Peevish Pen

Ruminations on reading, writing, rural living, retirement, aging—and sometimes cats. And maybe a border collie or other critters.

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Location: Rural Virginia, United States

I'm an elderly retired teacher who writes. Among my books are Ferradiddledumday (Appalachian version of the Rumpelstiltskin story), Stuck (middle grade paranormal novel), Patches on the Same Quilt (novel set in Franklin County, VA), Them That Go (an Appalachian novel), Miracle of the Concrete Jesus & Other Stories, and several Kindle ebooks.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Lion's Testicles

Bet the title of this post caught your interest!

Actually it's part of the title of a book I recently read: Learning to Play With a Lion's Testicles: Unexpected Gifts from the Animals of Africa, by Melissa Haynes. In Africa, the term "playing with a lion's testicles" means to take foolhardy chances or to do something stupid.

Published in March 2013 by Behler Publications, the book is a first-person account of the author's coming to terms with her mother's death while volunteering on a game preserve in South Africa. Haynes skillfully moves back and forth between events leading to her mother's death and her experiences in Africa. Both were traumatic.

I have limited experience with lions (Lion Country Safari in Florida in 1969), but I share my home with numerous lion-like critters. Some of them were interested in the book.

Jim-Bob was the first to have a look. Perhaps he was channeling his inner lion.

Jim-Bob certainly liked the cover.

I liked what was beyond the cover—the author's journey through her grief and her quest for meaning in her life. From the Behler Publications site, here's the summary: 

Melissa, an exhausted executive from the city seeks meaning and purpose from her work, and volunteers for a Big Five conservation project in South Africa.  Her boss, an over-zealous ranger, nicknamed the Drill Sergeant, has no patience for city folk, especially if they're women, and tries to send her packing on day one. But Melissa stands her ground with grit and determination, however shaky it may be.
 Conflict soon sets the pace with a cast filled with predatory cats, violent elephants, and an on-going battle of wits with the Drill Sergeant. Even Mother Nature pounds the reserve with the worst storm in a century. But the most enduring and profound conflict is the internal battle going on within Melissa, as she tries to come to terms with the guilt surrounding her mother's death. When death grips the game reserve, it is the very animals Melissa has come to save that end up saving her.
 For the reader who has ever dreamed of going to Africa or knows the pain of loss and guilt, LEARNING TO PLAY WITH A LION’S TESTICLES will fill your soul. 

The book is indeed  loaded with conflict: Melissa Haynes' guilt over not being there when her mother died, the daily conflicts with her supervisor (the "drill sergeant"), her conflict with a harsh and dangerous environment, her fear of staying alone in her tent at night while she hears growls in the darkness, her conflict with Kittibon the elephant who flings dung and branches at her, the amorous rhino with raging hormones, the lions, etc.

In some cases, she took dangerous chances (hence the title) in order to prove to the "drill sergeant" that she could do the jobs assigned her—and to prove to herself that she could do them. While there were a few times that I thought she wouldn't make it out alive, I reminded myself that, after all, she did survive to write the book.

One of the things I especially liked about this book is that Haynes' writing style is up-close and personal—not detached and after the fact. She comes across as wonderfully human, flaws and all. Plus, as a confirmed animal-lover, I enjoyed reading about the wild critters on their home turf. 

I highly recommend this book. Any woman who has endured the death of her mother (the book arrived on the 9th anniversary of my mother's funeral) or who has had doubts about whether or not she could make it through life's challenges would enjoy this book.

Tanner contemplated the cover, but he wasn't as intrigued as Jim-Bob. Of course, Tanner is young yet and hasn't developed his tastes in reading. 

Tanner decided that, instead of reading a tale about lions and other wild critters, he'd rather play with Eddie-Puss's tail.

Blatant promo here: One of the reasons I liked this book so much is that it deals with the same themes as my middle grade novel, Stuck—coming to terms with grief over a mother's death and coming to terms with challenges in life.  Stuck, published in 2011 by Cedar Creek Publishing, is currently available in print and as an e-book.

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