Dec 31, 2015

Chi's Sweet Home

vol 12
by Konami Kanata

We happily discovered a new volume of Chi's Sweet Home at the library last week, which prompted my older daughter to re-read the entire series. I glanced through the prior volume to remind myself of the storyline- Chi has finally met her mother, from whom she was separated as a young kitten. Her current family now realizes that her original owners are still looking for her. It seems like a perfect moment for her to be reunited with them, as her current family is imminently moving to France (job relocation). But they still waver over what to do, because Yohei is so dearly attached to Chi. Meanwhile the cats take matters into their own paws, as Chi's momma is actively seeking a reunion now, and Chi knows the other kittens are her cat-siblings. She is naturally drawn to them, but while spending more time with her kitty family, still remembers and misses Yohei and the others. Where will Chi finally belong?

It's darn cute like all the other Chi books, but the story here is a lot about moving preparations, family reunion and the internal conflict of finding out you might belong somewhere else. Not so much depiction of cat behavior and kitten antics, which I really enjoyed before. Still, a fun read and a nice ending to the series. i did like the "interview" at the back of the book between the author and one of the cat characters, Blackie. Sad there are no more Chi books, but my daughter and I do want to find and watch the animation of it all.

Rating: 2/5        176 pages, 2015

The Bonobo and the Atheist

by Frans de Waal

As you can tell from the title, this book is about religion, morality and humanism. Particularly, what we can learn or speculate about the evolution and nature of our own moral codes, from how our closest animal relatives behave. While I was expecting it to be mostly about bonobos, it uses a lot of examples from other animals- mostly chimpanzees, some old-world monkeys, elephants and dogs. Its author is a very well-known biologist specializing in the study of bonobos but now I wish I'd read one of his earlier books, as this one lost me. (I don't know if they would have been any better, but there are nine prior titles listed to his name, which seem to be about bonobos or chimpanzees. My guess is they might be more concrete and less meandering, being written earlier in his career?) This book quickly goes into philosophical and religious debates, straying frequently from what seemed to be the topic at hand. Maybe there was a relevant point tied up in it all, but I could not always follow it. I ended up skimming through the entire book, reading the passages that had examples of animals displaying a sense of fairness, ethics, compassion, guilt, etc including what those observations implied, but allowing my eyes to glaze over when it started diving into the tangle of arguments between religious thought and atheism. The book has a lot of acclaim in online reviews at the biggest seller's site, but I can't find it mentioned on any other book blogs.

Abandoned        289 pages, 2013

Dec 27, 2015

Bonobo Handshake

by Vanessa Woods

The bonobo is very similar to a chimpanzee, but with significant differences. They stand upright and have smaller heads, with more humanlike proportions. They live relatively peacefully, don't engage in warfare between groups or commit infanticide. The author's new husband was studying bonobos in the Congo (the only place in the world where they exist in the wild) and she went along to help with the research. The studies, which examined the extent of the bonobos' ability to cooperate, tolerance levels and their hormonal response to the presence of strangers, were conducted at a rescue center that took in young bonobos orphaned by the bushmeat trade and illegal wildlife trafficking. Though her story was just as much about a time and place (heavy on details of local politics and ugly warfare) as it was about the bonobos, I still learned quite a lot about the wild apes. Compared to them, chimpanzees appear brutal and outright vicious. I'm now curious to learn more about them, and have found a few more titles (there are not many published).

This book is definitely not for the squeamish: the author describes horrific atrocities that took place in the Congo, devastating things to live through for humans and bonobos alike. Yet she describes it all in a rather detached, casual manner (with a fair sprinkling of expletives) that sometimes almost made me loose interest in reading. The profanity obviously bothered a reader before me, who marked up the library copy I had with a ballpoint pen, crossing out phrases they apparently found objectionable, and writing in other words in their place. Oh, and there are a number of descriptions of the bonobos engaging in sexual activity. That's another significant characteristic they have- they use sex to diffuse tension. Frequently. Although after carefully observing when, why, and between whom these acts occurred, the author came up with her own ideas for why the bonobos are so free with sex compared to other apes (even youngsters who had never observed adult behavior- being orphaned very abruptly- engaged in what looked like sexual behavior). Surprisingly, my fellow reader with the blue pen didn't mark out or comment on these passages!

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5        278 pages, 2010

more opinions:
S. Krishna's Books
My Books My Life

Dec 20, 2015

Jane, the Fox and Me

by Fanny Britt

I saw this book on Things Mean a Lot, and looked for it at my library when getting piles of picture books for my kid. It's a story of friendship, loneliness and self-image. Helene struggles in school because her friends have inexplicably shunned her. They whisper rumors and giggle behind her back and write nasty notes on the bathroom wall about her weight and body odor. Untrue things, but Helene believes them and retreats into silence, loneliness and books. She's reading Jane Eyre, and finds a lot of comfort in the story of this plain, ordinary woman from a difficult background who overcame the odds to become someone admired and loved. (That's what Helene gets out of it, I myself haven't read Jane Eyre in a very long time....) But she can't always escape into her reading. There's a class trip to a camp, and Helene dreads having to wear a bathing suit in front of the other girls, having to endure the taunts and ridicule. When she gets publicly humiliated by another girl, she feels her life is ruined. But a momentary encounter with a wild fox lifts her spirits, and then another girl, surprisingly sympathetic, joins the "outcast cabin". Helene finally makes a new friend. She also discovers during a regular visit to the doctor, that her weight is perfectly normal. I really like the message of this book. The difficulties of navigating school days and crowds of kids who can be so unreasonably cruel with their ostracizing cliques balanced out by the solace of books, nature walks (something visually depicted in the book) and finding a person who sympathizes. It did seem to end rather suddenly, and I wished for a bit more depth, but I think the length and detail is just right for the age group. The illustrations by Isabelle Arsenault are very nice. I like the sketchy quality of the pencil drawings (especially their use of value and negative space), which is brightened by watercolor washes on certain pages, reflecting Helene's varying emotions.

I offered the library copy to my eleven-year-old, but she shrugged: "I have lots of books to read already." It's true, she does have a hefty stack on her bedside table. A good problem to have! I'm going to suggest this one to her again someday, I think she's at just the right place to benefit from it.

Rating: 4/5      104 pages, 2012

more opinions:
So Many Books
Lindy Reads and Reviews
Welcome to my (new) Tweendom
Perogies & Gyoza

Dec 19, 2015

True Grizz

by Douglas Chadwick

This book is based on the author's work as part of a grizzly team. Well, really he tagged along as an informed observer. The team's job was to "educate" grizzly bears that had begun to associate people's homes with food- dogfood, grain for livestock, and you'd be surprised at how many bears love to eat birdseed. Not only did they constantly chase grizzlies away from habitated areas, using bear dogs, rubber bullets and a ton of noise, but also tried to educate local people about how to avoid attracting bears into their neighborhoods (whether it was inadvertent or on purpose, as in the case of a wildlife photographer who regularly put out food and was pleased when bears came by). They also personally removed tons of tempting items- including apples fallen off of trees and roadkill or dead livestock on ranches. In some cases the bears were starved from bad years of natural berry crops and the like, so the bear team would relocate carcasses or loads of apples, to give the bears something to eat in an area away from people. This because during their work tracking, collaring, catching and relocating bears they discovered that in most cases, moving a bear -no matter how far away- didn't work. The bear would simply come back to where it knew it could find food. So their job involved a lot of grizzle bear PR and attempts to give bears a negative association with populated areas.

Most interesting though, were the insights into grizzly behavior, and the stories of individual bears' lives that slowly unfolded through the bits of information learned in brief encounters or tracking data. Bears have very individual temperaments, each its own unique fishing style at salmon rivers, its own response to certain situations. This makes for pretty good reading. I felt bad for the many bears who simply couldn't find room to live in, without running into people. Or the bear that started hanging out at a zoo, interacting with a captive bear there. It came back so many times the zoo finally just put it in a cage.

Rating: 3/5        176 pages, 2003

Dec 18, 2015

Home

by Carson Ellis

This lovely picture book shows a wide variety of places that people call home. Each page is a detailed illustration of a different kind of home- a city apartment, country home, thatched stone house on a mountainside. Some are really fanciful- the old woman's shoe from a nursery rhyme, an underground sea lair (my favorite, with the writhing octopus tentacles and wavy aquatic plants), a diminutive woodland house- for a fairy or elf, you must imagine. There are so many particular details, you can imagine what kind of person lives in each home and the sort of activities they do. The page showing the artist's own home is fun, as you can find objects, paintings and sketches in the room from most of the other illustrations in the book. Also there's a visual thread running through the entire thing- which I didn't notice until the second time I read this to my kid- of a mourning dove. The bird is present somewhere in each picture. Most of all, I loved the details of plants in the pictures- the variety of shapes, the fronds of sea plants and ferns- just lovely.

Note: I did not really think about how prevalent old, negative stereotypes are in this book -in the way it depicts the homes and lifestyles of non-European cultures- until I read the review in the third link below. Now it feels like a slap in the face. My four-year-old definitely wasn't astute enough to pick up on this either, but that's exactly the problem- the book will just define for her what other places and lives are like, if all she knows about Inuits are "that they live in igloos" for example. Sigh.

Rating: 4/5      40 pages, 2015

more opinions:
Things Mean a Lot
Rhapsody in Books
American Indians in Children's Literature

Dec 17, 2015

TBR 58

As usual, I've looked them up and the titles listed in the first section are found at my local library. All the rest maybe I will find them by chance someday. Thanks to the bloggers below, for bringing to my attention yet more books I want to read! (Other titles were found via books themselves).
An Appetite for Wonder by Richard Dawkins- Read Warbler
Carry On by Rainbow Rowell - Reading the End
Foragers, Farmers and Fossil Fuels by Ian Morris- So Many Books
The Republic of the Imagination by Azar Nafisi- So Many Books
Living with Wolves by Jim and Jamie Dutcher
Browsings by Michael Dirda- So Many Books
Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman- Shelf Love
Leaf by Daishu Ma- So Many Books
Understanding Roots by Robert Kourik- Garden Rant
The Beach of Falesa by Robert Louis Stevenson- James Reads Books
The Mountain and the Valley by Ernest Buckler- Farm Lane Books Blog
Heart and Blood Living with Deer in America by Richard Nelson
Of Sorrow and Such by Angela Slatter- Things Mean a Lot
Maverick Cats by Ellen Perry Berkeley
Community Cats by Anne E. Beall
Heirloom Harvest by Amy Goldman- Vegetable Gardener
A Walk Across America by Peter Jenkins- Caroline Bookbinder
The Natural History of a Yard by Leonard Dubkin - Caroline Bookbinder
The Indestructible Houseplant by Tovah Martin- Garden Rant
The White Lions of Timbavati by Chris McBride
No Room for Bears by Frank Dufresne
Earth Stopped, or Mr Marx's Sporting Tour by T.H. White
Gone to Ground by T.H. White
A Cuckoo in the House by Maxwell Knight
Urban Tails by Sara Neeley

I have been perusing the references listed in the back of books about wolves, lately. Lots of interesting-looking material. I may have already read the last four titles here, but it's been so long I'm not certain and would like to read them again...
Arctic Wolf: Living with the Pack by David Mech
The Way of the Wolf by David Mech
Out Among the Wolves edited by J.A. Murray
Dance of the Wolves by Roger Peters
The Wolves of Minong by Allen Durward
The Ninemile Wolves by Rick Bass
The Decade of the Wolf by Douglas Smith
Brother Wolf: A Forgotten Promise by Jim Brandenburg
Soul of the Wolf by Michael Fox
Cry Wild by R.D. Lawrence
Wolfer by Carter Niemeyer
Praise of Wolves by R.D. Lawrence
Wolves by R.D. Lawrence
Trail of the Wolf by R.D. Lawrence
Secret Go the Wolves by R.D. Lawrence
The Ghost Walker by R.D. Lawrence
The North Runner by R.D. Lawrence
White Wolf: Living with An Arctic Legend by Jim Brandenburg

Rules of Summer

by Shaun Tan

I love Shaun Tan's artwork, but found this one a bit underwhelming at first. It depicts the summer activities of two brothers- not at all in the way you might expect. The landscape can be strange, feeling desolate and empty or just downright weird. You see the kids doing things like inspecting small critters on the sidewalk, playing invented games with racket and ball on a bizarre court, marching in a fantastical parade of windup creatures. Each page is a broad spread of a beautiful, textural painting paired with a short sentence of the "rule" the boy learned during his summer- never leave the back door open overnight or never forget the password. You have to imagine by yourself what the story behind each incident is, but it slowly becomes clear that this book is depicting the rules of a relationship, younger and older brother, through their wildly creative games and explorations. I had to sit down and read it several times, it really started to grow on me after the third perusal. Gradually the kids' camaraderie dissolves as one breaks or forgets some arbitrary rule the other has made up, and then there is a period of isolation, loneliness and dismay, which must finally be alleviated by forgiveness and rescue. It is heartwarming. Ok, I need to read it again right now. The images really are incredibly striking. They evoke a lot of wonder and imagination.

I really do like Shaun Tan. The Arrival is my favorite so far. I found mention of The Bird King: an Artist's Notebook on the flyleaf and now I hunger for that book. I think I'd love it. I just found out my library has The Red Tree as part of a three-in-one volume, which is why I never found its title in the database before! So waiting for that one.

Rating: 3/5       52 pages, 2013

more opinions:
Things Mean a Lot
Waking Brain Cells

Dec 9, 2015

Whitetail Tracks

by Valerius Geist

I have not read much about deer, aside from a few like Bambi or The Hidden Life of Deer. So I expected to find this book interesting, and it really was. The author explains the lifestyle and success of whitetail deer in relation to their evolutionary history. In fact, it seemed that over half the book was about how deer evolved, from small dwellers of the forest floor right after dinosaurs disappeared, into the first recognizable deer some thirty million years ago. It did feel a bit repetitive, and for all the reiteration, some things were not quite explained well. But I did gain some surprising understanding into why deer have a certain type of body language and why they are so incredibly numerous nowadays. Whitetail deer in particular thrive at the edges of things, where disturbed habitat creates a lot of new, lush growth. Places such as river edges or newly cleared land. It's very clear that they will continue to do well alongside man, being one of the wildlife species that easily adapt and take advantage of changes we make to the environment. Reminding me of another book that called certain adaptive species "weed animals"! The author of Whitetail Tracks predicted that eventually whitetail deer would spread their range up through the Yukon into Alaska, and since he wrote it over a decade ago, I checked. Yes, whitetail are present in the Yukon now although apparently not in great numbers. Reports of whitetail sightings in Alaksa spark arguments on hunting forums. I suspect that as northern regions continue to get warmer, whitetails will keep moving too. They definitely are survivors and opportunists.

Another part that was really interesting discussed trophy bucks- why large males with nicely proportioned antlers are so rare in the wild, and how game farms condition bucks to grow large antlers. It was completely the opposite of what I would have assumed, and the historic aspects of this (gamekeepers protecting deer for feudal lords in the sixteenth century) was new info for me.

I borrowed this book from the public library.

Rating: 3/5        176 pages, 2001

Dec 8, 2015

Magic or Not?

by Edward Eager

I thought I was done with Edward Eager, but had missed one that was waiting on library hold for a long time. It just came in a few weeks ago. So this one comes just before The Well-Wishers and of course as I imagined, it explains all the character relations neatly. I did like the dynamic introduced when the kids meet Gordy- a well-meaning but bumbling kind of kid, son of unpleasantly wealthy parents, lonely and not much liked by anybody. The main characters are nice to him because they try to be decent, but there are all kinds of awkward moments when they really wish he wasn't there, or try to avoid his company without hurting his feelings, but in the end they find out he isn't so bad after all, and appreciate Gordy on his own merits. That was a nice touch.

But I'm rather getting ahead of myself. The story is that two kids move to the country and there's a well in their yard. They think it's a wishing well and intend to have magical adventures, along with a few other kids in the neighborhood they meet. The aloof granddaughter of an elderly artistic eccentric, and a friendly boy from across the street as well as Gordy, who shows up later. The magic doesn't quite work out at first, and they get the idea that it only works when they're using it to help others. So they go about looking for people to do good deeds for. This results in some misunderstandings, as when they find a little boy alone in a shop, decide he's lost, take him along looking for home, and get distracted exploring a river in the meantime! It's certainly a book written from other times- horse-drawn vehicles are not uncommon, cars are fancy new inventions, some speech patterns are different (I even had to look up a few words) and the children are pretty much left unsupervised. Being encouraged by adults to play in an abandoned mine shaft, and taking an old boat on a river running into rapids and having to climb around a waterfall, does not really seem safe to me! Even when the kids get minor injuries the adults don't seem very alarmed...

I liked the story well enough, but was a bit disappointed to find in the end it was all a setup, a kind of elaborate prank by some neighbors at first, which the children themselves built upon and kept the pretense going on their own. Ghosts and long-lost secrets and mysteries to solve are not really my thing. This did not crop up until nearly the last chapter, or it probably would have caused me to abandon the book, simply from disinterest. The rest of it is pretty good, though.

I'm a bit puzzled now, because I vaguely remember a book I read from my elementary school library, about a boy who found some magic object that turned him into a cat? I was expecting to run into that story among these; I thought it was an Edward Eager book but I suppose not.  Oh well.

Rating: 3/5         197 pages, 1959

Dec 7, 2015

The Hidden Life of Wolves

by Jim and Jamie Dutcher

This beautiful book describes the social lives of wolves. It's based on six years the authors spent living alongside a wolf pack in Idaho, to study their behavior and social interactions. The insights they gained prove that wolves are caring, family-orientated animals with strong social needs. That they appear to mourn the loss of packmates, use playtime to alleviate aggression across dominance roles and teach each other new skills. It is not related as a storyline, but instead a detailed description of what was learned. The book skips a lot of the basic information that I've seen covered so often lately, and goes more into current issues. It discusses the implications of wolf re-introduction, in this case describing what was done in Idaho, occasionally mentioning the work with wolves in Yellowstone as well. There are a lot of recommendations on how wolves and humans can manage to co-exist, and their ideas on dealing with wolves preying on livestock takes the opposite approach most ranchers and wildlife officials seem to use. In brief: their findings show that removing 'problem' wolves and breaking up pack structure does not help- because young wolves lacking leadership will gravitate to easy prey, and newcomers drifting in to fill gaps will experiment with livestock predation as well. The longer term solution, the Dutchers suggest, is to teach resident wolves that livestock do not make good prey targets, because of the presence of dogs and people. If one pack learns to avoid livestock, it will teach its young that lesson, which can last through generations of wolves. The other big thing I learned from this book was the broad positive impact wolf re-introduction has had on many ecosystems. As this apex predator began preying on elk herds, the numbers of elk did not actually drop but their overall health improved and their behavior changed, which had a ripple effect everywhere. Improving the growth and diversity of plants and smaller animals in more ways than I had realized. What really makes this book a great read though, is not all the lovely writing but the beautiful photographs. It is very much a photo essay, a very striking and informative one.

I borrowed this book from the public library.

Rating; 4/5        215 pages, 2013

Dec 5, 2015

the DARE

So I'm participating in James' (supposedly) final TBR Triple Dog Dare. I just forgot to post an announcement because I've been busy. The Dare basically means from now to April first I will only read books off my TBR shelves. With one exception- this short stack of library books I checked out earlier last month. Most of these titles were on my TBR lists, so they count too I think. But the main goal is to actually get through more of those books that have been patiently sitting on my shelves for so long...
Let's see how it goes!

The Wolves of Yellowstone

by Michael Phillips and Douglas Smith

This book is about the program that re-introduced wolves to Yellowstone National Park in 1995. In actuality it began decades earlier; the first voice advocating re-introduction of wolves was raised in 1944 (Aldo Leopold) but it took over fifty years for all the logistics to be worked out. That's mostly what this book covers- how the planning was put in place and worked through, difficulties that were overcome and views of success. There's very little about the behavior of the actual wolves themselves, especially because the wolves were deliberately given a lot of space- to keep them wild and unaccustomed to human presence. When brought from Canada and placed in acclimation pens they were mainly observed only at a distance. When released their movements were tracked via radio collars, not much else. Thousands of visitors were later delighted to view the wolves engaged in normal behavior. It's a very informative read, and I learned a lot about how much work and delicate public relations it took to complete this project, but missed the intimate style of nature writing I usually enjoy. I wasn't aware of the red wolf recovery program initiated years earlier in North Carolina before; this program in Yellowstone took notes from how that worked and did things a little differently, they outline the reasons and results well. There are lots of additional side paragraphs written by various people who were involved, usually relating the moment of initial release again. The most eloquent one was near the end of the book, by Renee Askins. I appreciated that all the photographs in the book were taken on site, so they are not all gorgeous and staged. Often a notable moment could only be described in words, as the wolves were too quick or nobody had a camera to record what happened. This re-introduction effort is more than a decade old now, so there's lots more up-to-date information out there about what happened to the wolves. I suppose there are other books that have been written since, which can give better insights to the impacts of having wolves back in Yellowstone, simply from the benefit of time. However if you want a behind-the-scenes look at how it was all initially made possible, this is a good resource.

Rating: 3/5         128 pages, 1996

Dec 2, 2015

Wolf

Legend, Enemy, Icon
by Rebecca L. Grambo

Much like the Barry Lopez book Of Wolves and Men, this large coffee-table style volume provides a lot of solid information about wolves. It covers all the basics- pack structure, habitat needs, hunting strategies of wolves and so on. Mostly it is about how humans and wolves have interacted over the centuries, our perception of them shifting over time. Anciently wolves were revered and admired, many feature in creation stories. Men from hunting cultures tell of copying methods they observed wolves using. When people began keeping livestock, wolves were no longer seen in a positive light but viewed as competition. Even worse, during the Middle Ages when wolves often scavenged the dead left from plagues, famine or warfare, they came to be feared as agents of evil. It's taken a long time for our views of wolves to change, but now opinion is swinging around again and wolves are seen by many as noble icons of the wilderness. Interestingly, the author cautions against this relatively new lauding of wolves as well, pointing out that whenever we see the animal through colored lenses, our responses to problems with wolves are skewed. That careful scientific studies should influence our management of wolf populations, not emotional popular opinion. I had never quite read these perceptions explained so clearly before. The book rounds out its discussion of wolves with an overview of the state of wolf populations in different countries, and how re-introduction into many areas is being managed, in particular regarding conflicts with livestock keepers.

A lot of this information wasn't exactly new to me, but the clear way in which it was all explained made it a very nice read. Many of the tales recounted- legends, mythology and creation stories from different cultures, were ones I hadn't encountered before. The photographs by Daniel J. Cox are beautiful (and I appreciate that the author admits they are all of wolves kept in captivity- pointing out how pictures of captive wolves in superb health can gain admiration and support for their wild counterparts, which are seldom seen and probably less attractive, given how often they suffer from hunger, parasites and other ills). There are also lots of quotes and poems about wolves included in the margins, and images of artifacts depicting them, which adds to the richness of this volume.

I borrowed this one from the public library.

Rating: 4/5        176 pages, 2005

more opinions: Canadian Bookworm

Nov 29, 2015

Romeo

the Story of an Alaskan Wolf
by John Hyde

I had not heard of this story until I found the book by chance on a library shelf. It might have been a better read if I had, because although the writing is thoughtful and descriptive, it also has an oddly disjointed quality, jumping into the subject matter without much introduction and wandering between current observations, the biology and natural history of wolves in general, the author's musings on their role in nature and their relationship with man. A good reason to think on all these things: in Juneau, Alaska a young black wolf appeared and for six years in a row resided near the lakeshore during winter months, where he would approach people who were out walking their dogs. The wolf wanted to socialize with the dogs. There are many images and videos online of him doing so. I though it would be really interesting to read about the individual interactions, as the dogs often misread the wolf's intentions, acting aggressive or timid, and Romeo would trick them into playing tag with him. But the book is more a photo essay than anything else, and the author mostly only reports interactions he viewed, just as often mentioning finding the wolf's tracks or hearing it howl, knowing it was in the vicinity but not in sight. His photographs of the wolf and the landscape are simply gorgeous. The brilliance and detail of closeups are stunning, but I really liked the wide shots that showed the wolf a small figure in a vast landscape of ice, snow and glacial formations.

I do want to know more about this wolf; I found there's another book about him- A Wolf Called Romeo by Nick Jans which I will look for someday. His story reminds me a lot of the whale Luna, who also approached people seemingly for companionship and became something of a problem when people were warned not to engage with it, but of course no one could control what the whale did. And the wolf also met a sad fate, as its habit of approaching people finally brought it within easy reach of someone who had no compunctions. Wildlife officials did attempt to teach the wolf to keep its distance from people using noise and harmless missles, but this only caused him to avoid those particular individuals and unfortunately did not save him from harm.

Rating: 3/5       134 pages, 2010

Nov 28, 2015

H is for Hawk

by Helen Macdonald

I have spent two weeks to read this book, and then a day and a half trying to think what to say about it. It's one I took at a very slow pace, because the book nearly demanded it and I found myself deliberately reading in long pauses, stopping after just a page or two to set it aside, wanting to let the words sink in, the descriptions linger as vivid images in my mind.

It's that good a book. It's about the author's period of grief when her father suddenly died, which she assuaged by taking up a new hawk to train. Macdonald tells how she'd been obsessed with falconry since childhood, reading the books and watching the skies and eventually training her own hawks to fly. But she'd always avoided goshawks, a species with a strong reputation for being difficult and moody. Alone in a small house she slowly eases into the hawk's trust, teaching it to associate her with food, and the relationship that slowly unfolds between them is nothing short of amazing. It's not a friendship or dependency, but more of a working partnership; the hawk learns she will feed it, take it places to fly, flush game for it.... The passages that describe the author's walks through the countryside tracking her hawk, watching it gain hunting skills, are the solid type of nature writing I love. Putting you solidly into a place, a perspective, you've never seen before, the feel of the elements, the response and senses of the animals. Macdonald herself feels more aligned with the hawk's outlook than any human one for a long time until she starts to work her way out of grief. Her story is so very personal, and so close to nature one and the same.

It's also an examination of the art of falconry, told from a very personal experience. Lots of terminology and skills and bygone writers on the subject explained. All quite fascinating. A large thread in the book reveals her unfolding thoughts on T.H. White's book The Goshawk (which I've never read). In it White related how he battled wills with his own hawk, and all his erroneous methods, driven by his own problems which it seems he often took out on the bird. It's disturbing to read about, makes me wonder if I really ever want to read it myself. It makes a really interesting foil to Macdonald's own story, throwing a mirror and a light on her own methods and interpretations on how to read the hawk's body language, how to respond to it, how to treat it properly. Of course, she did have bad days, make her own mistakes, get discouraged at times. And took risks letting the hawk fly when it really wasn't in proper condition later on, just compelled to see what it would do, to let it ride its instinctive nature to the full. There are understandably lots of scenes with bloody death- rabbits, pheasants and other animals clutched by the hawk, and the author herself has to lay hand on the dying animals, has to feed her hawk dead chicks, quail and other fresh meat when confined in the house. That can be difficult to read about, but she makes it all sound so natural, if you're keeping a hawk.

So much more I could say: but you should just go read it! I will, again. This is definitely a book I want to own someday. I just can't describe how good the writing style is, the voice that lays bare so much about nature and the land and this predatory bird, this fiercely alive goshawk at her side.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 5/5         300 pages, 2014

more opinions:
Farm Lane Books Blog
Vulpes Libris
Olduvai Reads
Desperate Reader
Shelf Love

Nov 24, 2015

TBR management- and The Dare!!

I saw this meme on So Many Books and thought to do it too, then got distracted (lots of work right now) until James' posting about the TBR Dare reminded me. So here we go.

How do you keep track of your TBR pile?
It used to be a handwritten thing that I jotted titles down on, and then often forgot about. The handwritten part got shuffled onto this list -as much of it as I could find. Then at some point I started making regular postings whenever I added a slew of titles to the TBR. It's not organized in the same way- the TBR page list I just delete titles when I finally read them, but with the postings I go back and link the title in the post to the current review of that book. I try to keep things sorted which books are in in my library's system and I can methodically look for with a good hope of actually reading them. Books that aren't at the library I just hope to come across someday when hunting at used sales or secondhand shops...

And then there's Library Thing. I do have a tag in my catalog for unread books. I use it to get a count every now and then. Or to quickly look up a title and see if it's a book I already own.

Is your TBR mostly print or e-book?
Well I thought it was mostly print. But I just looked and realized I have 67 unread books on my e-reader that I got from Project Gutenberg. One day I discovered this has a lot of older, out-of-print titles that interest me and I got all excited about it. I should look for more! But I only tend to read on the device when I'm travelling, so I have no idea when I'll get around to these...

How do you determine which books from your TBR to read next?
It varies. Sometimes I deliberately look for a book on my shelf related to a subject interesting me at the moment, or that another book or reader has reminded me of. Sometimes when I'm at the library with my kids I'll pop over to my favorite section (dewey decimals 570-590!) and look to see if I recognize anything on the shelf from my TBR list. And sometimes I just stand in front of the bookcase at home and pick something at random. Speaking of which, here they are:
Yes, I do still have piles on the floor. But I'm hoping that eventually I'll clear enough unwanted books out that everything will fit on the actual shelves again.

A book that has been on my TBR the longest?
List or physical? There are probably titles on that TBR page in the navbar that I jotted down on notepaper up to ten years ago, but I don't know which ones they are. According to my Library Thing catalog, there are only three unread books that have been on my shelf since 2007: The Wonder of Birds, Walden (which I've tried and failed to get through twice so far) and Famous American Illustrators- a reference book I acquired for a class in art school and hung on to.  I might have missed a few though; every now and then I read a book and when I go to update the LThing listing it simply isn't in there.

A book you recently added to your TBR?
Well, for the list it would be Leaf by Daishu Ma or Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman, which I've just tagged in my feed reader but haven't yet put in a TBR post. Also The End of the Game by Peter Beard, I just got this one from Paperback Swap in the mail today and I'm really excited about it!

A book on your TBR strictly because of its beautiful cover?
Hm. Lots of books are on my shelf because they were very cheap secondhand, and just caught my eye. I guess a good example is Portrait of an Unknown Woman by Vanora Bennett. I don't know anything about this book, but the cover image certainly is striking. It has a sleeve over the cover that wraps all the way around
the front image without the sleeve wrapping is this:
I think it's about a painter, and a woman who sat for a portrait. Definitely intriguing!

A book on your TBR that you never plan on reading?
This would only be reference books, and they're not on my list, just shelved. I have a Healthwise Handbook which I dip into now and then for a quick answer. I have plenty of cookbooks I might never use (not even in my LThing catalog). I have a book on making your own custom picture frames from back in the days when I was painting, but I never used that one either.

An unpublished book on your TBR that you’re excited for?
Can't tell you. I don't usually keep track of what's up-and-coming. I do add such titles to my list when they catch my attention from others' blog posts, but I don't remember which ones they are.

A book on your TBR that everyone recommends to you?
I have Frost Dancers by Garry Kilworth on my e-reader because a fellow blogger not only recommended it when she found out I'd read the author's book about foxes, but she sent me the file! That was great. I can't really think of a title that's been recommended to me by lots of folks.

A book on your TBR that everyone has read but you?
I can't think of one right now. The books I like to read aren't of a very popular genre (nature writing and animals) so ...

A book on your TBR that you’re dying to read?
The End of the Game which I just got. It has awesome photographs and I just found out from the flyleaf that the author was Karen Blixen's neighbor and published some of Kamante's pictures in this book too!

How many books are on your TBR shelf?
Current best count is 153. Well, if I add on the e-books it's really 220. That's less than it has been in years. Mostly thanks to The TBR Dare! Which I am going to participate in one last time (if it really is the last).
Go on over to James' site and read about it.

Nov 19, 2015

cat and mouse

This is one of the more challenging (or let's say frustrating) puzzles I've done. It's been made more difficult on purpose by Bepuzzled. Not only is the picture very repetitive (variety of four or five cat poses only, made different sizes, flipped horizontally and duplicated over and over) and severely limited in color scheme but also: it's not all shown on the box, the puzzle itself has no border pieces, and there's five extra pieces thrown in to confuse you. So it was kind of a jumble taking pictures of as well because I didn't have a border to align the camera with until near the end. This one took me twice as long as other puzzles of similar size (750 pieces). There were plenty of sittings I did in between these shots where I only managed to fit two or three pieces in place before giving up for the day!
When it's done, not really a picture I enjoy looking at, either. Too- gimicky- not quite the right word, but maybe you know what I mean. So I don't think this one's a keeper...

Nov 15, 2015

The Time Garden

by Edward Eager

I couldn't get Knight's Castle, my library simply doesn't have a copy (how is that? I assume once they had the entire series and one got lost/damanged). This book is its sequel, involving the same four children (two sets of cousins). So I missed some of the references to the earlier story, and the character building, but overall I think it should stand alone. Here four kids get sent to live with an elderly relative in an old house on a cliff above the sea, while their parents are away. It turns out the thyme plants in the garden are magic, and a talking toad tells them how the herb can make them travel through time (of course). So they go on a series of adventures, landing in the middle of the Revolutionary War, later assisting escaping slaves just prior to the Civil War, visiting with Queen Elizabeth and meeting their own parents as kids (on the cannibal island from Magic by the Lake). But I just skimmed that chapter, because somehow this one just wasn't working for me. I couldn't keep my attention on the story. The characters didn't seem as vivid nor the incidents as funny as I recall in other books. It could just be my state of mind doesn't match a light read right now... That's it for Edward Eager, then. One was great, two pretty good, the other just okay.

Abandoned        193 pages, 1958

Nov 14, 2015

Eels

An Exploration, from New Zealand to the Sargasso, of the World's Most Mysterious Fish
by James Prosek

I didn't know there was a fish in the world whose life still remains such an unknown. Unlike most fish, freshwater eels spawn in the wide open ocean, and the tiny larvae travel to rivers where they swim up against current (as small glass eels) then spend forty years or more living there. As mature adults they swim back to the ocean. No-one knows how they find their way back; it's supposed they spawn in the Sargasso sea. Sometimes eels get trapped in lakes or behind dams with no way out, and there are tales of them living close to a century, searching every year for a way back to the sea. To date nobody has ever found the actual spawning site. But fishing pressure urges some scientists to search: they think they could learn something that would help breed eels in fish farms to produce for market. Others say it should never be found (what good would it do the eels, if we caught them in the act?) It shows the completely different ways eels are viewed: as a food item to be exploited, as something slimy and icky no-one cares about. Or, as the author found when he traveled to Micronesia and New Zealand, an ancient and powerful creature to be feared and respected. In those island cultures eels are woven into tales of power and mystery, and many people cared for and fed eels that lived in streams near their houses, for decades. This part of the book felt more like a travelogue, a story of stories told and people visited and as such not quite as interesting to me. Mostly I got an impression of how difficult it was for the author to gain the trust of the locals and ferret out their legends and information about eels. He also tells of visiting several eel fishermen, in particular a man who every year builds a rock weir on a river to catch eels during the run to the sea. Overall the book felt a bit disjointed, I wanted to be more interested in it but kept having to turn myself back to it. I wished for a lot more material, in depth. And I felt like it could have been had: the afterward mentioned a lot more visits and conversations that didn't get mentioned in the text as far as I could tell.

Rating: 3/5       287 pages, 2010

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Amy Reads

Nov 10, 2015

Fish Behavior

in the Aquarium and in the Wild
by Stephan Reebs

Fish aren't stupid. It's difficult for us to understand how they really perceive their world, and from that guess what their thinking process might be. But experiments have been made exploring their sensory and cognitive abilities. This information, as the author points out, is usually presented in scientific literature and not often read by the general public. Here the author has taken the trouble to summarize numerous of these experiments (using many different species, both fresh- and saltwater) and presents the findings together, along with his take on their implications. This book demonstrates how much fish can discern, judge risks and rewards and make decisions, even compromises. It starts by detailing what fish can sense of their surroundings and how they do it- using sound, smell, chemical signals (pheromones) and things beyond our normal ken as humans: electricity, magnetism and pressure via the lateral line. Fish can tell time, not just using daylight hours or sun position but an internal clock. They can anticipate a regular feeding time, or in the case of parental cichlids, start gathering up young fry for safekeeping before nightfall (even recognizing the difference between true approaching nightfall and someone turning off the lights at random during the day). Some species can sense the earth's magnetism and use it to navigate. They can judge another fish's size compared to their own and assess the risk of taking on a newcomer in a fight, verses a prior rival with whom they've already settled differences. They can learn things from other fish- where to find food or safety, how to recognize predators. Using the alarm substance of their kin combined with the scent of a predator, hatchery-raised salmon can be taught what dangers to avoid before they are released into the wild. And so on. Most of the experiments described were conducted in enclosed environments and can even be replicated in a home aquarium, but a lot were also done in open rivers, streams, lakes, and even the ocean. It's all really interesting to read about.

Two of my favorite parts of the book: one described the discovery of a fish in San Francisco that is so noisy during the mating season (males calling to attract females) that houseboat residents complained of the buzzing sound. Most were convinced it was mechanical in origin, they couldn't imagine a fish producing such noise. And this passage about a fish that has demonstrated spatial memory is so intriguing I quote it in full:

Spatial memory comes in handy for the small frillfin goby. At low tide, these fish seem to be prisoners of their home tide pool, but when they are chased by mad scientists, they can jump out of their pool and "land" with amazing accuracy in adjacent pools rather than on rocks. Sometimes they jump from pool to pool until they reach open water, a trip that may require up to six different jumps, not all of them in the same direction. This works only when the fish have had a chance to explore the whole area at high tide, when all pools are covered by water and swimming between them is possible. When introduced into an unfamiliar pool at low tide, gobies either refuse to jump or landed wrongly on the rocks. But after only one night of exploring the new pool at high tide, the jumping behavior became accurate again. The most likely hypothesis to explain this fantastic ability is that the shape of each pool is memorized and serves as the main cue for proper orientation toward the next landing place. Memory of such information is long lived: gobies tested in the same pools 40 days later still jumped in the right direction. These experiments came from Laster Aronson of the American Museum of Natural History in New York.

Reading about all these studies on fish reveals a lot about their behavior and preferences. What do fish care about when it comes to choosing a mate or a spawning site? At what point will they choose between food and safety? How do they decide who to hang out with (shoals usually contain fish all of the same size, but sometimes they are comprised of different species). I think anyone who keeps an aquarium should read this book, it sure gave me a lot to think about!

Found browsing at the public library.

Rating: 4/5       252 pages, 2001

Nov 7, 2015

The Wolf Almanac

by Robert H. Busch

This book about wolves is a pretty good overview. It reviews wolf evolution, classification, distribution, biology, behavior and predation, covering all in general. On the human side there's discussion of how wolves have figured in folklore and mythology, common misconceptions and false information still believed by many people today. The situation of wolves as game animals hunted for trophies, fur-bearers trapped for their pelts, and persecution by man due to fear and livestock losses is also discussed, alongside the place of wolves in zoos and sanctuaries and the conundrum of wolf-dog hybrids kept (and usually subsequently abandoned) as pets. Wolf conservation efforts, their status as an endangered species and efforts to re-introduce them to the wild round out the book. It's got a lot of statistics- maps and lists on numbers of wolves existing in various parts of the world, reported bounties paid, livestock losses, numbers sighted in different states during various years and so on. If you want to read a bunch of facts, it's great. Solid broad picture of what wolf is, how it makes a living and how mankind has treated it. The pictures are nice. But not what I would really call a fun or engaging read. The kind of book you would really depend on to write a school report (if kids read books for that nowadays).

I found this copy at a library discard sale.

Rating: 2/5      226 pages, 1995

Nov 4, 2015

The Rabbi's Cat

by Joann Sfar

This graphic novel (for adults) depicts a Jewish household in Algeria, through the eyes of their talking cat. The cat has his own opinions about human behavior and their often odd (in his eyes) habits, which all comes out after he eats a parrot and gains the ability to speak. (Later in the book he looses this ability, but can still communicate with other animals and continues his commentary on the side). So the cat adores his mistress, the rabbi's daughter, but the rabbi doesn't want her influenced by a talking cat who is sarcastic and witty and doesn't flinch at lying when it suits his own ends. The cat insists that he can be a good Jewish cat, if he is taught religious law. The rabbi refuses to teach him. But apparently the cat can already read and has plenty of sources to quote. The cat delightedly pitches himself into arguments with the rabbi, his relatives, colleagues and others- all turning words and logic in upon themselves. Not always to get what he wants, but just to confound everyone it seems. Later in the book the rabbi's daughter gets married and leaves the household, and the cat is upset at being shut out of her new life- which household does he belong to now? In the final chapter the rabbi and his daughter travel to Paris to meet her new husband's family. It turns out this family is not religiously observant, which puts the rabbi into all kinds of turmoil, and after shunning his in-laws' household he searches for a nephew he hasn't seen in years. Miraculously he finds this younger relative, only to discover his nephew also has strayed from Jewish tradition, on a different tangent. It's eye-opening and shameful to the rabbi, who promptly goes off and breaks a bunch of taboos in one fell swoop, to see what will happen. Nothing does. Hm.

I thought I would really like this book, but turns out it was just mildly interesting and the ending did not feel very conclusive. Perhaps the second volume rounds out the story, but I don't feel terribly inclined to pick it up. Also, as a small aside, the cat's thoughts are presented in script, which can be hard to read after a while. I suppose the positive of that is it slows the reader down!

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5      142 pages, 2005

more opinions:
Opinions of a Wolf

Nov 2, 2015

Adventures with Ari

by Kathryn Miles

Another book about a dog, this one was pretty darn good. Very thoughtful, interesting and funny at times. Also some sad moments. The author relates her first year with a newly adopted puppy, an endearingly cute jindo/husky mix full of spunk and plenty of wild crazy energy. The story is not just about puppy antics, adjustments in the household, training issues and how their resident cat struggled to accept the newcomer. It's about how the author made an effort to pay attention to how her dog saw the world, to follow where the dog led her on walks in the forest and let the canine senses guide them in exploring the natural world. Sometimes this just led them to mud puddles, or to remains of dead animals on the roadside, but there were also many encounters with squirrels, a beaver, a glimpse of a bald eagle and so on. Lots of internal musings on canine characteristics and abilities, nature vs nurture, the relationship of dogs and humans, our impact on the natural world and even economic developments in their small, rural town. Even some side topics that interested me were dipped into, like feral children. I'm familiar with most of the books on dogs and other animals that Miles mentioned; it was good to see someone else's thoughts on them. And the few she discussed or quoted that I haven't read, are going onto my list.

Rating: 4/5      280 pages, 2009

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Vulpes Libris

Oct 27, 2015

cleaning house

Title is the name of this puzzle, not the fact that it's the first one I'm considering culling from my collection. I like all the blues in the picture, but little else about it. Although the pieces have satisfying variety of shapes, they're quite small and very shiny, also the picture is darker than it looks here, so I had to lean in close (often bumping heads with my kid or crossing each others' view with our hands) and tipping my head constantly to avoid glare. It was annoying. Also, the pieces are flimsy and the upper layer easily tears off; just from moving pieces around my fingernails inadvertently tore up edges or created crease lines on them.  I've learned a lesson from it: don't buy cheap puzzles. This one is made by papercity puzzles.

It's only the second time I've worked this puzzle, and at 500 pieces it was fairly quick even though I did a background/general-to specific strategy and mostly avoided looking at the box picture as a guide. Previously I've taken a photo about every other sitting, but this puzzle was actually assembled in just six sittings. My four-year-old helped. She did the fish's open mouth all by herself, so had her own sitting between pics 2 and 3 and surprised me with it.

Oct 26, 2015

Kitty Cornered

by Bob Tarte

This was a nice read about people and cats. The author tells how, in spite of never liking cats as a child, his household gradually expanded from just one cat to include six. Adding a second cat seemed impossible- what if they don't get along? a third, not so much trouble, and after that it just seemed to happen. They really do seem to be bird people (ducks, chickens, geese and especially parrots, which starred in a prior book) but cannot turn down a needy cat when its owners are about to ditch it. There's a continual kitty shuffle as each new arrival finds its way to fit in. Very apt descriptions of how determined and inscrutable cats can be. Getting their own way, making you laugh one minute, striking out the next, then melting it all with a show of affection. Anybody who's lived with a cat can appreciate this book with its unique, individual feline personalities. Yes there are some headaches and anxious moments as several of their cats go through illness or meet with accidents, but I will let you know it all turns out well in the end (no death).

I have to say I enjoyed this one a lot more than Fowl Weather. Maybe I just was not in the right mood to read the other book, or this one wasn't so heavy-handed with the humor? But in this case the author's little asides and tongue-in-cheek remarks made me chuckle, they didn't seem exaggerated or tiresome as I recall thinking before...

I borrowed this one from the public library.

Rating: 3/5         288 pages, 2012

more opinions:
Bookfoolery
Lesa's Book Critiques

Oct 23, 2015

TBR 57

This list proves I'm still reading all your blogs, even if I seldom find something meaningful to say and leave a comment. Book titles not linked to a fellow blogger are from browsing at the public library, were mentioned in another book I read, or were seen in a gift shop at the Smithsonian Museum of Natural History...
The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall- Shelf Love
Life in Motion by Misty Copeland- Caroline Bookbinder
All the Light We Cannot See by Antonhy Doerr- Shelf Love
Every Boy Should Have a Man by Preston L. Allen- Farm Lane Books Blog
The Oregon Trail by Rinker Buck- Caroline Bookbinder
The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg- Farm Lane Books Blog
Make Your Home Among Strangers by Jennine Capo Crucet- Reading the End
The Art of Forgery by Noah Charney- Caroline Bookbinder
What the Robin Knows by Jon Young
Bird Sense by Tim Birkhead
Domesticated by Richard Francis
The Narrow Edge by Deborah Cramer
World Without Fish by Mark Kurlansky
Horses Never Lie About Love by Jana Harris
Invisible Beasts by Sharon Muir
Oh, Rats! by Albert Marrin
The Bluebird Effect by Julie Zickefoose
What If? by Randall Munroe
Animalium by Jenny Broom
Cuckoo: Cheating by Nature by N.B. Davies
Unusual Creatures by Michael Hearst
The Hidden Life of Wolves by James Dutcher
Fifty Animals that Changed the Course of History by Eric Chaline
A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo- Melody's Reading Corner
The Utopia Experiment by Dylan Evans- Farm Lane Books Blog
People of the Sky by Clare Bell- recommended by Thistle Chaser
Miracle Dog by Randy Grim
Hawk Hill by Suzie Gilbert
The House of Owls by Tony Angell
The Man Who Talks to Dogs by Melinda Roth
Chimpanzees of the Lakeshore by Toshisada Nishida
Chimpanzees of the Tai Forest by Christophe Boesch
Among the Bone Eaters by Marcus Baynes-Rock
The Chimpanzees of Gombe by Jane Goodall
Lost Animals by Errol Fuller
Zombie Birds, Astronaut Fish, and Other Weird Animals by Becky Crew
Mammals of Ungava and Labrador by Scott A. Heyes and Kristofer M. Helgen (editors)