Aug 21, 2017

One-Eyed Cat

by Paula Fox

An old paperback on my shelf that I know I read once when I was a kid, but remembered almost nothing about. Decided to re-read it yesterday.

It takes place in the years just after the Great Depression- times are still rather hard, pleasures are simple. The main character, an eleven-year-old boy named Ned, enjoys walking in the woods and spends a lot of time at home. His father is parson in their small town, his mother is practically bed-ridden with a debilitating illness, and their housekeeper has a sharp tongue and airs of self-importance. Ned tries to please his father, worries about his mother, and usually avoids the housekeeper. He walks to school with his friends, sometimes squabbling with the other boys. He does chores and errands for an elderly man next door, slowly building up a friendship.

Then his visiting uncle gives him an air rifle for his birthday. Ned is eager to try it out on tin cans but his father disapproves of the gift and makes him put it away in the attic until he is older. Ned has always been obedient, but now he sneaks upstairs in the middle of the night and takes the gun outside. He just wants to handle it once; then promises to himself he'll put it away again. But he sees a shadow move by the corner of a building and takes a shot. Coming home again, he thinks he glimpses a face in an upstairs window- did someone see him? hear the shot? who was it? He feels guilty, but it's so much worse when later at the old man's house he sees a dirty, thin cat in the yard- with a missing eye. Ned is convinced he's responsible for the cat's injury. It is too wild to bring indoors but with the old man he tries to care for it- leaving out food, providing shelter. He worries what will happen to the cat when winter comes. Over the next eight months, guilt slowly eats away at him. His thoughts of the cat and his fault color everything around him, and he learns how hard it is to hold up a lie, when you don't know who might really know the truth...

This is a solemn story full of calm detail about relationships, the beauty of life, and the finality of death. The descriptions of the landscape, how people think and feel, are full of clarity. The ending feels a bit -flat- there's no huge resolution- just a few quiet conversations that maybe straighten things out, a glimpse of the cat that suggests to Ned how it might be doing- but he never is really sure. Life is like that, sometimes.

Rating: 3/5               216 pages, 1984

Aug 19, 2017

Yotsuba&!

Vols 7 and 8
by Kiyohiko Azuma

More fun: Yotsuba plays 'telephone' using plastic cups and string, with the girls nextdoor (inspiring me to do this with my youngest, who'd never seen such a thing). She goes bike riding with Ena and her friend- is amazed to see Miura's unicycle. Thinks Miura must be a princess because the apartment building she lives in is so huge -like a castle! (doesn't realize that many families live there). She's shocked to find out that Fuuka is going to bake a cake (thinks they only come from bakeries) and then disappointed how it turns out. Goes on an errand to buy lunch for herself and dad at the convenience store- but comes home with candy instead of his noodles. It's actually funny how that happened. She goes to visit a ranch with her dad and the gang- Yanda invites himself along- the other guys seem just annoyed at his presence but Yotsuba is incensed. And of course he teases her the whole time. The guys squabble like little kids. Yotsuba gets to milk a cow, annd punches a sheep- because it butted her first!

Volume throws you off at first- because Yotsuba decides to 'play opposites' where she says "I'm full!" for being hungry and so on. Ends up yelling "yucky!" in the middle of a restaurant, to the embarassment of the adults accompanying her. It's funny to me that she insists on using a knife and fork because it's "a fancy meal" and her dad says um, why don't you use something easier like chopsticks? But for us it would be the opposite! She goes with her dad to a cultural day at Fuuka's school- once again disappointed by the cake. It's touching to see how the girls scramble to find a way to please her- they really care about her, or just don't want to see her cry! There's a typhoon. Yotsuba thinks the powerful rain and wind is awesome, and wants to play out in it, not realizing the danger. Jumbo stays with her when her dad has to be away for work, and Yotsuba is upset when Yanda drops by- but the trouble he causes ends in good fun. There's a religious festival in town where the children help pull a dashi to the shrine- Yotsuba takes part with enthusiasm, but it seems only because she's promised candy in the end. Miura has a part to play in the festival where she dresses up in traditional finery, cementing Yotsuba's assumption that her friend is really a princess.

Two things at the end really made me laugh, because I can relate. Yotsuba sees a man at the festival wearing a traditional japanese loincloth- and thinks it's hilarious that "you can totally see his butt!" Later she's out to do shopping with her dad and gets completely sidetracked when they go through a park with oak trees- obsessed with picking up all the acorns she can find. This. My six-year-old.

Rating: 3/5      208 and 224 pages respectively, 2007

blogiversary

Ten years!! Still reading. I don't know what to say about it, that I haven't already. I should celebrate by curling up with a book for the rest of the day. Let's just say this:

Aug 17, 2017

Life Everlasting

the Animal Way of Death
by Bernd Heinrich

Nature recycles the nutrients of dead animals and plants into new life; that's what this book is about. The author carries out his own studies, making observations on his own land in Maine and Vermont- he deliberately set out mouse carcasses to see what burying beetles do when they find them. He dragged deer or cow carcasses into the woods and then watched to see which animals arrived when, what parts of the body they disposed of, and so on. He always hoped for a large gathering of vultures, but never got one. Also in a few different places in Africa he observed various kinds of dung-collecting beetles. There are beetles that bury mice, and others that consume bones. Subject jumps around somewhat- one chapter speculates on how early man must have been a hunter and tyranosaurus rex a scavenger; another on what exactly happens to a whale carcass when it sinks in the ocean, another ruminates on how salmon are "committing suicide" when they swim upstream to spawn. There's an entire chapter about how bark beetles, fungi and other organisms break down a tree. Of course seeing the author's lifelong fascination with corvids, there's a lot about ravens and crows throughout many chapters. I expected a bit more about coyotes, but there's not much beyond the mention that they open a carcass, making it available to crows and other scavenging birds (even large vultures can't break the skin by themselves).

He kind of lost me on the last few chapters- the idea that insects undergoing a complete transformation from larval stage into adult are actually two separate species that merged their genetic code long ago? wow, a new one for me. The final chapter that waxes philosophic on ideas of the afterlife- dipping briefly into several ancient cultures and then considering what are the options if you don't want to be buried in a casket or cremated (which adds lots of toxins to the atmosphere)- kind of lost my interest. But at that point, the book was done. It wasn't nearly as engaging as some of his other books I've read. I kept loosing interest and then coming back, so it took me a while to get through.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 2/5            236 pages, 2012

Aug 14, 2017

Yotsuba&!

Vols 5 and 6
by Kiyohiko Azuma

Yotsuba is kinda crazy with the reactions. Her eagerness and innocent misunderstandings get her into some funny situations too. In volume 5 Yotsuba meets a life-size robot at Ena's house. Miura likes to trick Yotsuba, and Asagi is still a tease, but the one who really gets to Yotsuba is an acquaintance of Koiwai's who shows up- he really messes with her. Yotsuba and the girls nextdoor go stargazing with her dad and Jumbo. There's a very mundane but still amusing episode where Yotsuba and her dad walk in the rain to the DVD-rental place. Yotsuba mishears something her dad says and invites all the neighbors to go with them to the beach- when he hadn't planned to go at all. But they do. Fun in the waves, Yotsuba searches for shells with the girls, finds a hermit crab and pokes a jellyfish.

Volume 6 opens with Yotsuba experimenting with recycling. She collects unwanted objects from family and neighbors- and makes something! Her dad buys her a bicycle and she is super enthusiastic about it, but has trouble remembering to follow the rules. Like: don't go anywhere alone! She wants to do errands, and goes on a bike ride with Asagi and her friend. When she does take off by herself, it was for a good cause- she wanted to share something special with Fuuka, so followed her to the school. Grounded. (Except she calls it "dirted" in one scene which really made me laugh). In the last episode here, she helps Daddy and Jumbo make a bookshelf. Ha, I liked that part.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5             208 pages each, 2006

Aug 13, 2017

Wild Sex

The Science Behind Mating in the Animal Kingdom
by Dr. Carin Bondar

Brief segments dense on information about the wide variety of ways in which animals find partners, mate, and care for their young. I knew there was a lot of different stuff going on among animals- but not quite how much. Especially with invertebrates, wow some crazy things sure glad not to be a female insect. All the things we humans think of as degraded or unnatural sexual behaviors are actually fairly common among animals, according to this author. A few really interesting facts stuck with me: did you know that female birds can control what type of nutrients and hormones their eggs receive? It depends on the species- for some, they put more nutrients into an egg if they mate with a preferred, healthy male. If the male is of lower quality, they lay smaller eggs- not putting as much into them. For other birds whose chicks must face varying competition (a later hatchling, or a brood parasite in the nest) the mother can control how much testosterone each egg receives, to prepare her chick if needed.  The section of the book that I found most interesting- that about how the animals vary in their parenting styles- was the shortest. Also I found it kind of odd that while the source notes and glossary are extensive, there is no index. The book is based on a web series and you can tell- it reads similar to a book sourced from a blog.

I gave this one a 2 because while it was interesting, some of the information was just too much (I did not want to know about frustrated male sea lions taking advantage of penguins for example) and there were a few parts I skimmed over. Had to read it in pieces over several weeks (interspersed with Yotsuba) This book was originally published with the title: The Nature of Sex: the Ins and Outs of Mating in the Animal Kingdom. Personally, I like the original title better.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 2/5      366 pages, 2015

Aug 11, 2017

Yotsuba&!

Volume 4
by Kiyohiko Azuma

More fun seeing everyday events through the eyes of five-year-old Yotsuba. She is eager to play games with her Daddy- but gets upset because he always wins- even when she changes the rules. Jumbo takes the girls fishing. You'd be surprised which one was squeamish when it came to cleaning the fish. Yotsuba goes shopping with her dad for a special dinner- and when he finds he left his wallet at home, she steps right in to solve the problem- to his embarassment! Yotsuba discovers Fuka is very glum because she felt rejected by a boy she likes- and tries to console her. Then blabs Fuka's secret to the entire family when she decides to be a news reporter and has to think of some real event to announce. She does group exercises in the park with other kids. She wants to be a milkman and 'makes' milk out of water and paint- then gives it to her unsuspecting dad. And misunderstanding the onomatopoeic word for a cicada that also sounds like a word for a pointy hat- whom everyone says signals the end of summer- she dresses up in a triangular outfit and dances around like a fairy to magic the change of the seasons. That part was a bit hard to get sometimes, but the translator's notes help. It's hard to explain why the books is so charming and funny- you'd have to read it!

Rating: 3/5                 192 pages, 2005

Aug 8, 2017

Yotsuba&!

Volume 3
by Kiyohiko Azuma

More daily fun through the life of Yotsuba, this odd little five-year-old who tackles everything with enthusiasm. Part of the fun of Yotsubato is seeing how the ordinary things amaze this little girl, the summer is all one big eye-opening adventure for her. There's a hint at the very end that Yotsuba and her dad recently moved from somewhere more rural (they call this 'the big city' and one of the other kids protests: "it's not that big!").

Yotsuba experiences fireworks for the first time- initially doing some on the street with her neighbors, later attending a festival and seeing a fireworks show. She goes to the zoo with her dad- that was pretty funny- the things Yotsuba noticed about the animals as well as her dad's made-up facts. (Oh, and she punches a goat). Yotsuba tries to learn to play badminton. She hops on a city bus by herself- freaking out Fuka who had taken her along on errands. She meets a police officer, and finds out that Jumbo is a florist (who in a fit of pique fills her house with discarded flowers from the shop). The father of the three girls next door makes an appearance- he's not separated or deceased as they seemed to be joking/hinting at, but apparently just absent due to working all the time.

Looks like my library has the first twelve volumes; I am plowing through them with enjoyment.

Rating: 3/5                  176 pages, 2004

Yotsuba&!

Volume 2
by Kiyohiko Azuma

Cute, spunky kid. She doesn't get some ordinary things, puzzles at the meaning of big words. Eager for fun every day. There's an episode in here where she goes off with the older girls from next door to draw at the park. I liked that. There was an oh-so-familiar incident where Yotsuba insists the other girls tell her if her drawing is good- because of course her dad always says so. One of them is bluntly honest and says no, it's bad. The other girl of course doesn't want to hurt Yotsuba's feelings - so then Yotsuba is convinced one of them is lying! Because her art can't be both good and bad, can it? Yotsuba tries to draw a picture of Jumbo but it runs off the paper onto the table. So to make it properly big she draws out on the street.

She insists on having cake with the neighbors. She is left to her own devices when her dad is sleeping off an all-nighter. Ends up drawing on his face with marker, and then is terrified at the possible repercussions. There's almost just as much in here about the neighbor family as there is about Yotsuba- I'm starting to wonder what the story is behind the always-absent father, I suppose the backstory will be revealed eventually... They all go to the pool, and find out that neither Jumbo, Koiwai (Yotsuba's dad) or Fuka can swim. Yotsuba endeavors to teach them- hilarious. Turns out Jumbo really likes Asagi- the oldest girl next door- who is rather a tease (to her siblings).

Yotsuba tries to catch frogs and Miura (friend of the youngest neighbor) objects. We find out that Yotsuba is terrified of a bull's-eye thing that is in someone's yard (it looks like a target to me, but it's used to frighten away birds). Miura uses this against her in what turns into a uproarious fight- a teddy bear is the main casualty.

Slightly-disturbing episode in here where Yotsuba watches a gangster movie on tv with her dad and Jumbo. Then she immediately grabs her water pistol and goes off on a 'mission of revenge' in the neighborhood. The girls next door play along- to some extent. You could see this as a suggestion that violence on tv causes the same in kids' behavior, or just showing her having some good old pretend fun. This episode was in the beginning of the book, and on the last page Asagi comes home from a trip, finding Yotsuba's drawing of Jumbo on the pavement outside- which if you don't know the origins, looks rather like the outline of a murdered body. She stares. I couldn't help it, I laughed out loud.

I still don't quite know why Yotsuba's hair is green- but found out that her name includes the word 'four' and her hair is always tied into two short pigtails- reminiscent of a four-leaf clover. There's a brief part in here about something in the past between Asagi and her mom over four-leaf clovers. I'm delighted to find there are some twenty volumes of Yotsuba&! Must look up how many are actually in my library system.

Rating: 3/5                 192 pages, 2004

Aug 6, 2017

Yotsuba&!

Volume 1
by Kiyohiko Azuma

I can see right away why people compared this manga to Bunny Drop. Both are about a girl being raised by a young man who's not her father. This story is a lot more casual and fun. It really made me laugh in some parts. Starts out with Yotsuba moving with her adopted dad to a new house- we meet the little girl just as abruptly as her new neighbors do. She's energetic, crazily enthusiastic about nearly everything, and oddly surprised at everyday objects like - swings in the park, air conditioner unit in her neighbor's house, items on the shelf in the store. You get the idea there's some strange story to her past. At the end there's a small revelation- basically the dad found her while travelling abroad, admired her spunky optimism and brought her home.

He's quirky himself. Obviously a guy who never grew up- but in a completely different way from the father-figure in Bunny Drop. The banter between him, Jumbo (a friend who's really tall) and Yotsbua makes you realize these guys know each other well... In this volume Yotsuba meets lots of new people, wanders the neighborhood into a park (her dad doesn't seem alarmed when she just goes off on her own), learns about global warming (and thus for a brief period thinks a/c is evil), gets locked in the bathroom, goes shopping with her dad- usual kid stuff, right? But then they all go on a cicada hunt. Yotsuba wants to catch the biggest one. This was my favorite chapter. So fun.

Rating: 3/5       208 pages, 2003

more opinions:
Puss Reboots
Musings on YA Libraries and madness

Aug 4, 2017

A Starter Garden

by Cheryl Merser

This is the kind of gardening book I enjoy right now: more or less someone writing about their own garden, offering instruction using real-life examples. Outlining the pitfalls as well as the joys. Merser describes two gardens she started on new properties that didn't have much going for them at first. She talks a lot about plant selection- how to gauge what plant will do well in what spot, how to give the garden form and anchors using shrubbery, what works nicely (in her case) for groundcovers, accents, shady spots etc. She has a whole chapter about roses, another about water features. It's all a mixture of casual advice and very practical know-how. Her voice reminds me a bit of Thalassa Cruso. I had to laugh at some of her ingenuity, too. I grew scrawny seedlings for years in windowsills before building my first makeshift coldframe; she just puts hers in the trunk of a hatchback and lets the car heat them up! And for nighttime she moves them into a steamy bathroom. Clever. I share her hatred for japanese beetles, but not quite her enthusiasm for decorating with found objects. She discusses herbs but is mostly about flowers and shrubs and interesting plants to make the outdoor space beautiful and alive. Which is great inspiration, I need to work on that part of my yard too. I have a long list of plants to look up now- because the only thing the book really lacks is decent pictures. There's a nice glossary in the back that details every plant mentioned in the book, its scientific and common names, growing habits, light/moisture requirements, peculiarities and attractiveness, etc. One to read again.

Rating: 3/5                 254 pages, 1994