Tag: 1/5- Blah

Untamed Spirit

by Judy Katschke

This is what happens when you are very tired but have to stay up for something (which never ends up happening)- you read an awful book that your kid culled off their shelf (having never read it either). It’s a book based on a movie that was based on a book. That should tell you something! The dismal thing is that I loved the original book, My Friend Flicka, what it is to see it reduced like this. No depth, subtle nuance, descriptive language . . . However I suppose it does get the basics of the story in front of younger readers. I noticed years ago that there was this new film made of the novel, with a girl as the main character, and the horse a black wild mustang, not a golden range filly. I knew a lot more of the story was changed, so I had no interest in watching the film. I’m sure this little movie-to-book angle has left a lot out, and it rackets through the narrative pretty darn quick, but it was enough to let me know I was right.

What’s the same: it takes place on a Wyoming ranch, the main character is struggling in school and has a hard time pleasing her disciplinarian father. She sets her heart on catching and taming the young horse, which everyone else sees it as a dangerous undertaking. There’s a mountain lion encounter (way more dramatic and close-at-hand than I recall in the original, though I admit I don’t remember it so clearly) and a storm, and an illness, and that dramatic scene where she hears a gunshot from her sickbed and misinterprets the meaning . . .

Changes I noticed (beyond the main ones mentioned above): the original character (Ken) had admired a picture on the landing of a duck, not wild horses running (small detail, but it was significant in the first story). I don’t recall there being a wild horse race at a rodeo (maybe there was, but it sure didn’t include Flicka). I think this story blended some things about Flicka with another horse from the ranch in the original novel, the very fast black mare that someone bought hoping to turn her into a racehorse, that brained herself on the sign. The taming of Flicka happened over injury and lying in cold creek water, not being coaxed with apples in the dark of a corral.

There’s more I’m sure, but I’ve forgotten too much by now. However, it was enough unfamiliarity mixed with a beloved narrative, that I felt perplexed, irritated and bored throughout the slim fifty-odd pages. I’m probably being too harsh. Someone who’s never read the original, will probably find this a heartwarming story with a good message- including the bits about the main character rewriting her essay to keep her foothold in the private school (true to the original).

Edit add: this book was in my personal library catalog for the shortest time on record. I added it one day when my kid put in her cull pile, read it the very next day and promptly took it off again.

Rating: 1/5
57 pages, 2006

Especially Retold for Young Readers

by Robert Hill

original author Johann Wyss, original publication date 1812
While reading Parasite Rex, I need a mental break once in a while, so in between chapters I read this for something quick, easy, and totally different. Then we had a power outage, so I wrote my thoughts about the book on paper, which got set aside. The week got busy, and I read other things that were more interesting, and completely forgot to post my review here! Ha. Shows you how memorable this was. I know I once tried to read a different version of Swiss Family Robinson, and didn’t get far because some details were just so unbelievable. Now I’m wondering if even that book was a retelling, because apparently this story has been rewritten and added to over and over, there are many different versions. This one of course, is much abbreviated and simplified, so much that it was for the most part boring. Even though it’s an adventure and survival story.   — SPOILERS GALORE
It’s about a family- parents and four boys- who get shipwrecked on an unnamed island. (Wikipedia tells me it was in the East Indies, but the animal life doesn’t seem to match that so who knows). The story opens very abruptly, with the family belowdecks during a storm at sea- there’s never any mention of why they’re even on a ship, or where they’re going. Just there’s a storm, and the captain and crew have already got into lifeboats, leaving this family behind. They survive the storm (never seeing the crew again) and make it to the island, along with some animals off the ship. Two dogs, and later they rescue and bring ashore geese, chickens, pigeons, a cow, goat, donkey and sheep. And I think there was a pig too. Very convenient! They take especially good care of the cow, because of the milk it provides.
The family is very industrious and resourceful and they all get along amazingly well (no arguments or whining from these kids) and don’t flinch at any of the challenges or hardships about surviving on the island. They quickly set up a tent from a piece of sail, take stock of their provisions, bring ammunition and weapons ashore, and go back to the ship several days in a row to salvage more supplies, plus broken wood for building materials. The father even at one point decides to cause an explosion on the wreckage so that it will break up and wash ashore more wood and other pieces they can use.
Soon they move from their tent to a tree with wide, thick horizontal branches that they build a treehouse in. They make a bridge over a stream nearby. They build stairs up inside the hollow tree (after relocating a wild bee nest and keeping some honey). It’s all very cleverly done, with the parents having an astonishing amount of knowledge how to do and make things. From using mathematics and angles on the ground to measure the height of certain points in the tree, to knowing how to process flax to make cloth, how to tan animal hides, how to smoke and salt fish, and so on. They have some food from the ship- and grow grain in an open field, and they also find pineapples, wild potatoes, flax and cotton, a plant (it must have been bayberry) that has waxy berries they use to make candles- just a wide array of very useful plants and of course they know how to harvest, utilize and process everything.
I remember now why I rolled my eyes at the original story – which was written in a response to the overwhelming popularity of Robinson Crusoe (this family isn’t even named Robinson, it’s just alluding to that other survival story). Apparently the author wrote it to inspire young people with the idea that God would always provide for them, no matter what circumstance or where they ended up. But you have to admit this family had a lot of very specialized knowledge (or did everyone in the 1800’s just know how to build a spiral staircase, skin animals and cure the hide, grow grain and cut and thresh it, etc?) and a lot of lucky fortune- all the stuff on the ship they were able to salvage, all the plants growing nearby that just happened to be so useful.
What threw me off, with the other more complete version I read, likewise this one, was all the wild animals that lived on this island where they probably wouldn’t exist together in nature. If I recall in the other book they were at one point looking on a scene that included kangaroos and penguins among other species, and I just started laughing (except now I realize maybe I shouldn’t have- Australia does have penguins!) This book doesn’t have any kangaroos. They find an onager that hangs around their donkey, so is then caught and tamed. They catch an ostrich and likewise tame it for one of the young boys to ride (not something anyone should do, btw). They also encounter bears, agouti, sharks and salmon. Some other animals I remember from before aren’t mentioned. But- they think they’ve landed in the Americas. Well, South America has agouti, but not ostriches or onagers. Maybe it was rhea, not ostrich that they saw. If it was the East Indies, onagers and bears could be possible, but not the agouti. It just irritates my brain trying to make sense of all this. I want it to fit together realistically, when really I should just enjoy the story. I suppose the original author just threw together a bunch of wildlife he didn’t know much about but they sounded exotic and a place with all of them together would be fantastic!
At the end, an English ship passes by the island, is alerted by gunshots, and lands to assist them. Two of the sons decide to leave and return to civilization, but the parents and other two kids, stay on the island! Even though during the story they had wondered many times if they’d ever see other human faces again, now with the chance in front of them, the adults decided they were so used to life on the island they’d prefer to remain. Well it did sound like paradise. But I’m sorry, it was a very boring read. Maybe in part because of how formal and polite the dialog was- especially the kids towards their parents- even if people used to talk like that, it sounded so stiff and unbelievable. Oh well.
Rating: 1/5
96 pages, 1973

trading in the fast lane for my own dirt road

by Margaret Roach

I tried harder than I should have, with this book. It is what it purports to be- a memoir by a woman who worked as an executive for Martha Stewart, then ditched the city life and her job to go live in a house in the country on her own, with a garden and a cat that slowly eased his way into living indoors (she claimed she was not a cat person). However the focus was all on things I cared little about or could not connect to- her efforts to find romance via a paid matchmaking service, her tears over getting a sub-par local haircut, her extravagant shopping sprees, the dinners she had with friends, the efforts she made to sort her plastic storage containers and move a heavy chair. It went on and on. I just did not care. It’s written in a stream-of-consciousness style peppered constantly with quotes not only from writers and poets, but also song lyrics, which got rather old. Aside from that, most of the time I simply could not focus or understand her line of thinking. It’s so rambling and incoherent and I can only assume that I do not operate on the same wavelength as this woman at all.

However I did skim most of the book, and paused to read the few parts that were actually about gardening. Apparently her garden was so lovely she gave tours, and stocked her freezer and had tons of fresh home-grown produce to choose from in her fridge, but she barely tells anything about it. So disappointing. There’s briefest mention of composting, of setting out garlic cloves, of bringing tender potted plants indoors for the winter and trying to oust the insects they harbor. I could relate to all that. But it’s so few pages among the many many many chapters of navel-gazing. She does go on about frogs, and likes observing the birds- so I learned a few new things about amphibians and chickadees. And I did like this bit:

“Your garden is amazing,” people say when they come touring by the hundreds on garden open days I’ve held for charity for the last thirteen years. ‘How did it get this way?” 

“This is what happens when you stay in one place for twenty years,” I tell them, “and just keep digging more holes.”

That made me smile and chuckle. My yard is not much to admire yet, but every year I add a few new plants, and work a bit harder on the cultivated garden. Maybe someday my garden will be so full of interesting and beautiful plants that I’ll have trouble fitting in anything new (right now there’s tons of empty and wasted space)- but the only way to get there is a few holes each new season.

Anyway, this book is a toss. Not staying on my shelf. The only word of praise on the back cover I can agree with is idiosyncratic. I suppose other readers might understand her rambling, or connect to her new-age style musings but I simply couldn’t. Final thought: probably she didn’t write much about the garden in here because she does have a garden blog, called A Way to Garden- seems this book was more focused on the personal inner journey she took from the fast-paced high pressure executive lifestyle to taking care of her own house and garden with lots of solitude and time to do whatever she wanted. Admirable, yes. Readable, no.

Rating: 1/5
264 pages, 2011

Age of Fire Book Two
by E.E. Knight

Eh. I thought at first this one was going to be better, even though the pace at the beginning when the dragons are hatchlings moves too quick. If I hadn\’t read the first book, I might not have picked up on everything going on. I kind of like how each book in the series tells the story from the viewpoint of a different dragon, all siblings from the same clutch. When their cave is attacked by dwarves, this green female dragon Wistala flees with her brother Auron and they part ways soon after. She makes her way back to the home cave and finds some of her family\’s bodies skinned and mutilated. The rest of the story is how Wistala seeks revenge for the dragons. At first, still being small and vulnerable, she travels the wilderness alone, pitting her wits against other animals and creatures.  Tries to fight dwarves and barely survives. Kind of accidentally falls in with an elf and lives on his estate, cannily learning more about hominids so she can fight them later. That part- well, it just got to be very boring. I liked the part when the dragon was hanging out with a vulture- amusing how the carrion birds considered themselves to be more refined than any predator- because they politely wait for prey to die on its own! I also liked the part where the dragon befriends a cat- each finds the other has some very familiar and similar traits- although their trip underground to find treasure in rat tunnels was confusing. Once again, I\’m intrigued by this author\’s portrayal of dragons, their reasons for hoarding precious metals, their mannerisms and all. Wistala encounters her father again- I won\’t say more about that, it\’s a pivotal moment in the story- and talks hotly of fighting the hominids, but her father advises her to help the dragon race by repopulating with \”lots and lots of hatchlings\” because he of course thinks fighting should be done by male dragons. So she\’s asserting herself outside the usual female dragon role- going off on her own to battle trolls that are troubling the realm, for example. (This book has the weirdest depiction of trolls ever. I could not get my head around what it was supposed to actually look like. I feel like it should have had a made-up name like the blighters, because it wasn\’t anything like your typical fantasy idea of a troll). But oh, it got tedious when the dragon was living with the elf. That part of the story dragged on and on- I skipped ahead and read a later portion where Wistala left to try and find more dragons- that section held my interest until, disillusioned by the reclusive dragons\’ attitudes, Wistala returns to the elf\’s home again- and once more I just didn\’t care. Skipped and skimmed so much I really ought to called this one Abandoned.

Rating: 1/5                        390 pages, 2006

by Dr. Herbert R. Axelrod

There are some cases where an old book just shouldn\’t be around anymore. For once I am really disappointed in one I picked up on swap at whim, and I\’m going to recycle it instead of sending out into the world again. In the first place, this isn\’t really a book. More of a pamphlet. I should have noticed the page count.

In the second place, it\’s old and outdated enough that some of the instructions, if followed, I\’d consider bad advice and poor husbandry practice. It does tell a bit about common, easy plants- elodea, ludwigia, camboba, amazon swords, cryptocoryne, milfoil- but the way this puplication suggests growing them- well, there are much better methods nowadays. I have to say though, the small black-and-white photo of a tank full of crypts, vals and stems is impressive in its plant density. It would look really lush in color. The fishes mentioned are guppies, mollies, swordtails, platies, zebra danios, black tetra, angelfish, betta, pearl danio, firemouth cichlids, corydoras. That\’s it. Something in one of the fish descriptions made me laugh, but now I can\’t remember what it was. The details on their keeping is basic at best. I have much better books in terms of fish selection and disease treatment. And when it comes to an interesting look at how things used to be done, or quaint but quality photographs, this little publication just doesn\’t do it either. Sorry! Bye.

Rating: 1/5          32 pages, 1970

by David Vann

I didn\’t like this book. Halfway through I started skimming so much I really ought to call it Abandoned. It\’s about a couple in Alaska trying to build a log cabin on a small island, while their marriage is falling apart. The husband, Gary, has always rushed headlong into projects without adequate planning and then gets frustrated at the inevitable failure: this cabin is no different. It was really ridiculous that the island already had a cabin- one that Gary admired and tried to copy, but couldn\’t. Why didn\’t they just live in that one, cut down some trees for the view? It made no sense. Through all their difficult work (in endlessly bad weather), the wife is suffering from debilitating headaches that doctors can\’t find a cause for. She\’s bitter at being dragged into the building project which she doesn\’t care about, and seems to harbor years of resentment against her husband. There\’s a lengthy side story about their grown children, one of whom is cheating on his girlfriend with a tourist. I don\’t know why that was such a large part of the plot, it felt pointless. I didn\’t care about any of these people. I did like the descriptions of the wide landscape. Nature was beautiful, but the weather terribly oppressive- the cold, wet and relentless wind are emphasized. It\’s full of miserable people wallowing around in their unhappiness and ineptitude with relationships, career choices, building projects and all. The ending is horrible. (Something awful happens right on the last page).

Oh, and I was once again thrown off by the sameness of conversation and thought. This book has no quotation marks whatsoever. I suppose it heightens the sense of unease, not being able to trust your own senses, not knowing for sure if something is spoken aloud- or maybe it\’s a style thing, to make it feel seamless. But on the heels of a different book which overused quotation marks to the same effect, it was just annoying.

I should have known better. I picked this up off a library shelf recognizing the author- I did like his book Aquarium not so long ago. But I had a sense from other reviews that most of his works are very dark, and they weren\’t kidding. I don\’t think I will pick up any more by this author.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 1/5                293 pages, 2011

more opinions:
Savidge Reads
The Asylum

by Kevin Henkes

This one didn\’t work for me. I picked it up on a whim at the library sale- the cover (which seems to feature someone standing at the water\’s edge near some carp suffering from ammonia burns) intrigued me, plus the flyleaf description which mentioned a shared secret that connected two characters.

The main one is twelve-year-old Martha. She\’s going on summer vacation with her family, to visit their grandmother at the beach. One of her classmates, Olive, had recently died in an accident on her bicycle. Olive\’s mother gave Martha a page from her daughter\’s journal where she\’d written that she wished Martha was her friend… Martha wonders a lot about those words. On the vacation she gets to know her grandmother better. She\’s frequently annoyed at her parents and her older brother, and is often left in charge of her little sister. She finds her feelings changed towards the family of boys next door- one of them pretends to like her in order to play a trick on her. He leads her on enough to get her to kiss him on film, which is hugely embarrassing. Martha wants to become a writer, and wishes to make a nice gesture towards Olive\’s mother.

But the secret between the two girls… ? It never materialized- either I missed it when I got bored and started skimming, or the flyleaf blurb was erroneous. The writing style felt really dull, and the extreme brevity of the chapters didn\’t help in this case (some less than a page long). The characters were convincing enough, but the descriptions about them and the events were so bland. I kept expecting more of a connection to come up between Martha and her lost classmate Olive, in fact I read through to the end just to see if there was some big reveal. Nope.

I was really surprised this one got onto a banned books list. Because it has some swear words (I hardly noticed them) and one time the older brother remarks to Martha that their parents\’ flirtatious behavior in the morning indicates they\’d just had sex. That felt oddly out of place, but there was no more to it.

Rating: 1/5      217 pages, 2003

more opinions:
Becky\’s Book Reviews
Books in the Spotlight

from Endangered to Extinction
by Diane Brischke

This book is a call to action on behalf of endangered wild animals. It highlights twenty very recognizable species- cheetah, elephant, panda, manatee, wolf, iguana, parrot, rhinoceros, etc and tells briefly what kinds of threats they face from mankind including pollution, habitat loss, climate change, poaching and population decline due to the pet trade. Sadly, it is not a book I can recommend. I expected from the large format to find gorgeous photographs inside, but only a few are excellent in quality, the rest are just okay. I know the book is directed at younger readers, but still it seemed overly simplified and very repetitive. Not much real information was shared, mostly generalizations about animals loosing habitat and facing the end: extinction. Except- some of them aren\’t in that dire of a situation yetBlack bears are featured in this book, yet the IUCN lists this bear as being of \”least concern\” and National Geographic says \”this is the only bear species considered secure throughout its range\”. Sloths are also \”of least concern.\” Leopards are \”threatened\”. So why are they in this book? There are far more species seriously critically endangered that could have been included.

Aside from that, I found it annoying to read because of the numerous typos, odd punctuation, run-on sentences and awkward phrases that seemed to be missing words, so they made no sense. I often had to read a sentence two or three times. The book really needed a better editor. White text on various dark and colored backgrounds was a poor choice, it\’s a headache for my eyes. I can only imagine this would be frustrating and disappointing for kids to read, as it was for me.

I received a copy of this book for review.

Rating: 1/5      52 pages, 2014

by Anne Bishop

So. Curiosity will lead me to sometimes read things outside of my norm, and this was one of those instances. It didn\’t sit well, let\’s say. The Invisible Ring is in a fantasy world where the social system is turned on its head. People are born with magic powers, women are controlling, men are pretty much slaves to their instinct to protect and serve women. In fact, if I remember rightly, a backbone to the premise was the idea that women were not \’ahem\’ available all the time, but only receptive to men at certain times, and when that came around, the men would battle to the death for the privilege. Like animals. And as you might guess, most of the people in this book treat each other besitally. Everyone\’s been done wrong to or tormented and they all suffer from mental problems or past traumas, and act strangely. At least, I couldn\’t make sense of it. The main character, Jared, was sex slave to an evil queen until he killed her and got sent to an auction. He is bought by the Grey Lady and taken along on a journey. Of course he moves from being her slave to her paramour, with lots of fights in between. It was predictable. Characters alternated between being dull and confusing. The book is a prequel to the Black Jewels trilogy, which I haven\’t read- I don\’t know if it would have been better or worse for me if I had. This book made me never want to read another thing written by Anne Bishop. Sorry, but it was that bad. So forgettable I\’m not sure now if I even finished it.

Rating: 1/5 ……… 416 pages, 2000

more opinions:
A Novel Read
Romance Book Wyrm
the Bookwyrm\’s Lair
books in review

by Patrick Taylor

This novel is about a young doctor who works in an Irish country practice under the direction of a gruff older physician, well-respected (even feared) in the community but whose practices make Barry Laverty raise his eyebrows. At first I enjoyed reading about the interesting characters and run-ins the young doctor has with his patients, the older man\’s questionable ways of getting around their ignorance and stubbornness. There\’s also the intriguing details about medical practice in the sixties, and a little bit of romance. But in the end I found myself bored and loosing interest quickly. I skimmed a lot, barely finishing enough to avoid tagging this one as abandoned. It\’s an easy read but there\’s just not enough meat there for me. I found the little glossary in the back curious reading though, and not because it explained all the quaint local expressions used in the novel (soft hand under a duck = very gentle or good at something; not as green as you\’re cabbage looking = you\’re more clever than you seem). But also because there were a lot of expressions defined in there that were so familiar to me I\’d think they would not need to be included. Such as bigger fish to fry, bit my head off, hold your horses, no spring chicken, you\’re on, among others. Did the author really think these were phrases particular to Ulster dialect?

Rating: 1/5 ……… 351 pages, 2004


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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