Friday, February 22, 2013

Book Review of Basil in Mexico

Basil in Mexico, by Eve Titus

4 stars

Description: Basil of Baker Street, the world's most famous mouse detective, is at it again! A mystery story of many tales in one, we follow clever Basil and the faithful Dawson as they tackle the dastardly Professor Ratigan in London and travel to Mexico to solve the puzzle of a stolen work of art. Success seems to be in their grasp... but they are faced with a sudden blow when Dawson is kidnapped on the eve of a full-scale rebel army attack!

Concerns: None

Summary: Consider this book a low-calorie item on the literary world's fast-food menu. If you've read Sherlock Holmes, the mimicry is perfect. If you haven't read Holmes, the story itself is incentive enough. It's a fast-reading mystery with just enough dangers and complications scattered along the way -- not an outstanding or even terribly well-written classic with deep life lessons, but it's a great trip to take just for the fun of it.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Book Review of Snow Dog

Snow Dog, by Jim Kjelgaard

5 stars!

Description: In a northern wilderness that is ruled by a killer wolf who hates mankind, a northern fur trapper loses his dog. The trapper's search for the dog proves fruitless, and when he gives up, we follow the trail of the dog and her pups as they fight and live and grow and die in their quest for survival, ever stalked by the menacing wolf and his pack. At last, the trapper meets one of the grown pups - but the two have little time to overcome their mutual wariness before they are faced by a growing threat in the forest. The snow has grown deep and the game scarce, and the now-starving wolf pack has come back to finish the job it started years before.

Concerns: It's a wilderness, and it can be savage. Wolf/dog fights, several casualties (including a man). One wolf in particular is frequently and flippantly called a devil. One matter-of-fact and innocent reference to a... female dog.

Summary: Set in the harsh and yet fiercely beautiful forest deep in the north country, this is an enthralling tale of a fierce struggle for survival. Reads like an old western or Royal Canadian Mounted Police story, but this time about a trapper and his dog. The description of the frozen wilds is fascinating; wild creatures include everything from the moose and snowshoe rabbits to the lynx and the grizzly bear, the rivers and marshes are almost visible on the pages, and the struggles and triumphs of the hard life are almost real as the glint of savagery in the eyes of the wolves. A favorite from the first time I read it.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Book Review of The Jungle Book

The Jungle Book, by Rudyard Kipling

4 stars

Description: First, lose your image of a Disney-ified Baloo (and don't go correcting my grammar. Disney-ified either is or should be a word). Kipling's jungle displays not a tribe of goofy animals, but the the life and death struggle of a wolf pack. The jungle is a dangerous place; it can be a savage place. Above all, this jungle is the setting for a fantastic adventure of a boy and the wild creatures that protect and defend him as he grows and finally decides for himself what kind of a life he will lead.

Concerns: It's a different sort of book because it deals with a very wild setting. Can be violent and a mite dark (the sequels are more so). Humans in the book consider Mowgli a demon/sorcerer. Threats of execution. ***NOTE: review covers Mowgli and His BrothersKaa's Hunting, and Tiger! Tiger! It does not include other non-Mowgli stories (i.e. The White Seal), which are often published in the same volume.

Summary: Reading this book introduces the jungle as a strange and wondrous place. Danger is real, but so is friendship and loyalty; the harshness of life runs side by side with the sweet. Beyond the mysteries of the jungle itself, the story is fascinating way to follow a queer life story that spins completely outside the world as we know it. It's an odd tale, but it's worth exploring (and come on. With a name like Mowgli, how can you go wrong?).

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Book Review of Beauty

Beauty, by Robin McKinley

5 stars!

A masterful version of the fairy tale Beauty and the Beast. Suddenly impoverished by the loss of their merchant ships, the ill-named Beauty and her family are forced to move from their wealthy town home to the half-wild north country, where rumors of goblins and wild things still lurk in the thick trees of the wilderness beyond their doorstep. The family settles in, finding they can live happily and content in their new world - until one of them trespasses into the dark forest. From that day, their lives will never be the same.

Concerns: Magic.

Summary: To the undying relief of the reader, Beauty factually tells us she's not pretty, and moves on. She doesn't care. Good. We don't either. Instead of focusing on image and romance ad nauseam, we get a tale of mystery, secrets, and friendship. One of the best reworked fairy-tales I've read. From the magnificent horse Greatheart to the enormous library (Mark Twain?), to scattered hopeful sparrows lured to a windowsill, Beauty holds all the wonders of a new world, and it delivers on its promise.