Month: August 2022

made by Buffalo Games ~ photographer Sandra Schulze ~ 1,000 pieces

My husband didn’t believe me when I told him this image was a photograph- had to look up more of her pieces online. They’re all arrangements of flowers, dried ferns, seeds, etc- delicate and stunning. This puzzle was quite challenging.  Gave up doing the border first- most of those pieces had too similar of shapes and it was just frustrating. Worked from inside out. All the white flowers were fairly difficult too, but in the end I was extra satisfied to be done!

from CList - free

by Jane Yolen

Again, not nearly long enough! but enjoyable, and told a part of the Merlin story I hadn’t heard before. After the events in Hobby, Merlin is back in the forest is living rough- searching for food and avoiding dogs. He comes across a band of “wodewose” or wild people who live in the forest far from society. Orphans, abandoned children and outcasts. They’re suspicious of Merlin at first- he’s older than an unwanted child that usually gets dumped in the woods. Merlin tries to find his place among them but doesn’t know how to act, doesn’t understand the rules, even has trouble making himself understood- they talk differently. Most of the kids his age ignore or tease him, but one smaller child with pale hair follows him around and offers seemingly-useless help. When the wild folk find out that Merlin has prophetic dreams, the women hold him captive, apparently intending to force him to dream for their benefit. This was confusing- well, the experience Merlin had of being imprisoned wasn’t, but the women’s purpose was. Merlin is resigned to his fate for a while, but then finds that he can do things with magic he never did before- and perhaps even call it to use when he needs it. The smaller boy helps him in the end (turns out it was supposed to be Arthur). Disaster comes to the wild folk, but Merlin and the boy Arthur avoid the carnage and run off together into the trees. Felt kind of abrupt- just one chapter in a larger story- I really wish there was more detail, more length and arc. But I suppose these books are satisfying enough for the intended audience, middle grade readers.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
91 pages, 1997

by Jane Yolen

Sequel to Passager, though really these books are so short it should just be one volume, in my opinion. I was disappointed that the story skips ahead four years- on the opening page, the kid who would become Merlin has just finished his time living with the family that found him in the forest. Not by choice- the house burned down and he lost everything. I would have liked to see more of his life with the falconer, but nope. So Merlin sets off for the nearest large town leading the surviving horse and cow, hoping to sell them at market and start over. He comes across a rough man who of course takes the animals and Merlin too, intending to sell him into servitude. An accident frees Merlin from this man’s clutches- one that he kind of foresaw in a dream. His dreams seem to foretell things, but in an off-kilter way, “on the slant” he says. Again, I found the portrayal of the dreams and their supposed meaning really interesting. In town, Merlin falls into new company- this time a pair of performers- the man calls himself a magician and at first Merlin is impressed, but soon he realizes it’s all sleight-of-hand and trickery. Things happen and they wind up performing for the king, who’s having issues with building a tower that keeps collapsing. This is the same old story of the foundations being unstable, and Merlin’s dream explains it. Well- the magician says it means one thing, but Merlin knows it’s actually different, and can’t help telling the truth, even when it might anger the king. It turns out the town is not a safe place for this kid with unusual abilities. In the end, Merlin escapes it all and runs back into the forest.

Like the other, I just found this book way too brief, even though the prose is lovely, the imagery vivid, the story moves quickly and seems full of meaning. Just wanted more. Aside from the dream aspect, I was intrigued by the idea of names having significance, even power over people. Reminiscent to me of the characters in Ursula K. Le Guin’s Earthsea series, where true names are never spoken, because they give others power or control over one . . . Here, young Merlin is cautious to tell people his real name and keeps going by one he picks in the moment- it was Hobby during this book.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
90 pages, 1996

by Greer Macallister

Note: spoilers below!

Set in the late 1800’s, this story is about two sisters who live in San Franciso. Charlotte has always felt protective of her younger sister Phoebe, who appears to have bipolar disorder (and myabe schizophrenia). Her behavior becomes unmanageable (mostly because it publicly embarasses the family) so the parents send Phoebe to an insane asylum. Charlotte is heartbroken and angered by this, and determines to get her sister back. She fakes a suicide attempt, is quickly bundled off to the nearest mental institution- conveniently the same one her sister’s in. Then begins a long, dangerous search to find her sister and bring her home. Dangerous because of course, once inside the asylum Charlotte is at the mercy of the staff. She discloses nothing at first, attempting to fit in and act like she really belongs there. Treatments ranged from ludicrous to downright horrific- although some probably had merit- such as forced walks out in the open air for exercise. Food was poor quality, drugs were administered freely to those deemed difficult to control, and physical punishment or confinement – being beaten, tied up or shut in dark padded cells- a regular thing. Charlotte gets to know some of the other inmates, finds a secret map, sneaks around and eventually locates her sister. She thinks now the hard part is over: just tell the doctor they’re both sane, and they’ll get out. But nobody believes her.

This book is labeled a mystery on the cover, which I didn’t realize when I picked it up. I didn’t think I liked mysteries! but here I wanted to find the answer to questions: would Charlotte find her sister in the asylum? would they avoid the worst of the treatments and escape? I’m glad this story looked at some of the tougher issues. So many of the women in there were not actually suffering from mental illness. They had defied convention, refused to follow social norms, displeased their husbands, or were simply found inconvenient. Charlotte is outraged when she discovers this, and determines to do something about it- but then she’s surprised to find not all of her new friends want to leave the asylum. Some find the freedom to act and speak out in that environment liberating. Others actually need to be “looked after”- suffering from depression, epilepsy, or any number of disorders.

I liked that this story tied up all the loose ends (thought some felt a bit too tidy). When Charlotte and her sister finally get free and return home, they’re not exactly welcomed with open arms. They learn that powerful people in the community run the asylum (for profit from items the inmates made with forced labor) and aren’t going to make readily change things. Charlotte is promised to a certain man to marry, but she wants the brother instead (this was told a lot in flashbacks). One of her friends who escapes the asylum with them, reveals that she was there because her husband had attempted to murder her, and now he has to be confronted. Charlotte’s sister Phoebe doesn’t feel comfortable in their family home after having lived at the asylum so many years. It’s all quite a mess, but gets straightened out well enough.

This one was audiobook format- 13 hours of listening time. Voice of Nina Alvamar. Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
368 pages, 2019

More opinions: Small World Reads
That’s What She Read
anyone else?

by Julia Green

Sweet, gentle little book about a girl struggling with loneliness and anxiety. Her mother is having a difficult pregnancy and bedridden with illness, her father is always working in his study, and they’ve recently moved to a new house, with a new school where Tilly doesn’t have any friends. It’s a lot. She explores the old house a bit, but spends most of her time outside in the yard. Then Tilly sees a fox run through a gap in the fence, and follows it into an unkempt, overgrown garden behind their property. This becomes her secret place, where she builds a little hideout and often sits quietly hoping to see the fox. She sneaks out there at night. And meets a girl named Helen in the garden, who becomes her friend.

But- is Helen real? I started to suspect a few chapters in that there was something more to this story. First I thought Helen might be a ghost, then perhaps magical, a fairy? It turns out to be a bit more mundane- Tilly is sleepwalking, and Helen is imaginary. As the story progresses, things slowly change. Mother seems to take a turn for the worst, spending the end of her pregnancy in the hospital. Tilly’s anxiety is heightened, but her grandmother comes to stay, infusing the house with cheerful activity. She’s given an unoffical mental health break from school for a few days, and when she goes back there’s a new girl in class the teacher introduces her to. As Tilly finds relief from her fears (her mother returns home in good health, with the new baby) and makes a new friend at school, gaining some confidence by being asked to help someone else in need, her attachment to Helen in the garden starts to dissipate. She’s okay now.

I actually liked that this story took me by surprise, making me read between the lines. Some things are subtle enough in here that a younger reader might not pick up on it, and just enjoy the magical feeling of the story. I couldn’t help thinking of Tom’s Midnight Garden while reading this, of course- and also The Secret GardenThe Midnight Fox is also mentioned in this book, and there’s an unmistakable nod to Charlotte’s Web as well. Also, I found this second cover image online- apparently the book had a title change. I like the current title better, but the fox cover more closely matches the books’ interior illustrations by Paul Howard, which are gentle and lovely.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
199 pages, 2012

More opinions: Kid Lit Geek
anyone else?

by Michael Crichton

I still vividly remember seeing the movie of this for the first time, decades ago. Finally satisfied my curiosity to read the book. It wasn’t nearly as tense as I expected, probably because I already knew the storyline- only a few scenes were unfamiliar, or different from my memory. For example, when there’s a sick dinosaur in a field, I remember that being a triceratops in the movie. In the book, it’s a stegosaur. Just in case anybody reading this finds it unfamiliar, here’s a brief synopsis: scientists figure out how to extract ancient DNA from dinosaur blood in prehistoric mosquito innards, and use it to create living dinosaurs. Extremely far-fetched idea, even considering what I’ve read about scientists trying to recreate a mammoth (fetus grown inside a surrogate elephant), or the quagga from back-breeding zebras, and now what about re-assembling the DNA of a thylacine. Maybe possible?  Dinosaurs- no way.

But of course it’s fun to run with the idea, and that’s exactly what this author did. With a wealthy guy who has no proper sense of responsibility at the helm, who bought a private island and turned into a giant theme park of sorts, populated with fifteen different species of dinosaur. Not as they had existed eons ago in reality, but as close as they could get, with DNA “patched in” where segments were missing. I’d like to know more about how that was supposed to work, but a lot of things in this story are glossed over with one or two smart-sounding sentences and then the plot moves on quickly to danger and drama- exciting you know. Some people go to tour the island for an inspection, and sombody’s kids arrive there too for who knows what reason- and of course things go drastically wrong. Because of greed, and one computer nerd guy shutting down systems to smuggle out dinosaur embryos. And a tropical storm which causes further damage on top of the sabotage. Dinosaurs start running amok, getting into areas they were never supposed to, people are separated, kids in danger, the boy in the end is one who saves the day with his computer skills. Beyond me. I know a little about computer code, and even having it spelled out for me in the book, I didn’t get what he did.

Well, in the end quite a few people die (this author apparently has no qualms about killing off characters) and dinosaurs prove their behavior can be quite unexpected, which is delightfully interesting. The individual I found most intriuguing this time around- back when I watched the movie I just rolled my eyes at his rambling theories- but now I actually slowed down to inspect those ideas- was the brilliant, sarcastic mathematician who says all kinds of things about “chaos theory” and how randomness eventually overtakes any system, destroying attempts at predictability. My favorite quote in the book is from him: “We live in a world of frightful givens. It is given that you will behave like this, given that you will care about that. Isn’t it amazing? In the information society, nobody thinks. We expected to banish paper, but we actually banished thought.

What I found surprising, was how dated this story felt now. Startling that when all the computerized systems go down, nobody can call for support from the mainland- because there’s no cell phones of course. I was puzzled why they used motion-detecting cameras to track the dinosaurs on the island- why didn’t each individual animal wear a tracking device? and other places where the technology didn’t quite seem to be on par with their capabilities to re-create living prehistoric animals.

Oh well, it was darn fun. I just bashed out my immediate reaction on closing the last page, to the keyboard here. Could say a lot more about it later if anyone’s interested. Who out there has read the book? or wants to pick apart inconsistencies in the movie version with me? I’m looking for the sequel in the library database now.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
448 pages, 1990

How Our Best Friends Are Becoming Our Best Medicine

by Maria Goodavage

About how dogs help people with medical issues. Most of the dogs in this book are service dogs, though some are “just” beloved pets that learned intuitively how to help their owners, and others work purely in research. While a lot of these dogs can help people with physical tasks- opening the fridge, picking up dropped items, etc- they’re specifically trained in detecting issues before they become severe, preventing them from happening or helping the person recover, or giving emotional support to help people with mental health issues. Never again will I scoff internally at the idea of an “emotional support animal”- this book makes clear what a huge difference trained assistance dogs can make in people’s lives.

It starts on a different note, though- talking about cancer detection, with many anecdotal stories about dogs that kept poking a spot on a person’s body- later it was found they had cancer there. Now dogs are being trained to sniff samples and indicate the presence of cancer- while scientists are studying the molecular compounds of the positive samples to figure out exactly what the dogs are alerting to, so they can detect it earlier by other means. Then the book talks about dogs that alert to tell their owners an eplieptic seizure is imminent, or to alert diabetics to a dangerously high/low blood sugar level, or dogs that sense an oncoming panic attack and lead their human to a quieter, safer space. There’s even a dog in this book whose owner suffers from PTSD, who wakes him up if he’s having nightmares. Dogs that help children with autism stay calm. Dogs that help victims of catastrophe talk about what they experienced. Even dogs whose presence in a courtroom helps children feel brave enough to testify against those who harmed them. The book is just as much about how these dogs are trained (many were initially in programs to assist the blind but “failed” out of that and took a different career route) as it is about how much they’ve changed the lives of people they help. Also a lot about new studies and technology- pretty amazing to read about the FIDO vest prototype, which lets dogs trigger a computerized voice that can tell a stranger their owner needs help, or some other verbalized message. Also very interesting in here was to read of cases where dogs help people who have a very rare medical condition (most I’d never heard of), so service dogs aren’t regularly trained to assist with it, but trainers or family members found a way to let the dog know what to do. And the canines just seem to pick it up naturally- feeling anxious or unsettled when something goes wrong, and wanting to make things right again, seems to be the explanation.

As a side note, there was one part of this book that tidily dated it for me. In one chapter the author tells about dogs that sniff out dangerous antibiotic-resistant bacteria in hospitals, to help staff keep the environment cleaner, and stop it from spreading. There was a sentence or two in there explaining what a PCR test is. I thought to myself: surely most people are aware of PCR testing? and then flipped to the copyright page, realized of course, this book was written pre-Covid.

Somewhat similar reads: Scent of the Missing by Susannah Charleson, Navy Seal Dogs by Mike Ritland, The New Work of Dogs by Jon Katz

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
353 pages, 2019

My Unexpected Journey with Trauma, Burns and Recovery

by Samuel Moore-Sobel

Inspirational memoir about a burn victim’s recovery. The author was a teenager when he accepted what seemed like a mundane job- helping someone move items from a garage into a rental truck. The job kept dragging on as the man who’d hired him changed his mind about where items were going- and it ended with him on someone else’s property, where he accidentally got splashed with sulfuric acid that had been improperly stored. He was severely burned on his face, neck and arms. Luckily didn’t loose his vision, but the healing process took a very long time regardless. He tells about the accident in detail, the pain and confusion. The anger, frustration and shock his family had over the incident. The many treatments to his skin and surgeries over the years- to help it heal, lessen scar tissue and improve his breathing, which was impacted by a scar under his nose and damage where the acid had splashed inside. Aside from all the pain and discomfort, there was the mental toll- insecurities about his appearance, facing the reactions of strangers and other kids at school, worry that he’d never find a romantic partner in the future. Symptoms of stress and depression that turned out to be PTSD, also recurrent panic attacks that happened with no warning, and how he finally sought help, went through therapy. Being a religious person, he struggled with his faith, too (ie: how could God let this happen), and in the end, after many many years of wading through the difficulties of recovery, one of the best parts of the story is reading how he attended a conference for burn victims. Meeting other people who had been through the same kind of experience gave him a feeling of acceptance, and a new outlook. It was a vivid read. Very honest and well-told. Although a bit odd that the chapters are all so incredibly short- most just a page or two each- but I got used to that format after a while. Reading it is like having someone sitting right there telling you their story directly.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
282 pages, 2020

My blog is now fifteen years old. Hooray! Let’s try this again.

In celebration, I’ll do a little giveaway. Anybody interested in some free laminated bookmarks? I still have a lot from when I made some years ago out of magazine scrap. This is just a sample:

There’s cats, puppies, horses, penguins, zebras, whales, leopards, tigers, a cute pig, different antelopes, goats, monkeys, apes, geese, foxes, donkeys, fish, lemurs and random things like a christmas ornament. Let me know what catches your eye! Feel free to ask for multiples.

by Jane Yolen

A story that imagines the childhood of Merlin, the magician of King Arthur’s court. In these pages he was a feral child, abandoned by his parents in the forest (for reasons I wasn’t quite able to pick out). He survives on nuts, fruit and the occasional fish, fleeing from packs of wild dogs and climbing trees to sleep in at night. Until one day he encounters a man with a falcon in a clearing. Fascinated by the interaction of man and bird, young Merlin watches for hours (as the falconer is trying to coax his bird out of a tree) and then follows the stranger back to his house. He’s very wary, but the man catches him and then tries to help him readjust to life among people- to get used to living in a house, wearing clothes, eating cooked food, to overcome his fear of dogs, etc. It’s a gentle and lovely story, with beautiful imagery (I was especially captivated by the content of the boy’s dreams) that says so much in just a few lines. I only wish this wasn’t so short. Not nearly long enough to satisfy, I could have enjoyed far more detail. Read it in one sitting.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
76 pages, 1996


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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