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What I’m Reading Now

May 4, 2011

As most of you know, I read a lot of books. I have favorite authors, I read reviews and publicity about new books at the library, and I seek out books that might work for my book discussion groups. Here’s a list of what I’m reading now, and why.

Little Fuzzy, by H. Beam Piper, 1962. I’m reading this science fiction book as an ebook on my home computer. It’s about some intelligent alien beings nicknamed little fuzzies, discovered on a mining colony. I’m reading it because John Scalzi is coming out with a companion book this month, Fuzzy Nation. It think it’s a modern version of Little Fuzzy, rather then a sequel. It wasn’t available for loan from a nearby library, so I’m reading the ebook.

At work, I’m reading A Guide to the Birds of East Africa, by Nicholas Drayson. It’s a novel set in Kenya, which reminds me a bit of Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand. I’m reading this for my readers advisory group, along with a couple of other African fiction titles. We pick a different topic to discuss every two months, and we all read different but related titles, then talk about the books we liked and didn’t like, which is fun. I’m also re-reading The Lieutenant, by Kate Grenville. It’s mainly set in 1788 New South Wales, Australia. My evening book group is discussing it this month.

In the car, I’m listening to Lost in Shangri-La: the Epic True Story of a WWII Plane Crash into the Stone Age, by Michael Zuckoff, narrated by the author. Brand-new book, set in New Guinea, that caught my attention.

At home, I’m reading American Terroir: Savoring the Flavors of Our Woods, Waters, and Fields, by Rowan Jacobsen. It kept turning up on lists of recommended non-fiction, so I finally gave it a try. All about why honey, or maple syrup, or salmon from one distinct area can be different from those in other regions, and why some of it is so delicious.  I’m also reading The Wise Man’s Fear, by Patrick Rothfuss. This is a 1,000 page fantasy novel, second in a trilogy. The first book, about a traveler, minstrel, magic student and pub owner named Kvothe, was so good that I’ve waited years for this one.

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The Hearts of Horses

May 2, 2011

    I really enjoyed re-reading this book before a recent discussion at the library. I told the book group they deserved a treat after reading non-fiction, and picked this title by Molly Gloss.

Martha Lessen, 19, comes to Elwha County, Oregon, looking for horses to train. She prefers to sleep in the tack room of the barn, and is more comfortable around horses then people. George and Louise Bliss are happy to have her stay at their farm while she rides a circle, working with several horses each day. Surprisingly for the WWI era setting, Martha gentles the horses, rather then breaking them.

As she learns about the families on her circle route, she becomes part of the community in a way she didn’t expect, even having a gentle romance. Life isn’t easy in that place and time, but it can be pretty rewarding.

Spring is here

April 5, 2011
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   Finally, it looks like spring is here. This is a dwarf iris, just a few inches tall. I planted a lot of spring bulbs last fall, but haven’t looked at my notes since. It’s a nice surprise to see what comes up where.

Kings of the North

April 5, 2011

 I first read a fantasy novel by Elizabeth Moon many years ago when her first book, Sheepfarmer’s Daughter was published. This was one of three books called The Deed of Paksenarrion. Paks is a farm girl who became a soldier, and eventually a paladin. She helped discover the rightful king of Lyonya, a land with humans and elves.

  Years later, after several science fiction adventure novels, Elizabeth Moon returned to Pak’s world with Oath of Fealty, followed this spring by The Kings of the North. Dorrin and Arcolin, both former captains of Kieri Phelan, are settling into their new rules, Dorrin as a woman running a dukedom, Arcolin leading Phelan’s company of mercenaries. Kieri Phelan, meanwhile, thinks his elven grandmother is avoiding him, and has many other problems on the horizon. Paksenarrion makes brief but memorable appearances.

   I like these books so much because of the memorable characters, excellent world building, and very good storytelling. If you don’t like fantasy, the author is also know for her book about autism, set in the near future, called The Speed of Dark. Read more at her website.

Though Not Dead

March 16, 2011

 In book 18 in a terrific mystery series set in Alaska, Kate Shugak finds out that she has inherited a cabin and hot springs from Old Sam. Cleaning out his house in town she finds an old diary, then is knocked unconscious, not for the last time. Old Sam knew a lot of Alaskan history, and might have known the locations of a precious Russian icon, an unpublished Dashiell Hammett manuscript, and maybe  a map to a gold mine. Mutt, Kate’s half-wolf canine companion, adds some humor to Kate’s search. Jim is in California on family business, but young Johnny Morgan helps out. Once again, the “aunties” prove alternately helpful and infuriatingly secretive.

The first book in the series is A Cold Day for Murder, and the funniest is Breakup. For more about the Kate Shugak series and about Alaska, see Dana Stabenow’s website.

100 Thing Challenge

February 26, 2011

A couple of years ago, Californian Dave Bruno realized he was too wrapped up in his possessions. He had collections of things for work, hobbies, and especially for dreams. Even dreams of projects that could perfect his good childhood, which is impossible. With a wife, three young daughter, a business, and way too much stuff, Dave needed to make a change. Gradually getting rid of personal possessions and clothes he didn’t need by selling, donating, or giving them to friends, he decided to live with 100 or fewer personal possession for a year. Described on his blog, and in his book The 100 Thing Challenge, he describes the process and the reactions of family, friends, and strangers.

Criticized for not counting possessions shared with his family, and for counting his library of books as a single “thing”, Dave found the experience humbling and liberating. Maybe he’ll never be a master woodworker in his garage, or create a large model train layout, or spend half the year in outdoor adventures, but perhaps it’s time to learn to surf instead. The book is short and interesting, but lacks something I suspect the blog had. There’s no hook to draw the reader in, no sense of walking through the experience with Dave, and not enough writing on similar 100 thing challenges he inspired.

Beauty Tips from Moose Jaw

February 21, 2011

 As Americans, we tend to forget how big and diverse Canada is. Will Ferguson is ready to help remind us. Aptly called the Bill Bryson of Canada, Will has adventures traveling over much of Canada, describing the history, food, and culture of each region.

Different relatives travel along occasionally, and family history gets revealed, too. Travels with his Japanese wife Terumi and young son Alex bring a new perspective. Alex loves pancakes, and asks lots of questions.

With stories of close encounters with polar bears, picnicking near an aluminum plant, hiking by waterfalls, and getting lost in the far north, Will Ferguson is always good company.