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review 2019-11-05 10:49
Eddie & Gardenia (Eddie #3) by Carolyn Haywood
Eddie and the Gardenia - Carolyn Haywood

Eddie has a pet goat named Gardenia who gets into too much trouble for Father to put up with, so Uncle Ed offers to have Gardenia on his ranch in Texas to live, and Eddie to stay with them for a few months.





I found a 1960s copy of this on a recent thrift store trip and was initially curious about it because 1) I'm always a little curious about old books in shops and 2) gardenias are my favorite flower. So happy I took a gamble on it because this story is seriously adorable!

Eddie is a little boy who has a pet goat named Gardenia. As much as he loves her, she is a handful! Gardenia really does it one day when she chews up the cloth roof on Eddie's dad's new Buick. Fed up with all the recent damages, Eddie's dad lays down the law and says the goat has to go. He suggests that Eddie write to Uncle Ed in Texas and see if he'll let Gardenia live on his ranch there. Eddie writes this letter and waits. Not only does Uncle Ed agree to take on the goat but he also invites Eddie out for a few months to live on the ranch and visit with his cousin Georgie.


But the trip doesn't turn out to be as straightforward as you'd think. Eddie travels with Gardenia to Texas by train, but en route the goat manages to free a flock of chickens AND ends up getting moved to the wrong truck, nearly ending the story before it's begun. Luckily, Uncle Ed swoops in in time and sorts things out. But even at the ranch, getting Gardenia acclimated is more of a process than anyone anticipated.


It's a charming story full of humor and love of family and nature, just the sweet journeys of Gardenia trying to live her best goat life. There are some dramatic moments, but nothing too violent or scary. This story would also serve as a good primer for young readers as far as introducing them to ranching terminology and lifestyle customs.

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review 2019-09-26 10:09
Me & Jack by Danette Haworth
Me & Jack - Danette Haworth

Joshua Reed is used to moving around since his dad became an Army recruiter and the Vietnam War broke out. Their latest home, in the mountains of Pennsylvania, feels special somehow and Josh's new dog, Jack, is like no other dog he has ever seen. But when a local boy is killed overseas, the town turns on the new army recruiter. And when a few late-night disturbances all point to Jack, it will be up to Josh to save his best friend.





Joshua Reed is a military kid. His dad, Rich Reed, works as an Air Force recruiter during the Vietnam War, requiring the two to frequently move around the country (Joshua's mother is deceased). Their most recent move has them settling in to a small town in the mountains of Pennsylvania. While Rich does have a hired cook / housekeeper to help around the house while he's away, he's still concerned with his son being left alone too much, so he suggests to Josh that maybe they adopt a dog for protection as well as companionship.


Father and son take a tour of the local shelter, Rich being instantly drawn to a nice German Shepherd. Joshua's eyes, however, lock onto a unique looking dog with golden (almost to the point of glowing), slick fur. Feeling an immediate bond with this one, Joshua takes him home and names him Jack. Good thing too, since they come to find out they adopted "Jack" the day before he was scheduled to be euthanized!  


Joshua's first attempt at building new friendships in this town is with the neighboring family, The Praters. Ray Prater is around Josh's age and they hit it off easily, but Josh quickly comes to find out that Alan, Ray's cousin, happens to be one of the biggest bullies in school.... and he has a crippling fear of dogs (revealed by Alan's adorable little sister, CeeCee).


Because it is a time of war, and an unpopular one at that, Rich, as a recruiter, feels extra pressure to appear likeable to his neighbors. He wants to avoid stirring up any unnecessary tension or disputes whenever possible and encourages son Josh to do the same. Josh tries his best for the most part, even going to extra efforts to try to befriend Alan. While Josh tries to build a good friendship with Ray, he feels obligated to extend all invites he gives Ray to Alan as well. Ray likewise feels obligated to cut Alan some slack from time to time because they are cousins, but he's absolutely fully aware of Alan's abrasive personality. 



I stared after the crumpled figure of my father. What was happening to people? Why were they acting this way? It made me afraid of becoming an adult. They seemed so full of hate. I did not want to be a person like that....As I lay in bed that night, I imagined myself tracking down the people who threw rocks at my father. They said they didn't want war but then they opened fire on my dad. That sounded like war to me.



Though Josh really works at showing kindness to Alan, at least in the beginning of their acquaintance, it gets progressively more difficult, what with Alan taking everything Josh says or does as a potential challenge or argument. Tensions between them come to a head on the matter of Jack. When some mystery animal starts causing havoc to the personal property of several residents around town, Alan (*remember his dog phobia) takes the opportunity to place blame on Jack. Wanting answers and justice, Josh's neighbors are quick to jump on the hate-on-Jack bandwagon. Feeling the pressure to fit into his community, Rich warns Josh multiple times that "one more incident" and Jack is getting re-homed. But Josh suspects the real culprit is a coyote yet to be spotted. If he can catch the problematic critter on camera, hopefully all can be set to right once again. 



There are some bonds that are sacred. Like the bonds between soldiers. Between families. Between Jack and me. 


Only I could protect Jack. It came down to me. He was more loyal than any friend I'd ever had, and he trusted me. Prater, that policeman, even Dad --- they were all against Jack. But he was innocent and I knew it. I would capture that coyote on film and deliver the true enemy.


It's a mostly cute story about a boy and his dog, with some dramatic moments thrown in to keep the reader hooked. Will Jack get to stay with Joshua? Will Alan ever be able to mellow out his aggressive nature? The characterizations are really well done, the dialogue flows nice and natural, and there's just a touch of historical fiction element to the plot, with everything taking place during the Vietnam War era. Honestly, through most of the story I forgot about the time period, except for moments when Rich has some important talks about the short fuses of many during that time and how we're all just trying to figure it out the best we can, etc. As literary fathers go, Rich was a good, solid, respectable man just doing his best to take care of his son and instill good values in him during a tough time. There's also a nice humor to Joshua, and an impressively strong character, when you consider all he's had to shoulder at a young age!

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review 2019-06-21 23:45
Albert of Adelaide by Howard L. Anderson
Albert of Adelaide - Howard L. Anderson

Having escaped from Australia's Adelaide Zoo, an orphaned platypus named Albert embarks on a journey through the outback in search of "Old Australia," a rumored land of liberty, promise, and peace. What he will find there, however, away from the safe confinement of his enclosure for the first time since his earliest memories, proves to be a good deal more than he anticipated. Alone in the outback, with an empty soft drink bottle as his sole possession, Albert stumbles upon pyromaniacal wombat Jack, and together they spend a night drinking and gambling in Ponsby Station, a rough-and-tumble mining town. Accused of burning down the local mercantile, the duo flees into menacing dingo territory and quickly go their separate ways-Albert to pursue his destiny in the wastelands, Jack to reconcile his past. Encountering a motley assortment of characters along the way-a pair of invariably drunk bandicoots, a militia of kangaroos, hordes of the mercurial dingoes, and a former prize-fighting Tasmanian devil-our unlikely hero will discover a strength and skill for survival he never suspected he possessed. Told with equal parts wit and compassion, ALBERT OF ADELAIDE shows how it is often the unexpected route, and the most improbable companions, that lead us on the path to who we really are.





In this anthropomorphic work --- Howard Anderson's debut novel --- we meet Albert, an orphaned duck-billed platypus living in Australia's Adelaide Zoo. One day Albert makes the bold decision to escape the zoo, starting an adventure that will take him across the Outback in search of Old Australia, a fabled place rumored to be a land of liberty, promise, and peace.


On his travels, the only property to Albert's name is an empty soda bottle. Before long, he meets Jack, a pyromaniac wombat with a handlebar moustache & drover's coat. They join up, traveling together to (on Jack's suggestion) Ponsby Station, a rough mining town filled with crews of bandicoots and wallabies.  After a long night of drinking, Jack ends up getting Albert into quite a bit of trouble. What starts as an innocent trek for Albert quickly progresses into more of a life on the run.


Right from the start, this novel brings on the social commentary, in regards to humans and their irresponsible behavior towards the planet. There's also something of the immigrant experience story, what with each character having their own various reasons for traveling / moving in hopes for a better life, things they're looking to escape... but Anderson brings a twist to that theme. Anderson also touches upon the topic of racism. In one notable scene, platypus Albert approaches a business only to find a sign that says "We reserve the right to refuse service to anyone who isn't a marsupial."


Though there is something of a childlike vibe to the story --- touches of Wind in the Willows, maybe even a little Watership Down --- READERS, TAKE NOTE: THIS IS NOT A CHILDREN'S NOVEL. It has very definite adult themes as far as the levels of alcoholism, crime, violence, depression, etc. There are scenes of animals cutting the throats of their foes, these moments informing Albert that this land he finds himself in is no fairytale, one WILL die out here if not careful! 


Though Jack is not always the most likeable character in his actions, you can count on him to bring the comic relief in the heavier scenes. Take the early meeting between Jack & Albert, for instance: Albert has been traveling long and hard, he's out of food and water, scared of his surroundings, bumps into Jack who asks, "What brings you out this way?" Albert replies, "Adelaide" to which Jack answers back, "Mmmm... always a woman." 


There's also a cake joke in here where ... well, I couldn't help it, it made me think of the ongoing cake joke that runs through the videogame Portal.


While on the surface, I would say this story would be a good recommendation for lovers of Westerns, I would argue that it could, at least on some level, also be interpreted as allegorical, a parable for the need to earnestly pursue one's dreams in a world suffocating under the weight of sheep mentality.  The happiest moments come when Albert finds the confidence to shake off societal expectations and embrace who / what he is on the most basic, organic level. He learns to stop getting caught up in the why or why not of a scenario and just embrace the experience itself, as is. 


All the characters are fun, but what really kept me reading was wanting to know more about this mysterious Muldoon character. Throughout the novel, he seems this terribly important and powerful figure, but is only spoken of in the vaguest terms. 

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review 2019-04-29 10:25
The Truth of Me by Patricia MacLachlan
The Truth of Me - Patricia MacLachlan

The Truth of Me tells the story of Robbie, who loves spending time with his grandmother Maddy. Robbie loves the stories Maddy tells, and also how wild animals trust her enough to come right up to her. But Robbie has always felt as if something is missing in his life--his parents don’t always act like they love him. Maddy helps him understand that an experience his mother had long ago is at the heart of the problem in his family. With this knowledge, Robbie finds the courage to try to make things right. This poignant story celebrates how our unique “small truths” make each of us magical and brave in our own ways.





Robbie and his dog, Ellie, are spending the summer at Grandmother Maddy's house. He's been having a tough time of things lately, struggling with self-confidence as well as feeling neglected by his parents. He feels they are too distracted with their careers, causing both to be rather dismissive with him. Robbie has always found comfort in Maddy's stories and easy-going nature, so this could be just the thing his mind needs.


Maddy's friend (and Robbie's doctor), Henry, also makes several appearances over the course of the story. Even if Robbie is not all that chatty about what's going on, Henry can still sense the hard time the poor kid is going through. Maddy and Henry team up and find ways to work with Robbie over the summer, patiently teaching him important, emotionally anchoring lessons about life, the most transformational being when Henry encourages Robbie to discover what his "small truths" about himself are.


My heart broke for Robbie, reading of how desperate he was to hear "I miss you", "thinking of you", anything from his parents. There are some sad conversations in the story but MacLachlan balances it nicely with a cozy, quiet feel to the rest of the scenes. There's just the right touch of fun and subtle humor to make this quick little read a comforting story to curl up with on the porch one lazy afternoon. There's also a sweet little Bridget Jones-esque moment when Robbie mentions to Maddy that Henry said he liked her just as she is and Maddy gets misty-eyed hearing this.

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review 2019-04-14 23:39
Lady of the Butterflies by Fiona Mountain
Lady of the Butterflies - Fiona Mountain

"They say I'm mad and perhaps it's true. It is well known that lust brings madness and desperation and ruin. But upon my oath, I never meant any harm. All I wanted was to be happy, to love and to be loved in return, and for my life to count for something. That is not madness, is it?" So begins the story of Eleanor Glanville, the beautiful daughter of a seventeenth-century Puritan nobleman whose unconventional passions scandalized society. When butterflies were believed to be the souls of the dead, Eleanor's scientific study of them made her little better than a witch. But her life-set against a backdrop of war, betrayal, and sexual obsession-was that of a woman far ahead of her time.






NOTE TO ANIMAL LOVERS: Be aware, near the end of this novel, there is a scene where kittens are murdered. 


Spanning late 17th century - early 18th century, Lady of the Butterflies is a novelization of the life of entomologist Lady Eleanor Glanville. Though she had an interest in studying the natural sciences in general, her specialty was in butterflies. A woman making a career in the sciences was virtually unheard of in Glanville's time, a fact that serves as a driving plot point in the novel --- Glanville trying to push beyond societal limitations for women.



I remember what Mary Burges said about people being afraid and aggressive toward what they did not understand, and I had a sense then that I might make life very difficult for myself if I did not curb this passion I had for discovery and observation. And yet I did not want to curb it, did not think it was even possible. Nor, in truth, did I see why I should.


Eleanor has a very strict Puritanical upbringing. Though her father is a successful businessman / landowner, his religious beliefs allow for no excess in the home. He even goes so far as to ban Christmas celebrations. But he does allow Eleanor a level of education typically reserved for boys (botany, geography, astronomy, etc). However, when her interests veer toward the subject of butterflies, Eleanor does raise the hackles on some people in her circle, as there was a 17th century belief that butterflies carried the souls of the dead, and that the process of metamorphosis was equal to shapeshifting which equated to satanic to many of this superstitious era, so having such a degree of fascination in them read as almost occult-ish to many.


Eleanor first hears of Richard Glanville, her future love, at the young age of eleven. Her father seems to detest even the name of Glanville being brought up in conversation, claiming that the man was living a life just seeped in debauchery: "I know of his family, I know the type." Even at her age at this time, Eleanor already realizes that it's unlikely she will ever be the docile, delicate lady type, so the sordid tales of Richard Glanville certainly stir her curiosity!


After the death of Eleanor's father, a Mr. Merrick comes to Eleanor and explains that he is to be the executor of the family estate in general, but mainly the overseer of the family home, Tickenham Court, until she becomes of age. It's encouraged that she seek a husband. She eventually settles on longtime friend Edmund Ashfield. While for the most part it seems like a good match, she does struggle with some of the structural elements of marriage and later motherhood, namely the law of coverture, in which any land or other possessions a woman might inherit is immediately relinquished to her husband upon marriage (a woman was allowed to keep her property if she remained single).


"You will continue these absurd studies no more. From now on you will receive instruction only in dancing and music and drawing and housewifery, like a proper young lady...Your father made the gravest mistake teaching you to take an interest in masculine concerns. The weaker sex may have fruitful wombs but they've barren brains. Learning makes them impertinent and vain and cunning as foxes. I fear I shall never get you off my hands, even if you do come with a fine manor and a good income. I caution you to mind your tongue when you meet Mr. Ashfield again... no man wants to marry an educated girl."


 ~~ So says Mr. Merrick *eyeroll*




Eleanor does honestly care for Edmund, but she also has deep emotional ties to her ancestral lands, so she's always fearful of what he might decide to do to the property without consulting her. This is another big point in the plot, the discussion of ecology: Tickenham Court sits on marshland that is home to swallowtail butterflies, an important area of study for Eleanor, but not so much for the men in her life looking for business (building) opportunities on the property. They are more concerned with moving forward on a proposed drainage project. But the project suffers delays as a mystery person keeps leaving messages of terrorism and sabotage --- livestock being butchered and left out to be found, property destroyed, barns set afire, even eels placed in beds! Incorporated into this darker portion of the story is Thomas Knight, a bully from Eleanor's childhood who doesn't mature into anything nicer as an adult. But is he the one to blame for these attacks on Tickenham Court? Either way, there are complicated ties between him and Eleanor (beyond the story of bullying) that wait til the last part of the book to be fully revealed.


Eleanor's story covers the various stages of a woman's life -- girlhood, romantic infatuations, marriage, motherhood. Through it all, whenever there are times of strife, she uses the study of butterflies to center herself and feed her spirit.... an important reminder for all readers: the value of self care! It's also important in that Eleanor struggles to stay on that line between self doubt and self assurance. Sometimes she listens to those around her and tries to be content with a simple home life as a subservient wife, but other days her inner voice screams NO! IT'S NOT ENOUGH! She knows she has research of great value to contribute to the world of science and her gender should not matter one whit! One person in her corner, though: her lady's maid, Bess. Bess adorably considers herself "worldly" in various life matters (particularly sex) and often encourages Eleanor to never accept disappointment or the idea of having to settle as the norm. Much of Eleanor's fiery nature seems to be stirred by the strain of having to constantly push against feckless men who will either not fight for her or those who would do anything possible to remind her of her place. 


Years later, opportunity to pursue her dreams presents itself in the form of a growing friendship (largely through correspondence) with apothecary / herbologist James Petiver, who also collected and studied butterfly specimens. This friendship and later work partnership would become the basis for the start of the British Natural History Museum. 


From Fiona Mountain's "Historical Note" Afterword:


"During the course of my writing this novel, Britain was hit by repeated and devastating floods, caused in part, according to leading environmentalists, by the loss of wetland floodplains. In 2007, the study of butterflies was formally accepted by the government as an important environmental barometer."


Fiona Mountain does a fine job offering readers an immersive historical fiction reading experience! Many reviewers have knocked this for being more along the lines of historical romance than historical fiction. Yes, this fictionalized Eleanor liked her men. Yes, there are plenty of scenes focusing on flirtations and build up to anticipated sex (and yes, the sex itself). But this one also runs deeper than that. We also get discussions on the science world, feminism, gender roles, societal expectations. We get solid world building that keeps the pages of this doorstopper moving, and dialogue that's witty and even breathtaking at times. As someone who reads plenty of both genres, I would put my vote in the historical fiction hat. It's not like we have a mountain of information to pull from on the real Eleanor Glanville -- there's actually quite a bit of mystery as to how the life story of the real Eleanor ended -- so a little creative license is to be expected. There's a bit of heartbreak at the end, of Fiona Mountain's imagining, that left me feeling a little guilty for some of my reader emotions! 



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