Archive for September, 2010

Cannonball 42: Betsy-Tacy (Betsy-Tacy, #1) by Maud Hart Lovelace

Betsy-Tacy (Betsy-Tacy, #1)Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book took me back to a simpler time.

Back before kids told their parents regularly that they hate them because they didn’t grant the kids permission to do something or go somewhere.

Back before kids were driven to drugs and suicide by playground bullying.

Back before kids were so filled with angst before they even started attending school that they arrived with chips already firmly on shoulders.

Lovelace bases most of her book on her own childhood, and what a charmed childhood it was. Betsy lives in a nice house, has an annoying older sister, and lives with both her parents. A new girl moves in down the street, and they become best friends and have adventures like climbing the big hill behind Betsy’s house all by themselves.

Betsy and Tacy become so inseparable that people start to refer to them collectively as Betsy-Tacy.

Some might complain that it’s unrealistic or too idyllic or just fluff because nobody gets murdered or abused. The most serious part of the book is when (SPOILER!!) Acytay’s infantyay istersay iesday. And even that event is handled with a pretty light touch.

But you know what? I appreciate that there’s no over-the-top drama. These girls are supposed to be five years old. I like believing that, somewhere out in the world, some lucky girl is enjoying an uneventful childhood, filled with happiness and adventures, where climbing a hill without requiring the assistance of a grown-up is about as exciting as it gets.

This book was a sweet reminder that, sometimes, kids are just kids.

View all my reviews

Cannonball 41: The Hunger Games (Hunger Games, Book #1) by Suzanne Collins

The Hunger Games (Hunger Games, #1)The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I used to think I hated sci-fi. Truthfully, though, I’d never even read a single sci-fi book. I just assumed that it was boring because everyone I knew who read it was a geeky boy.

I was twenty-four years of age by the time I read my first sci-fi book. A coworker was raving about her favorite sci-fi book and, one day, out of the goodness of her heart, she brought a copy to work and made me borrow it.

ender's game

My introduction to sci-fi. If you haven't already, go read this book immediately.

The book was Ender’s Game, and I absolutely loved it.

Ever since then, I’ve learned to embrace my inner geek and read a little sci-fi from time to time. I really enjoy how it takes basic themes of humanity and sets them against a fantastic backdrop, like outer space or even a dystopian society in our own future.

When my good friend Jane told me that I had to read The Hunger Games, I was perfectly willing. I hadn’t read any sci-fi in a while, and I was ready for a new book.

The book’s protagonist, Katniss Everdeen, is a sixteen-year-old girl who is fighting for survival in a dystopian society. The nation of Panem is all that’s left of humanity on Earth, and the iron rule of the Capitol is felt through all of the remaining twelve districts, although Katniss’ home in District Twelve enjoys a little more laxity than the other districts, since they’re so far away from the Capitol.

But, as a reminder of the Capitol’s power, every district is required to send two tributes, one male and one female, to fight in the annual Hunger Games, which are televised from the arena for the duration of the Games. When Katniss’ beloved sister, Prim, is randomly selected as a tribute, Katniss does the only thing she can to save her sister: she volunteers to go in her place.

She and her fellow tribute, Peeta Mellark, must go to the Capitol an fight for survival against twenty-two other tributes, some of which are older and bigger, and some of whom have been training for the Games since birth. There can only be one winner of the Games, so Katniss knows that she will eventually have to kill Peeta if she ever wants to return to her family and her best friend andd hunting partner, Gale (who’s an older boy, by the way. Love triangle, anyone?).

Collins’ writing is decent, and the story is ossomly compelling. As a reader, I could feel Katniss’ confusion over what to do: kill Peeta, trust Peeta, refuse to bow to the Capitol’s games, give up, become a monster that her family wouldn’t recognize in order to survive.

Collins is no Steinbeck, but she does a decent job of conveying the hunger and desperation that drive Katniss to clutch at survival.

This book is an amazing beginning to the trilogy. It’s too bad that (SPOILER!!!) ethay estray ofyay ethay ooksbay on’tday ivelay upyay otay ethay irstfay unway.

View all my reviews

Cannonball 41: All Things Bright and Beautiful by James Herriot

All Things Bright and BeautifulAll Things Bright and Beautiful by James Herriot
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

All Things Bright and Beautiful is James Herriot’s follow-up to All Creatures Great and Small and, much like his debut effort, this volume is filled with touching stories, rip-roaring humor, and, saturating everything else, a strong taste of the Yorkshire Dales. Herriot regales us with more tales from his experiences as a vet in rural Northern England.

He also arevisits his courtship of his wife and some of his misadventures along the way to marriage. And, of course, his good friends and colleagues Siegfried and Tristan Farnon are always there to provide entertainment.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: what makes Herriot’s stories so fun to read is that, even though they’re about animals, they’re really about people. We can all identify with these stories of loss, triumph, hardship, and perseverance. And most of us can identify with the stories about making a fool of yourself, too.

Herriot’s sophomore effort is really just more of the same, but I ain’t complainin’ about that.

View all my reviews

Cannonball 40: All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot

All Creatures Great and Small (20th Anniversary Edition)All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

When I was five, I wanted to be an artist. I was crazy about drawing. When I wasn’t fighting with my sibs over something, you’d likely find me holed away, either reading or drawing. My dad was an artist, you see. Sure, running that liquor store in the ghetto was what paid the bills, but it was firmly stamped in my six-year-old mind that he was meant for a higher calling. I mean, look at the gallon of milk he painted on the side of the store. Was it not the perfect rendering of a gallon of milk? You could practically see the condensation beginning to form because it had been out of the fridge for too long.

milk

It was way better than this; I promise.

Dad always promised me art lessons, but between running a liquor store in the ghetto and trying to keep three kids fed, clothed, and academically successful, there was no time for a primer in the correct usage of watercolors.

To this day, I still hate watercolors. I don’t get how you keep all the colors from running together into a soupy, brown mess.

watercolor

Mine were much worse than this, I assure you.

Then, when I was eight, I decided that I wanted to be an astronaut. The Challenger shuttle exploded that year and, somehow, instead of filling me with fear, it made me admire the bravery of the team who had hurtled unafraid into the beyond.

space camp

I so wanted to be Kelly Preston in this movie. I mean, photographic memory!! And she's blonde!!

I shushed everyone if there was ever any news about NASA on TV. I made my parents rent Space Camp. I devoured books about space travel, including the movie novelization of Space Camp and a Choose Your Own Adventure book about traveling to Jupiter. I still remember to this day that Jupiter has rings like Saturn and many moons, of which the four largest are Europa, Callisto, Ganymede, and Io.

But I always knew in the back of my mind that this was a pipe dream. Besides, I’d read that you had to be incredibly physically fit to be an astronaut, and I always got a B in PE.

So, come seventh grade, I was in the market for a new dream. And that’s when I discovered James Herriot.

james herriot

Alf Wight (James Herriot was a nom de plume) with his faithful Border Terrier, Bodie.

I was at a church camp the summer before seventh grade. I hadn’t brought much reading material with me, and I saw an older girl reading a book with a picture of a man with a dog on it. I asked her if I could borrow it when she was finished and, the next night, she handed it over.

I burned through that book like nobody’s business. I read it more than I read my Bible at that church camp (for the record, God didn’t save me until a good four years later). When I gave it back to the girl at the end of camp, I’d torn the back cover and cried pretty much all over it.

dog stories

The picture on the cover of the book that started a lifelong love.

That book was… not All Creatures Great and Small. It was James Herriot’s Dog Stories, a collection of Herriot’s dog stories from his first four books. I’d always loved dogs, and my heart had broken when Tootsie, our beloved Miniature Schnauzer, died at the early age of two. Reading this Scottish vet’s account of his life in the English countryside set my dog-loving little heart afire and I instantly decided two things: that I needed to get a dog right away and that I was going to be a vet when I grew up.

It probably didn’t help that the owners of our campsite also bred Collies. I instantly fell in love with the dogs, and when I wasn’t reading that book, I was helping Mary Sadler brush and feed and walk her magnificent Collies. On the last night of church camp, people prayed all night, weeping over their sins. I sobbed my heart out, too… because I couldn’t bear the thought of leaving those wonderful dogs.

collies

I still love 'em.

But the minute we got home, I resolved to return to the library and check out every single book they had by James Herriot. And that brings us back to the book at hand.

All Creatures Great and Small was James Herriot’s first book. A country vet, he didn’t know the first thing about writing, but he was an avid reader, and his wife goaded him into finally taking action. This book covers his arrival in Darrowby and his initiation into the ways and lifestyle of the farmers in the Yorkshire Dales. He writes with an intuitive knack for description, and his sparkling humor brings his stories to life.

His stories aren’t just about animals and his veterinary practice. They’re also about his friendship with his boss, the eccentric Siegfried Farnon, and Siegfried’s irrepressible younger brother, Tristan. They’re about his infatuation with a local woman, and his bumbling attempts to woo her. They’re about the quiet strength, stubbornness, and kindness of the people of the Yorkshire Dales. James Herriot’s stories are an homage to the people who adopted him into their midst, and a love song to the place that shaped them into who they are.

They’re so funny that you’ll find yourself snorting with stifled laughter at three in the morning. And, the next minute, you’ll be sobbing uncontrollably at the pathos of a particularly touching tale.

One of the best things about Herriot’s books is that each chapter reads like its own short story, so you can always find a place to stop if you need to. You’re not itching to know what happens next, but you still can’t wait to pick it up again.

Herriot’s humor and vivacious writing make All Creatures Great and Small a page-turner. It’s an absolute must-read for animal lovers.

As for me, I abandoned my dream of becoming a veterinarian during my first year at UCI, when it dawned on me that I hated all of my science classes and wasn’t good at any of them.

But Herriot left a mark on me still. Instead of leaving a void where my dream used to be, his writing planted a seed. As “what do you want to be when you grow up?” began to morph into “what are you going to do when you graduate?” I decided to declare English Literature as my major. I wanted to become a writer.

And, now, I am one. And I’m barely surviving on the little money I make. Living the dream, y’all. And, while the money sucks, I’ve never been happier. James Herriot would approve.

View all my reviews