Oct 19, 2017

The Night Fairy

by Laura Amy Schlitz

Brief little tale about a fairy who lives in a garden. But it's not sweet- this is a story of survival skills- miniature-sized. The fairy in the book looses her wings, and all the other fairies fly off without her. She is forced to figure out how to survive on her own- surrounded by all sorts of threats and obstacles. She's not a very nice character at first- determined and resourceful yes, but also demanding, selfish and a bit vindictive. A feisty little fairy, which suited her situation very well. Through the story she has to find a safe shelter and avoid aggressive creatures- the spider and a preying mantis are particularly dangerous. She's terrified of bats. She coerces a squirrel into doing her bidding but then sees a hummingbird in flight and is determined to make the bird carry her around. The hummingbird doesn't give in- she has duties, a nest of eggs to protect. The fairy has to re-think her approach if she really wants to get the bird to cooperate... She also has to learn how to channel and use her magic powers. That aspect of the story wasn't nearly as interesting to me as her interactions with the animals, but it gives her some security because she can do things in spite of her small size to defend herself or overcome difficulties.

I was kind of surprised how much I enjoyed this one. I thought from the cover it would be cute- but it was much more serious. I particularly liked that the details about the wildlife in the garden were very true to nature- the hummingbird is very territorial and falls into a state of torpor during the night, for example. The squirrel was such a character.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5           122 pages, 2010

more opinions:
Puss Reboots
Charlotte's Library
Fantasy Book Critic

All Black Cats Are Not Alike

by Amy Goldwasser

This is a fun, quirky little book featuring black cats. Real black cats, whose owners or caretakers or slaves offered their names and details to be included in the book (it was a kickstarter thing). Each page shows the cat's face and tells some little tidbit about their quirky habits and personalities. There are cats that hate people, or love them. Cats who despise their own kind, cats who rule. Cats who like cheetos, lick plastic, stick their noses in people's ears. Endearing cats, annoying cats, all of them very much different from each other. What I didn't care for in this book were the occasional references to popular culture or famous people, which never sits well with me. It feels a bit snarky, New York- style.

The illustrations by Peter Arkle really make the book. You think -of course- at a glance that one black cat is very like another- there's one down the street from us that I often mistake for my own when I see it walking on the sidewalk. But the faces are so distinct here- the slant and expression in the eyes, the shapes of their noses, tilts of their ears, texture of the fur. The artist really captured their individuality. I like how the spread of the inside cover shows them all. Here's a sample:
Rating: 2/5           120 pages, 2016

Oct 18, 2017

Pegasus

by Robin McKinley

The princess is waiting for a special day when she will be magically bound to a pegasus from the land across the mountains- in honor of a treaty made centuries ago between their two kindgdoms. In this world, pegasi are not mere horses with wings. They are fully sentient beings, with an ancient culture, with their own language and customs. It's a story about two very alien races in an uneasy co-existence. Their interactions have been guided and shaped for centuries by rules and rituals- for the safety of all, say the powerful magicians.  Who hold a lot of power, because only magicians or Speakers who have studied their entire lives, can translate between pegasus language and humans. But when the princess- fourth child of the king and thus of not much consequence- is bound to her pegasus, something extraordinary happens. It is not just a ritual, it becomes a real thing. She can talk to her pegasus in an easy, direct way no one else has before. They develop a real friendship, and start to make some discoveries about each other's worlds. Discoveries which stand to threaten the status quo....

I was eager to read this one, but had trouble finishing it. I saw where the setup was leading to, but it never got there, so the last twenty or forty or more pages lost my interest, and I had to force myself through. McKinley is one of my favorite authors, but this one was difficult for me. I really like the ideas in it, the execution- not so much. It has a lot of formalities, so many explanations, so much building up to something that won't happen until a sequel, now. Sigh. But I bet I'll read it anyway- I do like the characters and the world-building is intriguing. I want to see how it ends.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5             404 pages, 2010

more opinions:
Jenny's Books
Aelia Reads
A Literary Odyssey
Ela's Book Blog
Dear Author

Oct 13, 2017

Pacific Marine Fishes Book 3

Fishes of Sri Lanka (Ceylon), the Maldive Islands and Mombasa
by Warren Burgess and Dr. Herbert R. Axelrod

It's odd to say I read this book, as it was more a motion of looking at the pictures. The first half of it was rather disappointing: the many pictures of wrasse species for example, are dark and dull with very little of their vivid colors showing. Later pages also show many fish with grayed or washed out color (probably because they were taken after the dead fish were lifted from the water); a lot of the specimens also are in poor condition with signs of decay and deteriorating fins. (Maybe if I wasn't a fishkeeper, I wouldn't notice these things). However there also also plenty with clear definition of scales and pattern, and I am really intrigued with the curiously cute images of some butterfly fish and surgeon fish at a very young age- just past the larval stage it says. Also really cool are the photos showing filefish mimics compared to the puffers they imitate- it is very hard for me to tell the difference! The text itself wasn't nearly as interesting as the pictures. I do not recall a single instance of it describing anything about behavior- it's all physical description and things like how many fin rays or what kind of tooth structure defines one species from the next. Oh well. I'm keeping this one in my collection because it's part of the set, and I do find plenty of the photos interesting to look at - enough so that I often wish to draw the fishes, when I look through one of these books.

Rating: 2/5               277 pages, 1973

Oct 9, 2017

East

by Edith Pattou

~ seems I can't help it, there are some spoilers in this post ~

This was a really good story. It's pretty hefty but I was so intent on the reading I hardly noticed the length. It's a retelling of the folktale, East of the Sun, West of the Moon. Some aspects of the story were very reminiscent of Beauty- young woman of her free will goes to live with a wild creature in an enchanted castle, where she must figure out how to break the spell and free the man inside the beast...

Our heroine, Ebba Rose, is born to a mother who strongly believes in superstition. In this case, she's fixated on what direction her babe is facing when it enters the world. Rose was born facing north- destined to be a wanderer, no matter how much her mother tried to keep her tame and close to home. Her father loves mapmaking but has been struggling to make ends meet as a farmer. Her family is on really hard times- one of her sisters is seriously ill and the family is near starving- when their door bursts open during a storm and a large polar bear speaks to them. He states that if Rose will accompany him, the sister will recover and the family will prosper. Once they get over their shock at the bear's visit, the family falls into denial- it is a crazy idea, it can't be true- animals don't talk- but Rose herself is intrigued and has always wanted to travel, has often played as a child of having a white bear companion. So she goes, against her father's wishes.

On a strange, swift journey with the bear through the forest, under an ocean, across an icy land to a castle inside a mountain. With rooms of comforts, books on shelves, musical instruments, and a beautiful loom. Rose happens to love weaving- it was a really nice touch to have this skill and art as a central thread to the story. She spends her time working at the loom, studying the books, trying to interact with the mysterious servants- who are trolls- and getting used to the fitful company of a nearly-silent polar bear. She doesn't figure out the enchantment until it is almost too late- and then has to undo her error in being too hasty with curiosity. This has always been an odd sticking point in the original story- who in their right mind would think it normal to sleep next to a stranger in the dark, night after night. Rose tries to explain it away- her feeling of dread, of breaking some taboo- but it is her mother who finally gives her the means to see the stranger in the dark. And then she has to go on a difficult journey further north, to find the man-who-was-a-bear and bring him safely home (if he wants to come) from the wicked Troll Queen's clutches.

I really liked that most of the characters were fairly complex. The mother is superstitious and worries about her children, but is the only one who encourages Rose to go with the bear in the first place. The bear, a man trapped inside a beast, struggles to keep his human nature alive for years and years- and when he is finally released from the spell- he finds himself completely at a loss. The Troll Queen isn't simply evil- but consumed by longing, a love for the human boy she once saw which becomes a desire to possess him- resulting in his enchantment inside a bear as punishment. The whole section of the story where Rose is in the Trolls' realm was eerily reminiscent in some ways of aspects of the Holocaust- I could not help thinking of it when I read the part that describes how the human slaves were done away with, when their usefulness was over....

Anyway, in spite of a few flaws- I didn't understand for one thing, why the bear was suffering punishment when the Troll Queen was the one who had done wrong- I found it a richly enjoyable book, one to get immersed in.

Rating: 4/5                507 pages, 2005

more opinions:
Book Smugglers
Ivy Book Bindings
Things Mean a Lot

Oct 6, 2017

Book of a Thousand Days

by Shannon Hale

Dashti didn't know what she was getting herself into when she swore to serve as the lady Saren's maid, but she promised to stick to her duty. Lady Saren has refused the lord her father wished her to marry- she loves another. As punishment she is locked in a tower for seven years, Dashti along with her. The first part of the story is about the darkness, the boredom, the taunts of soldiers who guard their tower. Then they find rats, and silence outside, and fear starvation. So after several long years they break out of the tower, discovering that the world outside has changed... The two young women make their way through a demolished kingdom to a new land, where they find work in a castle as kitchen scullery-maids. Only to find, to their surprise, that the Lord of the castle is the same man Saren had loved- and he's now betrothed to another. Dashti begs Lady Saren to admit her identity but Saren is too timid, commanding Dashti (a mere commoner) to act in her place. How can Dashti choose- to go back on the oath she took to obey her Lady Saren, or to impersonate one of the gentry, which is a punishable crime?

The setting of this tale is medieval Mongolia, which was new for me and there's a delightful amount of detail about folklore, superstition and beliefs woven into the story. The main character sings healing songs. And I love the cat. One of the most poignant scenes in the book involves the cat. For a relatively short, YA novel it has a good amount of character depth and development. There were a lot of things I didn't expect- the appearance of skinwalkers, for example. The subtle contrast of good and evil. It's nice to see a change in roles- the princess was really a shirking, unpleasant person and her maid Dashti is the real heroine of the story. When the end was near, I saw what was coming but couldn't imagine how the author would work out all the details in a believable fashion. But it worked out amazingly well. Very clever.

I didn't know a lot about this story going into it, and that's part of the fun. It's based on a fairy tale I'd never heard of- the Grimm's Maid Maleen. The author reworked this tale into something unique, and I enjoyed it very much.

Rating: 3/5            312 pages, 2007

more opinions:
Valentina's Room
Bookshelves of Doom

Oct 5, 2017

Yellow Star

by Jennifer Roy

This fictionalized account is based on the childhood of the author's aunt. She- Syvia- lived with her family in a ghetto in Poland from 1939-1945. Syvia was only four and a half years old when it began. She was one of very few survivors- only twelve children made it out of that ghetto alive at the end of the war. She was silent about her experiences for forty years, until sharing her story in a series of interviews with her neice.

The story is told in free verse. I don't often read narrative told via poetry. In this case I think keeping the details brief makes a story about the Holocaust easier for young readers to handle (this is a j-fiction book). But it also left me feeling unconnected to the characters- it's more about what happened to them, then about them as individuals. Syvia's story tells of living in privation, locked behind a fence in the ghetto. Leaving all their belongings behind, living in crowded conditions with few comforts. No school or playtime. Facing illness and starvation. Watching people getting shipped away in the cattle cars, told they were being sent to places where workers were needed, but after a while they began to doubt that.  Syvia lost her friends and a cousin, one simply disappeared when she went outside. Her family worried for her safety so she remained in the small, barren apartment and could not even approach windows, for fear of attracting the soldiers' attention. Her older sister escaped the camps by lying about her age so she could work in a factory. When children were deliberately targeted to be sent on the trains, Syvia's father and other men in the ghetto made a daring move to hide the remaining children in a cellar. There they stayed for months in the dark, barely daring to make a sound and weak from hunger and cold. Liberation came just in time.

The prevailing feeling that comes through is so- dismal. Having read a lot about the Holocaust before (especially in my high school years) I knew what to expect in many parts of the story, but it still brought me close to tears reading about the suffering, through the eyes of a child. And of the awful risks people took to save others. In some instances, a detail that saved many people from certain death was incredibly fortuitous.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5             242 pages, 2006

Oct 4, 2017

Paddle to the Amazon

by Don Starkell

In 1980, Don Starkell and his two sons undertook an amazing canoe journey- at the time, it was a world-record accomplishment. They paddled a 21-foot canoe from Winnipeg, Canada to the mouth of the Amazon River in Brazil. 12,000 miles in two years. I've written about this book before, but that time was from memory, I hadn't actually read it in over a decade. Now having obtained my own copy through a book swap, I enjoyed reading it again.

Their canoe journey took the Starkells down the Red River and the Mississippi, along the Gulf of Mexico's coastline, past the Panama Canal (they were denied entry- which would have been just for fun), traversing the coasts of Colombia and Venezuela, down the Orinoco River and up the Amazon through Brazil. They suffered many hardships- some of which I remembered vividly- salt sores, hunger, exhaustion. A lot of the trip was in ocean waters which sounded incredibly difficult and dangerous. One of the sons dropped out not long into the journey. The other, Dana, struggled with asthma for much of the trip, then found the South American climate agreed with him and he was able to quit using his medication. They travelled through thirteen countries- in some areas were met with great generosity and hospitality, in other places strong suspicion and thievery. They undertook quite a few grueling portages, a few times across an isthmus where they insisted on hauling the boat on a trailer by hand, refusing assistance offered with vehicles because they wanted to make the entire journey via manpower. A lot of people thought they'd never make it to the end, and sometimes they thought that, themselves. Don says he'd never do it again- but years later he made another canoe journey from Canada to the Arctic, which I'd like to read someday.

My memory had exaggerated some things and dismissed others. In my mind, the incidents involving snakes and crocodiles had stood out for years, but upon re-reading, those things were really minor. They had one close encounter with an anaconda (approaching it to take a photo) but all the crocs they saw were at a distance, none threatened. This time around I noticed the writing about the scenery, and descriptions about how various native people eked out a living on the coast. Don sometimes mused on how travelling by canoe equated his experience with that of early explorers- in some cases he used their writings to know what to expect on little-travelled stretches of river. My favorite part of the book was the last thirty pages, which describes their journey on the actual Amazon River- lots of wildlife sightings.

Rating: 4/5         316 pages, 1987

Sep 26, 2017

Lady with a Spear

by Eugenie Clark

Memoir about her younger years, when Eugenie Clark as a budding marine biologist travelled the world's oceans to collect fishes for science. It starts with how her interest in fish was sparked by long days spent at a public aquarium while her mother was working, and she pursued this into university studies. She describes first learning to dive, to use different netting techniques, and most of all, to track down individual fish and capture them with a spear. Her travels for study took her to the South Sea Islands where native fishermen would help her find rare fish. Even when language was a barrier, her requests were usually met with enthusiasm. Many of the natives she met had never seen a white woman before, much less one who was a scientist and went fishing. I liked reading the descriptions of strange, unusual fish and other marine life. The constant killing for collections, not so much. Even though I understand her reasoning why it was important to get all the specimens out of particular chosen tidepool, it is still a bit distressing to read of how the entire population of the pool would be knocked woozy with poison dropped in the water, and then promptly dropped into preserving fluid.... which happened to impress the locals very much. She made careful inquiries of the locals at each island which fishes were good eating (and often sampled them, including raw) and which they assumed were poisonous, and sent samples off to a lab which tested them for poison. It was a survey to find out which fish naturally carried venom, which were only poisonous in certain locales or at certain times of year due to what they ate, and which were not poisonous at all, even though the locals assumed so. At different times she was stationed in marine laboratories, and describes several extended stays in Hawaii, Guam, and on the Red Sea. She explains some experiments done on captive fishes in the lab- to study for the first time the reproductive behavior of guppies, and to learn more about visual memory using marine gobies. Those were pretty interesting. Sharks also come into the book, at the very end when she also talks briefly about meeting her future husband Ilias.

I am not sure which book I like best- this one is certainly less formal, being just as much a travel diary as it is a description of fishing and diving for scientific inquiry. Mostly, it is an intriguing look at marine fishes through the eyes of one who studied them with a lifelong passion.

Rating: 4/5               243 pages, 1951

Sep 24, 2017

second half overdue TBR

List of books I will have to be lucky to come across someday (not available at my library).
Mountain by Ursula Pflug- Indextrious Reader
Wind Rider by Susan Williams- Snips and Snails
Bohunk Road by Hope Moritt- Indextrous Reader
Dinosaur Tales by Ray Bradbury- Opinions of a Wolf
Wicked Weeds by Pedro Cabiya- Work in Progress
Specimen Stories by Irina Kovalyova- Indextrious Reader
Magnus by Sylvie Germain- Work in Progress
The Night Visitor by Lucy Atkins- Farm Lane Books Blog
Love Lessons by Joan Wyndham- Reading the End
Waterlily by Ella Cara Deloria- The Lost Entwife
Of Men and Monsters by William Tenn- James Reads Books
Gone to Pot by Jennifer Craig- Indextrious Reader
Kalyna by Pam Clark- Indextrious Reader
Someone at a Distance by Dorothy Whipple- Shelf Love
A Spare Life by Lidija Dimkovska- Work in Progress
In the Garden of Iden by Kage Baker- Reading the End
Shattered Shields edited by Jennifer Brozek -Snips and Snails
Earning My Spots by Mark Eastburn- Snips and Snails
Bear by Marian Engle- Indextrious Reader
The Farm in the Green Mountains by Herdan-Zuckmayer- Work in Progress
The Beasts of Tabat by Cat Rambo- Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tales
The Weigher by Vanicoff and Martin- Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tales
Wild Urban Plants of the Northeast by Thomas Christopher
All the Real Indians Died Off by Roxane Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker- Reading the End

way overdue TBR

I have not compiled a TBR list in seven months. So as you can imagine the list is very long. I have broken it up into two posts, this time. This one has the books I can find at my public library.
The Guest Cat by Takashi Hiraide- James Reads Books
The Wanderers by Meg Howry- Farm Lane Books Blog
A High Wind in Jamaica by Richard Hughs- Shelf Love
Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough- Melody's Reading Corner
The Book of Joan by Lidia Yuknavitch- So Many Books
The Zoo at the Edge of the World by Eric Kahn Gale- Snips and Snails
Babel-17 by Samuel Delaney- James Reads Books
In This House of Brede by Rumer Godden- Reading the End
The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben- So Many Books
Other Minds by Peter Godfrey-Smith - Caroline Bookbinder
Shrill by Lindy West- Bookfoolery
A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cosse- James Reads Books
The Last Neanderthal by Claire Cameron- Indextrious Reader
I Contain Multitudes by Ed Yong- Caroline Bookbinder
The Survivor's Club by Michael Bornstein- Bookfoolery
Uprooted by Naomi Novik- Musings of a Bookish Kitty
The Owl That Fell From the Sky by Brian Gill- library catalog
The Wild Robot by Peter Brown- James Reads Books
The Last One by Oliva Alexandra- Snips and Snails and Bookfool
Dragon with a Chocolate Heart by Stephanie Burgis- Bookfoolery
Hammer Head by Nina MacLaughlin- Sophisticated Dork
Monstress by Marjorie M. Liu- Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Tell Me How it Ends by Valeria Luiselli- Shelf Love
Gulp by Mary Roach- Ardent Reader
The Chicken Chronicles by Alice Walker- So Many Books
Birds, Art, Life by Kyo Maclear- Indextrious Reader
If I Was Your Girl by Meredith Russo- Caroline Bookbinder
This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki- Caroline Bookbinder
No Man's Land by Simon Tolkien- Bookfoolery
The Cloud Roads by Martha Wells- Read Warbler
Do No Harm by Henry Marsh- Caroline Bookbinder
Memoirs of a Polar Bear by Yoko Tawada- So Many Books
The People in the Trees by Hanya Yanigahara - Reading the End
Etched on Me by Jenn Crowell- Musings of a Bookish Kitty
War and Turpentine by Stephan Hertmans- Work in Progress
The Wolf's Boy by Susan Williams Behold- Snips and Snails
The Wild Places by Robert Macfarlane- Shelf Love
Tangles a Story About Alzheimer's by Sarah Leavitt- Indextrious Reader
Animal Madness by Laurel Braitman- site
Brief Histories of Everyday Objects by Andy Warner- Caroline Bookbinder
North Face by Mary Renault- Read Warbler
Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane by Lisa See- Melody's Reading Corner
Evicted by Desmond Matthew- Shelf Love
My Life with Bob by Pamela Paul- Book Chase
Radium Girls by Kate Moore- Caroline Bookbinder
Cultivating an ecological conscience by Frederick Kirschenmann- So Many Books
We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves by Karen Fowler- Shelf Love and Reading the End
Girl Who Circumnavigated the World in a Ship of Her Own Making by Valente- C Bkbndr