Month: October 2022

by Jean Craighead George

Read this in one sitting. It’s a book I really ought to have read when I was a kid, would have been floored by it back then. It’s a survival story similar to so many other reads, which I will note at the end. This boy Sam lives in New York City and is fed up with the cramped, crowded apartment (many siblings). So he runs away, to a mountain where his great-grandfather had owned some land. He makes a home in a hollowed out tree, learns how to effectively build a fire, catch fish, make things he needs, sew deer skins, etc. and lives comfortably (after the first night of cold and fear, that is). He eats wild plants, with the help of books from a library in the town at foot of the mountain which he periodically visits, gathers nuts and smokes meat to last the winter. Trains a falcon to hunt for him. And more. Rather absurdly, this book reminded me of Ayla from Valley of the Horses, who had so many skills she taught herself it was unbelievable. There’s so many other wilderness survival stories I thought of: No Way But Gentlenesse, where a boy also teaches himself to catch and train a falcon. Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, which is far more realistic about the messiness and yuck factor in killing animals for food (this book mentions none of that, in fact I really wondered how a boy with self-taught survival skills dealt with cleaning his first deer). Two Little Savages and Bevis: the Story of a Boy, both about kids who run off to stay in the woods for a while. This story also reminded me a lot of The Last American Man– this was like the child version of that story- in that the kid Sam had no desire for human company, just wanted to live by himself. Though he did acknowledge how much he needed the falcon- not just for the food it brought in but to have a living creature to relate to. And there was a weasel nearby that interacted with him- the weasel was great.

But then people started to randomly find him on the mountain. A woman who came up to a clearing to pick strawberries. A teacher who thought he was a missing boy scout. Another kid who actually came looking for him, when rumors of his presence -the “wild boy on the mountain”- got out. And others that he steered clear off. The strangest scenes were at the end, when the parents finally show up- after months of Sam being out on his own- first the father and later the whole family- and there is no remonstration at all, they’re just happy to see him and perfectly accepting of what he’s done. It was so weirdly unrealistic, very saccharine. I can’t imagine even the most permissive and understanding parent reacting that way. Oh, well. Overall it was a nice read, and I sure learned some interesting things about wild plants. I’m more keen to read some of the sequels, actually- as I think some are written from the falcon’s point of view.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
177 pages, 1959

More opinions: Hope is the Word
anyone else?

Volume 2

by W. Somerset Maugham

I really enjoyed these short stories- except for the ones I skipped! More on that in a moment. My opinion of Somerset Maugham’s writing remains the same: his characters are interesting, the setup slow but detailed and deliberate, the endings often leave you wondering something or chuckling at an irony, very satisfying either way. Most have some shrewd observations on human nature. All very well-written. I’d like to find the other half of this collection, but now think I’ll probably get some overlap, as the fourth volume of collected stories I read earlier, was from a different compliation.

The stories in this book were set in England, a few about individuals who travelled abroad, some sounded like the narrator was Maugham himself- staying in a hotel, or talking to someone on a train journey. Often the first few pages would tell how he met someone, and then that someone would relate the interesting story about a friend or acquaintance. They are stories of relationships, of people living in a manner that defies their social class or expectations, of characters that are happy when everyone expects them to be miserable, or unhappy in what look like perfect circumstances from the outside. There’s a story about a popular female writer, all highbrow and artistic, who subtly snubs her quiet husband in the background- but in the end it turns out he does what he likes and is the better for it. Another is about a young man whose wealthy family has educated him to take a position in politics, but all he wants to do is be a professional pianist. There’s an apparently contentedly married woman who writes a very popular book of poetry, the husband is befuddled by it because he doesn’t understand poetry, but when he finally reads it to see what all the fuss is about, realizes it’s telling the story of an affair his wife had. In another, an important man in government is troubled by dreams where he’s in terribly embarrassing situations, and then the next day something always occurs which convinces him another person knows of the embarrassment- was it real? or just coincidence? My favorite was probably the story of the vicar who couldn’t read or write- in fact I re-told it (in much simplified form) to my husband on a drive.

The stories I skipped- a half dozen in the middle of the book- are probably the ones that would interest other readers most. They were all about a character named Ashenden, who is a spy. A quiet, aloof man who does his assignments never really knowing how the information he gathers relates to the larger picture. Each story is about some incident or mission he goes on. I read the first two in here, realized that espionage (for some reason I can never explain) actually bores me, and started skipping them- it only takes half a page to realize it’s an Ashenden story. I did read in entirety the one where he’s in a sanatorium recovering his health, more about the other patients around him and their relationships, than it is about himself actually.

Borrowed from my brother-in-law.

Rating: 4/5
518 pages, 1951

by Dale Peterson

I didn’t mean to bring more books home from the library, but started browsing when I made some returns. Read this one while I put two others on pause. Almost stopped a third in because the first few sections of the book- on the history of how people in other countries (not Africa) first came to know about giraffes- had far too much about which important or wealthy ruler was gifted a giraffe when, how astonished everyone was at its appearance, and how slow actual factual knowledge about the animal came to be gathered. I started skipping the history chapters and just looking at the pictures. The photos are in groups following each chapter of text, with descriptions for the lot in one paragraph that directly proceeds them- and those photo-descriptive pages were worded kind of oddly. As if to be artistic, but it didn’t quite work for me, so different from the regular text it just felt strange.

I did like the photos. And the second half of the book was much better, which describes some interersting things about giraffe physiology and behavior. For example: for a long time people believed that giraffes don’t nurture their young well, because so many ignored or trampled their offspring in captivity. Well, turns out they were kept in poor conditions, fed the wrong food, constantly stressed, etc. I had to wonder if giraffes learn mothering skills from being among their own kind, if that had anything to do with it, when one was isolated in a zoo or collection . . . anyhow, later chapters tell how really they are good mothers, they just have different methods of caring for their young than you might expect. And that their social groups do have structure, if you bother to actually identify individuals and observe them closely enough. What did come across to me very strongly through the narrative and the pictures, was how disarming their apparently calm demeanor can be- how they seem to float across the landscape, react with gentle curiosity to people, and simply avoid trouble which they can see coming a long way off. But their immensely strong, stiffened lower legs (extra muscles prevent blood pooling) can deliver a vicious kick. And the males ram each other with horns on their heads “like hammers” sometimes enough to stun an opponent. I didn’t know before that male giraffes often have extra bony growths on their skulls, even behind the regular two horns. So much fascinating info – if you can just wade past the history lessons!

I did really appreciate that this book points out animals probably do some things just because they like to. That not every action is driven by an instinctual urge to “further the species” or pass on their genes. No- they engage in certain behaviors because they find it interesting, or satisfying, or enjoyable. We’re talking about homosexual behavior in male giraffes here, which I didn’t know about before, but I’m not surprised. It applies to so many other things, though. The author points out that giraffes have their own world view, which we may never actually be able to understand.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
221 pages, 2013

made by Buffalo Games ~ photographer Richard Day ~ 500 pieces

These were both thrift store finds, and happily had all the pieces. The first, Ruby-Throated Hummingbird, had decent shape variety and nice bold color. The background slowed me up a little, but I didn’t mind at all, lingering over my favorite color!

made by Puzzle Works  ~ unknown  ~  500 pieces

Second one was a different experience. I will never intentionally do a Puzzle Works again! So frustrating. No photo credit (it’s from image stock, and made in China, no surprise there). Pieces had high glare, all the same shape and fairly small. Tons of false fits. I did enjoy the detailed texture of feathers on the birds in the picture- that was nice. All the rest of it a headache. Had to redo parts of the border three times, before I think I got it right. Background took many sittings, it was so hard. Even now I’m not sure if I got all the pieces in the right spots, or if some are still where they don’t belong. I was so annoyed with it at the end, I didn’t leave it together until morning, but promptly dismantled the thing.

thrift store finds

by Marian Rumsey

This boy’s father works fixing power lines in mountainous country in Idaho. There’s a forest fire, the men are up there making repairs and find an orphaned puma kitten. Man brings it home and they raise it in the family. At first of course the kitten is cute and playful, but when it gets bigger they can’t keep it in the house. Boy builds a shelter for it in the yard and takes it for walks on a chain, lets it loose to run beside his bicycle in the woods. He loves the young mountain lion Pepper, but when she reaches maturity they realize they can’t keep her. Friends are no longer allowed to come over and play- other parents worry the mountain lion will hurt somebody, even though she’s gentle and really friendly to people. Then an incident with somebody’s dog in town really brings things to a crisis. Town council demands they get rid of the mountain lion- she has to go into a zoo, live in a cage on an uncle’s property far away, or simply be euthanized. The boy can’t bear any of these options, so he runs away with Pepper into the forested mountains, determined to teach her to hunt so she can live free. He’s glad to get out into the wilderness, but then realizes he doesn’t have any idea how to teach a mountain lion to hunt . . .  This was a pretty good story. It actually had me on tenterhooks for a moment near the end. And the pencil illustrations by Ted Lewin are great, very lively and expressive.

Rating: 3/5
159 pages, 1973

by Phoebe Erickson

Another nice animal story, the kind that would have really appealed to me in as a kid (and I’m glad can still appreciate now). Wild horses are being round up by helicopter in a canyon area of Wyoming. A boy of the Arapahoe tribe who lives nearby with his family, watches from hiding and is appalled at how relentlessly the helicopter chases the terrified horses, many which fall aside broken-winded or collapse from exhaustion. It turns out the helicopter pilot chased the horses at the wrong moment, and people on the ground aren’t there to help corrall the horses (wayyy pre-cell-phone era!) so the boy subtly helps them escape the canyon. He finds a colt lying on the ground, its mother nearby dead. He takes the colt home and tries to raise it, names it Wildwing.

Things go well for a while but then Wildwing becomes listless and unwell. Going back to the wild herd, the boy finds a mare that has recently lost a foal, and manages to get the two to accept each other. He is broken-hearted at leaving his colt with the wild mare, but knows it has the best chance of recovery that way. Through the weeks and months that follow, he often goes into the brush canyons to re-encounter Wildwing and his adopted mother. The colt still recognizes him and being calm, encourages the mare to accept the boy’s presence too. Back home, the boy’s family has difficulties because the father traded their pinto horse for an unreliable car, and they move residences with the change of seasons each year so need good transportation.

While the parents are absent (father off doing who knows what- he seemed unreliable- and mother gone into town to sell some beadwork she made), the boy and his twin sister coax Wildwing and the mare to the house, hoping to tame the mare and have two horses for the family. They run into problems trying to feed the horses (no good grazing nearby) but then an accident on an adjacent road provides them with a windfall of hay and oats (long story short, a truck hauling it crashes, and the men don’t want to bother climbing down into the canyon gorge to retrieve the spilled load). The ending was kind of ambiguous- the family is making progress taming the mare, but then there’s a vague description of a wild buckskin stallion in the future- suggesting that Wildwing was eventually living free? or maybe just that his spirit always was free, I don’t know. It was nice, though.

I liked how the horses were described- their actions felt very real, down to the little things like body language gestures. The people were all interesting- the boy and his sister described as level-headed and relatively calm, with a serene mother and rather irresponsible father. There’s a grandfather in the story too, who refuses to learn or use any English. The others speak a mixture of English and their native language, they switch depending on the situation. The only characters who felt comical were the white men, portrayed as rather foolish and inept, and full of misconceptions about the Arapahoe- which the boy pointed out to them at one point. It felt very well-rounded.

Rating: 3/5
179 pages, 1959

by Arthur Catherall

A true-to-life kind of animal story, easy to read in one sitting. Seemed to me like the author knows animal behavior and the arctic region well. It’s about what happens to a young seal when abandoned by his mother at weaning time. After just sitting around wailing for a while, most of the seal pups gather together and travel to another area where fishing is plentiful. But the seal in this story gets left behind, trapped in an ice cave he hid in during a storm. An unexpected encounter with walrus and the Inuit people hunting them (called Eskimos in this older book) frees him from the ice cave, but then he meets other dangers. Has to avoid orcas, a polar bear, and another encounter with mankind. It’s really chance that saves the young seal from all these threats, some happy circumstances and a sudden act of benevolence by the people (who see the coincidental repeat encounters as a sign of something greater at work). In the end, the seal escapes back into the welcoming sea, where he is happy and relieved to finally meet up with the other seal pups. Nice little story with plenty of unexpected turns, depiction of arctic wildlife and their interactions, and a bit about Inuit culture (though I’m not sure how accurate that depiction is- I know the Inuit used skin boats and hunted walrus, the other finer details could be right or wrong).

Rating: 3/5
115 pages, 1964

by Michael Crichton

Sequel to Jurassic Park. It was a surprisingly slow read. I never got more than two or three chapters before setting it down again (and they’re relatively short). Realized why near the end. The characters are all very flat. The suspense doesn’t feel real- even when the “bad guys” were getting eaten by dinosuars, and the people you’re supposed to root for, terrified for their lives, I didn’t have much feeling for what was happening. I was more interested in the questions about what they observed of dinosaur behavior, and the scientific discussions and lectures by some characters on group behavior and extinction theory, so I read those parts carefully, but then the actual character parts and action on the island felt dull.

It is so different from the movie. Not sure which one I prefer. In the book, this second island isn’t a rescue place to save some of the dinosaurs after Jurassic Park was destroyed, instead it’s been there all along, it was where the entrepreneurs bred and raised the dinosaurs- with lots of trial and error. There’s not a team of men going after dinosaurs for what appears to be macho trophy hunting as in the movie, instead there’s just two groups- a scientist Levine who comes to the island on his own, eager to see what’s gong on there for himself, then Ian Malcom and a few others plus two kids who tag along/stowaway. They come to rescue Levine when he gets into trouble, but then he doesn’t want to leave, so they all start studying the dinosaurs, trying to get answers to some questions. Why is their behavior erratic? what clues does it give to the extinction that happened so long ago? But the other group arrives intending to steal eggs, with some wacky scheme to raise dinosaurs (presumably small) as lab animals for research, thinking that because they’re created from ancient patched-together DNA, nobody can claim they have rights as sentient animals. (This detail is easy to miss in the narrative). So they want to steal eggs and exploit dinosaurs. Their interference is making dinosaurs act protective and more aggressive, putting everyone at risk. Happily the bad guys one by one get chomped by dinosaurs, the first team mostly escapes unharmed, though oddly Malcom once again is badly injured and zoned out on painkillers for the latter half of the book. And the kids’ ingenuity with figuring out computer systems once again saves the day.

So a lot of ideas and even scenes just felt rehashed from the first book. But I actually found the events and discussions in this one more interesting than the movie version, though it’s not nearly as thrilling which is probably why they changed so much.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
416 pages, 2012

Yesterday, took a drive to visit a nice used bookstore. This is what I brought home! Swallows and Amazons has been on my out-of-print want-to-find radar for a while, Further Adventures of Lad is an old favorite from childhood I was happy to re-encounter, the rest just look good and I’m hoping I’ll like them!

Here’s more book piles: my middle-schooler decided to clean out her bookcase. She feels she’s outgrown the picture books, and was ready to donate them but I said no-o-o, we can’t give away Curious George or Toot and Puddle! The Little House is a treasure! I’m not letting you get rid of Oley the Sea Monster. And we have to keep all the Frances books (and so on- I exclaimed my way all through the entire pile while sorting).

So there’s a huge stack in the hallway (another pile is getting donated but it’s much smaller) while I figure out where to shelve them elsewhere in the house (those in my own room are full to overflowing again). Time to get some reading done, and get those book piles tidied up!

I just have to decide now, if I want to add all these picture book titles to my LibraryThing catalog. Would make sense to do so.

by Ursula K. Le Guin

Lovely little book- my only complaint is exactly the same as the Merlin series– they needed to be longer! It’s about four kittens who are born to a city alley cat, with wings. No explanation why, the mother cat is just as confused as the reader but shrugs it off. She realizes the benefits when one of her kittens flies up in sudden panic to escape a dog. She gently but firmly teaches her kittens, and encourages them to use their wings to fly away and find a better life. So they do- they fly away to the countryside and make a new home in a forest. It’s very different from their old life. Not necessarily easier. They have to find food, are bothered by noisy fighting raccoons, upset the local bird population (who are outraged to meet cats that can fly!) and get seriously frightened by an owl. But then a child spots them in a clearing, and sets out food, hoping to see them again. It looks like the catwings might have a good future with a new, kind-hearted human friend.

Such a sweet story. With beautiful illustrations by S.D. Schindler (they reminded me of Mercer Mayer’s in the fine detail). I’m very disappointed my local library only has the first book of the series. Really want to get my hands on the rest, but I’m looking for the one that published all four books in a single volume. It just feels like I barely read the first few chapters here!

Also sad that my eleven-year-old is probably beyond the age that would appreciate this book, but I’m going to try and get her to read it anway.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5
40 pages, 1988

More opinions: MuggleNet
anyone else?


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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