Aug 22, 2019

The Peaceable Kingdom

a Year in the Life of America's Oldest Zoo
by John Sedgwick

A reporter spent a year at the Philadelphia Zoo and then wrote this book about it. He talks just as much about the keepers, administrators, construction, repairs, management problems and so on as he does about the animals- getting a lot of behind-the-scenes look at how the zoo operates. For me, these details about how the people and politics in running the zoo weren't nearly as interesting as the animals- so I ended up skimming quite a lot, especially in the beginning. I even skipped an entire chapter (two pages) that was all about the budget. That, and the fact that much of the humor missed the mark with me, is why this book rated low for me. On the other hand, I did enjoy reading about all the wildlife- attempts to breed a rhino, raising baby animals rejected by their parents- kangaroo, binturong, marmoset- veterinary procedures, moving gorillas from old bare cages into new outdoor habitats, tricky work with dangerously strong elephants, bringing in a new zebra to replace one that had died, making a stubborn camel move into its shelter from the winter weather (it didn't want to go indoors), watching interactions among the group of wolves. There was a koala on loan that was a star attraction for weeks- even though it slept ninety percent of the time on exhibit. Some of the descriptions are very brief, others- the wolves, elephants, rhino and gorilla in particular- are longer or revisited through the book. You might want to know there's a several-page very detailed account of the rhinocerouses mating. The author seems to take delight in nonchalantly describing the animals' sexual endeavors, including the tiger, the gorilla, and a tortoise (who kept mounting boulders). He also keeps mentioning how dangerous certain animals are, or how stupid others, without much attempt to see beyond this sensational or disparaging attitude. This was the era when zoos were just starting to recognize the importance of conservation and captive breeding as a means to preserve species, rather than just have more lion cubs to show off to the public. There's a bit of history and side stories about collectors (but with none of Durrell's charm) which unfortunately only detracted from the main narrative for me. It's certainly a piece of its time, an honest look at what a zoo was like in the 1980's. Rather sad how ineffective most of the veterinary attempts were- there seems to be more mention of animals getting ill or dying than of new births and successful treatments- but maybe they just stood out to me more.

Rating: 2/5                 299 pages, 1988

Aug 18, 2019

Finding My Distance

A Year in the Life of a Three-Day Event Rider
by Julia Wendell

Daily journal of a horsewoman, she and her husband owned a farm in Maryland. There are racehorses, and retired racehorses turned to show jumping or breeding, but her main focus is three-day eventing which entails dressage, steeplechase and show jumping. Seems a very demanding sport for one horse to learn but I gather that's the point- it requires skill, finesse, endurance and guts. Some of the jumps are set up specifically to test how brave a horse (and rider) can be. The author tells about her daily challenges and struggles, not only with the horses, their training and constant upkeep- especially dealing with injuries, wow the legs seem to need a lot of attention- but also with her family, her grown children (one newly off to college and the other travelling India), her poetry-readings (she includes some of the poems in this book), and just life in general. Coming to the sport late, in middle age, she relates the learning curve, working with different instructors, trying to build up her confidence, and all the hard choices that come with keeping and showing horses. It's always one thing after another and there's lots of discouragement but her passion for it blazes through. It's rather strange to read a book written so intimately about a world so different from my own- and yet with striking familiarity- I live the next state over and know the locality. I've even driven on the road past Morven Park- but without any reason to ever go in. I like reading about it for the glimpse of it all- but I bet this book would really be loved by anyone in the horse world. It feels so honest and real.

I found there's a sequel, Come to the X, which I'd also like to read- particularly I want to know what happened with several of the author's horses and how her progression went in the sport. You can read a sample of her writing style here.

Rating: 3/5              399 pages, 2009

Aug 11, 2019

Indian Saddle-Up

by Glenn Balch

Two young Native Americans from the Comanche tribe are out hunting pronghorn and bison when surprised by enemies from the Ute tribe. As one youth runs back to warn their tribe, the other decoys the enemy. When he finally evades the Utes and makes it back to camp, all his people are gone except for an elderly man they call Old Man Crazy, because he speaks of things no one believes- people with white skin who wear armor and travel on the backs of animals. At this time none of the Comanches had ever seen a white man and horses were unknown to them. So the youth and the crazy old man travel alone together, and they come across a small band of horses, (escaped from the Spanish Conquistadors). At first they find the strange animals frightening, then are eager to learn how to possess and ride the horses themselves, so they can take these new valuable animals back to the tribe. It isn't easy, particularly as the natives don't have any idea how to approach or control the horses, but they are smart in the ways of wild animals, and quickly learn by observing how different horses are from wild game (being domesticated, and already accustomed to humans). The younger Comanche is particular invested in the attempt to use horses because he has a lame foot which always slowed him down; this will give him an advantage among his people. But he has to face a lot of unexpected challenges, and looses the guidance of the old man too, ending up on his own to figure out how to ride the horse and then find his own people again.

This was a really well-told story, with good descriptions, realistic animal behaviors, engaging writing style and an interesting plot that surprised me a few times. I suppose its quality really stood out to me following close on a just-okay book, but it reminded me why Glenn Balch is still one of my favorite authors.

Rating: 4/5            210 pages, 1953

Aug 10, 2019

Horse Tradin'

by Ben K. Green

I know I read this book long ago as a teen, found at the public library. So when I came across it recently in a discard sale, snatched it up eager to see how it compared to my fond memory. It was a good read- enjoyed all over again.

It's a collection of short stories written by a man who traded horses and mules for a living, back when they were the major form of transportation and power in America (although a few stories feature early cars, or tractors first coming into use). The stories are mostly with a little twist- where the man thought he made a good trade but found out the horse had a hidden fault or behavior problem, sometimes thought he had sneakily played a poor horse off on a better trade, only to discover the animal he'd acquired wasn't as advertised, either.

There were mules painted to look like young, grey dapple, a gypsy mare trained to lie down and groan when saddled, a spoiled lady's riding horse that wouldn't go more than a few yards from the barn. Many times the author showed how he could make the best of a poor situation, due to his understanding of equine behavior- train them out of their bad habits, or cleverly corral a bunch of wild mules that he'd been given in trade because the prior owner assumed he would never be able to catch them. Most of the tales take place in Texas, a few further south- he traveled a lot in his work. There's one story of a match race on a native American reservation. Sometimes, Green couldn't make good on a bad trade, and foisted the poor quality mule or horse off on another unsuspecting person. But there are good, honest transactions in here too, where both parties were well satisfied and respected each other.

I was kind of shocked to read an instance of wasted, sickly horses fed arsenic to fatten them up (and have since read online that inorganic arsenic is commonly used in animal feed to make hogs and chickens grow faster). And the last story surprised me with a little detail that made sense of a totally unrelated book I also read and loved as a kid, An Edge of the Forest. In that one, a herd of deer feeds in a valley that makes them all sleep like death. I always puzzled over that. Here in one of Green's stories, some wild unbroken horses were put to graze in a valley of "sleepy grass" so they could be pawned off as tamed and gentle. There was something in the grass that made the animals lethargic. I've looked it up, and it's a real thing. In some ways, this book also reminded me of Mr. Sponge's Sporting Tour.

Rating: 3/5             304 pages, 1963

Fury

Stallion of Broken Wheel Ranch
by Albert G. Miller

Fury is a stunning wild horse, viciously aggressive to anyone who approaches his herd. Two ranchers manage to catch him and pen him in a corral. Joey is an orphan boy who loves horses; he sneaks into a rodeo show, almost gets caught and hides in a vehicle going back to that same ranch. When he arrives, of course the ranchers insist on taking him back, but he really wants to see the wild horse first. The first moment they meet, this wild stallion is tamed by the boy's touch. The kid doesn't even know how to ride, throw a rope or shoot (basics for ranch kids) and yet he is able to calm Fury. It winds up he stays at the ranch, they're going to adopt him. Adventures ensue with the wild horse. The boy starts to learn ranching skills and is very happy in his new life. Then the stallion starts breaking out of his corral at night, and neighboring ranchers complain that someone is stealing their mares. They blame Fury. Joey is knows Fury isn't the culprit; there's another wild stallion out there taking mares, and Fury simply keeps busting out of his corral to go fight the other stallion. But nobody else has seen the white stallion, so how will Joey convince them?

It's quite a lively story but I'm afraid this one suffers from its age. Aside from the golly-ghee-whiz attitudes, and the penchant of grown men to want to beat up their rivals (especially a con man who shows up on the ranch at the end of the story claiming to be Joey's true father) there's the entirely unrealistic behavior of the horses- Fury in particular. The taming could have been a little more plausible if it hadn't happened so instantly. But there's quite a few scenes where the horse acts like he understands human speech and motives. I have the two sequels and started to read the second one, but was dissuaded when the horse started acting like Lassie the dog- eagerly leading people to those in trouble, snorting and prancing as if he understood human jokes. It was a fun read at first, but oh well. I guess I'm just too old for this one. Moving on.

Rating: 2/5                   190 pages, 1959

Aug 8, 2019

Golden Bats and Pink Pigeons

a Journey to the Flora and Fauna of a Unique Island
by Gerald Durrell

This book predates the one I just read- it's about a collection trip Durrell took to Mauritius (near Madagascar in the Indian Ocean), in particular visiting several tiny islands- Round Island gets a lot of mention- where species of snakes, birds and lizards live that exist nowhere else in the world. These species were nearly extinct due to introduced rabbits, goats and monkeys which either denuded the vegetation or destroyed the native animals' young. When Durrell visited the island, less than forty pink pigeons remained, there were only eight Mauritian kestrels known to exist, and the Round Island boa numbered seventy-five. Their purpose was to get an estimated count of the various endangered species, capture just enough individuals to set up a captive breeding program, and ascertain what could be done about the invasive animal problem. A lot of it of course, is about the mishaps and struggles working in remote, foreign conditions- in this case under constant blistering heat with little shade. Giant land snails invaded their tent and ate their sandwiches, shearwater chicks kept them awake at night screaming and trampling on everything, and mosquitoes swarmed in hordes. While the focus of the trip was the golden bat, pink pigeon and Mauritian kestrel, a lot of the text describes the numerous and beautiful lizards- there being plenty of those to observe. The phelsuma day gecko in particular has gorgeous colors (look it up!). Apart from the collecting efforts, Durrell also describes the beauties of the reef, as they spent several mornings snorkeling. The descriptions of the dazzling variety of fishes, corals, invertebrates and more is just wonderful. Unlike most Durrell books I've read, this one is illustrated with photographs (as well as some nice pen-and-ink drawings).

Happily, a bit of online search reveals that Durrell's efforts were the first of many (the Mauritian government, various other conservation groups and zoos became heavily involved), and they have paid off to save the species in Mauritius. While still vulnerable, the pink pigeon population now has over 400 birds, the Mauritius kestrel numbers about 200, the golden bat more than 20,000, the Round Island boa around 1,800 but the burrowing boa Durrell described is now considered extinct.

Rating: 3/5                       190 pages, 1977

Aug 7, 2019

The Aye-Aye and I

by Gerald Durrell

Charming little book about the last collecting trip Durrell made to bring rare, endangered animals back to his European zoo for a breeding program. His main purpose in visiting Madagascar was to find the aye-aye, a strange nocturnal lemur at risk of going extinct. They also searched for and collected snakes, endemic tortoises, gentle lemurs, a jumping rat and spiny-tailed iguanas. As always, Durrell's writing is interesting and humorous. He describes the difficulties they had navigating bad roads, finding accurate sources of information, getting local men in power to allow them access, dealing with breakdowns and scant supplies, etc. All the logistics involved in finding, feeding, and safely transporting the animals home. Coaxing newly-caught, frightened lemurs to eat. Scrambling to find medical care when one of the team members became ill. The descriptions of the red, pothole-strewn roads, the upright brick houses and the gentle native people are vivid. He also describes beginning attempts at conservation, the plans they made with local government to set aside wildlife refuges, do something about severe deforestation and protect the wildlife- many animals were illegally caught to be eaten or sold as pets, with no law enforcement in place. Aye-ayes were often killed outright by local people, who had strong superstitious fear of the animal. They did a lot of work to educate the people on the true nature of the wildlife, and to teach the local children about animals they had heard many fables of, but never actually seen. I think my favorite passage of the book was Durrell's description of a fossa- he was sitting quietly by himself one day while the team went ahead, when the animal walked into the road, treating him to a personal, rare encounter.

The end of the book has a sudden switch to the island of Mauritius, where Durrell and part of his team stopped on their way home from Madagascar, to check on a program they had put in place there years earlier to save some rare animals, especially the pink pigeon. I haven't read the book about the Mauritius trip yet, although it's on my shelf. Finally, Durrell sees the newly acquired animals safe home from their trip, settled into quarantine quarters at the zoo. There is an afterward by a Mammal Keeper from the zoo, who gives more details on how the animals fared after the expedition, and more information on the conservation and breeding programs set in place by Durrell.

Rating: 3/5                184 pages, 1992

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Aug 5, 2019

Fillets of Plaice

by Gerald Durrell

Five short stories, wonderfully descriptive and intriguing, often had me laughing. While I (mostly) enjoyed reading them, I think it's really best to start somewhere else, if you're new to reading Durrell. They don't have a lot of introduction, are unrelated incidents that Durrell realized later in life he had never fit into any of his other books, so he put them together here. His brother suggested the title, as a joke- it has nothing to do with the contents.

'The Birthday Party' is a story from Durrell's childhood on Corfu, where his family decide to give their mother a birthday outing in a boat, which turns into a huge mishap. I felt sorry for the woman, and the only reason I could laugh during this one was I knew that it all came right in the end. It's packed with amusing (or insufferable, however you like to look at it) characters, but it's really more funny if you already know how these people relate to each other from the Corfu trilogy.

'A Transport of Terrapins' - This was my favorite of the stories. Set later on, when Durrell's family had returned to England, and he found his first job as assistant in a pet shop. He loves the animals and wants to enrich their dull cages, but has to find a way to do so without offending the owner (who doesn't have a lot of interest in or knowledge about the animals himself, but as the boss has his pride). Later in the story Durrell meets another eccentric shop owner in town who keeps birds, with a curious way of running his shop. Then there's an older gentleman he meets on the bus over a spilled box of baby turtles, who invites him to his house to play a game. He is at first suspicious of this man's intentions, but it turns out to be honest and they strike up a nice friendship over strategy games with tin soldiers.

'A Question of Promotion'- Jumping ahead years, this one takes place in Africa, when Durrell was in the Cameroons collecting wild animals. That's not the focus. Most of the story is about plans he helped an acquaintance make for a dinner party to impress a visiting District Officer. There's pages and pages of conversation between Durrell and the other people he gathered together to help plan the meal- difficult because they lacked supplies- but it is lively and amusing enough. When they event finally takes place, all their careful planning meets with one huge accident. It was hilarious. However this was during time of British colonial rule, so there are unfortunately some attitudes towards both native servants and women, which I know some readers would find offensive.

'A Question of Degrees'- the one story that had me cringing. Durrell is ordered by his doctor to take some rest, sent to a place he calls 'the loony bin' but the doctor insists sternly is 'a highly respectable nursing home that specializes in nervous complaints'. So, mental health in-patient. While there, Durrell suffers a series of very bad nosebleeds, that won't stop, so he is sent to the hospital. Twice. The first time, the taxi takes them to the wrong place. The doctor is careful and efficient, and it's all over quickly. The second time, the doctor is very rough with crude methods that leave Durrell in worse pain than ever- and it ends with him staggering back to his bed in the inpatient facility, given a shot of drugs to wipe out the pain and fall asleep, wishing he'd gone to the wrong hospital again instead. I guess it was supposed to be funny, but it had me feeling sick the way some 'Mr. Bean' episodes do.

'Ursula'- The last story is about a young woman Durrell dated for a time. She was incredibly vivacious, with a loud animated way of speaking that always drew attention whenever they went out. Durrell soon found himself in a number of embarrassing situations, especially the day he took her to a Mozart concert and she brought a dog in a basket. Of course it escaped. The nice thing about this story is that Durrell comes to see the tenderhearted, kind side of Ursula, even though her manner is sometimes off-putting to others. I had a very personal reaction to the this one. Like the main character, I sometimes use the wrong word when speaking. In my case, it's often mispronunciation rather than the malapropisms Ursula frequently uttered- but I could oddly sympathize with her. I don't angrily insist I'm always right, like she did- but I do feel criticized and sometimes made the fool, depending on how the correction is worded. So the end of this book made me feel oddly unsettled and uncomfortable, because I identified with a character I felt the author intended us to laugh at.

Rating: 3/5                 216 pages, 1971

A Passage to India

by E.M. Forster

Just a quick note on this one. I tried to read it on a very long drive. Sixty pages in, after picking it up and putting it down repeatedly, I had to give up with a sigh. If this is Forster's best work, it makes me wonder if I should cross Room with a View and Howard's End off my want-to-read list. It's about a bunch of people in India nearing the end of colonialism, snobs of the British ruling class trying to mix socially with native Indian people (who are well-educated themselves) but it nobody understands each other and it all goes wrong. At least, I gathered that much from the back cover text and glancing at a few reviews online. I just could not picture anything in my mind, or figure out what was going on, or keep the characters straight, while reading this. So I ended up disinterested and bored. Of course, it could just have been my mood and the surrounding circumstances (long hours in the car with a restless eight-year-old in the back seat) so I am re-shelving this one to try again at a later date. Do tell me if it's worth the effort of another attempt.

Abandoned              335 pages, 1924

Aug 4, 2019

Collected Short Stories

Vol. 4 
by W. Somerset Maugham

Thirty short stories. Surprisingly, I found Maughum's short stories really satisfying- they didn't leave me wishing a whole lot more or feeling adrift, like I usually do after reading short pieces.

Most of these stories take place in Malaya, during British rule, and are about Europeans stationed there, their wives and sometimes families. Several are situated in a nearby Asian countries, a few in America or England. They are all quite astute with character development and really intriguing, in spite of being so brief (a page or two, up to twenty in some cases). Sometimes it took me a while to get into the tale- often the crux of the subject is approached in a roundabout way- the narrator telling how he met a certain person, got a certain impression, had curiosity piqued, found out so much more later, here's the whole story wrapped up then, etc. They are about scandals, folks who have certain oddities, or get into troublesome situations by chance, or who do astonishing things that no one expected. Maugham himself said (in the intro) that he liked to write about people who were strange or got themselves into unusual circumstances, being more interesting than the majority who led quiet, ordinary lives. A lot are about women or men unfaithful to each other- some hiding it all their lives. Stories about men in different situations and how they struggled to get along with odious characters they had to work with. Quite a number grouped together about men in a French penal colony (reminded me immediately of Papillon). One quite unlike the others- more fairy-tale like in tone, about a princess with a wild nightingale she tamed, that her sisters convinced her to lock up in a cage . . . My favorite was the last one, about a young man who loved natural history and was sent to a remote place to work in a museum, went out into the jungle to find specimens, got into a pickle when his superior's wife began flirting with him. I did smile a lot when I ran into characters that loved books, in these pages. They stood out to me.

I wonder if most of these stories are based on real people or incidents the author heard about- it certainly sounds like he traveled about talking to and observing people, and then wrote based on that; I've heard tell it's more or less embellished fact. I borrowed this book from my brother-in-law while on holiday- it's the fourth volume of a complete collection of Maugham's short stories- someday I'd like to read all the others.

Rating: 4/5              464 pages, 1951

Jul 30, 2019

Elfangor's Secret

Megamorphs #3
by K.A. Applegate

In this Megamorph- longer than the usual books in the Animorph series- one of the alien leaders, Visser Four, has got hold of a dangerous device called the Time Matrix. It allows him to travel through time and change events in history. The Animorph team get a jarring view of how this could drastically change reality in the opening scene. They are granted the ability to follow Visser Four through time, in a desperate attempt to prevent him from changing history. Problem is, they don't know what events he's trying to alter, and what exactly they can do to stop him. They find themselves, at various points, on a French battlefield, in a naval war, with George Washington crossing the Deleware and on the beaches at D-Day, among other points. All significant, pivotal moments and the details are horrific. The chapters are told in alternating points of view. Ax is shaken by what he sees- are humans worth saving from the Yeerks, he wonders, if they are capable of such brutalities as the Holocaust? Also for the first time they face death that is not easily shaken off by morphing. One of the main characters, I thought until the last chapter, had actually been lost forever. The complications and problems with time-travel was, I thought, well-considered in a book aimed at children. Although I agree with another viewer this book boarders on YA not juvenile fiction. So much warfare, explosions, terrible injuries, vicious quick decisions made by some you would not expect (Cassie, for one). At one point a character escapes seeing what's going on by morphing into a fly, at another part of the story someone morphs a dolphin in the river and decides it might be better to swim away and stay dolphin permanently. But in the end, they do manage to thwart the enemy, and regain control of the device- in a strange scene of altered history where Hitler was a mere driver for someone higher-up, but Tobias felt compelled to execute him anyway. It feels like this series just got a lot more serious.

Rating: 4/5            224 pages, 1999

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Jul 28, 2019

The Bean Trees

by Barbara Kingsolver

I have finally read Kingsolver's first book. It's my third try- twice before- years apart- I attempted and just couldn't get into it. Must have been the mood. It's a good story with some heartwarming and heartwrenching themes, but not as finely written as her later novels so I doubt this one will ever be a favorite of mine. However I am glad I read it.

Its main character, Taylor Greer, is young when the novel begins, relieved that she managed to finish highschool without winding up pregnant like so many other girls, and her only plan is to escape rural Kentucky and see some of the world. She drives west in a barely-functional car and finds out pretty darn quick that people can be miserable and meanspirited anywhere you go. Seeming by chance- being in the wrong (or right) place at the wrong time she winds up with a young Cherokee child foisted on her, and not knowing what to do, keeps driving until finally she winds up in Arizona. Where she tentatively puts down roots, finds a roommate, patches together friendships and some turn out to be strong enough to call family in the end. She ends up working at a used tire shop owned by a woman, and becomes close to a Guatemalan couple looking for a safe haven. There's a lot in here about abuse, child neglect and mistreatment, drunkenness, poverty and misery, immigrants on the run, etc. But it's all about the goodness and strength of human nature in overcoming those things. In reaching out to others, giving helping hands, making sacrifices, lending time to heal. Not told in quite enough depth and detail for me, but moving nonetheless. Tackles a lot of difficult subjects and comes out hopeful. I liked more of it than I expected to.

The tone of it all reminded me somewhat of She's Come Undone, but the lovely metaphors with plants (at the end of the novel) very much a Kingsolver thing.

Rating: 3/5                323 pages, 1988

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Jul 25, 2019

The Sickness

Animorphs #29 
by K.A. Applegate

Rachel is always bold and gung-ho, but I think Cassie showed true bravery in this episode. Ax becomes deathly ill, and all the other Animorphs get sick also, leaving Cassie the only one who can save Aftran- a Yeerk on the side for peace, who knows all about the Animorphs and has been captured, about to be interrogated by Visser Three and spill all. Cassie moves desperately, sneaking into the Yeerk pool by morphing a Yeerk herself and hiding in the brain of a Controller who's also part of the peace movement. You'd never think she'd get away with what she has to do down in the Yeerk pool, but she does. By the skin of her teeth. Later in the story Cassie allows a Yeerk into her own brain. The same one that she came to know in The Departure The other really crazy part of the story is when Cassie has to do brain surgery on Ax in attempt to save his life. Yeah she was nervous and shaking and fumbling but it was successful and sounded way too easy. It's a dark storyline, but I couldn't put it down. Really a lot of depth, the stuff Cassie was thinking about: why should the Yeerks be denied sight, sound, taste, etc? also the realization that many of them simply don't want to be part of the war to dominate Earth. Oh, and I really liked the ending, where Aftran ended up when they realized she had no place to survive as a wanted Yeerk. It was really nice.

Rating: 4/5               152 pages, 1999

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Jul 24, 2019

The Experiment

Animorphs #28
by K.A. Applegate

The Chee inform the Animorphs that the enemy have recently acquired ownership of both a research lab and a slaughterhouse, so of course they are suspicious and have to check it out. They break into a truck carrying animals to the lab- while it's driving through a tunnel by the way- take the place of the chimps inside, and set them free. Wind up in the lab themselves and find out the experiments are completed and Visser ordered all the animals killed (after they lobbed excrement all over him). They scramble to escape in time, just manage to set some animals free as well (because Cassie insists). Next stop is the slaughterhouse which they can only get into morphed as cows- and Ax nearly gets killed. It's pretty horrible and Ax is very shaken. Of course once again they barely escape with their lives- and having found out very little this time. Visser Three had intended to put something into the ground beef that would destroy humans' free will if they ate it- but it turns out the experiment results were all faked by his terrified inferiors. Other readers have said this plot was pointless, but I found a lot going on here. There's plenty of angst between Cassie and the others about how the animals are treated, is it okay to morph chimps because they seem intelligent and self-aware but can't give consent, the ethics of eating animals- brought up by Ax who is the narrator, no less. His viewpoint is always intersesting, and here is no different. Sidestory in this book is that Ax has acquired a television and spends a lot of time watching soap operas, enthralled with the commercial breaks. He starts quoting things and mimicking some of the tv actors' mannerisms and phrases, which gets him a lot of odd looks, and made me laugh. There's also a particularly chilling moment when some bystanders are in the way- and Rachel without hesitation tells Ax to remove their heads, with his tail blade. Instead he just knocks them out. But hey- Rachel. Resorting to violence a little to easily now?

Rating: 3/5                 139 pages, 1999

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The Exposed

Animorphs #27
by K.A. Applegate

Rachel and Cassie are in the mall when they find Erek- the android Chee- in trouble. His hologram is failing- so the mechanical parts show through his disguise. Quickly they hide him in plain sight- in a display- and stammer explanations to passerby while Marco shows up in gorilla morph to haul them out of there. Strangely, none of the other shoppers blink at this- they think he's a person wearing a gorilla suit- and they pull it off. Discover that all the Chee are in trouble- there's a station deep under the ocean built long ago by the Pemalites (who designed the Chee) and someone shut off the program that controls all the Chee's holograms. If the Chee disguise is blown, it exposes the Animorphs too.

So they bust into a flophouse overrun by drug addicts and homeless people while it's being raided by police, to rescue a Chee that's stuck there (oh yeah because they also can't move during this shutdown). It's a crazy chaotic scene with Jake as tiger, Marco as gorilla, Cassie the wolf and Rachel the elephant rampaging around. Well, after that scene they find out about the station- it's so far down in the ocean impossible reach it- unless they could morph into giant squids. The only way to get a giant squid is to be a sperm whale. And then there just so happens to be a sperm whale that beached itself nearby. The Animorphs are highly suspicious, even they recognize this is too convenient, but it's their only option so they go for it. Manage to acquire the whale in spite of all the people crowded around saving it, get out into open ocean in seagull and dolphin forms, then Rachel and Tobias morph the whale to dive deep and find a squid. That part was creepy. Obvious how frightened their human minds were, inside the whale that didn't care.

So long story short, they manage to find a squid- which puts up quite a fight- and get it to the surface so everyone can acquire. Then they get down to the station and things get very weird. There's a confrontation with the Yeerks (again, of course) and they find out the evil Crayak was behind the whole thing. This thing called the Drode is there, representing Crayak, and seems to know all about them, even their inner thoughts and self-doubts. A very dark scene where the Drode is tempting Rachel to join with him; he recognizes the part of her that favors violence and puts serious doubt in her mind. He even incites her to turn against her fellow Animorphs. Curious where this will lead.

Rating: 3/5                     154 pages, 1999

more opinions:
Arkham Reviews
The Library Ladies
Cinnamon Bunzuh!
Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tales

Jul 23, 2019

more TBR . . . .

Not as fun to look at this time because I didn't make an image collage of the covers. But the list is growing unwieldy again so I typed it out. Thanks to all the bloggers linked to below, the books-I-want-to-read-someday are a mountain!

-at my public library-
Beast Rider by Tony Johnston- Bookfoolery
Hotbox by Matt Lee- Caroline Bookbinder
Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves- Bookfoolery
Ghost Wall by Sarah Moss- Shelf Love
Girl with Seven Names by Hyeonseo Lee- It's All About Books
Why Cows Learn Dutch by Randy James
Why Cows Need Names by Randy James
Waiting for Fitz by Spencer Hyde- It's All About Books
Song for a Whale by Lynn Kelly- Bermudaonion
Losing Earth by Nathaniel Rich- Curiosity Killed the Bookworm
A Boy and His Dog at the End of the World by Fletcher- ditto
Professor Chandra Follows His Bliss by Rajeev B- Reading the End
People's History of Heaven by Mathangi Subramania- A Bookish Type
Into the Jungle by Erica Ferencik- Bookish Type
Machines Like Me by Ian McEwan- Curiosity Killed the Bookworm
Silent Spring at 50 by Meiners, et al
Rules for Visiting by Jessica Frances Kane- Bookfoolery
Maid by Stephanie Land- Caroline Bookbinder
Laughing at My Nightmare by - It's All About Books
Rabbits for Food by Binnie Kirschenbaum- Bookish Type
The Last Man by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Book Woman of Troublesome Creek by Richardson- Indextrious Reader
Tattooist of Auschwitz by Heather Morris- Bookfoolery
Eliza and her Monsters by Francesca Zappia- It's All About Books
The Scarlet Plague by Jack London
Rough Magic by Lara Prior-Palmer
The Bookish Life of Nina Hill by Abbi Waxman- Bookfoolery
Things You Save in a Fire by Katherine Center- ditto
Voyage of the Dogs by Greg van Eekhout- Thistle-chaser
Little Fish by Casey Plett- Bookish Type

found browsing the library catalog- 
An Unquiet Mind by K R Jameson
Haldol and Hyacinths by Melody Moezzi
Dark Side of Innocence by Terri Cheney
What Works for Bipolar Kids by Mani Pavuluri
Long Shot by Silvia Harris
Back to Normal by Enrico Gnaulati
Voices of Bipolar Disorder edited Juliann Garey
This is How I Find Her by Sara Polsky
Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert
To Be Mona by Kelly Easton
72 Hour Hold by Bebe Moore Campbell
No One by Aubry Gwenaelle
RX by Rachel Lindsay
Dancing on Broken Glass by Ka Hancock
All the Things We Never Knew by Sheila Hamilton
Marbles by Ellen Forney
Rock Steady by Ellen Forney
Show Me All Your Scars edited Lee Gutkin
Manic by Terri Cheney
Lily and Dunkin by Donna Gephart
A Tragic Kind of Wonderful by Eric Lindstrom
Bipolar Handbook for Children, Teens and Families by Wes Burgess

-not at my library-
What's it Like Out? by Penelope Gilliatt- Indextrious Reader
Wild Comfort by Kathleen Dean Moore- Beth Fish Reads
Credo by Peter Bagge- Caroline Bookbinder
The Secret Life of Cows by Rosamund Young
The Way Home by Mark Boyle
Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell- Bookish Type
The Burnt Country by Joy Rhoads - Work in Progress
The Nature of Spring by Jim Crumley
If I Die in a Combat Zone by Tim O'Brien- Bookfoolery
The World Doesn't Require You by Rion A Scott- Bookish Type
November Grass by Judy Van der Veer
A Few Happy Ones by Judy Van der Veer
In Pain by Travis Rieder- Bermudaonion's Weblog
The Death of Grass by John Christopher
Wilding by Isabella Tree- Captive Reader
Learning to Die in the Anthropocene by Roy Scranton- So Many Books
Beyond Rosemary, Basil and Thyme by Theresa Mieseler- Veg Gardener

The Attack

Animorphs #26
by K.A. Applegate

This one was different. Bizarre, otherworldly, crazy circumstances, but then had such a unexpected, clever twist at the end I was intrigued. The Animorphs team are engaged once again by that all-powerful being the Ellimist and wind up on an alien planet lightyears away from Earth, where they have to figure out how to defeat seven deadly creatures. The Eillimist is having an eternal war with an all-powerful, evil being called Crayak. Instead of wiping out entire galaxies with their battles, the Ellimist and Crayak decide to pitch their best warriors against each other. Crayak chooses a group of ruthless war-machine creatures called the Howlers. Ellimist choses the Animorphs (plus Ax and Chee the android). They are pitched to fight on an alien planet inhabited by the strange Iskoort. For once, the battle turns out to be the focus of most of the book, not a sudden hurried hectic scene at the end. The Howlers seem impossible to defeat; the Animorphs have to figure out their weakness, and also how the android can help them (because it's programmed to be a complete pacifist). Their realizations about the Howlers are startling; also they have another revelation near the end about why the Ellimist put them on this particular planet to fight. Something about the ancient history of the Iskoort holds a key to possibly ending the parasitic domination of the Yeerks, if only the Animorphs can win- and now they realize how important it is to do so.

Once I saw the issues and complexities raised in this book, I was hooked to find out the answers. I didn't see many of them coming. On the other hand, there's still a smattering of humor through the whole thing, even though the battle was pretty brutal. I thought at one point this was going to be the book where a main character dies- but they didn't. Almost though. It was very close. Oh, and there's a first kiss between Cassie and Jake.

Rating: 4/5                 145 pages, 1999

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

Jul 22, 2019

The Extreme

Animorphs #25
by K.A. Applegate

In this episode, the Animorphs- as you can guess by the cover- acquire a new morph, polar bear. But not until the very end of the story. This one had a fairly straightforward plot: they find out the enemy is building a structure in the Arctic that could populate the world with Yeerk pools (don't ask how) so they travel undercover there to stop it. Only they don't have any animal morphs that can deal with the cold, and aren't prepared to withstand it as humans, either. So a lot of the book is them desperately trying to survive the cold (morphed as wolves most of the time) while also trying to escape a new alien used by the enemy. At the very end they manage to acquire the polar bear, and then it's easy to live in the cold, they bash up the station, trick the aliens into disintegrating themselves (too easily) and run off. The part where they get the polar bear confused me, though. Rachel as a grizzly and Marco as a gorilla pinned a wild polar bear down while the others touched it to acquire its DNA, but there was no mention how they switched so that Rachel and Marco could also (they would have to be human to do so) I was actually waiting for that, see how they worked it out- but then they just, didn't. Someone suggested elsewhere the bear was calm enough in the acquiring state they could de-morph and touch it themselves, but it was never explained this way in the text. Hm. I also had a reading hitch when the animorphs as seals were making clicking noises to echolocate underwater- until I looked it up afterwards. Well, who knew. A lot of what made this story flow was just the characterization, banter between them, Ax involved in jokes about time, some hints at growing romantic feelings between Tobias and Rachel, Cassie and Jake. There was a bit of that in the last book, too- I forgot to mention it.

Rating: 3/5             146 pages, 1999

more opinions:
The Library Ladies
Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tales

Jul 21, 2019

The Suspicion

Animorphs #24
by K.A. Applegate

Ridiculous premise, but amusing anyway. The Animorphs team encounters a new type of alien- tiny little things that haughtily declare their superiority and intentions to take over the world (they're offended when they find out the Yeerks are already trying to do so) and everyone scoffs at them until the little aliens get hold of the blue box that contains the morphing technology, and use it to shrink others, so they can overpower them. Most of the storyline is Cassie and Marco experiencing what it's like to be a creature small enough to see individual cells (because they shrink again from being quarter-inch-high humans to being literally microscopic when they morph into flies) while they and the others try to thwart the tiny aliens and retrieve the blue box. Crazy ridiculous chase scene involving a speeding limousine and a toy-sized flying spaceship, while normal traffic seems to notice nothing. Pretty clever how Cassie and Marco redirected the aliens' attention onto their enemy Visser Three. Odd closing scene where the Visser had them in his power but the standoff resulting in each side giving up the others they held captive. Which means the struggle can continue, I suppose. The cover shows Cassie morphing into an anteater- the new animal acquired in this book- but it happened at the very end, and although solved their problem with the tiny aliens, there wasn't really much about experiencing that animal form. Which is what I've previously liked about this series, but oh well.

Rating: 3/5                151 pages, 1998

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

The Pretender

Animorphs # 23
by K.A. Applegate

It's been quite a while since I read an Animorphs book, so I had forgotten what happened last, but it didn't matter. This one has a tidy plot on its own. Tobias the human-turned-hawk is struggling with his identity. He's starting to feel bitter about being trapped in a hawk body- hates killing animals for food, stressed about a rival wild hawk encroaching on his territory, sometimes wants to morph into his old self and stay that way forever (but then he wouldn't be able to morph again at all). Two main things happen in this book: Tobias finds out that someone is looking for him, a woman claiming to be a cousin who wants to take him in- as family. This is a strong lure for Tobias in his moments of wishing to be human again, but he's suspicious. Something doesn't seem right about the situation. Meanwhile, there's a young Hork-Bajir gone missing from the hidden valley where the free aliens live, and of course the Animorphs get involved in a plan- it turns out he's in a shabby roadside zoo- but quickly the alien Yeerks find out and take him captive before the Animorphs can get there. So there's a lot about Cassie's outrage at how the animals are treated, Rachel's eagerness to plow through the place and destroy it all. Tobias is involved as lookout from the sky, as usual, where he sees something that clues him in to the true identity of the woman claiming to be his cousin. There's also revelations in this episode about Tobias' background, why his father had disappeared, etc. But really what I liked best about it was all the stuff from the hawk perspective, how Tobias felt about certain things, how he had forgotten a lot of human mannerisms from being a bird of prey so long, so when he was in human form to meet his so-called cousin, he had to put on an act, which really turned out to be for the best. That scene where he's sitting in a lawyer's office next to an enemy in disguise and confronted with some shocking information but his hawk nature enabled him to appear unconcerned and avoid blowing his cover- very intense.

Rating: 3/5                176  pages, 1998

Jul 20, 2019

Irritable Hearts

a PTSD Love Story
by Mac McClelland

The author is a human rights reporter who witnessed some terrible things. Many difficult assignments to disaster zones, culminating in travel to Haiti after the devastating 2010 earthquake where her particular focus was to investigate the prevalence of rape among survivors in tent camps. What she found was horrific. She went into shock, had a breakdown and upon returning home, found she could not escape flashbacks of things she'd seen, panic attacks, outbursts of anger or self-loathing, and frightening dissociation- not being able to feel parts of her body at all. She had post traumatic stress disorder, and describes years of struggling to heal, with the help of a therapist, many different techniques to strengthen her mind and body (mindfulness, yoga, self-defense class etc, occasionally medication though she really shied away from that avenue). Through it all she was supported by the love of her boyfriend- a French soldier she had met briefly while on assignment, it became a long-distance relationship and eventually they tried living together. Wow, that that sounded difficult.

McClelland thankfully does not share details about the atrocities she witnessed that brought on her PTSD, but she is frank about the effects it had on her everyday life, in particular her sex life. Her methods of dealing with this are disturbing to read (or were for me) and honestly could be triggering for many - please be advised if you are interested in reading this book you might want to avoid it if you have suffered from sexual abuse or have thoughts of self harm. McClelland received a lot of criticism for what she wrote (initially as an article) but personally, I see her as an intelligent, sensitive and brave woman- she shared so honestly what it is like to live with her condition. Also shares some research she did into PTSD, especially among war veterans and how it affects their families as well (many spouses and children end up with PTSD themselves, from living alongside someone with severe symptoms). A lot of the book seems to drag on with her pain, confusion and exasperation that her symptoms never seem to let up, but in the final twenty pages there is some hope- the coping skills she has learned are becoming easier to employ, her episodes are becoming less frequent, she is more accepting of herself and of the love her husband gives her.

There's so much more to this book- things from her past, difficulties her partner also went through, strength of friendships, struggles with her work- but I can't possibly mention it all. I must say, it was a very difficult read. I had to put it down several times. It also clarified for me- I understand a little better some things I read in Hi, Anxiety that baffled me at first. Like the psychological need some people feel to face pain, fear and aggression, in order to heal.

I borrowed this book from the public library. Found it browsing the mental health section, it just caught my eye.

Rating: 4/5                          308 pages, 2015

Jul 15, 2019

Calming Your Anxious Child

Words to Say and Things to Do
by Kathleen Trainor, PsyD

My kids have anxiety (in different ways, and only one of them is actually diagnosed). I think I probably do to some extent as well- as it seems to run in the family. I picked up this book just wanting to learn more about what's appropriate or helpful to say in certain situations. I was honestly surprised at how relevant, practical and comprehensive this book is. It all feels very familiar. Either I have seen some of the behaviors the author describes, in those around me (not just family but also acquaintances and other people I've known) or recognize them in myself. Lots of people probably have a little bit of anxiety, OCD, avoidance tendencies etc, it's not really a problem until it becomes overwhelming and interferes with everyday life, as the author points out.

Well, the author works a lot with children. She uses a particular method of cognitive behavior therapy that is very structured. The steps are to recognize problematic thoughts and behaviors caused by anxiety, rate their level of difficulty (in overcoming), map out strategies for improvement, come up with positive thoughts to replace negative ones, decide on a reward system, and track progress. It's very much centered on getting kids involved in their own treatment, letting them feel they're in control of changing how they think and feel. The examples- all from real patient cases- sounded like problems I have seen many people face (or heard about). Some I really wondered how the method would work, in particular with an older kid who was resentful at even being in the therapist's office and didn't see anything wrong with his life- but in the end it did.

There are, in this book, kids who won't sleep on their own, worry constantly about their health, stress to the point of illness over schoolwork, feel a compulsive need to be clean, avoid all outside situations (preferring to play computer games literally all day), pull out their own hair, have specific phobias, and more. And we're talking to the point of disrupting the entire family life- the girl who was afraid of dogs, for example, got so terrified she would not play outside for fear of encountering a dog in the neighborhood, or go to any friend's house if they had a dog. There was a kid so petrified of bugs he would run screaming from the house to his car whenever he had to go somewhere. A very small child with a severe phobia of water after suffering a burn from boiling hot water that spilled on her, would have panic attacks if even a drop landed on her arm. She couldn't take a bath, walk outside when it was raining, go swimming, etc. Some of the situations looked very simple on the surface until the therapist started helping them examine things, others looked very complicated and confusing until they sat down and figured out the root cause. (The beginning of the book explains the biological causes of anxiety, how the brain works in terms of fear response, and how culture or family situations can sometimes add to it). There was also a section about helping kids overcome PTSD caused by traumatic situations, which was a bit hard to read, but very eye-opening.

I thought at first this book would be boring or clinical, but in fact it was interesting and I felt like I learned a ton. Not that I would implement a program based on what I read alone, but it sure did make me aware of how things can be dealt with, especially  how kids can literally train their brains to think/feel differently, and to have more compassion for people who struggle with certain aspects of anxiety.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 4/5                249 pages, 2016

Jul 14, 2019

butterflies

Another 1,000 piece Cobble Hill puzzle. I already disassembled and put it back on the shelf, so don't have a notation of the artist. It sure would be nice to know the names of the butterfly species? the artwork is very pretty and nicely detailed. (Click to see larger and scroll through the images)

Jul 11, 2019

Hi, Anxiety

Life with a Bad Case of Nerves
by Kat Kinsman

I thought reading about anxiety symptoms in the fictional story A Quiet Kind of Thunder (panic attacks, selective mutism) was bad enough, but in this book- a true account- the anxiety is truly debilitating. Author Kinsman describes feeling jittery, worried and out-of-sorts since early childhood- her behavior often earning her taunts from other children, later on making it hard to find or keep a job, travel, make appointments on the telephone, get in a car and drive somewhere, or even just leave the house. The physical manifestations painful, annoying and interrupting her life, the mental unending ragged self-criticism and fearful thoughts wore her down. She describes going through a series of unhelpful and judgmental (or at least perceived to be so) doctors, mentions quite a few different medications, and relates a period of self-induced (and yes very gradual) withdrawl from one particular psychotic med which sounded like a horrific experience. The part about her stint working in a dungeon as a dominatrix took me by surprise (thankfully not too much detail) but I was even more surprised at my reluctant respect for what she did there: giving other people the pain they somehow needed to feel. She tells about a series of relationships that ended badly, and then the sudden wonder of finding a good one- and her life got so much better after that. Not completely well, never healed, always with this illness to live with- but more manageable when she felt loved. Though she questioned and doubted that for a long time. And then she got a better job, in spite of her fears at being inadequate, and then she decided to just tell everyone: I suffer from anxiety: I have a mental illness. To share and get out of the box of silence. I personally don't know what it's really like to live with debilitating anxiety, but I appreciate that Kinsman could share her story, and she relates the overwhelming response she received from other people who had felt the same fears, and thought they were alone.

It's not exactly linear in fashion, but for once that didn't bother me in a book. Some parts are from her childhood, others more present in time. It seems that sections describing particular fears intersperse with chapters about life events more or less chronological in order, but it still skips around a lot and I just took things as they came. It's not all dark- there's quite a lot of humor and overall I did like reading this one.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5                 221 pages, 2016

Jul 9, 2019

Depression and Bipolar Disorder

Your Guide to Recovery
by William R. Marchand, M.D.

Following No Love Allowed, I wanted to know more about bipolar and this was the only other book on the subject when I browsed the shelf, though I have since made a to-read list from the catalog. It's a very thorough guide (as far as I can tell) on mood disorders- mostly concerning depression and bipolar but also others such as anxiety. The book details what is known about mood disorders and brain chemistry, how a diagnosis is reached, what to expect when visiting doctors, how treatment choices are made, management of symptoms, prevention of relapse and more. It's all very methodical and straightforward. Not much about what it's like to live with the disorder, or to know someone who has it, but more about how to seek treatment and manage care. I appreciate that the author outlined his credentials, explained how trials are done on medications, what risk factors actually mean and how to find credible sources of information. It all appears to be very useful and factual. I feel it's a bit unfair for me to give this book a rating, because I didn't really read all of it- I skipped lots of pages that had charts on medications, forms to track symptoms and the like. Or parts that just weren't that interesting. But I did go through it entirely front-to-back and feel like I learned quite a lot from what I did read- the majority.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5                 360 pages, 2012

Jul 6, 2019

Leaving the Wild

the Unnatural History of Dogs, Cats, Cows, and Horses
by Gavin Ehringer

I don’t like the cover at all. And I found the material interesting enough, but a bit uneven. The sections on dogs and cats are more than half the book, the part about cows a little shorter than the first two, and horses felt tacked on at the end with far less coverage. Honestly I almost put this one aside, because the first chapter on how dogs became domesticated, was boring. I’d either read most of it before elsewhere, or felt my eyes glazing over on the history details. There’s a lengthy chapter on how the Victorian craze for purebred dogs changed the course of dog breeding forever, and another on how rightfully pit bulls are vilified. Curiously, this book states that overpopulation is no longer a huge problem for dogs and cats in America, that in fact a lot of shelters now have to import homeless animals to keep their operations running. Another section looks into the ethtics of dog shows and breeders- stating that most people who breed dogs knows what they’re doing and look seriously into the genetics to ensure healthy animals, but the public knowledge about what goes on is woefully behind the reality. Hm. The part about cats has a lot of Egyptian history, and about how the popularity of cats waxed and waned over the centuries- I learned quite a bit of folklore and such I hadn’t known before. There’s a strong emphasis in here on the problem of stray and feral cats- firstly it states that cats are not wiping out birds (except on certain isolated islands where they are truly invasive) that statistics blaming domestic cats for falling bird numbers across America are exaggerated or wrongly extrapolated, there being so many other factors. And examples are given how trap-neuter-release programs can be extremely effective. When it comes to cows, I found myself reading about genetic cloning, dairy farm management, criticism of feedlot operations, and the plight of unwanted steer calves among other things. And organic milk production. And the debate on hormone injections. And so on. The horse chapters were very few. There is a bit of breed history, mostly about Mongolian horses under Ghenghis Khan, the beauty of Arabians, the inbreeding of famed quarter horses, and where it is all going. I skimmed much of the last chapter, just like I did the first.

So I learned a few new things, and I found a lot of it interesting, but much more was repetitive or simply felt off-topic. If I’d wanted to read about GMO tomatoes I would have picked a different book. Maybe the title gave me the wrong expectation, but I was alternately disappointed, bored and then intrigued again (when learning something new, or reading stuff that refuted things I thought I already knew).

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 2/5                               356 pages, 2017

Coping with Gender Dysphoria

by Ellen McGrody

I have to admit, I find the many various ways in which non-binary persons identify themselves and the use of pronouns other than he/him and she/her, plus the discovery of new terms I never heard of before, sometimes confusing. So I decided to read about it, starting with this book found browsing at the public library. It's rather basic, aimed at teens, and I think covers all important points leading to further reading. The book starts by identifying what all those different terms mean (including, yes, a few I hadn't heard of before- such as demigirl), the difference between gender identity and sexuality, the importance of individuals in presenting as the gender they identify with- whether that be via their clothing and hairstyle, change of name, selective pronouns, etc. Everyone's unique, and will feel a different need to feel comfortable with their body and self. The emotional and psychological distress caused by a person's inner identity not matching their physical body is (as far as I understand it) the dysphoria. Not every non-binary person feels dysphoria. Some are so distressed by it, their mental health is seriously affected. The book details how to find help and support, starting with family and friends, community groups and health care providers.

I really learned more than I expected to, here- in spite of how short the book is. I didn't know what the term clocked meant, outside of a boxing ring, for example. I didn't know about the incident at Stonewall Inn in New York, 1969- which is now commemorated each year with Pride events in June. I'm struggling a bit to recognize what microagressions are (another new term for me). I appreciate the book points out that non-binary people are not anything new. Many cultures have long recognized them: in India they are identified as third gender, in Samoa non-gender conforming people are called fa'afafine and in some Native American cultures they are referred to as two-spirit (and there's even a photo of one such individual, an assigned male in female Zuni dress). I'm sure there's more, but the book only mentioned these. I'm learning.

One very nice thing about this book: it's full of lovely photographs, of young people from all different races, and genders across the spectrum, many whom look very happy to be who they are.

Rating: 3/5             112 pages, 2018

Jul 4, 2019

No Love Allowed

by Kate Evangelista

Another YA about mental illness, which I wanted to read in particular because of the subject matter: one of the main characters, Didi, is bipolar. Unfortunately, this type of book isn't really to my taste, so although I found it amusing, somewhat interesting and heartwarming in the end, I really had to force myself to finish reading it; sorry to say but a lot felt just downright shallow and cheesy. And if you are interested yourself in reading it, skip after the paragraph below because I wrote a bunch of spoilers.

It's about a rich boy Caleb, who wants to take a gap year partying and touring Europe with his cousin before college. Gets in trouble with his dad and has to do an internship at the company, required to attend all the public functions thrown by said company. He needs a date for all these events, but has already burned his bridges with every available female in his social circle. There's an incident in the country club where he's dining when dumps his current girlfriend, and the waitress Didi catches his eye. So he ends up asking her to be his fake girlfriend for the summer, and in return he will pose for her (she's an artist).

It's a complete mismatch. Caleb lives in a mansion, drives sporty cars, throws money around like it's nothing. Didi and her mother barely make ends meet, her mom has to work several jobs and sometimes they have to decide between paying the electric bill, or for Didi's medications. Of course, in spite of this huge disparity and predictable a mile away, Did and Caleb fall in love regardless. Most of the story is about the social affairs they attend, and the constant not-so-subtle flirting between Didi and Caleb. To her credit, I liked Didi. She's thrown into a completely foreign environment; alternately stunned, bemused or offended when Caleb or his cousin offer to casually buy her things (a new cell phone, outfits, accessories and makeup for the parties), navigates the social circles with apparent ease at the functions- thrilled by the excitement and lavish gatherings more than anything else. But after all the thrills and heightened feelings, there's got to be a down. A really hard one, because Didi deliberately goes off her meds (so she can paint more) and then there's literally a crash. (Annoyingly, all the scenes in the hospital felt unrealistic). Caleb finally finds out about her diagnosis, and it looks like it might be the end. But the man cuts short his Europe trip to return- Didi is unlike any other girl he's known, and he really does love her, so he comes back and declares (in a wonderfully romantic museum setting date) that he will stick with her regardless of the difficulties ahead. Really lovely ending, but it all just felt so poorly described to me. The parts about Didi being bipolar didn't feel like a main part of the story, just an additional characteristic to support part of the plot, which was disappointing. And I liked that she was an artist, but that part didn't feel real to me either. Oh well.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 2/5                   231 pages, 2016

more opinions:
Rhapsody in Books
Buried in Books

Jun 29, 2019

A Quiet Kind of Thunder

by Sara Barnard

Steffi suffers from anxiety, often stricken by panic attacks, fear of strangers, public places, speaking on the telephone- and talking out loud. She's been "selectively mute" for so long she learned a bit of sign language (and "selective" doesn't mean she can choose when to talk or not- it seems to freeze her up without reason). Steffi has one best friend, Tem, who has known her since they were little and doesn't at all mind speaking up for her. Then a new boy arrives at school, Rhys. He's deaf. They become friends, as Steffi can commiunicate a bit in sign language, and Rhys doesn't at all mind her silence, or judge her for it. As her friendship with Rhys blossoms into something more, Steffi slowly starts to find her voice again- not just because of growing confidence in herself (helped, in part, by ongoing cognitive behavioral therapy) but also due to taking a new medication. Which she doesn't tell her friends about. So much happens. Tem and Steffi drift apart, as Steffi and Rhys grow closer. Steffi meets Rhys' deaf friends, and realizes how awkward her sign language use has actually been, sees a whole new side of her friend, recognizes she didn't really know what it was like to be deaf; their similarities are not always the same as understanding. Near the end of the story, Steffi and Rhys, giddy with their newfound love, plan a secret getaway together, but it doesn't go smoothly and Steffi is faced with challenges she's always shied away from. She has to realize a few things about herself. She has to be honest with Tem, and her parents, on her return. She has to reconsider her realationship with Rhys, even as it becomes most intimate- is her growing ability to speak and navigate normal social situations, drawing her away from Rhys?

This story had more depth than I expected. The love story aspect of it really is very sweet. Yeah, there's a sex scene near the end, and although I don't read a lot of love stories (teen or otherwise) I have to say I though it pretty darn realistic. Young, awkward, fumbling, tender love. Not what you might hope for (from the girl's viewpoint at least) but then moving on graciously. It was really nice to see Steffi grow as a character, to see how much Rhys cared for her, even though they had some misunderstandings and frustrations. The depiction of anxiety is different from the few accounts I've read before, but I'm sure it's different for everyone, so I appreciated seeing another aspect of what living with that can be like. I felt like the author wrote it with a lot of compassion and straightforwardness, as well.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5               390 pages, 2018

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