May 15, 2019

Personalities on the Plate

the Lives and Minds of Animals We Eat
by Barbara J. King

This book looks at the lives of animals we humans tend to eat: fish, chickens, goats, cows and pigs. It also starts off with a chapter on insects- is it better to eat insects than mammals, because they need fewer resources (lighter burden on the planet), and have less apparent intelligence? maybe- but most people in the western world can't get over their repugnance. On the flip side, I can't think of anyone who would eat chimpanzee meat, for entirely different reasons- but the author tells us there definitely are people who do, in other parts of the world. There's also a chapter on octopus, how smart they are, how much a delicacy in certain cultures- but having not-too-long ago read Sy Montgomery's the Soul of an Octopus- which is quoted plenty in here- I found myself skipping through a lot of it. In fact that was a damper for me in most of the book- I've also read several Michael Pollan books, Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals and Barry Estabrook's Pig Tales, plus several others which are quoted or heavily referenced here. So although the author brought in a lot of personal experiences and incidents I hadn't heard of, still much of the material felt repetitive to me, not a lot new, and I skimmed plenty. I also gather that much of it was first written as a blog, which might have something to do with how brief and light some of the writing feels to me. It's also strong on the emotional slant, in giving reasons for moving away from eating meat and being vegetarian or vegan. However there was enough of interest in here - and some very convincing rationales I hadn't though of before- that I read it all the way through, regardless of the skips. So please don't take my rating to heart this time; it's more my personal response to the book because I already felt fairly saturated with this kind of information, than anything else. I think I need to switch subject matters for a while.

I was really horrified by the story of Mike the headless chicken by the way- just google that, if you will. Even worse is the fact that after this chicken gained fame (and money) for his owner, lots of other men tried to duplicate the curiosity- killing tons of chickens just to try and get one that would freakishly survive it. What??!

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 2/5                 229 pages, 2017

May 13, 2019

Closer to the Ground

An Outdoor Family's Year on the Water, in the Woods and at the Table
by Dylan Tomine

This book was very enjoyable. It's about a family that does a lot of what I wish I did more of- forage, grow, harvest and catch their own food. Well, they benefit by living right by the ocean- literally five minutes from a boat ramp. They go crabbing, fishing, deer hunting, gather mussels, dig clams, hunt chanterelles and pick berries in the forest, and grow a vegetable garden. The father is passionate about finding and cutting deadfall trees to heat their house all year round. Not all trees are equal in this- I didn't realize by how much. Not all goes as planned- but Tomine writes with wry humor his own mishaps, and describes in glowing tones his small triumphs, and wow the food sounds delectable all round (this book makes me hungry.) His kids get muddy, wet, cold and tired- and are happily involved, delighted in their part. They are always eager to try one more fishing spot, drop one more crab pot. They point out the lovely things alone the way- porpoises and seals in the Sound, birds on the water, when dad often just wants to find the thing they came to catch and get it home again- kids make you slow down and appreciate the doing of it. He talks about the tricky balance between trying to live "green" and being practical about it- especially when it comes to what kind of car they drive, and where they source materials for an addition to their house. It's honest about how much one can do- when their tomato crop fails due to blight, they recognize it's okay- they don't solely live off their garden produce, and they have a ton of stuff growing wonderfully even when the tomatoes didn't make it. It's about doing what you can to be good to the Earth, living close to nature and making the most of the available bounty. It also makes me nostalgic, being written by a man who lives on an island in Puget Sound- right around where I grew up. I heartily recommend this book to my siblings and parents- I'm sure they would really appreciate it.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5                  230 pages, 2012

May 10, 2019

Down from the Mountain

the Life and Death of a Grizzly Bear
by Bryce Andrew

This book is gritty honest and sobering about the conditions that pitch grizzly bears and man into conflict, but also full of beautifully lyrical writing about the landscape, people and animals. It really makes you feel you are there. The author writes about a particular valley in Montana where bears have been strongly attracted by the richness of crops, feeding on apple trees and gophers in fields instead of staying up on the mountainside eating things like cutworms and berries. Some bears discovered corn, and more and more came every year to ravage corn fields- and they are extremely dangerous because invisible inside the tall corn. The author became involved helping a rancher experiment with new fencing around his corn field, hoping to keep the bears out before the corn ripened. He writes about why bears in corn is bad all around- not only bringing them into conflict with people, causing huge amounts of crop damage and loss, making the bears unhealthy (corn is more fattening than their natural foods), young bears learning this as a prime food source which could put them in lifelong trouble with people. He brings his parents (artists and writers) to visit the field and see the bears, noting their different perspectives on the situation. He accompanies law enforcement to seek out a man who shot one particular female bear, maiming it in an awful way that left it suffering for months on end. He visits with leaders of a tribal group on a local reservation, to learn from and work with them resolving bear conflicts. And finally, he follows the fate of two young grizzlies - presumably orphaned by the injured bear. It all winds up in a sad place, was my thought.

Illustrated with black and white photographs. I borrowed this book from the public library. Similar read: True Grizz.

Rating: 4/5             274 pages, 2019

May 7, 2019

Touch Not the Cat

by Mary Stewart

Took myself by surprise, here. The book is a mystery and a romance- genres I don't usually read, but I could not put it down regardless. The characters are well-written, the situation intriguing, the descriptions of place vivid and real. Heroine is a young woman named Bryony, who grew up on an old family estate- now slowly falling into ruin, held together by a trust established by one of the family ancestors, and part of it rented out to strangers. Bryony had been living away from home for a while, but hurries back at news of her father's sudden death- and hears from their lawyer that the estate will now pass into the hands of her older cousin Emory. There's several older male cousins- Bryony has always found them rather attractive (this is back in the day when it was okay to marry your cousin?) and she wonders if one of them is he who has spoken with her telepathically since she was a child. It's a family gift handed down from a gypsy woman who married into the family once- but for Bryony it is much more than just an exchange of thoughts. She feels so close to the one she's been mentally communicating with, she calls him her lover, even though they've never met in person. I found this- really odd and uncomfortable- especially with the idea it was her cousin- and I don't usually like stories that include paranormal elements at all- so that tells you what a darn good writer Stewart is, to get me intrigued anyway.

Well, Bryony finds a lot of subtly suspicious things going on when she gets home to the estate. She starts to wonder who is lurking in the shadows, who her "lover" really is, and was her father's death an accident- or did someone purposefully run him down. His last words were written down and handed to her- they seem to include a warning and she's determined to figure it out. Meanwhile, there's a wealthy American family living in the better part of the huge old house, Bryony soon meets them and that was pretty interesting- sorry to say I sometimes find English opinions of Americans to be rather- disparaging? - but this one was admiring and astute. She also meets some childhood friends who still live nearby, peruses old books in the near-empty library in search of clues (there's some lovely literary references, I always like it when characters in books are well-read), and puzzles out the overgrown maze in the center of the garden- which might also hide secrets to some long-ago obscured scandal.

I won't say more, except that this story surprised me at so many turns. What was hidden at the center of the maze- I really thought it was going to have some magical properties- an ancient curse perhaps- but the truth turned out to be much more matter-of-fact! Who the un-met lover was- this part surprised me too, but I also found it very satisfying. The cousins turned out to be nasty fellows, and really deserved what they got in the end, I thought. I don't know if I'd pick this one up again- I'm still a bit weirded out by the closeness of cousins and the telepathy stuff- but if I ever feel game to read a mystery again, I'll probably reach for a Mary Stewart.

Rating: 3/5             336 pages, 1976

May 5, 2019

The Solution

Animorphs #22
by K.A. Applegate

This book was really tense! It wraps up the "David trilogy." The newer Animorph is obviously a dangerous loose end. He quits the team for good, but his very existence is a danger to the others, not to mention he obviously intends to use his morphing powers for crime and gain, and now he wants to get his hands back on the blue box that grants those powers. It is really strange to see the Animorphs facing danger from one who wields their own abilities- you can see how they've managed to hold on so long against the alien enemy, even though small in numbers and only teenagers. David can easily threaten them, sneak in amongst them unseen, he could be anywhere, any time. He infiltrates Rachel and Jake's extended family in a very clever and disturbing way. It makes it doubly hard for the team to get rid of him- but also more determined to do so. They have to be very careful and smart to outwit one of their own- and meanwhile still have to put a stop to the summit where the enemy are trying to get at the heads of five different nations. Which they decide to do in a ridiculously straightforward fashion, since their last attempt using subterfuge didn't work at all. More significant to me than all the action, though, was the constant second-guessing Rachel (the narrator) did. She finds herself questioning why Jake specifically puts her in situations that call for threats, violence and even ruthless behavior, to get the better of David. She's angered and frightened by the knowledge that there is a dark side to her character that enjoys the challenge of a fight, and upset that the other members of the team might see her that way too. Also it becomes clear that Jake is starting to stragetically use his friends as team members for their specific abilities- they don't always like what that entails or suggests about them.

There aren't really any new morphs in this book. David uses the snake, they all morph birds of prey at some point, they morph dolphins and a whale at one point- battling David as an orca at sea- he's trying to kill them off- and several of the Animorphs acquire elephant and rhinoceros forms to (literally) crash into the summit. Rachel morphs the rat in order to lead David into a trap. None of these were really described in detail- and I rather missed that. However it was nice to have far fewer of the drawn-out sound effects written in! (I think this is among the first of the Animorphs books that were ghost-written- most of the second half of the series weren't directly authored by Applegate).

Rating: 3/5               152 pages, 1988

more opinions:
Arkham Reviews
Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tales

May 3, 2019

The Threat

Animorphs #21
by K.A. Applegate

Warning for SPOILERS.

Most of this book takes place at a summit, where the Animorph team are desperately trying to thwart the aliens' attempts to take over the minds of several leaders of the world, without being detected by the human security in place. It's confusing. Especially all the levels of holograms that occur. Deviousness galore. Not just on the enemy's part- also apparently from one of their own. David, the newer Animorph member, proves himself more and more untrustworthy. He has an unpleasant, look-out-for-yourself mentality, an unpalatable glee in watching fights, an obvious callousness to animal suffering. At one point he wonders aloud to Jake which animal would win in a fight: lion or tiger? (David has a lion morph). The summit turns out to be a huge trap, the Animorphs once again confront Visser Three face-to-face, David ends up exposing himself as being human, and in a moment of visceral fear, pleads for his life and caves in to the enemy- admitting he'd go over to their side. But they manage to get away and later he tells the Animorphs it was all a sham, he'd never do that. Now this kid has nothing to loose, though- his parents are controlled by Yeerks, the enemy knows his face, he can never go home again. He has to live in hiding or morph other humans (something he has no qualms about doing). Makes it clear to the others that he doesn't care about their fight, he'll use his morphing powers for gain any way he wants (already having done so to some degree) and he threatens Tobias' life (I yelped aloud when I read that page near the end). Yet already I was suspicious enough about David's motives I wondered if that, too, was a sham- did he, as a golden eagle, attack and tear apart a random hawk, to make the Animorphs think he'd killed Tobias? the book ends with the Animorphs new and old turning against each other, a battle between lion and tiger (in the mall) in the dead of night, while Ax races to get Rachel for help, and Tobias is ominously silent to all communication attempts. It's a very tense cliffhanger ending-I have to read on.

Rating: 3/5                  158 pages, 1998

more opinions:
Arkham Reviews
Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tales

May 1, 2019

How to Be a Good Creature

a Memoir in Thirteen Animals
by Sy Montgomery

This little book is deeply personal. I've read quite a bit of Sy Montgomery, and always been impressed. It's very obvious she loves animals and feels a close connection to them; this book explains why. Montgomery tells about the dog she loved as a child, problems in the family she grew up in (although she loves them very much) and how inspired and comforted she felt by the animals around her. She tells of the study on emus in Australia that changed the direction of her life, the huge lovable pig she adopted and cared for during fourteen years, a series of border collies she and her husband lived with- each strikingly different in personality and needs. She tells of assisting with a study on tree kangaroos in Papua New Guinea, of encountering and holding a giant tarantula in French Guiana, how delicate and beautiful this arachnid was, that most would fear. Of a dazzling fierce weasel that raided her chicken coop one winter- and how she admired it, in spite of the sorrow the chicken's death brought her. And there is the octopus. At first approach, I thought this book was sweet, a lovely affirmation of the connection people can have with other animals. But it is also very sobering- later in the book she tells how the death of some she was very close to, contributed to her plunge into a deep depression, her thoughts of suicide, and how encounters with other animals helped pull her out of that. I didn't know I was going to read about this. So brave of her to write. So important, the other lives around us that touch us for good or ill- the creatures that share our world are so very different, and so much the same.

The illustrations by Rebecca Green are simple, but very charming and expressive. I borrowed this book from the public library.

Rating: 3/5                 200 pages, 2018

Apr 29, 2019

Father's Gone A-Whaling

by Alice Cushing Gardiner
and Nancy Cabot Osborne

I found this book browsing on the Internet Archive. Picked it up for a light read, was slightly disappointed. It shows its age, but also was written for juvenile audience and has two authors, that might be part of the reason it fell a bit flat for me. Story of a young boy who lives on Nantucket during the heyday of whaling. Most of the narrative is just about his daily life- bored in school, roaming the beaches when he can get away from the strict eye of his mother and grandfather, getting into a bit of mischief with his best friend- searching for buried treasure (which turns out to be a crate of bottled wine). He's forbidden to go the wharves but enthralled by sailor's stories especially of pirates. Finds a parrot and returns it to a Spainard who lives in a shack near the beach (he's afraid of this foreign man until the Spainard offers him food, and thanks them broadly for the return of his parrot). Witnesses the rescue of crew off a shipwreck near shore- and the adults talk of scavenging the goods (I gather this was customary if there were no survivors). There's mention of local customs- a bit interesting was the communal sheep-shearing day. He's proud to bring down a goose bird when he goes duck-hunting with his grandfather. Uppermost on the boy's mind is going away to sea, but he's considered too young. He attempts to sneak aboard a ship and stowaway so the captain will be forced to accept him as cabin boy, but his plan doesn't work. Sneaks home again and gets in trouble for getting his boots wet (any little chill or soaking and he was sent promptly to bed!) The book closes with a final promise from his parents that next year when he's ten, he can sign up to go to sea. It doesn't sound like a glamorous occupation, though. One of the men described to the young boys in detail what work it was to cut up a dead whale and process the blubber into oil- it sounds very messy and odorous, not to mention stomach-turning. I was mildly surprised that this frank explanation of the hard work on board ship did not deter the boys at all in their eagerness to go. Especially since it was made clear to them that the first several years with the crew, their job would be to wait table on the captain, assist the mess cook and clean things. What fun.

I think this book is based on true events, because the frontispiece dedication is to those Nantucket people whose memories have made this book. So it has value as a historical piece, but honestly wasn't a very fun read. I found  myself skimming a lot, hoping the story would get good when the boy snuck aboard ship. It's probably very realistic, though.

Rating: 2/5                pages, 1928

Apr 26, 2019

People of the Sky

by Clare Bell

Wow, this book. It really had me riveted. Very interesting- it's sci-fi set in a future where the ends of a Native American population had taken the chance to colonize a new planet. They barely survived and generations later were nearly forgotten by the humans left on Earth. The protagonist, a woman from Earth named Kesbe, is descendant of a pueblo group- Hopi, Zuni and Havasupai are mentioned- come together in a final move to preserve some of their heritage. Kesbe learns bits and pieces of it from her grandfather, but forges ahead in her dream to reach the stars as a pilot.

She ends up with a job on one of the new planets flying an archaic, refurbished plane to deliver it to a wealthy collector. Runs into a dangerous thunderstorm and makes an emergency landing on a ledge in a steep canyon- in an uncharted area. She is rescued by an isolated group of people who live on a remote, hidden mesa. They've never been contacted by the outside world- in fact they don't even believe the world exists beyond their canyons. They are just as baffled by Kesbe's differences- mannerisms, speaking patterns, habits etc- as she is by theirs. Strangely- and thrilling at first to Kesbe- these people have a symbiotic relationship with a native animal- a creature something like a dragonfly- which their young people ride in order to hunt, carry water, etc. Kesbe finds the creatures beautiful and fascinating, and wants to learn more about them, and how they enabled the people to survive in their hostile environment. As she shares with them some Native American roots, they find it easy enough to assimilate, but when Kesbe learns the true nature of the people's intimacy with their alien fliers, everything changes.

There is so much going on in this book, and it has such interesting shifts of focus. First you're reading about the details navigating an ancient aircraft, then about riding flying alien beasts (which really reminded me of Anne McCaffrey's dragon/rider relationships), then about customs and legends of a re-imagined pubelo culture, then about women's identity and control of their bodies, then about the power belief systems can wield, and so on. There is a young boy initiate among the natives who befriends Kesbe at the cost of his standing in the tribe- some are very suspicious of her. There's an interesting man on another part of the planet -descendant of Maori and some African tribe- who is re-creating a safari experience on his vast land (he needs the airplane). Some of the most fascinating writing was about how Kesbe adapted her very body- via a drug the people made from a plant- to enhance her senses- especially that of scent- so she could communicate with one of the fliers- it is hard to imagine how a sense we consciously use very little of could carry so much information and messages; I think the author did a remarkable thing here.

I won't say more or I might spoil the story for someone else- it really is full of surprises, daring discovery and horror, later reconciliation and hope. Also some very tender and gentle moments. I want to read it all over again. I have a copy of this one on my e-reader.

Rating: 4/5               345 pages, 1989

more opinions: Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tales