Oct 14, 2018

The Escape

Animorphs #15
by K.A. Applegate

This was a good one. True to pattern, it opens with humorous moments- the Animorphs are hanging out at the mall, and they morph parrots in order to discourage a restaurant from using caged birds to attract customers. They take the birds' places and spout insults and slurs about the establishment. I had forgotten about the Chee from a previous book, but here they show up again to inform the Animorphs that something suspicious is going on out in the ocean. The team morphs seagulls and dolphins to get there and check it out- after an awkward scene at a local marine park where Toby has to essentially dive-bomb a dolphin in order to 'acquire' its form- he's a hawk, so it looks like a wild bird is attacking a dolphin on display. When the team makes it out to the spot in the ocean, they find lots of hammerhead sharks acting oddly, with unnaturally coordinated behavior. Of course they morph hammerheads to blend in so they can sneak closer- a frightening experience (and a negative portrayal of sharks here, which draws on nearly every popular misconception about them!) In particular, Marco, the narrator of this book, is struggling to keep his composure and deal with the possibility of battling the enemy- which of course they do in the closing chapters- because they find out that Visser One is involved in this undersea operation, and Marco's own mother is the human controlled by this Yeerk Visser. Except most of his friends on the team don't know that. This story had a nice amount of character-building: we see how Marco and Jake support each other (Jake diffuses a tense moment Marco has with some bullies) and manage to enjoy moments of pure thrill, even in the middle of all this stress due to secret alien warfare. Also a lot is revealed about how much Marco himself suffers under the surface, even though he puts on a comic attitude to lighten the mood with his friends.

Rating: 3/5         176 pages, 1998

Oct 12, 2018

another long TBR

Strange Weather by Joe Hill- Shelf Love
Tin Man by Sarah Winman- Bookfoolery
Hey Kiddo by Jarrett Crosoczka- Bermudaonion's Weblog
Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol - ditto
Every Falling Star by Sungju Lee- It's All About Books
No and Me by Delphine de Vigan- Indextrious Reader
The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang- Last Book I Read
American Wolf by Nate Blakeslee- Ardent Reader
All Out edited Saundra Mitchell- Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Crosstalk by Connie Willis- Shelf Love
Our Native Bees by Paige Embry- Bookfoolery
Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea- Indextrious Reader
Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan- Ardent Reader
The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall- Shelf Love
The Truth About Animals by Lucy Cooke- Last Book I Read
The Chaos of Now by Erin Jade Lang- Caroline Bookbinder
A Nest for Celeste by Henry Cole- Bookfoolery
Version Control by Dexter Palmer- Shelf Love
Dragon Behind the Glass by Emily Voigt - Sophisticated Dorkiness
The Emissary by Yoko Tawada- Indextrious Reader
Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane- Shelf Love
The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St. Clair- Reading the End
Natural Selection by Dan Pearson - The Captive Reader
Rhapsody in Green by Charlotte Mendelson - ditto
Odd Girl Out by Laura James- Sophisticated Dorkiness
Orchard House by Tara Austen Weaver - ditto
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata - A Little Blog of Books
The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Bradley- Bookfoolery
Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer- Shelf Love
What the Dog Knows by Cat Warren- Curiosity Killed the Bookworm
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness - Ardent Reader
Six Weeks in the Sioux Tepees by Sarah Wakefield- Bookfoolery
Prairie Fires by Caroline Fraser - Sophisticated Dorkiness and Across the Page
Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy- Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Calvin by Martine Leavitt- Good Books and Good Wine
Educated by Tara Westover- C Bookbinder and S Dork
Agorafabulous! by Sarah Benincasa- Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang- Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tales

Ice Master by James Houston
Green Thoughts by Eleanor Perenyi- Garden Rant
The Dead Lake by Hamid Ismailov- Ardent Reader
Bookworm by Lucy Mangan- Captive Reader
Norma by Scfi Oksanen- Shelf Love
Gardening on Main Street by Buckner Hollingsworth
Her Garden Was Her Delight by Buckner Hollingsworth
A Southern Garden by Elizabeth Lawrence
When Elephants Fly by Nancy Fisher- Bookfoolery
In Your Garden by Vita Sackville-West
In Your Garden Again by Vita Sackville-West
More for Your Garden by Vita Sackville-West
Even More for Your Garden by Vita Sackville-West
The Rector's Daughter by F.M. Mayor- Work in Progress
The Undesired by Kathleen Sully- Neglected Books Page
Confessions of an Igloo Dweller by James Houston
The Lambs by Carole George - Caroline Bookbinder
Slow Emergencies by Nancy Huston- Indextrious Reader
Over Forty in Broken Hill by Jack Hodgins
Enchanted Summer by Gabrielle Roy- Indextrious Reader
Garden in the Wind by Gabrielle Roy- Indextrious Reader
Dearest Prickles by Walter and Christi Poduschka
Phone Call with a Fish by Sylvia Vecchini - Rhapsody in Books
Here There and Everywhere the Story of a Sweeeet Lorikeet
The Country Ahead of Us, the Country Behind by David Guterson- Ardent Reader
The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-Mi Hwang- Indextrious Reader
Passage through the Red Sea by Zofia Romanowicz - Neglected Books Page

Oct 10, 2018

The Unknown

Animorphs #14
by K.A. Applegate

The minute I started this one, I realized a big reason I liked the Chronicles book more, is because it didn't rehash the main premise all over the place. Sigh. I just - didn't enjoy this one much. Found myself skimming at the end, to be done with it quicker. It has a ridiculous premise- ridiculous even for Animorphs. Cassie's father goes to a place near a secret military base called Zone 91 (obvious reference to Area 51) to check on a sick horse. Turns out the horse is behaving very oddly and the Animorphs suspect it isn't a horse at all. They return later and find out the Yeerks have been taking over horses. This could have been really interesting, except it wasn't. The author made it appear that horses are fairly dumb, so that part of the story was boring. Except for where the kids all go to a racetrack to acquire horse morphs so they can blend in with the Yeerk-horses as spies- and Cassie ends up in a race. As a horse. Later they figure out what the Yeerks are actually doing on the base as horses- and it's really inane. Funny, but inane. The kids get caught by a military captain but escape as roaches. They crash an event at the Gardens (the amusement park half of it) where the enemy are attempting to infect more humans, and end up fighting Hork-Bajir warriors and Visser Three himself in the middle of a haunted house ride. Sorry, but those final chapters with the fight scenes just made me roll my eyes. The plot had several holes in it I couldn't ignore. Another part of the overall story is about crazy people who believe in alien abduction- and the Animorph kids think this is all fake- because they know the real aliens who have invaded. There could have been some real strong irony there, but again it fell flat for me. The dialog wasn't as amusing, and the introspective parts not nearly as thoughtful, as usual.

Well, at least I didn't waste shelf space on this one. It's on my e-reader. Moving on.

Rating: 2/5               166 pages, 1998

more opinions:
Arkham Reviews

Oct 9, 2018

The Hork-Bajir Chronicles

by K.A. Applegate

Although this one is a prequel to the main series, covering events that happened generations before the core Animorph characters, it's intended to be read in the middle of the series if you don't want to give yourself spoilers. I read it after number thirteen (some chronological lists recommend reading it after book twenty-two). I was actually putting it off for a while, doubtful I'd enjoy a story about other aliens on a far-away planet, not the familiar Animorph kids on Earth.

I could not have been more wrong. Like Enchantress from the Stars, this story tells of a clash between civilizations, and alternates between the viewpoints of each. The main characters are Aldrea- a female Andalite, daughter of the famous Seerow who unwittingly taught the evil Yeerks how to use technology; Dak-Hamee, a young Hork-Bajir of rare intelligence; and oooh, Esplin 9466- the Yeerk who would become Visser Three. It was actually really cool to read some chapters from the Yeerk's point of view, it makes you realize why they parasitize other species. It doesn't make them likeable, but a bit sympathetic. If you'd never had eyes to see the world with, you might do anything to gain a pair, too. So the story tells how the Yeerks were unleashed by the Andalites, how the peaceful Hork-Bajir planet was overwhelmed, how one small group of Andalites there struggled to hold them off until help arrived- too late. It's about a peaceful society attempting to learn the arts of warfare to save themselves- but is it worth the cost. It's about one friend taking advantage of another who doesn't know as much- until he learns what's really going on. It's about how brutal and senseless war is, does a personal sacrifice mean anything if they all die in the end. There's even an interspecies love story- told subtly, but it's there. And if you want some excitement, know that the story moves at a nice clip, with space battles near the end. I also enjoyed the environmental aspect, the description of nature on this alien planet and how delicate its balance was to keep certain species alive.

In spite of the very simple writing style, I was hooked on the story and very interested in all the complex developments that arose as each character became more aware of what was going on and more invested in the outcome, even when they saw the huge negatives along the way. Aldrea driven by her desire to be more than what's expected of a female Andalite- to become a warrior, and later on, to get revenge for the death of her family. (The Andalites can be rather arrogant, it turns out). Dak-Hamee driven by curiosity and hunger for knowledge- until he knew enough to be horrified, ashamed, and realize it was too late to turn back. Also inner perspective on the Yeerks- Esplin in particular driven by ambition, needing to set himself a higher rank and earn recognition from his peers- and he did it very cleverly, too. There's so much wrapped into this story, its sophistication belies the page length or age level, really.

Enjoyed this one on my e-reader.

Rating: 4/5               224 pages, 1999

more opinions:
Arkham Reviews

Oct 5, 2018

The Alien Animals

the Story of Imported Wildlife
by George Laycock

This older book is about animals that humans have deliberately moved to new areas of the globe- sometimes the species they wished to see established failed to survive long term, many more thrived- often with disastrous consequences, (which we didn't seem to be able to learn from). Although the book is cautionary about the merits of importing exotic wildlife into new areas, it didn't have a lot of proof why this was a bad idea, and more often than not lauded efforts (reporting governments spending thousands) to put wild animals in places they had not lived before.

Some of the myriad examples laid out in the book: Barbaray sheep, oryx and kudu (from Africa) in New Mexico, ring-necked pheasants from Asia brought to North America, brown trout from Chile introduced in New Zealand, North America and many other places, striped bass moved from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific (and even to inland bodies of water), wild boars from Russia introduced into the Great Smoky Mountains, various songbirds (most notably the house sparrow, the European starling and rock pigeons) scattered all over the place- just because people missed them when they moved to new countries, gray squirrels from America to England, the nutria (a large aquatic rodent) from South America to Louisiana, the mongoose from India to Jamaica (and many other places also). I grew up knowing that chukars (a partridge) live in eastern Washington state- but they're originally from Asia. The burros that roam arid regions of the southwest here were imported from Africa. And of course there's the famous example of European rabbits introduced to Australia.

A lot of these cases I had not heard of before, so I looked some of them up to see how well they had "taken" in the long run. Unfortunately, most of the animals are still where they were transported. A few fitted into their new ecosystems nicely, most shouldered out native species or ravaged the landscape. It's horrendous the amount of animals that were introduced to New Zealand and Hawaii, wiping out many native bird species. This book will sit on my shelf next to Where Do Camels Belong?- it's the same topic, just with a different viewpoint. When Laycock wrote this one, 'acclimitisation societies' were still in existence- their reason being just to bring exotic species into new locales! Usually because sportsmen wanted more animals around for hunting purposes.

Rating: 2/5             240 pages, 1966

Oct 4, 2018

My Backyard Jungle

by James Barilla

While I liked this book, it has a misleading title. I was expecting it to be something like Suburban Safari or Noah's Garden. It really is more about the author's travels to see how wildlife co-exists with people in other parts of the world, than it is about his own backyard. In the first chapter the author tells how he planned to make his yard a wildlife habitat, he wanted to get certified to stake a sign telling all his neighbors so. He also intended to plant a vegetable garden and grow fruit trees- but there's nothing about the garden except for breaking ground. The chapter about his trees is all about trying to thwart a squirrel that ruins every peach. There is also a section about how he deals with an opossum under the house that makes noise in the middle of the night.

Most of the book is about his travels. He visits Diana Beach, Florida where descendants of escaped green monkeys live in the wild (I had no idea!) He goes to India to see the monkeys living in cities- I swear that part takes up a third of the book. It was pretty interesting- but overwhelming with reminders of the presence of trash. He goes to Massachusetts to see bears that den under porches- this part reminded me a lot of True Grizz. He goes to Brooklyn to visit beekeepers. He goes to Brazil and sees how two species of tamarin might intersect with dire consequences. Back at home he goes on the rounds with an animal exterminator- learning what it takes for squirrels, rats, bats, and opossums to be excluded from attics and crawl spaces. And then finally deals with the critter under his own house.

Side note: I was a bit baffled at the use of references in this book. It seemed overdone. Example: a simple sentence They're easy to anthropomorphize (about squirrels) has a reference number. (I know this refers to that one short sentence, because the sentence before it has a number, too.) Out of curiosity I looked it up- it pointed to nine pages in another book I happen to have on my shelf. Which describe (in a much more charming style) the antics of young squirrels in this other author's backyard. I can understand backing yourself up with references when quoting, for example, the number of macaques that populate Delhi. But so many times in this book I'd be reading a paragraph where the author seems to just be describing his thoughts on a matter, or his own yard maintenance, and suddenly there's a reference number. It's as if he didn't trust his own opinions.

There's a great review of this book on Goodreads, by the way. Complete with added pictures.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5             363 pages, 2013

Oct 3, 2018

Girl, Interrupted

by Susanna Kaysen

Please be aware of spoilers below.

I first read this story about mental health a long time ago. Prompted to revisit it because honestly, I saw a copy in my teen's stack from the library and I wondered what she would find there. I couldn't recall the book clearly myself. Poking around online didn't help- the only detailed info I could locate pointed out things about the film, not the book- which apparently added more shock value to the story. I haven't seen the movie. But from several online reviews, seems like it has quite a bit of sex and scenes of death- from suicide. I can tell you, having just finished the book- there is no actual sex in it. The characters talk about it: one time they have a discussion about blow jobs (the taste) and another time speculate if they had a boyfriend visiting, could they manage to "do it" between nurse checks (fifteen or ten-minute increments). Kaysen herself mentions that she went out with a teacher one time, and he kissed her- but in a therapy session she lets the doctor believe they slept together, and apparently the film carried that idea further. As for the suicide- well, it is discussed a lot in the story- the author constantly thought about it, and one time they hear that a former patient committed suicide after going home. That's it. In case you want to know!

What is it mostly about? How the author found herself in a mental hospital as a teen, after what seemed to her a very brief interview with a psychiatrist. She was moody, she practiced self-harm, her perception of time had serious lapses, she struggled with uncontrollable thoughts that looped and spiraled downwards- but really, she wondered what she was doing there. She tells about the other young women on the ward with her- most of them seem to have more serious issues than herself, until the day she starts to wonder- frantically- if she has substance, if there are bones beneath her own skin- and injures herself in a quest to find out. I think that was the most disturbing thing to read about. On the whole, I found it to be bluntly honest, frankly questioning, a bit snarky at times. The writing is also very lyrical and refreshing at times, and once again I really enjoyed her voice.

I was surprised how much of this reminded me of I Never Promised You a Rose Garden. Not the symptoms, but the atmosphere. Kaysen's memoir is placed during the late sixties- cold packs, electric shock and isolation were still common treatments. The feel of the ward is so similar- sitting in the hall outside the nurse station, waiting to make it back outside- or not. On a side note, she managed years later, to get hold of the records from the hospital, and reprinted some of the pages in the book- showing what the nurses and doctors had written about her, what their actual diagnosis was. Comparing that to the inner thoughts she shares about her time spent there, is interesting and puts some perspective on things. Kaysen is discharged after two years, able to hold a job and maintain a relationship, but still often questioning herself- wondering am I sane? are you?

Rating: 4/5             169 pages, 1993

more opinions:
Reading Through Life

How to Live with a Calculating Cat

by Eric Gurney

Looking for something to use my excess of points on a book-swapping site, I picked this one at whim. It's a cute, funny book about how difficult cats can be to live with. It has a very brief history of the domestic cat, pointing out how they were worshiped in ancient Egypt and then persecuted in the Middle Ages. The rest is tidbits about how frustrating cats can be: having litters nonstop (this was the sixties) after lots of backyard caterwauling, ruining your furniture (selectively), demanding fine food, sleeping in odd places, getting stuck up trees, despising dogs, gravitating to visitors who hate cats, etc. Rather stereotypical and all to be expected, if you've ever had a cat in the house. Really, the charm of this book for me was in the illustrations- I recognized the style but it took me a while to realize where I'd seen it before. It's the same artist who made the children's books The Digging-est Dog and The King, the Mice and the Cheese, which I remember very well from my childhood. This was a fun read (but not a keeper).

Rating: 2/5             141 pages, 1962

Oct 2, 2018

Folks, This Ain't Normal

by Joel Salatin

Joel Salatin runs an organic farm in Shenandoah Valley that amazes me- the systems he has worked out to cycle all the nutrients, to have the animals and crops support each other. I've wanted to read one of his books since I saw him speak in part of a film.

This book is all about what's wrong with our current food system. He discusses so much: how people ought to live closer to the land, be in connection with the food they eat, store up for winter, etc. How kids need to be involved in household chores. How ruinous packaging is to the environment. That pasture-feed beef is actually better for the environment that turning to a completely vegetarian diet (I hadn't heard this before). Raising cattle for food isn't good or bad, depends on how it's managed. Questioning how healthy soy products are (really?). The glories of compost. The preciousness of water. The horrors of GMO's. The immense difficulties small farms face in getting their products to consumers- regulations and rules tying their hands every step of the way, it sounds like. I didn't know that chickens are omnivores- in warm months of course they eat insects, in the winter it used to be common for farm boys to kill rats, squirrels, etc. to feed the chickens protein once a week. I'm sad to read about older farmers desperate to find a young person who will take their land and continue to farm on it- because often their kids don't want to. I learned why Virginia has famous ham- the climate is perfect for butchering hogs. If food is too preserved to start rotting when left out on your kitchen counter, Salatin thinks you shouldn't be eating it! He details a lot of reasons why chemical fertilizers became common usage, that I had not considered before. He says that properly grazed fields build soil faster and sequester carbon better than forests- using his own land as an example. And that's just a little sample of the subjects covered in here. I'm not sure if I agree with all his statements or ideas, and a lot of it sparks further reading. I'm definitely interested in a few of his other titles now: Everything I Want to Do is Illegal and The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Famer.

The only thing I didn't like about the book is it feels like it was drawn from TED talks he gave. He stuffs it with a ton of information- a lot of it quite brief, but really gets your mind racing with questions. Not a lot of detailed sources or data to back it all up- and he gets pretty worked up about certain subjects. Railing on big businesses and government decisions, often interjecting side remarks and comments like "let's get real, folks" and "come on, now!" I would have appreciated more in-depth examinations of the subject matter.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5            361 pages, 2011

more opinions:
Book Nook Club
anyone else?

Sep 27, 2018

The Change

Animorphs #13
by K.A. Applegate

I find I like these books when: new animal experiences are interesting, and the author throws something totally unexpected in. The Change is from Toby's point of view- he has adapted well to living as a hawk, but sometimes still really misses being human. Starts to experience some strange moments of being in one place, then suddenly another, or having visions. A lot like the confusions Jake and Rachel went through last two reads. Turns out one of the omniscient Ellimist is messing with Toby. I had forgotten about those godlike beings, and I find them rather annoying- how conveniently they can alter the storyline. I guess that's the point. Toby finds the involvement extremely annoying, too- until a hint of a promise is dangled in front of him- that he might be able to regain his human form. So he takes the Ellimist's offer. Oh, and during all this inner turmoil, the kids are racing around the forest trying desperately to avoid the enemy- who have deployed all their forces to tracking down two escaped aliens- called Hork-Bajirs, who look vicious and deadly but in reality were a peaceful species until the Yeerks overtook them. So the kids learn quite a bit about the Hork-Bajir- including that they're not so smart- and you think they're all going to die at enemy hands but they pull an escape off last-minute- very cleverly this time, I thought. Their plan actually worked. And they are using their morphing skills more ingeniously, as well. Mostly they draw on their already-existing arsenal of animal forms, but Tobias re-acquires the ability to morph, and he turns himself into a raccoon in order to avoid being eaten by that same raccoon. And Rachel voluntarily morphs an alien in order to throw off the enemy. That was interesting. Of course, quite maddeningly but I am sure great for future plotlines, the promise Toby thought he'd gotten from the Ellimist isn't exactly what he thought it was. . .  and yet that final scene, the last sentence of the book, is very moving. While I usually wish for more detail, sometimes the understatement is great in these books.

Enjoyed this one on my e-reader.

Rating: 3/5           162 pages, 1997