Tag: 2/5- Just Okay

by Betty MacDonald

Author of the famed book The Egg and I wrote this memoir about her time in a sanatorium when she caught tuberculosis in her thirties. She had to quit her job and leave her young children at home with her mother, not knowing if she would even return. The place sounded very dismal. No talking, laughing, even reading in bed! Sponge baths only once a week, hair getting shampooed even less frequently. Her greatest complaint was simply being cold all the time, even when hot water bottles were brought to her bed, they were lukewarm at best. The main treatment at the time (1930’s) was very strict bed rest- and there were a number of unpleasant-sounding surgical procedures that were done to intentionally collapse the lung in order to make it rest completely. I can’t imagine having to lie absolutely still in a bed for weeks or months on end. She mentioned quite a few patients who had been in the sanatorium for years. Rumors abounded among the patients of who had died, what type of surgeries or treatment they’d had, etc. Sounded like nothing was ever explained to the patients- where they were going when a nurse arrived with a wheelchair, what the results of tests were, what the doctor thought after evaluating their condition, etc. Always kept in the dark- and then lectured to constantly about the rules.

Well, eventually she healed enough to be allowed to sit up in bed for a short period of time per day, which was gradually extended until she earned the privilege to walk to the bathroom, or down the hall, or have a bed outside on the porch, etc. She gives lively character sketches about her fellow patients, roommates, the nurses and staff- sometimes not very complimentary, of course. Oddly enough, what I found most interesting about this book was simply reading about treatment for a disease that doesn’t seem to be a huge problem anymore- how archaic and long-suffering it sounded. How dismal the outcome for so many. While I could tell the author was attempting to put a humorous spin on everything, I only chuckled a few times, I didn’t really find it funny even when I knew she was exaggerating. It just felt- kind of dull. Might be my mood. Of course she was relieved to finally be declared healthy enough to go home- but then had to face a difficult adjustment period, still finding more to relate to with her prior roommates from the sanatorium- she stayed in touch with a few- disgruntled that her family hadn’t cleaned out the room she was going to stay in, and alternately annoyed or embarrassed that many people shunned her presence in public, fearful she was still contagious. It’s interesting for a glimpse into the past, but I didn’t find it much more than that. I think I ought to read it again at another time.

Rating: 2/5
226 pages, 1948

More opinions: A Penguin a week
anyone else?

by Debbie Stowe

I had no good reason to bring this book home from the thrift store, but I did. Thumbed through it in the aisle- the pictures are very nice, some beautiful, and the text appeared to be of interest, so I thought it could make a nice read when I needed something relaxing. What’s more relaxing than looking at adorable young animals with their mothers? Well, it was disappointing, even annoying, instead. It’s a large format book with very attractive, large photographs, featuring twenty-five animal species, though some are specific and others more general- for example, there’s a section on cheetahs, one on lions, and another on tigers, but the part about baby whales covers all the whale species. Other animals include: bears, cats (domestic), chicks, cows, deer, dogs, dolphins, donkeys, ducks, elephants, geese, guinea pigs, horses, monkeys, penguins, pigs, polar bears, rabbits, seals, sheep and zebras. The text is kind of a mix, varying between information about the various baby animals- how precocious or helpless they are at birth, what they eat at first, how fast they grow, how they are cared for (or not) by their mothers, etc. It tells about threats they face, both from predators and other perils (such as bad weather or food scarcity) in their natural environment, or from hand of mankind- either directly or from habitat destruction and global warming. Lots of references to how adored baby animals are in popular culture, with nods to books like Winnie the Pooh and Make Way for Ducklings, famed pieces of art, or more commonly- Disney movies. I did learn a few tidbits- I’d never heard of Chessie the cat who popularized a railway line in the 1930’s- and I finally learned why the Easter bunny is associated with eggs. If I can trust the source, that is.

Because this book has inaccuracies. There are photos showing the wrong animals, which really bothered me. The page about cheetahs has a large picture of a leopard cub nursing from a baby bottle, the section on monkeys shows photos of chimpanzees and orangutans, and there’s a sea lion pup on the page about seals. Moreover, the text is full of errors, too. No spelling typos, although the phrasing is sometimes a bit awkward, slightly melodramatic perhaps- but things like this: Camouflage is one of the fawn’s major survival strategies, particularly on its mother’s hunting forays . . . Um, I don’t think of deer as going hunting for food- foraging, maybe. Browsing, certainly. Hunting? This section also stated that a doe licks its fawn to remove all odor, so predators can’t smell it, but then said that mother deer can’t recognize their fawn’s voices, and identify them by their scent. Or this: The one time a mallard, or mother duck, will seek solitude is when she’s about to give birth. Ducks don’t give birth! And the book repeatedly referred to all mother ducks as mallards. That’s a species. Mother ducks are hens. There was also a page that called a young zebra a cub, but in the next sentence properly called it a foal. Seal pups were called cubs on one page, too. Sigh.

I can’t help it, these things just leaped off the page at me, and irked me to no end. Also, the words often felt crammed on the page to my eyes, and I finally figured out why- over and over, there were instances where a sentence had no space between its ending period and the next capitalized word. Sorry, but in spite of its charms and many endearing pictures, this book is going straight on my discard shelf.

Rating: 2/5
160 pages, 2007

by Glenn Balch

I\’m in the middle of a longer book but needed an easy read for a hot bath, and this was it. Unfortunately I found out pretty quick that like Indian Paint, this book is an abridged version of the original (titled Wild Horse). Wasn\’t quite as \”dumbed down\” so I was able to enjoy it somewhat; however it still doesn\’t really sound like the author\’s voice to me and will only stay on my shelf until I find a copy of Wild Horse

It\’s about two kids who have been admiring a wild black stallion that lives near their father\’s cattle ranch. The father doesn\’t see much use in wild horses so he doesn\’t mind when men come to run the wild horses, intending to sell whatever they catch for rodeo broncos or to a factory that makes chicken feed. The kids are appalled that the wild stallion they call King might meet such a fate. The boy determines to go out and catch the wild horse himself, and his sister helps by bringing supplies and fresh horses. It is a long hard job which they mainly do by following the stallion in relays until he\’s worn out. Most of this story felt really flat and bland to me- the dialog and descriptions- but that is probably due to it being \”revised\”. The final chapters were more interesting, after the horse is caught. The ranch hand is from South America.  He uses a bola for the capture instead of a lariat and his methods for getting the wild horse to accept some basic tack were also interesting. I liked that the horse\’s behavior and responses were very realistic. Eventually they teach the horse that it can\’t get away from a rope and are riding it (although it\’s not really controllable). The kids are so excited to have the wild stallion, but also dismayed that it seems the horse will never really accept confinement or guidance from a rider- having lived so many years in the wild and being set in his ways. But if they let him go again, he\’s at risk of being caught by others and sold to rodeo or slaughterhouse. The way they solve this problem is neatly done and honestly I didn\’t expect it at all, even though it was hinted at in the opening scene, I missed it.
Definitely think I\’d like the original version of this story. Happily I found a website that lists Glenn Balch\’s books and notes which ones are revised reprints, so maybe I can avoid this mistake again.

Rating: 2/5            118 pages, 1960

A Natural and Fabulous History of Ravens and Crows

by Catherine Feher Elston

     The cleverness and pervasive success of ravens and crows has been recognized by humans in many cultures, for ages. In native american tribes the raven is often seen as a creator or a spirit guide, although in other minds ravens are associated with death (because they feed on carrion). This book is a kind of celebration of ravens- the first part has legends and creation stories featuring Raven from various Pacific Northwest tribes, the middle part is some native american history (with the raven connection a thin tangent that is barely mentioned) and the final section is more factual about raven behavior with quotations from some scientific studies including several from Bernd Henrich and Konrad Lorenz (which in my opinion are better read in their original context). The first part was good, I had mixed feelings about the middle, and the last section wasn\’t anything new to me. Actually one of the better parts is the afterward, where the author describes some of her own work rehabilitating and caring for injured ravens. So the book feels rather uneven and sometimes the wording was odd or I felt dubious about the content. It would have been nice to have more of the legends, or more detail about the personal experiences. I could have really done without the history section, which had a different tone entirely and felt out of place to me. I did really like the inked illustrations by Lawrence Ormsby, very nice.

Rating: 2/5                       208 pages, 1991

and Other Tales from the Urban Landscape 

by Lisa Couturier

I can’t quite put my finger on why this book fell flat for me. It’s a collection of essays describing the landscape and encounters with wildlife the author had when living in New York City and the area surrounding Washington, DC. Some of the encounters are brief- just a glimpse of a coyote- others are more personal- helping a researcher find and catch snakes in a field, following crows to locate their roosting site. Interspersed with quotes that felt meaningful (and I recognized many of them) but were a bit too frequent- I would have rather heard more of the author’s own words. Also interspersed with details or asides about her personal life- including what felt like a disconnect with religion while being surrounded by religious people- but just a glimpse of this, never felt connected enough. It always loops around again to the animal the chapter is about, but sometimes in such a skipping, circling manner I didn’t feel it strongly. She describes a longing to know wild animals better, to know more details about their lives- and shares what she’s learned from reading (I was interested in the insights about coyotes. For example- I always thought they rebounded from intense “predator control” by having larger litters but this book tells me it’s also because if a dominant pair is removed from an area, all the younger coyotes are suddenly free to breed, no longer held in check by their social hierarchy). This book is full of the type of material I usually enjoy- personal encounters with wildlife and interesting facts about them- but the analogies didn’t speak to me, the descriptive language often felt too flowery, the wanderings asides left me feeling lost. I shut it at the end feeling disappointed. Maybe it’s just that this author’s writing style is not to my taste.

In case it is of interest, the animals featured in this book include mice, red-tailed hawks, crows, snakes, coyotes, peregrine falcons, canada geese, vultures, a barn owl, gorillas (in a zoo), ants, pigeons, cockroaches, toads, bald eagles, foxes and deer. I just wish I had liked it more.
Rating: 2/5
160 pages, 2005

More opinions: Page 247
anyone else?

by Sandy Duval 

     Cute story about Jamie, a boy on a ranch who gets a pony for his birthday. Rather like in Summer Pony, he brings home a thin, scruffy pony with overgrown hooves, even though his father urges him to pick out one of the many well-groomed and healthier horses. This is because he feels sure he heard the pony talking to him at the auction ring, urging him to buy it. It\’s long hard work to get his pony in shape so meanwhile another kid at the neighboring ranch teases him about having acquired a useless pony. Jamie is further frustrated when he can\’t coax the pony to talk again, until he\’s almost certain he dreamed it. He didn\’t- it just doesn\’t want to talk unless there\’s a real need. Well, eventually the pony\’s feet are in better condition and he can ride- so they go on secret night-time adventures. They find a herd of wild horses that the pony originally came from (with a lame explanation for why the pony can talk). The wild horses are finding it difficult to live because ranches surrounding them are fencing off the best pastures and watering places. So Jamie and his pony lead the herd to a safer place- with the help of the kid next door, who gets in on the secret, and Jamie\’s parents (who don\’t). Spoiler! I kind of liked that in the end, things aren\’t perfect for Jamie- the pony goes back to live with the wild horses. But the closing page has Jamie at the auction with his dad again to buy another pony, one that winks at him, suggesting he\’ll soon have a new equine friend.

This little book was a fun read on a rather dull day, but it\’s not a keeper for me. While the story has a lot of nice elements (including some realistic equine behavior and details on their care), the whole thing feels rather awkward and unpolished- the pacing, the dialog, even the illustrations. I\’m sorry to sound harsh, but it feels like a book written by a high school student, or by a parent for their kid\’s amusement, rather than one that went through publishing avenues. Although considering the age group (early middle grade) it\’s aimed at, I doubt young readers would notice anything about the quality. 

Rating: 2/5                100 pages, 1980

by Beverly Keller 

     Amusing little story about a kingdom with a foolish king, a smart but drab princess, and a lurking dragon on the mountain. They all get into a mess of trouble when a sorcerer is brought in to deal with the dragon (who doesn\’t want to fight knights or eat sacrificial victims). The sorcerer has soon ousted the king, banished the king\’s advisor and locked all the knights in the dungeon. It\’s up to the princess and a few stout young men to defeat the sorcerer, if they can only free the dragon! First he gets trapped under a landslide in his own cave, then he gets shrunk by the sorcerer and locked in a birdcage. It\’s funny and quirky, but events move through the scenes so fast I sometimes wondered what the heck was going on. There\’s secret identities and unspoken love interests (which I didn\’t at all see coming, so that threw me a bit at the end). I did like a lot of the wordplay, especially when characters offered other words in rapid succession when they didn\’t understand what someone said- made me chuckle. My favorite character was the grumpy dragon, however after his second entrapment he doesn\’t do much. A quick read. 

Rating: 2/5                        144 pages, 1984

by Timothy Zahn 

Sorry book, I skimmed most of you. The more convoluted the plot got, with suspicions abounding about who knows what about whom, who is infiltrating or conniving or scheming about what- well, I just lost interest. Kayna and Taneem stow away inside a bomb-rigged safe to get aboard the enemy spaceship; Jack and Draycos wind up in jail, then get sprung and for the bulk of the story are hiding on another ship in a gap between the hull and the inner wall- each party spying on the crew and those in charge, sowing unrest in the thin alliance their enemies hold, and attempting to sabotage the ultimate weapon. There’s lots of sneaking through air ducts, and using sophisticated tools to eavesdrop. Kayna isn’t who we thought she was (no surprise) and Jack finds out a few more obscure secrets about his past. Taneem realizes she can slide onto other people’s skin without them even being aware (the guy was asleep) which was kind of weird, but not really explored much. In the end more about the K’da background and their bond with humans came to light, which is really why I pushed through this. My main curiosity was about the ongoing development of the K’da/human relationship, and the interactions between the four main characters- but this book was much more about the tension and excitement of space battle. Not really for me. However fans of the author like how this wrapped up the series with drama and speed, so there you are.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 2/5                364 pages, 2008

My Escape from North Korea 

by Eunsun Kim 
with Sebastien Falletti, translated by David Tian 

A simply told memoir about a young woman whose family was starving in North Korea. Her grandparents and father died during a famine, and she literally though she would also starve in their apartment. No food in the city. With her mother and sister, she made several attempts to cross the border into China, then make a difficult journey to South Korea where she hoped to live in freedom. They had to pay enormous sums to smugglers, suffered at the hands of human traffickers in China, and when finally reaching South Korea spent months in detainment as the government interrogated everyone to ensure they weren\’t spies, then gave them lessons on assimilating into South Korean society and how to live in a capitalist system. Eunsun Kim tells how she nearly died of hunger, was forced as a child to watch public executions, and only gradually realized afterwards that she\’d been brainwashed in her homeland, that life was really different elsewhere and the regime in power oppressed the common people. She relates how the trials of attempting to leave North Korea strained her family, and how desperate she felt to reunite with her sister who initially stayed behind in China. How confusing living in a new country with a totally different system was, let alone having to learn a new language. I have nothing but admiration for someone who went through such hard times, and kept trying again even when their first attempt failed, when they barely had any energy, when they had to wait months or even a year for the next step in their journey. And yet the book left me rather unmoved. Whether the plain writing style, or the fact that it\’s not only co-authored but also translated, it just wasn\’t very engaging and lacked depth. However there\’s others on my TBR list now about the same subject: The Girl with Seven Names, Nothing to Envy, In Order to Live or Under the Same Sky.

Rating: 2/5                 228 pages, 2015

Animorphs #48 

by K.A. Applegate 

     I didn\’t like this one. SPOILERS! 

It starts with Rachel, Jake and the rest on a field trip tour of the White House- when the aliens bust in, chaos ensues, the President is in a helicopter trying to take off while aliens attack it, Jake tells Rachel they\’re leaving but she keeps fighting, gets mad and starts fighting Jake as tiger, in her grizzly bear morph, on the White House lawn. Snap- it\’s all a dream! but things aren\’t quite right- Rachel goes about her day feeling that everything\’s off, arguing with her friends, hearing rats in the walls, seeing red lights flash- turns out she\’s having another nightmare. Or is she? After being attacked by hordes of rats and nearly drowning in a pond she wakes up in a dungeon, locked in a small plastic cube. David-the-rat returns and threatens to force her into becoming a rat forever, just like him. Cassie appears nearby, also locked in a cube. Rachel has to choose between following David\’s demands, or loosing Cassie. Except- how does a kid trapped in a rat body acquire or build perfect locking plastic-box cages? It was really too far-fetched. There\’s other plot holes, too. Which turns out to be explained because most of it isn\’t real
Meanwhile Rachel is reliving all her bad moments, agonizing over how much she enjoys fighting, facing the maniacal violent side of herself. Crayak shows up- the evil all-powerful counterpart to the Ellimist- and it turns out he\’s playing mind games with Rachel. He morphs her into a superhero version of herself, then back into the cage as a rat, back and forth, until she\’s going crazy. He pits her against Visser One in an arena, where they battle it out, using their morphing powers. This was kinda interesting, and kinda eye-rolling. Aliens and mind games and shape-shifting abilities in this series, and now we have superhero powers too? I just wasn\’t on board with that. Why did it have to introduce another fantastical element that hasn\’t been a part of the worldbuilding in this series at all to date? Like when they gained dinosaur morphs but then couldn\’t use them after travelling back through time. Pointless. Unless there\’s going to be super-Rachel in one of the last few books too? I have my suspicions though. It was an interesting look at Rachel\’s deepest inner fears, facing the part of her that is eager to use violence and her conflicting feelings about group leadership, how she feels used by the others sometimes, etc- but I got tired pretty quick of the repeated angst and the ridiculous fight scenes. In the end, Rachel is left in an alley facing David-the-rat, who is begging her to just kill him, he\’d rather die than go back to the island. Rachel is agonizing over what to do, and the book ends without disclosing her decision. That really irritated me too.

 Rating: 2/5                148 pages, 2000 

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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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