May 15, 2019

Personalities on the Plate

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

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

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

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 2/5                 229 pages, 2017

May 13, 2019

Closer to the Ground

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

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

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5                  230 pages, 2012

May 10, 2019

Down from the Mountain

the Life and Death of a Grizzly Bear
by Bryce Andrew

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

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

Rating: 4/5             274 pages, 2019

May 7, 2019

Touch Not the Cat

by Mary Stewart

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

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

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

Rating: 3/5             336 pages, 1976

May 5, 2019

The Solution

Animorphs #22
by K.A. Applegate

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

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

Rating: 3/5               152 pages, 1988

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

May 3, 2019

The Threat

Animorphs #21
by K.A. Applegate

Warning for SPOILERS.

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

Rating: 3/5                  158 pages, 1998

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

May 1, 2019

How to Be a Good Creature

a Memoir in Thirteen Animals
by Sy Montgomery

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

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

Rating: 3/5                 200 pages, 2018

Apr 29, 2019

Father's Gone A-Whaling

by Alice Cushing Gardiner
and Nancy Cabot Osborne

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

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

Rating: 2/5                pages, 1928

Apr 26, 2019

People of the Sky

by Clare Bell

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4/5               345 pages, 1989

more opinions: Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tales

Apr 22, 2019

Dakota Dream

by James Bennett

Sometimes you find the most interesting books unexpectedly- I came across this one in a secondhand store on a trip this past weekend to Pacific Beach (and it was culled from a library in Anchorage- stamped top edge). Wasn't sure at first, but this turned out to be a pretty good read, the story kept me interested all through.

It's about a teenager who's bounced around in foster care and is now living in a group home while he waits for his next placement. He's something of a loner and a bit distanced from other people, but has this ongoing fascination with Native Americans, especially the Dakota (or Sioux) tribe. He knows the history, legends, customs, religious beliefs, etc. His most treasured possessions are a real peace pipe and some authentic moccasins. But his differences get him into trouble, adults in the institution and at school see his moccasins and his general attitude as troublemaking. He really dislikes the system (kind of reminded me of Holden Caulfield) but rather than becoming bitter or fighting, turns his attentions inward to his dream: to become a Dakota tribe member. Literally. A dream spurs him to believe this is his destiny, and when he talks about it too much people start to think he's mentally unstable and he winds up in an institution for what's supposed to be a short stay. Not really a surprise. In fact the way he rambled on about his fixation with Dakota culture to people made me wonder at first if he was neurodivergent or an unreliable narrator. Nope. He just needs a place to fit in, and wants to live among the people he feels an affinity for- the Dakota. All these adults around him think he's simply crazy, for wanting to live in a different manner. And for doing things like trying to make a real dugout canoe, or attempting to dye his skin darker.

So he steals another kid's motorcycle (rationalizing to himself why this is okay, as he holds himself to a high standard of honor gleaned from his reading about Dakota culture) after fixing it up some, and runs away to a nearby reservation. It's not exactly as he imagined, but he actually gets to meet the chief, who after listening to him carefully and posing some questions, has him undergo ritual purification and isolation in a four-day fast to seek a vision that will direct his future.

I won't say more- except that the ending was satisfying, although I would have enjoyed the other direction I hoped it might go in. The story is not told completely linear- it goes from present to past and back again a few times- but in large chunks so not annoyingly. I did wish there was more time spent on what happened after he got to the reservation, instead a bulk of the story is about his frustrations in the group home and what leads up to his decision to run away. I found the character of his social worker a bit puzzling- it's pleasant that she was a new, "green" social worker and nice to the kid- he really needed that- but she just didn't feel like a real person to me. The other background characters are a bit flat- the chief is a good one- but then it's all told through the close viewpoint of the main character, so perhaps that's why.

Rating: 3/5                 182 pages, 1994

The Discovery

Animorphs #20
by K.A. Applegate

This one was a quick read, kind of uneven but okay. Basic plot: the Animorphs realize a new kid at school has come across an alien object that holds the morphing technology. They spend a lot of time trying to get it away from him- first attempting to pay for it, then outright stealing when plans go awry. Of course the enemy very much wants this object also, and they find out where it is, so there's a sudden battle between most of the animorphs and the Visser in the new kid's bedroom. Where Marco morphs a snake. After that, things lead to the Animorphs letting this kid in on their secret and turning him into one of them. A bit reluctantly- they don't really know him- and perhaps unwisely- he seems to have a penchant for cruelty- but they don't see any other way to deal with it. They have to save the president of the US from falling into alien clutches- so there's a very confusing and ridiculous fight involving a cloaked alien space ship and a helicopter, where the Animorphs turn into cockroaches to avoid detection- but barely escape with their lives, not succeeding with the rescue mission at all. Well, maybe they failed- that's where the book suddenly ends- I am not sure why it didn't just continue, could have easily been 200 pages and finished the storyline but yeah stopping in the middle of the action makes it a cliffhanger. The part I was really interested in was seeing the conflict and dilemma they had with the new kid- they want to get to know him, figure out can they trust him, ease him into the idea of morphing into animals- but they don't have time because of the pressure to go save the president. So it all moves very quickly and the kid is in shock for a lot of it, and they really jump on the decision to include him. I'm curious to see what that all leads to.

Rating: 3/5            153 pages, 1998

more opinions:
Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tales

Earning My Spots

by Mark Eastburn

Wanted to like this one, but I just couldn't get into it, probably because it's juvenile fiction and the writing just a bit too simplistic for my taste. Things were glossed over that I really wished had better treatment. Such as, when the main character's family is apparently kidnapped, his reaction is so flat. Well, he does go off on a quest to find them again, but I would have expected more shock or anger or something. Maybe- because he's not quite human? His family are were-hyenas, shape-shifters. I haven't read a lot of books with this concept, aside from Animorphs really. I was into it at first- the hyena boy faces off against a group of bullying werewolf kids at the school- his is the only family of were-hyenas in town so he gets picked on and misunderstood. Then his parents disappear during a sudden confrontation with harpies - that really threw me- and he goes off with a new acquaintance- a were-jaguar kid- and some others to find them again. Eventually- I gathered this from synopsis read elsewhere- he encounters a population of were-hyenas in another part of the country, learns more about his heritage, finds out that his quest is much bigger than just saving his family. A lot to like- but for some reason I lost interest when the harpies showed up. I don't know why I can suspend belief to read about people who change into wolves, hyenas, jaguars, coyotes, etc. but the inclusion of harpies makes me roll my eyes. Maybe because it's a different kind of genre? harpies seem like they belong in a fantasy story with magic, while shape-shifters fit into urban fantasy type? it's all fiction so I don't know why it matters to my brain. Oh well.

I had this one on my e-reader.

Abandoned                 288 pages, 2016

more opinions: Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tales

Apr 16, 2019

Mama's Last Hug

Animal Emotions and What They Tell Us About Ourselves
by Frans de Waal

We are not separate from animals in our ability to feel emotion, and now science is finally able to prove this. Studies show that animals have the exact same chemicals and structures in their brains that produce emotions in people, so why do we assume they don't experience the same types of feelings? He discusses how our culture and assumptions of superiority have stood in the way of this understanding for centuries, but also (more interesting to me) describes many incidents and experiments that show animals are capable of feeling anger, unfairness, jealousy, disgust, shame, affection, guilt and empathy (to name just a few). They laugh. They deceive each other. They manipulate power struggles. They learn from their experiences, support their friends, and wait for chance at revenge on their enemies. The author studied chimpanzees so a lot of his examples are about great apes, but many other animals are also included- dogs, elephants, even fish. It's an very thoughtful and eye-opening book that will make you see animals in a different light- they are so much like us. Which- particularly in light of a recent book I read- makes you feel consternation about how we treat thousands of them in captivity and on factory farms- the author addresses this a bit as well, in his final chapters.

I feel like I skipped something reading this book before Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? but the author says he wrote them as companion volumes to each other, though I feel this one probably builds a lot on ideas and facts presented in the former. Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5                   326 pages, 2019

Apr 12, 2019

The Boy Who Talked to Dogs

by Martin McKenna

Memoir of the author's childhood when he ran away from home and lived on the streets in Ireland, taking up company with a pack of stray dogs. It's not like Dog Boy. This kid was older, and wrote his own story, and told just as much (in alternating chapters) about his home life and the incidents that led up to his running away. He had ADHD, in a time when it was completely misunderstood, so his behavior just led to punishment, frustration, and teasing from other children. His home was rough- a father who regularly got drunk and beat him, numerous other siblings to compete with. School was awful- he couldn't read, failed to comprehend a lot of the material, and got sick of the teachers' corporal punishment when he didn't fall in line. He became the target of bullies, as well. Ran away from it all and lived in a culvert, then hay barns, stealing food and attracting the company of several dogs, which eventually became seven. He felt more comfortable among the dogs than with people, so settled in with them. Eventually he took up a few odd jobs- helping at a horse fair, assisting with coal deliveries. It was at the horse fair that he watched a small dog boss around a bunch of larger ones, and wondered how it was able to get away with that behavior. He figured out that somehow the little dog was dominant to the others, and going home to the barn, recognized the same kind of behavior among his own dogs. Observing more closely he started to figure out some of the dogs' body language, and used it back with them. Some of his ideas I'd come across before- such as that a lot of dogs don't really like being hugged, they interpret an arm around them as threatening- and others I'm not sure if he accurately interpreted what he saw, but regardless he lived long enough with the dogs to get himself together and eventually return home. That's where the book ends. He also managed to face down some of the bullying, and set a few rights in the community (confronting some men who illegally baited badgers, for one thing) but there's no explanation of what happened with his schooling. It's a pretty good read, though.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5                    223 pages, 2014

Apr 10, 2019

Eating Animals

by Jonathan Safran Foer

This book has made my heart heavy. It put a lot on my mind and now I hardly know where to start talking about it. It starts as a personal narrative- the author had waffled for most of his life about eating meat or not- and finally decided to do some research on it: why do we eat animals? where does it come from? how are the animals treated? He also tells quite a few family stories, illustrating how important food is in culture and family heritage, emphasizing how difficult it is to change, and to reason out why. A lot of it is about how screwed up the food system is in our country, particularly factory farming of animals. The author took a very close look at all this. He interviewed many: a man who runs a large operation, a small scale farmer who personally knows all his animals, an activist who sneaks into chicken sheds. It's not just about how appallingly the livestock is treated in the poultry, cattle and hog farming industries, it's about how terribly they pollute the environment, how dangerous they are for our health, how wretched the working conditions are for humans employed there. How the power of the corporations enables them to shrug off fines or ignore audits and inspections that don't get enforced. I was shocked to read that over ninety percent of the meat now sold in America comes from large factory farms. Humanely raised animals are so few- not from lack of demand, but because the system makes it so hard for small farmers to function- they would never feed us- not even one city. Apparently even fish isn't a good choice- if you're not worried about mercury poisoning, or alarmed at how devastatingly commercial fishing ravages the ocean (killing hundreds of species for each one they actually keep), farm-raised fish isn't all that better: the conditions on fish farms are just as bad for the animals as those in land-based facilities, and are even less regulated. Foer makes it sound like the only way to avoid being part of all this nastiness and horror is to simply not eat meat. For the first time it sounds like a proper idea to me.

This book was written a decade ago- I'd like to think that things have improved, but I'm rather pessimistic about that. However, there are at least two restaurants near me that specialize in farm-to-table fare, we are definitely going to patronize them although it's expensive (for good reason) I will just eat out less. As if I did much before, anyway.

Rating: 4/5              341 pages, 2009

Apr 4, 2019

Pig Tales

An Omnivore's Quest for Sustainable Meat
by Barry Estabrook

This book is mostly about the pork industry. It starts out looking at the intelligence of pigs, their resourcefulness and success at going feral in practically any environment, and the idea that pigs may have been one of the first domesticated animals- before sheep, goats or cattle. The author visits different people doing research on pigs and accompanies some people on a boar hunt in South Carolina. Then he visits both a small pig farmer and several large factory operations. The comparison is stark. There are several chapters on different details about the huge operations- inhumane treatment of the animals, contamination of meat, lack of enforcement for safety rules, dangerous use of antibiotics- and how it spreads to people- and pollution of the surrounding environment- often not only making noxious odors that ruin the air quality for people who live nearby, but also cause serious illness. He discusses lawsuits and protests that have ensued. He looks at the economics- why are factory farms driven to produce pork this way. To be fair, he does visit one place that runs to industry standard and keeps it all as clean and humane as possible. But there are many others that push production as far as they can, pressuring workers into dangerous conditions and stressing the animals, to say the least. It's unpleasant and puts the public buying the end product at health risk.

The final chapters make you feel okay about eating pork though, if you can get it from a good source. Estabrook visits a sustainable pig farmer in upstate New York who raises heritage breeds on pasture. He gets their family story, describes the pleasant environment and health of the pigs and sees all parts of the operation- from farrowing sows in a roomy barn to young pigs romping on the land, then the trip of grown eight-month hogs to a clean, small scale slaughterhouse. In the final pages he rides in the delivery truck with the owner to an upscale restaurant, where the pork is obviously admired and appreciated by the chefs. You have to pay a premium for it, though- and he pretty thoroughly explains all the costs involved, how someone can make a decent living running a small pig farm, all the details that give you a quality product, a pig that lived a pretty good life and died without feeling distress- why it all costs more. However this can be done on a larger scale. The author traveled to Denmark to visit a hog farm- not as large an operation as factory farms here, raising 12,000 hogs a year without stinking up the environment or using antibiotics. They have better controls in place it sounds like.

Descriptions of what goes on in the factory operations is so disgusting and alarming I never again want to eat pork from that kind of place, if I can help it. It doesn't make me swear off meat altogether, it just means I will probably eat less of it because I will be a lot more picky about what I buy.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5           335 pages, 2015

Apr 2, 2019

Nature Wars

the Incredible Story of How Wildlife Comebacks 
Turned Backyards into Battlegrounds
by Jim Sterba

This book is a different take on human/wildlife interactions. It first looks at the history of settlement in America- early colonists cleared the land and farmed, hunting wildlife extensively as predator control, crop protection or food supply. Nearing modern times, many kinds of wild animals had become so scarce they were rarely seen. Early conservationists instilled in people the desire to preserve pristine nature and help wild animal populations recover. When family farms began to be abandoned and the pattern of living changed across America, fields grew back into new forest- rather quickly. Later, sprawling suburbs supported a lot of new habitat- scattered trees, bushes, open edges- perfect for certain kinds of animals: deer, foxes, turkeys, possums, squirrels, raccoons, etc etc. These animals have proliferated so much they are now a problem in many areas, sparking conflict about how to manage them. The author looks at many ways in which animal control has been attempted- and how successful the various methods are. It appears that hunting and trapping is the most effective (and least wasteful) but that meets with a lot of protest by people who consider it cruel or don't want firearms used near where they live.

The book has a lot of facts- it was a slow read for me at first due to the amount of statistics and such, but got more interesting once it focused on certain animal species. There's chapters specifically about issues regarding beavers, deer, wild turkeys, bears and canada geese. There's a close look at rising vehicle traffic and mounting numbers of roadkill, whether feeding wild birds helps them or causes more problems, and feral cats. It has a lot of criticism for the system of capturing, sterilizing and re-releasing feral cats. Overall a lot to think about. Some of it I'd heard before, a lot was new to me, or presented in a way that caused me to see the issue in a new light. I wasn't aware of a much about the beavers, for example. I felt like the author mostly gave an impartial look at both sides of the problems, but it's also clear what he thinks the best solution might be in many cases.

Older book on similar topic: Alligators, Raccoons and Other Survivors.

Rating: 3/5              343 pages, 2012

Mar 25, 2019

Resurrection Science

Conservation, De-Exctinction and the Precarious Future of Wild Things
by M.R. O'Connor

When I first picked up this book browsing at the library, I assumed by its title the subject matter was extinct animals scientists hope to one day revive: I've read before about ideas on resurrecting the woolly mammoth, for example. This book is much broader in scope and full of detail I didn't expect. It's about how complicated issues have grown around saving wildlife as human populations eat up space and climate change affects everything. It's about the real difficulties surrounding attempts to define what value a species has, what measure should be taken to save them, how well it works, etc.

Each chapter has a different focus: spray toads in an isolated waterfall gorge that were threatened by a dam to provide electricity for impoverished Tanzanians. Florida panthers reduced to such a small population they have become inbred. White Sands Pupfish that exist in tiny pools on a missile range. The giant enigma of northern right whales- nobody knows where they spend half their lives, the puzzle of why their reproduction rate is so low. The Hawaiian crow is extinct in the wild- attempts are now being made to release captive-bred birds back into their native forests. Passenger pigeons- why did they really disappear? is it possible to bring them back? would people want to (they were a terrible scourge for colonial farmers). Last of all - Neanderthals. Who according to this book, weren't the unintelligent 'caveman' brutes popular culture likes to portray- but highly intelligent in their own right, well-adapted to their environment.

All of these were full of information totally new to me. I had never heard of spray toads before. I didn't realize that Florida panthers used to interbreed with Texas cougars (a long time ago)- so scientists attempted bring in some Texan cougars to diversify the gene pool. But when the panthers started breeding, there was no space for the population to expand. Nowhere for them to live. Honestly, it was so dismaying I didn't read the book for a few days- then got online and looked stuff up. Some failed developments have been turned back into wild land for the panthers. The spray toad still lives- supported by artificial misting systems. I have to remind myself this book is a few years old! But some things in it are still hard to understand. The vast storage systems of frozen animal tissue samples- in case they can one day be re-generated. The methods gone beyond stem cells. The genome sequencing. Insights this gives us into things like when did the right whale population become so small (it was before humans hunted them apparently) and how closely related are passenger pigeons to band-tailed pigeons. I didn't know there were so many people passionate about bringing passenger pigeons back. I was even more surprised to read that some scientists think to bring back to life the Neanderthal- wow that is full of some strong implications. The end of the book got a bit philosophical and it was difficult to keep focus on the last few pages. Overall it was full of way more complex issues than I can describe, lots to think about.

Oh, there's also a chapter about the Northern white rhino. It was the same story as in The Last Rhinos but with slightly different details which made that a very interesting read.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5              266 pages, 2015

Mar 15, 2019

Bringing Nature Home

How You Can Sustain Wildlife with Native Plants
by Douglas W. Tallamy

This one was great. Just what I needed. Stuffed full of information and beautifully clear photographs. It's not necessarily about how to select plants, but instead focused on why homeowners need to reintroduce native plants to their land, and weed out aliens as much as possible. I've never been a purist in my gardening. I've always though ok: natives are good, feed the birds, but I like some striking, pretty plants that don't get eaten by the deer too. Although I haven't got very far in filling my yard with the perennials and shrubs I had my eye on yet, and a good thing I guess. This book has convinced me I'd do better with buttonbush than butterfly bush, and to really value the maples, oaks and crabapple in my yard- in spite of the mess they make with dropped seeds and small hard fruit.

His main point is that in order to support the wildlife we like seeing- the mammals- squirrels, rabbits, deer, foxes - and particularly the birds- we need to have plants that support the bugs. Because all the small creepy crawly things eat the plants and turn the value of the sun's energy trapped in plants into a major food source (their own bodies) for the birds. Most birds feed their young on insects, period. And he points out that the damage insects do to plants is usually minor enough that most gardeners don't notice it, if you have a good balance so there are enough predators attracted (birds, spiders, assassin bugs etc) to eat them! And he shows the scientific data that no matter how long an alien species of plant has been on our continent, the insect life here is not adapted to feed off it, and will take such a long time to do so it's pointless to consider. I didn't realize.

So a major part of the book is a gallery of photos showing all the little critters you might not notice in the yard, making a note of why they are important to the bird life (and other things), and what plants support them. There's also a section on trees, which native trees are the most valuable in terms of supporting wildlife- some feed literally hundreds of different species. I really like reading through the pages on insects. I learned some astonishing things, and found info on bugs I've seen in my own yard, but knew nothing about before. Did you know there are female insects that care for their young? some will guard the eggs from predators, others guard the nymphs, and one will lay its eggs near another female's clutch, then leave so the first female cares for them all! Did you know the female white tussock moth has no wings? I've seen their caterpillars a few times, had no idea. Did you know that monarch caterpillars can feed on more than just milkweed? any plant in the same family will do- and there's quite a few of them. So, so much more.

I paid to read this one, that's how much it galvanized me. I kept it beyond the due date (when someone else obviously wanted it- I couldn't renew) so I could finish reading, take notes, and find a copy machine for those lists of plants in my region that have the highest wildlife value (supporting the greatest number of insect and thus bird life). I really want to find a copy to add to my personal collection, so I can reference it often. I'm not going to stop trying to keep the bugs from ruining my vegetable garden, but if I plant more perennials and flowers around the yard they can eat, maybe they won't be so attracted to my little patch of edibles. And this book shows me how.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 5/5                  358 pages, 2007

No Way Home

the Decline of the World's Great Animal Migrations
by David S. Wilcove

I didn't finish this one. I read fifty pages. No fault of the book- I'm just very busy with starting the garden, dealing with things in my aquariums, the kids' school activities and so on. Reading has to fit into the margins right now, and this one just didn't have me eagerly turning pages every few minutes I could sit idle here and there. I'm returning it and hope to pick it up again at a later date.

It's about how animal migrations have been disrupted by human activity and habitat loss. Each chapter looks at a specific type of wildlife- the one I read was on birds (songbirds in particular) and it was very detailed, but I found the writing a bit dry so it was hard for me to stick with it. Later chapters - I gathered by skimming- are about monarch butterflies, wildebeest and other herbivores in Africa, bison and pronghorn in the American West, whales and sea turtles, salmon and other fish that travel up freshwater streams to spawn. Most cases are about how animals need to travel to follow food sources, or reach places where they can safely raise their young, how scientists have tracked them and learned about all this. The data about how travel routes have been disrupted and thus animal populations fallen, are kind of staggering if you haven't read about it before. There's some suggestions for how we can reverse the damage and support the animals' needs, but overall it sounded kind of glum. But then, I didn't read the whole thing so can't say.

I hope to revisit this one soon.
Borrowed from the public library.

Abandoned               245 pages, 2008

Mar 6, 2019

The Departure

Animorphs #19
by K.A. Applegate

I was looking forward to reading this book, because I had hints from some others' reviews of what was coming. It was both more and - different- from what I expected. I really like the cover image. Someone (on Goodreads or Amzn) made it sound like Cassie just quits, and flits off into the landscape as a butterfly to escape everything. Not at all what happens. Warning for spoilers if you haven't read this far in the series.

Cassie's bad feeling for what the Animorphs do in the war against the Yeerks has been building, and in the dinosaur episode it just goes too far. Fed up with the violence and killing, Cassie declares to her friends that she's quitting the Animorphs. They're shocked, angered, disgusted by turns. Make her promise she can't use her morphing powers if she isn't in the fight, because it could endanger them all. She goes home, learns some bad news from her family, goes out on a horse ride for some mental space and there's a little girl being chased by a bear in the woods. Cassie runs after them on horseback to save the girl, they end up falling in the river and when Cassie revives, she finds that the little girl saved her. They're lost in the forest and (conveniently for the plot) there's a leopard on the loose- escaped from a private collector somewhere nearby. Cassie finds out pretty quickly that the little girl is controlled by a Yeerk, who suspects she is an Andalite and tries to force her to tell. Cassie stubbornly refuses to admit her true identity, until the leopard attacks. She tries to save the girl without revealing herself, but ends up morphing the wolf to threaten off the leopard, and the game's up.

So Cassie and this Yeerk end up having an in-depth argument in the woods: whose side is right? the Yeerks, it turns out, are not all in agreement with what the Vissers order. Some of them don't want to be in the war at all. All of them want to have the blessing of using limbs, having eyes to see, ears to hear. The little girl Controller lets Cassie know she thinks humans (and Andalites) are domineering, holier-than-thou busybodies trying to make everyone in the universe follow their rules- when all the Yeerks want is to use all five senses, not spend their lives swimming around as "slugs" in a murky pool. Hm. Really puts it all in a new perspective. And Cassie gets it. She and this Yeerk make a deal- if the Yeerk leaves the little girl host and goes back to existing in its natural form in the pool, she will make a similar sacrifice by morphing into a dull, wormlike Earth animal and staying there.

Of course, Cassie doesn't get stuck forever in the caterpillar morph, but I sure wondered how the author was going to pull her out of that situation. It never occurred to me that natural metamorphosis would yes be comparable to the Andalite morphing technology- tadpoles into frogs, caterpillars into butterflies. It seemed very clever to me that this would be used as a device in the story- although the explanation for how it works is lacking.

Anyhow, this of all the books so far really brings up a ton of gray areas- is the enemy really as evil as they've always seemed? is Cassie being foolish or a decent human being, by refusing to fight and kill anymore. What has the war done to these kids, that their reactions to Cassie's defection include declaring an end to friendship, and turning against her if it looks like she will betray them to the enemy- no matter for what reason.

more opinions:
Thistle Chaser
Arkham Reviews

Rating: 4/5          pages,

Mar 3, 2019

In the Time of Dinosaurs

Megamorphs #2
by K.A. Applegate

This one was alright, although some things didn't make sense, I tried not to let it bug me. Note there are possible spoilers if you haven't read the series yet.

The Animorphs find out there's a nuclear disaster at sea- so what do they do? dash over there in dolphin form to see what's going on and help out rescuing people. Well, the blast throws the Animorphs back in time, to the Cretaceous age of course. It takes them a while to realize they're not in a strange place, just in an ancient time. It's extremely dangerous. They nearly get eaten by dinosaurs- several times- and there's a scene where Rachel morphs the grizzly bear while inside a dinosaur's stomach - to claw her way out- yeah, ugh. Glad for the paucity of description there. Eventually they manage to obtain morphs of dinosaurs so they aren't outmatched all the time, and then make a sudden discovery. It involves two alien races that inhabit Earth, eons in the past. The two alien civilizations are in a kind of stalemate, but the Animorphs get involved, hoping to use the energy of a bomb to blast themselves back into the future they came from- meanwhile a huge comet is looming ominously close in the sky . . . . They had to make some awful decisions about choosing if the alien race would live or die- after the aliens had helped them- to save themselves. Cassie protested having to morph a carnivorous dinosaur, and then went berserk when the instincts overtook her. Tobias makes a decision for the group without telling them- nearly on par with betrayal. Lots of drama setup for future events I think. But in terms of how they got back home, well I saw the ending coming a mile away. Biggest disappointment was when they got back to their own time, and found out the dinosaur morphs no longer worked. Why? what's the point of having the characters travel back in time where they can gain these incredibly powerful forms, if they can't use them? and why is it possible that their enemy Visser Three can use morphs of alien creatures from planets they've never heard of, but they can't use a morph from an extinct animal of their own planet? it made no sense, but a lot of this series doesn't. In spite of all this (and the constant POV switch every chapter) I did find it an entertaining read.

Read as an e-book on my device.

Rating: 3/5              245 pages, 1998

more opinions:
Arkham Reviews

Feb 26, 2019

Animal Wise

the Thoughts and Emotions of Our Fellow Creatures
by Virginia Morell

This book is about scientific studies done to investigate the intelligence and thought processes of various animals. The basis of the idea that animals could be proven to have emotions was scientific discovery of the same chemicals and structures in the brains of animals, that are present in humans- and both activated during the same emotional stress. For the detailed studies cited in the book, the author travelled to different labs and study sites around the world. I found them all pretty intriguing, and in every case I would have gladly read an entire book about it:

Minuscule ants whose entire colonies can live in a petri dish teach their fellow ants where to find a new resource (they don't just blindly follow a chemical trail). Archerfish prove they make deft, precise calculations- and learn by example. Alex the parrot defines colors and shapes, and practices the sounds of new words he's learning. South American parrotlets have individual contact calls- they have names for each other- which are maybe assigned by their parents. Rats laugh when they are tickled, and solicit more fun if you stop. Elephants remember family members they have lost- they have a strong need for social structure and appear to suffer the equivalent of post-traumatic stress when witnessing the sudden, violent death of other elephants. Dolphins recognize themselves in a mirror, and their lives in the sea are not at all peaceful. The last two chapters which compared very closely related animals performing the same kinds of intelligence tests- gorillas and chimpanzees, then wolves and dogs- were very interesting. The apes were doing memory exercises on a touch-screen computer; the dogs and wolves (young ones raised by humans) were participating in a study looking into how they respond to social cues given by humans. It was pretty striking, the difference in behavior between the young wolves and the dogs.

I'm just touching the surface here- there are so many more details in this book- from how the scientists came up with their theories, how they figured out and executed the experiments, what further ideas they have to investigate, and many anecdotal stories of animals demonstrating their smarts and empathy as well.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5                   291 pages, 2013

more opinions:
Rhapsody in Books
Wordsmithonia
At Home with Books

Feb 21, 2019

Angelfish

by Laurence Yep

Middle grade fiction about a Chinese-American girl who takes ballet lessons. Walking home one day, she takes an angry swing at her dancing partner Thomas- who always teases- and accidentally breaks the window of a store. Confronted by the angry shopkeeper, she agrees to work off the cost of the window replacement. It's a pet fish store. And the man specializes in raising angelfish. So you can see why I liked this book! The details about how the man cares for the fish- cautioning the girl not to overfeed, changing the water, testing pH, raising brine shrimp for the young fish and so on- is background material here but so familiar I delighted in it. Most of the story though, is about how the girl struggles to keep up with her ballet class while meeting this new obligation. She is cross at first because the old man in the fish shop is critical and insulting. But some of the comments he makes intrigue her- he seems to know a lot about dance and music, while apparently despising it. She determines to learn about his past, then finds her heart softening towards him and wants to help heal his bitterness.

This is a really nice story, but as usual when I read books aimed at younger readers, I wished for so much more depth. Especially when it handles tough subjects like the suffering that happened during the Cultural Revolution in China, and what it's like to live in a mixed-race family in an immigrant neighborhood of America. The setting was San Francisco, but the only feel of recognition I had was some street names! Regardless, I liked it enough that I'm looking for the other books in this series- it begins with Ribbons and The Cook's Family. Once I realized I was reading a sequel, I figured that's why I felt like a something was missing- as if I should have known the characters better, but not enough was explained about them in the narrative. Still, it stands alone well enough.

Rating: 3/5           216 pages, 2001

Feb 19, 2019

Common Sense Organic Gardening

by Warner and Lucile Bowers

In spite of being old, this book was pretty interesting and gave me some new ideas. It was written by an older couple who were very avid gardeners- their neighbors thought them crazy about it ha- and their enthusiasm really comes through the pages. They write mostly about labor-saving methods and how they grew produce organically for health benefits. Their main emphasis was using tons of thick mulch- made from shredded leaves- we're talking over a thousand bushels a year that they processed- and salt hay. After the first year they never had to till and barely weeded their garden. Interesting to me, they didn't grow a ton of vegetables but focused on exotics and curiosities that weren't available in grocery stores, and put most of their home made compost not on the kitchen garden but on their beloved fruit trees and roses. I was impressed at the output of those peaches and more. Some of the information is outdated -to be expected- but I was pretty surprised to read that while they definitely eschewed using poisons to control insect pests (except for one or twice-yearly spraying of the fruit trees), had no qualms about shoveling up sand from roadsides after winter, to use in their soil mix! (They did leach out the salts with water and use soap to remove most of the motor oil residue, but still. I would not.) And they scoffed at being told not to use landscaping plastic because it doesn't biodegrade, pointing out the many tatters and tears in plastics they had tried using- I assume nobody knew about microplastics at the time. I admired their thriftiness and zeal for building things- but dismayed that their favorite seedling container was styrofoam coffee cups!

Anyway, it was nice to read about all their methods, favorite tools, preferred ways to tend to plants- comparing to what I do and taking away a few new concepts. They built and used cold frames, made trellises out of discarded items like hat racks and metal screen door decorations, built birdhouses and feeders, grew many varieties of berries and grapes, made liqueurs and wine, etc. Their outright enthusiasm for propagating plants from cuttings or sprouting things out of seeds from what they ate- just to see if it would grow- delighted me- I'm of the same mind. I never thought of taking cuttings from chrysanthemums, I haven't yet tried air-layering to save my dracanea which is about to hit the ceiling, and I'd love to have a huge shaded fern collection or figs in pots like they did. Much to admire.

Oh, and there's recipes! Not my usual style of cooking, but I'd like to try a few.

Rating: 3/5               224 pages, 1974

Feb 16, 2019

The Line Between

by Peter S. Beagle

I'm glad I tried another Peter S. Beagle book. I really enjoyed most of these eleven short stories. There's a mouse who goes to cat school to learn to act like the best of felines, an octopus who writes a book in a fable, a sailor who saves a merman- hideous creature- and in return receives recipe for salt wine which most find innocuous but occasionally does terrible things to those who drink it. Several fables, wherein a foolish ostrich tries to learn a better way to evade their natural enemies, and a tyrannosaurus rex has a ridiculous conversation with a small mammal. In "El Regalo" a young boy does strange things with magic- reminiscent to me of some stories in Witches and Warlocks. Less great for me were "Mr. Sigerson"- wherein Sherlock Holmes joins a group of fine musicians in a small town- disliked by the one who tells the story- and "A Dance for Emilia" which I feel bad to dismiss as it sounds the most personal of Beagle's stories- but I just can't do ghosts or tales of possession (even though this one snuck in at the end, I didn't really see it coming). I found "Quarry" interesting- two characters- one a shapeshifting fox- fleeing assassins for different reasons reluctantly join paths- but this was an addition to his book The Innkeeper's Song which I haven't read (maybe I will now) so I felt I was missing something.

My favorite of the lot was "Two Hearts" which is a sequel to The Last Unicorn. There's a griffin ravaging the countryside and the narrator, a bold young girl called Sooz- sneaks out of her village to seek help from the king- who happens to be the same Lir that once loved a unicorn, now a very old man. Against the protests of the king's attendants, Sooz with the help of Schmendrick the magician and Molly Grue whom she fortuitously meets on the road, brings the old king back to face the griffin- he is a hero to the end- but the results of that encounter are unexpected. So sad, and so lovely. I recognized these dear characters at once, and they were the same people I felt I knew before. The book is worth the read for this one alone.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5                231 pages, 2006

Feb 14, 2019

TBR #70

Yikes! Need to read more, haha. Here's titles I've noticed over the past few months, from all the book bloggers I follow. A few gleaned from other books or library browsing, too. Would like to read them all someday, lucky if I get around to even half that of course.
Riding Home by Tim Hayes
Bringing Nature Home by Doug Tallamy- Commonweeder
Circe by Madeline Miller- Sophisticated Dorkiness
Friday the Rabbi Slept Late by Harry Kemelman- Read Warbler
Dopesick by Beth Macy- Bermudaonion
The Library Book by Susan Orlean- Caroline Bookbinder
Semiosis by Sue Burke- Curiosity Killed the Bookworm
Heartland by Sarah Smarsh- Caroline Bookbinder
The Last Ballad by Wiley Cash- Bookfoolery
Part Time Cowboy by Maisey Yates- Ardent Reader
The Enchanted Castle by E. Nesbit- Indextrious Reader
An Unkindness of Magicians by Kat Howard- Sophisticated Dorkiness
Train Dreams by Denis Johnson- Hogglestock
Sweep by Jonathan Auxier- Semicolon
Love, to Everyone by Hilary McKay- Reading the End
News of the World by Paulette Jiles- Caroline Bookbinder
The Newcomers by Helen Thorpe- Ardent Reader
House of Mirth by Edith Wharton- Indextrious Reader
The Diving Pool by Yoko Ogawa- Musings of a Bookish Kitty
How to be a Good Creature by Sy Montgomery- Caroline Bookbinder
No One Tells You This by Glynnis MacNiol- Sophisticated Dorkiness
Travelling Cat Chronicles by Hiro Arikawa- Bookfoolery
The Overstory by Richard Powers - Shelf Love
Bird Box by Josh Millerman- Leviathan, Bound
What the Eyes Don't See by Mona Hannah-Attisha- Bermudaonion
Small Animals by Kim Brooks- Caroline Bookbinder
Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman- Sophisticated Dorkiness
Butcher's Crossing by John Williams- Hogglestock
Grump by Liesel Shurtliff- Semicolon
Tetris by Box Brown- Caroline Bookbinder
Before Mars by Emma Newman- Work in Progress
Complete Houseplant Survival Manual by Barbara Pleasant- Commonweeder
The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace by Jeff Hobbs- Bermudaonion
The City in the Middle of the Night by Charlie Anders- Caroline Bookbinder
How Long 'til Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemasin- Curiosity Killed the Bookworm
Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel- Last Book I Read
The Light of the Fireflies by Paul Pen- Shelf Love
Tamed by Alice Roberts - Curiosity Killed the Bookworm
The Boy the Boat and the Beast by Samantha Clarke- Semicolon
Green Money by D.E. Stevenson- The Captive Reader
Hired by James Bloodworth- Little Blog of Books
My Horses, My Teachers by Alois Podhajsky
The Gardener's Year by Karel Capek- Commonweeder
This is Going to Hurt by Adam Kay- Curiosity Killed the Bookworm
The Doctor Who Saved Babies by Josephine Rich- Semicolon
In the Middle Are the Horsemen by Tik Maynard
Shrinking the Cat by Sue Hubbell- Bookwyrme's Lair
Riding Between the Worlds by Linda Kohanov
Drawn from Memory by E.H. Shepard- The Captive Reader
Drawn from Life by E.H. Shepard- ditto
The Caravaners by Elizabeth von Arnim- Shelf Love
In the Vanisher's Place by Aliette de Bodard- Reading the End
Secret Language of Cats by Susanne Schotz- Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Tooth and Claw by Stephen Moore- Thistlechaser
Skin and Bone by Stephen Moore- Thistlechaser
Mystery of the Exploding Teeth by Thomas Morris- A Bookish Type
The Bookworm by Lucy Mangan- Captive Reader
Ground Rules by Kate Frey- Commonweeder
The Mammoth Book of Mind-Blowing Sci-Fi by Mike Ashley- Thistlechaser
The Extinction Trials by S.M. Wilson- Curiosity Killed the Bookworm
Down the Garden Path- Beverley Nichols- Commonweeder
A Thatched Roof, A Village in a Valley and How Does Your Garden Grow?- ditto

Feb 13, 2019

Cultivating Delight

A Natural History of My Garden
by Diane Ackerman

This is probably the most introspective gardening book I've ever read. Full of the author's musings about her garden and lavish descriptions of it, arranged mostly by seasons. Unlike mine, hers is a flower and cutting garden, and her main passion is roses. But she's in a nearby locale, so I did find most of the plant names familiar and could picture them with ease. Some parts of the book are just a delight to read- Ackerman is a poet, and a lot of the prose just sings to the beauty of the natural world. But- it feels really uneven and there were many occasions where I had to sit back and read a line several times, or even skip a few pages. She interjects freely ideas on other subjects, and it's sometimes not clear at first how they relate to the plants or natural processes she's discussing. Sometimes the tangents veer a lot- I really didn't need to read two pages about all the different vendors at the outdoor market in her neighborhood, or how the handyman diagnosed an odor emanating from under her house, for example. I could see the delight in one, and the metaphor in the other- but the relation to gardening felt a bit of a stretch, and it certainly stretched my attention span. Also there were times where her phrasing or word choice really threw me off. For example, the very first line of the book tells how seductive the rituals of gardening can be- how I agree- but then mentions things I don't think of as rituals at all: mending a broken gate, transplanting a shrub to a better location. Those seem more like- repairs and one-time tasks to me. My rituals are things like making selections from the catalogs, disinfecting the pots, setting up the coldframe, planting the seedlings . . . I'd hope one doesn't have to replace a gate every year! Maybe I'm being a bit harsh- but this really started the book off on a poor note for me. She goes on for pages about John Muir, and Thomas Jefferson, and later Gertrude Jekyll- but I'd rather read a separate book about those admirable people, myself. Mostly, she goes on and on about the roses. How lovely her garden sounds, but she talks little about tending to it so the reader cannot learn much, only look on with envy. I don't know that I've ever read another book about someone's garden and come away mostly with a feeling of envy. Really it sounds like she spends all her time swooning over the flowers and then bringing them into her house to swoon some more. Of course, she is writing about what she loves, and probably just chose not to include details about the humdrum chores of gardening or the mistakes made. I did really enjoy the passages she wrote about observing birds in her garden, and was full of curiosity when she described live-trapping squirrels to tag them for a scientific study- but then no mention was made of the study's purpose or the results. I guess that's in another book somewhere else. Argh, I"m feeling rather cranky- perhaps it's nothing to do with this book, but just the cold virus I'm getting over. I am keeping this one on my shelf regardless, maybe I will like it better at another time further on.

Rating: 2/5                 261 pages, 2001