Sep 18, 2017

Pacific Marine Fishes Book 2

fishes of southern japan and the western pacific
by Dr. Warren E. Burgess and Dr. Herbert R. Axelrod

This book is a continuation of Pacific Marine Fishes Book 1, in fact it uses the same index and the pagination starts at 283. Here there are anemone fishes and damsels, scats, mullets, herrings, sardines, razorfishes, needlefishes, the archerfish! a few seahorses, flying fishes, squirrelfishes, soldier fishes, perches, goatfish, sweetlips, moray eels, two types of batfish (completely unrelated), more kinds of angelfish, surgeonfishes and lots of butterfly fishes. Triggerfish and filefish. Puffers, boxfish and cowfish. Jacks, porgies, snappers and nibblers. Many wrasse, basslets, gobies and blennies.  Parrotfishes and scorpionfish. Hawkfish, catfish, sharks and wobbegongs. Sea robins and pearlfishes, lionfish, frogfish and porcupine fish. Rays, gunards, knifejaws and many more. They sure do have curious names, don't they- and even more curious shapes and patterns. I did not know there were so many kinds of cardinal fish- the two I am familiar with are the pajama cardinal fish and the banggai cardinalfish. Here eight others are pictured- and one of them- Bleeker's- has the only double-page spread in the entire book. The fish pictured left of center on the cover- a devil stinger- looks like someone took a bite out of its face. Some of the fish in this book are repeats of species featured in Book 1- but shown again because much better photos were provided. In particular, the images of the psychedelic fish and the mandarin fish in here, while not as vivid as what you can find online, are much improved over the first volume. There are many detailed illustrations for fish species of which no clear photos were available. I didn't find the text quite as interesting as before- but still read it through.

Rating: 3/5                 277 pages, 1973

Sep 16, 2017

The Lady and the Sharks

by Eugenie Clark

The author of this book was a famed marine biologist who began her career simply because she was so passionate about diving and interested in fishes. In the 1950's she was invited to set up and run a marine laboratory on the coast of Florida, now the Mote Marine Laboratory and Aquarium. It started out as just a small dock and one building where she and a few colleagues would collect, identify and study specimens they collected of various marine life. She was known for spearing fish but obtained many specimens by offering to take the bycatch or "trash fish" off the hands of fishermen in nearby waters. One chapter delightfully explains how she learned to catch small territorial fishes in a glass jar. She would dive down to the area where the fish lived, and gently chase them to study their habitual routes through the territory, and what corners they would dart around to hide when pressed. Then situate a jar around a hidden corner of the usual escape path, and later return to follow the fish until it naturally swam around the corner into its hideyhole- which was now a glass prison.

There are many pages describing dissections and what they learned from the anatomy or stomach contents of fish, particularly sharks which were her speciality. But they also caught fish alive and studied their behavior in aquariums, made films underwater and most famously, build a pen on the shore where they kept sharks. At first just intending to solve some mysteries about basic shark biology- they had rarely been seen to mate, for example, and nobody knew what these structures called abdominal pores were for. Then Eugenie was curious to find out if a shark could learn. So she set up experiments to test their ability to press a target and ring a bell to get a food reward, and to distinguish between targets of different shapes, patterns and colors. Reading about the experiments was my favorite part. A female shark gave birth in the pen, and they promptly began behavioral studies on the pups. They found that a young nurse shark could learn as quickly as a typical mouse in a lab!

A lot of the book is about the work it took to set up the laboratory, difficulties in keeping tresspassers who wanted to show off to their friends from harming her live sharks, how her young children were involved at the lab (she thought all children should show a healthy curiosity in watching a parent clean fish or a whole chicken for dinner, and get a natural lesson in anatomy!), her work involving and educating the public, and many interesting discoveries in the field of ichthyology. I liked reading about the gobies, garden eels, manta rays, hermaphroditic serranus fish and others just as much as the sharks. There are many written descriptions of diving experiences- her favorite activity. One very curious chapter describes a dive into deep sinkholes in the Salt Springs and Warm Springs of Florida- where she and some other divers discovered human remains. Their most spectacular find was a skull that appeared to contain mineralized brain tissue estimated to be 10,000 years old. Eugenie reports that they attempted many times to convince archaeologists to come study the site, but their claim to have found a fossilized brain was scoffed at and their announcements of the find were ridiculed and ignored. Now the site is considered an important site and under study! I found a few articles about it online, including one here and here- the William Royal mentioned in the second article is the man Bill Royal whom Eugenie dove with. Of course she herself is not mentioned in these articles. Reading her vivid description of what it was like to dive in that sinkhole is particularly eerie- especially when she writes about experiencing nitrogen narcosis, which sounds incredibly frightening.

Needless to say, I want to get hold of her earlier memoir, Lady with a Spear- it's sad my public library only has books about Eugenie Clark, not a single one by her!

Rating: 4/5            269 pages, 1969

LIFE Wonders of Life

the Amazing World of Nature
Time, Inc. edited by Robert Sullivan

I read quite a few magazines, but I never thought of writing about one on my blog before. We have subscriptions to National Geographic and Tropical Fish Hobbyist and I sometimes collect back issues of Amazonas or Aquarium Fish International. So often when there's a long gap here between book reviews, it's because I'm reading a pile of magazines!

This particular one felt more like a book, though. I was leafing through it with interest when visiting my parents once, and my dad let me bring it home. I originally intended to sketch from the stunning photographs- a collection of quality images from major microstock sites. But I ended up actually reading the volume. It's basically a showcase of amazing and curious wildlife and plants from across the world. Neatly divided, the first half of the publication shows plants, and the second half animals. The biggest, the smallest, the ugliest, most beautiful, strange, bizzare and downright dangerous. Whatever makes something stand out. I was familiar with most of the living things presented in these pages- giant sequoias, lionfish, aspen groves, sundews and pitcher plants, even the surprisingly maternal poison dart frog, unbelievably durable tardigrade and shockingly odiferous corpse flower. But I had never heard of the yareta- a tiny plant from Peru that grows in huge masses, which remind me of a mineral specimen in my husband's collection called mottramite! I didn't know about the megamouth shark, the Barbados threadsnake, or the smallest lizard- a dwarf gecko from the Dominican Republic. So there were quite a few things I looked up online to learn more about. The writing is brief, and a bit corny- I guess the humorous asides comparing things to popular culture and sports was intended to appeal to a broad audience, but it made me wonder at the age of this publication- I was a bit surprised to look and find it was written just three years ago. My six-year-old looked at the pictures with me, but she found the image on the last page disturbing- of a preserved two-month human fetus within a membrane.

Oh, and Giant George is in here.

Rating: 3/5                     Vol 13 No. 24 Dec 2013

Sep 11, 2017

Vulpes the Red Fox

by Jean Craighead George
and John George

Life of a fox, in the woods of Maryland. He is a regular animal hero- the smartest one of his litter, the terror of small creatures, a clever trickster who enjoys fooling the hounds. At an early age he sees his siblings fall- one is caught by an owl as a young pup, another snared in a trap when they are a little older. Vulpes remembers keenly the lessons from these tragedies. He meets the challenges of the wild with skill and bravery. The story shows his interaction with other wildlife, how he he finds a mate and helps raise the cubs. But must always evade those who hunt him- man. Many scenes are from the viewpoint of men who live near the same woods- trappers and hunters keen to catch our furry protagonist. It's a nice touch that the author uses the scientific identity of all the wild animals in the story as their name- easy way to get kids to learn them.

This was another one the library system recommended to me. But- I tried three times to get through it- and it just wasn't holding my attention. I ended up skimming the majority of the book. It's one of those written for younger readers and the lack of detail, rapid advances in the story and very humanlike powers of reasoning attributed to animals just didn't work for me this time. If you must know: death is frequent, but not lingered upon or described in detail. (The fox meets his end abruptly, via a hunter's gun).

The wash illustrations done by the author herself are quite nice- here's two of my favorites. It was her first published work.

Abandoned         240 pages, 1948

Sep 5, 2017


by Sara Pennypacker

Twelve-year-old Peter loves his pet fox, Pax. He has a particularly strong emotional attachment to it- he found the baby fox barely alive in a den after its mother was struck by a car. This was just after his own mother had died in a car accident. The bond between them is strong, and the fox has never known any other life than beside his boy. Now war is coming. Peter's father enlists in the military; Peter is sent off to live with his grandfather. He feels sure his fox will not survive in the woods alone, and runs away to go back and get him. But meets with his own accident along the way, that threatens to hold him up indefinitely. Meanwhile, Pax has run into all the challenges of the wild: finding food, avoiding bad weather, meeting wild foxes who claim their own turf. Will the two ever be reunited?

I wanted to like this book, but about a third of the way through felt my interest slowly lagging. It just doesn't hold up to the style of recent reads. Something about the storyline made me think it was set during an earlier era- WWII? but the conversations between people feels perfectly modern. So I was never sure about the place and time. Maybe it's mean to be anytime, anyplace... The chapters alternate between the boy's perspective and the fox. I liked most of what I read about the fox- but a lot of its behavior was more reminiscent of a dog- the devoted loyalty to his owner. And the way the foxes communicate with thoughts conveyed by gesture and scent but expressed in short sentences- I understood how the author was trying to portray that, but it didn't quite work for me. Ah, well. It's written for middle-grade readers, after all. By the way: for that age group, it may be a bit stark. There's quite a bit of bloodshed, suffering and death, especially for the foxes.

My public library's website now has a feature that suggests titles to me based on what I've checked out before. Usually I ignore it, but since I read a J fiction book about a fox, it recommended a few more to me. This one caught my eye because I recognized the illustration on the cover- I have really liked the picture books by Jon Klassen. But this is a chapter book, not a picture book. Most of the illustrations inside are small, there are a total of four full-sized ones, and they're all black and white. I think what really appeals to me about Klassen's illustrations is his use of muted earth tones; that effect is totally lost in the monochrome reproductions.

Abandoned               276 pages, 2016

Sep 4, 2017

Pacific Marine Fishes Book 1

fishes of southern japan and the ryukyus
by Warren Burgess and Dr. Herbert R. Axelrod

This book is a catalog of fish species. It's the first of an impressive series of ten volumes that aimed to describe every known species in the Pacific- many which -at the time- had never been photographed before. I have to admit some of the photos are rather poor quality- the fish so deftly camouflaged against the background you can barely see it, or the photo just blurry and indistinct. But the majority are stunning, especially when you consider their age. I thought the descriptions might be strictly scientific or dull, but it's actually interesting reading- each section tells of the known distinguishing characteristics of the fish. Including physical features, curious feeding habits, mating behavior, methods of finding food, avoiding predators, raising the young (or not) and the like. Brief enough that you remained fixated on the reason you opened the book: to ogle the vast array of pictures (489 color plates). It's particularly nice that there are repeated images of the same species- some show the difference between males and females, or how juveniles change into adults, or just individual variations. I was really intrigued by the first set of pictures, showing how several kinds of marine angelfishes morph from juvenile colors into adult form. I knew that they change appearance completely- but not how. Here the intermediate stages are shown- with one color form and pattern overlaying the other on the fish's sides. Sometimes the photos were able to show a series of the exact same individual, as it was reared in captivity. Visually fascinating.

I found this series quite by chance: I was at the lfs for the first time and wasn't ready to buy fish yet but wanted to purchase something to support this locally-owned shop. I saw two books sitting on a shelf and started thumbing through them. They looked quite old but I was really taken with the detail and quality of the photographs: I wanted those books. However the owner said Oh No, those aren't for sale, they are from my own personal collection! So I came home and looked them up on amzn, bought the first few volumes to see if they were keepers. So far, definitely.

Rating: 4/5                  280 pages, 1972

Sep 1, 2017


Volume 13
by Kiyohiko Azuma

Back home from camping, Yotsuba wants to give 'souvenirs' from her trip to Asagi- but they're odd things like a stick she found in the woods, and a giant pinecone. Asagi is surprised, but gracious about it. Yotsuba convinces Fuuka to take her to a park with a sandbox- where her make-believe games really bemuse the older girl. The younger friends she meets up with play right along. The main event, which takes up most of the book, is a visit from her Grandma. At first it seems her grandmother is rather tight-lipped and stern- "Grandma has an angry face, but she's not angry! It's just that way!" she explains to one of her friends. As the story progresses you see she really does have a kind heart and cares for Yotsuba. She teaches Yotsuba some cooking and cleaning skills, and the names of birds they see on walks. Yotsuba tries her best to be a good helper and meet with Grandma's approval, although it is hard for her and she throws a few tantrums when things don't go her way. In the end, Grandma has to leave much sooner than Yotsuba would like. She has difficulty dealing with that as well, but Koiwai and his mother calmly handle her outburst. Such dear people.

I'm sad this is the last Yotsuba book available. It's been a lot of fun. I like this series better than Bunny Drop- there's none of that drifting into uncomfortable territory as the kid grows up. Yotsuba is a lot more lighthearted, and more focused on simply what it's like to be a kid- meeting everything with enthusiasm, expecting life to be good, making up funny connections and explanations for things. Yotsuba's motto: enjoy everything!

Rating: 3/5              224 pages, 2015