can relate to the reader what humans said even though he doesn\’t understand their speech. There are entire chapters about the circus owner\’s work in managing his affairs and handling his employees, things a tiger would have no knowledge of! It was hard to shrug that off. Bounces around between omniscient viewpoint and tiger being the first-person narrator. Reminiscent in a way of Memoirs of a Polar Bear.

Well, one day the tiger catches the eye of a filmmaker, who wants to feature him in a battle against a strong man he discovered performing in a village market. The part about the filming attempts and how they tried to make it look like the tiger and strong man were fighting- without them actually coming into contact with each other- because this huge muscular fellow was actually terrified of the tiger- that was fairly amusing. Tiger gets even more frustrated at attempts to teach him new tricks for the filming- the circus owner refuses to allow the filmmaker to pull out his claws or teeth or sew his mouth shut to make it safe. Instead they use an electric prod. Tiger goes crazy and finally attacks the circus man, startled to discover how weak man actually is- this person who had exerted control over him for so many years.

The tiger escapes and wanders a nearby village where he enters a schoolhouse to cool off on the stone floor, and takes a nap. He gets locked in, and then the villagers argue among themselves for pages and pages what to do. Who will shoot the tiger? Do they have permission to do so? is the rifle licensed? and on and on. (The style of this book, especially when the people talk in circles or have to deal with bureaucracy, reminded me of Joyce Cary\’s Mister Johnson). Meanwhile there is a hermit or holy man standing on the sidelines, offering advice, constantly rebuffed and scorned by the villagers. He is called Master by the tiger- and when they finally let him into the schoolhouse- because the man who was supposed to shoot the tiger drank too much to calm his nerves and fell down- the Master exerts such a mental influence on the tiger that it does whatever he says, follows him calmly out of the village and into the forest where they live peacefully in a cave having discussions about spirituality. Because really the tiger is just like a person inside, having only a different outer form. And when the tiger becomes old and weak, the Master gives him to a zoo so he can live out his days in peace, being admired by children! I found that upsetting. Of all the other ridiculous things I ignored to enjoy some other parts of this story- including times when the tiger\’s behavior was not feline at all- why couldn\’t the tiger die in peace in the jungle? Argh.

Rating: 2/5               176 pages, 1982

by Stanwell Fletcher

I was curious to read this book because I enjoyed Driftwood Valley, which I believe was by this author\’s wife. (However if so, he must have remarried because in Pattern of the Tiger, his wife\’s name is Peggy not Theodora). I hoped this one had a lot about the wildlife of India, but I was disappointed in that regard. The author\’s original intention was to re-visit India and see how much it had changed since his childhood there, and to make a rough survey of its wildlife in order to recommend future expeditions to collect mammal specimens for American museums. Fletcher arrived in India not long after the British government had withdrawn its sovereign rule, and he found it in turmoil. There was a lot of political unrest and in many places he felt uneasy staying for long. He travelled through many different regions, especially following suggestions by locals as to where he could view wildlife, stopped in many small isolated villages, visited some areas of neighboring Afghanistan and Pakistan, went through Delhi, Kashmir, etc. and ended up in Calcutta. By far he enjoyed his time in the remote areas more than the crowded cities, and I think his wife (who joined him at the end of the trip) agreed. He quickly found that it was difficult to locate any wildlife- and the few glimpses did not produce any satisfactory descriptive writing. It\’s obvious he became far more interested in the situation of the people, and he relates many stories and legends told to him, describing local customs, modes of dress, new foods, interesting individuals he met, travel mishaps and the like for all the areas he went through. He especially compared the culture of Hindus and Muslims- which I learned quite a bit from, even though it isn\’t what I intended to read the book for! I admit when the chapters veered into politics I tended to loose interest and start scanning pages. I was surprised to read about a small area comprising the valleys of Birir, Bhumberat and Rumber, where the Kalosh people lived- Fletcher said they had absolutely no religion or belief system, yet were the happiest (in spite of being very poor) and friendliest people he met on his journeys.

Well, there were a few parts about animals, I will share a few tidbits. He noticed immediately the large numbers of monkeys that swarmed the cities, and learned that they devastated crops on a regular basis, because the Hindus would not kill the monkeys. Amusingly, when a misunderstanding led officials to believe that Fletcher\’s purpose in India was to skin and study mice, people started bringing him cages full of mice they had trapped in their homes. They would not kill the mice themselves (often trapped and relocated them, to no avail) but were happy to hand them over to Fletcher for disposal.

One time sitting outside a house, he saw two yellow-throated martens watching him. He quickly tried to grab his camera, but of course the martens disappeared. Incidentally, the book is graced by many careful illustrations the author made of various people in traditional clothing. I wish he had included more drawings, or some of many photographs he mentions in the text.

I was pleased when I found he wished to meet Jim Corbett, but the famous tiger hunter was absent. Noted that another man who accompanied Fletcher and tried to show him tigers from a jeep, completely scorned the method of tying out a goat as bait to bring a tiger near, which was often Corbett\’s method.

It was rather funny -and probably frustrating- how many times people misunderstood his intentions at being in India, and assumed he was someone important, just because he was a foreigner. He was once cross-examined by a group of tribesman under suspicion of being a spy. On another occasion a general insisted he give an impromptu lecture to his men- something not at all on Fletcher\’s itinerary! but he had to comply. On yet another occasion he was intensely questioned on international politics by the leaders of a community who wanted to know why foreign aid went to India and not Pakistan, and in a final instance he was requested to advise a small town how to rid themselves of rats- which were eating the roots of young trees and crops, destroying them.

I\’ve said a lot here for a book it turns out I didn\’t really care for, overall. It\’s certainly dense with information and interesting descriptions, just not the kind of read that usually holds my interest. It\’s full of recent (to the time) history, politics and local customs. I\’m sure a very worthwhile read, to someone else!

Rating: 2/5                 296 pages, 1954

by Victoria Poole

What a great story. It\’s about a seventeen-year-old athlete from a large New England family who suddenly became gravely ill. For a long time his family thought he just had nasty colds that kept recurring, but it turned out he had heart disease- a childhood illness had damage his heart muscle and it became enlarged. His stricken parents kept the news of Sam\’s illness to themselves for a while, then broke it to the family: without a new heart, Sam was going to die. The parents took him to California where heart transplants were being done as experimental surgery (at the time, only 310 had been performed in the entire world). There followed a barrage of tests- was Sam sick enough to warrant receiving a heart? was he strong enough- mentally and physically- to face the risks? Through it all he kept a remarkably upbeat attitude. The family rallied around him to help, but it was still an ordeal- parents taking turns travelling to and fro California and New England for the duration of his treatment and recovery. Frightening times when his body began to reject the new heart, then recovered for a while. Very long time in intensive care. Joy at being in the outside world again, experiencing life- differently- but life he was extremely glad for. So many details are probably different nowadays about what heart transplant patients go through, but this is one inspiring read (and fairly well-written too).

Sadly, I learned from reading a few reviews online that Sam lived only five more years after his heart transplant- but lived them to the fullest. I believe he died from complications of his medications.

Found at a library sale.

Rating: 3/5         370 pages, 1980

Age 10 and Divorced
by Nujood Ali
with Delphine Minoui

This is a sad and courageous story of a girl from Yemen whose father married her off to a thirty-year-old man. Her village small and isolated, Nujood had left school at an early age, could barely write and didn\’t even know her own age for certain- she was at best guess nine or ten years old when the events in the book happened. She was shocked when one day her father announced that he had married her off- without her consent needless to say- and she was unceremoniously packed into a stranger\’s car to move into her new household. Her new husband had promised to avoid intimacy with her at least until she had gone through puberty, but he didn\’t. When she tried to resist him, she was beaten. When she screamed for help, the other women of the household did nothing. She was no longer allowed to go to school, or play outside, but must work in the kitchen. She was miserable, abused and afraid.

This went on for weeks. And then one day she decided -having been obedient all her life to the men in the family- to say NO. She ran away, found the courthouse, located a judge, and plainly stated that she wanted a divorce. It wasn\’t easy. The judge was in disbelief at first. The proceedings took months. Her own family was angered- said her actions brought shame on them. It was hard to read the reasons her father gave for marrying her away in the first place, and very distressing to learn that her older sisters had also gone through rough times at the hands of men. Nujood stuck up for herself, and eventually moved back to live with her parents, and was able to return to school again. Difficult to imagine what she went through. She was the first child bride to successfully get a divorce in Yemen, and other young girls who had been married against their will, were later able to follow her example. She was swamped with media attention after the court date, but managed to find some normalcy again, to return to her childhood. Very sobering to read from her account, the other ways that women around her suffered silently. I admire such a brave young girl.

Rating: 3/5                   188 pages, 2009

more opinions:
BermudaOnion\’s Weblog

by Rachel Hartman

Ahh, I really wanted to like this one. I am not quite sure why it didn\’t hold my interest. It\’s got a unique premise- a world where dragons and human exist in an uneasy truce- and one young woman is hiding a dangerous secret: she is half-dragon. The dragons can take human form (although their very alien attitude usually makes them easy to discern) and in this manner Seraphina\’s father married a dragon- without knowing it. Seraphina works at the palace as an assistant to the music instructor- music is her reason for being. But she becomes involved in court intrigue, which makes it harder and harder to keep her secret. And she suffers from debilitating headaches and strange visions- honestly, this aspect of the story- her \”garden of the mind\”- made me think so much of the two books I read recently about teens with schizophrenia! It was interesting when I finally figured out who the various people are she sees in her dream garden- curious to see where this thread would lead- but unfortunately I found the reading a slog. Something about the style, or the characterization, or the world-building just fell flat for me. Darn. Moving on.

Abandoned                 512 pages, 2012

more opinions:
Teen Reads
Dear Author
anyone else? I know a lot of you out there have loved it!

by Mary Gaitskill

This powerfully understated story tells of an inner-city girl who goes to spend a few weeks with a couple in upstate New York for the summer, as part of a Fresh Air Fund program. The couple is childless and want to see what it\’s like to have a kid around the house, before they consider adoption to grow their family. They have issues- the husband\’s attention is divided, the wife is a recovering alcoholic- and their perspective is almost as interesting as Velvet\’s. She\’s the girl from a rough neighborhood in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. Her mother- from the Dominican Repulic, working a crap job and struggling to make ends meet, doesn\’t speak English so all communication between her and the host family is through a translator, or her children. This neatly sets the stage for a large number of misunderstandings….

Velvet at first is cool and stand-offish when she arrives in the country but she is soon fascinated with the horses at the stable next door. She\’s allowed to take riding lessons and is drawn to a troublesome mare in the barn, one considered dangerous, with a history of abuse. Velvet finds a connection with the horse and quickly picks up skills under the eye of a trainer in the barn- it turns out she has a natural ability at riding- the way this is written was so vivid and visceral. How she feels when she\’s on a horse, how she makes it understand her wishes, how it moves and responds- I can\’t explain it well, but I was glued to every page. There is such a vast difference between the life Velvet leads in the countryside and her existence back home in the city- where her mother curses and beats her, where boys sneer on the streets, all kinds of bad things happen. Ginger becomes emotionally invested in the girl, tries to help her with homework, invites her back again and again- outside of the boundaries set by the initial program. Velvet has a painfully large need for affection and love- I think it\’s why she bonds so well with the horse- then back at home acts out, seeks the attention of boys, etc. Bigger things happen, Ginger gets waaay too involved in Velvet\’s life, the mother becomes enraged- I can\’t say more. You must read it!

Funny, I suspected at first I might not like this book- it jumps back and forth between POV nearly every other page- most \’chapters\’ are half a page, one or two at most. I thought I would find that style jarring, or disjointed but it wasn\’t so. The words are strong, so much is revealed on every page, insights into what each character is feeling or why they did something. I\’m not sure if all the extra voices were needed- Velvet and Ginger\’s alone would have told most of the story- but Ginger\’s husband is in there too, and Velvet\’s mother has a voice every now and then. It all adds depth. The story has a lot of rough spots- by which I mean, scenes that are very hard to read- but somehow I just could not put it down. It\’s certainly unlike any other horse book I\’ve read yet.

Rating: 4/5          441 pages, 2015

by Bill Wallace

Story about a farm boy who overcomes his fear of dogs. He\’s terrified of them from having been attacked by one when he was little. That dog had rabies, so he had to receive a series of very painful shots in his stomach and was traumatized by the whole experience. Now a dog easily runs him off when he\’s facing a bully in the schoolyard and his dad jibes him for being continually afraid. Then a stray puppy shows up at his back door, trying to get their barn cats\’ food. The cats run the puppy off and it\’s going to starve when the boy decides to save it. He intends to just feed it until it is strong enough to get chased off and find a new home, but gradually he looses his fear of the dog and learns to care for it. The dog becomes his companion and playmate. He has to figure out how to keep it from eating poisoned meat left out, when neighbors bait for coyotes (and all their attempts to pen the dog or tie it up fail). He gets frustrated when his dog won\’t help round up the family cows but is frightened instead. And then he really has to face his own terrors when he and the dog confront a pack of feral dogs that attacks the cattle. For a book aimed at younger readers, it has a lot of distressing scenes- the dog fight gets bloody, and earlier in the book there are plenty of instances where people throw rocks at dogs, or kick them- even the main character. There\’s bullying and adults acting mean as well. Also the parents in the story just laugh when the dog gets bigger and literally throws the cats around. That kinda bothered me. The ending was sad- how many pet stories end up with the dog dying– and this one in such a senseless accident- but then it turned awful corny on the final pages. I think I actually rolled my eyes. Oh well, it\’s a kid\’s book. I might like another one the author wrote about this same boy and his horse, if I come across it by chance (this one was a library sale find).

Rating: 3/5              137 pages, 1980


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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