Mar 19, 2017

The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Aquarium Fish and Fish Care

by Mary Bailey and Gina Sandford

I have been slowly reading my way through this aquarium encyclopedia. It is all about fishkeeping (focus on freshwater), so starts off by outlining how to choose fish that suit your aquarium and are good companions. The sections about setup and maintenance tasks have good descriptions and nice, clear pictures showing what to do. Unlike most books the species profiles are all about type. Instead of showing pictures of as many fish as possible with very brief specs, there are descriptions of fish by families which describe their needs, habits, breeding strategies and interesting facts in more depth. The pictures are modest in number but very good quality. What makes it such a great book is that it's quite well-written, you can tell the authors enjoy their aquariums and they make this a nice read (the voice reminded me of Thalassa Cruso). Mine's a later edition, updated 1999.

Rating: 4/5      256 pages, 1995

Mar 13, 2017

A Fox Called Sorrow

by Isobelle Carmody

--- spoiler alert ---

This is the second Little Fur book. I'm not sure why I read it through, except that I was curious about the character of the fox. So- Little Fur the half elf/half troll sets off on another quest to save Nature. She meets with the wise owl and learns that the troll king is planning something terrible, and the owl wants to send spies into the troll kingdom to find out what. There's a hopelessly miserable fox who wants to die but hasn't been able to quench his instinct to live. He comes asking the owl for advice and is told to go on this quest- he can protect the spies (a pair of ferrets) and the mission is so dangerous he will probably give his life doing so, and meet his desire with purpose. Initially Little Fur is not supposed to be part of this expedition, but she feels so much compassion for the fox she volunteers to go along. There's also a rude rat and one of Little Fur's cat friends on the journey. And the crow, for part of it. Once again they cross the human city and then go into the underground maze that is the troll's domain (part of it is train tunnels). It's just as dangerous as they had been warned. It looks like they won't obtain their goal or make it out alive- but all comes right in the end. They'd been warned someone would betray them, but it didn't turn out the way anyone guessed.

Overall, I found it hard to keep my attention on the story- it's just a bit simplistic, written for younger readers, in spite of the serious tone and there's a lot of negative feeling. In this story, it's all nature = good, humans = bad. The cats are suspicious but I like their humor, the rat is snarky, the dogs they meet have been badly mistreated by people, and the fox was just as I expected- deeply scarred and tormented from having been experimented on in a lab. (They also met a monkey near the end. This seemed a more likely animal for such a situation than a fox. Hm). You really think the fox is going to die, but at the very end (literally, nearly the last sentence) he lives. So he must feature in the next book of the series, and I would read that one just for the fox (I liked his character) but I think I won't.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 2/5        245 pages, 2006

Mar 9, 2017

Aquarium Fish Survival Manual

A Complete Guide to Keeping Freshwater and Marine Fish
by Brian Ward

It's another older aquarium book that I picked up at a library sale. Goes through all the basics. There's some illustrations showing how fish bodies function, including one of the best descriptions of how oxygen and blood pass through the gills that I've ever seen. Of course a lot of the info about technology is way out of date. And this one goes into enough detail about saltwater vs. fresh that I believe in my initial assessment: the salt side of the hobby is too darn complicated for me. It has a decent outline of how to incorporate live plants into the aquarium, although the photo gallery of plants was kind of amusing- I could guess they were all taken in a dealer's shop- most of the plants looked very recently stuck into the gravel and the same blurry pictus catfish was repeatedly swimming through the scene! While information about them is brief, the species profiles of freshwater fish were quite extensive, and the majority of photos here good quality. Saltwater section showcased fewer fish, but still very good pictures a real pleasure to look at. The kind of book that keeps me near the computer, to search more information or pictures of different fish varieties (not all species mentioned are shown in the book).

Rating: 3/5        175 pages, 1985

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

by J. K. Rowling

This little book disappointed me. I was surprised at first how short it is. It's presented as a textbook on magical beasts, a copy owned by Harry Potter with his handwritten comments and jokes in the margins. Which were kind of lame. The text itself is too brief to be interesting. It's got more historical background and explanation that actual descriptions of the beasts. Which give less detail than the typical species profiles in my aquarium books! I'm guessing all these creatures are ones mentioned in the Harry Potter books, although I only recognized two-thirds of them. For me, it didn't really do much to add to the wizarding world Rowling created. Not impressed. I guess I'm too old to enjoy this kind of fan publication.

Anybody else read this one? Looking for more opinions online I was unable to find any decent reviews about the book since the film (of the same name but not the same material) is getting so much attention online right now.

Rating: 2/5             42 pages, 2001

Mar 2, 2017

Flight Behavior

by Barbara Kingsolver

I had forgotten how much I love reading this author. Her language is so rich, and precise. She's really got the details of what it's like being stuck at home all day with small children. I almost don't want to tell you what the book is about, because I didn't really know myself going in. So when I read the initial descriptions of the wonder of nature the main character Dellarobia finds in the woods above her family's farm, it was a beautiful puzzle to figure out what she was seeing before she figured it out herself. It's a finely crafted story. Dellarobia lives in rural Appalachia, kind of drifting through life, settling for less. She tends her two small children, chafes under her mother-in-law's criticism, and tolerates her endlessly patient, dull husband. She thinks of herself as stuck in a situation caused by an error made when she was younger- and is deliberately aiming to make another mistake that could ruin it all when she happens upon this wondrous thing up in the mountain. A discovery that might thwart her father-in-law's plans to log the hillside for some desperately-needed income. A discovery that draws strangers to their door- news reporters, sightseers, environmental activists and a scientist who opens her mind to the wider world. It's a story of family and community, of facing facts and changing perceptions. Very much about current issues, particularly climate change. Some might think it really heavy-handed with the environmental message, but I found it a perfect weight. Even though there are several long scenes where Dellarobia hashes out ideas and has long arguments- one with her husband, the other with her best friend- in public while shopping- so there are pages and pages of them going up and down the aisles, weaving their inspection of items on the shelf through their argument. Kind of odd.

And the ending made me sad. I was hoping that the main character would make a different decision, and not reveal it quite so abruptly to her young son... Regardless, I liked the book and it is one that will stick with me. If you want to go into it blind as I did- the first chapter is quite slow in building but worth it I think- then don't read most of the reviews I linked to below. Only the first avoids revealing the actual subject matter.

Rating: 4/5        436 pages, 2012

more opinions:
Book Chatter
Bookfoolery
Joyfully Retired
Fyrefly's Book Blog
Fifty Books Project
Devourer of Books

Feb 24, 2017

The Dawning of the Day

by Elisabeth Ogilvie

Philippa, a widow with a child to support, moves onto a small island off the coast of Maine to take a position as schoolteacher. The island is a fishing community, and there are only nine children in her class. It's a story of small-town island life, of making a place for herself in a tight-knight community. Of solving issues among the children- boys who skip school, meanness towards some handicapped kids. There's also hints of bitter conflicts among the fishermen over access to lobster grounds (I didn't get that far). And somewhere along the way I discovered it was also a love story. But... it just wasn't engaging me. I found the writing rather dull and the characters uninteresting. Oh well. Another one for Book Mooch. Originally acquired from a library sale.

Abandoned        308 pages, 1954

In Love with Daylight

by Wilfrid Sheed

This author writes very candidly about his experiences dealing with a number of severe illnesses: polio when he was a young teen, depression and addiction, and finally cancer. His whole point seemed to be, not so much about finding inner strength or describing his experiences, but to extol the joys discovered when you finally feel better. That it's worth being sick or unhappy because when the body finally recovers and the light shines again, the feeling of wholesomeness is amazing. At least, that's what I gathered from the introduction and the thirty-odd pages I read. I was curious about the polio episode but it's not actually much about what it's like to live through polio. He writes more about his emotional state of mind, which is intriguing and insightful at first, but so meandering without much grounding in actual events or conversations, that my mind was seriously wandering and I had to pass on this one.

Abandoned           252 pages, 1995

Feb 23, 2017

The Wild Truth

by Carine McCandless

When Carine's brother Chris was found dead in a bus in the Alaskan wilderness, no one in his family expected that his story would become famous. Carine was consulted as one who knew Chris best, when the book and later the film about his experiences were made. She requested that a lot of sensitive information not be shared with the public, to protect her family. But later saw that that led to a wide misrepresentation of why Chris went off into the wilderness. She wrote this book to try and clarify what his motivations were. And I think it was successful- I feel like I myself was a bit too quick to judge when I first encountered his story reading Into the Wild.

Being from her own perspective, of course the book is more about Carine's own life than Chris. It tells of their childhood and moves on- relating how she met Jon Krakauer, her involvement with the film, how she and her siblings reshaped their lives. I was kind of expecting that reading about the sister's life would not be so interesting, but it was. The book is well-written and has a lot of insight; you end up caring about this individual just as much as you felt for Chris and seeing her own struggles and accomplishments is worthwhile reading. It is a story about abuse, violence, and dysfunctional family life. So many stories like this around nowadays it becomes tiresome and distressing to read them. What I appreciate about this one is that you see how Carine and her siblings overcame the difficulties of their past- how they moved on, how they broke the cycle. Met the negativity head on and moved past it. Painful, well told, heartening.

Rating: 3/5       277 pages, 2014

more opinions:
A Bookworm's World
A Bit Bookish

Feb 22, 2017

The Legend Begins

by Isobelle Carmody

Little Fur is half-elf, half-troll, a sort of guardian of nature. She lives in a grove of ancient trees in the middle of a city, where she listens to the trees and heals injured animals that come to her. Hearing rumors of trees being burned by humans, she sets out to consult a wise owl. The owl sends her on a quest to awaken a source of power living in a deep crevice beyond the cemetery, which can stop the "tree burners". Although she is small and afraid, Little Fur sets off on her journey to cross the strange wasteland that is a human city. At least, that is how it appears to her and her friends- a crow and two cats. Most of the story is about this journey which is full of confusing hazards. Little Fur is a very lovable character, and I liked seeing how she and her animal friends viewed human activities. The animal friends are nicely depicted- cats being cats, one of them doesn't stick through the entire quest- but it was kind of annoying how all the birds except the owl were portrayed as being stupid. Even the crow. Also confusing is how frightened Little Fur is of trolls, even though she is part one herself, and the frequent drawings of sneaky, goblin-looking creatures (I guess those are the trolls) which aren't at all part of the story. I didn't find the way the problem was solved in the end very satisfying, but neither did Little Fur! She knew it was only a temporary solution and realized more must be done. So I guessed there must be a sequel or two, hopefully with more explanation on Little Fur's background, and when I looked pleased to see my library has quite a few of these books. Even though I'm not keeping this one around in my personal collection, I've requested the second one for an easy read. There's a fox in it.

Rating: 3/5    195 pages, 2005

Feb 21, 2017

The Grizzly Maze

Timothy Treadwell's Fatal Obsession with Alaskan Bears
by Nick Jans

I found this book at a library sale. It reminded me of a documentary I saw years ago, featuring a guy who lived among the bears in Alaska. I think it was "Grizzly Man." I remember being impressed by the closeup footage of wild bears (and foxes), puzzled and baffled at the man's rambling commentary. It was obvious he was incredibly passionate and enthusiastic about his work with the bears, but he also appeared a bit mentally unstable to me. At the end of it my companion and I turned to each other and surmised that this guy was probably going to end up killed by a bear.

He was. I read some reports of it online and then forgot about the incident until I found this book. Here journalist Nick Jans writes about Timothy Treadwell's past, his engrossing interest in bears and his thirteen-year long project living among them in the wild. While he took meticulous notes on the bears' behavior and relationships, he wasn't at all scientific about it. He claimed he was there to protect them from poachers (bears in Alaska have stable, high numbers and are statistically not in any danger) and deliberately camped right in the middle of the busiest area where bears gather for food in late summer and fall. He refused to use any devices that would deter bears from approaching, instead trusting that they would sense his love and not harm him. And according to accounts of people who spent time helping him with his film projects, he was adept at reading the grizzlies' body language, knowing when it was safe to approach a bear, or wise to keep a distance from another. But it's clear that he put himself in harm's way and it was only a matter of time.... 

It reminds me quite a bit of Into the Wild (I'm not the only one to make that connection). The longing for a connection to wildlife, yet going into it all relatively unprepared... with a tragic result.

The book includes a lot of interviews with people who knew Treadwell, bear experts, members of the park service who had to deal with him, responders who went to the site when the attack occurred and other people who have strong opinions about what Treadwell was doing. (He spent summers with the bears, and in the winter travelled around giving talks to schoolchildren about bears- some say spreading misinformation- and he had an animal-rights organization called Grizzly People). There's an entire chapter or two of speculation about what actually happened in the moments of the attack. Mostly it's a big question: why did everything lead up to this, and how can we prevent it from happening again. Final chapters detail bear attack statistics (the facts are not what you might expect) and recommendations on what to do if you happen to meet a bear yourself.

A very interesting read and well-written to boot. 

Rating: 3/5       274 pages, 2005

more opinions: Bookfoolery

Feb 18, 2017

Facing the Lion

Growing Up Maasai on the African Savanna
by Joseph Lemasolai Lekuton

This is a firsthand account of growing up in a nomadic Maasai tribe, the Ariaal to be precise. Lemasolai describes what it is like to live in Kenya as a nomadic herder, and learning a bit about Maasai culture was pretty interesting. The customs, gender divisions, hardships, his experience in the initiation ceremony and most of all, the cattle. He talks a lot about cows, and it makes sense, seeing how important they are to the Maasai. There is not much mention of wildlife- avoidance of elephants, a brief but very memorable story about a hyena, a lion hunt where he is desperate to prove his bravery.

The government requires each family to send one child to school. Lemasolai's brother went first, but hated it and ran away from school, so Lemasolai volunteered to go in his place. He had a bit of a culture shock there, being required to wear western-style clothes, learn English and submit to a different form of discipline. While a lot of his story opens your eyes to how different some people live in the world, much of it is universal as well. He wants to make friends and impress them, has to endure teasing, struggles to face a bully, sometimes skips his obligations to play instead. Has to trek miles to go home to his family on vacation time- as they are nomads sometimes they are very far away, there are no roads and once it took him two weeks to get home. I really admired how he held onto his traditions and managed to straddle two cultures, seemingly with ease. He learned as much as he could at school. Catching the attention of the President of Kenya in a soccer game earned him a sponsorship which sent him very far, and eventually he ended up as a teacher himself in the States. Always returning home when he could, taking American students with him to show them to his homeland.

One really amusing incident occurred when he was home for a visit, dressed in traditional clothing and walking with some friends. They encountered a group of European tourists who tried to take advantage of their presumed ignorance. It was hilarious and satisfying when Lemasolai revealed that he'd understood everything the tourists said. Near the end of the book, I found it very touching that he took his mother a gift of fine cattle. He really wanted to show his love and appreciation, and did not give her any modern gadgets or labor-saving devices, but some quality livestock that would improve his family's herd, a thing she could really value. The afterword, written by a man who knew the author in his teaching capacity, is insightful and adds a bit more context to the book.

While the writing style is simple and straightforward, in this case it worked well. It's a book written for younger readers after all- the author wanted to share his story with children. I did wish for a bit more depth and detail, but as it accomplishes what it set out to do admirably, I can't complain.

Rating: 3/5        128 pages, 2003