Saturday, October 31, 2015

That Quail, Robert

By Margaret A. Stanger

Orleans, Massachusetts, July 1962. Mildred and Tommy Kienzle know that a quail has a nest in their yard. They then notice that the nest is empty except for two eggs. One of the eggs was obviously damaged but the other was fine. They took it in the house more as a curiosity than from any expectation that it would hatch. In fact, they just left if sitting on the counter. But it soon became apparent that this egg contained a living chick and in three days, Robert made her first appearance.
She quickly made herself at home with the Kienzles and with the author, Margaret Stanger, who was a kind of godmother to the chick. Robert, named so because they believed she was a male until one day when she laid an egg, loved people. She was friendly and greeted visitors with a glad cry. She loved attention and she loved to snuggle.
Robert also loved going outside, where she chased and ate bugs, took dirt baths, and dined on vegetation. But she always wanted to be back inside after awhile. She never showed any inclination to leave the Kienzles and join the wild quail. She was courted, at one time, by a male quail, and did produce several eggs, but showed no interest in nesting or paying any attention to her clutch. None of the eggs hatched.
She wasn't kept locked up and she could have flown away at any time. But she never did. Sometimes she would fly up on to the roof and sit there briefly, but she always wanted to be back in the house with her family and friends.
Robert was quite a sensation in her time and acquired many admirers. Her guest book was filled with signatures from people who came to see the little quail for themselves. A postcard with her picture was even created for her fans.
Unfortunately, quail are not long-lived creatures and even the protected environment in which Robert lived did not extend her lifespan. But even though the time she spent with the Kienzles and Margaret Stanger was all too brief, she was greatly loved and greatly missed. She was a gentle, affectionate and amusing companion.  She rarely caused problems, her worst crimes being the time she knocked over a glass of juice because she wasn't getting enough attention, the time she took a bath is a dish of broccoli, for the same reason. And the time she took a bath in a bowl of flour just because it felt so good.

This was a fun story, despite its inevitable end. Robert required a lot of care but she also brought a lot of joy into the lives of those who knew her. I know she gave me joy just reading about her. A very sweet story about a very sweet and entertaining little bird.

On a side note, I encountered three terms that I had never come across before: spatchcock, keeping room and borning room.  Spatchcock in, "He [a dog] was most often in a spatchcock position, front legs stretched out before him and hind legs stretched out behind, laying on his stomach." So I looked it up and spatchcock refers to splitting a fowl open and spreading it out flat for grilling.
Keeping room, "The routine was for me to get my book, lie down on the day bed in the keeping room, spread the blanket on my middle and call Robert." A keeping room was a room next to the kitchen and thus warmer than the rest of the house in winter. So people would gather there in the evening and even sleep there at night. It is somewhat equivalent to a family room.
Borning room, "The red velvet hat [Robert's bed] was put in the carton up on a high shelf in the little bedroom off the kitchen which in these old New England homes is called the 'borning room.'" So this is a bedroom, as the author says, next to the warm kitchen, designed for the woman of the house to use while giving birth.


By Marion Zimmer Bradley

Truth Blackburn was just a toddler when her mother died. They claimed it was an overdose that killed her. But the mother had been participating in a ritual designed to open a gate between this world and the realm of the ancient gods. Something went very wrong, though, and Truth's mother died and her father, Thorne Blackburn, who was conducting the ritual, disappeared.
Now, Truth, grown up, has decided to do a biography of her father and her research takes her to the scene of her mother's last days alive, Shadow's Gate.
Shadow's Gate, a Victorian mansion, is now owned by Julian Pilgrim. Pilgrim is young, handsome and wealthy and he cordially invites Truth to stay for lunch after showing her around the estate. Of course, Truth ends up staying at Shadow's Gate and getting to know all the other people staying there also.
Pilgrim has a extensive collection of Thorne Blackburn memorabilia which he invites Pilgrim to use for her research. Pilgrim is also quite open about his desire to perform the same ritual that Thorne did. All the others in the house are there to help with the ritual and bring about a new era.
All her life, Truth has blamed and hated her father for her mother's death. Staying in Shadow's Gate will open her eyes to the truth of that fateful night, even if she has to almost die in the process.

This was an OK story. I found it a bit choppy, with Truth reaching decisions that didn't make much sense to me. For instance, she hears her father's voice several times and each time he insults her. But she decides he loves her! That didn't make any sense. Also, all throughout the story, she firmly states her belief that magic doesn't exist. Then all of a sudden, she decides not only does it exist but that she has to change her life because of it. She has had some paranormal encounters which she attributes to the house being haunted. But, as far as I am aware, she had no encounters with magic at that point in the story, so why she suddenly decides it is real eludes me.
Anyways, about half way through the book, I got pretty bored with the story. It just seemed to drag on and on without getting anywhere much at all. I found myself wishing the author would just wrap it up.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Ghost Cat

By Beverly Butler
Annabel's mother has a boyfriend and she wants to spend the summer with the boyfriend and so Annabel gets shipped off to Wisconsin to live with her great aunt and uncle and various cousins for the summer. Annabel doesn't approve of her mother's new boyfriend and she resents being sent away.
The three teen cousins staying there too are Donna, Michael and Todd. These three have spent the summer there for several years and that makes Annabel an instant outsider. Especially intolerant is fifteen-year-old Todd, who call Annabel Clarabel the Cow, poking fun of the fact that Annabel is tall for her age (and much taller than Todd).
A few weeks before leaving for Wisconsin, Annabel's cat Muffin died. So not only is Annabel dealing with her mother's new circumstances, she is also grieving the loss of a beloved pet. She wakes up early one morning to the sound of a cat crying. She goes outside, worried about the cat and wanders into the woods where she is found by Old Pa, Aunt Lil's father who lives with his daughter and her husband. He tells her to leave the cat be and adds, "She'll be stirring soon...Always when there's young folks by. That's when she doesn't rest easy."
"She" turns out to be a neighbor, Julia Craig, who mysteriously vanished one day. She had a kerfluffle with Annabel's Uncle Alex long before Annabel was even born. She accused him of poisoning her cat and, ever since her disappearance, suspicion has fallen on Uncle Alex.
Now her spirit walks the night along with her ghost cat. And Julia has set her sights on Annabel because they have a connection about which Annabel knows nothing. The answer to the riddle can only be found in Julia's abandoned and decaying house.

For a kid's book, the was a pretty good read. The Julia Craig mystery was interesting and its solution neat and clever. The baggage caused by the mystery afflicts the whole group, as the Aunt and Uncle refuse to talk about it and Uncle Alex even gets a little hostile. Plus, Annabel has to deal with the constant put downs of evil cousin Toad, oops, I mean Todd.
The mystery was clever and engaging enough for an adult to enjoy yet remain on a level that would not be too scary for younger readers.

The Oregon Trail

By Rinker Buck
When Rinker was a youngster, his father took his kids traveling in a covered wagon. It was an unforgettable experience that stuck with Rinker throughout his life. Now in his later years, Rinker decided he wanted to travel the Oregon Trail in a covered wagon like the original pioneers did.
So he purchased wagons, mules, and other gear and, together with his brother Nick and Nick's dog, Olive Oyl, headed west to start their wagon trip at St. Joseph, Missouri. Both Rinker and Nick are experienced horsemen and Nick is experienced in driving a wagon and team. So they are not neophytes in this enterprise.
Unfortunately, much of the Oregon Trail has been lost to farming, ranching, development and highway construction, so the trip on actual trail only consisted of about 40% of their travel time. The rest was on highways and country roads. But they still had to contend with some of the same problems the original users faced. Storms, flooding, washed out passages, equipment failures, crashes, ornery mules, getting lost, runaway mules, dog bites, bringing too much stuff along, miscalculations and so on. About the only thing they didn't have to deal with was illness, as they tolerated the rough travel surprisingly (to me) rather well.
But this isn't just a book about the trip. It also delves into the history of the trail and of the westward emigration, presented in an easy style that made it all just part of the story.
Rinker also has some interesting opinions about the past and present:

Few organized religions, however, can prosper without stunning misbehavior by their leaders. Smith's [Joseph Smith, founder of Mormonism] new faith soon stumbled over his secret endorsement of plural marriage, or polygamy, a practice he justified with a great deal of theological mumbo jumbo designed to conceal his chronic philandering. Smith was an attractive man and a spellbinding speaker, and women swooned during his sermons. He rarely met a follower's pretty wife or teenage daughter whom he didn't covet, and many of them succumbed to his charms without Smith having to make much of an effort. Under an impressive veil of deceit, Smith eventually "sealed" to forty-five wives, and his successor Brigham Young would go on to build two adjoining mansions in Salt Lake to house his own fifty-one wives and estimated fifty-seven children.

This model of government support for a major development project [the Lander Cutoff of the Oregon Trail] became popular and was accepted as the new norm for western growth. Each new phase of frontier growth -- the railroads, ranching, mining -- was also supported by either outright government subsidies, land giveaways, or federally supported irrigation and bridge-building projects. That was the tradition established by the Oregon Trail and it has always amused me that the myth of "rugged individualism" still plays such a large role in western folklore and American values. In fact, our vaunted rugged individualism was financed by huge government largesse.

The [mean] rancher reminded me of those Emperor Nero state troopers who cannot hand out a routine speeding ticket without pestering a driver with a string of useless and humiliating questions. The cops of America are poster-boys of low self-esteem. Their uniforms, silly hats, and sparkling patent leather girdles freighted down with shiny handcuffs, walkie-talkies, and spray canisters of Mace apparently do not make them feel secure enough, so they always add the hostile interrogation to make sure that the accosted citizens know who is in charge.

I enjoyed this book from beginning to end and I even read most of the lengthy acknowledgements in the back of the book. It's grand adventure, man vs nature and American history all in one.
For another review, see