Jul 2, 2015

this is what 926 books look like

all piled up in one room, waiting for shelving to be installed.
There's another few dozen TBR books under the bed as well
this stack next to my smaller aquarium
and my regular TBR shelf that's full of clutter because I don't have things all organized and put away yet. Oh, and the count is off- some more books here on the floor in front of little shelf that my father-in-law gave me (unfortunately I won't be keeping most of them- half are of a genre I don't usually read, and the other half books I know I love- because I already own copies of them!)
And last of all, the book I'm currently reading. It's taking me a long time to get through this one, but what a fantastic read!

Jun 20, 2015

Mother West Wind's Children

by Thornton W. Burgess

Following Mother West Wind, these are more "why" stories that describe animal traits in a fanciful manner. The bear hibernates as punishment for being a mean-spirited glutton, the rabbit has long ears so others will know he's an eavesdropper and a gossip and so on. I think my favorite was the one about why the toad swallows his old coat -it was a little closer to actual nature. Through most of these stories Grandfather Frog is the one who holds knowledge, he will share his stories with eager listeners if given a little respect and a gift of fat green flies to eat. The wind and breezes are personified, and there were a few forest characters I didn't quite recognize (I think this is one of Burgess' earlier works). I haven't read any Burgess in a while, and this doesn't quite live up to what I remember enjoying. But it was still nice and of course an easy distraction to dip in and out of.

Rating: 3/5        156 pages, 1911

Jun 3, 2015

Pigs Don't Fly

by Mary Brown

A story set in medieval times. This girl grows up daughter of the village whore, and is left bereft when her mother dies. She is pretty much shouldered out of town, and sets off on the road seeking her fortune- a husband, really, because that's what her mother taught her to aspire to- find a good husband. She wears a magic ring left by her unknown father, turns out it allows her to communicate with animals. So a menagerie slowly gathers- first a dog becomes her companion, then a young mare, both sensible animals to have on a journey. But she also collects a tortoise, a wounded pigeon and a strange creature found miserably exploited for display in a fair- a pig with wings. And innocently falls head over heels in love with a knight she meets on the road. Ignorant infatuation, really. The guy was a bore, and not very nice to her at first. But he needs her because when set upon by robbers he sustains a head injury, goes suddenly blind and looses his memory. She promises to help him find his original home, and cares for him (and all the animals) on the journey...

Well. She's smart and kindhearted and a bit naive, but also overweight and considers herself unattractive (often comes across as desperate) and mentions a lot about being glad the knight is blind, so he won't mind being with her. The hardships of the road eventually get her fit again, but she doesn't realize it until the end. Some of the things that happen in the story I saw coming, others really surprised me. Aside from all these interesting descriptions of nature and weather and how crops are brought in and how travelers are treated and survival travelling afoot in medieval times. They have quite a few run-ins with thieves, soldiers, greedy rich people who should have been their kind hosts, women who turn out to be jealous and spiteful, a ghost in a ruined castle (which I thought at first was a vampire?), a strange little man who rules the forest and other odd magical things. Not the least of which was the flying pig. I did not figure out what the pig really was until the very end- and that became the most interesting part of the book. Curiously, as each creature found what it sought and left the travelling companions- the pigeon a flock to join, the tortoise its proper habitat, the mare her herd, etc- they all had to settle for a less-than-perfect outcome- and yet were content and willing to put up with shortcomings. Our narrator is pulled up short when she realizes at the end that the knight she fell in love with at first sight -now that he appreciates her- is not whom she loves, that a merchant met along the way who proposed to her isn't her cup of tea either, so what will she do? (ahem- does she really need a husband?) The ending begged for a sequel, which I bet I would find a lot more interesting, the way it was leaning.

Rating: 3/5      370 pages, 1994

May 27, 2015

A Hog on Ice

and Other Curious Expressions
by Charles Earle Funk

A book that tells the origins and meanings of many many sayings- over four hundred of them. It's a nice read if you are interested in etymology, and an easy book to dip in and out of. The forward describes in detail how the author sought out the original meaning of the phrase "as independent as a hog on ice"; the rest of the entries simply outline what the final findings were. Most of the expressions I had heard before, a few were entirely unfamiliar to me. Some I had an idea where they came from, others it was the opposite of what I would have assumed. Lots are from political moments in history, old arcane practices, or mispronunciations of former word forms (many of the expressions are centuries old). In some cases the author found no evidence at all, so he surmised a best guess.

Rating: 3/5      214 pages, 1948

May 21, 2015


by Pearl S. Buck

A gentle, slow, rich story about a Jewish household that lives in China during the mid-nineteenth century. It is told from the viewpoint of a chinese bondmaid in the house, who was bought into service as a child to be companion to the merchant's only son, David. She grows up on very close terms with David, but when they become adults the dynamics change. Peony the bondmaid loves David, but it is beyond her status to ever marry him. His religion forbids him to keep her as a concubine, which the Chinese people would easily accept. Instead she remains in his house faithfully serving him, subtly maniuplating events and insinuating herself into schemes on whom David will marry- the pretty daughter of another merchant who would solidify a business partnership? or the beautiful strong Jewish daughter of the rabbi, whom his mother desires for him? I have never read anything about the assimilation of Jewish people into China before, so the full breadth of this story was very interesting. It's about much more than just the love story and the self-sacrifice that is Peony's life. It's about the meeting of two cultures, each with their pride and faithfulness, their laws and structure, their tolerance or prejudiced ideas. Older generations sought to hold onto their religious identity and keep their children from intermarriage, but slowly this dissolves through the years. David in particular has an awakening when he realizes he will not follow his mother's ideal path for him, nor exactly his father's, but must choose his own way.

All in all a very engaging read. It definitely encourages me to read more Pearl S. Buck- especially as this book is said to be not quite her best! I used to have The Good Earth on my shelf, can't find it now. I'm afraid I tried it several times when I was younger and got nowhere. I intend to find another copy and attempt it again. And others.

Rating: 4/5     312 pages, 1948

more opinions:
Book Nook Club
A Striped Armchair
Becky's Book Reviews

May 18, 2015

brief hiatus

My blogs are falling into the background right now- as you might have already noticed. I am facing some wonderful life-changing events. I'm getting married next month, then will be moving shortly after. Summer seems brief enough as it is, but now it's going to be very busy and go by quickly. So I am quite preoccupied right now planning a wedding (even a small, casual backyard event takes a lot of work) and all the tedious tasks that go along with moving the household...

I'm still reading of course- need to unwind and get my mind off things sometimes- but not nearly as much as usual and well, my mind tends to wander so the book posts might seem kind of hurried, unfocused or sporadic here for a while. If I seem to currently abandon a lot of books it's probably not their fault at all, just mine! if they appear to have potential regardless of my ability to focus, I will probably set some aside to give another try later.... And I haven't even opened my google reader in over a week- so I'm really behind and unaware of what is going on in the "blogosphere".

Catch up with you later!

May 16, 2015

The Singlehanders

the Evolution of a Lonely Art
by D.H. Clarke

Singlehanders are men (or women, though far less common) who sail boats all by themselves across an ocean or around the world. It's an amazing feat, whether done in desperation for survival due to some accident or stranding, or deliberate attempts. Lots and lots of men have done this- either sponsored into exploring, racing against each other, testing how far they could go or to what was out there, or just to prove to themselves/others that it could be done. To set records. The author here was really into this stuff and did singlehander journeys himself, and here he set down a record of all the people who've made attempts that aren't famous- all the unsung heroes. There's plenty of them. So their tales are short. It's heavy on names, and who-is-from-where and where-they-went-and-why and short on the details I like, the descriptions of the experience itself.  I just can't keep focus on this book. Maybe it's me. I started skimming a lot and the bits I did read where well-explained and interesting but I don't think I'll go back to it. It's only mildly interseting if, like me, you've never actually been sailing.

Abandoned        206 pages, 1975

May 12, 2015

Company K

by William March

I didn't expect to really like this book, but it grew on me. It's about WWI, a company of men marching through France, little stories from each of them. Some only a couple of paragraphs long, others several pages. Often two paired together showing the same incident from different viewpoints. The voices are not very distinct, but the individual responses to the horrors and senselessness of war are. Men befriending enemies and killing friends, injuring themselves on purpose to get out of fighting, searching for solace with women along the way, misunderstanding the locals in the countryside, insurgency and bravery and cowardice, pain and suffering and bewilderment. It's gruesome in many parts, in a straightforward, matter-of-fact way. Roughly chronological, although there really is no storyline to follow, just pieces here and there of each man's experience. Eagerness at the beginning when the men are first enlisted and training, the long slog, the growing horrors, the numbness and fear and everything else, what it was like for many of them to come home. Lauded when they didn't deserve or want it, others ignored when they had gone through the most, difficulties making their lives again. Reminded me some of Strange Meeting by Susan Hill.

Rating: 3/5      183 pages, 1933

May 11, 2015

Ask the Animals

Bruce R. Coston

A vet looks back on his early training and development of his own practice, relating stories of animals that are brought in to see him, their ailments and cures, plus things that revolve around the pet owners involved and his own family. In a friendly fashion, it's a comprehensive look of what a vet's life is like, I think- from descriptions of studies in veterinary college, early work in other practices and establishing his own office to tales of repeat clients, following the animals through their lives. It was kind of nice to see some animals and their owners make repeat appearances- I don't usually find that in vet books, which are often a collection of separate clinical stories (not as dry as that sounds). This one has a lot more about people- in particular, there's one whole chapter about the author's graduation day, another about how he meets, woos and finally proposes to his wife, another about an embarrassing night trying to eat out with his parents and new wife after they've moved to a new town... they're nice stories, but didn't quite fit in with what I wanted to read about! Which was the animals, mostly. Some of the stories are quite touching, like the ones about malnourished abandoned kittens that are brought back to health to become mascots at the vet's office, or the one about how the vet lost his own cat from his own clinic (while away on vacation) and finally tracked it down, to a tearful reunion. Most of the stories are what you'd usually find- about various injuries and illnesses, surprising cases, difficult ones, a few amusing. About the difficulties people have with affording care, tough decisions when nothing can be done or it isn't affordable, and how a wealthy friend of his set up a foundation to assist other pet owners in need. That was nice. Oh, and there's one chapter about a crazy-late-hour phone call the author received from a woman concerned that the egg she'd started boiling had a live chick inside (due to a squeaking sound). Rational explanations did not work- he was talking in circles with her- it was hilarious.

This book doesn't really deserve the 2 I gave it, it's just my personal response. By the last few chapters I was quickly loosing focus and just skimming stuff. It's fairly repetitive of so many other vet books I've read, and the writing style wasn't quite funny or engaging enough to keep me interested regardless.

Rating: 2/5      274 pages, 2009